War of 1812 – The Campaigns Of 1812


The very decisive victory of the USS Constitution over HMS Guerrière (19 August)


On August 19, 1812 the USS Constitution defeated the HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia. The battle lasted for an hour and marked a great victory for the Navy.

To declare war was one thing, but to fight it was another, and the United States was poorly prepared for the challenge. Its army and navy had been maintained at minimal levels during the Jefferson and Madison administrations. Legislated increases in the U.S. Army and the creation of a cheaper volunteer corps could not be realized by enlistments, and the Department of War was incapable of supplying basic needs; even the blue dye for uniforms was in short supply. Madison, his cabinet, and their supporters had high expectations for the role that state militias would play, but militia laws limited their deployment. Without a core of well-trained young officers, Madison was required to give army leadership to such aging veterans of the American War of Independence as William Hull and Henry Dearborn.

The grand strategy for the war was the conquest of Canada, but the actual plan for doing this was developed slowly and incompletely. It was well understood by strategists on both sides of the war that a major campaign to isolate UC by cutting the St. Lawrence River supply line and then focusing on Montreal and Quebec was the best way to conquer Canada, but such was not the American plan. Dearborn was the chief architect, promoting an invasion of UC at the Detroit River, in part as a cover of the Northwest settlements, with a simultaneous invasion of LC near Montreal and diversionary activities on the Niagara River and the upper St. Lawrence River. Although it was discussed, no effort was made to develop a naval presence on the Great Lakes. A role for the U.S. Navy (USN) was slower in forming. It had only 14 serviceable warships, some of which wanted refitting, and several flotillas of gunboats. Only through the initiative of its highly competent senior officers did the navy put to sea and achieve unexpected success.

At Quebec, Prevost determined to hold the majority of his force in LC since he expected the main thrust there. At Brock’s urgent plea, he sent some reinforcements to UC, where Brock wanted to use them in preemptive strikes against American border posts. Prevost was convinced, however, that the unpopularity of the war in the United States retarded American efforts, and he did not want Brock to do anything that might provoke anti-British sentiments. Instead, Brock distributed his force at key points, supplemented by UC militia and wavering native support, and waited.

As a result, Fort Detroit was safe when Brigadier General William Hull arrived there on 5 July at the head of about 2,000 men, most of them enthusiastic Ohio Militia volunteers. He crossed into Canada on 12 July and might have captured the weakly defended Fort Amherstburg by storm but lacked the decisiveness to do it. His invasion stalled, and he ultimately retreated to Detroit in the second week of August for three reasons: native warriors, allied to the British, cut his supply lines to the south in two sharp skirmishes near the Detroit River; word arrived that the British had seized Fort Michilimackinac on 17 July and a strong force was said to be approaching from there; and another force under Brock was rumored to be coming from the Niagara Peninsula.

Contrary to Prevost’s wishes, Brock had given tacit support to the commander at St. Joseph Island to take Michilimackinac, which was managed bloodlessly. This gave the British control of the upper lakes and influential fur-trade ties with the many aboriginal nations. It proved to be a distraction to American campaign goals for the rest of the war.

Brock arrived at Fort Amherstburg on 14 August and, with fewer than 1,500 regulars, militia, and warriors (under Tecumseh), crossed the Detroit the next day. After a light bombardment and a display of force, Hull surrendered, much to his army’s disgust. The failure of the invasion was a crushing blow to the American strategy. The British now prepared to send an expedition to attack forts in Ohio and Indiana, but it was delayed by the Prevost–Dearborn Armistice.

When dispatches reached Quebec at the end of July regarding the repeal of the orders in council, Prevost sent the details to Dearborn and proposed an armistice so that Madison and his cabinet could reappraise the situation. The administration stayed the course since the British had not relented on impressment, but the suspension of hostilities until the second week of September proved detrimental to the early British success.

Tecumseh and his senior chiefs wanted to attack American holdings in the Old Northwest with British artillery and infantry support. Colonel Henry Procter at Fort Amherstburg, with Brock’s approval, was ready to do this, but the armistice prohibited such action. Independently, native forces besieged three forts without success, displaying how tenuous Tecumseh’s control over his native allies was and provoking the Americans into action. Brigadier General William Harrison was soon in charge of a new army, forming up to secure the Old Northwest and recover what Hull had lost.

The armistice also allowed Dearborn to greatly reinforce the army on the Niagara Frontier. Originally intended only as a distraction and headed by Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer of the New York Militia, the army was ordered to invade the Niagara Peninsula. Van Rensselaer’s army greatly outnumbered Brock’s force, but whereas Brock was a career officer who knew how to deploy his assets effectively and keep them in the field, the American had no military experience, was poorly advised by his staff, and was virtually ignored by Brigadier General Alexander Smyth, U.S. Army, who reached Buffalo early in October but avoided a meeting with Van Rensselaer. On 13 October, a combined force of regulars and militia landed at Queenston, achieving success in the morning by killing Brock and occupying the high ground. But British army regulars, a party of Grand River Six Nations warriors, and local militia, all under Major General Roger Sheaffe, overwhelmed the Americans and captured more than 900 men at the end of the day. It was the first significant defense of Canadian soil, but the victory was tarnished by the loss of the highly respected Brock.

The two stunning defeats deflated the American campaign, and Dearborn, lethargic and deflecting any blame for the losses, managed only to march an army from Plattsburgh, New York, to the LC border in November, fight one small skirmish, and then return. The cap was put on the northern war when General Smyth, despite all his bombastic proclamations, was unable to cross the Niagara at the end of the month with the remains of Van Rensselaer’s army.

All would have been lost for Madison’s administration if not for the USN. The president ordered the creation of a naval force on the Great Lakes in August. Captain Isaac Chauncey was given the job, and by the end of October he had formed a squadron out of the only USN freshwater vessel, the brig Oneida, and some converted merchantmen at his base at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario and initiated the same effort on Lake Erie. During the second week of November, despite boisterous weather, Chauncey chased the Provincial Marine (PM) flagship into Kingston and seized several commercial craft. The navigation season ended with Chauncey in control on Lake Ontario, the significance of which would reveal itself in the spring. Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough had taken command on Lake Champlain but made little headway by the end of the year.

Of much less strategic importance but more widely known and applauded were the singular victories of the USS Constitution over HMS Guerrière (19 August) and HMS Java (29 December) and the USS United States over HMS Macedonian (25 October); two other British ships were also taken. That British frigate captains would lose to the upstart Americans in single ship actions was unthinkable, so the successes prompted jubilation in the United States and dismay and denial in Canada and Britain. The capture of three smaller U.S. warships during this same period hardly compensated for the stunning American successes.

The other element of the war at sea that developed in 1812 was the activity of privateers and letters of marque. Such vessels were outfitted in the early summer for their potentially profitable but very risky business. The numerous American privateers kept the RN patrols much busier than any warships did, while the few vessels that sailed out of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick ports impacted sharply on American commerce.

The British government reacted to the American declaration of war in several ways. Admiral Sir John Warren was sent to take on an expanded command from headquarters at Halifax and Bermuda, with a few more warships and an order to blockade portions of the eastern seaboard. Reinforcements for the army were ordered to march from New Brunswick to Quebec during the winter, while others were transported from various places in the spring. After Prevost complained about the inadequacy of the PM to maintain control of the Great Lakes, more than 450 RN personnel under Commodore Sir James Yeo and a small detachment from Bermuda were sent to command the lakes. On 9 January 1813, the British formally proclaimed a state of war with the United States.

Sheaffe succeeded Brock in UC and struggled through the winter to keep his force fed and armed while he attempted to improve defenses. With Prevost’s approval, he had a new ship laid down at Amherstburg on the Detroit River and two on Lake Ontario, and Prevost sent detachments to UC as conditions warranted. The British knew, however, that the spring was likely to bring a stronger and more determined campaign from the Americans.

This is essentially what happened. Despite the setbacks of 1812, Madison won reelection and pushed on with the war. He replaced the ineffective Secretary of War William Eustis and Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton with John Armstrong and William Jones, respectively. Jones proved to be a competent administrator who set goals for the navy, while Armstrong was more likely to confuse his generals with his orders or make their tasks more difficult by meddling. The army was gradually being equipped, while the regiments were filled up and properly trained. New ships were soon under construction on the lakes where Master Commandant Oliver Perry had joined Chauncey’s gradually expanding naval force. Several new keels were laid down in the eastern dockyards.

