Shanghai Area 1937


Officers of the Chinese 88th Division studying a map, Shanghai, China, Sep-Nov 1937; note Germany-supplied helmets.


It seemed increasingly likely that Vice Admiral Hasegawa Kiyoshi, the commander of the Japanese Third Fleet, had bitten off more than he could chew when aggressively expanding the operations in the Shanghai area. August 16 was the crucial day. Repeated Chinese attacks put the Japanese defenders under severe pressure and stretched their resources to the limit. Rear Admiral Okawachi Denshichi, who headed the Shanghai marines, had to hastily throw in precious reserves, including irreplaceable tanks, to prevent a Chinese breakthrough. It was a crisis situation, and for the first time the marines had to think the unthinkable. If they did not get help from the outside, they might actually lose the battle.

Three times during the course of August 16, Hasegawa himself sent telegrams to his superiors, each more desperate-sounding than the previous one. After his second telegram, sent at about 7:00 p.m., warning that his troops could probably only hold out for six more days, the Naval Command issued an order to the marine barracks at Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan to dispatch two units of 500 marines each to Shanghai. After Hasegawa’s third telegram later that night, the navy opted for yet more reinforcements. Two units of the marines, consisting of a total of 1,400 soldiers, waiting in Manchuria for deployment at Qingdao, were ordered to immediately embark for Shanghai.

The Chinese, however, did not feel that things were going their way. The battle continued to be much bloodier than anyone had foreseen. Throwing infantry en masse against fortified positions was perhaps the only feasible tactic available to an army rich in manpower confronting an adversary with an obvious technological edge. Yet, it turned the battle into a contest of flesh against steel. The result was a tremendous loss of life. Chiang Kai-shek was losing patience. After several days of fighting, his troops had still not succeeded in dislodging the Japanese from the streets of Shanghai. The Japanese marines entrenched in the Hongkou and Yang-shupu areas had proved to be a harder nut to crack than he or any of his generals had expected. At a meeting with his divisional commanders, he ordered a massive attack to be launched in the early morning of August 17. The troops were to field more firepower, and be better prepared than they were for the assault three days earlier. Codenamed Operation Iron Fist, it was the most ambitious Chinese offensive in the first crucial week of the Shanghai campaign.

Although the initiative was Chiang’s, in its actual execution the operation was mainly a German undertaking. Colonel Hans Vetter, the advisor assigned to the 88th Division, played a key role in planning the offensive. He wanted to use the Stosstrupp, or shock troop tactics that the Germans had introduced to much effect in the trenches towards the end of the Great War. After intensive artillery bombardment, a small, elite group of determined, well-armed men was to punch through the Japanese lines and fight its way deep into the enemy camp before the defenders had even had a chance to recover from the initial surprise. The procedure was to be followed both by the 88th Division moving in from the west, targeting the area south of Hongkou Park, and by the 87th Division carrying out a parallel operation from the east.

Plans for the attack came at a critical time. Zhang Zhizhong knew that he faced a window of opportunity while he was still enjoying a significant, but probably only temporary, advantage against the Japanese. The window had to be utilized before reinforcements arrived. However, the odds were not good. Urban combat with modern weaponry of unprecedented lethality was a costly affair, especially when the enemy had the upper hand in the sky. Japanese airplanes were a constant menace, carrying out incessant sorties against the Chinese positions at all times of the day. The Chinese Air Force remained a factor, but it was a question how much longer it would hold out against the more experienced Japanese pilots and their better and more maneuverable aircraft.

The growing Japanese presence overhead, maintained by both ship-borne planes and planes based on airstrips on Chongming Island in the Yangtze Delta, greatly complicated any major movements on the ground. “The transport and deployment of Chinese units met significant obstacles due to the busy activity of the Japanese naval aircraft,” German advisors recalled later. Even so, the Chinese Army continued its troop build-up in the Shanghai area. The 98th Infantry Division arrived on August 15 and placed one brigade, half its strength, at the disposal of 87th Infantry Division, keeping the division’s rear area covered during Operation Iron Fist.

As the countdown to the planned final strike continued, morale remained high in the Chinese camp. Despite the lack of progress in the days since the battle had broken out, and despite the heavy casualties, a feeling of relief permeated the ranks. After civil wars that in effect had lasted a quarter century, all Chinese were at long last fighting on the same side. Many officers rushed to write their wills, expecting to die for their country. Few wanted to be killed. Still, they felt that if they had to give their lives, this was a worthy cause. “I was very happy and excited,” said Zhang Fakui, the commander of the right wing in the Pudong area, east of Huangpu, which had been designated as the 8th Army Group. “This was the first and only national war I fought in.”

Iron Fist kicked off as planned at 5:00 a.m. on August 17. With the expenditure of all available firepower, the 87th and 88th Infantry Divisions launched simultaneous assaults against stunned and bewildered Japanese. In line with the Stosstrupp approach of rapid penetration, Zhang Zhizhong introduced a new tactical principle, prompted by the severe losses during the first few days of fighting. Forces under his command were to identify gaps in the Japanese defenses and exploit these, rather than launch massive, costly and most likely futile attacks on heavily fortified positions. Once an enemy stronghold was spotted, the main forces would evade it and leave just enough troops to keep it pinned down.

Chen Yiding, a regimental commander of the 87th Infantry Division, was a pivotal figure in the assault. His soldiers, each equipped with provisions for two days, made good progress during the first hours of Iron Fist, taking advantage of their local knowledge and moving with the slippery dexterity of alley cats. They would enter into a building on one street, knock down the wall inside and exit onto the next street, or they would throw down beams from rooftop to rooftop, sneaking as quietly as possible from one block to the next without being noticed by those on the ground. They proved elusive targets for the Japanese, who would expect them to come from one direction, only to be attacked from another.

Nevertheless, changing the tactical situation of the previous days was not enough. The attackers encountered well-prepared defenses that sometimes could not be circumvented, and losses started piling up from early in the assault. An entire battalion of the 88th Division was wiped out trying to take a single building. Despite the sacrifices, there was no major breakthrough anywhere along the Japanese defense lines. This was partly a result of strong support from Japanese naval artillery in the Huangpu River, and partly a reflection of poor coordination between Chinese infantry and artillery.

Equally detrimental to the Chinese cause was their careful avoidance, during the first days of combat in Shanghai, of fighting inside the International Settlement, or even in the predominantly Japanese part of the settlement, in order not to anger the outside world and swing international opinion against them. This approach frustrated their German advisors. “It was obvious that the attacking troops had been told to only take on enemies standing on Chinese territory, not the ones inside the international areas,” the Germans wrote with an almost audible sigh of regret in their after-action report.

Their frustration was shared by several Chinese officers at the frontline. “We are much handicapped by the demarcation of the foreign areas,” the adjutant to a divisional commander told a western reporter. “We could have wiped out the enemy if it had not been for orders from the Central Government and our commander to avoid causing damage to foreign lives and to give them adequate protection.” The existence of the large foreign community mainly played into Japanese hands. Many of Chiang Kai-shek’s officers believed that if the Chinese had been able to move through the French Concession and the International Settlement and attack the Japanese from the rear, they could have won easily. “Without the protection provided by the foreign concessions they would have been wiped out,” said Zhang Fakui.

At the same time, the Chinese commanders had only hazy ideas about conditions at the frontline and were sometimes misled by exaggerated claims made by officers in the field. At 9:00 a.m. on August 17, the commander of the 87th Infantry Division reported to Zhang Zhizhong that the Japanese Navy Club, a key position, was in his possession. However, when Zhang sent his own people to the spot to investigate, it turned out a four-story building right next door was still occupied by the Japanese who were determined to defend the building to the last man. The divisional commander’s self-assured claim was further undermined later that afternoon, when Japanese troops carried out two counterattacks from a nearby naval drill ground. It was, therefore, understandable that not all officers trusted reports that their own units sent back to them. One regiment of the 87th Division was under specific orders to document any advance it made. Every time it had taken a key objective along its predetermined route of advance, it was to pull down a street sign and send it back as evidence that it indeed was in control of the position.

At the end of the day, the Japanese won. Defense had proved stronger, as it had for four long years on the Western Front during the Great War. The challenge the Japanese faced was tough, but at least it was straightforward and uncomplicated. They had to hold on to Hongkou and Yang-shupu and wait for reinforcements to arrive. They proved themselves adept at this job. In many cases, Chinese soldiers found themselves fighting for the same objectives they had been targeting when the battle for Shanghai began several days earlier. Pan Shihua, a soldier in the 88th Infantry Division, took part in a harsh seesaw struggle around the Eight Character Bridge, where lax preparation caused casualties to run unnecessarily high. “Because we hadn’t done reconnaissance well enough beforehand, we found ourselves surrounded by Japanese armor on all sides,” he said. The Chinese forces were getting bogged down. Zhang Zhizhong’s window of opportunity was closing fast.

German Advisory Corps In China 1937


Falkenhausen 1937.


Operation Iron Fist was the main German contribution in the initial stages of the Shanghai campaign, but it was far from the only one. German advisors were present both on the staffs and at the frontline. Their pivotal role was no secret, and even the newspapers regularly reported about them. Wearing the uniforms of Chiang Kai-shek’s army, the German advisors not only provided tactical input, but gave the Chinese troops an invaluable morale boost, showing them that they were not on their own in the struggle against the mighty and ruthless Japanese Empire. The “German War” was the name that some Japanese gave to the battle of Shanghai, and for good reason.

When war with Japan broke out in the summer of 1937, the German advisory corps consisted of nearly 70 officers, ranging from newly graduated second-lieutenants to five full generals. It was a major asset for the Chinese, and one that they were free to exploit. Even though most of the Germans were in China on short-term contracts and could have left once the shooting started, they felt an obligation to stay at a key moment when their host nation’s survival was at stake. “We all agreed that as private citizens in Chinese employment there could be no question of our leaving our Chinese friends to their fate,” Alexander von Falkenhausen, the top advisor, wrote later. “Therefore I assigned the German advisors wherever they were needed, and that was often in the frontlines.”

The situation was the culmination of a relationship that had evolved over a period of several years. Germany had started playing a role in China’s military modernization in the late 1920s, with initial contacts facilitated by Chiang Kai-shek’s admiration for German efficiency. The German government’s decision to abandon all extraterritorial privileges in 1921, followed seven years later by the diplomatic recognition of Chiang’s government, also created a benevolent atmosphere. In addition, as a result of its defeat in the Great War, Germany was a relatively safe bet for China. It was, in the 1920s and early 1930s at least, the only major power unable to resume its imperialist policies of the years prior to 1914. Germany and China were in fact in similar situations, Chiang once mused. “They were oppressed by foreign powers,” he said, “and had to free themselves from those chains.”

Yet another factor behind the expanding Sino-German military ties was the lack of suitable employment for officers in Weimar Germany, whose military, the Reichswehr, was severely curtailed by the demands of the post-war Versailles Treaty. The shadow existence they led at home contrasted starkly with the prestige they enjoyed in China. By the mid-1930s, the Germans had a status among the Chinese that no other westerners had ever experienced. When Chiang met with his generals, his chief German advisor at the time, Hans von Seeckt, would sit at his desk, giving the signal that the foreign officer’s place in the hierarchy, while informal, was near the top. When Seeckt had to go by train to a north Chinese sea resort for health reasons, he traveled in Chiang’s personal saloon carriage and was saluted at every station by an honorary formation.

Seeckt visited China the first time in 1933, and immediately set about salvaging bilateral ties strained by German condescension towards the Chinese. As the host nation and employer, China was to be shown respect, was his order to the German officers stationed in the country, and being a traditional German, he expected to be obeyed. When he arrived in China for his second tour the year after, he was accompanied by Falkenhausen. No novice to Asia, Falkenhausen hit it off with Chiang Kai-shek almost immediately. It helped that both knew Japanese, the language of their soon-to-be enemy, and could converse freely without having to go through aninterpreter. It was an additional advantage that Falkenhausen’s wife was on superb terms with Madame Chiang. Falkenhausen’s break came when Seekt, suffering from poor health, returned to Germany in early 1935. From then on, he was the top German officer inside China.

It is likely that Falkenhausen felt a deep sense of relief to be posted abroad. His mission removed any immediate obligation to return to Germany and work with the Nazis. “In the 30s we could have in good conscience stayed in China,” one of Falkenhausen’s subordinates later rationalized. “China was in much greater danger than Germany.” Falkenhausen had a very personal reason to adopt that rationale. His younger brother, Hans Joachim von Falkenhausen, a war veteran and a member of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary Sturm-Abteilung, was executed in a bloody showdown among rival factions inside the party’s ranks in the summer of 1934. He was 36 when he died.

