“WE ARE CONSCIOUS OF WHAT IS AT STAKE”

Throughout 1969 and 1970, Nixon and Kissinger focused the CIA on the secret expansion of the war in Southeast Asia. They ordered the agency to make $725,000 in political payoffs to President Thieu of South Vietnam, manipulate the media in Saigon, fix an election in Thailand, and step up covert commando raids in North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

In a bleak dispatch on the eve of a world tour that took Nixon across Southeast Asia, Helms told the president about the CIA’s long war in Laos. The agency “maintained a covert irregular force of a total of 39,000 men which has borne a major share of the active fighting” against the communists, he reminded Nixon. They were the CIA’s Hmong fighters, led since 1960 by General Vang Pao. “These irregular forces are tired from eight years of constant warfare, and Vang Pao…has been forced to use 13-and 14-year-old children to replace his casualties…. The limits have largely been reached on what this agency can do in a paramilitary sense to stop the North Vietnamese advance.” Nixon responded by ordering Helms to create a new Thai paramilitary battalion in Laos to shore up the Hmong. Kissinger asked where it would be best to bomb Laos with B-52s.

While their clandestine war in Southeast Asia intensified, Nixon and Kissinger made plans for a secret rapprochement with Chairman Mao Tse-tung. To clear the way to China, they strangled the agency’s operations against the communist regime.

Over the past decade, in the name of combating Chinese communism, the CIA had spent tens of millions of dollars parachuting tons of weapons to hundreds of Tibetan guerrillas who fought for their spiritual leader, His Holiness Tenzen Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. When Allen Dulles and Desmond FitzGerald briefed Eisenhower on the operation in February 1960, “the President wondered whether the net result of these operations would not be more brutal repressive reprisals by the Chinese Communists.”

Ike approved the program nonetheless. The agency set up a training camp for the Tibetan fighters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It had paid an annual subsidy of some $180,000 directly to the Dalai Lama, and it created Tibet Houses in New York and Geneva to serve as his unofficial embassies. The goal was to keep the dream of a free Tibet alive while harassing the Red Army in western China. The results to date had been dozens of dead resistance fighters, and one bloodstained satchel of invaluable Chinese military documents seized in a firefight.

In August 1969, the agency requested $2.5 million more to support Tibet’s insurgents in the coming year, calling the 1,800-man paramilitary group “a force which could be employed in strength in the event of hostilities” against China. “Does this have any direct benefit to us?” Kissinger asked. He answered his own question. Though the CIA’s subsidy to the Dalai Lama continued, the Tibetan resistance was abandoned.

Kissinger then scuttled the remains of the CIA’s twenty-year mission to conduct clandestine operations against China.

The commando raids of the Korean War had dwindled down to desultory radio broadcasts from Taipei and Seoul, leaflets dropped on the mainland, fake news planted in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and what the agency described as “activities worldwide to denigrate and obstruct the People’s Republic of China.” The CIA kept working with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in his doomed effort to free Taiwan, unaware that Nixon and Kissinger had plans to sit down with Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Chou En-lai in Beijing.

When Kissinger finally sat down with Chou, the prime minister asked about the latest Free Taiwan campaign: “The CIA had no hand in it?”

Kissinger assured Chou that “he vastly overestimates the competence of the CIA.”

“They have become the topic of discussion throughout the world,” Chou said. “Whenever something happens in the world they are always thought of.”

“That is true,” Kissinger replied, “and it flatters them, but they don’t deserve it.”

Chou was fascinated to learn that Kissinger personally approved the CIA’s covert operations. He voiced his suspicions that the agency was still subverting the People’s Republic.

Kissinger replied that most CIA officers “write long, incomprehensible reports and don’t make revolution.”

“You use the word revolution,” Chou said. “We say subversion.”

“Or subversion,” Kissinger conceded. “I understand. We are conscious of what is at stake in our relationship, and we will not let one organization carry out petty operations that could hinder this course.”

That was the end of that. The CIA was out of business in China for years to come.

Operation Neptune

The KUBAN 1943 (The Wehrmacht last stand in the Caucasus). Illustrated by Steve Noon.

In late February and early March 1943, poor weather prevented any significant operations and movements by either side in the Novorossiysk area.  Towards the end of March, the northern flank of Seventeenth Army was pulled back slightly to improve its positions in the marshy region along the coast of the Azov Sea.  Around this time, Army Group A and Seventeenth Army finalised plans for Operation Neptune, an offensive aimed at destroying the Soviet forces in the Malaya Zemlya beachhead and retaking the area.  The offensive was originally planned for 6 April, although this date was not definitively finalised, as clear weather was required to ensure that strong Luftwaffe forces could be used for close support of the attacking troops, suppression of enemy artillery batteries on the coast road between Novorossiysk and Kabardinka on the eastern shore of Tsemess Bay and prevention of reinforcement and supply of the beachhead by sea.  Aircraft were transferred from the Donbass and southern Ukraine to reinforce Luftflotte 4’s forces for this effort.

The attacking forces would include:

  • 4th Mountain Division: 5 battalions, with 2 mountain artillery battalions, strengthened by additional artillery and army combat engineers.
  • 125th Infantry Division: all available forces, including reinforcement by one assault gun battalion and parts of another from army troops. The force was split into two groups, a northern group with 2 battalions and a southern group with 3 battalions.
  • 73rd Infantry Division: a specially-formed attack group and all artillery.

In order to achieve maximum surprise, the concentration of 4th Mountain Division and the regrouping of 125th and 73rd Infantry Divisions were to take place at night and in small groups, to be completed by 18:00 on 5 April. Additional deception measures included strict traffic control and radio silence, the dissemination of false rumours about an imminent withdrawal from Novorossiysk and unchanged reconnaissance, combat patrol and artillery activity. The attack was to be launched without a preliminary artillery barrage, and if individual assault groups required artillery support, this would only be launched at the jump-off time.

The attack was divided into two phases. In the first phase, 4th Mountain Division and 125th Infantry Division would advance from their concentration areas around Fedotovka and Poklaba Farm, respectively, towards the Myskhako – Stegneyeva Farm road, with 4th Mountain Division taking Myskhako Berg and Myskhako village and 125th Infantry Division clearing the Myskhako Valley and a wooded area to the north of the village. In this first phase, 73rd Infantry Division’s artillery would provide support for the left wing of 125th Infantry Division. Once the first phase had crossed a loop on the Myskhako – Stegneyeva Farm road, 73rd Infantry Division would join in the second phase by attacking south into Stanichka. It was envisaged that the attack would reach so far into the beachhead that the enemy forces would be split into many individual groups that could be destroyed piecemeal.  In particular, the army commander General Ruoff stressed the importance of penetrating as far as possible into the beachhead on the first day to prevent the evacuation or reinforcement of the enemy by sea, although he expressly forbade the setting of specific daily goals.

On 1 April, radio intercepts and ground reconnaissance suggested that the Soviets would launch an attack against the east wing of XXXXIV Corps, perhaps as early as the following day. The army’s war diary acknowledges that this could make the situation “uncomfortable,” but concludes that it was not a reason for specific concern.  The intended start date of 6 April was postponed due to poor weather, as was the first rescheduled date of 10 April.

The offensive was eventually launched at 06:30 on 17 April, after a final one-hour delay caused by heavy fog that prevented air activity.  The 4th Mountain Division’s attack initially broke through the forward positions to the slopes of Myskhako Berg and Teufels Berg, about 1.5 kilometres to the east, but was then held up by strong enemy resistance.  The attack by the northern group of 125th Infantry Division was initially focussed on the Myskhako Valley and high ground to the north and northwest of Myskhako village, and a penetration of about one kilometre was forced. Its left wing broke through the forward positions southwest of the road loop and became involved in heavy fighting in an area around one kilometre west and southeast of Stegneyeva Farm.

Despite the importance of suppressing the enemy artillery on the eastern shore of Tsemess Bay, fire from this area resumed in the early afternoon, aimed primarily at the northern wing of 125th Infantry Division. Combat reports confirmed that the enemy had moved significant forces into the front line in anticipation of the attack, and the heavy fighting for strongly-fortified positions caused considerable losses among the attacking infantry.

In the afternoon, in a discussion among Generals Ruoff, Wetzel (V Corps) and Korten (Luftflotte 4), the possibility of transferring parts of 73rd Infantry Division to 125th Infantry Division to boost the latter’s strength at the key breakthrough positions was discussed. This proposal was ultimately rejected because of the time that the regrouping would take and because it was considered that the most favourable force ratios were in 73rd Infantry Division’s sector, as the Soviets had moved significant forces from the southern parts of Novorossiysk to the Myskhako – Stegneyeva area.

During the night of 17 – 18 April, a Soviet convoy that approached the beachhead was brought under artillery fire, and two vessels were reported to have been set on fire.  The offensive was renewed at 05:30 on 18 April after harassing fire by all available artillery, but again quickly became bogged down by the tenacious Soviet defence and the difficult terrain and did not achieve a decisive early penetration at any point. During the night, the Soviets had moved up the 83rd Marine Infantry Brigade, one of the units that had originally participated in the Malaya Zemlya landing, from the rear to reinforce the defences in the Myskhako Valley.

During the course of the morning, however, 125th Infantry Division succeeded in breaking through in an area to the southeast of Poklaba Farm and taking the northeastern slope of a small hill about one kilometre north of Myskhako village. The attacks by 73rd Infantry Division and 4th Mountain Division, which had not achieved any significant results in the face of the strong Soviet resistance, were halted to allow additional forces to be thrown against the schwerpunkt north of Myskhako. One regiment was transferred from 6th Romanian Cavalry Division, two regiments from 4th Mountain Division and two battalions, along with mortar and assault gun units, from 73rd Infantry Division.

