FAITH: THE CAT WHO DEFIED THE LONDON BLITZ

The first days of World War II were dark ones indeed for Great Britain. Nazi Germany had conquered almost all of Europe, leaving the residents of the island nation to fight on alone. From September 1940 to May 1941, Hitler tried to crush England’s will to resist by launching the Blitz—the indiscriminate terror bombing of cities, especially London.

Though thousands were killed and wounded, the nightly attacks failed to break the spirit of the people. Many, in the face of great danger, displayed unforgettable courage. And the heroism wasn’t just confined to humans. One of the most famous stories concerns a church cat named Faith. In 1936, the little tabby found her way to St Augustine’s and St Faith’s Church in London. She took up residence in the rectory.

Faith attended all services in which the rector, Father Henry Ross (who had originally taken her in), took part. If her benefactor wasn’t speaking, she sat in the front pew. If Ross was preaching, she sat in the pulpit at his feet.

In August 1940, Faith gave birth to a single male kitten, which the church choir celebrated the next Sunday by singing All Things Bright and Beautiful. The black and white puff ball was named Panda.

But on September 6 of that year, something strange happened. Faith, for no discernable reason, led Ross to the church basement and begged him to open the door. He complied, and later saw the mother cat carry Panda from his comfortable upstairs basket down to the dusty, dark sanctum. Three times Ross took the kitten back upstairs, and three times Faith carried him back down. Finally the pastor admitted defeat, took the kitten’s basket to the basement, and tried to make the two as comfortable as possible.

Within days, however, Faith’s odd behavior would seem more like clairvoyance.

On September 9, while Ross was away, his church took a direct hit from a bomb. He arrived to find emergency crews scrambling around the still-burning structure. Ross told them that to his knowledge the only creatures inside were Faith and Panda. The fireman he spoke to said there was no chance they could have survived.

But Ross couldn’t accept that. Risking his life, he entered the building’s sagging, flaming remains and called out for Faith. He heard a faint answering meow and dug through the rubble until he found the two felines buried under a pile of singed sheet music. Faith, grimy but uninjured, was sitting with her kitten beneath her, in the same place she’d scouted out days earlier. Ross quickly carried both cats to safety, getting clear just as the roof collapsed.

The story of the church cat’s selfless devotion to her kitten soon spread across the United Kingdom. On October 12, 1945, before a packed house at the rebuilt St Augustine’s and while nestled in the arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury, she received a special medal for her courage.

Panda, once grown, became the mascot of a retirement home. And Faith remained at the church until her death on September 28, 1948. Her passing was worldwide news, as was her burial near the churchyard gate. The feline described as “the bravest cat in the world” can spend eternity at the place she loved.

 

 

Churchill in the trenches

Churchill visiting General Fayolle at a French Army headquarters. He was presented with a French steel helmet which he continued to wear in the trenches even after British helmets had been issued.

Churchill carried on in government for five months after leaving the Admiralty, in the sinecure office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but with a seat in the War Council. When Asquith reorganised the government in October, Churchill resigned as he could not ‘accept responsibility without power’. The natural course was for him to return to the army – he had told one of the officers of the Enchantress that his greatest regret in the event of war with Germany was that due to his official position he would be ‘unable to take a fighting part and share the risks and dangers with the officers of the services’. As early as 12 June the head of the army’s Southern Command offered him the colonelcy of the second battalion of the Oxfordshire Hussars, but perhaps that was just a formality as he was the senior major. In any case he declined. Now he was free to do that, but Captain Kincaid-Smith (a former Liberal MP and rebel who was now serving in the army) advised him not to back go to the Hussars: ‘The cavalry are as you know, all sitting behind at St Omer, … I should say do anything rather than join a unit in the cavalry corps – you would be bored to distraction in a week or so with this semi peace existence.’ His friend Captain Archibald Sinclair had a similar opinion: ‘If there is a difficulty about a higher formation surely the command of a Kitchener battalion would be a better position than that of second in command of a yeomanry regiment which in common with the rest of the cavalry can only work dismounted? Why not get a battalion – no-one could object to that on any grounds? A Scotch one as you are a Scotch member for the Scotch divisions of the [Kitchener’s?] armies (9th and 15th) have fairly eclipsed the others.’

Churchill did indeed leave to join the yeomanry at St Omer on 18 November, but once in France different prospects opened to him. He was taken to General Headquarters, ‘a fine chateau, with hot water, beds, champagne and all the conveniences’. There, Sir John French offered him command of a brigade as Asquith had done, but Churchill told him that ‘beforehand I must feel myself effectively the master of the conditions of trench warfare’ – for it was clearly very different from the conflicts had had seen in Cuba, India, Egypt and South Africa. He suggested a Guards regiment as ‘the best school’ and was sent to join the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. His letters to his wife, combined with other sources, give us one of the best pictures of life on the Western Front, at least in a quiet period, for unlike many soldiers he was not too traumatised to talk frankly about it.

At first he was not welcome in the battalion, and the colonel later admitted that his coming ‘was not a matter in which we were given any choice’. He found himself in odd and untidy trenches which offended his Sandhurst traditions. ‘The line of trenches – or rather breastworks we are now holding is built along the ruins of older lines taken from the Germans or built later by the Indians. The Guards are cleaning everything up and work day and night to strengthen the parapets and improve the shelter.’ He found that ‘the tradition and the system of the Guards asserts itself in hard work, smartness and soldierly behaviour’. One day he was sent for to meet the corps commander and set out across the fields among stray bullets and shells, only to find that the meeting had been cancelled as the staff car could not get through. When he was away the dugout in which he was sitting had been destroyed by a shell – it was ‘all chance and destiny’. They left the line soon afterwards with the troops singing Tipperary and The Farmer’s Boy, and Churchill was always keen on military singing. It was ‘like getting to a jolly good tavern after a long day’s hunting, wet and cold and hungry’. He had ‘a glorious hot bath’ in ‘this abode of comfort’. Back in the line in mid-December, he reported how ten grenadiers under a ‘kid’ of an officer had raided the enemy lines, ‘beat the brains’ out of two Germans and captured another one, though he had to keep quiet about how the officer had shot one of his own men by accident. The prisoner was well treated, ‘petted’ and given cigarettes and was apparently not unhappy that he was out of it. He enjoyed his time with the Grenadiers; in 1933 he dedicated the first volume of his book on Marlborough to them, ‘in memory of the courtesies and kindness shown to him by the regiment in the Great War’.

That December ‘Major the Right Honourable Winston S. Churchill’ produced a paper on ‘Variants of the Offensive’ dated from ‘General Headquarters, British Army in the Field’. It is no surprise that it was dedicated to means of attack, though not the frontal assault by unprotected troops. As well as his ideas on the tank which were already under development, he suggested shields carried by individual men or by small groups of up to 15, which might be pushed on a caterpillar track – but it is difficult to believe that he understood the forces involved. From his naval experience he suggested a torpedo net cutter to penetrate the barbed wire, and the use of trench guns. His Sandhurst training perhaps inspired his section on ‘The Attack by the Spade’. It was already common to dig saps in front of the lines, but he wanted to do it on a more extensive scale with perhaps 300 saps in 30,000 yards and men working for ten days until they were within 70 yards of the enemy line, where his artillery could not be used. It was ‘nothing more than the penultimate phase of a siege when the sap-heads are pushed into the fortress covered way and the counterscarp blown in: but it is a siege advance on a gigantic front’. In contrast to his later statements he was callous about casualties: ‘Any operation on the western front is justified if we take at least a life for a life. The more this is done the sooner a decision will be reached.’

He went home on leave over Christmas and by the beginning of January it was becoming clear that he was to take command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, mainly made up of Ayrshire men including many miners, with a sprinkling of English. The RSF was a lowland regiment so did not wear the kilt. One of the officers, Captain Gibb, imagined that Churchill might be sent to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who did wear the kilt, and were used to handling celebrities after being written about in the best-seller, The First Hundred Thousand, by Ian Hay. The 6th RSF had suffered great losses in the Battle of Loos, the first to involve the bulk of the new armies, and the first in which the British deployed gas. ‘Like all the rest of this Scottish division, it fought with the greatest gallantry in the big battle and was torn to pieces. More than half the men, and ¾ of the officers were shot, and these terrible gaps have been filled up by recruits of good quality, and quite young inexperienced officers.’ This allowed Churchill to bring in his friends Edward Spiers and Archibald Sinclair, whom he made second-in-command. The regiment was ‘pathetic’ – presumably meaning ‘exciting pity, sympathy or sadness’ rather than the modern sense which has overtones of ‘contemptible’. The young officers were ‘all small middle class Scotsmen – very brave and willing and intelligent: but of course all quite new to soldiering’. He drilled the men – ‘On the second day of Winston’s tenure of office he gave orders that all the companies should parade in a certain slushy meadow, when he intended personally to inspect the work of each company and meet the officers and men in their official capacity.’ He found ‘the regiment is full of life and strength and I believe I shall be a help to them’.

Churchill attended a lecture on the Battle of Loos by Major-General ‘Tom’ Holland on 18 January, and it confirmed his worst fears: ‘… his tale was one of hopeless failure and sublime heroism of splendid Scottish soldiers shorn away in vain – with never the ghost of a chance of success. 6,000 killed and wounded out of 10,000 in this Scottish division alone. Alas alas. Afterwards they asked what was the lesson of the lecture. I restrained an impulse to reply “Don’t do it again”. But they will – I have no doubt.’ For the moment he only communicated this opinion to his wife, for open criticism of his superiors’ tactics would be a serious offence for a serving officer. He was moved enough to mention the heroism of the Scottish Division in parliament a few months later, though he focussed on the Cameron Highlanders for some reason.

On the 20th he inspected the section of line that his battalion was to take over and compared it with the one he had served in with the Guards: ‘It is much the best bit of line I have yet seen all along the front. Incomparably better on every score than the sector where the Guards were. It is dry – the trenches are boarded and drained. The parapets are thick and bullet proof. The wire is good. The field of fire clear …’. It was ‘a jolly day’.

Churchill was replacing a well-liked CO and it was ironic that Gibb would have preferred it if he had replaced the unpopular brigadier or the over-aggressive divisional commander. But soon he won them over, and ‘materially altered the feelings of the officers towards him by this kindliness and by the first insight we gained into the wonderful genius of the man’ – and this was written in 1924 when his general popularity was still very low. But when he asked his officers ‘Do you like war?’ they pretended not to hear. The troops ‘seemed to be delighted with their new Colonel’ and hoped that his influence might be used to sort out various personal problems with the army administration. They loved it when he spoke to them individually as one of the ‘high heid yins’. His attitude to the men ‘was not marred by that condescending hauteur which goes so far to frustrate the efforts of a number of our regular officers’. But he was tactless in comparing the RSF unfavourably with their rivals, the Gordon Highlanders.

Churchill gave a dinner party for his officers to the accompaniment of bagpipes and ‘recognized as many Englishmen do not, that the pipes are instruments capable of playing definite airs’ and asked for Bonnie Dundee after his constituency – though to his wife he referred to the tunes as ‘doleful dirges’. He described his three ties to Scotland – his constituency, his wife and his regiment, which was greeted with ‘salvoes of cheering’. According to Captain Gibb, he declared war on lice and, well prepared as usual, he gave a discourse on their ‘origins, growth and nature’. On 26 January, before moving up to the line, he gave advice to his officers which he compared to that of Polonius in Hamlet:

Don’t be careless about yourselves – on the other hand not too careful. Keep a special pair of boots to sleep in and only get them muddy in a real emergency. Use alcohol in moderation but don’t have a great parade of bottles in your dugouts. Live well but do not flaunt it. Laugh a little, and teach your men to laugh – great good humour under fire – war is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile grin. If you can’t grin keep out of the way till you can.