Falkenhausen’s unhappy relationship with Berlin’s new rulers put him on one side of a political generation gap that divided most of the German advisors in China. Among conservative officers of his age and background, feelings about Hitler, a mere corporal in the Great War, ranged from skepticism to adoration; in between was quiet acceptance of an overlap of interests with Germany’s new Nazi rulers, who wanted rapid rearmament and the creation of a vast new army. The younger German officers serving in China were far less ambivalent. They were often ardent Nazis. The racist ideology the young Germans brought with them from home may have contributed to lingering tension with the Chinese. Since most of them expected to leave within no more than a few years, virtually none bothered to change their lifestyles in order to fit into their new surroundings. Rather, in the traditional way of Europeans in Asia, they lived in their own enclave in Nanjing, a small piece of Germany in the heart of China. If they paid any attention to local mores, it was with a shrug of the shoulder. Brought up on austere Prussian ideals, they considered, for example, the Chinese habit of elaborate banquets a costly waste of time and resources.

The Chinese, too, looked at the foreign advisors in mild bewilderment. The German habit of wearing monocles was a cause of wonder and led them to ask why so many were near-sighted on only one eye. A few Chinese did not just puzzle at the behaviour of the strange foreigners, but had attitudes bordering on hostile. Zhang Fakui, for one, appears to have had a particularly delicate relationship with the German advisors. He did not trust them, did not share any secrets with them, and did not take any advice from them. “I had always had a bad impression of the Germans,” he told an interviewer decades later.

Falkenhausen’s own outlook underwent profound change. At the time of his arrival, he had been somewhat indifferent to China, but he gradually grew fonder of the country, and in the end he was very close to accepting an offer of Chinese citizenship from Chiang. As time passed, he even showed signs of divided loyalties between his old and new masters, ignoring pleas from Germany to favor its weapon producers when carrying out arms procurements abroad. Instead, he bought the arms he thought would serve China best, regardless of where they had been manufactured. Finally, he developed a high degree of resentment of the Japanese foe. “It is sheer mockery to see this bestial machine pose as the vanguard of anti-Communism,” he wrote in a report to Oskar Trautmann, the German ambassador in Nanjing.

Once war broke out, Falkenhausen was in favor of an aggressive and all-encompassing strategy against the enemy. He advised that the Japanese garrison in Shanghai be attacked and wiped out, regardless of the fact that it was located inside the International Settlement. He even urged air attacks on western Korea and sabotage on the Japanese home islands. These steps went much further than almost any of his Chinese hosts was prepared to go. Perhaps they feared setting a task for themselves that they could not handle. Falkenhausen, on the other hand, never seemed to have harbored any serious doubts about China’s military prowess. Rather, its army’s willingness to make sacrifices appealed to his special German passion for absolutes. “The morale of the Chinese Army is high. It will fight back stubbornly,” he said. “It will be a struggle to the last extreme.”

Maritime Warfare in the War of the Spanish Succession I


Sea Battle of Vigo bay, 23 October 1702. Episode in the War of the Spanish Succession.


Compounded by remarkably careless navigation, were implicated in the great disaster of 22 October, when Shovel’s returning squadron ran on to the outer rocks of the Scillies in the dark. The admiral and the ships’ companies of three ships of the line were lost.

A series of treaties between European powers had provided for a peaceful division of the Spanish empires on the death of Charles II. Louis XIV’s Agrandson the due d’Anjou would inherit the throne, but Charles’s Austrian Habsburg cousins would gain valuable territory in Italy, which was what they really wanted, while the English and Dutch looked forward to improving their access to the trade of the Spanish Americas. None of them had any appetite for further war, even when it was revealed that in his will Charles II had left all his possessions to Anjou, and Louis XIV chose to accept the will and disavow the treaties. It took a characteristic display of Louis’ blundering arrogance to create another coalition against France. French troops marched into the Spanish Netherlands, threatening the Dutch frontiers; French external tariffs were sharply raised, threatening their foreign trade; while French officials moved to take over the management of the Spanish American empire, with the obvious intention of excluding English and Dutch merchants. For the English, the final straw came when James II died in September 1701, and Louis, repudiating one of the clauses of the 1698 peace treaty, recognized his son as James III and VIII.

For the ‘Maritime Powers’, England and the Netherlands, the War of the Spanish Succession was about access to the Spanish empire, not Spain itself. The allies adopted a candidate for the throne, the Archduke Charles of Austria, but they did not plan major campaigns in the Iberian Peninsula. The protection of the Netherlands required a campaign in Flanders, as in the previous war, but the allied fleets were expected to cut Spain’s transatlantic links and force open the door for allied trade in Spanish America. They also needed to control the Western Mediterranean to cut Spain’s links with her Italian empire, and support Savoy, a vulnerable ally in a key strategic position. In Spain itself the accession of Anjou as Philip V aroused little opposition except among the Catalans, traditionally loyal to the Habsburgs and hostile to Madrid. In the Spanish American empire, however, officials and colonists rebuffed French attempts to take over their trade. Dutch and English traders, though officially illegal, were accepted as honest and peaceful; but the French (the only European power still sponsoring buccaneers) were regarded as little better than pirates, and du Casse, the same who had sacked Cartagena, was the worst of all. In the Caribbean Spanish governors eyed French admirals come to ‘protect’ their silver home to Europe with an intense, and fully justified, suspicion. In these waters there therefore developed a sort of three-cornered war, in which French squadrons had as much trouble with their allies as their enemies. The weakness of the Spanish navy left the government in Madrid no choice but to rely on French warships to escort home the silver of the Americas, but every effort was made to ensure that it was landed in Spain rather than in France, whence (as Philip V’s government quite rightly feared) very little of it would ever return. The French navy therefore mounted a series of large convoy operations over the course of the war. Though on strictly military grounds a few fast ships could have transported Spanish silver more safely, large squadrons were politically essential to demonstrate French commitment and overawe Spanish opposition.

The first French squadron sailed in April 1701 under the marquis de Coëtlogon, but the Spanish governors would not even allow him to buy victuals, and he returned empty-handed. He was followed in September 1701 by Château-Renault, who had more success in collecting the Spanish convoy and seeing it back across the Atlantic. Vice-Admiral John Benbow sailed from England at the same time, but was too late to meet Château-Renault. In August 1702 another French squadron under du Casse, now a rear-admiral, arrived in the Caribbean. Benbow intercepted him on 19 August, off Santa Marta in what is now Colombia, and there ensued a desultory running battle lasting over six days. Benbow had seven ships of the line against four, but he was unsupported by several of his captains, and was eventually forced to draw off, badly wounded. He lived long enough to see Captains Richard Kirby and Cooper Wade court-martialled and condemned to death for cowardice. Benbow was one of the most respected admirals in the Navy, and the story of his last fight made a popular sensation which was remembered long after the campaign was forgotten.

Meanwhile the allied main fleet under Sir George Rooke was preparing to sail. The plan was for a major amphibious landing to capture the port of Cadiz, which would at a stroke have cut off Spain’s transatlantic trade, provided the allies with a base for Mediterranean operations, and the Archduke Charles with a foothold in Spain. Rooke, however, had no faith in a planwhich involved leaving the Brest squadron between himself and home; he was ill, grieving for his wife, who had died just as they had sailed; and the fleet had insufficient victuals for prolonged operations. He put the troops ashore at Puerto Santa Maria, some distance from Cadiz, where their officers soon lost control and they fell to drinking, looting and desecrating churches. This was the end of any hope of military success, or of local support for the Archduke Charles: ‘our fleet has left such a filthy stench among the Spaniards, that a whole age will hardly blot it out,’ commented a local English merchant. Presently the troops were re-embarked and the expedition sailed for home.

At the same time Château-Renault was on his way back from the Caribbean. He hoped to make a French port, the Spaniards demanded a Spanish one, but Shovell had a squadron off Brest, and Rooke the main fleet off Cadiz, so to avoid them both Chateau-Renault steered for Vigo, on the north-western corner of Spain just north of the Portuguese border. The Galician coast here is penetrated by deep fjord-like inlets called rias, and the Franco-Spanish force took refuge at Redondela at the head of the ria of Vigo, which was blocked by a boom with batteries at either end. More or less by accident, Rooke learned where they were, and mounted an attack on 12 October. Marines were landed to take the batteries, and Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hopson’s flagship the Torbay led the attack which broke the boom. There was heavy fighting, and the crew of the Torbay were almost asphyxiated by the explosion of an improvised fireship laden with snuff, but the result was a conclusive Anglo-Dutch victory from which no enemy ship escaped. Six French ships of the line were taken and the other six burned or wrecked. Nineteen Spanish ships of all sorts were burned or captured.

Vigo was a great victory which rescued allied naval reputation and morale, and badly damaged the Franco-Spanish alliance. The French navy suffered heavily, and the Spanish navy was virtually eliminated, forcing Spain into a total dependence on French ships to keep up communication with the Americas. On the other hand most of the silver had been landed before the battle and was saved, indeed multiplied. Spanish revenues from the Americas had long been mortgaged in advance to foreign bankers, in this case mainly Dutch bankers. The Anglo-Dutch attack gave Philip V a perfect excuse to repudiate his debts and confiscate the money. Better still, he gathered much of the considerable proportion of silver which was usually smuggled. It was a disaster for Amsterdam bankers, and a financial windfall for Philip, only moderated by Louis XIV’s insistence that Spain pay France for the lost French warships.

In the longer perspective, the battle of Vigo had another consequence of great significance for England. On the accession of Philip V, Portugal, anxious to remain friends with its powerful neighbour, had signed an alliance with France. But the security of Portugal’s overseas empire was even more important than the security of its inland frontier, and ministers in Lisbon were well aware that their own navy was incapable of assuring it; they had to have a good understanding with the dominant naval power in the Atlantic. The victory of Vigo reinforced the idea which Rooke’s presence had already suggested; that France was not the right choice. In 1703 Portugal signed the ‘Methuen Treaties’ with England, the commercial provisions of which were to be an essential component of eighteenth-century Britain’s prosperity. The discovery in the 1690s of rich gold mines in Brazil made Portugal a wealthy country without generating much economic development. Though the Portuguese government, following the textbook economics of the day, offically banned exports of bullion, the logic of the economic situation was that Portugal would import the textiles and manufactures it needed, and pay for them with Brazilian gold. The essential was that the convoys from South America be protected, even at the price of economic and naval dependence: ‘The preservation of our overseas colonies makes it indispensable for us to have a good intelligence with the powers which now possess the command of the sea,’ commented José da Cunha Brochado, Portuguese minister in London, ‘the cost is heavy, but for us such an understanding is essential.’ The consequence throughout the eighteenth century was a flourishing trade in which English exports to Portugal were paid for with illegally exported gold, much of it carried in British warships whose captains found occasion to touch at Lisbon to pick up a profitable ‘freight’. Portugal’s only significant export trade was built up largely by the Scottish, English and Dutch merchants whose descendants still control it: the port wine trade, which provided English merchant ships with a return cargo and English dinner-tables with a patriotic alternative to French wines. Portuguese gold was an essential support for the British balance of payments, to set against the Baltic and East India trades which imported from countries where English products found few markets, and had to export silver to pay for them. The naval victory of Vigo therefore made an indirect but powerful contribution to Britain’s long-term prosperity.

In the short term the Portuguese alliance forced a major change in allied strategy, for Peter II’s price for changing sides was an allied army to protect his frontier. Instead of a largely maritime war, the Maritime Powers now found themselves committed to extensive campaigning in Spain, with one army to the westward, based on Lisbon, and subsequently another in Catalonia. This was to prove a heavy and ultimately fruitless burden on their economies.

The Mediterranean was now more important than ever, and thither Sir Cloudesley Shovell was sent in 1703, but he had only thirty-two ships, and arrived too late to achieve anything. He was delayed by the usual weakness of English victualling, and a new factor which was to become more common as the finances of the States of Holland weakened; the tardy arrival and short numbers of the Dutch squadron. Returning late and sickly to English waters, he was caught in the Channel by the Great Storm of 26–27 November, usually reckoned to have been the worst in two centuries, with winds of 150 knots. Shovell narrowly survived, but over 10,000 English seamen died; four ships of the line and nearly 100 merchantmen were lost on the Goodwin Sands in one night.