In spite of poor weather, the first Soviet counter-attacks were launched early on the morning of 19 April, in the area of the road loop, preceded by heavy artillery and mortar fire, and through the day further localised counter-thrusts were launched.  On the

German side, the bad weather delayed the redeployment of troops to 125th Infantry Division, but at 11:20 it launched an attack aimed at linking up with a group that had already reached the slopes of Teufels Berg.  After seven hours of bitter fighting, the linkup was finally achieved, but the united assault groups were almost immediately put on the defensive by Soviet counter-attacks from the south and east, supported by artillery fire of an unprecedented intensity.

After defending against numerous local Soviet counterattacks through the night of 19 – 20 April, 125th Infantry Division launched another attempt to take the high ground at 10:30, but this was stopped by further fortified Soviet defensive positions after gains of just a few hundred metres.   Later in the day, General Jaenecke visited the headquarters of both V Corps and 125th Infantry Division. A review of the operation so far revealed that the air and artillery support had not been able to eliminate the Soviet defensive systems, resulting in high casualties among the attacking German infantry. Although 125th Division was urgently calling for new reserves, an expected Soviet attack on XXXXIV Corps’ sector meant that no forces could be pulled from here to support 125th Division’s attack. It was agreed to postpone further attacks until 22 April, so that new reserves could be created by a regrouping of forces.

On 21 April, there were numerous discussions between army and corps commands about the possibility of resuming the attack. The lack of available infantry forces was a constant theme, with losses since the start of the offensive being estimated at 2,741 men. The Chief of the Army General Staff, General Kurt Zeitzler, requested reports from

125th Infantry and 4th Mountain Divisions in order to present them to Hitler that evening. These reports again maintained that a continuation of the attack would only be possible if fresh forces were made available. Another report to Army Group A noted the declining quality of the divisions as a consequence of the shortage of NCOs and a complete lack of any opportunities for training since early 1942.  Another increasing problem for the German command was the situation in the air. In the first few days of the offensive, the Luftwaffe had largely enjoyed air superiority, but by 21 April, aircraft from three newly arriving Soviet air corps were committed, shifting the balance towards the defenders.

On 22 April, V Corps submitted a situation report that concluded that it did not have sufficient forces to continue a concentrated attack against the beachhead, citing the loss of surprise, strengthening enemy air activity and the continuous resupply and reinforcement of the defenders by sea, as well as the lack of its own forces. The total strength of the attacking group was just 13,541 men, out of a combat strength of the whole army of 57,590.  Following a visit by Field Marshal von Kleist, the commander-in-chief of Army Group A on 23 April, Operation Neptune was finally called off two days later.

Even accounting for the benefit of hindsight, it appears clear that Operation Neptune was doomed to failure from the outset. The relatively small, worn-out and poorly-trained assault groups faced a numerically superior defending force that had significantly strengthened its positions in the difficult terrain and was able to continually resupply itself by sea. The increasing Soviet air strength over the area increased the pressure on the attacking Germans infantry, both directly and by allowing the Soviet artillery in the beachhead and on the opposite side of Tsemess Bay to play an increasing role. The war diaries of Seventeenth Army and V Corps around this time make an uncharacteristically high number of references to the weakened state of their forces. The growing disconnect between the plans of the German High Command and the forces in the field is graphically illustrated by an entry in Seventeenth Army’s diary for 21 April. It records, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm, a visit by General of Railway Troops Otto Will, who reported on the “grand” plans for the construction of road and railway bridges across the Kerch Strait, with a planned completion date of the railway bridge of 1 August 1944.

Czar Nicholas Crushes Eastern Revolution

In July, 1848 the Russians moved against the Romanian revolution in Moldavia and Wallachia, which inflamed the Western Powers. The revolution in the principalities had been anti-Russian from the start. Romanian liberals and nationalists were opposed to the Russian-dominated administration that had been left in place by the departing tsarist troops following their occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1829–34. The liberal opposition was first centred in the boyar assemblies whose political rights had been severely limited by the Règlement organique imposed by the Russians before handing back the principalities to the sovereignty of the Ottomans. The rulers of the principalities, for instance, were no longer elected by the assemblies, but appointed by the Tsar. During the 1840s, when moderate leaders like Ion Campineanu were in exile, the national movement passed into the hands of a younger generation of activists – many of them boyar sons educated in Paris – who organized themselves in secret revolutionary societies along the lines of the Carbonari and the Jacobins.

It was the largest of these secret societies, the Fratja or ‘Brotherhood’, that burst onto the scene in the spring of 1848. In Bucharest and Iai there were public meetings calling for the restoration of old rights annulled by the Règlement organique. Revolutionary committees were formed. In Bucharest, huge demonstrations organized by the Fratja forced Prince Gheorghe Bibescu to abdicate in favour of a provisional government. A republic was declared and a liberal constitution promulgated to replace the Règlement organique. The Russian consul fled to Austrian Transylvania. The Romanian tricolour was paraded through the streets of Bucharest by cheering crowds, whose leaders called for the union of the principalities as an independent national state.

Alarmed by these developments, and fearing that the spirit of rebellion might spread to their own territories, in July the Russians occupied Moldavia with 14,000 troops to prevent the establishment of a revolutionary government like the one in Bucharest. They also brought up 30,000 soldiers from Bessarabia to the Wallachian border in preparation for a strike against the provisional government.

The revolutionaries in Bucharest appealed to Britain for support. The British consul, Robert Colquhoun, had been actively encouraging the national opposition against Russia, not because the Foreign Office wanted to promote Romanian independence but because it wanted to roll back the domination of Russia and restore Turkish sovereignty on a more liberal basis so that British interests could be better promoted in the principalities. The consulate in Bucharest had been one of the main meeting places for the revolutionaries. Britain had even smuggled in Polish exiles to organize an anti-Russian movement uniting Poles, Hungarians, Moldavians and Wallachians under British tutelage.

Recognizing that the only hope for Wallachian independence was to prevent a Russian intervention, Colquhoun acted as a mediator between the revolutionary leaders and the Ottoman authorities in the hope of securing Turkish recognition of the provisional government. He assured the Ottoman commissioner Suleiman Pasha that the government in Bucharest would remain loyal to the Sultan – a calculated deception – and that its hatred of the Russians would serve Turkey well in any future war against Russia. Suleiman accepted Colquhoun’s reasoning and made a speech to cheering crowds in Bucharest in which he toasted the ‘Romanian nation’ and spoke about the possibility of the ‘union between Moldavia and Wallachia as a stake in the entrails of Russia’.

This was a red rag to the Russian bull. Vladimir Titov, the Russian ambassador in Constantinople, demanded that the Sultan cease negotiations with the revolutionaries and restore order in Wallachia, or Russia would intervene. This was enough to bring about a Turkish volte-face at the start of September. A new commissioner, Fuad Efendi, was sent to put an end to the revolt with the help of the Russian General Alexander Duhamel. Fuad crossed into Wallachia and camped outside Bucharest with 12,000 Turkish soldiers, while Duhamel brought up the 30,000 Russian troops who had been mobilized in Bessarabia. On 25 September they moved together into Bucharest and easily defeated the small groups of rebels who fought them in the streets. The revolution was over.

The Russians took control of the city and carried out a series of mass arrests, forcing thousands of Romanians to flee abroad. British citizens too were arrested. No public meetings were allowed by the pro-Russian government installed in power by the occupying troops. To write on political matters became a punishable offence; even personal letters were perused by the police. ‘A system of espionage has been established here,’ Colquhoun reported. ‘No person is allowed to converse on politics, German and French newspapers are prohibited … The Turkish commissioner feels compelled to enjoin all to cease speaking on political subjects in public places.’

Having restored order in the principalities, the Tsar demanded for his services a new convention with the Ottomans to increase Russian control of the territories. This time his conditions were extortionate: the Russian military occupation was to last for seven years; the two powers would appoint the rulers of the principalities; and Russian troops would be allowed to pass through Wallachia to crush the ongoing Hungarian revolution in Transylvania. Suspecting that the Russians aimed at nothing less than the annexation of the principalities, Stratford Canning urged the Turks to stand firm against the Tsar. But he could not promise British intervention if it came to a war between Turkey and Russia. He called on Palmerston to deter Russia and demonstrate support for the Ottoman Empire by sending in a fleet – a measure he regarded as essential to prevent the outbreak of hostilities. If Palmerston had followed his advice, Britain might have gone to war with Russia six years before the Crimean War. But once again the Foreign Secretary was not prepared to act. Despite his hard line against Russia, Palmerston (for the moment) was prepared to trust the Tsar’s motives in the principalities, did not think that he would try to annexe them, and perhaps even welcomed the Russian restoration of order in the increasingly tumultuous and chaotic Ottoman and Habsburg lands.

Without support from Britain, the Turkish government had little option but to negotiate with the Russians. By the Act of Balta Liman, signed in April 1849, the Tsar got most of his demands: the rulers of the principalities would be chosen by the Russians and the Turks; the boyar assemblies would be replaced altogether by advisory councils nominated and overseen by the two powers; and the Russian occupation would last until 1851. The provisions of the Act amounted in effect to the restoration of Russian control and to a substantial reduction of the autonomy previously enjoyed by the principalities, even under the restrictions of the Règlement organique. The Tsar concluded that the principalities were henceforth areas of Russian influence, that the Turks retained them only at his discretion, and that even after 1851 he would still be able to enter them at will to force more concessions from the Porte.

The success of the Russian intervention in the Danubian principalities influenced the Tsar’s decision to intervene in Hungary in June 1849. The Hungarian revolution had begun in March 1848, when, inspired by the events in France and Germany, the Hungarian Diet, led by the brilliant orator Lajos Kossuth, proclaimed Hungary’s autonomy from the Habsburg Empire and passed a series of reforms, abolishing serfdom and establishing Hungarian control of the national budget and Hungarian regiments in the imperial army. Faced with a popular revolution in Vienna, the Austrian government at first accepted Hungarian autonomy, but once the revolution in the capital had been suppressed the imperial authorities ordered the dissolution of the Hungarian Diet and declared war on Hungary. Supported by the Slovak, German and Ruthenian minorities of Hungary, and by a large number of Polish and Italian volunteers who were equally opposed to Habsburg rule, the Hungarians were more than a match for the Austrian forces, and in April 1849, after a series of military stalemates, they in turn declared a war of independence against Austria. The newly installed 18-year-old Emperor Franz Joseph appealed to the Tsar to intervene.

