The Russian Campaign 1812: Ultimate Chance for Peace?


French Fusiliers in Bardin Regulation. This is how these men would have looked in the 1812 Russian campaign.


Russian Army. Flügel-Adjutant of Infantry, campaign dress (1812), Field officer, Infantry, summer dress (1812), Capt., Izmailovski Lifeguard, summer dress (1812)


Charles Joseph Minard’s famous graph showing the decreasing size of the Grande Armée as it marches to Moscow (brown line, from left to right) and back (black line, from right to left) with the size of the army equal to the width of the line. Temperature is plotted on the lower graph for the return journey (multiply Réaumur temperatures by 1¼ to get Celsius, e.g. −30 °R = −37.5 °C).

War having been declared on him, in fact if not in law, could Napoleon have avoided the invasion of Russia? Briefly, he considered waiting in Poland for Alexander to attack him. He quickly perceived that the tsar had no such intention. Alexander feared a new Friedland that would not, this time, lead to a new Tilsit. Time was on Alexander’s side. He had a sufficient period to complete the mobilization of the most powerful army ever possessed by Russia. He had all the time he needed.

From Napoleon’s perspective, the situation was completely different. It was obviously not in his interest to await the completion of Russian military preparations. He could only maintain for a short time the enforced allied mobilization that provided his new Grand Armeé. Above all, he needed to act prior to the opening of a British front in Western Europe. The war in Spain gave him enough concerns by itself! He regretted even having waited until summer. A spring offensive would probably have permitted him to avoid the coming catastrophe.

Napoleon issued his traditional order of the day to the Grand Armeé on June 21:

Soldiers: The second Polish war has begun. The first ended at Friedland and Tilsit. At Tilsit, Russia swore eternal alliance with France and war against England. Today Russia violates its oaths. Does it believe that we are degenerate? Are we not still the soldiers of Austerlitz? Russia has placed us between war and dishonor. There can be no doubt as to which we will choose.

Beginning on June 24 with a spectacular yet unopposed crossing of the Niemen in the Kovno area, the war with Russia ended in tragedy in December. This war consisted of two very distinct phases: first, a diabolic pursuit of the Russian army to Moscow, marked by the indecisive victory of Borodino or the Moskva; next, a catastrophic retreat back to Poland from October to December.

The Diabolical Pursuit

Once again, no desire for territorial conquest underpinned the Russian campaign. The goal of Napoleon’s campaign was to destroy the enemy army, thereby forcing Russia to make peace.

The army operating in Russia approached a total of 600,000 men. Half were assigned to hold occupied territories and provide logistical support, while the other half were first-line combat troops.

The invading force consisted only of the attack echelon of the Grand Armeé, whose unprecedented strength of more than half-a-million men stretched from the Rhine to the Niemen. Its international composition was one of the more original aspects of this gigantic military amalgam. Frenchmen represented only a third of the total force and half of the attack echelon. It was a true European army, an army of “twenty nations” as it was labeled at the time.

The largest foreign contingent, 100,000 men, came from the Confederation of the Rhine (Bavaria, Westphalia, Württemberg, Baden, Saxony, and several duchies and principalities). Next in descending order were Poland (50,000), Austria (32,000), Italy (30,000), Prussia (20,000), and Switzerland (10,000). The Netherlands, Denmark, Naples, Spain, and Croatia also provided contingents of several thousand soldiers each.

Such a disparate and uneven ensemble could not go far without experiencing problems of cohesion and logistics. It was a long way from the minuscule and uncouth Army of Italy of 1796!

Barclay de Tolly, Peter Bagration, and Alexander Tormasov commanded the Russian armies, more than 300,000 men with some 900 guns. The Russians deployed thusly: (1) Barclay de Tolly’s main body of 140,000 blocked the axis from Vilna to Saint Petersburg; (2) a secondary body of 60,000 men, commanded by Bagration, operated on Barclay de Tolly’s left on the axis of Moscow; and (3) and Tormasov’s reserve army was being formed south of the Pripiat Marshes.

Napoleon operated on four axes: (1) in the north, Macdonald with the Prussian and Bavarian contingents; (2) in the center with the emperor were Prince Eugene, Oudinot, and the Imperial Guard; (3) in the south, Davout and Jerome; (4) in the extreme south, Charles-Philippe Schwartzenberg’s Austrian corps as flank guard against Tormasov along the Pripiat Marshes.

Eugene’s slowness of movement permitted Barclay de Tolly to escape encirclement in the area of Vilna, which fell without fighting on June 26. The tsar sent his police minister, Balashov, to Napoleon with a message offering negotiations if the Grand Armeé returned to Poland. In full retreat, the vanquished dared to dictate unacceptable conditions to the victor. The purpose was obvious. Alexander sought only to gain precious time to permit Barclay de Tolly to recover and to complete the concentration of Tormasov’s army. If he genuinely wanted peace, why did he not ask to open negotiations without preconditions? Why, at Vilna before hostilities began, did he refuse to receive Ambassador Lauriston, who was carrying a final attempt at peace?

Continuing its advance under weather conditions so extreme that they slowed its progress, the Grand Armeé occupied Vitebsk without opposition on July 27.

The heat, dust, thirst, mud, and mosquitoes inflicted an inhuman trial on the men. Unit strengths visibly declined under the effects of illness.

Barclay de Tolly and Bagration linked up at Smolensk. The city resisted an initial attack on August 16-17. Napoleon believed that he finally had found an opportunity for a great, decisive battle. Once more, however, Barclay de Tolly retreated after setting the city on fire.

The scorched earth policy of the Russian army owed more to the force of circumstances than to a deliberate choice. The Russian army’s leadership was divided into two groups: those who wished at all costs to prevent the Grand Armeé from reaching Moscow, the historic and religious heart of Russia, and those who sought at any price to preserve the army from disaster by evading a great battle against the invincible Napoleon. Up until Smolensk, Russia was fortunate to have in Barclay de Tolly a partisan of the second group; otherwise, the Russian campaign would have reached its conclusion before Vilna or Vitebsk.

Barclay de Tolly’s refusal to defend Smolensk set off a crisis in the Russian high command, a crisis that had been brewing from the start of the campaign. The aristocracy rebelled against a retreat that was without end and that damaged its dignity. Without doubt, the aristocrats also feared that the presence of the Grand Armeé in the heart of Russia might encourage an uprising among the serfs. Alexander eventually yielded to his aristocracy by replacing Barclay de Tolly with Kutusov, the brave vanquished of Austerlitz.

The new commander-in-chief decided to stop Napoleon at a position between Borodino and the River Moskva.

Sea Landings in History

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the 1066 Norman amphibious invasion of England.
Normandy Landings-1944.

The history of amphibious warfare goes back well before the modern term itself. The massive landing by the Persians at Marathon, the ill-fated Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 BCE, Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 55 BCE, and some of the Crusades are invoked as examples of assault upon the land from the sea.

Looking back to those earlier ventures can help to clarify the enduring, historic features of this special form of warfare. It is not about raids upon an enemy’s shore, such as Sir Francis Drake’s attack on Cadiz and other Spanish ports in the 1580s. Those were strikes from the sea, but a permanent lodgement on the beachhead followed by an advance upon the rest of the mainland was not intended. Operations such as the assault upon Cadiz usually had a smaller, more specific purpose, such as throwing the enemy’s intentions into disarray (Drake’s assault was a preemptive disruption of the Armada) or hurting his offensive capacities (like the Zeebrugge Raid of April 1918, where the British planned to block egress by U-boats from the German-occupied port), or were simply persistent, small-scale attacks to stretch out and, it was hoped, wear down the defenders. Royal Marine commando units carried out many of that sort of raid throughout much of the Second World War, compelling Hitler to order the stationing of vast numbers of Wehrmacht troops along Europe’s western shores, from northern Norway to France’s border with Spain. In late December 1941, for example, a commando raid successfully destroyed the German power station, factories, and other installations at Vaagso, halfway up the Norwegian coast, and in February 1942 another famous raid attacked and seized vital radar equipment from the Bruneval station, near Le Havre.