Then, ‘On a cold raw day in January the colonel and the company commanders with a few other important officers of the battalion moved out of the billeting area in a motor omnibus bound for the neighbourhood of Armentieres and Plugstreet’ – arguably contradicting his wife’s later assertion that Churchill had never been on a bus. The latter place, a soldier’s pronunciation of the Belgian village of Ploegsteert, was relatively peaceful with shops still open and the church tower still standing – though it was knocked down by shellfire a few days later. The rest of the battalion arrived and they marched towards the trenches in columns of fours. They took over 1,000 yards of front ‘with the utmost precision in under two hours. I don’t think the Grenadiers ever did better.’ He wrote to his wife, ‘rest assured, there will be no part of the line from the Alps to the sea better guarded’. Again Churchill revived the knowledge of fortification he had gained at Sandhurst 20 years ago. ‘To see Winston giving a dissertation on the laying of sandbags …. You felt sure from his grasp of practice that he must have served apprentice to a bricklayer and a master-mason, while his theoretical knowledge rendered you certain that Wren would have been proud to sit at his feet …’. The officer he appointed ‘master of works’ had to ‘devise shelters and scarps and counterscarps and dugouts and half-moons and ravelins’. He devoted himself to the main tasks of a battalion in the line during a quiet period – ‘the subjection and annoyance of the enemy and the improvement of the trenches’.

The command of a battalion was the highest position in which an officer had regular contact with the men under him. It had a real identity within the regiment and often there was real affection for the colonel. The future Field-Marshal William Slim thought it was one of the four best commands alongside a platoon, when one was young, a division and an army – the battalion was ‘a unit with a life of its own; whether it is good or bad depends on you alone; you have at last a real command’. Churchill himself wrote: ‘I am anxious to make them feel their corporate identity and the sense of my personal control. A colonel is within his own sphere an autocrat who punishes and promotes and displaces at his discretion.’ A brigade included at least three battalions but the command was far more impersonal and distant. A division, another of Slim’s favourites, consisted of about 20,000 men and was commanded by a major-general. It was perhaps a more interesting formation, the smallest one to combine all arms of cavalry, infantry and artillery. In another campaign it might have offered some opportunity for independent action, but not on the Western Front where it was still under the direct orders of the corps commander and the commander-in-chief. Nor is it likely that Churchill could have risen to an independent command on another front, much as he would have loved it. Even if he could have overcome the prejudice against him, his service on the Western Front would have been valueless. So it is difficult to see where his military ambition might lead, for he would have to rise through many grades to have any real influence and authority.

He did take command of the brigade for a few days early in February but he did not enjoy it, partly because it was on a temporary basis. ‘So I remain here in command. It is not a very satisfactory arrangement, as of course I am only a caretaker and cannot attempt to take a grip of the whole machine. I do the office work and have prepared myself to meet any emergency; but otherwise I wait about from hour to hour.’ But permanent promotion remained an illusion, especially after Sir Douglas Haig succeeded Sir John French as commander-in-chief on 18 December, and was far less sympathetic to Churchill’s case. Despite French’s recommendation and reports of Churchill’s keenness, command was ‘impossible until W had shown that he could bear responsibility in action as CO of a battalion’.

Early in November Churchill had acquired a French poilu helmet or ‘casque Adrian’ which would protect his ‘valuable cranium’. It made him look ‘most martial … like a Cromwellian’ and he was photographed and portrayed wearing it. The British style helmet, reportedly based on even earlier warriors who had fought at Agincourt in 1415, was in the course of being issued at the time, and 500 had arrived at the 6th battalion by 24 January. At other times Churchill grudgingly accepted the Glengarry cap of the Scottish regiments, though he did not like it. When Sinclair was photographed in the standard peaked cap of the English regiments, it was regarded as the ‘perfidy’ of a ‘false Scot’, whereas Churchill’s blue helmet became his trademark. Visiting the troops in the trenches at least three times a day, ‘In wet weather he would appear in a complete outfit of waterproof stuff, including trousers or overalls, and with his French light-blue helmet he presented a remarkable and unusual figure.’

The battalion alternated in the line, being relieved after six days and sent to a rear base which was still within the range of enemy shells; though Churchill claimed he preferred it in the trenches, ‘where there is always something going on, and where one really is fighting in this great war for the triumph of right and reason’. On 13 February he watched an air battle overhead with some misgivings – ‘I was disgusted to watch one German aeroplane sailing about scornfully in the midst of 14 British …. As for our guns they fired hundreds of shells without lifting a feather of this hostile bird.’ In March he and Sinclair walked around the lines held by other battalions.

The same conditions and features reproduce themselves in every section – shattered buildings, sandbag habitations, trenches heavily wired, shell holes, frequent graveyards with thickets of little crosses, wild rank growing grass, muddy roads, khaki soldiers – and so on for hundreds and hundreds of miles – on both sides …. Only a few rifle shots and the occasional bang of a gun broke the stillness of the evening.

It occurred to him that he was now at the rank which he might have reached if he had stayed in the army. He wrote to Clementine: ‘It seems almost to me as if my life in the great world was a dream, and I have been moving slowly forward in the army all these years from subaltern to colonel.’ Despite all the disappointments and hardships he continued to be upbeat in his letters, but one wonders how much it was forced. With the Guards he claimed everyone said he looked ten years younger and he ‘had never been in better health and spirits’. He was ‘cool and indifferent in danger here’. With his officers he reminisced about military life and regaled them with anecdotes about Fisher and leading politicians, as well as commenting freely on Antwerp and the Dardanelles; but he did not have a good word to say for Asquith and he was ‘unenthusiastic’ about Kitchener. The officers tolerated his tin bath, ‘a thing like a great magnified soap-dish’ which needed a great deal of hot water to fill it. But Churchill needed his bi-weekly bath even in the front line.

Regulations barred senior officers from taking part in raids and reconnaissance in no-man’s-land, but in February he admitted to his wife: ‘You cannot show yourself here by day, but in the bright moonlight it is possible to move about without danger (except from random bullets) and to gain a very clear impression. Archie [Sinclair] was a very good guide. We went out in front of our own parapet into the no man’s land and prowled about looking at our wire and visiting our listening posts.’ It was evidently not the first time, for he wrote: ‘This is always exciting.’ He was out with Sinclair again a week later. He paid attention to his men’s raids across the lines, when patrols cut large sections of barbed wire and brought them back as trophies – however he deplored the bravado of one of the officers who fixed a union flag on the site, giving the Germans reason to be more vigilant. ‘Can you imagine such a silly thing.’

Corporal John McGuire described the experience of going on a raid with Churchill:

I strapped on a revolver and two Mills bombs, and at midnight Winnie turned up with his adjutant. He wore his trench helmet, trench coat and Sam Browne belt with revolver. We topped the parapet and slipped through a gap known only to scouts. Ten yards further on I lay down on the second line of trench concertina wire enabling the other two to cross. From there we crawled on our stomachs across muddy ground punched with shell holes. Near the German lines we settled into a hole and listened to the Germans talking. After two hours we crawled home. This was the pattern for all our trips. While we were out our own side never fired, but the Germans, worried by the silence, sent up Verey lights and followed up with heavy machine gun strafing. I often thought we’d ‘had it’ but Churchill showed no fear. He would smile and say, ‘They know I’m here, McGuire, they know I’m here.’

There was no major British attack planned at this time, though late in February Churchill’s leave was cancelled because a German offensive was expected, but it never happened. In January 1916 he claimed: ‘I could not leave the army in the field for any position which did not give me an effective share in the direction of the war’ – presumably in the War Cabinet. But his service was interrupted when he was allowed leave to speak in debates in the House of Commons. Already he was being drawn back to political life at home where, with his varied war experience, he might make some contribution even from the back benches. The prospect of the publication of the Dardanelles papers which might clear his name was a further stimulus. Since several battalions of the RSF had been reduced by battle it was decided to merge the 6th and the 7th, and the colonel of the latter was the senior, which gave a pretext for relieving Churchill. On 6 May he gave a farewell dinner to his officers and told them ‘that he had come to regard the young Scot as a most formidable fighting machine’. The adjutant represented the thinking of the others in saying ‘what it had been to serve under him’ and ‘every man in the room felt Winston Churchill’s leaving us as a real personal loss’. The commanding officer of the battalion which succeeded him remarked: ‘I went up to take over my little bit with Winston Churchill, who described himself as a cavalry soldier run to seed; all the same the service lost a good soldier when Winston took to politics.’ Churchill returned to what he called ‘the bray of Parliaments’. His short term at the front left him open to jibes, such as the one in The Nation in March 1919: ‘after a few weeks of shivering in the trenches, Mr Churchill himself preferred to shine in the Senate’.

One wonders what would have happened if Churchill had remained in command until the beginning of July, when the bloody Somme offensive began with the death of 20,000 men on the first day. Would he have been obliged to lead his men to their deaths in a battle which he knew to be futile? In August, after a month’s fighting at the Somme and while still a backbencher, he sent a memorandum to F. E. Smith which was placed before the cabinet, claiming

In personnel the results of the operation have been disastrous; in terrain they have been absolutely barren. And, although our brave troops … are at the moment elated by the small advances made and the capture of prisoners and souvenirs, the ultimate moral effect will be disappointing. From every point of view, therefore, the British offensive per se has been a great failure. With twenty times the shells, and five times the guns, and more than double the losses, the gains have but little exceeded those of Loos. And how as Loos viewed in retrospect?

He was even more scathing when he wrote about the battle in The World Crisis in 1927: ‘… the campaign of 1916 on the Western Front was from beginning to end a welter of slaughter, which after the issue was determined left the British and French armies weaker in relation to the Germans when it opened, while the actual battle fronts were not appreciably altered. … The battlefields of the Somme were the graveyards of Kitchener’s Army. The flower of that generous manhood … was shorn away for ever in 1916.’

 

After the Persian Invasion: Sparta’s Difficulties as the Greek Superpower

In 478 Sparta’s reputation stood enviably high. Even before the Persian invasion reached Thermopylai, Sparta had been trusted and respected as a military leader: sufficiently trusted to be given sole command of the Greek resistance to the invasion. And the actual fighting had crowned Sparta’s status. One Spartan king, Leonidas, had proved his devotion to the common cause by fighting and dying, with all his Spartan force, at Thermopylai (480). Another Spartan king, Leotychidas, had commanded at a crushing defeat of Persian naval forces in the eastern Aegean, at Mykale (479). And in the same year a further royal Spartan ruler, Pausanias the regent, had been the general in charge of the decisive victory over Persia’s land forces, at Plataia in central Greece. A distant observer might have expected the following decades to see a long, if not serene, domination by Sparta of Greek affairs, in the Peloponnese and far beyond. And yet no such thing occurred. Instead, Sparta would withdraw, under pressure, from the leadership of the continuing anti‐Persian alliance of Greeks. She became preoccupied with problems internal not just to the Peloponnese but to her own heartland, to the revered villages on the River Eurotas which were Sparta. The consequences of village politics would be felt over most of Greece. Sparta in effect allowed Athens to take her place as leader of anti‐Persian campaigning. Athenian power was allowed to grow to the point where Sparta had to contemplate re‐engaging, in other grand ventures outside the Peloponnese. But this time she would lead not against Persia but against Athens.

It is both difficult and intriguing to reconstruct Sparta’s problems, and Spartan strategic thinking, in the (almost) half‐century between the defeat of Persia and the beginning of the great war – the ‘Peloponnesian War’ – which Sparta began against Athens in 431. Secrecy was part of Sparta’s military armoury: the Spartan authorities were not normally going to advertise the nature of their own problems, for fear of giving information which enemies might exploit. But some things could not be hidden, things which were visible to other Greeks. And these few things allow us to detect patterns of Spartan behaviour; here is a society which to a remarkable extent ran according to formulae.

For the half‐century which followed the Persian invasion our best source for Sparta is Thucydides, who cast glances back from his main theme, the Peloponnesian War of 431–404. Here is Thucydides’ summary of the ‘approximately fifty years’, as he called them:

… the Athenians established their rule more firmly and advanced to a position of very great power. The Spartans, for their part, realised what was going on but only made brief attempts to prevent it. For most of the period they did nothing; it had been their practice even in earlier times not to take up war in a hurry unless forced to. Now they were also inhibited to a degree by internal wars – until Athens’ power was blatantly in the ascendant and encroaching on Sparta’s own alliance.

Thucydides’ report on visible processes – the wars, and periods of peace, involving Sparta – is vital information, to be explored in a moment, with important help from his predecessor the historian Herodotos. On what was invisible, Spartan mentality, we may form an opinion rather different from that of Thucydides, but it is an opinion which derives largely from his own information.