Nicholas agreed to act against the revolution without conditions. It was basically a question of solidarity with the Holy Alliance – the collapse of the Austrian Empire would have dramatic implications for the European balance of power – but there was also a connected issue of Russia’s self-interest. The Tsar could not afford to stand aside and watch the spread of revolutionary movements in central Europe that might lead to a new uprising in Poland. The Hungarian army had many Polish exiles in its ranks. Some of its best generals were Poles, including General Jozef Bem, one of the main military leaders of the 1830 Polish uprising and in 1848–9 the commander of the victorious Hungarian forces in Transylvania. Unless the Hungarian revolution was defeated, there was every danger of its spreading to Galicia (a largely Polish territory controlled by Austria), which would reopen the Polish Question in the Russian Empire.

On 17 June 1849, 190,000 Russian troops crossed the Hungarian frontier into Slovakia and Transylvania. They were under the command of General Paskevich, the leader of the punitive campaign against the Poles in 1831. The Russians carried out a series of ferocious repressions against the population, but themselves succumbed in enormous numbers to disease, especially cholera, in a campaign lasting just eight weeks. Vastly outnumbered by the Russians, most of the Hungarian army surrendered at Vilagos on 13 August. But about 5,000 soldiers (including 800 Poles) fled to the Ottoman Empire – mostly to Wallachia, where some Turkish forces were fighting against the Russian occupation in defiance of the Balta Liman convention.

The Tsar favoured clemency for the Hungarian leaders. He was opposed to the brutal reprisals carried out by the Austrians. But he was determined to pursue the Polish refugees, in particular the Polish generals in the Hungarian army who might become the leaders of another insurrection for the liberation of Poland from Russia. On 28 August the Russians demanded from the Turkish government the extradition of those Poles who were subjects of the Tsar. The Austrians demanded the extradition of the Hungarians, including Kossuth, who had been welcomed by the Turks. International law provided for the extradition of criminals, but the Turks did not regard these exiles in those terms. They were pleased to have these anti-Russian soldiers on their soil and granted them political asylum, as liberal Western states had done on certain conditions for the Polish refugees in 1831. Encouraged by the British and the French, the Turks refused to bow to the threats of the Russians and the Austrians, who broke off relations with the Porte. Responding to Turkish calls for military aid, in October the British sent their Malta squadron to Besika Bay, just outside the Dardanelles, where they were later joined by a French fleet. The Western powers were on the verge of war against Russia.

Alaric’s Sack of Rome AD 410


Alaric I was the Christian King of the Visigoths from AD 395 until his death in 410. He emerged on the scene as leader of a motley band of Goths who invaded Thrace in AD 391 but was halted by the half-Vandal Roman general Stilicho. Alaric then joined the Roman army, serving under the Gothic general Gainas. In AD 394, he led a 20,000-strong Gothic army which helped Theodosius subdue the usurper Flavius Eugenius at the Battle of Frigidus. Alaric’s was something of a Pyrrhic victory; he lost a quarter of his troops. To add insult to injury, Theodosius was distinctly unimpressed with Alaric’s contribution to his war effort, so Alaric left the army and was elected reiks (tribal leader or king) of the Visigoths in AD 395. That same year, Theodosius died of heart failure; the empire was divided between his two sons: Flavius Arcadius in the east and Flavius Honorius in the west. Arcadius showed no interest in empire building, while Honorius was still a minor – Theodosius had appointed Flavius Stilicho magister equitum and guardian of Honorius. Honorius cemented the bond by marrying Stilicho’s daughter, Maria. A disappointed and angry Alaric was passed over in his hoped-for permanent command of a Roman army. Alaric was one of those educated and clever Goths who became career Romans, excelling in the Roman military hierarchy, taking sides when necessary, winning all or losing all. Alaric was different, though, because his aspirations to get close to Rome were that much higher than was typical for a barbarian.

Hoping to win his permanent Roman command, Alaric marched on Constantinople with an army which snowballed in size as he progressed, in much the same way as Fritigern’s had before him. But Constantinople was too daunting a challenge and the Romans blocked him anyway. He then moved on Greece, where he sacked the more vulnerable Piraeus and devastated Corinth, Megara, Argos and Sparta. Athens capitulated and was spared devastation. To prevent further death and destruction, Arcadius appointed Alaric magister militum in Illyricum. Alaric had finally got the command he craved.

In AD 401, Alaric invaded Italy and laid siege to Milan, but he was later defeated by Stilicho, first at Pollentia (modern Pollenza) and then, accused of violating the treaty signed after Pollentia, at the Battle of Verona the following year. Amongst Stilicho’s prisoners were Alaric’s wife and children, and ten year’s worth of pillaged booty. Honorius moved the western capital from Rome to Ravenna, believing it to be more secure against attacks from the Goths.

Alaric, as it happened, was something of a Romanophile and, as we have seen, entertained hopes of getting closer to the city – militarily and politically. His military command helped him to achieve this. Invasion would assist him further. He even encouraged use of the Latinized name Alaricus. It was because of Alaric’s subsequent invasion that the capital city was transferred from Mediolanum (Milan) to Ravenna (it had been moved from Rome to Mediolanum in AD 286); Legio XX (Valeria Victrix) was recalled from Britannia. Alaric and Stilicho became allies of sorts.

Tensions between Roman west and east had risen sharply: Stilicho proposed using Alaric’s army to realize Honorius’ claim to the prefecture of Illyricum. Alaric, now in Noricum, threatened that he would only refrain from war with Rome if he was paid the extortionate sum of 4,000lb of gold in compensation. The Roman Senate consented to pay, under pressure from Stilicho, who did not want to add to his list of belligerent enemies. There was trouble in Gaul with Constantine, who had crossed the Channel from Britannia, and with the Vandals, Sueves and Alans who had crossed the Rhine and invaded.

In AD 408, Arcadius died after a short illness. Stilicho and Honorius squabbled over who should travel east to settle the succession of the Eastern Empire. There were rumours abroad that Stilicho wanted to place his son, Eucherius, on the eastern throne. When his first wife Maria died, Stilicho insisted that the emperor marry his younger daughter, Thermantia. But Honorius had had enough. Soon after, Olympius, his stooge, provoked a mutiny of the army during which most of Stilicho’s people were killed; Olympius persuaded Honorius that Stilicho was an enemy of the state and was appointed magister officium. Stilicho took refuge in a church in Ravenna but, faithful to Honorius to the end, was arrested and executed; his son was also slain. Honorius inflamed the Roman people to massacre tens of thousands of wives and children of Goths serving in the Roman army. Unsurprisingly, this atrocity led to around 30,000 Gothic soldiers defecting to Alaric, joining him on his march on Rome over the Julian Alps to avenge their murdered families. Honorius had rejected Alaric’s demand for a sum of gold and an exchange of prisoners. En route, Alaric sacked Aquileia and Cremona and laid waste to the lands along the Adriatic. In September AD 408, Alaric was menancingly encamped ouside the walls of Rome whence he began his siege of the city and blockaded the Tiber. The hunt was on for scapegoats and one of the victims was Stilicho’s widow, Serena, strangled in an act of post-mortem justice.

Alaric’s greatest ally was starvation. It was not long before the Senate capitulated, agreeing in exchange for food to send an envoy to Honorius in Ravenna to urge peace. Alaric agreed, but not before the Senate’s failed attempt to unsettle Alaric; their flaccid threats were met with derision and a loud guffaw when the Goth retorted: ‘The thicker the hay, the easier it’s cut down!’ The Romans eventually agreed a huge ransom of 5,000lb of gold, 30,000lb of silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 hides dyed scarlet, 3,000 pounds of pepper and 40,000 Gothic slaves. According to Gibbon, ‘the Senate presumed to ask, in modest and suppliant tone, “If such, O king! are your demands, what do you intend to leave us?” “Your lives,” replied the haughty conqueror.’ Prodigious as it may seem, the ransom was probably not beyond the deep pockets of some of Rome’s more affluent senators. They made little contribution – the bill was paid by the official ransacking of pagan temples.

As we have seen, Alaric had hopes of insinuating himself into the Roman political machine and winning land within the Roman borders. The Senate sent envoys, including Pope Innocent I, to Ravenna to encourage the emperor to make a deal with the Goths. Alaric was much more conciliatory this time and went to Ariminum, where he discussed terms with Honorius’ diplomats. He demanded, quite reasonably, the provinces of Rhaetia and Noricum as a homeland for the Visigoths – a strip of territory 200 miles long and 150 miles wide between the Danube and the Gulf of Venice. He also demanded grain and – prize of them all – the rank of magisterium utriusque militae, commander-in-chief of the Imperial Army, just as Stilicho had been. Jovius, leader of the imperial delegation, agreed, but predictably, Honorius refused to see the longterm picture and declined. He did not want another barbarian in the imperial hierarchy, and he subsequently tried to infiltrate a unit of Illyrian soldiers into Rome. The army was intercepted by Alaric and, infuriated by these insults, he just as predictably reacted by besieging Rome a second time, this time destroying the Roman granaries at Portus for good measure. Starvation loomed again: the high price of relief this time was permission from the Senate for Alaric to install a rival emperor to Honorius – the Greek Priscus Attalus, prefect of the city (praefectus urbi), something of a star in Rome. Alaric took Galla Placidia, Honorius’ sister, prisoner. Usurpers were always a sure way to concentrate the mind of an emperor.

Alaric had Attalus make him magister utriusque militium, and his brother-in-law Ataulf, who had arrived with reinforcements, was given the rank of comes domesticorum equitum. They then marched on Ravenna to overthrow Honorius and place Attalus on the imperial throne.

