Jacobite military efforts in the aftermath of William’s victory in Ireland in 1691

Royal Ecossais at Culloden Moor – the one last epic stand.

The preparation of the Scottish regiment at Lille was designed to assist James’s invasion of Britain in the summer campaigning season of 1692. However, on 3 October 1691, William III had signed the Treaty of Limerick, marking the formal end of the conflict in Ireland. Louis XIV had given up on Jacobite resistance in Ireland even earlier: he had agreed to send only enough supplies to keep the war going as a diversion—which probably accounts for the lack of interest in, and respect for, the efforts of the recruiters at Lille.

King James still believed he could strike out at William in Flanders, where the prince would be busy directing his British and Dutch regiments. Theoretically, James had at his disposal over 12,000 Irish soldiers billeted in Brittany, as well as the English and Scottish volunteers at Lille. However, he had lost effective control of the Irish who were receiving their orders as part of the French Army. William’s forces in Britain, fearing another Jacobite attempt in 1692, stationed 10,000 men in a forty-mile radius of Portsmouth and had a further 4,000 infantry on stand-by in Flanders. Louis XIV considerably harassed the forces of William in the Low Countries, where the prince lost the fortress of Namur to the French in the same year. The success of this operation was keenly hoped for by a number of highly placed British officers who served King William. Some of them colluded actively with James for his restoration: the most prominent of them was Lord Churchill, who may, in January 1692, have betrayed to the French the planned English invasion of Dunkirk.

Churchill’s duplicity marks the commonest flaw of James’s support base in the years immediately after the ‘Glorious Revolution’, whose signature was irresolute conduct caused by the consistent failure to co-ordinate the different sources of Jacobite resistance. However the activities of the recruiters at Lille demonstrate the deep divisions which existed among the soldiers who owed William allegiance and whom he could send to Flanders to continue his war against Louis XIV. Despite many promises, the fact that less than two hundred defectors could be gathered at Lille between 1690 and 1691, can be attributed to the confused or divided loyalty of many of James’s former subjects combined with the strong policing activities of William’s few loyal officers.

Many British soldiers felt that William’s treatment of James was scandalous and were militant enough to express their disapproval through desertion, but few subalterns (and far fewer rank-and-file soldiers) acted on this feeling. The majority of the soldiers who went out of their way to aid James came from Dumbarton’s old regiment. This was due to three factors: first, the long history of that regiment in supporting the Stuart Crown; second, the unit’s association with Roman Catholicism, in the person of its commander, and French service; and, third, the deeply conservative social and political philosophy of its Scottish officer corps. All three of these factors were present in the beliefs and actions of the recruiters at Lille, and they account for the fact that the majority of the deserters they procured were experienced Scottish officers from regiments with a strongly conservative and loyalist character. Some of these recruits were Roman Catholic, but whether Catholic or not, they were all outraged by what they saw as the outlandish and scandalous treatment of their anointed king.

Significantly, the Jacobite army at Lille represents the last attempt to form a Scottish unit (with a sizeable Scottish component at rank-and-file level) abroad. No distinctly Scottish regiments served abroad after 1688 that were not (in some way) attached to a larger British Army. In this way it is perfectly true to say that William’s ascendancy in Britain marks the end of the tradition of private Scottish military service in foreign parts. Certainly, individual Scottish soldiers continued to serve abroad throughout the eighteenth century, not least because many of them espoused the cause of the ‘king over the water’, as King James and his successors were called. Many, however, did so for exactly those reasons that were common to earlier soldiers, including the quest for honour and profit: but none commanded regiments of their compatriots. The one exception might be the Scottish officers of the Anglo-Dutch Brigade, which survived in the United Provinces into the eighteenth century. However, the records of this unit suggest that, after 1700, few of the rank-and-file members of the regiments were Scots and the close Anglo-Dutch co-operation of the 1690s makes the ‘foreign’ status of the unit questionable. Therefore, if a trend away from independent units towards state-funded and standing forces is to be seen in this period, its culmination came directly from the interventionist political circumstances surrounding the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the wars of the Grand Alliance (1689–97). It did not come from what might be called ‘natural’ or ‘evolutionary’ developments fostered by, among other things, changes in military technology.

Battle of Atlantic – Special Weapons

A Wellington with 10-cm radar and a Leigh Light. The scanner was in the ‘chin’ under the aircraft’s nose. The Metox warning receiver was unable to detect this new radar, with the result that many U-boats were surprised on the surface, like U966 (below) which was bombed and sunk a few moments after this photograph was taken on 10 November 1943 off Cape Ortegal in the Bay of Biscay.

At the beginning of 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic was finely balanced: both sides in the grim struggle were in a potentially winning position. The surviving U-boat commanders and crews were skilled, highly disciplined and well led, as were the Escort captains and their crews. They had all gained their experience in a very hard school and were backed by scientists whose work, one way or another, was in the end to prove decisive.

One of the British scientists, Professor Blackett, led the unglamorous-sounding department of ‘Operational Research’, whose scientists brought some highly original thinking to the war at sea. It was of these men that the C-in-C Coastal Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir John Slessor, said:

‘A few years ago it would never have occurred to me, or I think to any officer of any fighting service, that what the RAF soon came to call a “Boffin”, a gentleman in grey flannel bags, whose occupation in life had previously been something markedly unmilitary such as biology or physiology, would be able to teach us a great deal about our business. Yet so it was.’

One of the most effective examples of operational research was in the matter of the setting of aircraft depth charges. These were set to explode at a depth of 100 feet, on the assumption that, when a submarine was under air attack, it would have seen the aircraft approaching and crash-dived to a depth of from fifty to 100 feet by the time the aircraft was overhead and had dropped its charges. One of Blackett’s ‘Boffins’, E. J. Williams, looked into what actually happened: he found that when aircraft sighted U-boats three times out of four they were on the surface or just diving and could therefore be attacked with accuracy; if, on the other hand, the U-boat was already submerged when sighted, then in all probability it would turn under water and be lost. Williams showed that if a submerged U-boat was regarded as a lost target and attacks were concentrated on surfaced or diving submarines, a better ‘kill’-rate could be achieved. All that was required was to alter the depth-setting on the charges from 100 to twenty-five feet. As soon as this was done, the success rate in U-boat sinkings went up by two to four times, a result so dramatic that survivors thought that the British depth charge had been given a double weight of explosive.

Another telling result of operational research was a brilliant analysis of the optimum size of convoys. It was found that the same number of ships were lost, roughly speaking, whether the convoy was large or small. The actual figures were an average loss of 2.6% for convoys of less than forty-five ships, and 1.7% for larger convoys. The number of escorts, about six, was the same in each case, since the area of a large convoy is only slightly larger than that of a small one. (The perimeter for a convoy of eighty ships would be only a seventh longer than that of a convoy of forty ships.) Even if a U-boat were to break through the screen of escorts, it would be unlikely to sink more ships in a large convoy than in a small one, since the limiting factor would not be the number of potential targets but the torpedo-reloading time and the number of torpedoes available.

By mid-1943, large-convoy techniques had reduced the number of close escorts needed by one third, allowing the formation of support escort groups, which could go to the aid of any convoy under attack and hunt for U-boats joining or leaving the area. In this way the convoy was not left unprotected as it had been previously when its escorts left to chase submarines.

However effective the escorts were they could not alone defeat the U-boats. Radar-equipped aircraft were essential, either working with the surface vessels or attacking U-boats directly, but there still remained the Gap, already referred to, which could not be effectively patrolled by shore-based aircraft, at least until sufficient numbers of long-range aircraft became available. The obvious answer was to use short-range anti-submarine aircraft operating from carriers, but the only aircraft carriers available were in desperately short supply: HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious had both been sunk in the first year of the war, and in November 1941 the most famous of them all, HMS Ark Royal, was torpedoed by U81 while transporting fighters to Malta. The few remaining Fleet carriers were far too valuable to be risked guarding merchant convoys.

The first British aircraft to fly over convoys in mid-Atlantic were Hurricane fighters which were catapulted from HMS Pegasus (formerly the first Ark Royal – a seaplane tender dating from the First World War), later supplemented by requisitioned and converted merchant ships which were fitted with a single catapult and a Hurricane or Fulmer fighter. They became operational in 1941, not to attack U-boats directly – the fighters carried no depth charges – but the long-range Focke Wulfe 200 Condors of KG40, which were being used as reconnaissance and spotter aircraft for the U-boat wolf packs as well as bombing isolated ships. Catapulting fighters was a successful tactic – up to a point: the aircraft were unable to land back on the ship, and, if out of range of the nearest land, had to be ditched after their single flight.

It was not until the spring of 1943, that largely American-built escort carriers (CVEs), nicknamed ‘Jeep’ or ‘Woolworth’, began sailing with the merchant convoys. Twenty-three CVEs were eventually used by the Royal Navy alone. They carried some twenty planes – Grumman Martlet fighters (now known by their American name, Wildcats) and Fairey Swordfish. In addition to these purpose-built ships there were several Merchant Aircraft Carriers – MAC ships – which were tankers or bulk grain-carriers with their superstructure removed and a short flight deck fitted. Like the CAM ships, they too flew the Red Ensign and carried a normal cargo in addition to their four Swordfish. From the time of their introduction in 1943 until the end of the war, not a single ship was sunk by a U-boat in any convoy with which these makeshift carriers sailed.

Although the escort carriers did much to close the Gap, they were augmented, on the personal orders of President Roosevelt, by some sixty Consolidated B24 Liberators to supplement the small number already in service with 120 Squadron. These big, four-engined bombers had much of their normal defensive armour and weapons removed to make way for the maximum number of fuel tanks but they could fly far over the Atlantic and were still able to remain with a convoy for up to three hours.