One of Sparta’s greatest problems came right at the beginning of the half‐century. It could not be hidden, so the Spartans chose to explain it with a mass of colourful detail: the decline and fall of regent Pausanias. After the defeat of the Persian army at Plataia, Pausanias led Greek naval forces eastwards, campaigning (probably in 478) against strategic Persian possessions, Cyprus and Byzantion. The trauma for Greece of the Persian land invasion had been immense. And there was no reason to suppose that the Persians would not try another invasion. This is a point seldom allowed for in modern accounts (Rhodes (2006) 16 is a distinguished exception). Scholars have commonly shared the hindsight of Greeks in later decades: that since the Persians in the event did not re‐invade, any such prospect must have been negligible at the time. But if we neglect the fear of re‐invasion, we risk failing to understand the policies of Sparta, of Athens and of many other states over decades. The Persians had, after all, reacted to their defeat at Marathon, near Athens in 490, by launching the great invasion of 480‐79. A possible third invasion – perhaps even larger than before – might seem crucial for restoring Persia’s own prestige; for Greeks, it had to be energetically forestalled. As much strategic damage as possible should be done to the Persian empire even after the victories of 479. However, as stratēgos, Pausanias proved unacceptable. Thucydides reports his unpopularity among the Greek sailors and soldiers. Violent, aloof, unapproachable, even surrounding himself with a bodyguard in Persian style – these were some of the criticisms made of him. More worrying for the eastern Greeks was the Spartan advice to the Greeks of Ionia, Persia’s former subjects of western Asia Minor with everything to fear from a Persian comeback. Sparta suggested that they emigrate westwards; a clear signal that Sparta did not wish to defend them in their homeland against Persia. Following the complaints against Pausanias, Sparta recalled him for investigation. The Greek naval forces then refused to accept Sparta’s replacement, Dorkis, as commander, and chose instead to be led in future by Athens, the greatest single provider of warships.

Sparta did not react violently to this striking rejection, coming so soon after her triumphant leadership against Persia on sea as well as on land. She evidently accepted that the war in the east was necessary; her sending out Dorkis to command shows that. Thucydides reports that the Spartans believed Athens to be well‐disposed to themselves and a suitable leader for the naval war. We know that Themistokles, Athens’ naval strategist and leader during the Persian invasion, had pleased Sparta by the way he had worked under Spartan leadership in the crisis of 480. Herodotos (8.124) reports that Themistokles was received and fêted at Sparta with extraordinary honours. But part of the attraction for Sparta of allowing Athens to take over the leadership – and the costly fighting – against Persia was connected with altogether darker and more intimate motives.

Sparta was restless under the control of royalty (Powell, 2010). In her propaganda, she claimed that her political constitution had been loyally respected for centuries, and that the dual kingship, the dyarchy, was the oldest of all surviving offices (Thuc.1.18.1, Xen. Lak. Pol. 15.1). But the very fact that there was such Spartan insistence on these and similar claims should make us suspicious. In reality, the rough treatment of Pausanias was entirely in keeping with Spartan treatment of royalty in the fifth and early fourth centuries. Most Spartan royal rulers of that period were either imprisoned, or effectively put to death, or threatened with exile, or actually exiled. And even exile was not secure: three of the dyarchs‐in‐exile had reason to fear that they would be pursued by Sparta and killed. So recurrent is this violent impatience of Sparta with her kings that we should probably regard hostility to these rich and hereditary officials as a continuing part of the ‘Lykourgan’ revolution which aimed for a state made up of ‘Similars’. From the few decades before the fall of Pausanias, Sparta’s best‐known king was Leonidas, acclaimed – after his death – for courageous leadership at Thermopylai. But the story of Leonidas and his 300 was a distraction, as we have seen. It distracted from thoughts of Spartan failure to hold the pass of Thermopylai. It also distracted, perhaps intentionally, from thoughts of what had happened to other Spartan kings of the period. Damaratos had been exiled and pursued, to the point that he fled to the king of Persia (491). His enemy and fellow king Kleomenes had died violently as a prisoner at Sparta (490), after being exiled and recalled. King Leotychidas had suffered the frightening humiliation of being handed over to the control of Aigina, a state which he had offended in the course of his execution of official Spartan foreign policy. Sparta had second thoughts: Leotychidas was not sent to Aigina. He lived to lead Spartan and allied forces at Mykale against Persia – only to be exiled in permanent disgrace a few years afterwards, as we shall shortly see. There were evidently many powerful Spartans who needed little persuasion to sweep aside royalty. Pausanias would be put to death at Sparta, some little time after his recall from campaigning in the Greek east. The official story told against him was utterly damning, and was no doubt meant to be: he had supposedly plotted with the helots to overthrow the Spartan state, and had also conspired with the king of Persia to bring an end to Greek freedom. Both Spartan citizens and most other Greek states thus had reason, according to the official story, to approve of his being put to death.

Thucydides makes no mention of the fate of Sparta’s other royal victor of 479, Leotychidas. Herodotos, however, reports that, sometime after Mykale, this king was in charge of an expedition against the Greek rulers of Thessaly (6.72). These Thessalians had, under extreme pressure, taken the Persian side in 480 and Sparta was evidently seeking now to replace them with a loyalist regime. Leotychidas, however, did not succeed. The story – no doubt officially inspired from Sparta – was that he was caught during the campaign trying to conceal a ‘sleeve’ – cheiris – full of silver. Now a cheiris was a distinctively Persian garment. Here, according to the story, was the most perfectly symbolic proof that Leotychidas had accepted a bribe in the Persian interest. The image was unforgettable both because of its moral clarity and its visual force; visuality, whether staged in concrete form or evoked in words, was a Spartan forte. Those who heard the story would think for ever of Leotychidas crouching in his tent, vainly trying to conceal the tainted, alien, object. In connection with the killing of regent Pausanias, Thucydides wrote that the Spartans did not like to take irrevocable action against their own people without unshakeable proof. Tales of extreme wickedness perpetrated with symbolic clarity were the best which could be offered to persuade a Spartan public which could not see for itself what went on in a royal tent during a remote campaign. A Spartan court condemned Leotychidas. His house was destroyed, to signal – once more with an enduring visual effect – that he had no future at Sparta. He went into exile at Tegea, not far from Sparta’s northern border.

True or not, these stories about Pausanias and Leotychidas would tend to discourage the Spartan state from taking further part in anti‐Persian campaigns. That both the victorious Spartan commanders of 479 had supposedly been corrupted by the wealth or grandeur which Persia uniquely could offer suggested that further commanders might go the same way. Thucydides writes to this effect (1.95.7), explaining why Sparta made no great effort to retain command of the anti‐Persian war once Pausanias had been removed from control. Sparta frequently distrusted her own highest officials, once those were away on campaign, out of sight of the domestic institutions, such as the ephors and the court of the gerousia, which had the power to control them. This structural fault recalls another statement of Thucydides: that it was Sparta’s internal harmony which made it possible for the state to impose its will upon other Greek communities. That statement is made in the same sentence as the claim that the Spartan constitution had survived successfully for more than four hundred years (1.18.1). It was argued above that the latter claim was false, propaganda from Spartan authorities nervously aware of the exact opposite, that their constitution was in fact neither old nor secure. The connected statement, about internal harmony producing external success, may have a similar origin. Recurrent extreme failures of the early fifth century involving their kings – their hereditary generals for life, as Aristotle described them (Politics 1285a) – had made the Spartans acutely conscious of how their foreign policy might be crippled by internal dissent. With retrospect, Sparta might see that the Athenian takeover of leadership against Persia, and thus the beginnings of the Athenian empire, had been owed to Sparta’s own constitutional incoherence.

There were other unpleasant concerns which in the 470s and 460s encouraged Sparta to turn away from the war against Persia. Modern historians, trained to explain the behaviour of states by grand, collective, economic motives, are sometimes reluctant to take seriously explanations involving personal jealousy and enmity. But our best sources for Sparta record that such things mattered. Thucydides reports that regent Pausanias had significant personal enemies (echthroi, in Greek: 1.132.1) opposing him at Sparta. Decades later Brasidas, one of the most successful strategists and bravest soldiers that Sparta ever had, found his campaigning inhibited by personal resentment on the part of other Spartans. One reason why he did not receive reinforcements from Sparta in 424/3 was, states Thucydides (4.108.7), that ‘leading men of Sparta were jealous of him’. Here indeed was a structural fault of profound importance, if the state’s success was to be limited by private rancour.

However, for explaining Sparta’s withdrawal from leadership of the anti‐Persian alliance in the 470s, perhaps most enlightening is a comparison with Sparta’s actions in, and shortly after, 404. In the 470s, as we have seen, Sparta was freshly crowned with success as leader against the Persian invasion. In 404–3 Sparta was similarly triumphant, this time over the Athenian empire. At both periods, intense opposition arose within Sparta to the general who had proved most successful. Lysandros, like the victorious Pausanias three quarters of a century earlier, was accused of plotting to overthrow the Spartan form of government, to put himself in sole charge. Lysandros, we hear from a good, contemporary source, was opposed through jealousy on the part of a Spartan king (Xen. Hell. 2.4.29). This emotion, which curbed Brasidas and Lysandros near the end of the fifth century, was surely part of the reason why, decades earlier, Pausanias was permanently withdrawn from the anti‐Persian campaigning which had made his glory.

Spartans chose to call themselves the Similars. That almost certainly reflected a fear of dissimilarity, as we have seen. And one form of dissimilarity particularly feared was to do with wealth. Spartan life was constructed to mask and to palliate divisions between rich and poor (Hodkinson, 2000). Unlike in most societies, there was to be no competition in the selfish flaunting of wealth. (Rivalry in the exceptionally expensive sport of chariot racing did continue among the richest Spartans, but that was no doubt tolerated as advertising to Greeks generally the virility of Spartan society.) The main permitted sphere of competition was to do with military courage and skill in the community’s interest. That competition was exceptionally intense. It is small wonder that all Sparta’s most important military victors of the fifth century – Pausanias and Leotychidas against the Persians, Brasidas, Gylippos and Lysandros against the Athenians – were either effectively killed by Spartans (Pausanias) or exiled (Leotychidas, Gylippos; see later below), or recorded as the objects of jealousy (Brasidas, Lysandros). The very military virtues which Sparta required and revered tended to bring their most noted possessors to destruction. But what allowed the jealousy of some to be converted into a decision of the community, to crush, expel or restrict its supreme soldiers, was the fact that military success tended to make such commanders rich, rich enough to threaten the stability of the Similars. And where an external enemy was rich, such as the Athenian empire or, far above all, the empire of Persia, there was special reason to be suspicious of victorious commanders who might get their hands on enemy wealth. It might seem preferable, on balance (and perhaps after intense debate: Diod. Sic. 11.50 with de Ste Croix (1972) 170–1), for Sparta in the 470s to disengage from war against Persia and not to challenge Athens, in the interests of the – fragile – political and social harmony at home. Along with personal jealousy there is indeed, to explain Sparta’s policy, a grand collective motive.

In explaining why Sparta withdrew from campaigning against Persia, and acquiesced in the rise of Athenian power, Thucydides alluded to ‘internal wars’. What were they? There was, as we shall see, a long war against the helots – especially those of Messenia – which began in the mid‐460s. Athenian troops were among those brought in by Sparta to resist the helot insurgents. This may be one reason why the Athenian Thucydides gives a few details about this conflict, when writing over half a century later. On other wars in the Peloponnese we know even less. Sparta’s enduring power depended on the many thousands of hoplite allies from Peloponnesian states who regularly fought in the Spartan‐led army. So the fact that some of those states had, soon after the Persian Wars, gone to war against Sparta was perhaps something the Spartans later might wish not to mention. Why remind other Greeks that Sparta’s alliance was so vulnerable? There was, however, one reason for Sparta to boast on this subject. And Herodotos reports the boast. It concerned a military soothsayer, Tisamenos, one of the religious professionals who accompanied a Greek army and gave advice on military movements, and especially on their timing. This Tisamenos, a specialist from the state of Elis whom Sparta had imported for his skill, took part with the Spartans in five very great and victorious contests … The five contests were these: the first was … at Plataia [against the Persians, 479], then came the one at Tegea against the Tegeates and Argives, after that the one at Dipaieis against all the Arkadians except the Mantineans, then the one against the Messenians … and finally the one at Tanagra [458 or 457] against the Athenians and the Argives.