Rooke and the main allied fleet in the Channel achieved little in 1703, meeting neither opposition nor opportunity. Three successive squadrons were despatched to the West Indies. The first, under Rear-Admiral William Whetstone, was ordered to reinforce Benbow in May 1701, and finally reached Jamaica in July 1702 after a fourteen-month struggle with bad weather and ill-found ships. A squadron under Captain Hovenden Walker arrived in the Leeward Islands in December 1702, and mounted an unsuccessful attack on the French island of Guadaloupe. Finally Rear-Admiral John Graydon took over the command in May 1703 with orders to collect the ships and return, making an attack on the French settlements in Newfoundland on the way. He failed in this attack, failed to fight du Casse’s returning squadron which he met in mid-Atlantic, and returned sickly, worm-eaten and empty-handed, to be dismissed from his command. The whole two-year campaign had been fruitless and costly, and for the next three years the English Navy effectively abandoned the Caribbean to concentrate on the new strategic situation in Europe.

William III was succeeded by his sister-in-law Queen Anne in March 1702. The replacement of a foreign general, strategist and statesman by an ill-educated Englishwoman who knew little of public affairs wrought many changes in the political world, but some things remained the same. Like William, Queen Anne disliked party politicians; like him, but for different reasons (she hated public assemblies, in which her poor sight caused her constant embarrassment), she preferred to work in private through trusted advisers – though unlike him, she presided at Cabinet and worked through rather than around her ministers. First among her confidantes was Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, whose husband John was one of the senior army officers who had defected to William III in 1688. William had never entirely trusted him, but Anne did, and he soon occupied something of the position William had as de facto commander-in-chief of the allied armies in Flanders and chief strategist of the alliance. As a general he had talents which William had never possessed, and moreover he had a good working relationship with the equally brilliant Austrian general Prince Eugene of Savoy. As a strategist he followed William’s policy, against the sense of the insular majority of English politicians, arguing that the coalition would collapse unless England made large contributions to an allied army in Flanders to defend the Dutch. As a result, he and the queen gradually found themselves forced, as William had been, into the arms of Whig politicians whom they distrusted, because no one else would support a Continental war.

Marlborough had served afloat during the Third Dutch War, he had brothers in the Navy, and he understood the value of sea power, but in 1704 he was preoccupied with the threat that the francophile Elector Maximilian II of Bavaria would open the way for French armies to march down the Danube to Vienna, destroying the Austrians and the alliance at a stroke. In an audacious move, kept a close secret (from English and Dutch politicians as much as the French), he marched the allied army 250 miles from Flanders across Germany to the Danube, and on 2/13 August he and Prince Eugene crushed the French army at the battle of Blenheim. Meanwhile Rooke had taken the allied main fleet into the Mediterranean, using Lisbon as an improvised forward base. The French too had concentrated their main fleet in the Mediterranean, and the two were briefly in sight off Minorca in May, but no action ensued. Having no landing force but the fleet’s marines, Rooke evaded pressure from his allies to make another attempt on Cadiz, and in June the fleet failed to take Barcelona in spite of much local support. As some compensation, Rooke turned to Gibraltar, a small and ruinous fortress with a garrison of only 150 men. This was within the capabilities of the fleet, and on 24 July it was captured. It was a joint Anglo-Dutch operation, in the name of ‘Charles III’, the allied candidate for the Spanish throne, but the English had long been conscious of Gibraltar’s strategic situation, and were already thinking of its future. Its immediate operational benefit, however, was negligible. Gibraltar had little trade, the anchorage was unprotected, and the only naval establishment was a small mole where a couple of Spanish galleys had sometimes sheltered. There was no question of basing a fleet there.

The French fleet, now commanded by Louis XIV’s bastard son the comte de Toulouse (Tourville had died in 1701), was too late to prevent the fall of Gibraltar, but advanced to fight for its recovery. On 13 August the two fleets met off Malaga, the French being to leeward, but between the allies and Gibraltar. The allies had fifty-three ships of the line (forty-one English andtwelve Dutch) against, probably, fifty French. Rooke’s ‘Sailing and Fighting Instructions’ of 1703 sum up the accumulated experience of half a century of Anglo-Dutch fleet actions, and the two fleets fought in what was now the conventional scheme of parallel lines. It was a hard-fought battle (the English casualties were proportional to those of Trafalgar), with two unusual features made possible by a flat calm. The French fleet was accompanied by galleys, which proved useful to tow damaged ships out of the line; while the allies, uniquely in a fleet action, used bomb vessels, which secured some damaging hits. At the end of the day neither side had a decisive advantage, but after a long bombardment of Gibraltar before the battle the allies were seriously short of ammunition. Some English ships had no shot left at all, though hasty redistribution during the night gave an average of ten rounds a gun (out of the standard allowance of forty) all round. Next day a shift of wind gave the French the weather gage and the opportunity to renew the action, but the majority of Toulouse’s senior officers persuaded him that ‘what we did yesterday will suffice for the reputation of the Navy and the king’s arms’, and the French fleet returned to Toulon. Only a minority understood that they had fought for a tangible strategic objective, Gibraltar, which a final effort might well have regained.

In England Tory politicians opposed to the war on the Continent tried to cry up Rooke and his battle as a counterweight to Marlborough and Blenheim.18 The admiral, now in poor health, took no part in this, but profited from the opportunity to retire from active service. Over the winter Franco-Spanish forces made a determined effort to recapture Gibraltar, whose situation was precarious. Supplies had to be shipped from Lisbon, where an allied squadron under Sir John Leake wintered, through a French blockade based on Cadiz. Leake’s first effort arrived in November, just in time. On 9 March 1705 he returned with a bigger convoy, and an escort force including Portuguese as well as Dutch and English ships. This time he was able to intercept the French blockading squadron, commanded by Pointis, whose five ships of the line were all destroyed or taken. Their crews were lost too, which made this in some ways a more damaging defeat than La Hougue or Vigo, where the French ships were lost but their men saved. The siege was lifted and the immediate threat to Gibraltar removed.

On 15 June the allied fleet under Shovell and van Almonde met at Lisbon. Joined to Shovell as joint commander-in-chief afloat, and sole commander-in-chief of English forces ashore, was the Earl of Peterborough. This talented if eccentric nobleman had no military or naval experience, and the intention of Queen Anne’s government seems to have been to establish a political representative with authority over the strategic employment of English forces. Peterborough’s powers, however, allowed him to interfere in operational decisions, which he did with enthusiasm. Shovell found him extremely tiresome. The allied fleet arrived before Barcelona in August, and though the allies were too weak for a siege, the admirals insisted on attempting an assault. To the soldiers’ astonishment, it succeeded, providing ‘Charles III’ with a capital, and opening a second land front on Spanish soil.

Unfortunately Barcelona was scarcely more useful as a fleet base than Gibraltar, and the allies were still forced to depend on the improvised resources of Lisbon. This gave the Franco-Spanish forces good prospects of retaking Barcelona before the allies could return, which they nearly did in the spring of 1706. At the last moment, on 27 April/7 May, just as the storming parties were preparing, the allied fleet (under Leake and Baron van Wassenaer) appeared. Toulouse and the French blockading squadron made good their escape, but the city was saved. Soon after, Cartagena, Alicante, Ibiza and Majorca were taken by the allies. On the western front, the Duke of Berwick was forced back by the Earl of Galway’s allied army, and on 27 June Galway entered Madrid. In the north Marlborough won another great victory at Ramillies in May and drove the French out of the Spanish Netherlands. Philip V retreated from Barcelona under cover of a total eclipse of the sun, and that summer it seemed that his grandfather the Sun King was in eclipse everywhere.

Yet still the allies’ efforts in the Mediterranean were crippled for want of a naval base. In 1707 they planned to solve the problem in the most radical possible manner, by capturing the French base of Toulon. The idea was that Prince Eugene would lead an allied army along the coast with the help of Shovell’s fleet. This part of the plan worked, but Savoy’s commitment to the project was equivocal, the defences of Toulon were strong, and as the siege proceeded Eugene became alarmed at the risk of being trapped by a relieving army. Early in August the allied army retreated, but even as it marched away, the ships achieved part of what they had come for. By destroying some coastal batteries they briefly cleared a way for English and Dutch bomb-ketches to get into range of the harbour, firing blind over an intervening ridge with the aid of observers ashore ‘to show signals how the shells fell’. This bombardment lasted only about eighteen hours, and sank two ships of the line, but it frightened the French into scuttling the remainder of the fleet in shallow water. The intention was to raise the ships when the danger was passed, and the wrecks were raised after the war, but only a few ever re-entered service. The allies now had undisputed control of the Mediterranean. It was at this point (not, as older histories used to say, after the battle of Barfleur) that the French government effectively abandoned its main fleet in favour of the privateering war.

Still the allies had no winter base in the Mediterranean, and Shovell’s fleet came home late in the season. Successive admirals since Russell had been grumbling about the risks of keeping out the big ships past the end of August, and for all its familiarity, the entrance to the English Channel was dangerous to navigators unable to fix their longitude. The usual practice of seamen making landfall after an ocean passage was to run down a parallel of latitude (i.e. a course due east or due west) to a safe landfall, some prominent feature which could been seen far off and safely approached. The mouth of the Channel is most unsafe, Ushant being foggy and ‘surrounded with dangers in all directions’, the Scillies low-lying and also surrounded by reefs. Nor are they easily identified: in 1704 an inbound convoy mistook Scilly for Guernsey and had reached Lundy before they realized that they were on the wrong side of Cornwall. The Channel itself, lying roughly east north-east and west south-west, cannot be entered on a parallel of latitude, for a course due east clearing the Scillies by the small margin of ten miles leads straight on to the Casquets reef off Alderney. The Scillies themselves were laid down about fifteen miles too far north on contemporary English charts, and there is a variable and unpredictable current tending to set ships to the northward. All these factors, compounded by remarkably careless navigation, were implicated in the great disaster of 22 October, when Shovel’s returning squadron ran on to the outer rocks of the Scillies in the dark. The admiral and the ships’ companies of three ships of the line were lost. Shovell was perhaps the only truly popular English admiral of the age, beloved by officers and men, respected by politicians of all parties. His death caused a profound shock, and led in due course to the 1714 Longitude Act, offering large prizes for a practicable method of fixing longitude at sea.

Maritime Warfare in the War of the Spanish Succession II




The Battle of Malaga by Isaac Sailmaker.1704.

Shovell’s death was not the only loss to the allies in 1707, for in Spain Galway had been unable to maintain his hold on Madrid, and in April he was heavily defeated by Berwick at the battle of Almanza. Much of the allied position in Spain unravelled, so the need of a fleet – and therefore a fleet base – in the Mediterranean was as great as ever. The allied fleet, now commanded by Leake, arrived in May, and was soon active in supplying the allied army in Catalonia from Italy. In August Leake secured the surrender of Sardinia (part of the Spanish Mediterranean empire) to ‘Charles III’, providing an essential granary for Catalonia, and a usable naval base at Cagliari. There was, however, a much better and nearer one, which Marlborough and the queen’s ministers had been thinking about for some time: Mahón, in Minorca, by far the best harbour in the Western Mediterranean, and only 300 miles from Toulon. Leake arrived from Sardinia on 25 August and landed his marines. Soon afterwards Major-General James Stanhope arrived from Barcelona with troops, and in spite of the great strength of the island’s main fortress, St Philip’s, the conquest was completed in less than a month. Though it was made in the name of ‘Charles III’, the English intended from the beginning to keep the island for themselves.

The capture of Mahon secured the allies’ naval hold on the Western Mediterranean, but too late to affect the course of the war. The French fleet was past intervention, and the naval contribution to the war in Spain was mainly to control the export of grain from North Africa, which was supplied to the allied army in Catalonia and denied to the French. This was the main work of Sir George Byng in 1709, Sir John Norris next year, and Sir John Jennings in 1711, though Norris also attempted some raids on the coast of France.

All the while that the Mediterranean dominated allied naval strategy, war at sea in English waters had largely been confined to the defence of trade. Then the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland inspired another French attempt to exploit Jacobite sentiment. It seemed a good moment to advance the cause of James VIII, with few troops in Scotland, and many people less than fully committed to the Union or to Queen Anne’s government. Captain Thomas Gordon of the Scottish frigate Royal Mary, for example, was zealous in protecting Scottish merchantmen, but enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Jacobite leader Lady Errol, who sent him a private signal to steer clear of Slains Castle whenever she had visitors from France.