Victory was in Alaric’s grasp: Honorius was on the point of surrender when an army from the Eastern Empire arrived to defend Ravenna. Heraclian, who was governor of Africa, turned off Rome’s grain supply, threatening the city with more famine. Jerome rumoured cannibalism within the walls. Alaric wanted to send a modest Gothic force of 500 men to invade Africa and secure food for Rome, but perversely Attalus vetoed this, fearing that the Goths would seize Africa for themselves. Attalus marched on Ravenna with Alaric and succeeded in getting Honorius to propose some form of power-sharing arrangement – a clear indication of the legitimate emperor’s feebleness. Attalus stubbornly insisted that Honorius be deposed and go into exile on an island. This was not in Alaric’s script, so he had the reactionary and ineffective Attalus deposed and reopened negotiations with Honorius.

This time he was confounded by the inconvenient emergence on the scene of the malevolent Gothic general Sarus. He was of the Amalis, a clan which harboured eternal hostility against Alaric’s people. His intervention at this critical juncture may be explained by the possibility that he now felt threatened by Alaric. Sensing duplicity on the part of Honorius, an outraged Alaric thundered south with his army and stormed through the Porta Salaria to threaten the very existence of the city. Some say that Alaric bribed elderly senators inside with the promise of Goth slave boys if they opened the gates to him. In any event, Rome was taken. Jerome lamented: ‘My voice sticks in my throat, and, as I dictate, sobs choke me. The City which had taken the whole world has itself been taken.’ Alaric, a Christian, was busy desecrating a Christian city with his Christian Goths.

It seems that the storming of Rome in AD 410 was not nearly as catastrophic and horrendous as it might have been. Indeed, it goes down as one of the most benign and least destructive of pivotal sackings in history. There are stories of clemency, churches (for example, the basilicas of St Peter and St Paul) being saved; the sparing of those seeking sanctuary therein, even to the extent of escorting holy women there to safety, for example one Marcella, before systematically looting their homes; pots of gold and silver and other liturgical vessels remaining untouched because they ‘belonged to St Peter’; and a matrona appealing successfully to the better nature of a Goth who was on the point of raping her. One nun was given help returning gold and silver, God’s gold and silver, to her church; she had concealed it from the looters. Nevertheless, it was still a disaster of the first order, with three days of unrelenting looting and rapine. Casualties included the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian, where the ashes of many Roman emperors and their families and friends were scattered to the four winds. The Goths also removed a huge silver ciborium weighing 2,025lb, a gift from the Emperor Constantine, from the Lateran Palace. Most of the vandalism occurred around the Salarian Gate, where the old senate house and Gardens of Sallust were wrecked along with the Basilicas Aemilia and Julia.

The taking of movables apart, most of Rome’s magnificent buildings escaped unscathed, in direct contrast to the Gaulish sack of Rome in 390 BC, where only the Capitol survived. So why is it that Alaric’s assault was seemingly so half-hearted and fails to live up to the stereotype we have of Goths running rampage in an orgy of unremitting rape and pillage? We have already noted that Alaric was anxious to ingratiate himself with Rome and win some sort of military and political standing there. Alaric was a civilized man; he acted with restraint and patience time and time again when confounded by events over which he had little control, by a stubborn Honorius and implacable Stilicho. He was astute enough to opt for short-term compromise in his long-term mission to settle the Goths. Alaric sacked Rome reluctantly because he had to satisfy, to some extent at least, the appetite and expectation of his army for booty, but more as a signal to Honorius, hoping that the emperor would install and accommodate him in some capacity or other. He used his assault on the city as a gambling counter, in the belief that Honorius would be persuaded to bring him into his circle by the threat that was posed to his city. Alaric, however, misread the situation completely: Rome was no longer Honorius’ city – Ravenna was. To a pragmatic Honorius, Rome was political history, no longer the powerful hub it had been for centuries. So Alaric got nowhere and Rome was more or less saved from destruction. Alaric had failed: he might possess Rome but he was no nearer winning for himself the inside position within the Roman establishment. He had no permanent imperial command and now he would be excluded from the imperial court forever. Just as importantly, the Goths were still a displaced people with nowhere to go and nowhere to call home. It was not until AD 417 that the Visigoths were able to found an autonomous kingdom of their own within the boundaries of the Western Empire. Alaric’s fervid ambition to find for the Goths a permanent, sustainable homeland was finally realized.

After Rome, Alaric headed into Calabria with designs on invading Africa, the bread-basket of Rome, and of Italy. His plans were thrown into confusion by a storm which smashed his fleet; many of his troops drowned. Alaric himself died soon after in Cosenza. According to Jordanes, his body and some precious spoils were buried under the river bed of the Busento in accordance with the funerary practices of the Visigoths. The stream was temporarily dammed while his grave was dug; the river was then restored to its natural course. The prisoners who did the work were put to death so that the location of the king’s final resting place remained as much a secret as possible. Alaric’s brother-in-law Ataulf succeeded him; he married Honorius’ sister Galla Placidia three years later.

Rome soon responded; there was the same old grain shortages within two years of the sacking and the returning Gallic nobleman Rutilius Namatianus seeing what he described as an ordo renascendi – a brave new world. Two years after the death of Alaric, Ataulf led the Visigoths into south-western Gaul, where, in AD 418, Honorius was forced to recognize their kingdom at Toulouse. In AD 423, Honorius died and was succeeded by Valentinian III, though still a child at the time. The Vandals invaded North Africa, defeated the Romans and, in AD 439, took Carthage, which Genseric, their leader, made his capital. In AD 451, Attila and the Huns, already so powerful that they were paid an annual tribute by Rome, invaded Gaul with the Vandals. They were defeated at the Battle of Châlons by the Visigoths under Flavius Aetius, military commander of the West. In AD 455, on the death of Valentinian III, the Vandals walked into an undefended Rome, which they plundered at liberty for two weeks. If Alaric’s sack was restrained, this was even more so, despite the length of time spent plundering. The Vandals did, though, make off with treasures from the Temple of Peace and lifted the gilded bronze tiles from the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. This outrage gives us the word ‘vandalism’. They took Licinia Eudoxia (AD 422–462) and her daughters hostage; she was the Roman empress daughter of Eastern Emperor Theodosius II. Her husbands included the Western Emperors Valentinian III and Petronius Maximus.

Rome had held sway in the Mediterranean region for 600 years or so. The city had remained unmolested for 800 years. Alaric’s sacking exposed the Western Roman Empire’s increasing vulnerability and military fragility. The political and cultural shock waves must have been overwhelming to all those who viewed Rome as the Eternal City. Rome was home to the richest senatorial noble families and the centre of their civilized, cultured world; to pagans it was the sacred origin of the empire, and to Christians the seat of the heir of Saint Peter, Pope Innocent I, the leading bishop of the West. Jerome summed it up for many when he asked, ‘If Rome can perish, what can be safe?’ To many Romans, the destruction of their city was seen as divine retribution for rejecting the traditional pagan gods for Christianity. This provided the impetus for Saint Augustine to write The City of God, questioning the role of the pagan gods as history-makers. Non-Christians clung to the belief that Rome had succumbed because the old gods had withdrawn their protection. But Augustine was far from convinced. Where were the gods when the Romans could not break the siege of Veii? Where were the gods when the Gauls sacked Rome under Brennus? These were just two of the leading questions he asked. Orosius too, in his History Against the Pagans, proved that Rome suffered many disasters before the coming of Christ. On a more mundane level, Stilicho’s military failings were also blamed. Perhaps Alaric’s greatest legacy was that he, through the disaster he visited on the city of Rome and on the Romans, was the man who made it possible for the Goths to make history, whereas before they were mere participants in other people’s histories.

Persian Rule of Egypt

The rulers of the western delta city of Sais were the great survivors of ancient Egyptian history. Over the course of two centuries, they plotted, schemed, and muscled their way into a position of dominance, not just in their Lower Egyptian homeland but throughout the Nile Valley. Starting with the prince of the west, Tefnakht, in 728, the canny Saites had refused to kowtow to a rival dynasty from Nubia and had remained a thorn in the side of the Kushites for seventy years. They had then used Assyrian protection to widen their power base in the delta, finally throwing off their vassal status and claiming the prize of a united monarchy. As the ruling dynasty of Egypt, they had proved equally astute, siding with the Assyrians to counter the mutual threat from Babylonia. Honoring the native gods while buying the support of Greek mercenaries, the house of Psamtek succeeded in maintaining Egypt’s status and independence in an increasingly uncertain world.

But even the Saites were not invincible. Within a decade of repelling a Babylonian invasion, they found themselves facing an even more determined and implacable foe—an enemy that seemed to come out of nowhere.

In 559, a vigorous young man named Kurash (better known as Cyrus) acceeded to the throne of an obscure, insignificant, and distant land called Persia, then a vassal of the powerful Median Empire. Cyrus, however, had ambitions and soon rebelled against his overlord, dethroning him and claiming Media for himself. The Egyptian pharaoh showed little interest in all of this. It was a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom he knew nothing. Yet Egypt would come to rue its complacency. Within two decades of coming to power, Cyrus had conquered first the Anatolian kingdom of Lydia and then Babylonia, to become the undisputed ruler of an empire stretching from the shores of the Aegean to the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Suddenly, out of the blue, there was a frightening new superpower in the region with a seemingly relentless appetite for conquest.

All Ahmose II could do was hire more Greek mercenaries, build up his naval forces, and hope for the best. Cyrus’s death in 530, while fighting the fierce Scythian nomads of Central Asia, seemed to offer a glimmer of hope. However, any thought of a reprieve was swiftly dashed by events in Egypt itself. King Ahmose, with his army background and strategic ability, had successfully held the line for four decades. So his demise in 526 and the accession of a new, untried, and untested pharaoh, Psamtek III (526–525), dealt the country a blow. The death of a monarch was always a time of vulnerability, but with an aggressor on the doorstep, it was nothing short of a disaster for Egypt.