But these were not invasions; at Bruneval, the commandos actually parachuted in, seized the machinery, and left by the sea. Some of them had specific utility, such as the acquisition of the radar equipment, or the later midget submarine raids on enemy merchant ships in the Gironde (the “Cockleshell Heroes”). Sometimes, perhaps, the merits were psychological; they certainly were to Churchill, who almost immediately after the fall of France—and well before the Battle of Britain—ordered the Chiefs of Staff to propose “measures for a vigorous, enterprising and ceaseless offensive against the whole German-occupied coastline.” Finally, even the smallest raid, whether a success like Vaagso or a failure like Guernsey (July 1940), produced lessons: about training, command and control, land-sea communications, weapons used, vessels used, accuracy of prior intelligence collection, and so on.

It is the lessons of larger and more purposeful amphibious operations that claim attention here. The first was that specialized troops and specialized equipment were needed to carry out a successful invasion against a determined land-based enemy. Sometimes, perhaps, a hastily flung-together unit, if it possessed the element of surprise, could pull off an operational miracle, but when launched against a foe who had prepared its defenses well, such attacks were usually a recipe for disaster. It is therefore not surprising that historians call our attention to two innovations by the army of Philip II, since that service was one of the driving forces behind the “military revolution” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first was the creation by Madrid of specially trained troops assigned to their various armadas and experienced in moving from ship to land; the Royal Spanish Marines were born in 1560s operations to recover Malta, and other powers followed by establishing their own such units. The second was the establishment of specific weapons platforms and the implementation of suitable tactics for their success in battle. Thus, in the May 1583 Spanish operation to recover the Azores from an Anglo-French-Portuguese garrison, “special barges were arranged to unload horses and 700 artillery pieces on the beach; special row boats were equipped with small cannons to support the landing boats; special supplies were readied to be unloaded and support the 11,000 men landing force strength.” The attackers also practiced deception, a partial force landing on a distant beach and distracting the garrison while two waves of marines got onshore at the main point.

The third, equally important general lesson was that those who ordered an amphibious operation, whether it be the king of Spain in the 1580s or Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff in 1942–43, had to eliminate interservice rivalry and create some form of integrated command. Rivalry among allies is one thing (Wellington often claimed that having enemies was nothing like as bad as having allies), but rivalry between the armed services of one’s own nation is altogether more serious. In many cases, operational failure was due to a lack of appreciation of what the other service could or could not do, or even how the other service thought. The doggerel about the Earl of Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan was not chosen merely as an example of puckish Regency satire. The Walcheren invasion of 1809 was a disaster. The place was badly chosen, being a low-lying island ridden with malaria; there were no serious preparations (tools, barges, intelligence) for an advance from the island into the Netherlands; Chatham did little with his 44,000 troops, and Strachan and his ships stood offshore. There was no planning staff and no integrated command structure. It was a total mess, neither the first nor the last of its kind.

The final lesson was the oldest of all: that no matter how sophisticated and integrated the armed forces involved in a landing were, they were always going to be subjected to the constraints of distance, topography, accessibility, and the weather conditions of the moment. The internal combustion engine conquered much of time and space. Against the blunt force of a gale, it was greatly hindered and reduced in its power (as we saw from the physical difficulties that Churchill had in simply getting to Casablanca). Given that the tides changed daily—in the Atlantic, there were very large vertical rises and drops—and that a storm could come up swiftly, there was always great unease at the idea that forces would be landing upon an open shore, even a lee shore.

Wherever possible, then, invasion planners, thinking also of the follow-on troops and supplies, desired a safe, functioning harbor in which their ships could rest securely and through which reinforcements could flow. The problem, of course, was that any good harbor worth its name was going to be heavily defended by cannon, bastions, outerworks, innerworks, and possibly mines and hidden obstacles, while the invading troops and their transports would be offshore, churning away in collective seasickness and the ebb and flow of the tides before the bloody assault was made. The history of amphibious warfare is thus also replete with examples of attacks that were repulsed—in 1741 the British put 24,000 men, 2,000 guns, and 186 ships against Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), yet still were driven off by a much smaller Spanish garrison holding a massive fortress. Trying to seize an enemy harbor naturally provoked an enormous defensive reaction and most probably would be fatal; landing on beaches, whether nearby or farther away, exposed the troops to the watery elements and also forced them to bring their own communications systems (bridging equipment, repair units, spares) until they reached the enemy’s roads. But deciding against any amphibious attack and staying with a land campaign (as the Allies did in Italy between 1943 and 1945, apart from Anzio) meant that one could not take advantage of the opportunities of maritime flexibility and would instead be forced to grind on. One of these operational options might be a winner, but it was impossible to say in advance which one it was.

In sum, assaults from the sea were a gambler’s throw; perhaps only airborne attacks could be riskier. It was not just about ships dropping off soldiers and equipment and then sailing away; it was about integrated combined warfare in the face of hostile fire and often in extremely difficult physical circumstances. It called for an almost impossible construct: a smoothly functioning joint staff under a single commander, with everyone knowing his place and role due to systematic preinvasion training. It relied upon superb communications in the face of enemy efforts to disrupt them, and it required the right weaponry. After that, it might just be feasible.

With all these lessons of history available (and some earlier campaigns were studied at nineteenth-century staff colleges), one might have thought that pre-1914 armed services would have been better prepared than they were for flexible, carefully prepared strikes from the sea when the Great War finally came. This should have been particularly true of policy makers and senior strategists in London, reared as they were in the “British way in warfare.” But much less attention was given by those strategists to the lessons arising from the Crimean campaign (clumsy, but actually successful in forcing Russia to ask for terms) than to the rapier-like strikes of the Prussian army against Denmark, then Austria, then France, in the 1860s. If future European wars were to be decided so swiftly, in the first summer and autumn of campaigning on the main battlefields, what was the point of peripheral raids? It was a question that advocates of amphibious warfare found hard to answer. There was another reason so little amphibious warfare was practiced during the First World War: the larger strategic situation. This war was overwhelmingly a European land war and thus a generals’ war. The mass armies of the Central Powers were contesting for terrain against the mass armies of France, Britain, and (later) the United States in the west, that of Russia in the east, and Italy’s in the south. Since the Anglo-American armies were already deeply inside France by 1917–18, there was no need for a massive amphibious landing on French shores. Mines, torpedoes, and coastal artillery prevented any Allied thrusts into the Baltic; seaborne operations that did occur there were German-Russian strikes in a secondary theater. All significant nations of the Mediterranean were either Allied (France, Italy, and their colonies, plus Egypt) or neutral (Spain, Greece), which only left Turkey and the Levant as possible target areas. Britain’s Japanese ally controlled the Far East and easily gobbled up the exposed German colonies there.