There had been a struggle to get these additional B24 Liberators, for the requirements of the bombing offensive against Germany had taken priority. Coastal Command had been starved of four-engined aircraft, having to make do firstly, as we have seen, with inadequate types such as the Avro Anson, which lacked range and practically everything else required for antisubmarine work. The Sunderland Flying Boat helped, but it too had a relatively short range. The best of the early aircraft was the American Catalina; twin-engined Whitleys and Wellingtons were used, but they still lacked the vital range, and were anyway obsolete bombers converted for Coastal Command. Eventually, at the end of 1942, some four-engined Halifax IIs were received, later to be followed by a maritime version – the Halifax V, but no Lancasters were supplied until after the war.

The reason was that these four-engined British aircraft simply could not be spared from their primary role, the bombing of Germany. In any case, the Air Staff believed that the best form of attack against U-boats was to bomb their bases and the shipbuilding yards where they were built. In fact, not one U-boat was destroyed by bombing the U-boat pens on the French Atlantic Coast. The pens were hit all right – some 15,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the bases – but the massive reinforced-concrete structures were all but indestructible. Over 100 heavy bombers were lost in attacks on the U-boat bases in the first five months of 1943 alone.

In January 1943 British, Canadian and United States escorts and aircraft were faced with an average of 116 U-boats at sea each day. This large fleet was to be aided by the work of the German cryptanalysts, the B-Dienst whose code-breakers had penetrated the Allied convoy radio code. The U-boat high command could therefore plot the route of many of the convoys across the Atlantic.

In March, acting on information supplied by the cryptanalysts, thirty-nine U-boats were concentrated to intercept two convoys: SC122, a ‘slow’ convoy of fifty-two ships, and HX229, a ‘fast’ one of twenty-five. HX229 was attacked first and eight ships were sunk in as many hours. For three days the running battle continued, the two convoys joining to help their combined escorts fight the submarines; but in all nine ships, totalling 140,000 tons, were sunk – four of them by U338 alone – for the loss of only three U-boats.

That German success was to prove the high point of the battle; had they been able to sustain it, Doenitz’s ambition of cutting the lifeline between Britain and America would have become a reality. It was not to be. The escort carriers and the long-range B24 aircraft now closed the Gap permanently, and – most significantly – the scientists were about to provide yet another weapon which would in the end prove decisive: 10-cm ASV radar.

It all began with Randall and Boot in their Birmingham University laboratory and the development of the cavity magnetron – work, it will be recalled, conducted under Admiralty patronage. The shipboard 271 radar had been the first operational 10-cm set and, following its success, work had begun on the 10-cm ASV as early as the winter of 1941; but pressure from the RAF had secured priority for H2S and that radar had been developed first. However, the H2S team under Dee at Malvern had designed an ASV capability into H2S. Indeed it was known at TRE as H2S/ASV.

The Metox countermeasure enabling the U-boat crews to be warned of the approach of the l½-metre ASV-equipped aircraft had made a drastic change of wavelength essential. Since it was known that the Germans, lacking the magnetron, considered 10-cm radar impractical, it was thought unlikely that they would be expecting British aircraft to be using it. Ten centimetres was therefore the obvious answer.

There was some opposition: in the first place, Bomber Command were claiming total priority for H2S radar in the bombing of Berlin and, even at TRE itself, many people felt that 10-cm ASV was insufficiently developed, and that its introduction was premature. The adaptation of H2S to ASV was, as Sir Bernard Lovell remembers:

‘… most bitterly opposed and we were not allowed to divert any H2S equipment from Bomber Command. In the end, we made the [ASV] equipment ourselves in TRE.’

The answer to the objections to ASV was provided by the tonnage of ships being sunk in 1942: 5,970,679 tons – 1354 ships – by September. The early success of airborne ASV and Leigh Lights had been nullified by Metox, so in the autumn of 1942 the decision was made to divert some H2S sets from Bomber Command for fitting as ASV Mk III in Leigh Light Wellingtons.

The main difference between ASV Mk III and H2S was in the scanner position: it was simply not possible, due to ground clearance and other structural problems, to mount the H2S cupola under a Wellington. The only possible alternative was in a ‘chin’ under the nose; this entailed a considerable redesign of the scanner, which in any case now had to work at an altitude of 2000 feet instead of 20,000, with a 40° blind spot behind the aircraft. Even when these problems had been solved, further delay was caused – at a time when shipping losses were running at around 600,000 tons a month – by the RAF insisting on unnecessary refinements such as blind-landing and homing-beacon facilities being incorporated in the sets.

In spite of all the difficulties and delays, two prototype ASV Mk III sets were hand-built at TRE and fitted to two Wellington VIIIs (LB129 and LB135) at Defford during December 1942. By the end of February 1943 twelve Wellingtons based at Chivenor, backed up by almost as many TRE scientists as airmen, had ASVs installed. On the evening of 1 March two Wellingtons took off from Chivenor for the first patrol with the new radar over the Bay of Biscay (it was just a month after the first H2S raid over Germany by Bomber Command). No contacts were reported but, to the relief of the scientists, the crews had no difficulties with the new set.

During the night of 17 March, the first U-boat contact was made by 10-cm ASV at a range of nine miles; unfortunately the Leigh Light jammed, and no attack was possible. The same aircraft, a Wellington XIII (HZ538), obtained another sighting the next night at seven miles; this time all went well and the U-boat was attacked with six depth charges, the crew reporting that ‘the submarine was fully surfaced and under way, showing no signs of suspecting attacks’. This was, of course, the whole point of the 10-cm ASV; with Metox unable to detect the new radar, the success rate grew, particularly in the Bay of Biscay. In March thirteen submarines were caught at night, and there were twenty-four attacks in April. It was the same success that Coastal Command had enjoyed in June 1942 when the Leigh Light had first been introduced: the U-boats could no longer risk crossing the Bay at night, and had to run the gauntlet on the surface in daylight.

The success of the new ASV and the larger number of long-range aircraft were such that in May two convoys, ON 184 and HX239, arrived in British ports without a single ship lost: the German Navy, on the other hand, lost six U-boats vainly trying to attack them. In all, no fewer than forty-one U-boats were sunk by escorts and land- and carrier-based aircraft that month. Faced with these increasing losses, Doenitz ordered his submarines to fight it out on the surface when attacked by aircraft in daylight. Additional flak weapons were added to the existing armament, and initially the heavily-armed U-boats had some success against unwary aircraft. But the RAF soon developed a very simple counter; aircraft finding a U-boat on the surface simply flew in circles, just out of range of the submarine’s guns, and called up the nearest surface units. The U-boat was constantly watched and, as soon as the tell-tale plumes of spray indicated the submarine was blowing her tanks to dive, the plane would close for an attack. This developed into a grim race – the ‘battle of the seconds’. With a highly trained crew it was possible to clear a U-boat’s deck and dive in about thirty seconds. If they got down in that time they had a chance; many did not and were sunk by the aircraft’s depth charges or rocket projectiles.

As more and more U-boats were sunk and the lucky ones that had limped back to base reported that the Metox sets were not giving any warning of aircraft attacks, German scientists were perplexed. They discounted 10-cm radar for the not very sound reason that they themselves had been unable to produce a practical one.

Then a captured RAF airman mentioned under interrogation that the attacking aircraft were homing on the U-boats by signals radiated by the Metox set itself. To this day, the identity of this man remains a mystery; also a mystery is his motive. Whatever the reason, the effect on the Germans of this bogus intelligence was dramatic.

Laboratory tests showed that the Metox receiver did radiate a small signal (most radio sets do). U-boat HQ immediately ordered the entire fleet to turn off their receivers at once. The sets were then extensively redesigned and completely screened, so that not the smallest signal was radiated. It made no difference, of course. The U-boats were still attacked out of black night skies; one moment sailing on the surface, secure and seemingly invisible, the next a blinding light heading straight for them, then the roar of four 1200-hp engines and the blast of the shallow-set depth charges as a B24 Liberator or a Sunderland flew over at fifty feet.

How were the aircraft finding their small targets now? The Metox sets were no longer radiating: infra-red was a possibility, but German scientists came to the conclusion that a new and unknown radar was far more likely. Its identity was not long in coming: an RAF Stirling night bomber, equipped with H2S, was shot down over Rotterdam. As British experts had feared, the magnetron was recovered intact and the Germans established its working frequency and wavelength: 10 centimetres. It was to be reconstructed as the ‘Rotterdam Geräte’, but for the moment the answer to the U-boats’ problem was clear and simple: a new Metox-type warning receiver, but working on 10 centimetres.

Now to receive 10-cm radar pulses is a very much easier proposition than to transmit them, and a search receiver, the Telefunken FuMB7, ‘Naxos’, was quickly installed in Atlantic U-boats. A small dipole aerial was held up by a crewman on the conning tower whenever a U-boat was surfaced; any 10-cm pulses would be picked up and the receiver would give a warning on a cathode-ray tube below in the U-boat. The Naxos set covered the ‘S’ band, from 2500 to 3700 mHz (12 to 9 cms).

Naxos was not as effective as Metox for two reasons: it was omnidirectional – all it would do was to warn that an ASV-equipped aircraft was in the vicinity; and that vicinity would be pretty near, since the simple dipole aerial had no gain, and the set itself was insensitive. Early Naxos had an additional disadvantage in that the aerial, small as it was, still had to be brought down the conning tower so that its cable cleared the pressure-tight hatch. The handling of a long length of co-axial cable often damaged it, with the result that the receiver gave no warning at all.