The new great king of Persia, Cambyses, saw an opportunity and seized it. Within weeks of receiving the news of Ahmose’s death, he was on the march and heading for the delta. In 525, his forces invaded Egypt, captured Memphis, executed Psamtek III, and forcibly incorporated the Two Lands into the growing Persian realm.

Cambyses lost no time in imposing Persian-style rule on his latest dominion. He abolished the office of god’s wife of Amun, denying Ahmose’s daughter her inheritance and pushing aside the incumbent god’s wife of Amun, Ankhnesneferibra, who had been in office for a remarkable sixty years. There would be no more god’s wives to act as a focus for native Egyptian sentiment in Upper Egypt. Not that every Egyptian official saw the Persian takeover as a calamity. Some found it only too easy to change allegiance when faced with the new reality. One such was the overseer of works Khnemibra. Coming from a long line of architects that stretched back 750 years to the reign of Ramesses II, Khnemibra—like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him—bore an overtly loyalist name (in his case the throne name of Ahmose II), and he had served his pharaoh faithfully in the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat. But for all his professed loyalty to the Saite Dynasty, he showed no hesitation in accommodating himself to the Persian invasion. He not only survived the change of regime, he prospered, continuing to serve his new Persian masters and being rewarded for his trouble with a clutch of lucrative priestly offices. For many like Khnemibra, personal advancement trumped patriotism every time.

Others may have had slightly more altruistic reasons for collaborating with the Persians. For the Egyptian elite, nothing embodied their cherished culture and traditions better than their religion. Indeed, every prominent member of society took pains to demonstrate his piety to his town cult, and active patronage of the local temple was a prerequisite for winning respect in one’s community. When faced with alien conquerors who worshipped strange gods, some Egyptians decided not to fight but to try to win the Persians over—to the Egyptian way of doing things.

A native of Sais, proudest of delta cities, managed to do just that. Wedjahorresnet had all the right credentials. His father had been a priest in the local temple, and Wedjahorresnet had grown up with a deep devotion to the goddess Neith. Like many a Saite before him, he had pursued a career in the military, rising to the position of admiral under Ahmose II. His naval activities must have included sea battles against the invading Persians. He described the invasion as a “great disaster … the like of which had never happened in this land [before].” Yet within months of Cambyses’s victory, Wedjahorresnet had ingratiated himself with his new master, winning trust as a senior courtier and being appointed as the king’s chief physician, with intimate access to the royal presence. In public, Wedjahorresnet’s conversion was as thorough as it was rapid, and he showed no trace of embarrassment in lauding the Persian invasion in glowing terms:

The great leader of all foreign lands, Cambyses, came to Egypt, the foreigners of all foreign lands with him. When he had assumed rule over this land throughout its length, they settled there and he became great ruler of Egypt, the great ruler of all foreign lands.

Yet there was more than simple collaboration behind this astonishing volte-face. With his knowledge of Egyptian customs, Wedjahorresnet was in a unique position to guide the country’s new Persian masters and begin the process of Egyptianization, which would turn them into respectable, even legitimate, pharaohs. An important step in this process was the composition of a royal titulary for Cambyses, which Wedjahorresnet masterminded and no doubt strongly encouraged. Little by little, slowly but surely, the Persians were acculturated, following in the footsteps of previous foreign dynasties—Hyksos, Libyan, and Kushite.

Cambyses seems to have acquiesced to the process. With his vast and polyglot empire, he could ill afford to take a culturally purist view. Instead, he showed great tolerance for the different cultures and traditions within his realm. His predecessor Cyrus had released the Jews from their exile in Babylon, and Cambyses followed suit, protecting the large Jewish community in Egypt on the island of Abu. Elsewhere in the Nile Valley, he was perfectly willing to retain the services of Egyptian officials, and life for many people, especially in the provinces, continued much as before. Only in the military were Egyptian officers replaced and their leadership skills directed anew, as with Wedjahorresnet.

Having been forced to relinquish his naval command, the erstwhile admiral turned his talents to safeguarding and honoring his local temple. His position at court gave him special influence, and he set about using it to further the cult of Neith at Sais. First, he complained to Cambyses about the “foreigners” who had desecrated the temple by installing themselves inside its sacred precinct, and he persuaded his master to issue an eviction notice. After further lobbying, Cambyses ordered the temple to be purified, and its priesthood and offerings reinstated, just as they had been before the Persian invasion. As Wedjahorresnet explained, “His Majesty did these things because I caused His Majesty to understand the importance of Sais.” To set the seal on this “conversion,” Cambyses paid a personal visit to the temple and kissed the ground before the statue of Neith, “as every king does.” The Persian conqueror was well on the way to becoming a proper pharaoh.

The same pattern was followed at sites throughout Egypt. In the delta city of Taremu, the local bigwig Nesmahes used his influence—he was overseer of the royal harem—to enrich his community and its cult. It may have helped that the Persian kings readily identified with the power of the local lion god, Mahes, but, here as elsewhere, the determination of Egyptian officials to convert their new masters was a key factor behind developments in the First Persian Period. At Memphis, burials of the sacred Apis bulls continued without interruption, and the Egyptian responsible for the cult could even boast of proselytizing the country’s new rulers: “I put fear of you [Apis] in the hearts of all people and foreigners of every foreign land who were in Egypt.”

The Egyptians might have lost their political independence, but they were determined to maintain their cherished cultural traditions.

Muslim Reaction to the Crusaders

No Muslim could have known, of the original seed or why it had fallen on such rich soil. It had been tossed by the Pope in 1095. Urban II was supposedly head of a super-state, Christendom, which in theory included most of Europe and also Rome’s so-called eastern empire in Constantinople, made into Rome’s successor by its founder Constantine. But Urban had severe problems. Firstly, he had just received a plea for help from Constantinople: the Seljuk Turks were advancing into the world of Islam and had, seventeen years before, taken the revered city of Nicaea, in Anatolia, present-day eastern Turkey, famous as a Christian centre for almost 800 years, since the great council of 325 that formalized what Christians were supposed to believe by stating the tenets in the Nicene Creed. Nicaea, the one-time symbol of Christian unity, was a mere 70 kilometres from Constantinople, so the barbarians who had swarmed through the city’s sturdy Roman walls were already inside the outer bulwarks of Christendom. Secondly, Christendom was not united at all, but divided between Rome and Constantinople, who were at loggerheads over a point of doctrine that sounds bizarre to non-Christians: since God was a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – did the Spirit proceed ‘from the Father’ (as the Orthodox east said) or ‘from the Father and the Son’ (as Rome claimed)? The so-called Filioque (‘and the Son’) Clause had been part of the western Creed since 1020. Bizarre perhaps, but so fundamental that Pope and Patriarch could never make up (and never have). Thirdly, the Pope’s own backyard, western Europe, was in disarray, France in particular. Pope rivalled emperor, baron fought baron, ordinary people suffered. Urban’s solution was that of many leaders seeking to unite unruly subjects: a foreign war and a cause that sounded noble.

His chance came at a gathering of French leaders in Clermont, south-west France, in November 1095. ‘Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels,’ he told a crowd of 300 bishops, knights and assorted lay people; ‘let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians.’

According to one version of the speech by the chronicler Fulcher of Chartres in Gesta Francorum Jerusalem Expugnantium.

His words fell on fertile soil. The once-backward region of Europe, which had fallen into barbarism after the end of the Roman Empire 700 years before, was beginning a slow revival. Charlemagne had kick-started the political process in 800 by making himself ruler of an incipient European state, the Holy Roman Empire. But there was also a revolution of another sort brewing. With metal-bladed ox-ploughs and crop rotation, farmers produced better harvests. With more food, couples had more and healthier children. Mercifully, there were no major plagues. The population grew, and spread into the badlands of eastern Europe. The Vikings, who had once nibbled at Europe’s flanks, had settled. So had the Hungarians, the last of the barbarian invaders. In the south-west, the tide of Islam that had flowed over Spain and into France had been dammed and turned back. By the time of Urban’s appeal, the people of Europe faced a future that was rosier, or at least less dismal, than their past. They could afford foreign adventure.

They loved the idea. Urban’s speech was, in the words of one historian, ‘probably the most effective speech in all history’. The crowd roared its approval and scattered to spread the message, summarized in a catchphrase, ‘Deus vult!’ (‘God wills it!’). Their focus was Jerusalem, where Christ had preached and (they believed) worked miracles and been crucified and risen from the dead. Somewhere in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lay a piece of the True Cross, which would surely have miraculous powers. The city had been in Turkish hands for 450 years. The time had come to take it back.

And they did, with extreme violence, because, in the words of the historian John Roberts, there would be opportunities for looting unavailable in Europe; ‘they could spoil the pagans with clear consciences’. By the spring of 1097, hundreds of knights leading a rabble of some 30,000 met in Constantinople. They were mainly French, or Franks as they were known – Franj as the Muslims called them – though there was little sense of nationhood to unite Normans, Provençals, Angevins and Flemings. Despite a scattering of Italians and Hungarians, ‘Franks’ became a catch-all term for the Crusaders. The only war aims were vague: take the Holy Land, convert the heathen, seize Jerusalem. And then? No one said. A few leaders were high-minded, some saw a chance to grab territory, many were romantics and adventurers, and most no more than rough peasants happy to escape a harsh life or ruffians eager for loot. All, though, could claim to be high-minded, displaying the Cross as the symbol of Christianity. This was what came to be called the First Crusade, the first of eight campaigns to the Holy Land over the next two centuries. Most failed, some were disastrous, but this first one did indeed achieve its aims, so is sometimes called a success, if extreme and unprovoked aggression can ever be classified as such.