Thus, for all the pre-1914 talk by Admiral Jacky Fisher and others about the army being a “projectile” fired onshore by the navy, it wasn’t clear where that missile could be fired, even if the British generals agreed to be so dispatched (which, once settled in France, they didn’t). Taking over Germany’s colonies in Africa and the Southwest Pacific was relatively uncontested, except for a disastrous amphibious operation in November 1914 by British-Indian forces against the Tanganyikan port of Tanga, which should have been a salutary lesson in how poor training, communications, equipment, and leadership can turn an imaginative strike into a fiasco. But lessons are salutary only if they are learned.

Alas, the lessons of Tanga were not, as was most readily demonstrated in the greatest example of a failed amphibious invasion of the twentieth century: the 1915–16 Gallipoli campaign, as notable a conflict as the Athenian assault upon Sicily, and just as disastrous. Even today, Gallipoli receives much attention, not just on account of its historical resonances (as witnessed at every ANZAC Day commemoration in Australia and New Zealand, or in the Turks’ celebration of Mustapha Kemal, later known as Ataturk) but also because of our fascination at the spectacular gap between its grand strategic purpose and its disastrous execution. Perhaps no operation other than this one better illustrates the feedback loop—in this case, a wholly unfavorable one—between what happens on the ground and at sea, and how the general course of the war can be affected by tactical mishap. By the single stroke of pushing a force through the Dardanelles, its principal advocate (Churchill) maintained, a tottering Russia would have its sea-lanes to the West restored and thus be kept in the war; on the other side, the supposedly fragile Turkish power (it had joined Germany in November 1914) might be pushed into collapse, and the Balkan states of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania might be tempted out of their neutrality.

While the strategic reasoning was attractive, the operation itself was a catastrophe. It began with a purely naval attempt in March 1915 to rush the Straits; by the time the Allied fleet escaped from the Turkish-laid minefield, it had lost four capital ships (three British and one French), with a further three badly damaged—an outcome worse than the Royal Navy’s losses at Jutland a year later. After that, infantry units were assembled from various sources—French regiments in the Mediterranean, British units from Egypt, India, and the home country, brand-new Australian and New Zealand divisions en route to the Western Front. In late April 1915, having given the Turks plenty of time to bring up reinforcements, they began to land on the craggy, ravined, thorn-covered hills of the Dardanelles Peninsula. Try as they might, the Allied forces could never get control of the higher ground and suffered appalling losses. Each side threw in more and more divisions, but the situation did not change. In December and January, in swift nighttime moves that surprised the Turks, the Allies pulled away from the beaches, admitting defeat, and sailed for home. They had lost 44,000 men and had another 97,000 wounded (more than all U.S. losses in the Korean War). Turkey’s casualties were even higher, but they had won.

The Western nations had proved to be much better at getting off a Dardanelles beach than landing on one, let alone moving on from their early lodgement to their chief inland destination. In retrospect, the reasons for this defeat became clear. The weather in the Straits was always extremely fickle, ranging from the intense heat of the summer months (without adequate water supplies, an army withers like a bush, and the sickness rate soars) to the intense storms and blizzards that poured out of the Bosphorus as winter advanced. The topography is intimidating, with steep slopes, sudden crevasses, and thornbushes everywhere. The landing areas, especially where the Australian and New Zealand units came ashore, were inhospitable and virtually impossible to move out from. Allied intelligence about what to expect was weak, the forces had not been trained for this kind of operation, and fire support from the offshore vessels was incomplete, in part because it was hard to see where the Turks were, in part because the bombarding squadrons were steadily forced away by enemy mines and submarines (three further capital ships were sunk within the next month). The landing craft that brought the men to the shore were, apart from a few prototypes, not landing craft at all. Finally, both the weaponry and the tactics of the raw units ordered to advance up this craggy terrain were simply inadequate for the job. Supervising this unfolding fiasco was a command structure that brought back memories of Sir Richard Strachan and the Earl of Chatham—except that this time the casualties and the immensity of the failure were far, far greater. In consequence, the line to Russia could not be opened, Turkey stayed in the war and fought to the end, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, and the other Balkan states stayed neutral. Slightly over a year later, imperial Russia began its collapse.

After Gallipoli, British interest in amphibious operations waned, not surprisingly. More and more resources were needed for the colossal struggles along the Western Front, and in consequence exotic and difficult landings from the sea were now frowned upon. At French urging, an Allied army did establish a beachhead in Salonika later in 1915, but it never really got very far from the shore for the next three years—the battalions there were aptly named the “Gardeners of Salonika.” By the next spring the French were fighting for survival in Champagne and Flanders, and therefore opposed all eastern adventures. If the British were much more tempted to campaign for the territories of the Ottoman Empire after 1915–16, it was by large-scale land assaults, eastward from Egypt, northward from Basra. The army leadership simply wasn’t interested in its divisions being dropped off on hostile shores; the navy was concentrating upon bottling up the High Seas Fleet in the North Sea and trying to avoid losing the Atlantic convoys’ battle against the U-boats. The Zeebrugge Raid of 1918, however well executed, was just a raid, nothing more. Nor did the American entry into the war change attitudes; millions of doughboys sailed safely into Le Havre and were marched overland to the front. During 1917–18 the U.S. Marine Corps was located far inland, fighting along the Aisne and the Meuse rivers.

In sum, the First World War discredited the notion of amphibious warfare. And when the dust of war had settled and the new global strategic landscape revealed its contours—roughly by 1923—there were obvious reasons this type of operation had few followers. To be sure, in a badly defeated and much-reduced Germany, in a badly damaged and scarcely victorious France and Italy, and in an infant Soviet Union, there were many thoughts of war, but none of them involved the projection of force across the oceans. Japan was in a liberal phase, and the military had not yet exerted its muscle—even when it moved to take Manchuria in 1931, that was a land operation that had nothing to do with attacking beaches or seizing ports. By the late 1930s things would be different, with large Japanese merchant ships carrying landing craft and vehicles during their attack upon the lower Yangtze. During this post-1919 period, then, only two of the seven great powers gave any thought to amphibious warfare.

One of those two powers was Britain, although economic stringency and the embarrassment of Gallipoli (refought in many a wartime memoir) pushed combined operations into a dark and dusty corner; the result was the occasional small-scale training exercise, a theoretical training manual, and three prototype motor landing craft. Only the 1937 Japanese invasion of mainland China and then the 1938 crisis over Czechoslovakia would force a resumption of planning and organization. On paper, things began to improve. The Inter-Service Training and Development Centre (ISTCD) was set up, specialized landing craft and their larger carrier ships were designed, and the manual for amphibious assaults was updated. But this was all theory. The midlevel officers worked well together and had fine, advanced ideas, but they still lacked the tools. A large-scale exercise off Slapton Sands, Devon, in July 1938 was badly affected by near-gale conditions and ended in chaos. This galvanized the ISTCD into further serious planning, and it is to their credit that they anticipated virtually all of the practical difficulties that amphibious operations would throw up during the Second World War itself.

Yet at the outbreak of that conflict, remarkably, this truly interservice unit was disbanded. The army was off to France, the air force was bombing Germany, and the navy was awaiting high-seas battle with the Kriegsmarine—so where on earth would one carry out combined operations? And who was interested? All but one of the ISTCD officers returned to their fighting units in September 1939.

The other country interested in amphibious warfare was the United States, because of its lengthy shores, multiple harbors, and flat beaches; because of its cherished memories of the War of 1812; and because it had possessed, since the founding of the Republic, its own Marine Corps with special campaign memories (“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”).


When the Soviets advanced into eastern Germany, the Nazis tried to quickly evacuate the jet factory. But by then, it was too late for the jet to have much effect on the outcome of the war.