The big worry on the Allied side was that the Germans would find an effective warning receiver as good on 10 centimetres as Metox had been on 1½ metres in September 1942. This problem had been much in the minds of the H2S/ASV team at TRE, where there had been rather pessimistic estimates of how long the ASV Mk III would be ‘safe’. It was an axiom of those days that any new device was considered to be safe from countermeasures for only a matter of weeks and therefore, whenever possible, a second-generation model was ready to take over. The obvious immediate counter, should Naxos prove efficient, was a jump to another frequency; this meant even shorter wavelengths – to ‘X’ band, 3 centimetres. An X-band H2S had been developed, and an ASV version was also produced. However, simply changing the wavelength was only a short-term solution: sooner or later the Germans would discover it and provide a suitable receiver. But there were other ways of defeating the listening sets.

ASV Mk VI, which operated on 3 centimetres, was issued to Coastal Command in January 1944. It had two new features. Its range was increased by stepping up the output from 50 kw to 200 kw – a staggering figure for an airborne radar in those days. The anti-listening measure was the provision of an attenuator control. The operator, once he had gained a contact, could then reduce the output of the radar to a point where he could just maintain the target on his screen as they flew towards the U-boat. The effect of this on the enemy listeners was that the pulses did not appear to get any stronger and they therefore assumed that the aircraft was not homing on them until it was too late to dive to safety.

A Schnorkel tube covered with ‘Sumpf’. This reduced radar returns to some extent but it soon became detached from the U-boat’s structure by wave action, and salt deposits reduced its electrical effectiveness. The small dipole is the aerial for Tunis; it gave a good echo to 3-cm radars.

The Germans went to extraordinary lengths to counter the 3-cm ASV: there was a new search receiver – FuMB36, the ‘Tunis’ – which covered from 15 to 3 centimetres; and the periscope standards, schnorkel trunking and even, in some cases, the entire conning tower were covered in a special material called ‘Sumpf’, a sandwich of rubber with carbon granules impregnated in it. The sandwich was composed of two types of Sumpf: one had the property of variable resistance over its area, the other variable dielectric or electrical density. The object of the coating, code-named ‘Schornsteinfeger’ (chimneysweep), was to make the structures above the water absorb the radar pulses, reducing the strength of the echo and making them less ‘visible’ to radar. In tests under laboratory conditions, Sumpf appeared to offer some promise, but it was not really practical. The sea tended to remove the covering, salt deposits reduced its electrical properties, and finally, the permanent aerials now fitted to detect the 3-cm radars returned excellent echoes. So in spite of these measures the attacks on the U-boats continued. The Luftwaffe sent Ju88 fighters into the Bay of Biscay to intercept Coastal Command’s aircraft; the RAF countered by escorting the anti-submarine patrols with Mosquitoes and Beaufighters, and the Royal Navy increased its surface ‘Hunter Killer’ groups.

A new phase of warfare then appeared: the radio-controlled glider bomb, the Henschel 293. This bomb achieved some success but was soon countered by jamming its simple radio-command link. Throughout 1943 the Battle of the Bay of Biscay was fought out. It resulted in the sinking of forty U-boats. Referring to the use of 10-cm ASV, Hitler conceded:

‘The temporary setback to our U-boats is due to one single technical invention of our enemy.’

The Germans too had new technical inventions, for example ‘Pillenwerfer’, or ‘Bolde’ – an abbreviation of the German word ‘Lügenbold’, meaning habitual liar. This was a canister of chemicals which, when released from a submarine, caused a cloud of fine bubbles which blocked the ASDIC: a marine version of ‘Window’.

There was also an acoustic torpedo, the T5, Zaunkönig, which could ‘home’ on to the sound produced by the propellers of a ship travelling at between five and twenty-five knots. These torpedoes were known to the Allies as GNATs, German Naval Acoustic Torpedoes; they were first used operationally in September 1943 when the frigate Lagen and two merchant ships in convoy ONS18/ON202 were sunk. During the next six days three more merchant ships and two escorts were sunk by the new torpedoes, though the Germans lost three U-boats during the attack. Countermeasures were soon devised. First of all it was very slow for a torpedo – about twenty-five knots – and could therefore be avoided with alert lookouts; and then it was found that, at certain engine revolutions, the sound produced by the ship’s propellers made the homing of the torpedoes ineffective. Disturbed water and the explosions produced by dropping depth charges also attracted the torpedoes; and finally a ‘Foxer’ was devised: a noise-producing decoy which consisted of two lengths of steel piping which banged together when towed some distance astern of the escorts and on to which the GNAT homed and harmlessly exploded. The countermeasures were so effective that the GNAT torpedoes were soon withdrawn.

The next German device was a half-forgotten Dutch invention, the Schnorkel – now familiar to skin divers. An air trunk on the conning tower remained above the surface when the U-boat was fully submerged, enabling it to cruise under water powered by its diesel engines. There was a float-operated valve at the top of the schnorkel just above the water line, which automatically closed the trunking when the submarine dived; unfortunately sea swell, waves or a badly trimmed boat could also close the valve, which had a most unpleasant effect on the crew since the big diesels immediately sucked the air out of the hull, creating a partial vacuum which caused severe discomfort as the boat depressurised. Another unpleasant aspect of a schnorkelling submarine was the gale of freezing salt-laden air howling through the boat. There was also the uncomfortable feeling, while submerged, that the top of the schnorkel tube, with its tell-tale wake, was visible above the sea, inviting attack from aircraft whose 3-cm radar could detect even that small target. But the schnorkel did enable a submerged boat to travel more or less indefinitely under water at a far higher speed than possible on its electric motors. All newly constructed U-boats and many of the existing ones were fitted with schnorkels and they were used extensively when crossing the Bay of Biscay.

Useful though the schnorkel was, it was still a physical link with the surface: the boats that were fitted with it were still submersibles. But it was a step towards the true submarines which were now under construction in German shipyards. These were the revolutionary ‘Walter’ Type XVII boats. The main feature of this class was its very high underwater speed of twenty-five knots. This was achieved by a ‘closed-circuit’ system – that is, it was independent of external oxygen and therefore needed no schnorkel. The main propulsive motor was a Walter turbine, driven by gases created by the decomposition of a concentrated fuel of hydrogen peroxide called ‘Ingolin’ or ‘Perhydrol’. Unfortunately, not only was this fuel difficult and very costly to make, it was also highly unstable and dangerous, and the Walter engine required such a vast amount of it that the Type XVII U-boat would have been restricted to a range of about eighty miles at full speed.

None of the XVIIs became operational, though one of them, U1407, which was scuttled at Cuxhaven at the end of the war, was salvaged and went to the Royal Navy as HMS Meteorite. It was used to evaluate the Walter system for four years but was scrapped in 1950, the British considering it to be ‘highly dangerous’. Had the German Navy had time to develop the Walter boats, they could have proved highly successful; independent of outside air, they could have remained submerged for an indefinite period.

It is improbable that the Walter boats could have been developed in time to affect the outcome of the Atlantic battle, but another design, the Type XXI, first seriously considered in 1943, could well have done so, had it been put into production earlier. The Type XXI was known as the ‘electro submarine’ and had a much increased battery capacity, giving it a high underwater speed of sixteen knots. These large, very well-designed, 1800-ton submarines had a range of 11,000 miles and carried twenty-three torpedoes as standard. There was also a smaller coastal version, the XXIII, which displaced 256 tons and had a small 14-man crew.

The XXI U-boats were designed for mass production, being entirely welded and extensively prefabricated in eight major assemblies, much of the construction being done by semi-skilled labour. Had it proved possible to produce the Type XXI in sufficient numbers, they might well have prolonged the U-boat offensive; but it was not to be. Materials, manpower and supply communication were increasingly affected by Allied ‘round the clock’ bombing; many Type XXI U-boats were bombed under construction in the shipyards. Even if the planned construction programmes of 634 U-boats could have been completed, the 62,000 trained crew members they would have required were non-existent. From late 1944 onwards the German Army took priority over all else. Another factor which has rarely been mentioned was the extensive RAF mining of the Baltic, which seriously disrupted U-boat training.

Normandy Beachhead and the Kriegsmarine

The threat posed by the establishment of the Allied armies in Normandy was so grave that the Germans were bound to focus much of their efforts on resisting it. This meant that all along the Channel coast from Normandy to the Dutch border their light forces were engaged in a constant nightly battle against similar units deployed by the Allies. Supply convoys and their destroyer escorts were, of course, fair game for both sides, but neither combatant scored much more than a few isolated successes against this type of protected shipping. As an alternative, the German Kleinkampfverband (Small Battle Unit or K-Verband for short) established originally at Timmersdorfer Strand near Lübeck under Konteradmiral Helmuth Heye came into its own. They began using a force of twenty-six Marder one-man submersibles (slightly larger than the original Neger craft of the same type) from their forward operational base at Villers-sur-Mer in early July to attack the supply traffic off the assault beaches. While they sank and damaged a handful of smaller warships, they sustained such an appalling rate of attrition in doing so that the K-Verband were obliged to leave things up to the Luftwaffe and its new circling torpedo the ‘T3d Dackel’ (Dachshund) to try to take a toll of the Allied shipping off the Normandy beaches. Some success was achieved but how much was due to the Dackel and how much to mines is difficult to judge. What is known is that in the period between 7 August and 11 September only a hospital ship and a balloon ship were sunk, the transport Iddesleigh was beached and eight other vessels, including the seaplane carrier Albatross and the old cruiser Frobisher, were damaged by underwater explosions with mines being the likely cause for most of these seemingly random hits. Further Marder attacks were made in mid- August, but apart from hitting the old French battleship Courbet which had already been sunk as a blockship, and sinking a freighter and a landing craft, the losses of Marder just kept mounting up. Seven out of fourteen committed on 15– 16 August never returned and only sixteen came back of forty-two that left Villers-sur-Mer on the following night. A new one-man midget submarine – the Biber – was introduced at the end of the month but as the original operational base slated for their use – Le Havre – was overrun, Korvettenkapitän Hans Bartels moved them to the port of Fécamp. After an inconclusive operation in bad weather on 29–30 August from which they all returned, Bartels was forced to abandon the port and destroy most of the Biber craft too. In so doing, the K-Verband’s operations off Normandy came to an inglorious end.