While preparing for war, the administration also sought peace. In September of 1812, Czar Alexander I of Russia offered to help the combatants resolve their differences, and, after some long-distance correspondence, two peace envoys, Albert Gallatin (the secretary of the treasury and, arguably, Madison’s best cabinet official) and James Bayard, a Delaware Federalist, finally headed for St. Petersburg to meet John Quincy Adams and, it was hoped, commence negotiations with the British.

Rorke’s Drift: A Military Assessment



Lieutenant Chard’s famous drawing of the Rorke’s Drift battle, showing the main thrusts of the Zulu attack.

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift fully deserves its elevated status in the annals of British military history, if only as one of the most heroically fought and efficiently conducted small-scale military actions of the last 100-odd years. The British were, from the outset vastly outnumbered by up to thirty to one by their Zulu protagonists. In the context of the relatively confined space of the garrison, and the considerable opportunities for enemy concealment in the shrubs, bushes and caves outside and overlooking the garrison, British technical superiority had been much more limited than some observers have suggested. After the initial, albeit destructive volleys fired against the first wave of Zulu attackers, much (if not the majority) of the fighting was at close quarters. The survival of the garrison depended at its most critical times as much on rifle butts and bayonets as it did on the efficacy of the Martini-Henry Box .45 cartridge. The successful withdrawal from the hospital, for instance, was conducted largely at bayonet and assegai point. Indeed, the incredible closeness and intensity of the fighting was graphically testified to by Lieutenant Chard himself during his post-war extended audience with Queen Victoria in October 1879: ‘the fight was at such close quarters that the Zulus actually took the bayonets out of the rifles.’ (RA QVJ, 12 Oct. 1879)

It is now possible to evaluate command and control, and the overall conduct of the battle, more precisely in terms of both modern British military doctrine and the views of contemporary experts, notably Major William Penn Symons. A broad comparison of the events of the Rorke’s Drift battle with current key principles of war, namely selection and maintenance of aim; maintenance of morale; offensive action; surprise and concentration of force; economy of effort and security; flexibility; cooperation; and overall sustainability, is instructive.

Selection and Maintenance of Aim

In terms of selection and maintenance of aim, after the initial debate of whether to evacuate the garrison to Helpmekaar, Chard, Bromhead and Dalton collectively clearly defined and selected their defensive aims with commendable speed, only minutes after hearing the news of the Isandlwana disaster and the approach of the Zulu Undi Corps. In such a short time, the arrangement of the defences was a masterpiece with full use made of artificial and natural features. The stone and mud walls of the kraal, hospital and storehouse were fully utilised with a formidable mealie bag barricade along the perimeter, and the front perimeter was also given excellent elevation by its construction along the 3–4ft rocky ledge. These defensive aims were thus attainable and precisely prepared with a number of subsidiary aims, notably a secondary line of defence or fall-back position constructed of biscuit boxes. The broad strategic aim was, moreover, sustained throughout the battle, its defensive principles widely disseminated throughout the garrison, and made the main focus of activity for all the able-bodied men who were fully briefed on their tasks at their designated posts along the barricades.

Maintenance of Morale

The principle of maintaining morale was also clearly fulfilled, bearing in mind the terrible and unique battle conditions, in which so few British soldiers faced a ferocious enemy who had not only just annihilated a force twelve times their size, but also who patently gave no quarter. In terms of morale, Acting Assistant Commissary Dalton, by his experience, exceptional energy and raw courage, proved to be perhaps the most inspiring figure for the rest of the garrison. Thus Hook admiringly wrote: ‘He had formally been a Sergeant-Major in a Line Regiment and was one of the bravest men who ever lived’, a man who was seen at the start of the battle literally taunting the Zulus and beckoning them to come on. (Holme, Silver Wreath, Hook Account, p.63)

Bromhead’s clear popularity and extremely close rapport with his own B Company soldiers also played a key role in the resilience and survivability of the garrison – he constantly patrolled the perimeter, reinforcing weak points and always giving stirring encouragement to his men. For instance, Bromhead had given sympathy and even loaned his revolver to the seriously wounded Private Hitch, their bond of comradeship continuing well after the battle, as Bromhead ‘brought his Lordship to see me and was my principal visitor and nurse while I was at the Drift’. (Holme, Silver Wreath, Hitch Account, p.62)

Lieutenant Chard also attracted universal admiration from officers and men for his coolness under fire and the competence of his defensive preparations. Of the officers, Dalton, however, clearly occupied a special place in the hearts of the men of B Company. Major General Molyneux, thus recorded a moving incident which occurred at the end of the war:

After the war, the company of the 24th that had defended Rorke’s Drift was marching into Maritzburg amidst a perfect ovation. Among those cheering them was Mr Dalton, who, as a conductor, had been severely wounded there; ‘Why, there’s Mr Dalton cheering us! We ought to be cheering him; he was the best man there’ said the men, who forthwith fetched him out of the crowd and made him march with them. No-one knew better the value of this spontaneous act than that old soldier. The men are not supposed to know anything strategy, and not much about tactics, except fire low, fire slow, and obey orders; but they do know when a man has got his heart in the right place, and, if they had a chance they will show him that they know it. Mr Dalton must have felt a proud man that day.

Molyneaux, Campaigning in South Africa, pp.206–7

The outstanding performance of the officers instilled a high degree of determination, confidence and defensive spirit, evident throughout the battle.

Offensive Action

In terms of the principle of offensive action, both Chard and Bromhead managed the battle exceptionally well and instinctively understood that ‘a sustained defence, unless followed by offensive action will only avert defeat temporarily’. Thus Bromhead organised mobile bayonet parties, a crude human form of ‘mobile weapons platforms’, which were constantly deployed to repel Zulu breakthroughs and thereby effectively depriving them of initiative. ‘Fire mobility’ was thus fully sustained throughout the siege.

Surprise and Concentration of Force

Surprise was also a principle which was well exploited by all the officers commanding the garrison of Rorke’s Drift. The frequent change of tactics, from sustained volley fire at the start of the siege and the potent use of enfilading fire from the storehouse throughout the siege, followed by the sudden retreat from the hospital perimeter to the well-prepared biscuit box barricades, continually wrong-footed the attacking Zulu force. Allied to this tactic was the extensive use of ‘concentration of force’ at decisive times and places which accompanied these deceptions. Hence Chard’s and Bromhead’s constant switching of their soldiers from the front and rear barricades in the first two hours of the siege confused and distracted the Zulu attackers in their constant search for weak points along the perimeter.

Economy of Effort and Security

Economy of effort – the efficient, at times frugal, use of resources – was also applied extremely well. Lieutenant Bromhead was the pivotal man in terms of the distribution of the ammunition supply. Constantly urging his men of the need to conserve rounds during the later stages of the siege, both he and Chard kept meticulous accounts of the allocation and quantity of ammunition. In this way ‘overall security’ was achieved, with Chard always guarding an adequate reserve. The judicious allocation of troops and resources was therefore at a premium in the Rorke’s Drift siege. In summary, in regard to the three interrelated principles of concentration of force, economy of effort and security, Lieutenants Chard, Bromhead and Acting Assistant Commissary Officer Dalton achieved a high level of excellence.


Flexibility was also ably demonstrated by the commander, Lieutenant Chard. Without undermining his overall defensive aim, Chard brilliantly modified his plan to rescue the much more dangerous and precarious situation occurring after the retreat from the hospital. In this new tactic, part of the garrison’s effort was redeployed, using the lulls in the fight after midnight to construct a last bastion of defence – the mealie bag redoubt. This manoeuvre demonstrated both elasticity of mind and resourcefulness at this critical last stage of the battle. It was a simple, but highly effective solution, designed to both protect the wounded and provide a final elevated concentration of fire for up to forty soldiers.


Cooperation or teamwork was also ably demonstrated by all members of the garrison. All four ‘services’ or units present at the siege, the Commissariat, the Army regulars, the Chaplain and even the Army Hospital Corps, each massively supported each other and adapted to each other’s requirements; key ‘players’ such as Byrne, Reynolds, Dalton, Dunne, Chaplain Smith, Bromhead and Chard all worked closely together to carry out essential duties ranging from close-quarter fighting at the barricades to the distribution of food and ammunition. Surgeon Reynolds was, perhaps, the most outstanding example, both attending to the wounded and supplying the hospital under fire with much-needed ammunition. His VC citation highlighted this achievement.

Overall Sustainability

Overall sustainability was definitely achieved. Chard and Bromhead kept an exceptionally fine balance between ‘teeth and tail’, wholly maintaining both the physical and psychological condition of the soldiers in order to maintain morale. It was an important achievement, bearing in mind the inexperience and youth of a good many of the garrisons’ 2/24th regulars.