By Uli Suckert

At the very end of World War II, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler still hoped that state-of-the-art technology could turn the tide in his favor. One of those projects, the Messerschmitt jet fighter, found a home in a remote corner of eastern Germany. But it was too late.

It took four and a half years, but finally, on March 20, 1944, World War II — and more specifically, the armaments industry — came to a remote corner of eastern Germany called the Lausitz. As the Allies flew an ever-increasing number of air raids over Germany’s industrial and urban centers, large weapons factories in Nazi Germany began an exhaustive search for suitable places to relocate — sites as inconspicuous and isolated as possible. Indeed, by 1943, Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, had already forged plans to relocate the aviation industry to areas the Allies were unlikely to bomb.

It took a year, but then Junkers, an airplane and engine manufacturer from Dessau, moved into a factory belonging to the Moras Brothers textile company in Zittau, which today is located near Germany’s border with Poland and the Czech Republic.

Disguised as a company called Zittwerke AG, it was far from run-of-the-mill as far as armaments factories go. Zittau was to be where the world’s first production-ready jet engine would be completed, the same engine that was to power Hitler’s secret weapon, the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.

Jürgen Ulderup from Junkers’ Dessau production site was tasked with taking over as plant manager in Zittau. He immediately set up a network of manufacturing plants throughout the region, all top secret. Key to getting the project off the ground was his demand that 18 long-established textile producers make space in their factories for armaments production. Some companies had to turn over their factories in their entirety. It proved a further blow for the region’s textile industry, already largely crippled and converted to the war economy.

Core of the Enterprise

But winning the war took priority, and the remote corner of Nazi Germany now began producing components for the clandestine jet engine. Ulderup hired over 2,500 employees and put them to work in the Zittwerke plants, under the direction of aviation industry experts. They worked in the Moras factory, the Haebler Brothers textile company in Zittau, the Rudolf Breuer mechanical weaving mill in Reichenau, the Kreutziger & Henke company in Leutersdorf, the Ebersbach spinning and weaving mill, and at 13 other factories located in regional towns and villages.

But the core of the enterprise was to be found on the grounds of a former World War I prisoner of war camp in the present-day Polish town of Porajów — a camp which had been converted for use by the German armed forces. The factory, guarded by the 17th SS “Totenkopf” battalion, simply moved into several half-finished barracks.

Deep in the heart of the compound, behind several rows of barbed wire, was the administration building where a detachment from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp was housed. Along with prisoners of war and the so-called “Eastern workers” — forced labor from countries such as the Ukraine — over 850 concentration camp prisoners did most of the work in the Zittwerke factories.

Not long after Junkers had settled in, the sound of industry filled the Neisse River Valley day and night. Rumors of a “miracle weapon” circulated among the local population, but no one knew exactly what the factory produced. It wasn’t until final assembly that the object in question could be recognized for what it was: a special turbojet engine for a new type of jet fighter.

Shiny New Me 262s

Technicians had already tested the engines. A Messerschmitt plane, the Me 262-V 1, powered with a Junkers Jumo 004A-0 jet engine, took to the air as early as March 2, 1943. The test proved successful. And before long, the Zwittau factories mastered all aspects of the jet engine’s production, from pre-assembly to shipment.

The factories were well connected to the Third Reich’s rail network, with covered freight cars lugging the completed engines — once they had passed inspection — to the south. There, in the forests surrounding the Bavarian towns of Regensburg and Augsburg, workers installed the new engines into the jets. A converted Autobahn nearby served as a runway from which the shiny new Me 262s took off for their test flights. Only then would they be loaded onto freight trains for delivery to the Luftwaffe.

The Nazis had high hopes for the new jets. By the beginning of 1945, with the Russians closing from the east and the US and Britain marching in from the west, it was clear that Germany faced a catastrophic defeat, but the Nazi leadership refused to give up hope. On February 28, 1945, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announced to the nation that Germany’s “miracle weapon” would soon turn the tide of the war.

For Zittau, however, indications were mounting that it would be too late. The day before the Goebbels speech, the city of Görlitz just north of Zittau had been declared part of the front. Workers in the jet engine factories could already hear the thunder of enemy guns.

Hectic Evacuation

It wasn’t long before the hectic evacuation got underway. A Wehrmacht counterattack near the present-day Polish town of Luba on March 7 and 8, 1945 managed to push back the Red Army. But after heavy losses on both sides, the Soviets halted the German advance, such as it was, and the factories ceased production.

Given the importance of the jet engine project, it didn’t take long for evacuation of both workers and factory machinery to get underway. In early March, two special trains carrying the most vital elements of the production chain made their way from Zittau to the west, one on the 6th and another on the 10th. They ultimately ended up in the town of Nordhausen, located in the state of Thuringia, some 100 kilometers west of Leipzig.

Luftwaffe soldiers, who had guarded the Zittwerke’s various factory locations producing jet engines for the Me 262, also boarded the train in Zittau. Two trains with over 500 people left directly from the factory premises for Halberstadt in Saxony-Anhalt. A final train, belonging to the Wehrmacht, left on April 30, just days before the end of the war, presumably carrying the last of the military units.

Mass Grave

But the Nazis didn’t evacuate everything. Inside the remaining restricted military area, the forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners remained. Many of them died. A factory doctor issued 70 handwritten death certificates in April and the beginning of May. The causes of death listed were primarily “acute heart failure with asthenia,” “pulmonary tuberculosis,” “pneumonia,” or “scurvy.”

The role Zittwerke plant manager Jürgen Ulderup played in the deaths remains something of a mystery. According to his own reports, Ulderup fled by bicycle from Zittau to Osnabrück in western Germany in the last days of the war, with a backpack crammed full of copper bars. His driver, along with his company car, had long since disappeared, according to the former Nazi plant manager.

Today only a mass grave in Zittau’s women’s cemetery provides a reminder that the so-called “miracle weapon” was produced locally. A well-kept lawn covers the area behind the cemetery wall, where civilian victims of World War II are buried. They include the prisoners and forced laborers who sweated away in Nazi Germany’s final attempt to turn the tide of onrushing World War II destruction.


Roman Liburnia

Portsmouth Harbour has a very long history of use as a major port. At the north of The Harbour is Portchester Castle, the western most of the Roman Saxon Shore forts built around the Second Century.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us baldly that in 501 there was a battle at Portsmouth Harbour in which an important British prince was killed. ‘In this year Port and his sons Breda and Maegla came to Britain at a place called Portsmouth, and slew a young Welshman, a very noble man.’ This has been taken by Morris as a rare instance of the two independent traditions describing the same event. ‘Llongborth’ is not obviously the same place-name as Portsmouth, but it means ‘port of the warships’, which describes the Portsmouth Harbour of those days, and of subsequent centuries, very well. A naval station where a Dumnonian prince fell is likely to be the westernmost Saxon shore fort, Portchester, at the head of Portsmouth Harbour; this is a likely location of the battle of Portsmouth/Llongborth. The Tale tells us that Arthur was there too, as Geraint’s commander-in-chief, and shared in Geraint’s defeat with the ‘men of Devon’.

King Geraint was succeeded by Cato or Cado and both Geraint and Cato, whether father and son, uncle and nephew, or brothers, are remembered in later traditions as close associates of Arthur in war and peace. Geraint held lands on the south Cornish coast, while Cato’s lands lay on the north Devon coast.

The archaeological evidence paints a picture of an alliance between the powerful Jutes (early English) of Kent and the British kings of IW that started at the turn of the 6th Century – as evidenced by the hilltop burial on IW of a (mystical) noble Jutish woman with gold at her head, a (possibly Mithraic) key in her hand, snake ring, and a crystal ball between her legs. Such dynastic linking between Britons and English would be a typical way of normalising relations to allow resumption of coastal trade.