Dönitz hoped that his schnorchel U-boats would do much more damage than that achieved by the willing but not wildly successful K-Verband, but by the end of August the record showed that this too was a case of wishful thinking. Although fourteen Allied vessels were sunk in the Channel and four more were torpedoed, the cost was prohibitively high; twenty-four U-boats had been sunk by a combination of mines, destroyer escorts, Search Groups, and accompanying aircraft, and two more had been damaged sufficiently to be forced out of action and into Le Havre and Boulogne for repairs. If ever there was a time for the development of the ‘Alberich’ U-boats with their Oppanol rubber coating to combat Asdic it was now. U480’s trials in August showed that the results were indeed promising, but without this type of masking the schnorchel boats were cruelly exposed everywhere they operated. Coated with sheets of Oppanol synthetic rubber, U480 had been used in the English Channel during the months of August and September 1944 where it sank three victims – a corvette, a minesweeper and the merchantman Orminster – and seriously damaged another merchantman Fort Yale. U480 had then been hunted for a total of seven hours but had successfully evaded her attackers. Reduced to being not much more than an irritant in the Channel, they were rendered so ineffective in the Mediterranean that by the middle of September they had been withdrawn from there too

A depressing exercise in futility was set by the courageous men of the K-Verband in the northern reaches of the English Channel, especially in Belgian and Dutch coastal waters, during the early months of the year. Operational losses were so high amongst the ranks of the one-man midget submarine (Biber) and the one-man human torpedo (Molch) that Dönitz referred to the operators of these underwater vessels as Opferkämpfer (suicide fighters). A far healthier return was experienced by the two-man crews of the new Type XXVIIB U-boat (popularly known as the Seehund). Operating in the same waters as the other members of the K-Verband did, the Seehunde enjoyed far more success – sinking nine ships and damaging another nine – at less cost – losing only thirty-five of their number in making a total of 142 sorties before the war came to an end. Frustratingly for Dönitz and the Kriegsmarine, these vessels came on stream six months too late to be of any real material value to the German cause. It might not have been the same story had they been operationally deployed in sufficient numbers in the waters off Normandy in June 1944 where their presence could have caused significant problems for the Allied invasion fleet.

The Roman grain trade

Roman Merchant Ships

The grain trade was not simply a source of profit for Rome’s merchants. In 5 BC Augustus Caesar distributed grain to 320,000 male citizens; he proudly recorded this fact in a great public inscription commemorating his victories and achievements, for holding the favour of the Romans was as important as winning victories at sea and on land. The era of ‘bread and circuses’ was beginning, and cultivating the Roman People was an art many emperors well understood (baked bread was not in fact distributed until the third century AD, when Emperor Aurelian substituted bread for grain). By the end of the first century BC Rome controlled several of the most important sources of grain in the Mediterranean, those in Sicily, Sardinia and Africa that Pompey had been so careful to protect. One result may have been a decline in cultivation of grain in central Italy: in the late second century BC, the Roman tribune Tiberius Gracchus already complained that Etruria was now given over to great estates where landlords profited from their flocks, rather than from the soil. Rome no longer had to depend on the vagaries of the Italian climate for its food supply, but it was not easy to control Sicily and Sardinia from afar, as the conflict with the rebel commander Sextus Pompeius proved. More and more elaborate systems of exchange developed to make sure that grain and other goods flowed towards Rome. As Augustus transformed the city, and as great palaces rose on the Palatine hill, demand for luxury items – silks, perfumes, ivory from the Indian Ocean, fine Greek sculptures, glassware, chased metalwork from the eastern Mediterranean – burgeoned. Earlier, in 129 BC, Ptolemy VIII, king of Egypt, received a Roman delegation led by Scipio, conqueror of Carthage, and caused deep shock when he entertained his guests to lavish feasts dressed in a transparent tunic made of silk (probably from China), through which the Romans could see not just his portly frame but his genitals. But Scipio’s austerity was already unfashionable among the Roman nobility. Even the equally austere Cato the Elder (d. 149 BC) used to buy 2 per cent shares in shipping ventures, spreading his investments across a number of voyages, and he sent a favoured freedman, Quintio, on these voyages as his agent.

The period from the establishment of Delos as a free port (168–167 BC) to the second century AD saw a boom in maritime traffic. As has been seen, the problem of piracy diminished very significantly after 69 BC: journeys became safer. Interestingly, most of the largest ships (250 tons upwards) date from the second and first centuries BC, while the majority of vessels in all periods displaced less than 75 tons. Larger ships, carrying armed guards, were better able to defend themselves against pirates, even if they lacked the speed of the smaller vessels. As piracy declined, smaller ships became more popular. These small ships would have been able to carry about 1,500 amphorae at most, while the larger ships could carry 6,000 or more, and were not seriously rivalled in size until the late Middle Ages.32 The sheer uniformity of cargoes conveys a sense of the regular rhythms of trade: about half the ships carried a single type of cargo, whether wine, oil or grain. Bulk goods were moving in ever larger quantities across the Mediterranean. Coastal areas with access to ports could specialize in particular products for which their soil was well suited, leaving the regular supply of essential foodstuffs to visiting merchants. Their safety was guaranteed by the pax romana, the Roman peace that followed the suppression of piracy and the extension of Roman rule across the Mediterranean.

The little port of Cosa on a promontory off the Etruscan coastline provides impressive evidence for the movement of goods around the Mediterranean at this time. Its workshops turned out thousands of amphorae at the instigation of a noble family of the early imperial age, the Sestii, who made their town into a successful industrial centre. Amphorae from Cosa have been found in a wreck at Grand-Congloué near Marseilles: most of the 1,200 jars were stamped with the letters SES, the family’s mark. Another wreck lying underneath this one dates from 190–180 BC, and contained amphorae from Rhodes and elsewhere in the Aegean, as well as huge amounts of south Italian tableware on its way to southern Gaul or Spain. Items such as these could penetrate inland for great distances, though bulk foodstuffs tended to be consumed on or near the coasts, because of the difficulty and expense of transporting them inland, except by river. Water transport was immeasurably cheaper than land transport, a problem that, as will be seen, faced even a city such a short way from the sea as Rome.

Grain was the staple foodstuff, particularly the triticum durum, hard wheat, of Sicily, Sardinia, Africa and Egypt (hard wheats are drier than soft, so they keep better), though real connoisseurs preferred siligo, a soft wheat made from naked spelt. A bread-based diet only filled stomachs, and a companaticum (‘something-with-bread’) of cheese, fish or vegetables broadened the diet. Vegetables, unless pickled, did not travel well, but cheese, oil and wine found markets across the Mediterranean, while the transport by sea of salted meat was largely reserved for the Roman army. Increasingly popular was garum, the stinking sauce made of fish innards, which was poured into amphorae and traded across the Mediterranean. Excavations in Barcelona, close to the cathedral, have revealed a sizeable garum factory amid the buildings of a medium-sized imperial town. It took about ten days with a following wind to reach Alexandria from Rome, a distance of 1,000 miles; in unpleasant weather, the return journey could take six times as long, though shippers would hope for about three weeks. Navigation was strongly discouraged from mid-November to early March, and regarded as quite dangerous from mid-September to early November and from March to the end of May. This ‘close season’ was observed in some degree right through the Middle Ages as well.

A vivid account of a winter voyage that went wrong is provided by Paul of Tarsus in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul, a prisoner of the Romans, was placed on board an Alexandrian grain ship setting out for Italy from Myra, on the south coast of Anatolia; but it was very late in the sailing season, the ship was delayed by the winds, and by the time they were off Crete the seas had become dangerous. Rather than wintering in Crete, the captain was foolhardy enough to venture out into the stormy seas, on which his vessel was tossed for a miserable fortnight. The crew ‘lightened the ship and cast out the wheat into the sea’. The sailors managed to steer towards the island of Malta, beaching the ship, which, nevertheless, broke up. Paul says that the travellers were treated well by the ‘barbarians’ who inhabited the island; no one died, but Paul and everyone else became stuck on Malta for three months. Maltese tradition assumes that Paul used this time to convert the islanders, but Paul wrote of the Maltese as if they were credulous and primitive – he cured the governor’s sick father and was taken for a god by the natives. Once conditions at sea had improved, another ship from Alexandria that was wintering there took everyone off; he was then able to reach Syracuse, Reggio on the southern tip of Italy and, a day out from Reggio, the port of Puteoli in the Bay of Naples, to which the first grain ship had probably been bound all along; from there he headed towards Rome (and, according to Christian tradition, his eventual beheading).

Surprisingly, the Roman government did not create a state merchant fleet similar to the fleets of the medieval Venetian republic; most of the merchants who carried grain to Rome were private traders, even when they carried grain from the emperor’s own estates in Egypt and elsewhere. Around 200 AD, grain ships had an average displacement of 340 to 400 tons, enabling them to carry 50,000 modii or measures of grain (1 ton equals about 150 modii); a few ships reached 1,000 tons but there were also, as has been seen, innumerable smaller vessels plying the waters. Rome probably required about 40 million measures each year, so that 800 shiploads of average size needed to reach Rome between spring and autumn. In the first century AD, Josephus asserted that Africa provided enough grain for eight months of the year, and Egypt enough for four months. All this was more than enough to cover the 12,000,000 measures required for the free distribution of grain to 200,000 male citizens. Central North Africa had been supplying Rome ever since the end of the Second Punic War, and the short, quick journey to Italy was intrinsically safer than the long haul from Alexandria.