This list, in so far as we can check it from elsewhere, is in chronological order. Twice, then, in the period between 479 and the early 450s, Sparta had to fight Tegea. On the first occasion Tegea was allied to Argos, and on the second to fellow Arkadians. Argos, a polis of the north‐eastern Peloponnese and comparable to Sparta in citizen numbers, was a perennial enemy but lacked Sparta’s capacity for forming an enduring military alliance among neighbouring states. While Sparta, without our advantage of hindsight, could never be sure that Argos’ defiance would not one day acquire crushing force, probably what worried Sparta more at this period was the hostility to Sparta of Tegea and other Arkadians. For Arkadia at other times supplied important contingents for the army of the Spartan alliance. Also, Tegea lay near north‐east of the borders of Messenia, the territory where lived a large proportion of Sparta’s subject population, the helots. If Tegea became a permanent enemy of Sparta, Messenia itself, and thus the Spartan economy, could be destabilized if runaway helots gained shelter, and perhaps established armed forces, in Tegean territory. That both Tegea and Argos fought Sparta twice in this period means that for each the first battle, although claimed by the Spartans as a victory, was not decisive. Each was ready for a second battle against Sparta before long. We do not know how emphatic was Sparta’s second victory against Tegea (and fellow Arkadians) at Dipaieis. And certainly the second victory against Argos (and Athens) at Tanagra was not overwhelming; Athens was able within a year or so to gain control of the large territory (Boiotia) of which Tanagra was part. With her northern neighbours putting up sustained armed resistance, Sparta was in trouble.

Two other fragments of information point to further reasons for Spartan alarm about her dominance within the Peloponnese. The historian Diodorus of Sicily, writing in the Roman period but using a fourth‐century BC Greek source, states – in connection with the year 471/0 – that ‘the Eleians, who inhabited several small cities, now came together into one city which was named Elis’ (11.54.1). Eleian territory lay to the north west of Messenia. And the coming‐together of villagers to form a single (defensible) city was typically associated with the formation of dēmokratia against the Spartan interest. Sparta preferred that allied states of the Peloponnese were governed by oligarchies, that is by rural landlords ruling over a scattered agricultural population far from the safety of city walls. The synoikism into the single city of Elis was either done in defiance of Sparta, or at the very least threatened Spartan dominance in the area.

Our other fragment of information, this time from the more reliable Thucydides, concerns Themistokles. This astute politician and strategist, praised to a unique degree by Thucydides for foresight and rapid, successful improvisation (1.138.3), had been exiled from his home city of Athens. Sparta would not forget the commanding role he had played in deploying the Athenian fleet alongside Sparta during the Persian invasion of 480–79. Nor would the Spartans forget, in quite a different way, how Themistokles had afterwards used up his political capital at Sparta. In the aftermath of the Persian defeat, he had been welcomed at Sparta with the greatest – indeed spectacular – honours. Later, however, Athens, began – on Themistokles’ advice – to rebuild her ruined defensive walls (Thuc. 1.89.2–92). The Spartans objected, privately but patently wishing for Athens to remain open to invasion and thus more easily influenced either by fear of Spartan attack, or by the need for Spartan aid against attack from elsewhere. Themistokles, with a deceitfulness which his Spartan admirers were not expecting, came to Sparta again, to give assurances that Athens was not rebuilding its walls, while secretly urging the Athenians to rebuild with all speed. When he received news that the wall was at last defensible, he informed the Spartans that Athens now had the means to be independent, and that Sparta should accept the fact. This time, we can be sure, Themistokles left Sparta without the splendid official send‐off which had marked his previous visit. He, and his state, had moved a long way towards becoming enemies of Sparta.

Later still, perhaps in the early 460s, Themistokles found himself formally exiled – ostracized – from Athens. Thucydides tells us that he went to live at Argos, and from that base made ‘frequent visits to the rest of the Peloponnese’ (1.135.3). Sparta reacted ferociously, persuading the Athenians to convert their ostracism of Themistokles into full‐blown persecution. Closely pursued by Spartan and Athenian agents, Themistokles fled for refuge to Persia, the arch‐enemy which he had done so much to defeat. That gives a measure of the danger he felt himself to be in from Sparta, and in turn suggests how fearful Sparta had become of him. What had he been doing on his ‘frequent visits to the rest of the Peloponnese’? Almost certainly he had been persuading states of the northern and central Peloponnese of why they should oppose Sparta, and of how they should do it. The formidable political intelligence of the man had been recognized by the Spartans, as it would be later by Thucydides. And with his record as a triumphant strategist against Persia, combined with the intimate knowledge of the Spartan high‐command which he had gained in the process, Themistokles – even as an exile – might prove very persuasive. He may, for all we know, have helped promote the hostility to Sparta which Tegea and Argos showed at this period. And we should not assume that Themistokles restricted his ‘frequent visits’ only to the centre and north of the Peloponnese, outside Spartan territory. Thucydides says that from Argos he visited ‘the rest’ of the Peloponnese. Strictly, that expression should include Sparta’s own territories of Lakonia and Messenia, which together formed almost half of the landmass of Peloponnese. If so, Themistokles would quite likely be fomenting anti‐Spartan revolution among the helots. Indeed the Spartans associated his activity with that of their own problematic leader Pausanias (Thuc. 1.135.2), himself accused of stirring up helot revolt.

By collaborating with Sparta in the expulsion of Themistokles from Greece, Athens did not manage to protect herself from Spartan aggression for long. When (probably in 465) an important state of Athens’ alliance, Thasos in the far north of the Aegean, revolted from that alliance and asked for help from Sparta, Thucydides reports that the Spartans ‘gave a promise, hidden from the Athenians, that they would help’, by invading Athens’ homeland, ‘and were on the point of doing so, but were prevented by the earthquake at which the helots … revolted against them and took to Mount Ithome’ (1.101.2). These few words of Thucydides again cast a bright light on large areas of Sparta’s thinking. In spite of all the recent troubles in northern Peloponnese, Sparta was ready to lead a full‐scale invasion against the most powerful city of central Greece. Her sense of timing, her acute eye for an Athenian weakness to exploit, is now exemplified: we shall see shortly that such well‐timed aggression by Sparta formed a pattern. In the present case, Sparta could predict that Athenian land‐troops would be tied down in large numbers and for many months in laying siege to the town of Thasos. Sparta’s remarkably consistent behaviour in matching aggressive moves to a prospective opponent’s times of weakness suggests that the desire in principle to attack may have existed in Sparta for some time, rigorously kept in check until occasion should present. Sparta’s citizen troops, heavily outnumbered (by helots and others) even in their own homeland, were not expendable. It was important to make war with an economy of losses. And if Sparta indeed could keep hostility in suspense, targeting another Greek state long before attacking it, the logic of secrecy is clear. The target was not to be given long advance notice, allowing it to make its own preparations, and perhaps even to look in turn for Spartan weaknesses to exploit. Here we see Sparta’s characteristic secrecy, noted elsewhere by Thucydides as a general phenomenon, recorded by the same author in the particular case of Thasos, and linked with Sparta’s planned invasion of Attike in the mid 460s.

The desired invasion did not happen. Sparta’s most intimate and feared enemy of all was in arms: the helots. They themselves, as Aristotle would later write (Politics 1269a), looked out in general for weaknesses of Sparta to exploit, and in (or very soon after) 465 such a weakness arrived. Sparta was afflicted by earthquake: ‘the great earthquake’, as Thucydides would call it (1.128.1). Modern scholars have sometimes suspected that Sparta’s citizen demography was damaged gravely and for ever by the numbers killed as buildings collapsed (Hodkinson (2000) 417–20). The scale of the helot revolt was correspondingly great. Thucydides says that ‘the helots’ (rather than ‘some’ or ‘most’ of them) took part. Herodotos refers to a war now against ‘all the Messenians’. But since Thucydides in this connection helpfully tells us that the helots in general, whether from Lakonia or Messenia, were called simply ‘the Messenians’, Herodotos may mean here exactly what Thucydides himself suggests: that virtually all of Sparta’s unfree subjects rose up. Even two communities of the normally‐loyal perioikoi revolted, which Sparta would have found especially worrying. The Spartan army depended on peroikic hoplites for its expeditions abroad, and no doubt also for police actions at home against helots. It took Sparta years to put down the revolt: between nine and ten years, according to the surviving text of Thucydides; the order of events in his narrative may, however, suggest about half that time (1.103.1 with Gomme (1945) 302–3, 401–11). The helots withdrew to the mountain range of Ithome in northern Messenia, from which the classic Spartan method of soldiering, the hoplite phalanx advancing on level ground, could not dislodge them. Sparta called in allies from other Greek states, a sign of near‐desperation, since outsiders were not usually to be shown evidence of how fragile was Sparta’s control over its huge subject population. Among those brought in now were hoplites in large numbers from Athens. Rather than let the helot revolt succeed, Sparta preferred to take the risk of inviting in soldiers from a powerful rival state, one which she had, very recently, targeted for aggression.

The Athenian presence at Mount Ithome was not a success. Alone of the various allied contingents which came to help, Athens’ was sent away. The reason, according to Sparta, was that the Athenian force was no longer needed. But, Thucydides adds, the real reason was that the Spartans felt that they could not trust the Athenians, and even feared that their soldiers would promote revolution and go over to the enemy, helot, side (1.102.3). The Athenians, after all, came from a democratic polis, and it might not take much imagination for them to see the (Greek‐speaking) helots as the true dēmos of the southern Peloponnese, oppressed by landowning oligarchs, the Spartans. Here, also, is another reference by Thucydides to Spartan attempted deception of the Athenians. They would not tell the Athenians the true reason for their dismissal, rather as they tried to keep secret their earlier promise to attack Athenian territory.

Ptolemaic Empire: The Third Syrian War (246-241), the empire in its greatest extent

Antiochus I died in 262 BC, leaving the kingdom to his drunkard son Antiochus II. We know very little about Antiochus II or the major battle he fought in 246 BC, except that he lost Syria and his entire corps of Asian war elephants to Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt. The only source extant is a basalt monument installed by Euergetes along the coast of Eritrea. Som e details are intriguing:

The great king Ptolemy… set out on a campaign into Asia with military and cavalry forces and a naval armament and elephants both Troglodyte [Sudanese] and Ethiopie which his father and he himself first captured by hunting from these places, and, bringing them to Egypt, trained them in military use.

Ptolemy III hired Ethiopian and Sudanese mahouts to train and control the African Forest elephants caught along the Nile River. Unfortunately, we have no accounts of the battle and do not know how the elephant forces were deployed or fared in the battle. Ptolemy did “capture” and not destroy the enemy elephant corps, which shows the value commanders placed on the beasts.

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The army of Ptolemy I was recruited from Greek and Macedonian soldiers who had served with him under Alexander the Great. Following the failed invasion of Egypt by Perdikkas (321 BC), many of the Macedonian troops stayed and enlisted in Ptolemy’s army. In a similar way, he gained many deserters following the attempted invasion of Antigonos Monophthalmos (306 BC). These troops were settled as cleruchs, notably in the Fayum region. This early Ptolemaic army was essentially Greek with some mercenary troops such as Gauls and Thracians. In organization, it was modeled on the Macedonian army in which the phalanx was the main heavy infantry fighting body, with light infantry (peltasts), cavalry, and the addition (copying the Seleukids) of elephants. The 20 years of peace at the end of the reign of Ptolemy III meant that the army lacked training and experience. According to Polybios, Egypt was no longer able to defend herself. Ptolemy IV therefore recruited Egyptians (machimoi) into the army. The victory of this new force at Raphia (217 BC) actually prompted civil war.

The later Ptolemaic army was increasingly influenced by Roman organization. It employed Egyptians as well as Greek settlers and mercenaries, notably Jews. The new structure was based upon the semeia (perhaps derived from the Egyptian demotic word seten) with probably six per regiment; each semeia was divided into two centuries commanded by hekatontarchoi and two pentekontarchia with a herald/trumpeter and standard-bearer (semeiophoros). The cavalry was divided into hipparchies of at least two squadrons (ilai), each ile being at least 250. Ten hipparchies are attested.