Looking at the sequence of events remembered by the English rather than the dodgy dates they added later(29); Portchester fell to an attack by Saxons and Britons leading to the death of a ‘very’ noble Briton(30), who has been associated with Geraint (a legendary knight of Arthur).



On this map of positions as they were on 30 June 1916 and during the assault next day, the British front line appears in red and the German front line in green above it. Mametz and Fricourt are strongly fortified villages immediately behind and part of the German front line complex. Mametz Wood and Contalmaison lie beyond the shallow valley of Willow Stream and just in front of the enemy’s second line system. Rawlinson’s Fourth Army plan of attack aimed at being well beyond Mametz by 2 hours and 40 minutes after the opening of the assault. Extract from British Official History, Crown Copyright.

The Somme region of France is beautiful, undulating farmland. The region takes its name from the Somme River, a pretty, meandering stream, that is known for its fishing and wildlife. The actual river is south of where the battle occurred and never became part of it. The main cities of the countryside are connected by arrow straight Roman roads. A large amount of the fighting took place around the Roman road running along a main ridge connecting the cities of Albert and Bapaume. The countryside is dotted with small French farming villages. In 1916, these villages, such as Thiepval, Mametz, Courcelette and Pozieres, gained infamous reputations. But the villages themselves had long ceased to exist; they had been torn to shreds by the massive military onslaught.

The choice of the Somme as the location from which to launch the first major British offensive of the war is puzzling. It had no particular strategic value and possessed no breakthrough potential. It is an unlikely place to imagine an army could achieve a decisive victory. The question that has perplexed military historians is: why the Somme? Calculating the men lost in this battle, more 1,200,000, only adds emphasis to the debate. There seems to be no answer to this question, other than the Somme was a useful place to launch an attack and start a war of attrition.

As the Somme battlefield lacked any particularly advantageous physical characteristics, the Germans had built a complex series of interconnecting trenches and deep redoubts across the rolling chalk hills. They took full advantage of every contour. To protect themselves from observation, the Germans generally entrenched on the down side of a slope. The trenches were deep and solid, often strategically interconnected with other switch trenches. A warren of communication and support trenches was utilized for transporting supplies, reinforcements and ammunition. The redoubt positions were often connected by tunnels coming from a variety of places in the support lines. In front of the trenches were dense belts of barbed-wire. Farms had been fortified and linked by a maze of underground works. Each position was designed to extract a great price from any attacker.

“The modern battlefield is like a huge, sleeping machine with innumerable eyes and ears and arms, lying hidden and inactive, ambushed for the one moment on which all depends. Then from some hole in the ground a single red light ascends in fiery prelude. A thousand guns roar out on the instant, and at a touch, driven by innumerable levers, the work of annihilation goes pounding on its way.

Ernst Junger, German Army

The British strategy to capture a trench works was to plaster the German position with high-explosive shells in the hope of collapsing the trench walls, killing or wounding the defenders, and cutting the extensive barbed-wire in front of the trench with shell shrapnel. At the appropriate time, the assault troops would approach the German lines as closely as possible without being hit by their own artillery fire, and at zero hour, rush and take the position. Even if the attack were successful, it did not preclude the Germans digging another trench behind the one just captured or counter-attacking to retake the one lost. In the Battle of the Somme, the Germans did both.

More often than not, the attacks on the strongly fortified German defences on the Somme proved disastrous. The artillery bombardment rarely cut the barbed-wire and the soldiers, trapped in No Man’s Land, would be cut down in swathes by the German machine-guns. Sometimes, the Germans allowed the assault troops to enter their front-line trench. Then the German artillery would blast No Man’s Land to prevent reinforcements or ammunition from reaching the newly captured position. The reinforcements would be decimated by the German barrage when crossing the open ground and the soldiers in the captured trench would be isolated. At this point, the Germans would counter-attack via communication trenches or underground subways. The German stick grenade was the weapon of choice and was a very effective killer with good range and accuracy. These defensive techniques cost the Australians heavily at Pozieres; the Canadians on the Somme learned about these tactics the hard way.

“If you want to find the old battalion,

I know where they are, I know where they are,

If you want to find the old battalion,

I know where they are,

They’re hanging on the old barbed-wire,

I’ve seen em, I’ve seen em,

Hanging on the old barbed-wire.”

First World War Song.

The only flaw in the German method was that the counter-attacker often suffered more casualties than the attacker. Germany could not win a war of attrition.

The Canadians arriving at the Somme could not believe the devastation. Even compared to the horrific standards of Ypres, the sights were shocking. It was their first view of total destruction; villages razed, the battlefield a lunar landscape of interconnected shell holes, destroyed trenches, sandbags spread everywhere, old equipment scattered, and thousands of bodies, decomposing in the summer sun. But they did not have much time to mull over these images of immense destruction. They were immediately put in the line in support of the Australians.

“Through a gap between two sandbags I was shown the village (Pozieres), where smoke was drifting across skeletons of trees on a torn-up mound. An uneven line of sandbags, stretching across piles of bricks and remnants of houses, faced our way… The ground between our trench and the ruins beyond was merely a stretch of craters and burnt-up grass broken up by tangled wire… The dead were lying in all conceivable attitudes; rotting in the sun… with the heat the smell had become very trying.”

Paul Maze, French Army attached British Army.

Despite serving in a secondary role, Canadian losses were considerable. Between September 4th and 7th, the 1st Canadian Division’s 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) supported the Australian Infantry attack on Mouquet Farm and other German positions north of Pozieres. The Canadian battalion suffered 349 casualties. On September 9th, the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario) attacked a German trench work south of the Pozieres windmill. The attack was only a local action; one meant to improve the jump-off position for the up-coming major assault.

In this fierce action, Corporal Leo Clarke won the Victoria Cross. Clarke, and a section of bombers, were confronted by 20 Germans. Clarke attacked the attackers, emptied his revolver into them, killed four and captured another. Single-handedly, he had stopped a German attack. Clarke was one of three men from the same street in Winnipeg to win the Victoria Cross in the war. Sadly, two of the three did not survive. Leo Clarke was wounded later in the Battle of the Somme and died of his wounds. He was 24.


The Anglo-French armies had advanced some 10 kilometres (6 miles) at their point of deepest penetration, on a 40-kilometre (25-mile) front. Losses remain controversial. The British suffered nearly 420,000 casualties, their French allies just over 200,000. The German losses were at least 400,000 men, possibly as many as 650,000.

Although the German army did not collapse in 1916, in A.J.P. Taylor’s phrase, at Verdun and the Somme the German army ‘bled to death’. Its 1917 recruits were already in the line by the end of 1916. In spring 1917 it was obliged to withdraw its untenable front in Picardy to the prepared positions of the Hindenburg line, to liberate manpower for a renewal of the attritional struggle. Nor could it compete in the battle of matériel (materialschlacht) which the allies forced it to fight. The allied blockade was starting to impact heavily on productivity and morale on the home front. In December 1916 the new duumvirate at the head of the German army, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, intensified mobilisation with a new Auxiliary Service Law conscripting labour on the home front into war industries. The year of attrition had cost the already tired French army and nation equally dearly. Only the British emerged from the Somme with credit. The ordinary soldiers had borne the heavy sacrifice with stoicism, and after initial failure the inexperienced army had learned to fight with skill and determination. The expectation of rapid military victory disappeared. After 1916 the war became a struggle to outlast the enemy in a brutal ‘total war’. In this the allies had the upper hand.