China: Warlords, regionalism, and national unity, regional devolution

Wu Pei-fu, the ‘Jade Marshal’ or ‘Scholar Warlord’, was the dominant commander in the Chihli Clique throughout the early and mid-1920s. Wu was probably the best field general during the Warlord Period, but politically he was relatively naive, and was betrayed on several occasions.

Wu Peifu mediate a peace with Zhang Zuolin.


C1: Trooper, 2nd Cavalry, 8th Division, 1923

This cavalryman mounted on a Mongolian pony has a padded cotton jacket and trousers worn with a pair of fur-lined boots, and his peaked cap has sewn-in ear flaps. He has been lucky to receive a pair of motoring goggles, as used by several warlord armies to protect the eyes from dust on the march. The orange armband has the Chinese character for his commander’s surname, ‘Wang’, stencilled In black. In the service of the ‘Jade Marshal’, Wu Pel-fu, General Wang Ju-ch’un commanded the 9,000-strong 8th Division in Hupeh province in 1923. The trooper is armed with a 6.5mm Mannlicher Carcano 91TS carbine, probably imported by Wu Pei-fu as part of a $5.6 million supply shipment negotiated with an Italian arms dealer in 1922. He also has a sword, based on the rna-tao sabre of medieval China; these were used at various times during the early 20th century, and special units of Nationalist troops armed with them fought the Japanese in Jehol province as late as 1933. Some cavalry also used the da-dao fighting sword, but this longer-bladed weapon was more suitable for slashing at the enemy from horseback.

C2: Military courier, 3rd Division, 1924

This boy, aged about 12, is one of those taken out of the officer training school set up by the Chihli Clique leader Wu Pei-fu to help with his army’s communications. During the 1924 campaign Wu was desperately short of reliable troops, and took the officer cadets from their academy to release other men for the front line. Although Wu had a reputation as a relatively humane commander this sacrifice of his army’s future officers would not have worried him unduly; he was reported at the time to have 30,000 boy soldiers in his army, who were all orphans of soldiers killed in previous battles. The boy is wearing the same grey cotton uniform as his adult comrades and has a leather despatch case to carry his messages. For self-protection he has been given an Italian 10.35mm Glisenti M1889 revolver.

C3: Infantryman, 11th Division, 1922

This soldier is about to leave for the front during the fighting against the Fengtien Army of Chang Tso-Iin in 1922; at this stage his grey cotton uniform is still in good condition, but it will soon show wear-and-tear. His infantry-red collar patches indicate, in Roman numerals on his left, his division; his right patch would show his personal details in Chinese characters, such as his number within his unit. This complicated system of identification was occasionally seen, but the exact protocol varied from region to region. His rank of private first class is shown by the stars on the shoulders of his tunic, but again, shortages meant that many soldiers lacked rank insignia. The red armband was described by Edna Lee Booker, a correspondent who saw Wu Pei-fu’s troops leaving for the war. The infantryman is well equipped, with a Japanese backpack and other accoutrements including ammunition pouches designed to carry clips for the Japanese Arisaka rifle, although this soldier is in fact armed with the common Mauser M1888 or a local copy. Booker also described the paraphernalia carried by the troops fastened to their packs; in this case the soldier has a teapot, but others are described as carrying trench picks, shovels, oiled-paper umbrellas, hot water bottles, lanterns and alarm clocks. 

C4: Sergeant, ‘Big Sword Corps’, 1924

This NCO belongs to an elite unit of Wu Pei-fu’s army. The ‘Big Sword Corps’ acted as a bodyguard for their commander and were responsible for keeping order, when necessary beheading officers and men who had failed in their duties. (During the fighting against Chiang Kai-shek’s NRA in 1927, Wu had to send this elite corps into battle to try to stem their advance.) As with most soldiers responsible for discipline in Chinese armies, the men of this unit were picked for their stature and strength – the big executioner’s sword needed a pretty strong man to wield it efficiently. The rank of chung-shih is indicated by the stripe and two stars on the shoulder straps, and he has collar patches in the pink of the military police. The red armband with a central yellow disc is one of several types recorded as being worn by warlord troops at the time. Besides the sword – which was not really intended for combat use – he is armed with a Mauser M1896 automatic pistol with a wooden holster-stock, and he has spare clips in the leather pouches at his waist. 

After the death of Yuan Shikai in 1916 unified military rule from Peking gave way to disseminated military rule. Within a few months the country was divided into a great number of what were known then as satraps, none of them stable or lasting, all based on regional ties, all dominated by warlords. China had become, as Sun Yat-sen had predicted it would, a sheet of shifting sand. Though there continued to be national governments in Peking they wielded very little power, and came and went with bewildering frequency.

China is a vast and diverse country. The regional diversity is expressed in dialects, often mutually unintelligible, in cuisine, in traditions and customs – and in identity. Before there was an empire there were many independent states, whose names survive in the alternative names of provinces (QiLu/Shandong, ShuBa/Sichuan, Yue/Guangdong).

In the many periods of disunity since the founding of the first state in the third century BC, regional power holding always emerged to fill the void left by a collapse at the center. The process of devolution and fragmentation was one that China knew well. The most famous period of disunity came after the end of the Han dynasty, when China was divided into three. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi), an immensely popular novel written more than 1,000 years after the events it described (and almost certainly apocryphal), told of the anguish of division and civil war through a string of stories of courage, treachery, and intrigue. The stories were known to every Chinese, whether educated or not; they appeared as opera plots, as oral stories, and in cartoons. Disunity was as inevitable as unity, said the Three Kingdoms stories. Some people behaved badly in times of troubles, others came into their own – but the evil men often won; the most evil of all, Cao Cao, triumphed over the greatest strategist, Zhuge Liang, a man of brilliance and humanity.

It may seem a stretch to use a novel as a guide to understanding reactions to disunity and uncertainty – but the mentality portrayed in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms had a formative influence on young men of the early Republic, men such as Mao Zedong, who had all read the novel as boys. Theirs was a Three Kingdoms reaction to disunity: think things through carefully, devise stratagems, and know that the solutions will require force as well as intelligence. The answer was to combine Zhuge Liang’s brilliance with Cao Cao’s ruthlessness.

Warlords and their armies

The rise of regionalism and regional identities had been encouraged by the disappearance of universal examinations in 1905, and by the loss of the law of avoidance. After 1916 the center’s ability to make appointments at the provincial level disappeared, and regional rulers came to power, often soldiers, who called themselves military administrators (dujun); other people called them warlords.

These men saw disunity as opportunity for their particular regions. The negative reactions to warlordism in the civilian world reflected the fear of chaos, of the country falling apart – the fear that had haunted China’s rulers since the beginning of the empire. This fear lived in the metropolitan world of the emperors and the bureaucrats. It was not shared by warlords, men who focused on one region only, nor by many of the people whose lives they controlled, whose horizons did not extend beyond a region and its culture.

In the civilian elite’s stereotype, a warlord was a deceitful, devious, illiterate man, sunk in backward patterns of behaviour, uncouth and filthy. Zhang Zongchang, the “Dog-Meat General,” who ruled Shandong for many years, fitted the stereotype. He was uneducated, a bandit by origin, loud-mouthed, cruel. His proudest “possession” was his large harem, in which there were women from China, Japan, Russia, and western Europe. He lived by violence, he lost his power by violence, and he died violently (after he had lost power), shot at the station of his former capital, Jinan.

Few warlords were as awful as Zhang. Some were progressive figures, complex men who blended self-interest with a genuine interest in the future of China. The most famous of this type was Feng Yuxiang, a mass of contradictions, blunt and devious, a personal power seeker and devout nationalist.

Other warlords were local strongmen who looked after their own regions, and in some cases gave them the most secure and stable periods of rule they were to know in many decades. In Shanxi, Yan Xishan, who ruled the province for more than three decades, is remembered as a model ruler; in Guangdong, Chen Jitang, who controlled the province for most of the 1930s, is considered a local hero; in Guangxi, the rulers of the province from 1925 to 1949, the “Guangxi Clique,” are revered for their martial spirit, which gave the province the name of “China’s Sparta.”

Tuzi buchi wobian cao. “The rabbit doesn’t eat the grass beside its nest.” Source: traditional

The better warlords understood the old proverb about a rabbit not eating the grass beside its own burrow, and they tended to show concern for the people of the region they controlled. They provided stable government, which, even though it came with tax swindling and rampant corruption, was preferable to chaos or anarchy. Tax income stayed in the region – except for the amounts that warlords salted away in Tianjin, Shanghai, or Hong Kong (cities under foreign control) – for the time when their rule came to an end.

The men referred to as “petty warlords” did the most damage to Chinese society. They really were bandits, uncouth and crude. They exploited and vandalized the regions they controlled. Their rule was often short. When they were overthrown by other warlords they went back to banditry or joined local militias.

The number of men under arms expanded dramatically in the early Republic. By the early 1920s there were at least 1.5 million soldiers, and an equally large number of armed men not serving in formal military units – irregulars, militiamen, bodyguards, and bandits. There was a two-way traffic between the organized and the informal armed worlds.