There followed the recapture of the new Turkish capital, Nicaea, today the little town of Iznik. The siege involved an aspect of warfare that would soon have significance for Saladin. The Crusader army was simply not strong enough to overwhelm Nicaea’s immense walls or batter down its gates. The Byzantine emperor, Alexios Komnenos, knew this, because he had seen the army and knew the walls: 5 kilometres around, 10 metres high, 100 towers. It would of course be wonderful if the town could be retaken for Christianity, pushing back the Turkish and Islamic frontier. But how to do this, without throwing soldiers uselessly against the city’s walls? What the Crusaders needed was heavy artillery. The emperor happened to be a great military leader, aged forty-three, at the height of his powers, eager to recapture borderlands in present-day Turkey lost to the Seljuk Turks. War is often the necessity that mothers’ invention, and in this case Alexios was the father. He knew as much as anyone about heavy artillery in the form of trebuchets, the machines that could sling rocks astonishing distances. He had commissioned several of these devices for his army. They were of various types, all referred to as ‘city-takers’, and they will take centre stage in due course. Alexios was a designer as well as a commander. He created machines that broke new ground, literally and figuratively. His daughter Anna wrote of his new city-takers and their effect in the siege of Nicaea: ‘most of them were not old-fashioned according to the conventional designs for such machines, but followed ideas he had devised himself and which amazed everyone.’ Possibly these devices were the prototypes of the so-called counterweight trebuchets, whose specifications dwarfed earlier machines: 10-tonne counterweights, lever-arms 15 metres long, projectiles weighing over 100 kilograms, ranges of 200 metres. They cracked Nicaea open like a hammer on a nut, though Alexios took care to seize control of the town before the Crusaders had a chance to loot it. Alexios’s machines, which had so ‘amazed everyone’, changed warfare from then on. The improved versions would have dramatic effects when, eighty years later, Saladin got the power to command them.

On the Crusaders went: a pitched battle, a five-month advance across Turkey, an eight-month siege of Antioch (where by happy chance a mystic named Peter Bartholomew, guided by St Andrew, found a chunk of iron which he declared to be the Holy Lance that had pierced the side of Christ), and more sieges, including the taking of Ma’arat, 80 kilometres south-east of Antioch, in today’s Syria. It was winter, the end of 1098, with food in short supply, so, according to a chronicler, the French ‘boiled pagan adults in cooking pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.’ An exaggeration? If the source had been Arabic, perhaps; but this was a Frank, Ralph of Caen, speaking. Another French chronicler, Albert of Aix, confirmed it: ‘Not only did our troops not shrink from eating dead Turks and Saracens; they also ate dogs.’

Or Radulph, as he is also known; in Gesta Tancredi, quoted in Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, as is Albert of Aix.

What could Muslims do? Not much. There was no hope of a united response, whether from Islam as a whole or from local princes. Every leader, Sunni or Shia, wondered if the new arrivals might perhaps be of use against their Islamic rivals. Every town was on its own, and the only way to survive was to flee or to fawn: ‘Kiss any arm you cannot break’, in the words of a popular proverb. Delegates arrived bringing gifts of gold, jewellery and horses, hoping to bribe the ‘Franj’ either to become an ally or to move on in peace.

So the Franks advanced, with almost no opposition, to the walls of Jerusalem, which they assaulted for a month with two siege-towers and fourteen stone-throwing catapults. In mid-July 1099, they took the city, with terrible consequences for the place they claimed to venerate. In an outpouring of xenophobia and greed, all suffered – Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians. The Crusaders sacked the Dome of the Rock (sometimes wrongly called the Mosque of Umar, the second successor of the Prophet). They expelled from the Holy Sepulchre all eastern Christians – Greeks, Georgians, Armenians, Copts and Syrians – who had shared the place for centuries. There followed the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of men, women and children. ‘Some of the pagans were mercifully beheaded,’ wrote the chronicler Raymond d’Aguilers. ‘Others pierced by arrows plunged from towers, and yet others, tortured for a long time, were burned to death in searing flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet lay in the houses and streets, and indeed there was a running to and fro of men and knights over the corpses.’ The mob of Crusaders, apparently berserk with bloodlust, burned the main synagogue around a mass of Jews hoping for sanctuary. Afterwards, Muslim survivors were forced to drag the bodies outside the walls, where they made piles ‘as big as houses’.

In early August, the newly appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem, Arnulf, made the discovery that all Christians wanted. Arnulf needed a coup of some sort. He and others had been doubtful about the previous ‘discovery’ of the Holy Lance in Antioch. Peter had countered the doubters with more visions, and finally with an offer to undergo an ordeal by fire, the idea being that if he was telling the truth, the fire would not touch him. The flames did what flames do. Scorched almost to death, and then mobbed by a crowd, Peter said Christ himself had actually protected him and blamed the crowd for his burns. He died twelve days later. After that, the Holy Lance lost its holiness, leaving the Crusaders without a talisman. The only one that really mattered now was the True Cross, which supposedly lay somewhere in the Holy Sepulchre, of which Arnulf was the guardian. Only the Greek Orthodox priests knew where it was, and they weren’t telling. Arnulf had them tortured until they did. The True Cross, as it was called – though it was in fact a piece of wood embedded in a gold-and-silver cross – became the most sacred relic of the Christian Holy Land. It was their object of power, to be displayed at the head of armies as if it were some sort of secret weapon.

No one seems to have known what was supposed to happen next. Most Crusaders trickled homewards, but many stayed, as soldiers helping to subdue other cities and as citizens of four ‘Latin’ statelets: Edessa, Antioch and Jerusalem, plus Jerusalem’s semi-independent offshoot, Tripoli. So by 1110 the four colonies controlled the coastal bits of present-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel by means of thirty-six formidable castles, which dominated the ports and trade routes.

Turks or Arabs at first saw the Crusaders as animals, drunk on a brew of religious zeal, bloodlust, xenophobia and greed. Devout Muslims demanded holy war, jihad. ‘Do you not owe an obligation to God and Islam?’ an anonymous poet begged the reluctant sultans.5 ‘Respond to God! Woe to you! Respond!’ But hatred and despair achieved nothing, because emotion was not focused by leadership. Despite overwhelming numbers and several counter-attacks, nothing worked, for many reasons – bad luck, treachery, lack of courage, lack of leadership – the main one being that, frankly, most Muslim leaders had better things to do fighting each other. Better a Christian than a heretic, better a Christian buffer state than a rival Muslim neighbour. ‘The sultans did not agree among themselves,’ wrote the historian Ali ibn al-Athir, ‘and it was for this reason that the Franj were able to seize control.’

The response, when it came, was not a holy war, more an unholy peace. Both sides accommodated. The Franks employed locals, introduced a form of feudalism that promoted mutual responsibilities, adopted the local dress and cuisine, and married into local families. Each side sought alliance with the other, each mini-state squabbled with others, each had its disputes over succession. Much changed superficially, and nothing changed fundamentally. By the time of Saladin’s birth in 1137–8, almost forty years after the loss of Jerusalem, hatred of the Franks had been diluted by both complacency – since many ordinary Arabs preferred the Franks to their own grasping and unreliable leaders – and a growing belief that no great leader would arise to heal Muslim rivalries and drive the Franks into the sea.

Eustace and the Attack on Dover

The attack that Eustace launched in 1067 on Dover Castle is one of the most curious episodes of the Norman Conquest. It is described in some detail by William of Jumieges, William of Poitiers and Orderic Vitalis, and all these sources are in agreement on the essentials. King William had returned to his business in Normandy in March 1067, and the country had been left under the harsh rule of his regents, Bishop Odo of Bayeux and Earl William Fitz-Osbern. Odo had been granted Dover Castle with responsibility for guarding the southeastern coast and pacifying Kent; he held it with the assistance of Hugh of Montfort, another important Norman noble. For some obscure reason, however, Count Eustace had fallen out with William. When a group of envoys representing the men of Kent crossed in secret to Boulogne and urged him to join them in attacking Dover Castle, Eustace readily agreed. In theory the Kentish men should have considered Eustace as their enemy, given what had happened at Dover in 1051, not to mention at Hastings the year before. However, William of Poitiers tells us that they hated the Normans even more than they disliked Eustace and, he continues, ‘they thought that if they were not to serve one of their own countrymen, they would rather serve a neighbour whom they knew’. Eustace’s motive in all this remains mysterious.

The moment to attack was chosen well. Both Odo and Hugh of Montfort were absent from Dover, together with most of their knights, having been called away to deal with a disturbance to the north of the Thames. Dover Castle was thus sorely undermanned. The English of the ‘whole district’ were under arms and ready to join, says William of Poitiers, and if Eustace was able to maintain a siege of two days, more men from the surrounding areas are said to have been ready to augment the rebel forces. During the early part of the night Eustace slipped across the Straits of Dover in a small fleet of ships. He was accompanied by many knights but they took only a few horses with them, hoping to seize the undermanned castle quickly by surprise. It is not known where, or how, the rebels launched their assault, whether by force or by ruse, but they certainly found the Norman garrison much better prepared than they had expected. Several hours of intense fighting ensued; and suffering setback after setback, the morale of the attackers began to flag. Eustace must finally have become exasperated, for he ordered a withdrawal. Aware of this, the defending Norman knights, though few in number, threw open the gates and launched their own sally on horseback. The cry went up that Odo had returned at the head of a mighty army. It was not true; but in the general panic of the situation the return of the dreaded Bishop Odo was widely believed.

Eustace’s troops at the rear were quickly scattered in confusion. The Norman horsemen pursued them, and amid cries of alarm and much slashing of swords, they killed many and took others captive. More lives are said to have been lost as, in their hurry and ignorance of the local paths, the Boulonnais soldiers fell over precipices and were dashed to death on the rocks below. Of those that made it down to the English shore, many crowded on to frail ships, which sank, and they were drowned under the weight of their chain mail. Eustace himself was better prepared. A fleet horse had been always at the ready for him; and knowing the way back to his ship, he made fast for it. Now with the remnant of his forces the humiliated count sailed back to Boulogne. A large part of the English contingent was also able to escape across land by using local knowledge. But Eustace’s young nepos (a word traditionally translated as ‘nephew’), apparently taking part in his first battle, was captured by Odo’s knights. The chronicles do not name this youngster, evidently a close kinsman of Eustace, but they stress that he was of the highest nobility (‘nobilissimus’). The Anglo-Boulonnais attack on Dover Castle thus ended in utter disaster for Count Eustace. That Christmas, at the king’s traditional gathering of his court, William condemned Eustace to exile from England and confiscated the English lands that he had been given as his share of the spoils of victory only a year earlier. His poor nepos, in all likelihood, remained Odo’s prisoner.