The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was established as an independent service in March 1921, but military aviation in Australia predated World War I, and the four squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps had fought on the Western Front and in the Middle East from 1914 to 1918. In the interwar period the air force made do with limited resources; it successfully resisted attempts by the army and the navy to divide it between themselves, and it concentrated on local defense capabilities and the pioneering of civil aviation infrastructure. In 1939 Australia signed the agreement which set up the Empire Air Training Scheme (also known as the Commonwealth Air Training Plan) to provide aircrew for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Europe, and this was to have severe long-term implications for the RAAF in Australia. Thousands of Australians served in Europe throughout World War II, and the British government demonstrated a marked reluctance to release them for return to Australia even when, in the latter part of the war, many of them were surplus to requirements.

At the beginning of the Pacific war the RAAF was small in size, suffered from a lack of training, and was equipped with obsolescent aircraft. Four squadrons were deployed to Malaya, and these were the first RAAF units to see action against the Japanese. Nos. 1 and 8 Squadrons flew Hudson bombers, while Nos. 21 and 453 Squadrons were equipped with Brewster Buffalos—and both were outclassed by the Japanese in a campaign that established the enemy’s early dominance in the air. In Australia itself there was as yet no integrated air defense system, and when the Japanese bombed Darwin in the first of a series of heavy air raids on February 19, 1942, numerous Australian and U.S. aircraft were destroyed on the ground.

When General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia in April 1942, he assumed control over all forces in the Southwest Pacific Command. With the arrival of General George C. Kenney in August to take command of the Allied Air Force (AAF), he established separate command and control systems for the RAAF and the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), creating RAAF Command and the Fifth Air Force. On a personal level Kenney respected his Australian counterparts and generally enjoyed good relations with the senior officers of that service. The great weakness in the RAAF was of the Australians’ own making. At the beginning of the Pacific war the chief of the Air Staff had been a British officer on detached service, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett. When he retired in May 1942, he was succeeded by Air Vice Marshal George Jones—not by Air Vice Marshal W. D. Bostock, who had been Burnett’s choice; Jones was junior in rank not only to Bostock but also to seven other senior officers on the air force list. Bostock became air officer commanding RAAF Command and was responsible to Kenney for RAAF operations in the Southwest Pacific Command, while Jones had administrative responsibility for the air force. Relations between the two were poisonous, and the corrosive effect this had on the RAAF as a whole played itself out for the remainder of the war. But ill will among senior officers had been a feature of the interwar air force as well.

As a result of the divisions at the top, the RAAF generally failed to develop a strategic doctrine acceptable to the United States, which in turn prejudiced attempts to acquire frontline aircraft for the RAAF from the Americans, which in its turn meant that Australian squadrons were relegated to lower-priority roles and tasks. Senior command postings to No. 9 Operational Group in 1943 reflected the feuding in the high command and further undermined U.S. confidence in the RAAF’s capabilities.

The Australian government was aware of the problem but lacked sufficient resolve to do anything about it. This high-level rancor and the far smaller size of the RAAF meant that the air service was fated to play a subordinate role in the Pacific war. Nonetheless, the RAAF expanded to impressive size and strength: At its peak in August 1944 it numbered 182,000 personnel, which by war’s end had declined to 132,000 as the government partly demobilized in response to the manpower crisis. In August 1945 the RAAF fielded fifty squadrons and some six thousand aircraft (3,200 operational and the rest trainers).

In June 1944 the air forces in the theater were reorganized, with Kenney announcing the formation of the Far East Air Force comprising the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces, both American. This meant that the Allied Air Force, of which he retained command, henceforth comprised only Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch East Indies squadrons, although U.S. squadrons could be attached to the AAF for specific tasks. The AAF, like its army counterparts, was assigned “mopping-up” duties against bypassed enemy forces in the islands to Australia’s north while the U.S. forces proceeded to the reconquest of the Philippines and the contemplated invasion of the Japanese home islands.

First Tactical Air Force (1st TAF) was formed in October 1944 from No. 10 Operational Group and began operations against Japanese positions from bases on Morotai in November. Dissatisfaction with their role grew among the squadrons, and in April 1945 a group of eight senior officers attempted to resign in protest. The “Morotai mutiny” prompted the removal of the commander of the 1st TAF and an inquiry which confirmed that decision. When Jones threatened disciplinary action against the eight, Kenney—who had spoken to the officers concerned and concluded that they had acted in good faith— declared that he would appear in their defense in any court martial.

In June 1945 with a strength of 21,893, of all ranks, the 1st TAF supported the Australian landings in Borneo and continued to fly against Japanese targets elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies until the war’s end. In the war against Japan the RAAF suffered some two thousand casualties—killed, wounded, and prisoners of war.

The performance of the RAAF in the Pacific war was disappointing, in that it failed to conduct a leading role in the Southwest Pacific Command, its primary theater in the defense of Australia. The weakness in senior command explains much of this failure, and blame both for creating and then for sustaining this situation must lie with the government of the day. On the other hand, by 1945 the RAAF had grown into a large and capable organization, with many combat-experienced aircrew and officers who had held senior command and staff positions. Although aircraft acquisition had been a difficult problem in the first half of the war because of competing priorities elsewhere, by 1945 the RAAF possessed large numbers of modern aircraft and the capability to support them. The failures at the top were not matched by a lack of performance elsewhere in the organization.


Gillison, Douglas. Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942 (1962).

Odgers, George. Air War against Japan 1943–45 (1957).

Stephens, Alan. Power Plus Attitude: Ideas, Strategy and Doctrine in the Royal Australian Air Force 1921–1991 (1992).


Bruce Von Stetina – “The Second Day of the Four Day Battle of 1666” Battle from the second Anglo-Dutch War.

The consequence for Scotland of her involvement in the Civil Wars was a decade of Cromwellian occupation, a yoke that was not lifted until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Scottish privateers were by no means out of business, merely resting; the outbreak of the Second Dutch War in March 1665 was to herald the dawn of a veritable golden age of plunder. Preparations had been underway in the preceding autumn, as tensions mounted and some 500 Scots had been conscripted for naval service, many of whom lost their lives when London blew up off Gravesend. From the outset, Dutch raiders were active in the North Sea and severely restricted free movement of merchantmen. A garrison was established on Shetland to maintain watch upon the Sound of Bressay, now assuming a greater strategic value with the Royal Navy in command of the Channel routes. As hostilities deepened, the Scottish privateers, abetted by a ‘flexible’ approach from the Admiralty courts, enjoyed a bonanza. Leith was crowded with prizes. Fat-bellied Dutch ‘flyboats’, ‘hukers’ and merchantmen, the former hunted in the sea lanes off Norway where they loaded with timber.

One of the rising ‘stars’ of the privateering industry was William Hamilton of Dundee, master of the 22-gun Rothes. He scooped no fewer than 22 prizes, the most valuable of which, Charity, laden with furs, netted some £4,000 Scots, a very appreciable sum. Ironically, the outbreak of plague which affected London in the closing months of 1665 and closed the port, linked to a similar pestilence spreading through Flanders, sharpened the hunger of Scottish owners and masters. Hamilton began his first cruise in March 1666 and enjoyed an immediate run of successes. His second cruise began in June when he netted ten further prizes, including the recapture of a Scottish frigate Morton of Wemyss, which the enemy had taken previously. By late June or early July, Rothes was cruising as part of a squadron of four Scottish sail and became involved in a sharp action against a superior Dutch flotilla, four of which were captured and the rest seen off with loss. Hamilton was reported killed but, in fact, survived. Much aggrieved by the Scots’ depredations, the Dutch sent three men-of-war to blockade the Forth. Hamilton was joined by John Brown of Leith and John Aitchison of Pittenweem, when he sailed out to mount a challenge. A further brisk action now ensued and, though the Scottish privateers gave a good account of themselves, the Dutch proved too strong to defeat.