The French plan was for the royal squadron from Dunkirk under the comte de Forbin to sail in midwinter and land James in the Firth of Forth before allied squadrons could intervene. Dunkirk was all but impossible to blockade effectively even in summertime, Forbin was a bold and experienced commander, and the plan seemed to have a good chance of success even after the secret leaked out and the blockade was reinforced. At first all went well. Forbin got clean away on 9 March, with Sir George Byng in pursuit but far astern. Unfortunately Forbin seems to have had no idea of the strategic value of the expedition, and to have treated it with a carelessness verging on frivolity. He made his initial landfall at dawn on the 12th fifty miles too far north, past Stonehaven; a disastrous blunder which has never been explained. It was the evening of the 13th before the French were able to enter the Forth and anchor off Anstruther. Byng anchored near by off May Island later that night, unseen in the darkness. Even then there was time to land James and his troops, and the sacrifice of Forbin’s small squadron would have been well worth it, but when he sighted Byng’s squadron at dawn, he insisted on escaping to the northward. In the ensuing chase one French ship, the Salisbury (an English prize taken in 1703) was captured by her British namesake (built 1707), but the rest escaped, and Forbin refused another chance to land James. Thus the French threw away a good chance to create, at least, an effective diversion to Marlborough’s plans, which after his victory at Oudenarde on 30 June/11 July, developed into an invasion of France.

The naval war in the Caribbean revived in 1705. In April the enterprising Canadian Iberville mounted a destructive raid on Nevis, only to die of yellow fever at Havana on his way to attack Carolina. In May Rear-Admiral Whetstone arrived with an English squadron, reinforced in August by Commodore William Kerr, who later succeeded to the command. Kerr’s squadron was immobilized by sickness and almost starved; he received no victuals from England until July 1707, and could do nothing to intercept the French squadron which du Casse had brought out to collect Spanish silver. Sir John Jennings arrived in December 1706, with the primary mission of persuading the Spanish governors to acknowledge the authority of ‘Charles III’. In this he failed completely, and returned to England in May 1708, shortly followed by Kerr, who only got back by dint of borrowing men from the incoming British squadron. Kerr was then prosecuted in the common law courts, impeached by the House of Lords and dismissed from the Service for neglecting trade and demanding convoy fees.

Kerr’s relief was Commodore Charles Wager, who sailed in April 1707 with a squadron of seven ships of the line. He was followed by du Casse, who sailed from Brest in October, but spent only a short time in the Caribbean, leaving Havana in July 1708 with the Spanish silver from Mexico – but not the South American silver shipped from Porto Bello, which Wager had intercepted on 28 May. Like Benbow, Wager was abandoned by two of his captains, but he pressed home his attack with his own ship unsupported, took one and sank another of the Spanish ships. The Spaniards lost much money, and a good deal of what du Casse took home never reached Spanish hands. Wager returned to England in December 1709, but the British squadron remained on station.

Further north there was desultory action on the Anglo-Spanish frontier throughout this war, with mutual raids from Carolina and Florida. The English twice attacked the Spanish port of Pensacola, and in 1706 a force of Spanish and French privateers raided Charleston. In these waters, moreover, especially North Carolina (‘where there’s scarce any form of government’, as the Governor of Virginia alleged), piracy was still a real problem. Massachusetts expeditions reached the French privateer base of Port Royal, Acadia, in June and August 1707, but were unable to make an impression on the French defences. On 1 October 1710 the Americans finally achieved a success in taking Port Royal (renamed Annapolis Royal), ‘seven years the great pest and trouble of all navigation and trade of your Majesty’s provinces on the coast of America’.

In European waters another distraction was caused by the Great Northern War between the Baltic powers, which broke out in 1702. The belligerents of the Spanish Succession war were not directly involved, but all European navies depended more or less on mast timber and naval stores imported from the Baltic, while Baltic grain exports became progressively more essential both to England and France in the years of dearth from 1708. The Dutch moreover provided almost all the shipping which carried these goods. The Maritime Powers therefore needed to cover their shipping from Swedish and Russian attacks, while in the North Sea there were both French and allied grain convoys to be attacked and defended. In the Baltic the Swedes were the main aggressors, and relations with England were not helped by the old irritant of the ‘salute to the flag’, which provoked a bloody action off Orfordness in July 1704 between Whetstone and the Swedish Captain Gustav von Psilander of the Öland. In 1709 Norris took a squadron as far as the Sound to escort allied trade and intercept French. From 1710 Swedish privateers became more troublesome, but as long as the war against Spain lasted, the allies had no ships to spare to protect their trade within the Baltic.

Inevitably, it was French privateers that presented the main threat to allied trade. The French continued the composite trade war which had been so effective in the previous war, with squadrons of royal warships, either equipped by the crown or chartered to private shipowners, used as the nutcrackers to break open convoy defences and expose the riches within. The commanders of these squadrons were the heroes of the French war on trade. In May 1703 the marquis de Coëtlogon intercepted a Dutch convoy under Captain Roemer Vlacq off Lisbon and sank or captured all five escorts: a notable victory, but a sterile one, for the escort’s sacrifice enabled the entire convoy of over 100 sail to escape. Unfortunately for the French this was too often the pattern. The chevalier de Saint Pol de Hécourt, commanding the Dunkirk squadron, in 1703 took the Ludlow, 34 (i.e. of thirty-four guns), and later the Salisbury, 52, which he took for his own command. He also inflicted heavy losses on the Dutch fishing fleet off Shetland. Next year he took another English ship of the line, the Falmouth, 58. ‘It is to be desired,’ commented a French official, ‘that Monsieur de Saint Pol find fewer men-of-war and rather more Indiamen or rich interlopers, which would suit his poor owners much better.’ Instead he took a Dutch fifty-gun ship, the Wulverhorst, but once again the convoy had escaped by the time the escort was overwhelmed. Saint Pol’s accounts for this loss-making cruise still had not been cleared up in 1718. In the same year 1704, Duguay-Trouin from St Malo took the Coventry, 54, and the Elizabeth, 70. Both English captains were sent to prison, one of them for life. Finally in October 1705 Saint Pol took an English convoy complete, three escorts and eighteen merchantmen, but was killed in the attack.

His successor in command of the Dunkirk squadron was Forbin, a Gascon nobleman with many of the qualities traditionally associated with his country: bold, gallant and skilful; but also vainglorious and grasping. In May 1707 his squadron of eight ships of the line took two seventy-gun ships, the Hampton Court and Grafton with twenty-two ships of their convoy off Beachy Head, though more than half the merchantmen escaped. In the summer Forbin went north into the Arctic. Whetstone formed the escort of an allied convoy to Archangel, which he had left north of the Shetlands (further north than his orders required), before returning to other duties. Forbin intercepted the convoy off the Murman coast of Arctic Russia, but the local escort under Captain Richard Haddock saved it in a fog bank, and Forbin got only some stragglers. Then on 10 October off Ushant, the squadrons of Forbin and Duguay-Trouin by chance together encountered a convoy carrying troops to Lisbon. Between them they had twelve ships of the line against the five of the escort, though Captain John Richards had two three-deckers, the Devonshire, 90, and the Cumberland, 82. Duguay-Trouin did most of the fighting, in which the Devonshire was burned and three more escorts taken. Forbin arrived later and went straight for the convoy, taking ten (out of about 100). He made all the money, and with undamaged ships he returned early to port to claim all the credit.

Against the undoubted successes of French squadrons must be set the many convoys which were successfully defended, or never attacked at all, and even the most celebrated French commanders were not always successful. In 1704 Saint Pol with six warships was frightened off a Virginia convoy of 135 sail under Captain John Evans, who formed a line of battle with his own four escorts and the ten biggest merchantmen. In 1706 Duguay-Trouin intercepted a rich Portuguese Brazil convoy off Lisbon; one escort was taken, but the Portuguese warships saved the whole convoy. His greatest exploit was the sack of Rio de Janeiro in 1711, which did return a profit, but overall Duguay-Trouin’s career cost his investors and himself a great deal of money. His home port, St Malo, prospered in this war because it progressively abandoned privateering in favour of the extremely profitable interloping trade round Cape Horn to the ‘South Sea’, the Pacific coast of Spanish South America. Three ships which returned from Peru in May 1705 declared cargoes worth more than half the entire gross earnings of all the privateers of the port between 1702 and 1713. In 1709 a convoy of seven ships escorted by Captain Michel Chabert came home laden with Spanish silver, of which Louis XIV received over four million pesos, and a quarter of a million found its way back to Philip V.

The French privateering war certainly caused England heavy losses – the contemporary claim of 3,600 merchantmen taken during the war was probably not much exaggerated – but it is not at all clear that it was profitable, either economically or militarily. English foreign trade was more buoyant than in the 1690s, and better able to bear losses. With experience, the organization of trade protection became gradually more effective, and imaginative. In 1709, in response to petitions from the Scottish Burghs, the local escorts on the east coast of Scotland were put under the operational command of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who for the rest of the war controlled the convoy system between Newcastle and the Orkneys and across the North Sea. Moreover the efforts of allied privateers, especially from Zealand and the Channel Isles, have to be taken into account.

As in the previous war, the French naval strategy was most effective in English politics. The heavy losses of 1707 caused an outcry in Parliament: ‘Your disasters at sea have been so many, that a man scarce knows where to begin,’ declaimed Lord Haversham in the House of Lords.

Your ships have been taken by your enemies as the Dutch take your herrings, by shoals, upon your own coasts; nay, your Royal Navy itself has not escaped. And these are pregnant misfortunes, and big with innumerable mischiefs; your merchants are beggared, your commerce is broke, your trade is gone, your people and manufactures ruined…

The result was the 1708 Cruizers and Convoys Act, which removed forty-three ships (nearly half of those between the Third and Sixth Rates) from Admiralty control and assigned them to specified home stations. As with the 1694 Act, the effect was probably to reduce the force available for convoy escorts in favour of cruising squadrons of doubtful effectiveness. Effectiveness, however, was not the main issue in Parliament, where Whig opponents of the government aimed to exploit back-bench disquiet to mount a coup against the Admiralty, and indirectly against Marlborough, whose brother Admiral George Churchill was blamed for mismanaging the naval war.

In this case the Whigs profited from the situation, but overall the French war on trade acted in favour of Tory opponents of the Continental war, especially Marlborough’s costly campaigns in Flanders. To aggrandize him, they argued, country gentlemen like themselves paid a heavy burden in Land Tax, too little of which went to protect England’s true interests (notably in seaborne trade), and too much of which ended up in the pockets of City financiers, who profited from the war and paid nothing towards it. Most of the financiers were Whigs in politics, Jews or Nonconformists in religion, and French, Dutch or Portuguese in origin. Associated with them were England’s Dutch allies, who were accused of bleeding England white in their defence, while they withdrew their stipulated quotas from the allied fleets and kept their own ships to escort their own convoys (frequently trading with the enemy). All the xenophobia so deeply rooted in English politics aroused MPs to demand a patriotic, profitable and English war at sea, of the sort which (as they believed) had never failed before. At the same time Tory attachment to the campaigns in Spain was fading, not only because the campaigns themselves were going very badly, but because the Archduke Charles unexpectedly succeeded to the Austrian throne on his elder brother’s death in April 1711, and a re-creation of the sixteenth-century Habsburg empire under Charles VI seemed even less palatable than the Franco-Spanish connection under Philip V.

The Tory government which took power in 1710 gave expression to these discontents. Subsequent historians have constructed a strategic tradition, the ‘Blue-Water policy’, to which the Tories were supposedly attached, but much of this is a modern rationalization of what had more to do with atavistic prejudice than rational calculation, and was to a large extent common ground among politicians of all parties. Mutual self-interest put the Whigs in bed with William III and later Marlborough, but they were not natural friends of kings and captains-general, nor of large armies and campaigns on the Continent; they were simply more realistic, or more prepared to compromise their principles for the sake of power. All English politicians were committed to the myths of English sea power, according to which a truly naval war, against a Catholic enemy, could not fail to succeed. The real distinction tended to be between those in opposition, who were wholeheartedly committed, and those in power, who were forced into some compromises with reality.