Post-WWII Experimental AFV Types

Between the mid-1930s and the end of the Second World War, the British Army deployed around twenty types of tank, many of which were notable only for their lack of suitability to the task in hand. Following the end of the war, Churchill’s so-called ‘iron curtain’ descended across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was considered to be the new foe. The lessons of the Second World War were well and truly learned, and over the following decades there have been just five types of main battle tank – Centurion, Chieftain, Challenger 1 and 2, and Conqueror – of which only Conqueror was an unqualified failure.

The situation was far less clear following VE-Day and plenty of Second World War types remained in service in those immediate post-war years, but it must have been obvious to all but the most casual observer of the military scene that most of them had less than a snowball’s chance in hell against the might of the Soviet IS-3 main battle tank. In the eyes of the West, the 122mm gun of the IS-3, combined with caststeel armour with a maximum thickness of 230mm, was a real game-changer. The 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun of the Sherman Firefly or the 77mm gun of the Comet might have stood some chance of penetrating the armour of a German Tiger, but this Soviet leviathan was another matter altogether.

Inevitably the IS-3 caused something of a panic in the West and suddenly bigger was better. It must have seemed as though everything that had gone before was obsolete … the FV301 light tank project, for example, became a casualty of this obsession with size even before prototypes had been constructed, and there is no doubt that the appearance of the IS-3 was responsible for the development of the British Conqueror. However, during the six years that it took to get Conqueror into production, the War Office asked the Department of Tank Design whether or not there was any possibility of quickly producing a heavy gun tank that might be capable of taking on the IS-3. The answer should have been a resounding ‘no’ but several brave attempts were made, often developed along the lines of ‘what would happen if we tried the turret of this tank on the hull of that’. However, none entered series production and all were superseded by the Centurion in its various roles.



In April 1950, with the Conqueror heavy gun tank project mired in delays, the Department of Tank Design (DTD) completed the design for an interim medium gun tank, designated FV221 and named Caernarvon. It was effectively the hull of the FV214 Conqueror combined with the turret and gun of the Centurion, mounted via an adaptor ring. With the Conqueror turrets not ready for production, it was felt that the Caernarvon would give drivers an opportunity to get used to handling such a large vehicle.

The first example was prototyped by Vickers-Armstrong in Mk 1 configuration, armed with the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun of the Centurion 1. A further twenty vehicles were eventually built in Mk 2 configuration, with the 20-pounder (84mm) gun of the Centurion 3, by the Royal Ordnance Factory Leeds, at a total price of £1.4 million. The first of the production vehicles was completed in April 1952 and the tanks were issued for troop trials a year later, and at least one vehicle had the turret ballasted to simulate the weight of the Conqueror turret.

The subsequent success of the Centurion led to the cancellation of the Caernarvon project after the completion of the troop trials in October 1953. Once the Conqueror turrets became available, seven of the Caernarvon hulls were eventually reworked into the standard Conqueror configuration, but one (07BA70), with the turret removed, was fitted with a Parsons gas-turbine engine in 1954, in place of the Rolls-Royce Meteor. The first armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) to be so equipped, it subsequently wound up being used as a dynamometer test vehicle at Christchurch and survives, sans gas turbine, at the Tank Museum.


In its first incarnation the FV4005 Centurion assault gun consisted of an open-topped Centurion Mk 3 hull on which was mounted a 188mm gun with an auto-loader.


Stage two of the FV4005 project saw the 180mm gun replaced by a 183mm weapon, this time installed in a huge rotating turret. In effect, it was little more than a splinter-proof steel enclosure. This vehicle has survived and is on display at the Tank Museum.


With work starting in 1951, pending the development of a similar self-propelled gun on the Conqueror chassis, FV4005 was an attempt to mount a 180mm gun on the Centurion Mk 3 hull. Stage 1 of the project consisted of an open-topped hull, with the gun having a limited traverse and a concentric recoil system; in this incarnation the gun was fitted with an auto-loader. In Stage 2 the gun was mounted in a light, splinter-proof turret with a conventional recoil system; loading of the ammunition was by hand.

By December 1952 the original 180mm gun had been replaced by a 183mm weapon but the project did not progress beyond the basic feasibility stage and by August 1957 had been abandoned without any series production. One of the prototypes is possibly still retained at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham.


In the early 1950s several proposals were made to use the Centurion chassis as a self-propelled (SP) gun mount.

FV3802 was based on a shortened version of the Centurion Mk 7 and was equipped with the venerable QF 25-pounder (87.6mm) gun. The first of three prototypes appeared in October 1955, but the vehicle was not considered satisfactory and, under pressure from the Royal Artillery, became the FV3805, in which role it was equipped with a huge 5.5in gun. Two prototypes were constructed in this form and were trialled, but the project was eventually cancelled in 1960 in favour of the FV433 Abbott.

Although it does not appear that any of these projects progressed beyond the stages of feasibility discussions and/or mock-ups, there were also plans to use the Centurion chassis to mount the 7.2in howitzer (FV3806), the 120mm anti-tank gun (FV3807), the 20-pounder (84mm) medium gun (FV3808) and the 155mm gun (FV3809). All were quickly discounted.

In 1967 British Aerospace demonstrated a Centurion Mk 5 that had been equipped with the Swingfire wire-guided anti-tank missile system, in the form of twin launchers mounted on the turret sides. Both the Centurion and the Chieftain were also used as a mount for the Marconi Marksman anti-aircraft turret.


The development of FV215B was carried out by Nuffield Mechanizations & Aero during 1950 with the intention of mounting a huge 180mm anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull. The photograph shows a wooden model of the proposed vehicle; a full-scale mock-up was almost completed by mid-1955 before the project was abandoned.


The Conqueror prototype number three was intended to demonstrate the flamethrower role and consisted of a Centurion Mk 3 turret with a 20-pounder (84mm) main gun and flame-projector equipment. By the time the flame equipment was ready for trials in July 1948, the decision had been taken to abandon the project and to fit the flame-thrower equipment to the Centurion instead.

FV205 was a proposal for mounting a medium anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull but it was cancelled in April 1949 with little progress having been made. Some consideration was also given to using the Conqueror hull to mount a high-velocity anti-tank gun in a huge ball mount in the glacis plate (FV206), rather in the style of the German tank killers (Sturmgeschütz) of the Second World War. This project was abandoned in July 1948, as was a similar project designed to provide a Conqueror-based self-propelled gun using a 152mm weapon (FV207).

In May 1952 there was also an abortive proposal to mount a 120mm medium anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull under the designation FV217. It had been abandoned by the end of the year.


Development work on what was known as ‘heavy gun tank number 2’, or FV215B, was carried out by Nuffield Mechanizations & Aero during 1950 with the intention of mounting a 180mm gun on the hull of the Conqueror. Three trial vehicles were intended to be constructed by Vickers-Armstrong, with the work being undertaken between 1951 and 1955, but two of these were subsequently cancelled before the whole project was abandoned in early 1957 to be replaced by the Malkara wire-guided anti-tank missile, mounted on the armoured 1-ton Humber truck chassis.

The same 180mm gun was also mounted in a Centurion chassis under the project designation FV4005.



Developed during the period 1950–1952, the Conway FV4004 tank destroyer consisted of the hull of the Centurion on which was mounted a larger gun in an attempt to provide sufficient firepower to counter the Soviet IS-3 heavy tank until work on the Conqueror project was complete.

A single experimental vehicle was constructed by the Royal Ordnance Factory Leeds, carrying a huge rolled-steel turret, designed by the Auster Aircraft Company and constructed by Chubbs of Wolverhampton, in which was mounted the American 120mm L1A1 anti-tank gun intended for the Conqueror. The gun had to be mounted high in the turret to prevent the recoil from impacting on the turret ring, and yet the maximum elevation was just 10 degrees. The height of the turret upset the centre of gravity of the vehicle and made transportation very difficult.

Trials continued throughout 1952, but at the end of the year the Conway project was cancelled. The prototype resides at the Tank Museum.


Commonwealth Division and the Hook


Successive Chinese assaults on the Hook position defended by the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment on the night of 28 May 1953. The fourth Chinese assault on the right flank of 1 battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s was repulsed by the 1st Battalion, The King’s Regiment, with the aid of artillery support.


Men of the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, have a smoke while waiting for dusk to fall before joining a patrol into no-man’s land at The Hook.

On 25 May 1953, the Chinese struck for the last time.