Ptolemeic Heavy Infantry

The seeds of the subsequent clash with the Seleukid empire had already been sown in the aftermath of the Second Syrian War when Antiochos II had married a daughter of Ptolemy II called Berenike. Antiochos II died under suspicious circumstances in 246 at the residence of his former wife Laodike in Ephesos, only a few months after the accession of Ptolemy III. Also with Laodike were her two sons from the marriage with Antiochos II, Seleukos and Antiochos. The former queen maintained that on his deathbed the king had named one of her sons, Seleukos II (246-226/5), as his successor and thus had passed over his young son from his union with Berenike. Berenike, who was living in Antioch, refused to go along with this and thus proclaimed her own son as king (his name remains unknown) and appealed to Ptolemy III for help. This situation led to the outbreak of another war, the Third Syrian War, also known as the Laodicean War. Seleukos II was only recognized in large parts of Seleukid Asia Minor and even there not entirely. The procurator of Ephesos, Sophron, decided in favour of Berenike’s son and probably fled to Ptolemy III who took up the challenge.

The most important source for the initial phase of the war is a report obviously published by the Ptolemaic king himself (papytus from Gurob). To begin with, Berenike ordered a naval expedition to Cilicia. With the help of the citizens of Cilician Soloi, the expeditionary force succeeded in taking the city as well as its citadel. The Seleukid governor of Cilicia, Aribazos, would no doubt have wanted to bring the local treasure, worth 1,500 talents, to Laodike in Ephesos and so it was seized and transported to Seleukeia. Aribazos was murdered in the Tauros by local inhabitants while attempting to flee and his head was sent to Antioch. The heart of the Seleukid empire around Seleukeia and Antioch remained firmly in the hands of Berenike.

In addition to this, in his report Ptolemy III gave news of his own expedition to Seleukeia with a small fleet. There he was enthusiastically received by ‘the priests, the city-magistrates, the remaining citizens as well as officers and soldiers, who had garlanded with wreaths the streets leading to the harbour’. Even the Seleukid satraps and strategoi are said to have paid their respects to the king; perhaps Berenike herself had hastily summoned them there. The reception in Antiocheia that followed was even more enthusiastic much to the surprise of the king; the satraps and other functionaries were again at hand. In the evening he betook himself to his ‘sister’ and arranged various matters in the palace. The literary tradition unanimously asserts, however, that Berenike and her son had already been murdered by Laodike’s thugs before the arrival of the Ptolemaic king. It is possible that Ptolemy III first learned of their murder when he entered his sister’s chamber, kept quiet about it for a while and took up official duties in the name of Berenike and the boy (as per Polyaen. VIII. 50)

Having begun a huge campaign, Ptolemy suddenly found himself faced with an entirely new situation once he arrived in Antioch. Despite the sympathy shown to him by many, even if it was orchestrated by supporters of Berenike, the new situation brought on by the death of his sister still meant that he would have to go home empty-handed. But he refused to do this. Instead, he led a campaign through Syria, which the sources claim was the most successful one in Ptolemaic history, and reached Mesopotamia without fighting a single battle. The Adulis inscription describes the trail of conquest of the ‘Great King Ptolemy’ as a pharaonic enterprise in the manner of the eighteenth dynasty and thus alleges that he subjugated the Seleukid empire as far as Baktria; Polyaenus (VIII. 50) declares that his empire extended as far as India. To be sure, Ptolemy may have received the homage of the satraps (or their envoys) already in Seleukeia or Antioch (cf. the account of the Gurob papyrus) or, later on in Babylon, and this could have been interpreted in the tradition as tantamount to the establishment of a Ptolemaic hegemony.

It is quite certain that Ptolemy III broke off the campaign in Mesopotamia as early as the first half of 245, set up another governor (strategos) for the region ‘on the other side’ of the Euphrates as well as one to administer the newly acquired territory of Cilicia and finally returned home with an enormous quantity of spoils. As part of a propaganda campaign meant to portray him as a victorious pharaoh in full enjoyment of religious legitimacy, he took on the cult title of Euergetes (‘benefactor’). The royal couple appeared as the ‘Theoi Euergetai’ from 243.

Ptolemy III was in sore need of a title of ideological significance such as ‘benefactor’, since his sudden return to Egypt had been occasioned by an uprising of the local Egyptians, the first of its kind in Ptolemaic history (Just. XXVII. 1.9; Porph: FGrHist. 260F 43). During the Second Syrian War, Philadelphos had already been forced to increase pressure on the Egyptian populace to put at the state’s disposal as much of the land’s resources as possible. During the first years of Euergetes’ reign, social equilibrium was seriously threatened because of the injustices that the economic and administrative system visited upon Egyptian workers and farmers. The uprising, triggered by the demands of his campaign and encouraged by the king’s absence, was quickly put down by the pharaoh and this in spite of the additional problems caused by inadequate flooding of the Nile in 245. As a special recourse, grain had to be imported to Egypt ‘from Syria, Phoenicia, Cyprus and many other lands at great cost’.

Apart from the situation in Egypt, Ptolemy III must have soon realized that a Ptolemaic government in eastern Syria, let alone in Mesopotamia, could only be of an ephemeral nature. Indeed, Seleukos II quickly went on the counter-offensive and was recognized as ruler in Babylon by July of 245. The news of the death of Berenike’s son probably also influenced a change of opinion in favour of the legitimate Seleukid; Ptolemy III could now have even fewer hopes of being successful against the opposition of the local rulers. In view of this, the triumphant campaign to Mesopotamia was without any long-term results and thus would be more accurately described as an exercise in plundering and pillaging. Toward the end of the war (242/1) there was some fighting near Damascus, the outcome of which is unclear (Porph: FGrHist. 260F 32.8). It is even said that Seleukos II attempted an attack on Egypt (Just. XXVII. 2.5).

In terms of his designs to create an eastern Mediterranean hegemony, the Seleukid territories on the Anatolian coast and in Thrace will have been more important to Ptolemy than the eastern campaign. The Ptolemaic fleets achieved lasting victories on these coasts, even though they obviously suffered a serious set-back at the hands of the Macedonian king who was reacting to what he saw as disturbing developments in the area.

The Adulis inscription, a work of propaganda given to some exaggeration, lists Cilicia, Pamphylia, Ionia, the Hellespont and Thrace (cf. Plb. V. 24.7- 8) as having been acquired and even more specifically as having been won back during the Third Syrian War. The epigraphic evidence tells us two very important things about this event: (1) it is evident that the south Thracian cities of Ainos and Maroneia, if not others, were under Ptolemaic rule as of 243, and furthermore in Ainos, a ‘priest of the king’ is attested; (2) a certain Ptolemy Andromachos (or so-called son of Andromachos) conquered various places in Thrace, among which Ainos is explicitly mentioned. It appears reasonable then to place the activities of this Ptolemy in the early stages of the Third Syrian War. He actually was the son of Philadelphos and was probably an illegitimate offspring born to one of the king’s mistresses, although he may have been raised under the assumed name of ‘son of Andromachos’. He is, at any rate, clearly the same person who was the priest of Alexander in 251150.

Ptolemy Andromachos, we may assume, was able to procure the city of Ephesos for the Ptolemaic empire already in 246 and this without too much of a struggle owing to the desertion of the Seleukid commander. He then set up a substantial garrison there for which there is still testimony at the time of the reign of the fourth Ptolemy (Plb. V. 35.1l). Ephesos remained a cornerstone of the Ptolemaic hegemony in the Aegean until 197.

This extremely successful Ptolemy, nonetheless, lost a significant naval battle against Antigonos Gonatas at Andros. Some time thereafter he was killed by his own Thracian soldiers (Athen. XIII. 593 a_b).

In 241, a peace was agreed upon which was very favourable for the Ptolemies (Just. XXVII. 2.9). The Seleukid empire had been shaken by some serious upheavals. Soon after the mid-third century, the satraps of Baktria and Parthia had become practically independent. A Greek-Baktrian kingdom arose in Baktria; the former satrap bore the title of king as of 239/8. The Parnians who had invaded Parthia took power there under a new name, the Parthians. The Ptolemaic empire emerged from the Third Syrian War as the most powerful Hellenistic state without much effort because of the weaknesses of the Seleukid empire. With the exception of Pamphylia, which in Euergetes’ reign was lost once again, the empire remained basically the same until the end of the third century. Epigraphic, papyrological and literary sources for Ptolemaic domination or influence in Cilicia, Lycia, Caria, Ionia, in the Dardanelles and Thracia are widely scattered in chronological terms. One of the most significant territories acquired in the Third Syrian War is the Ptolemaic enclave surrounding Seleukia in Pieria (northern Syria) (Plb. V. 58.10). Seleukia was one of Seleukos I’s residential cities (until 281) and next to Laodikeia the most important harbour-city of the Seleukids. Analogous to Alexandria, Seleukia was the Seleukid gateway to the Mediterranean, a final stop for distant trade routes, an excellent fortress and naval base, in whose shipyards ships would now be constructed for the Ptolemies. By taking over the city with its convenient connections by sea to the newly conquered territories of Cilicia and Pamphylia, as well as to Ptolemaic Cyprus and Coele Syria, Ptolemy III hit a vital nerve in the Seleukid empire. Ptolemy Ill’s empire now encompassed, with only a few gaps, the whole of the eastern Mediterranean basin from the eastern part of the Greater Syrte in Libya up to Thrace where it directly bordered on Macedonia (cf. Plb. V. 34). In poetic accounts as brief as they are to the point, Callimachus and after him Catullus both describe the ‘conquest of Asia’ as well as its annexation to the Egyptian empire.

 

THE DEFENCE OF THE PLATOON HOUSES AND THE BATTLE OF WANAT, AFGHANISTAN, 2006–8

At Wanat, an outnumbered American detachment fought tooth and nail to defend their beleaguered patrol base. In Helmand, British troops found their small platoon houses under attack during a major Taliban counter-offensive towards Kandahar. These handfuls of plucky troops held on to their flimsy defences and inflicted major defeats on the Taliban.

On 11 September 2001 the movement known as al-Qaeda made its most audacious and murderous attack against the West. Hijacking four airliners, they attempted to destroy symbols of American power: two of the planes were flown like airborne bombs into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, another hit the Pentagon and a fourth, probably destined for the White House in Washington, DC, crashed in Pennsylvania when the passengers fought back and stormed the cockpit. Nearly 3,000 died in the world’s worst terrorist attack and the United States – backed by a world-wide coalition – sought to hunt down al-Qaeda, to deny them training facilities, finances and freedom of movement. It was evident that the militant Islamist Taliban regime of Afghanistan had hosted al-Qaeda, and so this alliance was to be the first target of Western operations.

Operation Enduring Freedom consisted of a rapid air campaign in support of Afghanistan’s local anti-Taliban ground forces. In addition, teams of special forces, primarily from the United States and the United Kingdom, were inserted alongside the Afghan Northern Alliance forces, with independent units carrying out reconnaissance deep in the interior. The Taliban resisted heavy air bombardments and the onslaught of the Northern Alliance for three weeks, and then, decimated, they collapsed. Soon they were being pursued southwards and eastwards, many making for the sanctuary of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province, where they could rely on fellow militants for support. Many Afghans chose to switch sides, and began to assist the Western special forces teams to track down the ‘Arab-Afghans’, as al-Qaeda were known locally.

On the eastern border of Afghanistan, the mountainous terrain made pursuit more difficult, and it was clear that al-Qaeda fighters and their allies were making use of extensive cave systems at Tora Bora to protect themselves from air attack. Special forces, guided by local tribesmen, began to flush out these nests and the remnants of al-Qaeda were driven across the Pakistan border. There, some were able to escape into the hills, but a number were rounded up and arrested by Pakistan’s security forces. Meanwhile, Afghanistan began to establish a democratically elected government, a process of security sector reform and the disarmament of hostile factions that would, it was hoped, bring to an end decades of civil war. Unfortunately, insufficient resources were made available for the Afghans to complete the process rapidly, and by 2005 there was evidence that the Taliban were resurgent, with bomb attacks and shootings around the country.