Eustace’s purpose in attacking Dover remains deeply mysterious. It has been suggested that he was hoping to take Dover and the surrounding countryside so that he could control both sides of the straits of Dover, something that would have given him enormous political benefits as well as substantial economic gains. Alternatively, he may have been disappointed at his share of the spoils of conquest and, in particular, at not regaining the lands of his former English wife Godgifu. Having taken Dover Castle, he may have hoped to renegotiate his share of the victory with William from a position of strength. Another possibility, though rather speculative, is that the son he had given to William as a hostage had not been released despite, perhaps, an agreement to the contrary. It is possible that Odo was given charge of the hostage prior to the invasion when Eustace and he met in the summer of 1066, and just possible that the hostage was at that very moment being held in Dover Castle.

Undoubtedly the most intriguing possibility, however, is that Count Eustace was attempting to pursue his own claim to the English throne. This idea has been proposed by many historians. Eustace stood in the same relation to the former English king, Edward the Confessor, as Harold had done in January 1066: both were brothers-in-law of King Edward. Eustace had the prized blood of Charlemagne running in his veins and beyond that contemporaries traced his maternal ancestry to the earlier Merovingian kings of France and through them on more dubious grounds to Priam of Tory. This was a bloodline that gave Count Eustace greater prestige than perhaps any of his contemporaries and yet here was a man who was not a king; he was merely the count of a relatively small region. It is not hard to imagine that he hoped one day to raise himself and his family to a position more worthy of such an illustrious lineage.

What is more, Eustace could also trace a distant line of descent from the greatest of all the insular kings, Alfred the Great, through the marriage of one of Alfred’s daughters to Count Baldwin II of Flanders. This connection, albeit distant, would have certainly recommended him in the eyes of the English, assuming it was known. William the Conqueror’s kinship with Edward the Confessor was entirely based upon the fact that Edward had a Norman mother; William was not in any way descended from the ancient line of Wessex kings. The young Edgar Ætheling had been taken as a hostage by William to Normandy when he returned there in March 1067. In these circumstances, without further hope or choice, the Kentish rebels might well have turned to Eustace as the leader of a potential rebellion against the absent William. The statement by William of Poitiers that the inhabitants of Kent wished ‘to serve’ someone that they knew hints, perhaps, at this larger ambition.

The identity of the nepos is also obscure. Nor is it known when, if ever, the nepos was released. As used in medieval Latin, the term nepos is often translated as ‘nephew’, but it could also mean ‘grandson’, ‘bastard’ and even ‘cousin’ generally. Much ink has been spilt on who the nepos might have been; but the question remains unanswered. Whether Eustace had any nephews is disputed; he certainly had a bastard son called Geoffrey. The most intriguing possibility again turns on a Boulonnais claim to the English throne. Professor Barlow has suggested that Eustace’s marriage with Godgifu, Edward the Confessor’s sister, may not have been childless after all. A daughter of theirs might well have had a son, a grandson of Eustace, who could have been just about fighting age in 1067. Such a grandson, another great-nephew of the Confessor, would have been a prime candidate around whom English opposition to William could have gathered. In this scenario Eustace was bringing with him, on that mysterious assault on Dover Castle, a young pretender to the English throne, a grandson who, however, was promptly captured and perhaps never heard of again.

Although the identity of the nepos remains a mystery, what matters for our purpose is the known set of facts. In the latter part of 1067 Eustace attacked Odo’s castle at Dover, suffered a humiliating defeat and a young kinsman of his, of the highest birth, was captured by Odo’s men. In accordance with contemporary practice the young man was probably held by Odo for a large ransom. What became of him is not known. Realistically the Bayeux Tapestry can only have been made after Eustace’s attack, in other words after Odo and Eustace came into such public conflict in the autumn of 1067. It is scarcely believable that the tapestry could have been conceived, organised, designed, approved and embroidered in the interim between William’s coronation at Christmas 1066 and Eustace’s attack on Dover in the latter half of 1067. With this in mind, the orthodox idea that Bishop Odo of Bayeux commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, a work that is shot through with the English viewpoint and that makes Count Eustace into a hero at Hastings, is becoming even more unlikely.

William the Conqueror was not a man to flail about wildly at his enemies. His actions, if often crude, were cold and calculating, and if his interests required it he was quite capable of coming to terms with a former foe. So it was that in the 1070s Eustace and King William became reconciled again.5 A motivating factor, from William’s point of view, may have been his deteriorating relations with Flanders. When William’s father-in-law Count Baldwin V died in 1067, Flanders was inherited by his son Baldwin VI. Baldwin VI died only three years later, and the county descended into a civil war. William and Eustace took the same side in this conflict, supporting Baldwin’s young son Arnulf III and his mother Richilde against the opposing claims to the county made by Arnulf’s uncle, Robert the Frisian. Robert the Frisian, however, emerged victorious in 1071 and a new alliance then emerged between Robert, as the new Count of Flanders, and Philip I of France, now an adult, and both of them were hostile to Normandy. With his resources stretched in England, and Flanders now hostile, the Norman king would have been in need of a strong ally in Boulogne in order to protect the northern border of his duchy.

Given the events of 1067, the settlement that Count Eustace renegotiated with King William in the 1070s was remarkable. Eustace was granted lands so extensive that by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 the Count of Boulogne appears as the tenth largest landholder in England. Most of his vast estates were concentrated in Essex and Hertfordshire, but he also held lands in many other counties as well. It is noteworthy, however, that in this second settlement he took nothing in Wiltshire or Gloucestershire, and very little in Surrey, counties where his initial reward in the wake of Hastings may have been concentrated. It is not known when Eustace died, although his eldest son, Eustace III, appears to have inherited the county and the English lands before 1088. If Eustace II ever hoped to be a king, he had failed in this grander ambition, but he had overcome the disaster of 1067 and he left the comital house of Boulogne much more powerful and considerably richer than it had ever been. On the foundations he laid his sons were able to raise the blood of Boulogne to the highest ranks in Christendom.

The most famous of the sons of Eustace and Ida was Godfrey of Bouillon, the leading Crusader who, when Jerusalem fell in 1099, modestly refused the name ‘King of Jerusalem’ but took the title of ‘Defender of the Holy Sepulchre’. Godfrey’s reputation was soon mythologised and he was shortly to become one of the most celebrated figures in the whole of Christendom. When Godfrey died in 1100, his brother Baldwin of Boulogne was crowned, this time without demur, with the resonant title of King of Jerusalem. When Baldwin died in 1118, the third and eldest son, Count Eustace III of Boulogne, was also invited to be King of Jerusalem but he learnt, en route, that the crown had been given to his cousin Baldwin of Le Bourg and he returned to France. The daughter and heiress of Eustace III was Matilda of Boulogne. She married Stephen of Blois. When in 1135 Stephen became King of England Matilda of Boulogne became his active and capable Queen. Their son, Count Eustace IV of Boulogne, was named by Stephen as his heir. Count Eustace IV of Boulogne stood for a while on the threshold of becoming King Eustace I of England. But Eustace IV died in 1153, a year before his father, and the throne passed on Stephen’s death to the rival house of Plantagenet.

In the eyes of medieval posterity Countess Ida herself seems to have eclipsed the fame of her late husband, Eustace II. After her death in 1113, miracles were reported, a cult of sainthood developed around her and she was popularly recognised as a saint. The bones of St Ida have undergone a most curious journey through the ages. First buried at Wast, in the county of Boulogne, they were taken in the seventeenth century to Paris by a nun named Catherine of Bar, who had founded the order of the Benedictine nuns of the Saint-Sacrement. In 1808, in the wake of the French Revolution, St Ida’s bones were removed again and this time they were placed in the care of the Benedictine nuns of Bayeux, where they still reside, hundreds of miles from Boulogne but only a few hundred yards from where Ida’s husband is portrayed in all his glory on the Bayeux Tapestry. The curious thing about all this is that it was only ten years later, with the work of Charles Stothard, that it actually became known that Eustace was depicted on the tapestry.

By the second half of the twelfth century, new legends were circulating about Countess Ida and the ancestry of Godfrey of Bouillon. In these strange stories Ida is the daughter, not of Godfrey of Lorraine, but of the fabulous and romantic Swan Knight, the scion of swans, and her destiny is to marry Count Eustace of Boulogne and raise a trio of famous Crusaders. According to these stories the Swan Knight must never be questioned about his true origin; and when one day Ida’s mother, overcome by curiosity, asks him the forbidden question he suffers a violent reaction and departs at dawn for ever. Once again, in these fantastical tales a century after his death, Eustace II, son-in-law of the Swan Knight, appears only as a shadowy character with a secondary role in a story dominated by others. It is in the famous battle scene of the Bayeux Tapestry that we truly see him take centre stage.

The Novorossiysk Landing Operations

Marines detachment of Major Caesar Kunikov, shortly before the night of February 4, 1943, when they took part in the landing operation and seized a bridgehead south of Novorossiysk, known as “Malaya Zemlya”.

Although Soviet attempts for a second huge encirclement had been thwarted, the German position in the southern sector was still perilous, and the eyes of the Soviet command turned to the isolated Seventeenth Army. Plans for a Soviet amphibious landing in the Novorossiysk area had first been drawn up in November 1942, and at a Stavka meeting on 24 January 1943, a combined amphibious and ground operation to encircle the German Seventeenth Army was proposed. On land, the Soviet 18th and 46th Armies would seize the Kuban River crossings in the Krasnodar region and then push west towards the Taman Peninsula while the 47th Army would launch a direct attack on Novorossiysk. Meanwhile, the amphibious landing would place forces into the rear of the German defences and move to link up with 47th Army. The combined operation would encircle Seventeenth Army and prevent it from withdrawing into the defensible Kuban Bridgehead.  At this meeting, the forces in the area were also reorganised.