For years now there had been periods of alternative stalemate, interspersed by those of brief, bitter and very bloody fighting. Still the Chinese came in ‘waves’ or ‘human waves’, as the Tokyo feather merchants called what seemed the enemy’s inexhaustible supply of manpower. Indeed the outposts on the heights of Southern Korea from which the Allies fought stank, as one GI put it, of ‘flies, rats, garbage, fecal waste’…with the ‘worst job covering the Chinese bodies that lay everywhere on the side of the hills’.

The British of what was now the ‘Commonwealth Division’ played their role in those bloody skirmishes, which sometimes developed into outright battles. One after another the first battalions of these infantry regiments, which have now long disappeared, took their place in the line In Korea. They fought their private battle, tended their wounded, buried their death and vanished thereupon into the obscurity of that ‘forgotten war’. The Royal Warwicks, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Royal Sussex, the Cameron Highlanders, the Essex Regiment…they were all there, fighting to gain ‘honours’ the glory of which has faded over the years. In that last spring of the Korean War it was the turn of that regiment bearing the name of the most famous soldier the British Army has ever produced — the 1st Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

The position they would defend was the notorious ‘Hook’, part of that range ‘Old Baldy’, ‘Pork Chop Hill’ which would go down in the folklore of the US Army afterwards.

The battle for the ‘Hook’ had commenced back in October 1952 when the 7th US Marines had fought a successful defensive action on those grim, barren, shell-pitted heights. Thereafter, the position had fallen into the care of the British Commonwealth Division. Again it tempted the communists into attacking it, for as one of the officers of the Duke of Wellingtons said later: ‘It was a sore thumb, bang in the middle of Genghis Khan’s old route into Korea…it commanded an enormous amount of ground.’

On 18 November 1952, it was the turn of the 1st Black Watch. Again the Chinese attacked in their usual wasteful manner; but then, they had the men. Human life didn’t count for much in that huge country with its tremendous population. Nor were the Jocks inclined to take the Chinkies prisoner. Twice the Chinese attempted to swamp the Black Watch positions and twice they were forced back. At tremendous cost they failed to shift the men of Scotland’s elite regiment.

However, the British casualties as well were mounting in the defence of the ‘Hook’ — indeed the Army lost more on the height’s steep flanks than in any other battlefield in the three-year struggle for Korea. Now they were going to lose some more — but they would never lose the ‘Hook’.

On the night of 28 May, 1953, the ‘Dukes’ were warned by the urgent brassy blare of bugles that a Chinese attack on the ‘Hook’ was imminent. As the sound died away, there was the first obscene thump and whack of mortars being fired. To the defenders’ front, cherry-red flames erupted everywhere as the Chinese artillery joined in. The Chinese were coming!

‘Stand to,’ the NCOs and officers yelled urgently. Men grabbed their equipment and sprang to the fire-steps of their deep weapon pits. They slammed the brass-clad butts of their rifles and Brens into their shoulders. Others placed their grenades, already primed, in handy little holes in the sides of the slit trenches. The fire swept over them in fiery fury. Now they could hear the commands, the shouts, the angry orders coming from below. The Chinese were attacking in strength. As all around them their trenches started to crumple under a series of direct hits, the defenders began to fire furiously into the darkness.

Both dug-in Centurion tanks being used to support the Dukes with their 20-pounder cannon were hit. A half-blinded young officer just out of Sandhurst staggered bleeding into his company commander’s dug-out. He reported that his position was ‘untenable’. ‘Balls,’ his company commander snapped curtly, ‘get back!’ A Browning machine-gun was knocked out, with five killed and three wounded. Another machine-gun took up the challenge. The Chinese fell everywhere. The night was hideous with their screams and yells of pain. Still they kept on coming — and the Dukes kept on mercilessly mowing them down.

Now the Chinese had in places reached the summit. The Dukes went underground in their tunnels. By this time their wireless sets were smashed, so they were cut off from Brigade and had to rely on themselves. They did, fighting back with the desperate courage of men who knew instinctively that they either fought and won — or died. Underground the Chinks would show no mercy. It had become a close-combat battle in which no such mercy was shown or expected.

Commanding the Dukes’ Support Company, Maj Kershaw (who had missed out on most of the Second World War because he had been stationed in Iceland and other out-of-the-way places) was now getting his ‘bellyful’ of hand-to-hand combat. He had already fought his way into a tunnel until it too had been swamped by the enemy. A Chinese only feet away threw a stun grenade. He yelped with pain, as his legs and buttocks were peppered with fragments, the blast knocking his helmet off and his Sten gun out of his hands.

He staggered somehow into another trench. Four wounded Korean ‘Dukes’ lay in it. Half blinded and threatening to drift into unconsciousness at any moment, he tied a tourniquet with his bootlace. Still he fought back, until the Chinese blew in the entrance to the tunnel.

A Corporal Walker ran with his hard-pressed section into another tunnel. Again the enemy were everywhere. While his men frantically barricaded themselves in, the young corporal fired rapid bursts to keep the enemy at bay. The Chinese retaliated by tossing in satchel charges whose blast slapped the defenders around the faces, buffeting them time after time and almost deafening them. More critically, it blocked the entrance and thus it was that, when they had recovered from the explosion, they found themselves gasping for air like ancient asthmatics in the throes of an attack.

They lay ‘doggo’ and, as Walker related later, they heard the Chinese demand in English, ‘Where your friends?’ Private Smith, helpless after having been wounded in both legs, lied weakly, ‘They’re not in this tunnel,’ he gasped.

Walker pulled himself together. He advanced through the darkness further up the tunnel, heart beating furiously, weapon at the ready. He saw torches approaching. He knew instinctively they could belong only to the Chinks. He didn’t wait to find out whether his guess was right, but loosed off a burst. In the confines of the tunnel, the racket was ear-splitting, giving way to screams and yelps of pain. Then a loud echoing silence. Not for long. A rumble, a trembling, and the Chinese detonated a charge at the entrance. ‘They were scaled in the tunnel, as if in their own tomb. ‘We were in darkness,’ as Walker afterwards remembered that terribly long night, ‘and choking through dust and lack of air. One chap alone had half a bottle of water and he shared it all round, all getting a lick every hour.’

Maj Lewis Kershaw — trapped, bleeding badly and half-conscious in his tunnel — held the survivors entombed there together with his undaunted spirit. ‘The Dukes don’t die,’ he shouted defiantly; ‘Stick it!’ And stick it the survivors of the 1st Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment did. When on the next day the rescue parties broke through to the trapped men, Lewis Kershaw was still in command! Blinking in the grey light of the new day, he ordered them, ‘See that I am the last out!’ It was only then that he allowed himself to finally pass into the boon of unconsciousness.

All that long night and the following day, the Chinese attacked and attacked with savage fury. The British brought down artillery on their positions. Later it was discovered that a whole battalion of Chinese infantry had been wiped out in the course of that suicidal barrage. Their shattered bodies hung from the wire everywhere like bundles of blood-red rags.

But the Dukes didn’t only defend, they counter-attacked. Over the previous years the Dukes had always prided themselves on having the best rugby team in the whole of the British Army. Some of the players were indeed international stars. Now one of them, six foot four Campbell-Lamerton, led his company into the attack to regain ground lost by the Dukes. It was a matter of honour. It was tough going. The day-long artillery bombardments, British and Chinese, had ‘literally changed the shape’ of the top of the Hook. Rubble and tangled smashed wire — and the enemy — made progress damnably slow, but somehow they did it. At 3.30 on the morning of 29 May, the attackers reported that the Hook was again in the hands of the Dukes. Virtutis fortutia comes (motto of the Duke of Wellingtons) — Fortune had indeed favoured the Brave…

As the dawn light came slowly that morning over the shattered lunar landscape, as if some deity were reluctant to illuminate the ugliness below, the search parties started to stumble through the smoking wreckage of the Dukes’ positions to recover the casualties. They found 250 dead and 800 wounded Chinese. Of the Dukes some 149 had been killed, wounded and captured (many of the sixteen POWs wounded, too). In a matter of a day, the Duke of Wellingtons had lost one-fifth of its strength.

Brig Kendrew of the brigade to which the Dukes belonged came up to the Hook to see what had happened. Kendrew had seen much of war and had won three DSOs in the Second World War, but even so he was shocked. Grave-faced and shaken, he said, ‘My God, those Dukes! They were marvellous. In the whole of the last war I never knew anything like that bombardment. But they held the Hook…I knew they would…’

Despite the praise, the Brigadier could see they’d had enough. Besides, most of their positions and many of their weapons had been shattered. He ordered the Battalion relieved at once. If the Chinese attacked again, they would be in a damned difficult position, so he commanded the 1st Royal Fusiliers to take over. At noon, long lines of Fusiliers started to wind their way up the heights, including an obscure cockney one day to be known to the world as Michael Caine, actor. ‘What’s been going on?’ one of the Fusiliers asked as he came level with the Dukes and saw the carnage and wreckage. The unknown Duke had his answer ready. Calmly but proudly, he answered: ‘Just seeing off a few Chinks…’


And so they had. The Dukes, three-quarters of them national servicemen who were paid £1.62 a week by a grateful country for risking their lives, had fought the British Army’s last real battle of the Korean War. It went on for several more weeks, but in the end the Chinese knew they’d never defeat the Allies now. They asked for a truce.