Of the leaders of the 1710 Tory administration, Robert Harley was more level-headed than his colleague St John. In March 1711 Harley was stabbed (by a captured French spy who was being questioned by a Privy Council committee), and while he was recovering, St John was largely responsible for mounting a grand amphibious expedition against Quebec. This was a response to New England requests, but it was even more an expression of Tory ideology. The troops were taken from Marlborough’s army in Flanders, and the ships were commanded by an impeccably Tory officer, Rear-Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker. To keep the expedition secret and avoid the ‘tedious forms of our marine management’, as he put it, St John kept both the Admiralty and the Navy Board in the dark, allowing some of the ships to sail with only three months’ victuals aboard in the expectation that they could be resupplied at Boston. When the expedition did arrive there at the end of June, with only a few days’ warning, Walker was surprised to find that it was difficult to supply a force of over 12,000 men (greater than the population of Boston and its surrounding district) with provisions for a whole winter. Eventually they sailed at the end of July with three months’ victuals, effectively gambling that they could conquer Quebec and find it full of food. Walker was worried about this, and further unnerved by the dangers of the St Lawrence without adequate charts or pilots – with reason, for on 23 August the fleet ran on the coast in the dark and seven transports were lost. On paper the force was still formidable, but Walker and his captains had had enough, and hastened to abandon the expedition.

By the time it returned in October, the Tory government was in the process of withdrawing from the war. One month later Marlborough was dismissed from all his offices. At the same time the ministry published Swift’s pamphlet The Conduct of the Allies, an official attack on the Dutch. ‘No nation,’ he proclaimed, ‘was ever so long or so scandalously abused by the folly, the temerity, the corruption, the ambition of its domestic enemies; or treated with so much insolence, injustice and ingratitude by its foreign friends.’ Another pamphleteer ingeniously estimated that the Dutch had made a profit from the war of £12,235,847 5s 5d.60 All this of course was meant to justify the British in abandoning their allies and withdrawing from the war. At the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain gained Gibraltar, Minorca, Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia), the whole of Newfoundland and St Kitt’s (hitherto divided), and undisputed possession of Hudson’s Bay. The Spanish Netherlands were transferred to Austria, and as Britain’s reward for betraying her allies, the French repudiated ‘James III’ and agreed to demolish the port and fortifications of Dunkirk. The reputation of ‘perfidious Albion’ was now well established in Europe, and as if to confirm it, Harley skilfully double-crossed the Jacobites, who provided a large part of his support, and engineered the peaceful succession of the Elector of Hanover when Queen Anne died on 1 August 1714.

On most reckonings the material profit to England of almost twenty-five years of costly war against France was meagre. A small number, of territories had been gained, two of them (Minorca and Gibraltar) of real, or at least potential, strategic value. The ambitions of Louis XIV had been checked, and Flanders (always so sensitive for England) safely confided to friendly hands. A Catholic dynasty had been removed, comforting English and Scottish Protestants at the price of a permanent threat to their security. Nothing so effectively destabilized a government as a legitimate pretender to the throne with support at home and abroad, so the price of Protestant liberty was eternal vigilance, and eternal expense. Less obvious than any of these changes, but in the long run most important of all, was the very rapid growth during these years of English foreign trade. The English domestic economy still depended overwhelmingly on agriculture and woollen cloth, but English (and now Scottish) merchants imported, and in large measure re-exported to Europe, greater and greater quantities of sugar and tobacco from the West Indian and American colonies, cotton from India and silk from China. These were long-distance ‘rich trades’, earning large profits but requiring large capital and advanced skills in banking, insurance and the management of shipping. Other shipowners traded in bulk goods with European ports: English cloth, timber and naval stores from the Baltic, salted cod from Newfoundland. All these trades, multiplied by the Navigation Acts, generated shipping and seamen as well as income. They went to build up what has been called a ‘maritime-imperial’ system, based on shipping and overseas trade much more than on extent of territory. Eighteenth-century Englishmen were ‘proud of their empire in the sea’; for them the word ‘empire’ still had the value of the Latin imperium, an abstract noun rather than a geographical expression. ‘Trade,’ as Addison put it, ‘without enlarging the British territories, has given us a kind of additional empire.’ To a greater and greater extent, Britain’s real wealth was generated, and seen to be generated, from a maritime system in which overseas trade created the income which paid for the Navy, merchant shipping trained the seamen which manned it, so that the Navy in turn could protect trade and the country. Much was still to be learned about how best to do both, but few informed observers in 1714 would have disputed Lord Haversham’s judgement that ‘Your trade is the mother and nurse of your seamen; your seamen are the life of your fleet; and your fleet is the security and protection of your trade: and both together are the wealth, strength, security and glory of Britain.’

The Hyksos Seize Egypt


Between 1782 and 1630 BC, Western Semites capture the throne of Egypt, and the Middle Kingdom ends.

The prosperity of the Middle Kingdom lasted for a relatively short time. The rule of Senusret III’s son, Amenemhet III, was its high point. When he died, the power of the pharaoh to hold the country safe against invaders, and united with itself, began to fade.

Once again the Nile was lapping at the feet of the pharaoh. After reaching its highest point during the high noon of Amenemhet III’s reign, the flood began to decrease year by year. As always in Egypt, the dropping of the Nile and a diminishing of royal power went hand in hand.

Troubles with the succession probably had something to do with the slump as well. Amenemhet III ruled for forty-five years; by the time he died, his heir apparent was not only quite old, but also childless. Amenemhet IV, who had waited his whole life to ascend the throne, died almost as soon as he was crowned, and his wife, Queen Sobeknefru, took his place. Few details from the queen’s reign have survived; but in ancient Egypt, a woman on the throne was a sign of serious palace trouble.

Manetho begins a new dynasty after Queen Sobeknefru, since there was no male heir waiting in the wings. The king who does eventually ascend the throne to begin the Thirteenth Dynasty is a nonentity, a shadowy figure followed by a handful of even more obscure personalities.

Down in Nubia, the governors who watched over the southern lands for the crown began to act with more and more independence; the Nubian lands that Senusret III had trampled on with such ferocity during the Twelfth Dynasty were easing out of the crown’s grip. There was trouble in the north as well. Ruins show that the border fortresses on the eastern border between the Delta and the “land of the Asiatics” were crumbling. The border had once been so well protected that the courtier Sinuhe had trouble getting out of Egypt. Now the “Asiatics,” those wandering Western Semitic nomads, came into the Delta in increasing numbers. Some of them settled down to live side by side with the Egyptians. Others were less domesticated; around 1720, sixty years or so after the Thirteenth Dynasty began its ineffectual rule, a particularly aggressive band of nomads invaded and burned parts of Memphis, the old Egyptian capital. Unlike the Egyptians, they fought with horse and chariot, an advantage that offset their relatively small numbers.

Despite this humiliation, the Thirteenth Dynasty managed to keep temporary control of the country. But their hold on Egypt was so shaky that historians have traditionally considered the Thirteenth Dynasty the end of the Middle Kingdom and the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period. Near the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty, the pharaoh’s power had wilted so drastically that a second royal family appeared. We know almost nothing of this “Fourteenth Dynasty” except that it existed alongside the Thirteenth for some years. While the Thirteenth Dynasty pottered around in the Middle Kingdom capital Itj-taway, doing nothing useful, the so-called Fourteenth Dynasty claimed the right to rule the eastern reaches of the Nile Delta.

Some thirty or forty years later, yet another dynasty appeared alongside the waning Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties. This Fifteenth Dynasty had its headquarters at the city of Avaris, which lay in the desert just east of the Delta. The first Fifteenth Dynasty king, a man named Sheshi, organized his followers into an army and began to spread his rule to the west and the south by force. Some twenty years later, around 1663, the Fifteenth Dynasty had managed to destroy both the Thirteenth and Fourteenth, and ruled supreme.

According to Manetho, Sheshi was a foreigner; he and his followers belonged to a race called the “Desert Princes,” or Hikau-khoswet: the “Hyksos.” Manetho describes the Hyksos takeover as a violent and sudden overwhelming of Egyptians by savage invasion:

For what cause I know not, a blast of the gods smote us; and unexpectedly, from the regions of the East, invaders of obscure race marched in confidence of victory against our land. By main force, they easily overpowered the rulers of the land; they then burned our cities ruthlessly, razed to the ground the temples of gods, and treated all the natives with a cruel hostility, massacring some and leading into slavery the wives and children of others, and appointing as king one of their number.

Manetho, an Egyptian, can perhaps be excused for believing that his great ancestors could only have been overcome by a sudden and vigorous attack. But the traces left behind by these Fifteenth Dynasty rulers suggest that most of the Hyksos had actually been in Egypt for quite a while. Semitic names begin to appear in Middle Kingdom inscriptions and lists well before the 1663 takeover. So many Western Semites settled at the town of Avaris (the name means something like “Desert Mansion”) that, over time, it became almost entirely Semitic. When the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties divided the already weakened leadership of Egypt between them, the inhabitants of Avaris took the opportunity to claim their own piece of the pie. The invasion of Egypt by foreigners was real, but it was primarily an invasion from within.

Manetho’s hyperbole aside, the Hyksos—who, after all, had more likely been in Egypt for at least a generation or two—didn’t raze too many cities. Although their names are Semitic, they had already adopted Egyptian dress and Egyptian customs. Egyptian continued to be the official language of inscriptions and records; Egyptians served the Hyksos as administrators and priests.

Despite the destruction of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties, the Hyksos were never in sole possession of the country. A vassal line of kings ruled, probably with Hyksos permission, in the northwest; few names survive, but Manetho calls them the Sixteenth Dynasty. More serious was the announcement of the Egyptian governors of Thebes, to the south, that they would not submit to Hyksos rule and that true Egyptian authority was now centered in Thebes. This is the “Seventeenth Dynasty” of Manetho: the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Dynasties all existed side by side.

The Hyksos kings, aware of their own limitations, do not appear to have made a serious push to the south. The Egyptian rulers of Thebes controlled Egypt as far as Abydos; in this southern kingdom, the Middle Kingdom traditions carried on, free of foreign influence. But there was no peace between the two. Manetho writes, “The kings of Thebes and the other parts of Egypt made an insurrection against the foreign princes, and a terrible and long war was made between them.”

The long-distance hostility between the two dynasties is revealed by the determined attempt of the fifth Hyksos king, Apepi I, who probably ruled around 1630, to pick a fight with the king of Thebes. A papyrus in the British Museum preserves part of a letter sent by Apepi I all the way down to Thebes and addressed to Sequenere, the Seventeenth Dynasty king currently occupying the Theban palace. “Get rid of the hippopotami at Thebes,” the letter demands, imperiously. “They roar all night, I can hear them all the way up here at Avaris, and their noise is ruining my sleep.”

Sequenere, five hundred miles away, took these as fighting words. His body, now in the Cairo Museum, suggests that he went and rounded up an army and started to march north. When he encountered the Hyksos border guard, he led his soldiers into battle. During the fight, Sequenere fell, his skull crushed by a mace. While he lay on the ground, he was stabbed and hacked with dagger, spear, and axe. His body was embalmed in a hurry, after a fair amount of decomposition had already set in; apparently the Theban pharaoh lay on the battlefield for several days before the Hyksos backed off enough for the southern soldiers to gather it up.

The skirmish did not, quite, turn into a war. The Hyksos and Theban armies apparently retreated back to their home ground. Sequenere’s older son Kahmose took the throne in Thebes, and began to lay plans to avenge his father’s death.

The First Civil War


In Egypt, between 3100 and 2686 BC, the First Dynasty pharaohs become gods, the Second suffer civil war, and the Third rule a reunited Egypt.

The battling cities of Mesopotamia had no national identity; each was its own little kingdom. At the beginning of the third millennium, the only nation in the world stretched from the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea at least as far upriver as the city of Hierakonpolis. Egypt was a kingdom like a knotted piece of string, over four hundred miles long, and so narrow in places that an Egyptian could stand on the desert that marked its eastern border and see right across the Nile to the wastes beyond the western frontier.

The nation’s capital, the white city of Memphis, lay just south of the Delta, on the border between the ancient Lower and Upper Kingdoms. The site had little else to recommend it; the plain was so wet that, according to Herodotus, Narmer’s first job was to build a dam to keep the water back. Even twenty-five hundred years later, Herodotus adds, “this bend in the Nile is closely watched…they strengthen the dam every year, because if the river decided to burst its banks and overflow at this point, Memphis would be in danger of being completely inundated.”

Narmer’s unification, and his establishment of Memphis as a single Egyptian capital, brings an end to predynastic Egypt. His son followed him to the throne, and was in turn succeeded by six more kings assigned by Manetho to the so-called First Dynasty of Egypt; an actual, formalized, royal succession.

What these eight kings were up to, in the six hundred years that they governed over unified Egypt, is more than a little obscure. But we can glimpse the growth of a centralized state: the establishment of a royal court, the collection of taxes, and an economy that allowed Egypt the luxury of supporting citizens who produced no food: full-time priests to sacrifice for the king, skilled metalworkers who provided jewelry for the court’s noblemen and women, scribes who kept track of the growing bureaucracy.