Warlordism had a strongly inhibiting effect on one aspect of Chinese society where there might otherwise have been change. The emancipation of women, which had just begun in China’s cities, was impossible in areas under indifferent or bad warlord control. Girls had to be protected by their families from the unthinkable – rape – and so many of them lived cloistered lives at home.

The warlord system provided immense numbers of jobs – either directly, as soldiers, or indirectly, in the manufacturing and service industries that catered to the military. The continuing growth of China’s population facilitated the expansion of the military. As the population grew, employment opportunities did not. Most of the jobs in the new factories were for young women. There were more and more young men in the rural areas for whom there was no work. A few could emigrate – to Manchuria, Southeast Asia or North America – but the closed nature of migration flows limited this solution to a few regions of China, all of them coastal.

Young men from regions with no established migration chains had only a few opportunities for off-farm employment – peddling, moving to the city, or going into the military.

Warlord finances

The foreign banks, like the concessions, contribute largely to the amenity of Chinese civil war and political strife. Once loot is turned into money and deposited with them by the looter, it is sacred and beyond public recovery. Cases have been known in which generals, far from expecting interest on their deposits, have been eager to pay the banks a small percentage for the privilege of being allowed thus to cache their gain. At a town up the Yangtze [Yangzi], a Chinese military commander visited the American- Oriental Bank and said that he wished to deposit with them, instead of in his own headquarters, what he politely called his records, and left thirty large trunks with the bank. He was presently defeated, and the bank manager was a little disturbed as to what he should do if the incoming conqueror were to demand that these records be handed over. But the in-coming conqueror felt equally insecure, and was more concerned to get his own records safely in to the bank than to obtain those of his enemy. Another huge batch of trunks was brought in, and the bank manager, much relieved, had both sets of trunks piled one beside the other.

Arthur Ransome, The Chinese Puzzle (London: Allen and Unwin, 1927), pp. 123–4.

Battle of the Sajó River [Battle of Mohi]

Béla IV flees from Mohi, detail from Chronicon Pictum

Date April 11, 1241

Location Muhi on the Sajó River in northeastern Hungary

Opponents (* winner)



*Mongols Commander Subotai

Hungarians King Béla IV

Approx. # Troops

*Mongols As many as 120,000

Hungarians More than 100,000


The Mongols ravage eastern Hungary and Transylvania and gain access to all central Europe

The victory over a Hungarian army led by King Béla IV at Muhi on the Sajó River gave the Mongols access to all of Central Europe. Genghis Khan died in 1227, but his son and successor, Ogatai Khan, continued Mongol expansion. The Mongols conquered Korea in 1231 and defeated the Chin Empire during 1231–1234. In 1235 in the course of a conference with Mongol leaders, Ogatai outlined a plan of expansion in four areas: China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The offensive against Eastern Europe began in 1236–1237, when Ogatai sent 130,000 Mongols into the region. Batu Khan had nominal command, but Subotai exercised real command. Subotai defeated the Bulgars and then led his army across the frozen Volga River in December 1237. In the course of their winter campaign the Mongols destroyed the northern Russian principalities, culminating in the defeat and death of Grand Prince Yuri II of Vladimir in the Battle of the Sil River on March 4, 1237. At the same time, Mongol forces to the south entered the Ukraine, where they reorganized and reequipped their forces.

During the next two years Subotai consolidated Mongol control over eastern and southern Russia. While the states of Central and Western Europe knew little about Mongol conquests or intentions, the Mongols gathered accurate intelligence about the political situation to their west. Subotai began the offensive in November 1240 with 150,000 men, again campaigning in winter to achieve maximum mobility on horseback in the marshlands and across frozen rivers. When Kiev rejected surrender demands, Subotai captured it on December 6.

Leaving behind 30,000 men to control the conquered territory and maintain his lines of communication, Subotai invaded Central Europe with 120,000 men. The Mongols moved on four axes. Kaidu, grandson of Ogatai, commanded the northern flank; Batu and Subotai had charge of the two central forces; and Kadan, son of Ogatai, protected the southern flank. The two middle forces were to pass through the central Carpathians into Transylvania and then meet at Pest, on the east bank of the Danube.

Kaidu meanwhile moved into Silesia, defeating a Polish army under King Boleslav V at Kraków (Cracow) on March 3, 1241. To meet Kaidu, Prince Henry of Silesia put together a mixed force of some 40,000 Silesians, Germans, Poles, and Teutonic Knights. King Wenceslas of Bohemia marched north with 50,000 men to join them. However, Kaidu struck before the two opposing forces could join. In the hard-fought Battle of Legnica (known as the Battle of Liegnitz in German and also called the Battle of Wahlstatt) on April 9, 1241, Kaidu smashed Prince Henry’s army. Kaidu then halted, having achieved his aims of devastating North-Central Europe and preventing its armies from moving south.

The Mongol southern advance had gone well. In mid-April the Mongols secured Transylvania, and Kadan drove north through the Iron Gates to join Subotai. On March 12, 1241, Hungarian king Béla IV, informed of the Mongol advance, called a conference of nobles at Buda, on the west bank of the Danube, to discuss how to meet the threat. On March 15 the conferees learned that the Mongol advance guard had already arrived at Pest, just opposite Buda.

Sure that the Pest defenses could hold the attackers, Béla IV gathered some 100,000 men over the next two weeks. At the beginning of April he set out from Pest to meet the invaders, confident that he had sufficient strength to defeat them. The Mongols withdrew before Béla’s cautious advance. Late on April 10 about 100 miles northeast of Pest, the Hungarians encountered and defeated a weak Mongol force defending a bridge at Muhi on the Sajó River, a tributary of the Tisza. Béla IV then established a strong bridgehead on the east bank of the Sajó and camped for the night with the bulk of his force on the west bank in a strong defensive position of wagons chained together.

The Mongols attacked the Hungarians before dawn on April 11, 1241, striking the bridgehead with arrows and with stones hurled by catapults, followed closely by an infantry assault. The defenders fought fiercely, and the Hungarians sortied from the main camp to their aid.

They soon discovered that the attack was only a feint. Subotai had led 30,000 men across the river some distance south of the bridge, and this force now came in from the south and rear of the Hungarians. The Hungarians found themselves packed in a small space and devastated by Mongol arrows, stones, and burning naptha. King Béla IV managed to escape with some of his men to the north toward Pozsony (Bratislava). Although Mongol losses in the battle were heavy, the Hungarian force was virtually destroyed. It suffered between 40,000 and 70,000 dead, including much of the Magyar nobility.

With this Hungarian defeat, only the Danube River prevented a further Mongol advance. The Mongols held Eastern Europe from the Dnieper to the Oder and from the Baltic to the Danube. In a campaign lasting only four months, they had destroyed Christian forces numbering many times their own. Following the victory, the Mongols ravaged all eastern Hungary and Transylvania. With a majority of its settlements having been destroyed and a large portion of the population slain during the Mongol occupation, which lasted until 1242, the Hungarian state had to be completely reconstituted.

References Allsen, Thomas. Mongol Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Grousaset, Rene. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970. Nicolle, David. The Mongol Warlords: Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, Hulegu, Tamerlane. London: Brookhampton, 1998.

Battle of Cape Matapan, 27–29 March 1941

Prior to the battle of Matapan, the Warspite picks up her Swordfish floatplane on the run. Illustration by Dennis Andrews.

The deteriorating military situation in Africa and Greece in 1941, however, made it clear that some offensive response by the Regia Marina was necessary if these theaters were to remain viable for the Axis powers. The Germans were now becoming more insistent that something be done to restore the situation in the Mediterranean. At their urging, and because of the general feeling at Supermarina (Italian naval headquarters) that an attempt should be made to re-establish the dynamics of conflict in the area, Operation Gaudo was born.

Vittorio Veneto firing upon Allied cruisers during the daytime phase of the Battle of Cape Matapan near the Island of Gavdos.

Supermarina committed the brand-new Littorio-class battleship Vittorio Veneto, sporting nine 15-inch guns and displacing 45,000 tons, as well as six of its seven 10,000-ton heavy cruisers and two of its best light cruisers to the operation. Usually reluctant to risk its capital ships, Supermarina had outdone itself for this mission. The Italians were further motivated by Luftwaffe reports on March 15, 1941, indicating that two of the three British battleships in the Mediterranean had been severely damaged and were not operational. Perhaps Supermarina officials would have been less sanguine had they known that those two battleships and their sister ship were not damaged, but anchored comfortably in Alexandria Harbor and quite ready to fight. Moreover, the British ships were led by one of the most competent and aggressive sailors in the Royal Navy.

Admiral Sir Andrew B. Cunningham, affectionately known as “ABC” to his men, had entered the Royal Navy as a cadet at age 14. While nurtured in a battleship navy, he was an early convert to air power. Cunningham had taken over a superb fleet whose training included night combat, which at that time was considered apostasy by most navies around the globe and ruled out as a matter of course. The British Mediterranean Fleet, however, excelled in night actions during prewar maneuvers and applied the lessons learned during the war years.

There were those in the Italian Naval Operational Command Centre (Supermarina). Admiral Riccardi, the Italian Chief of Naval Staff, and other leading members of the RMI, such as Admirals Campioni and Iachino, were particularly anxious to deliver a knock-out blow to Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet. There is more than a suspicion that they entertained and even cherished the thought of bringing about some form of massive set piece battle in which the British could be put to the sword in the Mediterranean – a type of new style Jutland with a different result from the original encounter in the North Sea. These ideas were all very well in theory, but the reality of the situation was what counted in Berlin and Wilhelmshaven. Appreciating that something needed to be done to improve its standing in the eyes of its Axis partner, Supermarina strove to orchestrate a plan (codename Gaudo) that would succeed in restoring some pride to the Italian Navy. One effective way of doing that would be to intercept and destroy a couple of lightly screened Allied convoys scheduled for late March: AG.9 en route from Alexandria to Piraeus and GA.9 going in the opposite direction. As John Winton suggests, it was an excellent plan which might well have succeeded had it not been discovered in advance.