In July 1953 they waited as the final hours ticked away, as had happened in Europe when the armies there had waited for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 till that year’s Armistice was to come into force. Right up to the last moment on that Monday 27 July, the guns thundered. Half an hour after the last bomb had been dropped by the US Air Force, Gen Trudeau of the US 7th Infantry Division pulled the lanyard of one of the divisional artillery pieces and fired the last round. He kept the shell case and was quoted as saying later: ‘I was happy it was over.

It was apparent that all we were going to do was to sit there and hold positions. There wasn’t going to be any victory.’

The General was right: there wasn’t! What he apparently didn’t realize at the time was that it was not a question of a US victory, but rather of defeat or at the best stalemate. In essence the United States of America, one day to be seen as the world’s superpower, had lost its first war…

Not that the GIs cared. They ‘partied’. If they were lucky they got high on hooch and local rice wine. If they weren’t they let off rockets and signal flares. The US Marines who had suffered so much in Korea sang dirty songs and told tall tales. One GI seemed to sum up the prevailing mood among the men. Pte Bill Shirk maintained it had all been a ‘hell of a waste’. ‘Who gives a shit if they’re North Korean or South Korean? You can’t take a person living like an animal and expect him to act like a human being.’

Perhaps his view was typical. They were all gooks anyway. But whatever the men ‘at the sharp end’ thought it really didn’t matter on that wonderful July day. The war was over, so they celebrated.

As for the British, nothing much is recorded (as was customary in Korea) of their reaction. More than likely, being the British Army, they were given a couple of bottles of cheap Jap beer and then told to ‘bull up’. As they always maintained in the ‘Kate Ramey’ — ‘war is hell, but peacetime will kill you…’

Han Dynasty Frontier Armies



One of the key transformations of Chinese society during the Han was the abolition of universal military service, an institution that had underpinned the Warring States and the Qin.22 With the Han’s defeat of the feudatory kingdoms in 154 B.C., the possibility of large-scale warfare in the interior of China vanished, leaving only the threat of the Xiongnu on the northern border. The inability of peasants serving one-year terms to master horsemanship and the crossbow left them ill-equipped for expeditionary forces. Their relatively short terms also made them unsuitable for long-term garrison duty. Emperor Wu allowed some peasants to pay a tax in lieu of military service and used this money to recruit professionals. Nomadic enemies of the Xiongnu and dissident elements of the Xiongnu themselves were also recruited to provide skilled cavalry. In some cases convicts were sent to the frontiers to man garrisons. Thus, during the last century B.C. the Chinese army began to shift away from peasant levies to an army based on professionals, nomads, and criminals.

The rebellion against Wang Mang turned this gradual and informal process into official policy. The rebellion had demonstrated that peasant conscripts could be turned against the state, especially during the autumn training session, when adult males of a commandery gathered for inspection. It also showed that peasants would follow locally powerful families to whom they were bound rather than officials. Training peasants to fight thus simply provided potential rebels with a superior quality of soldier. Furthermore, in the course of the rebellions, much of the population had been displaced, and loss of registered population meant a drastic decrease in tax income for the court. Motivated by the need to decrease expenditures and reduce internal threats, and by the uselessness of conscripts on the frontier, the newly established Eastern Han regime abolished both the annual training sessions and the local military officials. This did away with a formal peasant army, and left only a small, professional army stationed around the capital.

Following the split of the Xiongnu into southern and northern confederacies in 48 A.D., nomads were internally resettled on a large scale. To supervise these new inhabitants, the Eastern Han government set up standing army commands in camps at the frontier, one command for each major nomadic group resettled in China. These standing armies were manned by professional Han soldiers. The total number of troops in the camps is not recorded, but scattered citations indicate that they were in the tens of thousands. These camps remained a permanent feature of the Han army, and their troops took part in most of the major campaigns of the second century A.D.

Expeditionary armies were distinct from the standing armies, and drew their forces primarily from resettled barbarians. Most of the cavalry in the campaigns of the first century A.D. that destroyed the Xiongnu confederacy consisted of nomad soldiers. The Han founder had already employed tribal soldiers during the civil war. After the reign of Emperor Wu, these tribes were usually classified as “dependent states” and allowed to keep their own leaders and customs, under the supervision of a commandant. But the Eastern Han went beyond the policy of “using barbarians to control barbarians.” Non-Han soldiers also quelled internal rebellions, much as foreign mercenaries did for monarchs in early modern Europe. The histories record more than fifty cases of the participation of non-Han soldiers in Chinese armies. Twenty-seven of these list no Han troops in the forces involved, and six were under the command of tribal chieftains.

From this evidence it is clear that after the middle of the first century A.D. the primary source of mounted warriors was non-Han soldiers. State-controlled grasslands and stables for rearing military horses, which the Western Han had maintained since the reign of Emperor Jing in the second century B.C., were largely abandoned. The warlords of the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 A.D.) continued to rely on non-Han peoples to provide their cavalry.

In addition to using non-Han troops in their army, the Han also paid bounties for the heads of slain enemies. Xianbei chieftains, before submitting to the Han, received payments for the heads of Xiongnu. In 58 A.D. they again received payments for crushing a force of invading Wuhuan, and at that time they formally submitted. They received annual payments of 270,000,000 cash, and in return they controlled the Wuhuan and killed Xiongnu. Thus the most common military man in the Eastern Han was the nomad warrior serving the empire under the command of his tribal chieftain.


In contrast with the Warring States period, when regional cultures constituted the primary divisions in the Chinese sphere, the imagining of a world divided between nomads and Chinese marked a major step. It posited the fundamental unity of a single Chinese civilization defined by what was not nomadic, and it reduced regional divisions to secondary status. China first emerged as a unity through the invention of a Chinese/ nomad dichotomy, and this bipolar concept remained central to Chinese civilization in later periods.

It is ironic, then, that the political partition of the world into two spheres lasted only a few decades. In spite of increasing payments, Xiongnu incursions did not cease. Each agreement lasted a few years, only to be broken by a new invasion, which was followed in turn by demands for a resumption of peaceful relations based on an increase in payments. The Chinese attributed this to barbarian perfidy, but it reflected the nature of the Xiongnu state. While the Chinese emperor was unchallenged as chief lawgiver, judge, and administrator, power within the Xiongnu state was constrained and divided by kin bonds, customary practice, and horizontal segmentation between clans or tribes. The chanyu maintained control over his subordinate chiefs only by constant negotiations in which he was first among equals rather than an absolute authority. Consensus on his power hinged on his success in battle and distribution of booty.

In such a system, the chanyu could not refrain from military action indefinitely. Nor could he stop his subordinates from attacking on their own, for the power and prestige of chiefs likewise depended on their success in battle and distribution of booty. Sometimes they invaded because of tensions with local Chinese officials, sometimes because of resentment of the chanyu. The he qin policy failed because it relied on a structure of authority that did not exist among the Xiongnu.19

As treaty after treaty was violated, debates at the Chinese court were increasingly dominated by calls for war. Decades of peace had given the Chinese time to develop a new style of army based on cavalry and crossbows that could successfully engage the Xiongnu in the field. In 134 B.C. Emperor Wu finally undertook to destroy the Xiongnu through military action. Although his attempted ambush of the chanyu failed, in the decades that followed, Chinese armies pushed deep into Central Asia and inflicted substantial losses of both men and flocks on the Xiongnu.

However, Han losses were also considerable, and repeated campaigns drained the treasury without achieving any decisive result. Difficulties in transporting supplies and harsh weather meant that no army could spend even as much as one hundred days in the field, so victories could not be translated into an enduring occupation. Emperor Wu’s successors consequently abandoned his policy of launching expeditions and instead retired behind a defensive line, while refusing to pay tribute. This policy was successful, for it deprived the chanyu of Han tribute and also reduced his role as defender against Han invasions. The position of the chanyu deteriorated, and in 120 B.C. a dissident Xiongnu king surrendered to the Han with 40,000 men. In subsequent decades other chiefs refused to attend the chanyu’s court.20 Between 115 and 60 B.C. the Han also secured control of the former Xiongnu sphere of influence in eastern Central Asia (modern Xinjiang).