The third king of the dynasty, Djer, sent Egyptian soldiers out on the first official expeditions past the borders of Narmer’s kingdom. On a rock 250 miles south of Hierakonpolis, near the Second Cataract, an engraved scene shows Djer and his army triumphant over captives; these were most likely the indigenous people of Lower Nubia, who before long would be entirely gone from the area, driven out by bad weather and Egyptian invasions. Egyptian troops also marched northeast, along the coast of the Mediterranean, towards the area which would later be called southern Palestine.

Den, two kings later, extended another cautious finger outside Egypt’s borders. He led his men over into the Sinai peninsula, the triangle of land between the northern arms of the Red Sea. Here Den, according to a carved scene in his tomb, clubbed the local chieftains into submission, in a victory labelled, “The first time that the east was smitten.”

These victories were theoretically won on behalf of all Egypt, both north and south. But in death, the First Dynasty rulers reverted to their Upper Egyptian identity. They were buried in their homeland: at Abydos, far, far south of Memphis.

This was no simple graveyard. Common Egyptians might still be laid at the desert’s edge in the sand, faces turned west. But Egyptian noblemen, society’s second rank, lay in a grand graveyard on the high desert plain of Saqqara, just west of Memphis. And the kings buried at Abydos were entombed in brick or stone rooms sunk into the ground, surrounded by a positive embarrassment of human sacrifice. Almost two hundred dead attendants cluster around Den, while Djer was buried in the company of three hundred courtiers and servants.

These kings may have been uneasy about the loyalty of the north, but in their deaths they wielded a startling autocracy. Any man able to compel the deaths of others as part of his own funerary rites has advanced well beyond the tentative force employed by the earliest Sumerian rulers.

It isn’t easy to tease out exactly why this power was expressed by way of human sacrifice. By the time that the pharaohs of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasty were laid to rest, the Egyptians were carving along the walls of their tombs an entire postburial agenda for the dead: the ascent from the pitch-black chambers of the pyramids to the sky, the crossing of the waters that divide life from afterlife, a warm welcome from the waiting gods. But these “Pyramid Texts” date, at the earliest, from half a millennium after the sacrificial burials at Abydos. When the First Dynasty kings were interred, the Egyptians had not even begun to embalm their dead. The royal bodies were wrapped in rags, sometimes soaked in resin, but this did nothing to preserve them.

We can deduce, though, that the kings were going to join the sun in his passage across the sky. Buried beside the kings at Abydos lie fleets of wooden boats, some a hundred feet in length, in long pits roofed over with mud brick. On First Dynasty engravings, the sun-god is shown travelling across the sky in a boat. Presumably the pharaoh and the souls buried with him would use their boats to accompany him (although one of the grave complexes at Abydos has, not boats, but a herd of sacrificial donkeys for the king’s use, suggesting that he at least might have been heading somewhere else).

Assuming that the kings reached the next life on the other side of the horizon, what were they going to do there?

Possibly, the pharaoh would continue his royal role; we have no Egyptian proof for this, but Gilgamesh, once dead, joined the gods of the underworld to help run the place. If the early pharaohs were believed to continue their kingly functions in the afterworld, the sacrificial burials make a kind of sense. After all, if a king’s power only lasts until his death, he must be obeyed during his life, but there is no good reason to follow him into death. If, on the other hand, he’s still going to be waiting for you on the other side, his power becomes all-encompassing. The passage to the undiscovered country is simply a journey from one stage of loyalty to the next.

Given the tensions between north and south, the First Dynasty kings needed this kind of authority to hold the country together. The theological underpinnings for the king’s power are laid out by the “Memphite Theology,” written on a monument called the Shabaka Stone (now in the British Museum). The stone itself dates from much later in Egypt’s history, but the story it bears is thought by many Egyptologists to go all the way back to the earliest Egyptian dynasties.

There are many later elaborations of the tale, but its center is simple. The god Osiris is given the rule of the entire earth, but his brother Set, jealous of his power, plots his death. He drowns Osiris in the Nile. The wife (and sister) of Osiris, the goddess Isis, hunts for her missing husband-brother. When she finds his drowned body, she bends over him and half-resurrects him. Osiris is alive enough to impregnate her, but not quite alive enough to stay on earth. Instead he becomes king of the underworld. The son born to Isis after Osiris descends to his new realm, Horus, becomes king of the living realm.

As king of the living, the god Horus was associated with the sun, the stars, and the moon: in other words, he was (as Egyptologist Rudolf Anthes suggests) “that celestial body which appeared conspicuous either at day or night…the permanent ruler of the sky, who unlike the sun did not vanish at night time.” The power of Horus did not wax and wane.

The early pharaohs of Egypt claimed to be the earthly embodiment of Horus, carrying with them that power which does not “vanish at night time,” or with death. Nevertheless, all kings die. So Egyptian theology adapted to the inevitable. When the pharaoh died, he was no longer considered to be the incarnation of Horus. He became instead the embodiment of Osiris, who was both king of the underworld and the father of Horus, king of the living realm. The earthly son of the dead pharaoh now took on the role of the incarnate Horus, which demonstrates the practical uses of such a system; it provides a neat way to legitimize succeeding rulers. The new king wasn’t just the son of the old king. He was, in a sense, his father’s reincarnation. Pharaohs might die, but the real power of kingship never bit the dust. The king of Egypt was not, first and foremost, an individual: not Narmer, or Den, or Djer. He was the bearer of a Power.

Sociologists call this arrangement “positional succession.” It explains the growing tendency of Egyptian kings to claim the names of their predecessors; these names aren’t just names, but descriptions of particular aspects of the undying kingship. It also makes a little more sense out of the tendency to marry sisters (and sometimes daughters). When a pharaoh succeeds his father, his mother (the previous pharaoh’s wife) is, in a sense, his wife as well; he has, after all, become (in some sense) his father. It is still a number of centuries before Oedipus runs into difficulties over this. For the Egyptians, family was the obvious place to find a wife.

Adjib, the fourth king of the First Dynasty, added a new descriptive title to his royal appellations: the nesu-bit name. Although these two Egyptian words have the sense of “above” and “below,” nesu-bit doesn’t express the pharaoh’s rule over Upper and Lower Egypt. Rather, the nesu-bit seems to refer to the realms above and below. The nesu is the divine power of government, the above kingship that passes from king to king; the bit is the mortal holder of this power, the king below.

Adjib, the first king to claim this title, had trouble hanging onto the bit; perhaps the first historical example of protesting too much. His grave is surrounded by sixty-four sacrificed Egyptians, tribute to his position as holder of the kingship above. On the other hand, his tomb, the earthly monument to the king below, is the shabbiest at Abydos. Worse, his name has been chipped away from various monuments where it was originally carved.

The man who did the chipping was Semerkhet, the next pharaoh. His removal of his predecessor’s name was his attempt to rewrite the past. If the names that the pharaohs gave themselves expressed their eternal hold on the kingship above, writing them down, in the magically powerful signs of the hieroglyphs, carved them into the fabric of the world below. To deface the written name of a pharaoh was to remove him from earthly memory.

The attempt to erase Adjib suggests that Semerkhet was a usurper at best, and an assassin at worst. His seizure of the kingship below seems to have succeeded; he built himself a lovely tomb, much bigger than Adjib’s, and poured so much sacred incense into it that the oil soaked three feet down into the ground and could still be smelled when the tomb was excavated in the early 1900s. But his efforts to claim the nesu, the kingship above, were less triumphant. “In his reign,” Manetho records, “there were many extraordinary events, and there was an immense disaster.”

This cryptic remark isn’t glossed by any later commentator. But the land around the Nile reveals that towards the end of the First Dynasty, the Nile floods lessened dramatically. By the Second Dynasty, the flooding was, on average, three feet lower than it had been a hundred years before. If lessening floods had slowly pinched Egypt’s farmers in a vise of lessening harvests, a tipping point of discontent might have arrived just as the usurping Semerkhet was busy defacing Adjib’s monuments all over Egypt.

Egypt relied for its very life on the regular return of the Nile flood, an event which varied from year to year in its details, but remained essentially the same. In his role as sun-god, Horus carried with him the same combination of change and stability: each sunrise and sunset is different, but each morning the sun reappears on the eastern horizon. The title of nesu-bit suggests that the king himself had begun to represent this doubleness of unchanging eternal power and its mutating, earthly manifestation. The king, buried, came back again as his own son, like but different. He was like a perennial plant that returns with a different color of flower but the same root.

For Semerkhet to be erasing a pharaoh’s name—the first time, so far as we know, that this happens—must have been a shocking insult to this budding conception of kingship, a little like the sudden discovery that a pope who has been issuing ex cathedra declarations for years was elected by a miscount of the College of Cardinals. If the Nile flood then began to drop, with no apparent end to the receding waters in sight, one of those unchanging verities which the king was supposed to embody was also suddenly in flux. What would happen next; would the sun fail to come up?

Semerkhet’s reign ended with an upheaval in the royal house extreme enough to cause Manetho to start a “Second Dynasty.” Most ominous of all—for the pharaohs, if not for the courtiers—the sacrificial burials stop.

It’s unlikely that the Egyptian kings suddenly developed a new respect for human life, as some historians tend to imply (“The wasteful practice of human sacrifice ended with the First Dynasty”). More likely, the believability of the claim to the unquestioned power of Horus took a nosedive. The Second Dynasty king could no longer compel human sacrifice, perhaps because he could no longer guarantee that he and he alone held the position of nesu-bit. He could no longer promise that he had the undoubted right to escort those souls past the horizon in royal procession.

In this Second Dynasty, which is generally considered to have begun around 2890, an indeterminate number of kings reigned. Following on the drought (proof of the king’s uncertain control over life and death), civil war broke out and raged for years. The war reached its height during the reign of the next-to-last king, Sekemib, when an inscription notes that the southern army fought “the northern enemy within the city of Nekheb.”10 Nekheb, the ancient city of the vulture-goddess, was the eastern half of Hierakonpolis. It lay over a hundred miles south of Abydos, far into Upper Egypt. For a northern, Lower Egyptian rebellion to get this far suggests that during the Second Dynasty, the southern, Upper Egyptian hold on the empire was almost broken.

Although Sekemib himself was a southerner, the inscriptions that bear his name suggest that he may have been a ringer: a northern sympathizer, perhaps even of northern blood. Instead of writing his titles with the sign of the god Horus beside them, he wrote them next to the sign of the god Set.

Set, the brother and murderer of Osiris (and the enemy of Osiris’s son Horus), had always been more popular in the north. In later years he was pictured with red hair and a red cloak, reflecting the color of the Red Kingdom, Lower Egypt. He was the god of wind and storm; the bringer of clouds and sandstorms, the only powers strong enough to blot out the sun and bring it to the horizon before its time.

Set’s hatred for his brother Osiris and for his brother’s son Horus was more than simple jealousy. After all, Set was a blood relation of the king of the gods. He too felt that he had a claim to rule over Egypt. Old tales assured the Egyptians that, even after the murder, Set and Horus quarrelled over their competing claims to be the strongest, the most virile, the most deserving of rule over the earth. At one point, their arguments degenerate into a wrestling match. Set manages to tear out Horus’s left eye, but Horus gets the better of his uncle; he rips off Set’s testicles.

It’s hard to imagine a less ambiguous resolution. The two, both kin and enemy, are struggling over the right to pass along the succession. Horus removes his uncle’s ability to do so, and eventually inherits the throne. But Set’s jealousy has already led him to commit the world’s most ancient crime, the murder of a brother.

The hatred between Set and Horus is a reflection of the hostility between north and south, between two peoples with the same blood. Sekemib’s allegiance to Set rather than Horus shows that the quarrel over who should control Egypt was alive and well. And when he died, a Horus-worshipper named Khasekhem came to the throne and took up the sword. He rallied the southern army and, after vicious fighting, overcame the northern enemy. Two seated statues of this triumphant king, both found at Nekhen (the western half of Hierakonpolis), show him wearing only the White Crown of Upper Egypt; around the base of his throne, the broken bodies of northerners lie in defeated heaps.

Egypt had survived its first civil war. Under Khasekhem, a king who deserves to be better known, it entered into the Third Dynasty, a time of peace and prosperity during which Egypt’s pyramid-builders were able to develop their art.