Transcaucasus Front’s Northern Group, under the command of General Ivan Maslennikov, was renamed North Caucasus Front,  and the remainder of Ivan Tyulenev’s Transcaucasus Front returned to its original role of guarding the southern frontiers with Iran and Turkey.

The location chosen for the landing operation was Yuzhnaya Ozereika, about thirty kilometres southwest of Novorossiysk, and the detailed plan was drawn up by ViceAdmiral Filipp Sergeyevich Oktyabrskiy, the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, and timed for 01:30 on 4 February.  The timetable was as follows:

00:45: A parachute force of eighty men would be dropped at Glebovka and Vasilevka, to the north of Yuzhnaya Ozereika, and bombing raids would be carried out on German defensive positions around the landing zones.

01:00: A naval bombardment would be launched by a Black Sea Fleet fire-support squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Lev Anatolevich Vladimirskiy and comprising the cruisers Krasniy Kavkaz and Krasniy Krym, the destroyer leader Kharkov and the destroyers Besposhchadniy and Soobrazitelniy.

01:30: The main landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereika, commanded by Rear-Admiral Nikolai Yefremovich Basistiy, would be launched, along with a simultaneous diversionary landing at Stanichka in the southern suburbs of Novorossiysk. Dummy landing operations would also be feigned at a number of locations along the southern coast of the Taman Peninsula: Anapa, Blagoveschenskiy, the Sukko River Valley and Cape Zhelezniy Rog.

The main landing force comprised two echelons. The first was formed up in Gelendzhik and was made up of 255th Independent Red Banner Naval Infantry Brigade, 563rd Independent Tank Brigade and a separate machine-gun battalion. The second echelon formed up in Tuapse and comprised 83rd Independent Red Banner Naval Infantry Brigade, 165th Infantry Brigade and 29th Anti-tank Artillery Regiment.  Both groupings underwent intensive training in landing operations throughout January.

Even during the earliest preparations for the operation, however, a number of officers expressed doubts over the selection of Yuzhnaya Ozereika as the site of the main landing, citing the unpredictable winter weather and sea conditions, the presence of numerous minefields in the area and the distance from the ultimate objective of Novorossiysk.

The operation ran into serious problems from the start. On 27 January, 47th Army began its offensive in the Verkhnebakanskaya and Krymskaya areas, but was unable to force a breakthrough at any point. Although the original plan stipulated that the landing operation would not begin until such a penetration had been achieved, the

Transcaucasus Front command nevertheless gave the order for the landing to proceed, partly in the hope that it would divert German forces and help 47th Army to achieve its aim.

The first landing group was late setting out from Gelendzhik and made slower than expected progress in heavy seas, so Basistiy sent a request to Vladimirskiy on Krasniy Kavkaz and to Oktyabrskiy, requesting a 90-minute postponement. Without waiting for confirmation from Oktyabrskiy, Vladimirskiy ordered his ships to hold fire and Basistiy postponed the arrival of the  dummy landing operations did not receive this information and acted according to their original orders.

Oktyabrskiy, however, did not wish to delay the operation as doing so would deprive him of the cover of darkness. He ordered that the original plan should be adhered to, but this message did not reach Basistiy and Vladimirskiy until it was too late for them to revert to the original plan. Again, Oktyabrskiy did not communicate with the air-support, parachute and dummy landing groups, so they remained oblivious to the unfolding chaos.

The bombing raids and bombardment of the dummy landing sites were launched in accordance with the original timetable, as was the parachute drop, but one of the transport planes was unable to locate the drop zone and returned to base, reducing the strength of the parachute force by over 25 percent before the operation started. This disconnect between the different parts of the operation alerted the defending German and Romanian forces, allowing them to ascertain that a landing operation was imminent and also its likely location.  At 00:35, V Corps placed all its forces defending the southern coast of the Taman Peninsula on the highest alert.

At 02:30, the naval support ships began their 30-minute bombardment against the German and Romanian defences at Yuzhnaya Ozereika. The fire was poorly-directed, however, and although over 2,000 shells were fired, the gun emplacements and defensive positions were largely undamaged. At 03:00, the cruisers ceased firing and set course for port, although the destroyers continued firing. The landing craft of the first group approached the shore at around 03:30, but came under intense fire and suffered heavy losses. Many of the tanks in the first landing group were released too far from the shore so their engines flooded and they were immobilised in the surf.

A group of 1,427 men, with 10 tanks, was able to reach the shore. They quickly captured Yuzhnaya Ozereika and set out for Glebovka, a few miles to the north, but without support, they could not maintain the advance.  The bulk of the group, including the last two remaining tanks, was pushed back and isolated in an area about one kilometre west of Yuzhnaya Ozereika on the morning of 5 February.  Over the next few days, small groups tried to force their way through to Stanichka, and about 150 succeeded. Another group of 25, along with 18 paratroopers and 27 partisans, reached the coast to the east of Yuzhnaya Ozereika and were picked up by a motor boat on the evening of 9 February.   Another 542 men of the landing group were captured.  On 6 February, Seventeenth Army reported that the landing force at Yuzhnaya Ozereika had essentially been destroyed, and the following day, reported that 300 enemy dead and 31 U.S.-built tanks lay on the beach.

The diversionary landing at Stanichka, in contrast, proceeded virtually exactly as planned. At 01:30, torpedo boats raised a smoke screen across the shore, and fire from support vessels and from batteries on the eastern coast of Tsemess Bay were much more successful in silencing German guns than had been the case at Yuzhnaya Ozereika. The first landing groups, under the command of Major Tsesar L. Kunikov, disembarked and were able to seize a beachhead. At 02:40, Kunikov signalled for the second and third echelons to be landed. The landing party seized several buildings on the southern edge of Stanichka and was able to hold the beachhead until it was further reinforced. The bridgehead quickly became known as “Malaya Zemlya” (The Small Land).

The success against the Yuzhnaya Ozereika landing appears to have led to a degree of complacency among the German command regarding the Stanichka operation. At 00:15 on 6 February, General Ruoff sent a message of congratulations to all the commanding officers who had been involved in the defence against the two landings, and later in the day, V Corps’ war diary reported that the landing force at Stanichka was encircled and that its attempts to expand its beachhead would be defeated.  A German offensive to throw the landing party back into the sea was planned, but was not scheduled to start until 7 February, when parts of 198th Infantry Division were due to arrive from Krasnodar to reinforce V Corps’ line in a number of locations around Novorossiysk.  Ivan Y. Petrov, the commander of the Black Sea Group of North Caucasus Front, displayed no such hesitation and quickly decided to divert all of the forces that had been intended for the main landing to reinforce the success of the Stanichka diversion.

Within a few days, over 17,000 men, twenty-one guns, seventy-four mortars, eighty-six machine guns and 440 tons of supplies had been landed on the beachhead. Kunikov was fatally wounded by a shell splinter on the night of 11–12 March and was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.  He is buried in Heroes’ Square, close to the waterfront in the centre of Novorossiysk.

The debacle at Yuzhnaya Ozereika has been largely overlooked in the Soviet history of the war, as attention focussed on the Malaya Zemlya landings. The official History of the Great Patriotic War describes the events at Yuzhnaya Ozereika in just two sentences while devoting several pages to the success of the auxiliary operation.    During this period, Leonid Brezhnev was serving as a political officer with 18th Army, and he made a number of trips by boat to Malaya Zemlya to encourage the troops. During his term as general secretary of the Communist Party (1964-82), the legend of Malaya Zemlya was taken to new heights. In 1973, Novorossiysk was awarded the title of Hero City, elevating it to the status of the likes of Stalingrad and Leningrad in terms of its importance in the war. A series of massive memorial complexes were constructed, including one at the site of the Malaya Zemlya landings.

The question of what the Malaya Zemlya landing actually achieved, beyond its propaganda value and tying down German forces, is worthy of further consideration. Grechko claims that the operation created favourable conditions for the liberation of Novorossiysk,   but this view is difficult to support, as the city was not recaptured until a full seven months after the landing operation and after the Germans had already decided to withdraw the whole of Seventeenth Army from the Kuban Bridgehead.

Several writers, including Tieke, note that the presence of the Soviet forces at Malaya Zemlya prevented the Germans from using the port facilities at Novorossiysk.  This argument is also questionable. There were already significant Red Army forces on the high ground on the eastern side of Tsemess Bay, where the front line had been static since September 1942. These forces provided artillery support for the landing operation, so they would also have been able to threaten any German vessels attempting to enter or exit the port. In any case, the German-held ports and airfields farther to the rear were sufficient for Seventeenth Army’s supply needs. During March, for example, the supply and evacuation totals by sea and air were as follows:

To further supplement the supply system, a cable-car system across the Kerch Strait, with a capacity of 1,000 tons per day, went into operation in June.

A second question that warrants further examination is that of what could have been achieved if the main landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereika had unfolded as planned.  The landing forces at Malaya Zemlya were concentrated on a relatively narrow peninsula, so the opposing German defensive line remained quite short. Nevertheless, the quickly reinforced Soviet force put severe pressure on the German defences and created concern at Seventeenth Army headquarters. On 7 February, the army’s war diary reported that it had been fully pushed onto the defensive by the reinforced enemy, and on 21 February, it stated that the decrease in the combat strength of its forces in the Novorossiysk area was “particularly serious.”

The defences along the coast around Yuzhnaya Ozereika were weaker than at Stanichka, and the fact that the small landing party was able to force its way inland as far as Glebovka suggests that if it had been reinforced to a level approaching that at Stanichka, it could have represented a serious threat to the entire left wing of Seventeenth Army’s defensive line. Ultimately, the failures of the Yuzhnaya Ozereika landing and 47th Army’s offensive in the centre of Seventeenth Army’s line allowed the latter to hold a continuous defensive line through the spring and summer.

Black Sea Black Death (1982)