A battle over succession split the Xiongnu empire in 57 B.C., with no fewer than five kings claiming the title of chanyu. After several years one king acknowledged Han suzerainty, visited the Han court, and resettled inside China. This proved to be highly advantageous, for in exchange for obeisance he received generous gifts from the Han. He repeated his visit to the court in 49 and 33 B.C. and sent a son there as a hostage, whose well-being depended on his father’s good conduct and who learned Han culture. The wealth that the vassal chieftain gained allowed him to build up his following and defeat his rivals. Eventually, he grew powerful enough to return to the north and resume the old pattern of demanding tribute, until a second succession struggle renewed the civil war in 48 A.D. This led to a permanent split between the southern Xiongnu, who dwelt in China and submitted to the emperor, and the northern Xiongnu, who resided beyond the boundaries of the Han empire.

The southern Xiongnu became dependent on Han assistance, as indicated in 88 A.D. in a memorial from the southern chanyu: “Your servant humbly thinks back on how since his ancestor submitted to the Han we have been blessed with your support, keeping a sharp watch on the passes and providing strong armies for more than forty years. Your subjects have been born and reared in Han territory and have depended entirely on the Han for food. Each year we received gifts counted in the hundreds of millions [of cash].”21 This policy of resettling nomads still grouped in their tribes inside the Chinese empire would have disastrous long-term consequences, as we will see, leading to a breakdown in civil order in the northwest and the southward flight of large numbers of Han Chinese.

Although the northern Xiongnu continued to defy the Han, they were defeated on several occasions by allied armies of the Han and the southern Xiongnu. Moreover, other tribal peoples such as the Wuhuan and Xianbei broke away from the Xiongnu and received large bounties from the Han for killing Xiongnu. In 87 A.D. a Xianbei army defeated the Xiongnu, killed the northern chanyu, and flayed his body. More than 200,000 Xiongnu tribesmen surrendered after this defeat, and a great Han victory in 89 A.D. completed the destruction of the Xiongnu state.

Wars of the Roses – Pretenders – Simnel

A Pageant of Kings: Henry VII -- He hanged his dogs as traitors!

Henry pardoned young Simnel, acknowledging that he had been a mere puppet in the hands of adults, and gave him a job in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grew older, he became a falconer. He died around 1525.

The Wars of the Roses were fought sporadically between 1455 and 1486 between the two rival Plantagenet houses of Lancaster and York. Virtually all the leading participants were related and they are also known as the ‘cousins’ wars’ in which, over less than 25 years, the crown of England changed hands no less than five times. As in all civil wars, no quarter was given or expected, and the battle of Towtown on Palm Sunday in March 1461 has claim to be the bloodiest on English soil. Fought in a raging snowstorm it, and many other ferocious battles, wiped out entire dynasties. Unusually for the medieval era, the viciousness displayed swept away aristocrats as well as the common soldiery. After the battle of Mortimer’s Cross, Henry VI’s stepfather, Owen Tudor, was beheaded in Hereford and a mad woman combed his hair and placed his severed head at the market cross, surrounded by 100 candles. The final victory went to a relatively remote Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor, who defeated the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. He married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York to unite the two houses.

Henry’s claim was to the throne was shaky: he was half Welsh and half French and was most closely related to the French royal family as great-grandson of Charles VI. In England he was merely the great-great-great grandson of Edward III. But he was backed by French and Breton silver, his army boosted by mercenaries – and most importantly – he had won a clear victory at Bosworth.

That bloodbath had ended the Wars of the Roses and put Henry VII on the throne, but his troubles were far from over. He was beset by enemies at home and at the court of Burgundy, and in the spring of 1487 a serious insurrection was launched from Ireland.

In the spring of the previous year a priest took to Ireland a 10- or 11-year-old boy, Lambert Simnel. The lad had been born around 1477 and his real name is not known – contemporary records call him John. According to subsequent legends he was the son of a baker, or an organ builder, or a tradesman. He was certainly of humble origin. He was taken as a pupil by an Oxford-trained priest, Richard Simon (or Symonds or Simons or Symonds) with ambitions to be a king-maker in such turbulent but opportunistic times. He tutored the handsome boy in courtly manners and gave him an excellent education. Simon noticed a striking resemblance between Lambert and the supposedly murdered sons of Edward IV, so he initially intended to present Simnel as Richard, Duke of York, son of Edward IV, the younger of the vanished princes in the Tower. However, when he heard rumours that the Earl of Warwick, a boy of the same age and of similar appearance to his pupil, had died during imprisonment, he changed his mind and put forward Simnel as the Earl. Warwick was the son of the Duke of Clarence, King Edward IV’s brother, and as such had been the nephew of two Yorkist kings. The real Edward had not died and was safely locked in the Tower, but Yorkist propaganda now claimed that the prisoner was an imposter. That claim was widely promoted by Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, who was sister of both Edward IV and Richard III. She was supported by several nobles, including John De la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who was himself the son of Elizabeth, another of the sisters of the two Yorkist kings. However, Lincoln’s claim was too tenuous and an attempt to raise a rebellion in north and west England in 1486 came to nothing. Lincoln had fled the English court in March and although he doubted Simnel’s claim, he saw in him an opportunity for revenge and personal advancement. Lincoln was joined by a number of rebel English Lords at Mechelen, including Richard III’s loyal supporter, Francis Lord Lovell, Sir Richard Harleston, the former governor of Jersey and Thomas David, a captain of the English garrison at Calais.

The indomitable Margaret provided between 1,500 and 2,000 German, Swiss and Flemish mercenaries under Captain Martin Swartz. They were mostly foot soldiers carrying bill and pike, with some crossbowmen and a few who carried the relatively new firearm, the arquibusier. The rebel army was put together in Ireland, where opposition to Henry Tudor was strong. Simon took the boy to Ireland, now claiming that Warwick had escaped the Tower and taken refuge under his care. He presented him to the Irish governmental head, the Earl of Kildare, who was willing to swallow the story as it gave him a pretext to invade England and overthrow Henry. The frightened and bemused Simnel was crowned King Edward VI of England in Dublin 24 May 1487. By then the Yorkist fleet had arrived in Dublin. Kildare and his brother Thomas Fitzgerald of Laccagh, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, recruited 4,500 Irish mercenaries, lightly armoured infantry, for the cause.

On 5 June, accompanied by Lincoln and Lovell, Simnel was landed on Piel Island near Furness, Lancashire, and were joined by some English supporters. Most local nobles, apart from Sir Thomas Broughton, stayed away. The pretender’s army advanced through Yorkshire, picking up recruits as they went, and swelled to between 7,000 and 8,000, including some English knights and their retinues. By forced marches they covered over 200 miles in five days. On the night of 10 June, at Bramham Moor outside Tadcaster, Lovell led 2,000 men on a night attack against 400 Lancastrians under Lord Clifford, and easily overwhelmed them. Lincoln then outmanoeuvred Henry’s northern army, under the Earl of Northumberland, by ordering a force under John, Lord Scrope, to mount a diversionary attack on Bootham Bar, York, on 12 June. Scrope then withdrew northwards, drawing Northumberland’s army after him.

From Doncaster a Royalist force of some 6,000 men under Sir Edward Woodville challenged the main rebel force but retreated when they saw they were outnumbered. For three days the rebels advanced through Sherwood, skirmishing all the way. Nottingham was evacuated as they approached. But the fighting had delayed the Yorkists, allowing time for reinforcements under Lord Strange to bolster the city’s defences and deter the rebel advance. Near Farnsfield the rebels turned off the Nottingham road and headed towards Newark into the security of the Earl of Lincoln’s lands.

Henry was at Kenilworth but swiftly set off for Nottingham. He arrived there on 14 June and found that the rebels were at Southwell, 12 miles to the north-east. Henry moved to Radcliffe, between Nottingham and Bingham, the following day, while the rebel army crossed the Trent by the ford below Fiskerton and took up a position on an open escarpment some 1,500yds south of East Stoke. Here the king met them on the morning of the 16th as he was marching towards Newark. The rebels had an advantage in numbers, perhaps 9,000 to 6,000, but apart from the German mercenaries their soldiers were not well armed or trained. The English army was split into three parts of fairly equal size. The van, with heavy cavalry, was under the Earl of Oxford. Their two great advantages were their better armour and their large number of longbowmen.