The Third Dynasty owed its wealth to Khasekhem’s efforts to rebuild Egypt’s trade routes. Armed excursions out of the Delta had been abandoned, but during Khasekhem’s reign inscriptions at the coastal city of Byblos, which did a huge trade in cedar logs cut from the mountain slopes nearby, began to record the arrival of Egyptian merchant ships. It owed its existence to Khasekhem’s political marriage; he took as wife a princess from Lower Egypt, Nemathap, whose name and identity have survived because she was later given divine honor as the Third Dynasty’s great founding matriarch. And it owed its peace not only to Khasekhem’s generalship, but to his shrewdness in dealing with the Set problem.

After the war’s end, Khasekhem changed his name. But rather than adopting a northern name that would honor Set, or claiming another title that would glorify the southern Horus, he chose a middle course. He became known as Khasekhemwy, “The Two Powerful Ones Appear”—a name which was written with both the Horus falcon and the Set animal above it. Temporarily, the two powers had been reconciled.

The reconciliation is reflected in the ancient myths as well. After the battle between Horus and Set, Horus recovers his missing eye from Set and gives it to his father, now ensconced as Lord of the Dead, as tribute. But Set also gets his own back; he rescues his testicles.

The conflict between the two powers, while balanced, has not gone away. Horus manages to keep hold of his power over Egypt, but Set, whose ability to father heirs is (theoretically, anyway) restored, continues to plot a hostile takeover. In a whole series of stories from a few centuries later, Horus and Set carry on an ongoing battle of wits that involves, among other things, Horus’s sperm and a piece of lettuce. The jokes, which almost always involve someone’s genitals, cover a real and present threat. Set’s power doesn’t diminish. He never leaves. He’s always there, hovering, threatening to upset the orderly passing down of the nesu-bit name by pressing his own claims.

T-34 series




If you add up all the light, medium and heavy tanks constructed in Soviet factories during the Second World War you get a total number built of 76,827 vehicles. By way of comparison, German industry only managed to build approximately 24,000 tanks during the same time period – not counting self-propelled guns – which needed to be dispersed over multiple theatres of war. The most numerous German tank built was the Panzer IV series of medium tanks with about 9,000 units being assembled; in comparison the most numerous Soviet tank design was the T-34 series with nearly 58,000 built. It was this Russian policy of outbuilding their enemies in the Second World War that is exemplified by the maxim (attributed to a great many authors) that ‘Quantity has a quality all its own.’ No matter what technical deficiencies they won!

The T-34 series formed the bulk of the Red Army tank inventory from 1943 through to 1945. While the workmanship on the vehicle may not have been up to German standards and many who had a chance to study the vehicle considered some of the tank’s construction shoddy, it was ‘good enough’ for the battlefields of the Eastern Front. On the positive side, the T-34 series mounted versatile cannons, were relatively easy to build in large numbers, simple to maintain in the field, and had enough reliability to make it to the battlefield in large enough numbers to overwhelm its opponents.

The ability of Soviet industry to churn out thousands upon thousands of the T-34 series during the Second World War made up for their high battlefield losses. In 1942 the Red Army lost about 15,000 tanks, followed by approximately 22,400 more in 1943.

Unlike other armies before and during the Second World War, the Red Army did not have a consistent policy of assigning designations to the various subvariants of their tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles. Post-war historians and authors have in response developed a practice of assigning model numbers to Red Army tanks and armoured fighting vehicles based on the year they were introduced into service in order to distinguish between subvariants. This practice has been adopted by the author to assist the reader in identifying the often many different versions of vehicles produced. However, rebuilt vehicles or field modifications may result in a mixture of subvariant features that do not fit into any classification.

By the summer of 1938 it was determined that the proposed A-20 might be insufficiently armed and armoured for the medium tank role. The Red Army therefore decided it would need another proposed medium tank design that would be designated the A-32 and have a maximum armour thickness on the front of the turret of 32mm. It would be armed with a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun.

By May 1939 it was decided to thicken the maximum armour on the front of the A-32 turret to 45mm. This up-armoured version of the vehicle was designated the A-34 in the summer of 1939. In August 1939 the Red Army decided to adopt the A-34; a decision concurred with by Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, in December 1939. The first A-34 prototype appeared in January 1940, with the second prototype rolling off the factory floor the following month.

To prove the reliability of the A-34 prototype tanks before submitting them for the final approval of the Red Army, a demonstration run that would encompass a distance of 1,800 miles (2,897km) during the winter months of February and March 1940 was arranged. On 17 March 1940, the two A-34 prototypes arrived in Moscow for a personal inspection by Stalin and other high-ranking members of the government and military élite. Despite the misgivings by some that the A-34 was not yet suitable for production, Stalin gave his blessing to the production of the vehicle once any design faults uncovered during testing by the Red Army were addressed.

Additional testing of the A-34 prototypes led to the conclusion that the vehicle was superior to any other tank then in Red Army service, and by the end of March 1940 the tank was approved for production as the T-34. Besides a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun, the T-34 would also be armed with a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and another 7.62mm machine gun in the front hull. The first 150 units of the T-34 also featured a 7.62mm machine gun in a ball mount in the rear of the turret.

Despite production of the four-man T-34 being approved, there were still some hurdles that had to be overcome. One of the original requirements called for the vehicle to operate over 1,864 miles (3,000km) without a major breakdown. A mileage test done in April 1940 showed that the tank could not meet this requirement. However, this was soon dropped to 621 miles (1,000km). The Red Army went ahead and placed an order with two factories for 600 T-34s to be built starting in June 1940. They also placed a production order for 2,800 units of the T-34 for 1941.

Some within the Red Army who opposed the production of the T-34 proposed an upgraded version, designated the T-34M. Among its many features it would have a larger three-man turret, allowing the vehicle commander to concentrate on directing his crew rather than doing double duty as the tank’s gunner as was the arrangement in the T-34. In addition, the Christie suspension system would be replaced on the T-34M with a torsion bar version. With these improvements, plans were put forward to replace the T-34 on the production lines with the T-34M in the autumn of 1941. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 quickly resulted in this project being terminated as the Red Army could ill afford any disruption in the production of the T-34 for fear it could not replace its battlefield losses.

The first production unit of the Red Army’s new 58,912-lb (29mt) medium tank rolled off the production line in September 1940. This vehicle is now commonly referred to as the T-34 Model 1940. By the time the German army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, 1,225 units of the T-34 Model 1940 were in service, of which 967 had been delivered to field units. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the vehicle’s turret was 45mm.

Initial German army encounters with the T-34 Model 1940 raised a great deal of alarm among both their infantry and armour branches. Their existing anti-tank weapons proved unable to penetrate the thick, well-sloped armour on the T-34, and the vehicle’s 76.2mm main gun easily penetrated the armour on the German Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks it encountered. This would eventually lead to the up-gunning and up-armouring of the existing German medium tanks, and the development of the German Panther medium tank series and Tiger E heavy tank as a counter to the T-34.

The Red Army early war battlefield technical superiority in medium tanks was offset by the fact that the T-34 Model 1940 was just entering service and their crews often had little training in the use of their new tanks. Compounding the problem was the fact that most of the tanks did not have radios. There were also shortages of everything from main gun ammunition to fuel and spare parts for the T-34-equipped units confronting the Germans, and these factors allowed their army to easily prevail over the Red Army during the early phase of their invasion of the Soviet Union.

The 76.2mm main gun initially selected for use by the Red Army on the T-34 Model 1940 was designated the L-11. It was not the desired weapon in the opinion of the vehicle’s designers due to its relatively low muzzle velocity and hence poor armour penetration ability. Due to almost everybody’s unhappiness with the L-11, other weapons were considered for the T-34 Model 1940, including the ZiS-4 57mm anti-tank gun. A few of these were actually mounted in the vehicle to test their effectiveness.

As there was a new 76.2mm main gun with a longer barrel, and hence better armour penetration abilities, being developed for the KV-1 heavy tank designated the F-32, work was begun in early 1940 to modify it for mounting in the T-34 Model 1940. The new tank gun was designated the F-34 and had a slightly longer barrel than the F-32. It first appeared on some T-34 Model 1940 tanks in February 1941. Vehicles so equipped were designated the T-34 Model 1941. Due to temporary shortages, some T-34 Model 1941 tanks would be armed with the F-32 76.2mm tank gun in place of the F-34. Maximum armour thickness on the turret front of the T-34 Model 1941 was 52mm.

Additional improvements to the T-34 series resulted in the redesign of some components to increase the vehicle’s combat effectiveness. Vehicles so modified were designated the T-34 Model 1942. The maximum armour thickness on the turret front of the vehicle was now 65mm. An internal change was an increase in armour protection on the sides of the T-34 Model 1942 hull from 40mm to 45mm.

The most noticeable external changes to the T-34 Model 1942 were the replacement of the original rectangular transmission access hatch with a new oval hatch, as well as a new driver’s hatch with two periscopes instead of the single periscope on earlier vehicles. Some factories building the T-34 series tank would incorporate features of the T-34 Model 1941 and the T-34 Model 1942 on the same vehicle, resulting in the designation T-34 Model 1941/42.

Following the T-34 Model 1942 into production was the T-34 Model 1943. It can be readily identified by its new hexagonal-shaped turret that was borrowed from the never-built T-34M. Maximum armour protection on the turret front of the T-34 Model 1943 was 70mm. Besides the new turret design, the T-34 Model 1943 featured a number of drivetrain improvements.

Despite the new turret on the T-34 Model 1943 being larger and having more room than the turrets seen on earlier versions of the T-34 series, the two-man turret crew was retained on this latest model. To improve visibility, the turret was eventually fitted with an overhead cupola for the vehicle commander, which could only have been used when he was not engaged in aiming and firing the tank’s main gun.

To improve the operational range of the T-34 Model 1943, a pair of large boxlike external fuel tanks were devised that attached to the rear of the vehicle’s hull. These first appeared during the summer of 1942. They were later replaced by three large cylindrical external fuel canisters in early 1943, with two located on the right side of the upper rear hull and the other one being located on the left side of the upper hull. The external fuel tanks did not connect to the vehicle’s interior fuel tanks. To move fuel from the external tanks to the vehicle’s internal tanks required a fuel pump.

By the time production of the T-34 Model 1943 ended in 1944, approximately 35,000 units had been built of the T-34 series armed with the 76.2mm main gun.

In January 1943 the Red Army began looking at the concept of a universal tank that could replace the existing T-34 series and the KV-1 series heavy tanks. One of the prototype vehicles was designated the T-43; another one was KV-13, a smaller lighter version of the KV-1S heavy tank. It would be similar to the cancelled T-34M project as it was envisioned that it would have a new three-man turret (retaining the F-34 76.2mm main gun) and run on a torsion bar suspension system. It differed from the proposed T-34M due to its increased emphasis on armour protection, with a maximum armour on the turret front of 90mm compared to 70mm on the turret front of the T-34M.

Testing in March 1943 of the T-43 showed that the extra weight of the increased armour protection greatly reduced its battlefield mobility compared to the T-34 series. The summer battles of 1943 highlighted the fact that it was not the armour protection levels of the T-34 series they needed to worry about as much as having a tank that mounted a main gun able to penetrate the armour of the German Panther medium tank and the Tiger E heavy tank. This realization pushed the Red Army to look for a larger, more powerful main gun for the T-34 series and cancel work on the T-43, whose introduction would have disrupted T-34 production.

The first appearance of the Tiger E heavy tank on the Eastern Front in August 1942 had made the Red Army aware of the fact that it needed to up-gun the T-34 series. In response it had tasked several design bureaus with the development of a suitable 85mm tank gun. However, as the number of German heavy tanks being encountered was low, the development of the 85mm gun languished. The many large tank battles of the summer of 1943 that saw the fielding and increasing number of German heavy tanks and the new Panther medium tank had quickly added a renewed sense of urgency to the development and fielding of an 85mm tank gun by the Red Army.

In spite of the fact that the design for the final version of a suitable 85mm tank gun and the vehicle itself were not yet finalized, Red Army testing of two 85mm gun-armed prototypes went so well that the vehicle was approved by Stalin and the Red Army for production as the T-34-85. Stalin wanted the tank in production by February 1944. The 85mm main gun finally selected for mounting in the T-34-85 was designated the ZiS-S-53. The tanks that were fitted with this new 85mm gun are now commonly referred to as the T-34-85 Model 1944. Due to delays in production of the ZiS-S-53 gun, the first 800 or so units were fitted with another 85mm main gun designated the D-5T and are sometimes called the T-34-85 Model 1943.