Its secrecy was compromised to some extent by the Italians themselves. Their rather understandable eagerness in checking repeatedly on the location of the Mediterranean Fleet through increased surveillance patrols of both Alexandria and the convoy routes south of Crete in the days leading up to the launching of Gaudo certainly alerted Cunningham and his staff to the likelihood of some imminent action in the Eastern Mediterranean. These suspicions were confirmed by the latest ‘Ultra’ intercepts provided for the Admiralty by the members of Hut 6 (working on the Luftwaffe’s ‘Light Blue’ code) and Dilly Knox and Mavis Lever (who concentrated on the RMI’s ‘Alfa’ code) at Bletchley Park. This signals intelligence suggested that German exasperation at the Italian failure to deal effectively with the Allied convoys to Piraeus and Suda Bay was such that the Supermarina intended to send its main surface fleet south of Crete in search of the troop transports and supply ships that had so far eluded its submarine arm and that 28 March was scheduled as D-Day for this operation.

Forewarned of Admiral Iachino’s intended operational sortie off Crete, but not the composition of the force that would be undertaking it, the Admiralty swiftly re-routed and then recalled its two merchant convoys. If the Italians were spoiling for a fight, so was Cunningham. Risks had to be accepted in such a situation, but the prospect of doing real harm to the Italian Fleet was too good an opportunity for him to miss. He sought to make the most of his advantages by sending Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Pridham-Wippell’s Force B (four light cruisers and four destroyers) out from Pireaus to act as live bait for Iachino’s warships in the waters off Crete and lure them unwittingly into the steely embrace of Cunningham’s Force A (the carrier Formidable, three battleships and nine destroyers) coming up from the southeast. If this could be done successfully, Cunningham felt his warships could then set about the enemy with some gusto.

On the same day (27 March) that Pridham-Wippell’s Force B left port to get into its pre-arranged position south of Crete to begin trailing its cape for Iachino’s fleet to follow, the very ships it was hoping to attract rendezvoused south of the Straits of Messina and moved off south-eastwards towards Crete – and the convoy routes to and from Greece that lay further to the south. Although the RMI had no carriers to rely upon, the force that gathered in Sicilian waters was still quite impressive. Apart from his flagship the battleship Vittorio Veneto and four destroyers that had come from Naples, Iachino had gathered a fleet of six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and nine other destroyers from their bases at Taranto, Brindisi and Messina. It was a fleet that could have done an awful lot of damage to any Allied convoy it came across, but it lacked constant air cover and reconnaissance support. In the absence of a carrier, however, Supermarina had fully expected to have at its disposal the planes of Fliegercorps X operating from their base in Sicily – so the aerial deficiency was not regarded as being critical at this stage.

Whatever the Fliegerkorps might have done for the Italians, the fact remained that Cunningham was far better served by aerial reconnaissance than his opponents. At lunchtime on 27 March, an RAF flying boat based on Crete reported that three Italian heavy cruisers of the Trento class and a destroyer were at sea and heading towards the island. This report confirmed the accuracy of the earlier signals intelligence and convinced Cunningham that action was in the offing. Despite his aggressive instincts, he didn’t want to reveal his hand too soon lest the enemy fleet break off the operation and return to its home bases. Wishing to deceive Italian agents in Alexandria about his intentions to leave port and go out for a showdown with Iachino’s warships, Cunningham behaved ashore as if hoisting anchor was about the last thing on his mind on the evening of 27 March. What Michael Simpson describes as an ‘elaborate charade’ seemed to work perfectly. Force A left Alexandria after dark undetected by spies and sped towards its pre-arranged meeting with Force B south of Crete later in the morning of 28 March.

Over the course of the next thirty hours a fleet action that had promised so much for the Italians turned into another grievous defeat every bit as bad as the earlier Taranto débâcle, if not worse. Whether the Battle of Matapan deserves the ringing epithet of ‘a naval Caporetto’ given to it by the Italian critic Gianni Rocca is arguable, but what is clear is that it was a tragedy and one that had been largely, and sadly, self-inflicted. While aircraft and radar both had a critical role in assisting the British cause on 28 March, the stunning victory that would come his way after nightfall was gifted to Cunningham by his adversary Iachino. Aware from a lunchtime air raid that the Gaudo operation had already lost its surprise element, Iachino had opted for a safety-first policy by turning westward in a bid to put his ships beyond the range of what he assumed had been purely shore-based RAF units. Once the Vittorio Veneto had been hit and holed in the stern during a torpedo attack in the mid-afternoon, he could do no more than abandon the operation and – after sterling work by his damage control party – make course for home at the best possible speed. As the Italian Fleet limped westward it was spotted by one of Warspite’s reconnaissance planes and targeted again at dusk by both carrier and land-based aircraft. As luck would have it in trying to finish off the battleship an Albacore 5A, the last carrier plane to make an attack, succeeded in totally immobilizing the heavy cruiser Pola at 1946 hours. As she remained dead in the water, the rest of the fleet retired from the scene as hastily as possible. After exchanging a series of messages about the plight of the Pola and her crew with Carlo Cattaneo, one of his divisional commanders, Iachino made a gross tactical error at 2018 hours in sending back two other Zara class heavy cruisers and four destroyers to go to the aid of the crippled warship. While Iachino’s humanity cannot be faulted for trying to rescue her officers and men, the return of Cattaneo’s entire group to retrieve the Pola by towing her to safety when he knew by this time that the Mediterranean Fleet was at sea is simply unfathomable. One can only imagine he thought the British ships weren’t close enough to be an active threat during the hours of darkness and that by morning he would have arranged sufficient air cover for Cattaneo’s entire group that Cunningham wouldn’t dare to intervene. It was an egregious error. Iachino may have thought that the British wouldn’t risk engaging in any night fighting, but if he did he didn’t know his opposite number. Cunningham was determined not to let the battleship get away and was prepared to bring the enemy fleet to action in the dark if need be, even though his ships had not practised night fighting for some months and the skills necessary to become good at it still remained rudimentary at best.

In the end, of course, the night action that took place didn’t involve Iachino’s entire fleet, but just Cattaneo’s division of it. They had the wretched luck to return to the stricken Pola just when Cunningham arrived at the same spot with Force A. Martin Stephen describes the scene graphically: ‘With flashless cordite and radar the British were sighted men in a world of the blind.’ At what amounted to point blank range the result was never in doubt. Fiume and Zara were soon rendered into smoking hulks by the broadside they received. In a little over four minutes the Zara class of heavy cruiser had, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist. As Cunningham described it later it was ‘more like murder than anything else’. Removing his battlefleet from what Barnett describes perfectly as a ‘chaotic mêlée’, Cunningham left his own destroyers to deal with their Italian equivalents. During the course of the evening, two of the four enemy destroyers were sunk (Alfieri and Carducci) while Oriani was damaged but managed to escape along with the unscathed Gioberti.

It was a magnificent victory for Cunningham, but it might have turned out even better had he not sent a sloppily phrased signal to the rest of his ships shortly after putting the heavy cruisers out of action that seemed to imply that all those not engaged in dealing with the enemy should withdraw to the northeast. While the ambiguous message was not intended for his light cruiser squadron, Pridham-Wippell didn’t realise that at the time. He broke off his pursuit of the Vittorio Veneto and withdrew to the northeast to conform with his C-in-C’s apparent orders. By the time that Cunningham had become aware of what had happened, Iachino’s flagship and her accompanying warships had escaped to live and fight another day. That was more than could be said for Vice-Admiral Cattaneo and 2,302 officers and men of the Regia Marina who perished in these engagements. Correlli Barnett calls it ‘the Royal Navy’s greatest victory in a fleet encounter since Trafalgar’. Is it churlish to suggest that it could have been even greater? It might well have been but for the ambiguously worded signal Cunningham had sent while basking in the glow of his battlefleet’s destructive blitz against Cattaneo’s heavy cruisers. Michael Simpson, the editor of Cunningham’s papers, draws another valid conclusion about the Battle of Cape Matapan, namely, that the C-in-C would have been far better served had he had two carriers rather than only one with him on this operation. Extra aircraft would have given him far more systematic reconnaissance and firepower than was available to him from only having Formidable and some of the land-based RAF torpedo-bombers at his disposal.

One thing that all the leading naval analysts who have reviewed the action off Cape Matapan agree upon is that this crushing defeat for the Regia Marina was as much psychological as it was material. It dealt a real blow to the esteem in which the Italian fleet was held and made the Supermarina far more cautious than it otherwise might have been. This attitude of restraint was further reinforced by yet another rout its forces suffered at the hands of the British only a few days later in the Red Sea, in what became an ultimately fruitless Italian quest both to attack Port Sudan as well as to retain their base of Massawa on the coast of Eritrea. In the face of a sustained land and aerial offensive launched by the enemy which closed in on the port on 6 April and captured it two days later, the Italians would lose six seaworthy destroyers, a torpedo boat, five MAS (fast motor torpedo boats) and nineteen of their merchant vessels, while six German ships, including the passenger ship Colombo, suffered the same fate. Somehow the degree of hopelessness into which the Italian naval cause had sunk was typified by the scuttling of the vast majority of these craft by their own crews at a total cost of 151,760 tons.

Ottoman-Greek War of 1897

Painting of the Battle of Velestino.