Battle of Stoke - 1487

Battle of Stoke – 1487

Lincoln and the rebels had camped overnight on the high ground south and west of the village of East Stoke above the Fosse Way. The two sides were facing each other by 9 a.m. and rather than wait for the rest of the royal army, Oxford began a withering bow fire upon the rebels on the higher ground in front of him. The unarmoured Irish suffered gravely under the hail of arrows and Lincoln was forced to charge down the hill rather than stand his ground.

For three hours the battle was fiercely contested. The rebels were well served by the German mercenaries and the English shuddered under the shock of the initial charge. But after a while their poor equipment and armour, and the lack of training amongst the Irish levies, saw the fight swing to the English. A counter-attack by Oxford was enough to break the resistance of much of the rebel army. Unable to retreat, the German and Swiss mercenaries fought on, mainly to the death. Their commander, Martin Swartz, and Lincoln were killed, as were Broughton and Fitzgerald. Of the Yorkist commanders, only Lord Lovell escaped, by swimming the Trent and, according to legend, died hidden in a secret room at his house. He was never seen publicly again. The terrified Simnel was captured.

The rebels were slaughtered in a gully at the foot of the ridge and in the marshy fields. Between 4,000 and 5,000 died either in the battle or in the aftermath as the fugitives were hunted down. All captured Irish or English rebel soldiers were immediately hanged. The Irish nobles who had supported Simnel were spared, as Henry needed their support to govern Ireland effectively. The German mercenaries who survived the grim slaughter were allowed to go free but without their pay. Most of those who died on the field were buried in mass graves on the same day.

Simon avoided execution due to his priestly status, but was imprisoned for life. Henry pardoned young Simnel, acknowledging that he had been a mere puppet in the hands of adults, and gave him a job in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grew older, he became a falconer. He died around 1525.

The rebels had inflicted heavy casualties on Henry’s army, possibly as many as 2,000 men. But his victory at Stoke secured the safety of the Tudor dynasty. The threat was not over, however. Another pretender emerged.

Wars of the Roses – Pretenders – Warbeck


Perkin Warbeck

Perkin Warbeck was born around 1474 and his youth is clouded in mystery. According to his later confession, procured under duress, his father was John Osbeck, the Flemish comptroller to the city of Tournai. At 10 he was taken by his mother to Antwerp to learn Dutch. He served several masters before being employed by a local English master, John Strewe, for some months before being hired by a Breton merchant, who took him to Cork when he was about 17. There he learnt to speak English. Dressed in silk clothes, he was approached by Yorkists who saw a resemblance to the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, who had died in the Tower.

He returned to the Continent and first claimed the English throne at the court of Burgundy in 1490. He went back to Ireland in that guise hoping to raise support as Lambert Simnel had done four years earlier. He impressed few and was forced home. He was received by Charles VIII of France in 1492, but expelled by the French king under the terms of a treaty in which he agreed not to shelter English rebels. It was back at the Burgundian court, a hotbed of Yorkists, that his fortunes changed. He was officially recognised as Richard of Shrewsbury by Margaret of York, now the widow of Charles the Bold, who cynically tutored him in the ways of the Yorkist court. Simnel’s mentor, Margaret of Burgundy, also opportunistically hailed the young man. Warbeck’s claims echoed around the European courts and Henry imposed a trade embargo on Burgundy. At the invitation of Duke Philip’s father, King Maximilian I, he attended the funeral of Emperor Frederick III in 1493 and was recognised as King Richard IV of England. Warbeck in turn promised that if he died before becoming king, his claim would fall to Maximilian. The determined and vengeful Margaret of Burgundy funded another invasion attempt.

In July 1495 Warbeck landed at Deal in Kent, hoping to spark an uprising behind his bogus banner. Instead, his small army was routed and 150 of his troops killed before Warbeck even managed to step ashore. He retreated immediately to Ireland where he was supported by the Earl of Desmond. He laid siege to Waterford but strong resistance forced him to flee again, this time to Scotland.

Warbeck was well received by James IV of Scotland, who knew the political leverage to be had from having an English pretender at his court. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in particular were inclined to help him in his struggles with England, in order to prevent the situation escalating into war with France. Warbeck was permitted to marry James’s distant cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon, a daughter of the Earl of Huntly. The marriage was celebrated in Edinburgh with a tournament. James gave Warbeck clothes for the wedding and armour covered with purple silk. So clothed, he may have fought in a team with the king and four knights.

In September 1496 James IV prepared to invade England with Warbeck. A red, gold and silver banner was made for Warbeck as the Duke of York; Roderic de Lalanne, a Flemish knight arrived with two little ships and 60 German soldiers. Two great French guns, 10 smaller cannon and 30 iron breech loading ‘cart guns’ were rolled out with 16 wagons for the munitions. An English spy in Edinburgh estimated that the invading army would last just five days in England before it ran out of provisions. His assessment was to be proved correct.

The Scottish army assembled near Edinburgh and James IV and Warbeck offered prayers at Holyrood Abbey on 14 September. Seven days later the army crossed the River Tweed at Coldstream. Miners set to work to demolish the tower of Castle Heaton on 24 September, but the army quickly retreated when resources were used up, and hoped-for support for Perkin Warbeck in Northumberland failed to materialise. In all, the invading army marched just four miles into England, destroyed four small defensive towers and burnt a few of Henry’s royal banners. They retreated to Scotland on 25 September when an English army commanded by Lord Neville approached from Newcastle. James’s allies, including Spain, pressed him to make peace with England.

Warbeck was now an embarrassment rather than an asset and James provided a ship, the Cuckoo, and a hired crew under a Breton captain, which returned him to Waterford in shame in July 1497. James IV did indeed make peace with England. Once again, Warbeck laid siege to Waterford, but this time his effort lasted only eleven days before he was forced to flee Ireland, chased by four English ships. He was left with only 120 men on two ships.

In September 1497, Warbeck landed at Whitesand Bay in Cornwall hoping to take advantage of Cornish resentment at the defeat of their own rising three months earlier. Warbeck proclaimed that he would put a stop to extortionate taxes levied to help fight a war against Scotland and was warmly welcomed. The Cornish fell for his rhetoric because they wanted to believe it. He was declared Richard IV on Bodmin Moor and his Cornish army of around 6,000 entered Exeter before advancing on Taunton. Henry sent his top general, Giles, Lord Daubeney, to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the king’s scouts were at Glastonbury, he panicked and deserted his army. Warbeck surrendered himself at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire.

Henry reached Taunton on 4 October 1497, where he received the surrender of the remaining Cornish army. The ringleaders were executed and others fined. Warbeck was imprisoned, first at Taunton, then at the Tower of London, where he was, according to an eyewitness, ‘paraded through the streets on horseback amid much hooting and derision of the citizens’.

Warbeck was held in the Tower alongside Edward, Earl of Warwick. Both tried to escape but were quickly re-captured. Unlike the boy Simnel, the 25-year-old Warbeck could not claim that he had been the pawn of unscrupulous adults. It is estimated that Henry spent £13,000 on countering Warbeck’s adventures, putting a strain on the royal finances and making him disinclined to mercy. On 23 November 1499, Warbeck was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn. On the scaffold he read out his confession before being hanged.

Many historians credit Henry’s victory at Bosworth as marking the beginning of the modern nation. Others qualify that judgement. Nicholas Vincent wrote:

by the time that Henry Tudor placed a crown upon his head, England had acquired both a history and a national identity. Wealth and the bounty of nature were England’s birthrights, a consequence of geography, of the constant presence of the sea, and of the toil of those who first cleared the land, dug the mines and tilled the soil. From at least the age of Bede, as far back as the eighth century, came an idea of Englishness and of united destiny united under Christian kingship. For all the shattering uncertainties and usurpations of the fifteenth century, the kingdom of England, unlike the kingdom of France or the empire of Germany, remained a united and indivisible whole.

Attempted invasions, hopeless though they were, helped to cement that birthright, that national identity.

White Failure

The amazing true story of the Czechoslovak Legion’s adventure in World War One – under the leadership of Professor Thomas G. Masaryk, 70,000 Czech and Slovak POW’s switch sides – fight for the Allies, capture the Trans-Siberian RR – and win a new nation. NOTE: Most of these photos haven’t been seen for 75 years – and the Russians destroyed the negatives.

Because of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk a large force of Czech and Slovak soldiers – prisoners of war and deserters from the Austro-Hungarian army – became stranded on Soviet soil. As nationalists determined to fight for their country’s independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they had sided with the Russians in the war. But now they wanted to continue their struggle as part of the Czech army fighting in France. Rather than run the risk of crossing enemy lines, they decided to travel eastwards, right around the world, intending to reach Europe via Vladivostok and the United States. On 26 March an agreement was reached with the Soviet authorities at Penza, whereby the 35,000 soldiers of the Czech Legion were allowed to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway as ‘free citizens’ with a specified number of weapons for self-defence.