The United Nations was keen to see a comprehensive process of nation-building initiated, and it insisted that the occupying powers assist in extending the writ of the Afghan government in Kabul over the whole country. In the south, particularly in Helmand province, narcotics had long been the mainstay of the local economy. In 2007, Afghanistan was the world’s chief exporter of opium, with over 90 per cent of opiates (including heroin) originating in the country. Mafia-like bosses were using the drugs money to run gangs, pay off rivals, ensure patronage and murder their enemies. It was often unclear whether these bosses were genuine members of the Taliban, or simply used that title to gain credibility with the local population. In 2006, when the British Army was tasked with the support of a counter-narcotics programme and the extension of the Afghan government’s jurisdiction into Helmand (the centre of poppy cultivation) it put them on a collision course with a number of vested interests. In fact, although the British did not realize it at the time, drug money was also being used by the lower echelons of the government to buy positions and patronage. Local police forces were getting payouts from drug barons, or were so badly paid by the government that they simply robbed local citizens. When the British arrived to back the authority of the police, a number of local people assumed they were there to make life even worse for them, and joined a nascent resistance.

At the moment the British were beginning their deployment to Helmand, the Taliban were readying their final offensive. They had been preparing for three years, and assumed that the Iraq War, which had tied down thousands of Western troops, would keep the coalition forces in a weakened state in Afghanistan. There had been months of booby-trap bombs, IEDs, assassinations and widespread intimidation. Local Afghans who refused to assist the Taliban were threatened, ‘disciplined’ and (should they refuse to cooperate) eventually shot. The Taliban were determined to ruin Western development projects and burnt down schools, threatened non-governmental organizations, and kidnapped family of wealthier families to exact a ransom. Targeting disgruntled communities, the Taliban offered to support them in return for loyalty to their cause. Now, the Taliban leaders felt that they could call on thousands of volunteers, including enthusiasts from Pakistani Madrassahs (religious seminaries, some of which teach a radical version of Islam), to launch an offensive that would overwhelm the poorly trained Afghan security forces, and persuade the West to abandon Kabul.

Part of the Taliban offensive in May 2006 was focused on the Arghandab Valley, north of Kandahar. Here the insurgents had established a base of operations and planned to strike against the city where their movement had first emerged in 1994. The Canadian troops in Kandahar were aware of the Taliban build-up, and faced a tough fight to avoid civilian losses while taking on increasing numbers of fighters.

At the same time, the British had arrived in brigade strength in Helmand and established a base at Camp Bastion near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Although the British 16 Air Assault Brigade planned to adopt a ‘light footprint’ approach and win over the local population with a low-key presence, they were asked by the Provincial Governor to establish small posts around the province that would signal that the government of Afghanistan was the only legitimate authority. In counter-insurgency doctrine, it is established that small areas need to be occupied and improvements made to security and economy before the ‘ink spot’ of secure and pacified space is extended to new areas. Establishing small posts around the province risked ‘penny-packeting’ the British force. If one or two posts came under attack, it would be far harder to protect or reinforce them. The brigade commander tried to dissuade the Afghan Governor, but, given that the mission was to let the host nation authorities lead, he had no choice but to comply.

The plan was therefore to establish areas of responsibility, and, given the lack of manpower available and the desire to maintain a low profile, each would be protected by relatively small groups of men in fortified posts known as platoon houses or patrol bases. These had the advantage of being close to areas of population, presenting the opportunity to meet with and perhaps win over the local community, as well as protect the local bazaar and its economic activity. There was also a better chance of being able to control the roads and tracks, in conjunction with the local police. It soon became apparent, however, that some of the local police were in league with the Taliban, and no sooner had the bases been established than they came under attack.

The British in northern Helmand were surprised by the ferocity of these initial assaults. Dozens of Afghans would rush forward, bringing fire to bear from multiple positions and advancing on several axes. Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) would slam into the hastily built bunkers, and bullets from Kalashnikov assault rifles rained in. On other occasions, some Taliban would try to ambush a foot patrol, or fire on a base and then disappear; this ‘shoot and scoot’ tactic exhausted the British troops. At other times, there were more sustained attempts to overrun the platoon houses. Gun battles lasted hours, sometimes days, without relenting. As soon as the shooting died down, the British soldiers were expected to fill sandbags, repair their battered fortifications or get out on patrol. More and more frequently the patrols got ‘bumped’, that is, ambushed and attacked. As soon as the British fell back, the Taliban would swarm after them. To defend the posts, every available weapon was brought to bear – the rifle, the General Purpose Machine Gun, Browning .50 calibre heavy machine guns, sniper rifles and even Javelin missiles, which would normally be employed against armoured vehicles. The longer-range weapons proved invaluable in the destruction of buildings that provided the Taliban with cover or concealed their assembly areas. The Taliban, however, seemed undeterred by the casualties they were taking.

Attacks would often build quickly. A few RPG rounds would scream in, and the British soldiers would shout warnings to each other. Those manning the heavy weapons or on sentry duty would already be in action, while others (ostensibly resting but constantly on duty in case of an attack), would rush to a waist-high parapet or a sandbag wall. Rounds would pour in from multiple firing points, and the familiar sounds of battle – the ‘crack-ping’ of a near miss, or the ‘crack-thud’ of rounds whacking into sandbags – would be heard by all. There would also be an occasional cheer, as British troops confirmed a kill or saw the spectacular results of a close air support mission that they had called in. The firefights lasted on into the night, with individual Taliban fighters trying to work their way in to shoot at a closer range. Sometimes fire was exchanged within yards of the patrol base walls.

After some weeks of continuous fighting, the British had to decide whether they were achieving their mission or simply incurring great risks for no strategic results. The danger that a helicopter might be lost seemed particularly acute when, at this early stage of the campaign, there were so few of them. There was an alarming rise in the number of ‘mine-strikes’ (number of mines detonated by vehicle patrols) and so helicopters were becoming the preferred mode of transport to get ammunition and food in, and the wounded out. The situation seemed even more desperate when a step change in the skills and abilities of the Taliban was noticed. The British suspected that the sudden improvement in the accuracy of mortar, RPG and sniper fire was the result of external support. Either the Taliban were getting assistance in the form of trained personnel, or perhaps they were receiving new weapons and equipment, such as sniper rifles and night vision gear – or perhaps both. Some evidence suggested that Pakistan was being used as a conduit for these specialist tools and operatives.

The result was a change of British tactics. Platoon houses were consolidated and reinforced. More troops were brought into the fight. When the Royal Marine Commandos were deployed, they took advantage of the traditional winter lull in activity to take the fight to the enemy, and, treating the open areas of dasht (desert) like the open sea, they established a more aggressive and fluid patrol pattern that gave them back their mobility. New doctrine was established too, and fresh efforts were made to win the support of local leaders and farmers, but violence in Helmand remained at a higher level than in any other province of the country. By 2009, American Marines had joined the British and they began to secure the north and west, allowing the British to concentrate their forces in the centre and more densely populated valleys. There was now the chance to carry out a traditional counter-insurgency strategy, namely to shape (influence the population), clear (drive out the insurgents), hold and build (making improvements to local infrastructure). When the Taliban kept up their violent disruption and intimidation, it was clear it was going to be a long fight.

Similar challenges faced American forces in Afghanistan. As dawn broke on 13 July 2008, the Taliban attacked an American Regional Command East outpost in Kunar province, close to the Pakistan border, and fought a short, sharp battle that left 9 Americans and more than 30 jihadist fighters dead. The US troops were drawn from 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. This force of 45 men had begun building a patrol house in the Waygul Valley, close to the village of Wanat. Three US Marines had joined the outpost in order to continue the training of a dozen Afghan National Army soldiers. As the work progressed, successive days of bad weather prevented any air cover, which gave the Taliban the opportunity to approach the base undetected, concentrating from distant hideouts through small valleys and nearby gullies. As the Taliban reached their final assembly area at night, they opened an irrigation dam so the sound of rushing water would cover the noise of their footsteps and whispers. Some Taliban fighters managed to locate the Claymore mines on the approaches to the base, and turned them around. Others used previous reconnaissance intelligence to point out the positions of American heavy weapons.

When the battle commenced, the American base was still far from complete. There had not been time to build entrenched observation posts on high ground around the compound. There was a lack of construction materials, and, because of the high Afghan summer temperatures and intense work required, the garrison had almost run out of water. The dangerous situation had arisen during an American attempt to win the hearts and minds of local Afghans. The US forces had previously been talking to village elders for several weeks, trying to persuade them to allow the base to be built in Wanat. It seems that the Taliban got wind of the discussions, and used this negotiation time to prepare a major attack that struck the base before it was fully operational. This setback was typical, and shows how difficult the Americans had found conducting a classic counter-insurgency campaign: all too often they were engaged in firefights and battling for their survival, rather than ‘winning hearts and minds’. The shortage of troops and the nature of the fighting meant that base security had to be provided by the same troops engaged in construction. This meant round-the-clock labouring for tired men, and it also suggested that it would be difficult to mount enough patrols beyond the new base to dominate the ground and deter attacks. The Americans were eager to find and arm local tribesmen who would work with them in order to increase the allied forces available, but there simply weren’t enough US troops to cover every valley and protect every community from Taliban fighters who would slip across the Afghan-Pakistan border with relative ease.

At 0420 hours, in the grey first light of dawn, volleys of RPGs began to strike the half-constructed base. This was the preliminary bombardment to an assault by between one and two hundred Taliban, significantly outnumbering the American garrison. The first salvos concentrated on the American’s heavy weapons (namely a 120 mm mortar, a guided anti-tank missile system and a .50 calibre machine gun). One soldier described the barrage as feeling like ‘a thousand RPGs at once’. With the heavy weapons knocked out, the Taliban rushed forward to fight at close quarters in order to make it impossible for the Americans to call in airstrikes. The attack had been planned in great detail. The Taliban threw rocks into the American trenches, hoping they would mistake them for grenades and jump out, whereupon they could be killed. Then the Taliban closed in from several directions, bringing as much fire to bear as possible. The Americans were simply unable to move because of the weight of fire smashing down onto their positions.

One soldier described the intensity of the battle: ‘I continued to lay suppressive fire with the 240 [machine gun] but it was difficult because I was unable to stand due to wounds in both legs and my left arm.’ When this soldier ran out of ammunition he realized he was the only one still alive in his corner of the patrol base. The Taliban were so close he could hear them talking.

Each American soldier was dependent on the battle skills practised back in the United States and honed by weeks of small-scale firefights in Afghanistan’s hills. Men operated in pairs, each laying suppressive fire to cover the movement of the other. As the Taliban tried to move into the base, they were forced to leave their cover, or were silhouetted against the sky, presenting a clear target. It required considerable courage to take the aimed shots required to pick off the skirmishing fighters, but the Americans cut down the Taliban as they tried to swarm across the perimeter. Fortunately, the .50 calibre machine gun had survived the initial barrage, and its reassuring repetitive low thuds could be heard in action above the din of battle. Hundreds of rounds were expended. The Taliban knew it would take at least thirty minutes for American air support to become available, and this made them even more determined to overrun the position before there were retaliatory airstrikes. The fighters knew they were running out of time, but the battle continued for an hour before the jihadists had had enough and began to move away. The exhausted defenders were too preoccupied with identifying who was still alive and tending the wounded to pursue them.

Some 9 Americans were killed and another 27 were injured (representing 75 per cent of the initial strength of the post), but the Taliban also took heavy losses: it was estimated that between 21 and 52 insurgents were killed by the determined defenders. The final death toll could not be verified as the Taliban tried to extract many of their dead and wounded, leaving only trails of blood. Despite the desperate and close-quarter nature of the fighting, the Americans had held their new base. The Taliban had failed to complete their mission. They had no propaganda victory to crow about to their adherents, and they had lost a number of dedicated comrades. Often the Taliban complained about the strength of American firepower, and expressed a desire to fight on equal terms, but here, battling man for man, they had been held in check. Even with the element of surprise, greater numbers and all the intelligence they needed, and therefore the best odds of victory, they had been unable to overrun the Americans.

In both the British and American cases, relatively small numbers of well-armed and well-equipped Western forces had been able to hold off larger numbers of Taliban fighters, even though the fighters had the advantage in terms of the ground, initiative and sometimes in the abundance of weaponry. Although isolated and forced to rely on their own resources, the British and the Americans had defended themselves and denied their enemies any physical or ideological victory. The Afghan people may tire of the repeated jihadist promises of liberation, of their strict and brutal precepts, and of the threats that follow when the Taliban fail to deliver. Alternatively, they may side with the fighters on the basis that the West may one day simply abandon the Afghan government. The Taliban are, after all, their countrymen. That chapter has not yet been written, but already the individual courage and collective endurance of the Western forces against the odds has etched the Afghan campaign of the early twenty-first century into that country’s history.