This was but a beginning. The Dutch were badly stung by the boldness of the privateers and their trade was much affected. Accordingly, on 29/30 April 1667 they mounted a raid in force against the Forth. Some 30-odd sail entered Leith Road on the evening of the 30th; three English men-of-war were within two miles but remained inactive, ‘. . . the captains being pitifully drunk . . .’ Burntisland was bombarded, but the forts returned a brisk fire and the attackers could gain no advantage. Locals flew to arms and Dalziell’s regiment came up. The magistrates at Leith sank one of Hamilton’s prizes as a block-ship and mounted guns around, sufficient to foil the enemy’s attempt to send in a fireship. The attackers achieved nothing and, by the start of May, Hamilton was active again, cutting out a 30-gun man-of-war. Rothes was by no means the only active privateer. Gideon Murray, who captained the

16-gun Thistle of Leith, garnered 17 prizes; John Brown, also of Leith with Lamb (16 guns), scored up to ten. Others who notched up notable captures were James Bennet (Barbara), William Gedd (Good Fortune), James Alexander (Lesley), George Cheyne and Andrew Smeaton.

No sooner had the Dutch departed than a fresh alarum occurred, on 29 May, when the sound of naval gunfire spread alarm and the citizens of Leith again rushed to arms, a fresh block-ship was sunk and the guns manned. Happily, this was an entirely false panic. The newcomers were an English squadron under Sir Jeremy Smith, discharging their ordnance to keep station in fog. Smith’s ships had already encountered an enemy convoy and taken 14 prizes and continued to ratchet their score most impressively. The boom in warship construction brought an additional benefit, creating a market for timber. The ubiquitous Pett purchased pine from Northern Scotland, and an enterprising Edinburgh businessman, Patrick Lyell, set up as a broker for timber and cordage taken as prize cargo. When the Treaty of Breda, sealed on 21 July 1667, brought hostilities to a close, the bonanza was ended, but Scottish privateers were bringing in prizes until virtually the moment of signing. Captain Archer of the 6-gun Joseph from Newcastle upon Tyne, cruising under a Scottish commission, brought in a brace of hefty prizes, and Captain Wood from Berwick netted eight!

Peace proved but an interlude. Rivalry between England and the United Provinces was too compelling. By April 1672, drums were again sounding, and the king had need of Scottish mariners once more. The Duke of Lennox, in his capacity as Admiral of Scotland, was empowered to issue letters of marque. There was no shortage of takers and, within a week, a score of capers were being fitted out. So popular was the notion of privateering that many seamen from Newcastle were hurrying north to seek commissions out of Scotland. A fascinating record survives, detailing the acquisition and fitting out of Lyon, from Dundee, captained by Thomas Lyell and with the Earl of Kinghorn as principal shareholder. She was bought at Leith for some £2,700. Five of her great guns were then purchased for an additional consideration of £496, and the owners incurred the extra expense of fitting out, new canvas and studding sails, tackle and cordage, a new ship’s boat and repairs to the pump. A crew had to be hired and victuals sourced: beef, pork, biscuit, dried fish, ale and salt. The captain enjoyed some additional supplies of liquor and tobacco. The master gunner, his needs more practical, needed powder and shot, paper for cartridges, sponges, a new copper ladle. Swivel guns were also purchased and a quantity of small arms. Total costs exceeded £6,000 Scots – a substantial outlay – and Lyon did not set off on her first cruise until 10 June.

As an investment, she soon proved her worth, returning with two handsome prizes, the cause for some celebration, even though the tortuous and costly business of the court proceedings lay ahead. War was the harbinger of a ripe harvest for the Admiralty court, and Susan Mowat calculates the returns during 1672 to have been handsome indeed, with the Judge Admiral picking up some £12,000 Scots, a very acceptable dividend for one who had ventured neither neck nor purse! For the Lyon’s owners her second cruise, which began on 11 September proved substantially less rewarding. She’d suffered some minor damage on her initial voyage, but was now riven by storm and driven aground off the coast of Scandinavia. Her salvage and repair were protracted, and she finally limped ingloriously home with nothing to show for her cruise other than significant costs. She was sold in the course of the following summer at a considerable loss. Privateering was, in every sense, a high risk venture.

Another investor in this high stakes game was Lennox himself. The Lord Admiral owned his own frigate, Speedwell, and his captain was the experienced Richard Borthwick, one who’d learnt his trade in the earlier conflict. We are fortunate in that a quantity of her lieutenant, Charles Whittington’s, correspondence survives. Speedwell sailed from Harwich on 27 April, cruising with another frigate, Portland. The Duke of Lennox was aboard the other vessel, but the ships soon parted and Speedwell gave chase to a flotilla of flyboats. As Whittington records:

We parted from them at the east end of the Dogger [Bank], chasing a dogger in the night, and next morning saw tow large flyboats, which we lost in a fog. Next day we saw ten flyboats from St Tuball which we gave chase to Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and took six . . .

This was a most encouraging beginning; while sailing from Leith in June the frigate scooped two more prizes. In late summer, she was active off the Dutch coast, taking a shoal of small craft and driving others ashore. This was after she’d caused some annoyance in Newcastle, where her press-gang had been active! Though she beat up the Dutch coast, causing much alarm and triggering the militia’s impotent rage, worsening weather and the presence of several Dutch men-of-war denied her any worthwhile captures. Speedwell set out on a fresh cruise in the autumn, suffering badly in foul weather, as Whittington’s letters reflect. While she was beating the harsh waters of the North Sea, she had lost her owner. Lennox had fallen overboard and drowned. Speedwell’s time as a Scottish privateer was at an end. The Duke’s death caused something of a hiatus as the commissions he’d issued now lapsed and had to be temporarily validated by the Lord Chancellor. In March 1673, the king’s brother, James, Duke of York, the future James II, was appointed High Admiral, though this did not immediately clear the backlog. Halcyon days were coming to an end. Many prizes were taken, but the accommodating ease of Scots law had been tightened to reflect the closer scrutiny of English practice. More and more cases were ‘assoiled’ – the captains failed to establish their case and captured vessels were not ajudged lawful prizes.

If the privateers, in the late seventeenth century, were enjoying something of a trade boom, the rest of the country was not. Times were hard; Scotland remained a small nation on the fringes of Europe. Restoration and the threat to religious independence had prompted a reaction from the more extremist members of the Kirk. Firstly, the abortive Pentland Rising of 1666, then the series of disturbances and repression centred on the south-west and known as ‘the Killing Time’. After the further political upheavals of the ‘Glorious Revolution’, with a smaller economy and limited exports, disadvantages exacerbated by a string of poor harvests in the 1690s, a climate of recession and uncertainty prevailed in Scotland. Even the privateers found war with France after 1689 not much to their liking. Some prizes were to be had off the west coast, but the glory days were gone. One of the proposed solutions was that advocated by William Paterson, founder of the Bank of England: the creation of a trading colony on the Isthmus of Panama.

“The Marines at Playa Del Este”

U.S. Marines form up in their camp in Cuba in 1898.