The Ottoman-Greek War of 1897 is instrumental in understanding the successes and shortcomings of the Hamidian military. Actually, the conflict was a limited war in every aspect. The combat actions lasted barely a month. Only 10 Ottoman divisions, reinforced with partial mobilization, took part, and overall casualty figures were low. But it was large enough for an evaluation of the extent of Hamidian reforms.

The Ottoman administration tried its best to stay away from war. However, the over-confident Greek leadership saw the situation for annexing Crete and even expanding on the mainland further north as ripe for exploitation. This was partly due to miscalculation of the Great Powers’ policy and an exaggerated view of the internal problems of the Ottomans, especially regarding the recent Armenian rebellions. Two Greek regular battalions openly landed on Crete and joined with the local rebels on February 15, 1897 (the so-called Vassos Operation). Within two weeks, Greek semi-official gangs, called the Ethnike Hetairia, reinforced with regular officers and soldiers, began to launch guerrilla raids into Ottoman Thessaly. The Ottoman administration reluctantly increased the alert level and reinforced the border guards with regular infantry battalions. On April 9 a reinforced battalion-sized Greek gang with some Italian volunteers attacked Ottoman border towers and defeated a border company in Kranya (Krania). Even though they were repulsed and retreated back to Greece the next day, the incident forced the administration, which was already under intense public pressure, to declare war on Greece on April 17.

The Ottoman-Greek War of 1897 was fought in two separate theaters of operations— Alasonya-Thessaly and Yanya (Janina)-Epirus—but in most of the contemporary works the Yanya theater is neglected due to the fact that combat operations near Yanya remained at divisional level (two Ottoman divisions against a Greek division) and did not affect the outcome of the war. We can divide the combat operations in the main theater (the Alasonya front) into three stages: first, border clashes and the occupation of mountain passes (April 16–22); second, the Mati-Deliler battle and the occupation of Tirnova (Tournavos) and Yenişehir (Larissa) (April 23– May 4); and finally, the battles of Velestin (Valestinos), Çatalca (Pharsalos), and Dōmeke (Domokos) (May 5–17).

For the first time, the Ottoman high command put contingency plans into use. The plan against Greece was prepared by none other than von der Goltz in 1886. It was revised just before the start of the hostilities. The plan was simple—strategic defense by an army corps (two infantry divisions) in the Yanya region and strategic offensive by a field army (seven infantry divisions and one cavalry division) in the Alasonya region. The main idea was to force Greeks to overstretch their initial defensive lines, which were very near to the border. The main body of the Ottoman Alasonya Army would try to fall behind the Greeks before they were able to retreat back to the Yenişehir line. Von der Goltz supposed that the Great Powers would not let the Greeks be beaten and would intervene in the conflict in less than 15 days. So the Greek army had to be crushed in less than two weeks. Obviously, the revised plan demanded the rapid mobilization and transportation of combat units to the front, to fix the main body of the Greek army quickly along the border and enable the encirclement maneuver of cavalry-rich mobile divisions.

The partial-mobilization proceeded smoothly in less than two months. Thousands of reserve soldiers enthusiastically flooded the recruitment centers, and officials encountered difficulties forcing them to send home excess numbers of reserves. Similarly, hundreds of Albanian irregulars saw the conflict as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and joined the mobilized divisions as additional assets. Thanks to the availability of good railways, most of the units reached their destination on time (40,000 personnel and 8,000 pack animals were transported in 20 days). However, problems immediately started after debarkation from the troop trains. Transportation of baggage from the last train station to Alasonya, a distance of only 21 kilometers, took an inordinate amount of time and effort due to poor road conditions and lack of transportation assets. The high command was unable to find a satisfactory solution to this problem, and units had to wait days for resupply during the war.

The initial stage of the campaign showed all the shortcomings of an inexperienced but excessively enthusiastic army. Officers and soldiers sometimes ran towards the enemy as if in a race without paying attention to combat tactics and techniques, and the first casualty figures of officers (52 casualties) jumped to abnormally high levels (10 percent for the first stage, 6 percent for the whole campaign) in comparison with the intensity of the combat. Two brigade and several regiment commanders were killed in action during the initial stage (four days long). Typically, regiment and higher-level unit commanders were unable to command and control effectively their battalions. Instead of conducting the encirclement maneuver as planned, most units simply tried to push the Greek defenders back by frontal assaults. Once again, the problematic Ottoman command-control hierarchy and logistics proved clearly deficient after the start of the Greek withdrawal. Confusion, delay, and lack of coordination and communication were the norms of the day. Ottoman forward units reached weakly defended Yenişehir two days after the Greeks withdrew from the town.

Abdülhamid was extremely disillusioned with the performance of his commander in chief, Edhem Pasha, who preferred to spend more time with western journalists than with his subordinates. To make things worse, Edhem Pasha, after showing poor and wavering leadership, suddenly began to ask for reinforcements. The famous commander of the Plevne defense, Osman Pasha, was chosen to replace him, but then at the very last moment the fall of Yenişehir saved Edhem Pasha. The administration also decided to strengthen faltering staff positions by assigning all available general staff officers including military attaché’s and lecturers from the Military Academy.

The second stage proceeded along the same lines as the first. Ottoman units pushed the Greek defenders back without attempting encirclement maneuvers, and the Greeks safely evacuated their defenses retreating to their last defensive line. Although confidence and firmer control under fire replaced the combat inexperience of the Ottoman rank and file, the first battle of Velestin was a disaster. In this encounter, a forced reconnaissance turned into a futile and bloody assault, which proved that the Ottoman officers, especially, were in need of more experience.

The three pitched battles (Velestin, Çatalca, and Dōmeke) in front of the last Greek defensive line turned out to be decisive. The Greek defenders were beaten in detail and lost any chance to safeguard the road to Athens. However, thanks to the limited nature of Ottoman aims and the timely intervention of the Great Powers, Greece was saved from further humiliation. Against the expectations of the Ottoman public, the victory did not result in the return of the Thessaly region, which had been lost in 1882. In fact, the victorious Ottoman troops retreated as if defeated, and Abdülhamid spent several tense months trying to explain why the war had been won by the army but subsequently lost by the diplomats.

Obviously, the Ottoman military was better trained, led, and equipped than the overconfident Greeks. The Hamidian reforms were successful in most respects. For the first time, the Ottoman General Staff functioned like a real general staff rather than as a mere scribal bureau. The artillery corps (thanks to a high percentage of Mektebli officers) lived up to its own high standards and effectively crushed any Greek counterattacks. The newly reformed medical corps performed its medical treatment tasks by opening field hospitals at divisional-level and stationery hospitals in the rear. However, battlefield casualty evacuation, during which casualties spent hours—even entire days—without proper treatment, still lagged behind other armies. The costly investment in railways improved the performance of the ever faulty transportation and logistics system. Even the enthusiasm of the common people overcame the shortages of the Redif system. And thanks to the frequent mobilization of the Anatolian Redifs, most Anatolian Redif battalions performed as well as their regular counterparts, and the Trabzon Redifs (the only mobilized unit from Fourth Army) became famous as the best of all.

Abdülhamid and the Ottoman high command, blinded by the easy victories and by the apparent success of the improvements, paid little attention to the army’s serious problems and shortcomings. First of all, they happily ignored the Ottoman defeat that had been suffered on the Yanya front in front of Loros (Louros). The unexpected Greek assault of April 18 dislocated the Yanya Corps and defeated the 2nd Division. Even though the Yanya Corps gained confidence and recaptured the lost ground in two weeks, the serious shortcomings of the Albanian Redifs and irregulars were exposed. Indeed, the friendly fire of the raw Redifs turned out to be more fatal to their comrades than that of the enemy. The failure to benefit from the lessons of this defeat would play an important role in the collapse of Ottoman regional defense units during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913.

Second, Abdülhamid still did not comprehend the cost of his paranoia—his banning of divisional and higher-unit maneuvers and all live firing exercises. He was suspicious of all combat training and any large-unit movement, due to his fear of military uprisings or coup d’e´tats against his sultanate. Consequently, the Ottoman generals simply did not have the basic understandings of how to command their units under combat conditions. They were too slow in comprehending the rapidly unfolding modern battles, and they became a liability for their units, which were equally slow to react. The units were unable to perform complex maneuvers, failed to establish and maintain contact, and were notoriously unable to follow up victory. Abdülhamid was so paranoid that he categorically refused the distribution of modern long-range Mauser repeating rifles (fantastically, there were 480,000 7.5 mm and 220,000 9.5 mm rifles on hand) that had been purchased at the cost of increasing the foreign debt. Only one out of ten divisions that took part in the Greek War hurriedly armed themselves with these new rifles; all the others used the veteran Sniders and Martinis during the war.

Third, keeping the same generals for the sake of stability and loyalty frozen in the higher posts effectively limited the opportunity for promotion for an ambitious new generation of officers. The poor leadership performance of these privileged old guards increased the fault line between old and new generations. This especially affected the young general staff officers, who were trained by Germans, and who admired the German model and were already critical of their generals.118 In part due to their counterinsurgency experiences, they became so disillusioned that their military frustration, coupled with political aspirations, turned them into conspirators. They began to plot against the Hamidian regime and established relations with civilian opposition circles.

In conclusion, Abdülhamid achieved remarkable results with the military reforms and reorganization of the Ottoman military after the disastrous defeats at the hands of the Russians. However, his paranoia and lack of confidence in the officer corps that he himself had created limited the overall end results of the reforms. The Ottoman-Greek War not only showed the successes and shortcomings of the Hamidian military, but also acted as a catalyst in which disaffection and disillusionment of the highly trained young officers reached record levels. In a way, Abdülhamid created his own nemesis by providing a better military educational system, but not fulfilling the high expectations of the officers so educated.