Maximum armour thickness on the front of the T-34-85 turret was 90mm. The thicker armour on the T-34-85 series and the larger turret brought the weight of the vehicle up to 70,547lb (32mt). This weight gain resulted in some minor loss in battlefield mobility for the T-34-85 compared to the original T-34 tank armed with the 76.2mm main gun.

The first T-34-85s began arriving in field units in March 1944, with élite armoured units getting priority on delivery. The arrival of the vehicle was a great morale-booster to Red Army tankers who had been fighting at a great disadvantage when dealing with late-war German tanks with the 76.2mm main gun on the T-34. The 85mm main gun on the T-34-85 imparted a degree of parity in fighting effectiveness between the two opponents’ tank units.

Total T-34-85 production between 1943 and 1945 was in the order of 23,000 units. Production of the vehicle would be continued in the Soviet Union after the Second World War with both the wartime production and post-war production vehicles going through two modernization programmes, one in 1960 and the second in 1969. Both Poland and Czechoslovakia received permission to build licence-produced versions of the T-34-85 beginning in the early 1950s, many of which were exported around the world to serve in a large number of foreign armies.

It Is Better to Die in Battle Than to Live in Shame


The rise of Slobodan Milosevic, the man who was to become Serbian president, was sealed by an apparently impromptu speech he gave in Kosovo Polje on 24 April 1987. The leader of the League of Communists of Serbia emerged from a meeting of angry Kosovo Serbs who were complaining of harassment at the hands of the local ethnic Albanian-dominated authorities:

First I want to tell you, comrades, that you should stay here. This is your country, these are your houses, your fields and gardens, your memories. You are not going to abandon your lands because life is hard, because you are oppressed by injustice and humiliation. It has never been a characteristic of the Serbian and Montenegrin people to retreat in the face of obstacles, to demobilise when they should fight, to become demoralised when things are difficult. You should stay here, both for your ancestors and your descendants. Otherwise you would shame your ancestors and disappoint your descendants. But I do not suggest you stay here suffering and enduring a situation with which you are not satisfied. On the contrary! It should be changed, together with all progressive people here, in Serbia and in Yugoslavia. . . . Yugoslavia does not exist without Kosovo! Yugoslavia would disintegrate without Kosovo! Yugoslavia and Serbia are not going to give up Kosovo!

Soon after 1389 the Serbian Patriarch Danilo recorded what he claimed was a speech given by Prince Lazar to his men on the eve of combat:

You, oh comrades and brothers, lords and nobles, soldiers and vojvodas [dukes] great and small. You yourselves are witnesses and observers of that great goodness God has given us in this life. . . . But if the sword, if wounds, or if the darkness of death comes to us, we accept them sweetly for Christ and for the godliness of our homeland. It is better to die in battle than to live in shame. Better it is for us to accept death from the sword in battle than to offer our shoulders to the enemy. We have lived a long time for the world; in the end we seek to accept the martyr’s struggle and to live forever in heaven. We call ourselves Christian soldiers, martyrs for godliness to be recorded in the book of life. We do not spare our bodies in fighting in order that we may accept the holy wreaths from that One who judges all accomplishments. Sufferings beget glory and labors lead to peace.

In all of European history it is impossible to find any comparison with the effect of Kosovo on the Serbian national psyche. The battle changed the course of Serbian history, but its immediate strategic impact was far less than many subsequently came to believe. Its real, lasting legacy lay in the myths and legends which came to be woven around it, enabling it to shape the nation’s historical and national consciousness. This came about through a particular set of historical and political circumstances in the decades following the battle. A legend was created around the character of Lazar, primarily by monks, which was later preserved through the tradition of cycles of epic folk poetry. These provided a link to past glory and more importantly an inspiration for the Serbs in the nineteenth century and during the Balkan Wars when the time was ripe to shrug off Ottoman domination.

In the late 1980s, with Milosevic acting as cup-bearer, the Serbs were again to drink from the Kosovo chalice and, fortified by its heady brew of nationalism, they marched confidently into war and disaster. The irony is that Milosevic had predicted that ‘Yugoslavia would disintegrate without Kosovo’, yet it was Yugoslavia’s fate to disintegrate with Kosovo, as the fissures that spread from the unhappy province managed to splinter the rest of the country. That did not mean of course that Kosovo, with its majority ethnic Albanian population, would be happy to stay in Milosevic’s Yugoslavia. Far from it. By the end of the twentieth century what remained of Yugoslavia, then just Serbia and Montenegro, would face utter catastrophe as the conflict that began in Kosovo eventually exploded into war.


The Battle and Its Aftermath

Because it has become so central to the Serbian story, Kosovo can rightly be described as its historical crossroads. But for the Turks in the late 1380s it had no such metaphysical connotations. It was simply the next domino in their conquest of the Balkans. Much of it lay under the control of the powerful local lord Vuk Brankovic. Its plains were rich and fertile and its mines gave forth an abundance of minerals, especially gold and silver.

After the Battle on the Maritsa in 1371 the Turks spent time consolidating their rule in Bulgaria and Macedonia. By the mid-1380s, however, they began to raid Serbia itself. It was clear to all that a decisive battle was coming, especially if the Serbian lords did not submit and agree to become vassals beforehand. In 1389 Sultan Murad, acknowledging the importance of the coming conflict, not only led his troops personally but came to Kosovo with his two sons, Bayezid and Yakub. On the Serbian side the main contingents were led by Lazar and Vuk Brankovic. King Tvrtko of Bosnia had sent men under the command of Vlatko Vukovic. There were most probably also some Albanian contingents under Lazar’s flag plus mercenaries from many parts of the region, as there were in the Turkish ranks too.

Considering the vast repercussions of the battle it is striking how little hard information there is about what actually happened. Later myth-makers and hagiographers were to compose histories crammed with a wealth of detail, such as Danilo’s account of Lazar’s eve-of-battle speech, but very little of this has any grounding in fact. All we know for sure is that Lazar and Sultan Murad died, along with many others. Vuk Brankovic, Vlatko Vukovic and Bayezid survived, and immediately after the battle the Turks retreated to Edirne (Adrianople), their capital at that time. Today Kosovo is written and talked about as the great Serbian defeat, the end of empire and the beginning of centuries of Ottoman bondage. Yet none of this is strictly true. First, many of the initial reports from Kosovo, far from lamenting a great Christian catastrophe, celebrated a triumph over the Turks. Secondly, as we have seen, the Serbian Empire had begun to collapse as far back as 1355 after the death of Dusan. Thirdly, after the battle, a form of Serbian state, the so-called despotate, survived, on and off, for another seventy years. Despite the constant threat from the Turks, the despotate was to see a Serbian cultural renaissance, the most important monuments of which are the monasteries of the Morava valley.

The very first record of the battle that has come down to us was made by a Russian monk who was on Turkish territory at the time, close to Constantinople. Writing twelve days after the battle he noted the death of the sultan but said nothing of victory or defeat. By contrast King Tvrtko in Bosnia was soon trumpeting his victory. On 1 August 1389 he wrote to the senate of the Dalmatian town of Trogir informing them of the sultan’s defeat. He then wrote to the Florentine senate. This letter has not been preserved, but their reply has been. In it he is congratulated on the victory and, significantly, reference is made to twelve men ‘who broke through the enemy ranks and the camels tethered round about, opening a way with their swords, and reached Murad’s tent.

‘Blessed above the rest was he who, running his sword into the throat and skirt of the leader of such a great power, heroically killed him.’

At the time the question of who had killed the sultan did not seem very important, but in later chronicles the man was named. He was Milos Obilic, or in earlier writings Kobilic. No historian can say with absolute certainty whether Obilic was an historical character, but his name came to loom ever larger, not only in Serbian epic poems about the battle but also in the national pantheon of heroes.

Gradually reports of the battle began to filter across Europe but they were either unspecific about its outcome or they talked of a Christian victory. As in Chinese Whispers these reports also tended to become ever more distorted in the telling. By the time they reached Paris, for example, the French chronicler Philippe Mesière recorded that the sultan ‘had been completely defeated. . . . Both he and his sons fell in the battle as well as the bravest of their army.’ These reports did not talk much about the death of Prince Lazar, who, at least in the west, was an obscure Balkan princeling.

A wealth of modern scholarship has examined scores of chronicles, Serbian, Turkish and others, written in the decades after the battle. What appears to have happened is that both sides, reeling from the loss of their leaders, now needed to consolidate power in the hands of their successors. On the Turkish side this was swift and bloody. After Murad’s death Bayezid summoned his younger brother Yakub, murdered him and then hurried home to Edirne to secure his succession.

On the Serbian side it was the consolidation of power in the hands of Lazar’s clan which gave birth to the myth of Kosovo. Lazar’s widow Milica needed to secure the succession of their son Stefan, who in 1389 was still a young boy. Apart from retaining power, she had other urgent matters to attend to. Although it was not immediately evident that Kosovo was a military defeat, its implications were soon becoming clear, While Lazar’s Serbia had been relatively wealthy and strong, it was no long-term match for the far more powerful Ottomans. If both armies had suffered heavy losses, only the Turks had a plentiful supply of fresh manpower to call upon when they returned home. No sooner had Bayezid secured his succession than the Turks were back demanding that Milica submit to his authority. With the Hungarians threatening the north, there was little choice. What had been Lazar’s Serbia became a vassal state. Stefan and his brother Vuk were not yet old enough to lead troops for Bayezid, but tribute had to be paid including the despatch of Lazar’s fourteen-year-old daughter Olivera to grace Bayezid’s harem.

In a bid to shore up her power-base against the potential threat of the other marauding Serbian lords who might now want to partition her lands, Milica put church scribes to work to sanctify Lazar in order to bolster Stefan’s claim on power. So, as the scribes eulogised his ‘saintly’ father, young Stefan, like the Nemanjas, could also claim to be a ‘sapling’ from a ‘holy root’. It would be too cynical to suggest that securing the position of young Stefan was the only reason for the canonisation of Lazar, but it was certainly a powerful motivation. In medieval society the church was the main source of news and information for ordinary people. As Lazar had been favoured by the church above the other Serbian lords of the time, its priests were happy to play their part.

Within a few years of the battle Stefan Lazarevic was old enough to fulfil his obligations as a vassal most importantly he was required to come to the Sultan’s aid along with his soldiers. This led to a curious situation, but one which was then accepted as fate. While Lazar himself was being venerated as a saint and as the man who had given his life to save the Serbs from Murad’s Turks, his son was now fighting for Murad’s son Bayezid, who was also his brother-in-law.

Immediately after the battle, Bayezid had successfully consolidated his power, and there were ever fewer Balkan Slav leaders left who had not yet submitted to his authority. In 1396, however, the Turks had to confront the last serious crusade against them, but, in part thanks to Stefan’s intervention, the Christians were defeated. In 1402, though, Bayezid’s luck turned. This time the threat came from the east. Bayezid’s army suffered a crushing defeat at Angora (Ankara) at the hands of Timur (Tamerlane), the Mongol leader who had begun to build up his empire in far-off Samarkand. Bayezid was captured and was said to have been carried around in a cage until he died. Timur’s incursion into Asia Minor did not last long and his power crumbled after his death in 1405. However, the damage he wrought on the Ottomans was considerable and the episode managed to give a respite to the rump Byzantine Empire still lingering on in Constantinople. Stefan Lazarevic, who had fought at Ankara with Bayezid, now seized his chance to slip the Ottoman leash. Escaping from the battlefield, where his men had defeated a Tartar unit, he collected his sister Olivera from Bayezid’s harem and paid a visit to the emperor in Constantinople, Manuel II Palaeologus. He conferred on Stefan the title despot or ruler, which in Byzantine terminology does not have the negative connotations that it has in English.

Following the demise of Bayezid, his sons plunged into a bloody civil war in a bid to secure the succession. By 1413 it was over and Despot Stefan once again had to submit to Ottoman suzerainty. His nephew and successor Djuradj Brankovic (1427-56) tried to organise resistance with other Christian powers but, as usual, their own short-term interests came first. In 1427 the Hungarians made a deal with the Turks by which Djuradj Brankovic would be recognised as despot of a semi-independent buffer state which was to lie between them. It was not to last. The Turks occupied Serbia briefly in 1439 and again finally in 1459 when Smederevo, the purpose-built Danube fortress town and capital of the despotate, fell. On the map, Serbia as anything else but a far-flung Ottoman province ceased to exist. In the minds of the Serbs, however, Serbia was simply awaiting its resurrection.