By mid-May, they had got as far as Cheliabinsk in the Urals when they became involved in fighting with the local Soviets and their Red Guards, who had tried to confiscate their guns. Deciding to fight their way through the free-for-all of Soviet Siberia, the Legion broke up into groups and captured one town after another from the poorly armed and disciplined Red Guards, who ran away in panic at the first sight of the well-organized Czechs. On 8 June, a force of 8,000 Czechs took the Volga town of Samara, a stronghold of the Right SRs, whose leaders had fled there after the closure of the Constituent Assembly and formed a government, the Komuch (Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly), which the Czechs now installed in power. The Right SRs had promised that they would secure French and British help to overthrow the Bolsheviks and get Russia to rejoin the war against Germany and Austria. Thus began a new phase of the Civil War – organized on military lines by Red and White armies – in which fourteen Allied powers would ultimately become involved.

Fighting had already started on the Don River, in south Russia, where Kornilov and his White Guards, having fled the Bykhov Monastery, had formed a Volunteer Army of 4,000 men, mostly officers, who briefly captured Rostov from the Reds before retreating south across the ice-bound steppe to the Kuban in February. Kornilov was killed in an attack on Ekaterinodar on 13 April. Taking over the command, General Denikin led the Whites back to the Don, where they found the Cossack farmers in revolt against the Bolsheviks, who were seizing food at gunpoint and wreaking havoc in the Cossack settlements. By June, 40,000 Cossacks had joined General Krasnov’s Don Army. With the Whites they were in a strong position to strike north towards the Volga and link up with the Czechs to attack Moscow.

The ease of the Czech victories made it clear to Trotsky, now Commissar of War, that the Red Army had to be reformed on the model of the tsarist conscript army, with regular units replacing the Red Guards, professional officers and a centralized hierarchy of command. There was a lot of opposition to these policies among the Party’s rank and file. Whereas the Red Guards were seen as an army of the working class, mass conscription was bound to build an army dominated by the peasantry, a hostile social force in the view of the Bolsheviks. The rank and file were particularly opposed to Trotsky’s conscription of ex-tsarist officers (75,000 would be recruited by the Bolsheviks in the Civil War). They saw it as a return to the old military order and as a hindrance to their own promotion as ‘Red officers’. The so-called Military Opposition crystallized around this lower-class mistrust and resentment of the professional officers and other ‘bourgeois specialists’. But Trotsky ridiculed his critics’ arguments: revolutionary zeal was no substitute for military expertise.

Mass conscription was introduced in June. Factory workers and Party activists were the first to be called up. Without a military infrastructure in the countryside, mobilizing peasants turned out to be far more difficult than expected. Of the 275,000 peasant recruits anticipated from the first call-up, only 40,000 actually appeared. Peasants did not want to leave their villages at harvest time. There were peasant uprisings against conscriptions and mass desertions from the Red Army.

The Czech Legion fell apart after the capture of Samara. It had no reason to continue fighting after the ending of the First World War in November 1918. Without an effective force to resist the Red Army, it was only a matter of time before the Komuch lost its hold on the Volga region. The SRs fled to Omsk, where their brief Directory government was overthrown by the Rightist officers of the Siberian army who invited Admiral Kolchak to become the Supreme Leader of the anti-Bolshevik movement. Kolchak received the backing of the British, the French and the Americans, who remained committed to removing the Bolsheviks from power on political grounds, even though, with the world war now over, there were no longer any military reasons for the Allied intervention in Russia.

Kolchak’s White army of 100,000 men advanced to the Volga, where the Bolsheviks were struggling to cope with a large peasant uprising behind their lines in the spring of 1919. In a desperate counter-offensive the Reds pushed Kolchak’s forces back to Ufa by mid-June, after which the cities of the Urals and beyond were taken by the Reds in quick succession as the Whites lost cohesion and retreated through Siberia. Finally captured in Irkutsk, Kolchak was executed by the Bolsheviks in February 1920.

Meanwhile, at the height of the Kolchak offensive, Denikin’s forces struck into the Donbas coal region and south-east Ukraine, where the Cossacks were in rebellion against a Red campaign of mass terror to clear them off the land (‘decossackization’). With military support from the British and the French, now committed to the anti-Bolshevik campaign on explicitly political grounds, the Whites advanced easily into Ukraine. The Reds were suffering from a crisis of supplies and lost more than 1 million deserters on the Southern Front between March and October. The rear was engulfed in peasant uprisings, as the Reds resorted to the requisitioning of horses and supplies, the conscription of reinforcements and the repression of villages suspected of hiding deserters. In the south-east corner of Ukraine the Reds were heavily reliant on Nestor Makhno’s peasant partisans, who fought under the black flag of the Anarchists but were no match for the better-supplied and better-disciplined White troops.

On 3 July, Denikin issued his Moscow Directive, the order for a general attack on the Soviet capital. It was an all-or-nothing gamble, counting on the speed of the White cavalry to exploit the temporary weakness of the Reds, but at the risk of leaving the White rear unprotected in the form of trained reserves, sound administration and lines of supply.

The Whites pushed north and took Orel, only 250 miles from Moscow, on 14 October. But Denikin’s forces had overstretched themselves. In the rear they had left themselves without enough troops to defend their bases against Makhno’s Anarchist partisans and Ukrainian nationalists, and at the height of the Moscow offensive they were forced to withdraw troops to deal with them. Without regular supplies, the troops broke down into looting peasant farms. But the Whites’ main problem was the peasants’ fear of them as an avenging army of the landowners. The peasants were afraid that a White victory would reverse the revolution on the land. Denikin’s officers were mostly squires’ sons. On the land question the Whites had made it clear that they would not go beyond the Kadet programme, under which the gentry’s surplus land would be sold off to the peasants at a future date. Under these proposals the peasants would have to give back three quarters of the land they had taken from the gentry during the revolution.

As the Whites advanced towards Moscow, the peasants rallied behind the Red Flag. Between June and September a quarter of a million deserters returned to the Red Army from the two military districts of Orel and Moscow alone. These were regions where the local peasantry had gained substantial amounts of land during 1917. However much the peasants might have detested the Bolshevik regime, with its violent requisitionings and commissars, they would side with the Reds against the Whites to defend their revolution on the land.

With 200,000 troops the Reds launched a counter-offensive, forcing the Whites, who had half as many men, to retreat south, losing discipline as they did so. The remnants of Denikin’s army ended up in Novorossisk, the main Allied port on the Black Sea, from which 50,000 troops were hurriedly evacuated to the Crimea in March 1920. There were desperate scenes as soldiers and civilians struggled to get on board the Allied ships. Priority was given to the troops, but not all of these could be rescued and 60,000 soldiers were left at the mercy of the Bolsheviks (most of them were later shot or sent to labour camps). For Denikin’s critics, the botched evacuation was the final straw. A generals’ revolt forced his resignation in favour of Baron Wrangel, a critic of the Moscow Directive, who led one last stand against the Bolsheviks in the Crimea during 1920. But this was only to delay for a few months the inevitable defeat of the Whites.

What were the reasons for their failure? The White émigré communities in Constantinople, Paris and Berlin would agonize for years over this question.

Historians sympathetic to their cause have often stressed the ‘objective factors’ that stacked the odds against them. The Reds had an overwhelming superiority of numbers. They controlled the vast terrain of central Russia with its prestigious capitals, most of the country’s industry, if not fuel, and the core of its railway network, which enabled them to shift their forces from one front to another. The Whites, by contrast, were divided between several different fronts, which made it difficult to coordinate their operations, and they had to rely on the Allies for much of their supplies. All these factors played a part. But at the root of their defeat was a failure of politics. The Whites proved unable and unwilling to frame policies capable of winning mass support. They had no propaganda to compare with the Bolsheviks’, no political symbols of their own to challenge the Red Flag or the Red Star. They were divided politically. Any movement that included right-wing monarchists and socialist republicans would have problems reaching political agreement. But it was practically impossible for the Whites to agree on policies. They did not even try. Their sole idea was to put the clock back to before October 1917. They failed to adapt to the new revolutionary situation. Their refusal to accept the national independence movements was disastrous. It lost them the potentially invaluable support of the Poles and Ukrainians and complicated their relations with the Cossacks, who wanted more autonomy from Russia than the White leaders were prepared to give. But the main cause of their undoing was their failure to accept the peasant revolution on the land.