The Russian Way of Warfare

The BM-30 Smerch, a Russian heavy multiple rocket launcher.

Russian electronic warfare equipment.

Russian MiG-35 multi-role combat jet.

Russian Armata T-14 tank.

By employing well known methods of warfare in innovative ways and with the help of new technologies, Russia’s strategy in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine took most of the West by surprise. The Russians refer to these methods collectively as New Generation Warfare (NGW). Almost Immediately, Western analysts started looking for definitions, mostly within the West’s own theoretical framework and ignoring the vast Russian theoretical debate about new ways of conducting warfare.

Initially, Western analysts referred to it as Fourth Generation Warfare, referring to William Lind’s idea of the state losing the monopoly of violence and fighting non-state adversaries. Another term, this time made popular by Mark Galeotti but coined by Putin’s close advisor Vladislav Surkov’s (under the pseudonym of Nathan Dubovitsky), was ‘Non-Linear Warfare.’ It appeared for the first time in an article describing the Fifth World War, in which all will fight against all.

The main rationale is that since traditional geo-political paradigms no longer hold, the Kremlin gambles with the idea that old alliances like the European Union and NATO are less valuable then the economic interests it has with Western companies. Besides, many Western countries welcome obscure financial flows from the post-Soviet space, as part of their own mode of economic regulation.

Therefore, the Kremlin bets that these interconnections mean that Russia can get away with aggression. More recently, Oscar Jonsson and Robert Seely used the term, ‘Russian Full-Spectrum Conflict’ to refer to New Generation Warfare. Today, the most widely accepted term for Russian New Generation Warfare is Hybrid Warfare. NATO itself has adopted it. The seminal work on Hybrid Warfare is Frank Hoffman’s, “Hybrid Warfare and Challenges.” He developed the idea that the main challenge results from state and non-state actors employing technologies and strategies that are more appropriate for their own field, in a multi-mode confrontation.

Hoffman’s concept is appealing, but like all approaches discussed above, Hybrid Warfare still presupposes the application of kinetic force in some way. Although Russia might resort in using military power, conceptually Russian New Generation Warfare does not require it. Besides, the Russian military uses the term Hybrid Warfare to refer to the strategy of Color Revolutions allegedly employed by the West in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Russian New Generation Warfare is not something new, or even an entirely novel creation of Russian military thinkers. Rather, it reflects how Russian military thinkers understand the evolution of military art, especially in the West. Although it is not correct to affirm that the Western way of conducting warfare determined how Russian military thinkers developed their own understanding on the subject, its influence is undeniable. Thus, to analyze the way Russia does warfare, it is necessary to think within the Russian framework.

The Russian strategy has five elements. The first and most important one is Asymmetric Warfare. It forms the main base defining the Russian way of conducting warfare. The second is the strategy of Low Intensity Conflict, as borrowed from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which developed it in the 1980s. The third is Russia’s understanding and theoretical development of Network-Centric Warfare. The fourth element is General Vladimir Slipchenko’s Sixth Generation Warfare, which essentially reflects his understanding of the strategic implications of Operation Desert Storm and the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia. The final element is the strategic concept of Reflexive Control, which has a vital role in shaping how military and non-military means are combined. These means can be combined in different proportions accordingly to the strategic characteristics of each operation.

For example, in Ukraine the Russians used mostly Low Intensity Conflict while in Syria they have been resorting mostly to Sixth Generation Warfare.

The operational application of Russian New Generation Warfare follows eight phases. They are to be employed in a sequential way, although they are not rigid or mutually exclusive. The phases are:

  1. Non-military asymmetric warfare, encompassing information, moral, psychological, ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures as part of a plan to establish a favorable political, economic, and military setup.
  2. Special operations, to mislead political and military leaders by coordinated measures carried out through diplomatic channels, media, and top government and military agencies leaking false data, orders, directives, and instructions.
  3. Intimidation, deception, and bribery of government officials and military officers, with the objective of making them abandon their service duties.
  4. Issuing destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent among the population, boosted by the arrival of Russian bands of militants who engage in subversion.
  5. Establishing no-fly zones over the country to be attacked, imposition of blockades, and extensive use of private military companies in close cooperation with armed opposition units.
  6. Conducting military action, immediately preceded by large- scale reconnaissance and subversive missions. This involves all types of military activity, including special operations forces, space, radio, radio engineering, electronic, diplomatic, intelligence, and industrial espionage.
  7. Combination of a targeted information operation, electronic warfare operation, aerospace operation, and continuous air force harassment, combined with the use of high-precision weapons launched from various platforms (long-range artillery, and weapons based on new physical principles, including microwaves, radiation, and non-lethal biological weapons).
  8. Crushing remaining points of resistance and destroying surviving enemy units. This is accomplished using special operations forces to spot which enemy units have survived; artillery and missile units to fire barrages at the remaining enemy units; airborne units to surround points of resistance; and regular infantry to conduct mop-up operations.

The first four phases are basically non- kinetic, using strategies of Low Intensity Conflict as understood by the Russians. The fifth phase is when military action really starts, by setting the theater for a kinetic operation. It is important to stress the role of private military companies (PMCs). The United States has extensively used them in Iraq and Afghanistan from operating mess halls to providing security and, sometimes, performing military duties. For the Russians, PMCs must be understood as mercenaries in the worst sense of the word. The objective is to have an active military force that cannot be linked to the Russian Armed Forces. These mercenaries can act as if they were locals, part of the enemy’s Armed Forces, police, or whatever necessary. They will often engage in sabotage, blackmailing, subversive activities, terrorism, kidnapping, or any other activity that is not considered regular warfare. Russia can and will deny any connection with its mercenaries, publicly accusing them of being part of the enemy’s forces. The last three phases are a combination of Network Centric Warfare, Sixth Generation Warfare, and Reflexive Control.

Throughout all of these phases, because Russia considers itself weaker in comparison to the United States and NATO, its actions are going to be asymmetric. This a symmetry will occur not only in terms of operations and capabilities but also in terms of what is and what is not acceptable in warfare. Russia is ready to go much farther than what might be acceptable to the West. At this moment, NATO’s and Europe’s greatest challenge is to establish a feasible strategy to cope with this, without jeopardizing Western values.

THE CAVITY MAGNETRON CLUE

Depth charges exploding after being dropped by the destroyer HMS VANOC over the spot indicated by the submarine detecting apparatus, which reported a contact during an Atlantic Convoy, May 1943. Some crew members can be seen at the stern watching the explosion.

A Type IXD2 under attack from US aircraft. The two flakvierling appears to be pointed in different directions, indicating it is under attack by more than one aircraft.

Slow Convoy, SC 127 eluded U-boats at one of the most difficult times in the Battle of the Atlantic. The ocean was so full of U-boats that the first sea lord feared that “We can no longer rely on evading the U-boat packs and, hence, we shall have to fight the convoys through them.” In addition, the B-Dienst was at the height of its powers, solving 5 to 10 percent of its intercepts in time for Grand-Admiral Karl Dönitz C-in-C U-boat command, to use them in tactical decisions. Early information sometimes enabled him to move his U-boats so that a convoy would encounter the middle of the pack, enabling more boats to attack than if the convoy met only one wing of the patrol line.

But the first signs of German weakness had begun to appear. Stronger Allied defenses—more escorts, more airplanes—kept the U-boats from attacking with the vigor and daring of the previous years. Dönitz’s exhortations grew shriller, complaining that anyone who failed to engage the enemy closely was “no true U-boat man.” The rate of success declined. The great convoy battle of March 1943, during which U-boats sank Allied ships at twice the rate at which they were being built, was followed in April by a fight that brought poorer results: the Germans sank twelve merchant vessels, but at a cost of seven U-boats. The situation worsened the following month.

“In the Atlantic in May,” wrote Dönitz in his war diary, “the sinking of 10,000 tons was paid for with the loss of one U-boat, while not very long before that time one boat was lost for the sinking of about 100,000 tons.” He called such losses “unbearable,” and on May 24 he pulled the seventeen submarines on the North Atlantic convoy routes out and sent them to what he thought was a “less air-endangered area” to the south. From there they could operate against the convoys between the United States and the Strait of Gibraltar, through which supplies for the American forces in North Africa had to pass. But this was not the vital traffic whose loss would defeat Britain and keep the Allies from mounting an assault against Festung Europa. The move marked a major defeat for the Germans in the vital Battle of the Atlantic.

The success of Allied convoy diversions in January and February 1943 had again raised Dönitz’s suspicions about the security of his ciphers. For two and a half weeks in January, U-boat sweeps had discovered no convoys along the North Atlantic routes to Britain; for the first time since the United States entered the war, merchant ship losses in all Atlantic areas fell below one a day. In February, the few convoys that were not sighted by chance were spotted only by single boats at the ends of patrol lines, suggesting that the convoys were going around the wolfpacks. Dönitz’s concern was intensified when Allied destroyers came upon the U-459 as it was refueling an Italian U-boat some 300 miles east of St. Paul’s Rock, the desolate traditional division between the North and the South Atlantic, far from any destroyer bases and far from the normal convoy lanes. And the B-Dienst’s solutions of Allied U-boat situation reports raised suspicions. On April 18, for example, an intercept of an Allied submarine situation report showed that the Americans suspected the presence of twenty submarines in the rectangle running from 48° to 54° north latitude and from 38° to 45° west longitude. And the report was correct: TITMOUSE was in the area with eighteen boats.

Dönitz asked Vice-Admiral Erhard Maertens, Chief of Office of Naval Intelligence, Naval War Command, to investigate, as he had done in 1941. Again Maertens exculpated Enigma. The British U-boat situation reports themselves stated that the Allies’ information on submarine locations was coming from direction-finding, he said. Documents found in a French Resistance agent’s radio station showed that the Allies were obtaining information from the Resistance on departure times for U-boats and on whether they were headed for the North or the South Atlantic, enabling the foe, Maertens said, to estimate submarine movements with some accuracy. The British information about the wolfpacks DOLPHIN and FALCON was vague; if the information had come from cryptanalysis, it would have been exact. At worst, capture, perhaps of a cue word, which—contrary to all regulations—would have to have been written down, might have given the Allies insight into some messages. The chief of the Naval War Staff conceded that a capture was possible, and he approved Maertens’s plan to establish separate regional key nets.

Maertens was supported in his position by the coincidental discovery on February 2, in a British bomber downed at Rotterdam, of a new type of radar. It was based on the cavity magnetron, a block of copper with eight cylindrical holes bored in it parallel to and around a central axis. These hollows enabled the radar to operate on a wavelength of 9.7 centimeters, much shorter than the earlier 1.5 meters. Because its wavelength was measured in centimeters, the device was called “centimetric radar.” It gave the British two advantages: it depicted objects—coastlines, buildings—on the radar screen, which the older radar could not do, and the U-boats’ radar warning receivers, which were tuned to the longer wavelength, could not detect it. With centimetric radar, British airplanes could thus locate surfaced U-boats from a distance without alerting the submarines and could attack them by surprise. The Royal Air Force Coastal Command had begun doing just this with some success against U-boats traversing the Bay of Biscay. Though Dönitz had as yet no evidence that centimetric radar was being used in the Battle of the Atlantic, the use of this powerful new weapon could not be excluded.

So Dönitz accepted Maertens’s view that Kriegsmarine ciphers were secure and that the leaks were elsewhere. “With the exception of two or three doubtful cases,” he confided to his war diary, “enemy information about the position of our U-boats appears to have been obtained mainly from extensive use of airborne radar, and the resultant plotting of these positions has enabled him [the enemy] to organize effective diversion of convoy traffic.” And when SC 127 circumvented a wolfpack, he gave as the most probable reason that “the enemy has an extraordinary location device, usable from airplanes, whose effect cannot be observed by our boats.”

Nevertheless, suspicion that the Allies were solving naval Enigma messages would not die. Dönitz tried to reconcile his concern with Maertens’s reassurances, but he was not always able to. On April 27, as SC 127 was slogging across the ocean, the Allies, in a U-boat situation report that the B-Dienst solved, reported five U-boats within a 150-mile radius of 50° north, 34° west. “For some time resupplying has been carried out here,” Dönitz noted. “It remains disquieting that they were suspected precisely in the area in which no radioing had been done for several days.”