When Admiral Cervera’s Squadron had been trapped in the harbor of Santiago, the American fleet settled down to a grim and unwearied blockade, thereby beginning a new naval phase of the Spanish-American War, with new problems to be met and new plans to meet any exigency.

One problem confronting Admiral Sampson was the establishment of a base not too far away where his ships could be coaled and minor repairs effected. An ideal location for such a base was Guantanamo Bay, only about 60 miles to the eastward of Santiago.

On June 7, 1898, the small, unprotected cruiser Marblehead, Commander Bowman McCalla, U.S. Navy, reconnoitered the bay in company with the auxiliary cruisers Yankee and St. Louis, and drove the little Spanish gunboat Sandoval into the shoal waters of the inner harbor, quite out of range of the deep draft ships.

While the St. Louis was cutting the cable, a detachment of marines comprising the cruiser New York’s marine guard, 40 from the battleship Oregon and 20 from the Marblehead, landed from the cruiser under the command of Captain M. C. Goodrell, U.S. Marine Corps, of the New York. The landing party burned the few huts at Playa del Este, destroyed the cable station at the mouth of the bay, and hunted vainly for Spanish soldiers who had scattered under the preliminary shelling by the ships.

The marines re-embarked and the Yankee departed with the New York and Oregon contingents, leaving the Marblehead to watch the bay alone for the next three days. Then on June 10 the naval transport Panther arrived with the dispatch boat Dolphin in company.

The Panther had on board 23 officers of the Marine Corps, a naval surgeon, and 623 marine enlisted men, all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington, U.S. Marine Corps, who had instructions to land and establish a base for the fleet.

Thus, while Admiral Sampson lay off Santiago holding Cervera a prisoner and awaiting the arrival of the Army, the first actual invasion of Cuba by United States forces began at Guantanamo Bay. The marines filled whaleboats and cutters and were towed to the beach by steam launches. They landed with precision, and in less than an hour the entire battalion was ashore with its tents and supplies.

Climbing a hill that rose sharply from the beach, the battalion reached the summit without opposition, finding itself on a plateau several acres in size and dotted with woods and chaparral. Soon, tents appeared in trim rows, while parties were sent out to clear the brush about the camp, a job that proved almost hopeless with the appliances at hand.

The battalion settled down for the night without seeing a single Spaniard. But darkness brought the enemy and guerrillas began popping at the outposts, killing two privates, James McColgan and William Dumphy, and preventing the weary marines from obtaining sleep. The Marblehead and Dolphin shelled the surrounding countryside but were unable to dislodge the Spaniards from cover. Assistant Surgeon John Blair Gibbs, U.S. Navy, was killed in front of his tent, and Sergeant C. H. Smith was shot dead in the front lines before daylight came. The night’s toll also included several men wounded.

The Spaniards continued to harass the marines, laboring to deepen their shallow rifle pits, and on the morning of the 12th Sergeant Major Henry Good was killed. That day a force of 60 Cubans, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas, joined the marines. Colonel Huntington said of these: “They, being acquainted with the country and excellent woodsmen and fearless, were of the greatest assistance.”

The marines were under steady rifle fire from the brush and the morning of the 14th brought the sixth death to the command, when Private Goode Taurman fell off a cliff and was killed. The wounded had reached a total of 22.

With his men worn out from lack of sleep and growing steadily more irritable under the annoyance of the guerrilla peppering, Colonel Huntington assumed the offensive on the 14th. He sent Companies C and D, with the 60 Cubans, to destroy a well about 6 miles from camp. This well was said to be the only Spanish water supply within 9 miles, and without it the Spaniards would be compelled to retire to Caimanera, a small garrison town about 10 miles from the bay proper and thus out of reach of the ships.

Another force of Spaniards, more numerous than the marines, was located around Playa del Este, on the eastern arm of the harbor. This force remained discreetly inactive after discovering that Commander McCalla’s ships were quite ready to shell the shore, given the slightest excuse.

The well-taking expedition, 211 men in all, with Captain G. F. Elliott, senior officer of the marines, left camp under the command of the Cuban Lieutenant Colonel Thomas and was soon mixed up in a hot little scrap with some 500 Spaniards that lasted from about 11:00 A.M. until nearly 3:00 P.M.

They fought over the ridges and through brush-choked valleys until the Spaniards finally fled in disorder, leaving 60 dead including two officers. A lieutenant and 17 privates were captured by the Americans. Three marines were wounded, while the Cubans had two killed and two wounded.

Captain Elliott’s report particularly commended First Lieutenant W. C. Neville, who injured a hip and an ankle in a fall after the fight was over; First Lieutenant L. C. Lucas, commanding Company C; Captain William F. Spicer, commanding Company D; Second Lieutenants L. J. Magill, P. M. Bannon and M. J. Shaw; Sergeant John H. Quick, who constantly exposed himself to enemy fire while signaling to the Dolphin, and Privates Faulkner, Boniface, and Carter for unusually deadly marksmanship.

The report cites the effectiveness of shellfire from the Dolphin, Commander H. W. Lyon, and the care that ship gave 12 marines, including Captain Spicer, who were overcome by the heat and sent out to her for treatment.

This fight, in which Captain Elliott also distinguished himself, brought an end to Spanish action against the marine battalion, and no further sniping occurred, although vigilance was maintained to guard against a surprise attack.

Relieved of enemy pressure, the marines strengthened their position while bluejackets landed stores, rebuilt the cable house, and spliced the cut cable, giving the Navy its own communication channel.

With this work in hand, Admiral Sampson sent the battleship Texas and the Suwanee, an armed lighthouse tender, to shell a small fort on the western arm of the harbor, the opposite side to the location of the marine camp. Occasional firing had come from this fort, and it was necessary to drive all the enemy from the area and back to Caimanera if the bay was to be entirely safe for the coaling and repair of ships.

The fort could provide little resistance, but an element of danger entered into the attack through the presence of submarine mines in the western channel. The fort was destroyed by the two ships with the assistance of the Marblehead which picked up a contact mine on her propeller. The Texas also knocked one adrift, but, by good fortune, neither exploded.

With the last enemy work reduced, Sampson’s ships began regular coaling at Guantanamo, and they lay there untroubled to effect repairs when necessary. The water was deep enough for battleships, the climate was reasonably healthy, and no Spaniards appeared to mar the calm. The latter remained at Caimanera, and the little gunboat Sandoval also went up to that town, well out of range.

Steam launches kept the channel swept in case the Spaniards set mines adrift, and maintained a constant patrol against a possible torpedo attack by the Sandoval. But no attack ever came and the launch crews had only occasional opportunities to fire their little one-pounders at the distant gunboat, as their one relief from the monotony of their vigil.

On the 18th, Admiral Sampson, in his flagship New York, made his first visit to his squadron’s new base and found everything in excellent order. The marines were comfortable and healthy on shore—in fact not one death occurred through sickness during the entire marine occupation of Playa del Este. In the bay, the battleship Iowa and auxiliary cruiser Yankee lay peacefully coaling, while riding at anchor were the Marblehead, Dolphin, Panther, the hospital ship Solace, the lighthouse tender Armeria, and three colliers.

Probably nothing in the entire naval campaign against the Spanish forces in Cuba brought more credit to the acumen of Admiral Sampson than the acquisition of Guantanamo Bay, nor can the work done by the small force of marines in a strange country, confronted by enemies fully three times as numerous and well hidden by luxuriant undergrowth, be too highly praised. It was a model campaign and one described by no less an authority than the military expert of the London Standard, as a “master stroke.”