A few days later, Dönitz, for reasons that went beyond his fears about cryptosecurity, fired Maertens, sending him to Kiel to run a shipyard. He replaced him with the glass-eyed Captain Ludwig Stummel, Maertens’s chief of staff, promoting him to rear admiral. Stummel maintained, as always, that Enigma “had, on the basis of repeated and thorough investigations, proved itself up to the present as unbreakable and militarily resistant.” Dönitz apparently believed him, for in June he was telling the Japanese ambassador that U-boat losses were due to a new Allied direction-finding system.

Despite his claims, Stummel began in 1944 to prepare a measure that would carry the Kriegsmarine’s basic cryptosecurity principle to its logical conclusion. By subdividing the navy’s cryptosystem into as many key nets as necessary, Stummel sought to reduce the number of messages in a common key. As the volume of traffic grew, Enigma key nets had expanded from one in the early 1930s to separate home and foreign key nets and to the addition of a U-boat net and many others by 1943, when traffic averaged 2,563 radio messages a day. Now Stummel proposed to give each U-boat its own key.

Individual keys were issued to some submarines shortly after D-Day, June 6, 1944; they began to be widely used in November, and by February 1945 they were carrying practically all the operational traffic of the U-Boat Command. In that month, Dönitz told Hitler that Allied knowledge of wolfpacks came from radar and betrayal. By then Stummel had also been ousted, but his program of individual keys justified his faith in Enigma: G.C.&C.S. solved only three keys for brief periods. Perhaps not coincidentally, sinkings rose steadily from November 1944 to April 1945 in the North Atlantic and North Sea, although the absolute number remained small. Solution of these individual keys would have required a great increase in personnel and in bombes, but G.C.&C.S. felt confident that it would have been able to do it. Germany’s surrender saved it from this test.

Long before that happened, Dönitz mourned the loss of the source of information that he said gave him half of his intelligence: the B-Dienst. He had feasted on it for so long in part because the Germans had no monopoly on cryptographic failure. In this respect the British were just as illogical as the Germans. The surprise of the North African invasion confirmed the Admiralty’s belief that its cryptosystems were secure, just as Fricke had argued that the operations of British ships gave no indication that the British were reading German messages. And G.C.&C.S. retained confidence in its superencipherment (even though it had solved similar systems before the war) because it was encountering increasing difficulty in solving high-grade Italian codes after the summer of 1940 and fewer problems with nonnaval Enigma; this logic resembles the Kriegsmarine’s argument that Enigma must be secure because it was unable to break the American naval cipher machine.

The cherished beliefs of the British were wrong. In December 1942, they learned from their Enigma solutions that the Germans were reading Naval Cypher No. 3, the main cryptosystem for convoy arrangements in the North Atlantic. And in Washington, in March 1943, Lieutenant McMahan of OP-20-G saw a German intercept that canceled an order by Dönitz of a few hours earlier and directed a radical change of course. McMahan thought that only a German solution of a message diverting an Allied convoy could have caused Dönitz to react like that. He went downtown to Convoy and Routing in Main Navy and, after some difficulty, persuaded them to let him see the messages to Allied convoys. His discovery of the very message that had ordered the detour brought together compartmentalized elements and confirmed the Allies’ recognition that the Germans were reading their traffic.

In June, when Naval Cypher No. 5 replaced Nos. 3 and 4, the B-Dienst made no real progress against it. Concerns about the security in heavy traffic of the superencipherment, called the long sub-tractor system, had been raised as early as 1940; G.C.&C.S. devised a replacement—the stencil subtractor—by 1941, but the services did not decide to adopt it until after extensive trials that ended in March of 1942. Design and production of the devices and printing of the tables took the rest of the year, distribution for the Royal Navy until the middle of 1943, and distribution within the U.S. Navy until January 1, 1944—a record of cryptographic negligence that compares favorably with Germany’s. Still, from the middle of June 1943, the B-Dienst was effectively shut out from its vital Anglo-American intelligence. In May 1944, Hitler asked his naval codebreakers which English systems could be broken. They had to confess that although they were solving a number of secondary systems and a convoy system for stragglers, “The two main English systems cannot be read, the one [the main warship cryptosystem] since the start of 1944 and the other [the convoy system] since the start of June 1943.”

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This admission unwittingly confirmed the Allied victory in cryptology. In August 1943, the British and the Americans had begun reading Enigma messages nearly always currently. The capture of the U-505 by an American task force on June 4, 1944, provided a copy of the Adressbuch that provided the keys for disguising grid positions; from then on the Allies read them as easily as the Germans did.

But solving German messages did not always mean the successful diversion of convoys. It is true that in January and February 1943, when solutions were almost uninterrupted, the Allies suffered far fewer losses than in March, when for days no solutions were achieved. On the other hand, two convoys out of three escaped detection in August and September 1942, during the ULTRA blackout, while less than half avoided being spotted in the first five months of 1943, when solutions were frequent. The totality of other factors eclipsed ULTRA: the number of U-boats on patrol, the quantity of very long range aircraft the Allies had, centimetric radar, shipboard direction-finding, operational research, the arrival of escort aircraft carriers, the increase in escort vessels. But when ULTRA worked with these new Allied strengths, particularly after Dönitz withdrew his U-boats from the North Atlantic on May 24, the results could be spectacular. On September 21, 1943, Churchill announced to the Commons that, in the third of a year just ending, not one merchant ship had been lost to enemy action in the North Atlantic. The House erupted in cheers.

NAPOLEON’S SIX DAYS’ CAMPAIGN, FRANCE, 1814

Napoleon and his staff are retuning from Soissons after the battle of Laon.

Although his forces were outnumbered by the Coalition armies closing in on him, Napoleon’s campaign of 1814 was one of the finest demonstrations of his strategic and tactical skill. There were several significant battles, almost all of which Napoleon won against the odds, but perhaps the most prominent feature of the fighting was his ability to inspire his men to continue to resist despite crippling losses, punishing marches and diminishing supplies.

Driven out of Russia in 1812, and forced to relinquish control of central Europe the following year, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, faced the prospect of defeat as his Sixth Coalition enemies (formed by Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Britain and certain German states) massed on the borders. To defend the 300-mile (480-km) frontier of France that ran along the Rhine, Napoleon could muster no more than 80,000 ragged and exhausted men. Inside the German states were 100,000 French troops, but they were scattered or besieged, unable to reach France ahead of their enemies. Directly across the Rhine, facing Napoleon, were 300,000 Coalition invasion troops, consisting of the armies of Russia, Austria and Prussia. On the southern borders, General Sir Arthur Wellesley (soon to become the Duke of Wellington) was driving the French back across the Franco-Spanish frontier, while Napoleon’s troops in Italy were outmanoeuvred and unable to fall back to protect the homeland. Former French allies among the German states and the Netherlands were also beginning to desert Napoleon.

Napoleon set about raising more men to meet the invasion, with the energy that had made him so famous in the 1790s. He called up 900,000 conscripts, the French National Guard, the gendarmerie and even forestry officials. He demanded that his staff find the necessary arms and equipment for this hastily formed force, and considered issuing pikes where there were not enough muskets. He increased the size of his elite Imperial Guard, stripping the most experienced men from old regiments to give himself a reliable core among the legions of new and untried recruits. Napoleon, the great advocate of mass in battle, now faced armies far larger than his own and he was desperate to balance the odds. There was a chorus of propaganda, exhorting greater efforts for the defence of la Patrie (‘the fatherland’); he recalled the drafts of troops that were en route to Italy and Spain, and conscripted young men who were not due to serve for another two years.

However, Napoleon did not meet his targets. Of the 900,000 called up, only 120,000 mustered for service. A war-weary population refused to pay taxes. There were not enough guns or horses for the cavalry and the artillery. Worse, Joachim Murat, Marshal of France, who was at that time stationed in the Kingdom of Naples, went over to the allies. This defection ended any chance Napoleon might have had to repeat his strategic success of 1797, when he had boldly swung through northern Italy to defeat the Austrians and break the allied Coalition. Even Napoleon’s diplomacy failed: he had offered to restore King Ferdinand VII of Spain to his throne, hoping this move would split the allies in acrimonious debate, but the plan failed. Despite his numerous disadvantages, Napoleon continued to make strategic calculations that relied on his military prowess as a commander. When he was told he must restore the Netherlands to their independence and guarantee the peace – which represented an opportunity to rescue the situation – he rejected the demand. Even though fortune was against him, Napoleon preferred to fight his enemies to a standstill and impose his own terms from a position of strength. Thus, the Coalition invasion began in January 1814, with three converging thrusts aimed at Paris, and the French set about preparing to meet the overwhelming onslaught.

Napoleon planned to defeat each enemy army in detail. Karl Philipp, the Prince of Schwarzenberg and Austrian commander, had 210,000 men crossing the Upper Rhine, while Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (a former French marshal, who had turned against Napoleon to become king of Sweden) brought 60,000 soldiers through the Netherlands. The Prussians, led by Marshal Gebhard Blücher, marched with 75,000 men through Lorraine. In response, Napoleon sent a corps of 30,000 inexperienced troops against one wing of Blücher’s army on 29 January 1814. The Prussians were obliged to withdraw when threatened from a flank, but Blücher counter-attacked at La Rothière on 1 February, massing 116,000 Coalition troops against Napoleon’s 40,000. Napoleon tried to extricate the army but was forced to fight in the drifting snow until darkness allowed his men to slip away. A blizzard made it difficult to maintain direction, and some units resorted to hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets when the wet conditions left their gunpowder damp. The short but aggressive fight had cost the two sides 6,000 casualties and, by all calculations, Napoleon seemed to be beaten. The allies resumed their march on Paris with some confidence.

Then, contrary to all expectations, Napoleon launched a lightning series of battles known as the Six Days’ Campaign in a deteriorating strategic situation and against much greater numbers. Starting on 10 February, he struck against the Prussians, who were strung out in an extended line of march. He attacked General Zakhar Olsufiev at Champaubert, east of Paris, inflicting 4,000 casualties on a force that had taken the field with 5,000 men.

On 11 February, Napoleon immediately marched on two more elements of the allied army at Montmirail, namely the corps of General Ludwig Yorck and General Dmitri Sacken. Initially Napoleon had only 10,500 men available (consisting of the Imperial Guard with a few conscripts) against the 18,000 in Sacken’s command. But stationing some men to watch for the arrival of Yorck, Napoleon called for all available reinforcements until he had mustered a total of 20,000 men, then he launched an all-out attack. Sacken was driven back, but as the battle progressed, the Coalition forces under Yorck arrived and Napoleon’s plan appeared to be in jeopardy. Then, Napoleon’s corps commander, Marshal Édouard Mortier, arrived with reinforcements just in time to check and then drive back Yorck’s force.

The next day, Napoleon pursued Yorck’s rearguard as far as Château-Thierry on the Marne River. There, Michel Ney, Napoleon’s most courageous marshal, made a furious assault, pierced the allied lines and captured heights above and beyond them. The attack was so impetuous that two regiments of Russian cavalry were cut off and compelled to surrender, although the Prussian infantry got away thanks to the covering fire of their artillery. Remarkably, in three days of fighting, Napoleon had suffered only 3,450 killed in action, while the allies had incurred losses of over 10,000. To ensure a decisive victory over the Prussians, Napoleon made one final thrust against Blücher, intending thereafter to march against Schwarzenberg.

Napoleon had set out to locate Blücher at 0300 hours on 14 February with the Imperial Guard and the cavalry in his vanguard. The leading Prussian corps, under Lieutenant General Friedrich von Kleist, numbered 20,000 men and had clashed with French outposts at Vauchamps as it sought out Napoleon’s main body of men. The Prussian cavalry was driven off, but they secured a prisoner who informed von Kleist and Blücher that Napoleon’s main force was indeed in the area. While the allies were deliberating, Napoleon was already quickly gathering his formations to concentrate 25,000 men for yet another decisive battle. When it became apparent to Blücher that the Prussians did not have local superiority in numbers, he began to withdraw. Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy, leading the bulk of Napoleon’s cavalry, attempted to swing behind the Prussians and cut off their line of retreat, but the broken ground slowed the manoeuvre so that the Prussians were able to fight their way back and Blücher escaped. Nevertheless, the confused withdrawal cost the allies another 7,000 casualties and 16 guns, while French losses numbered only 6,000.

Despite these tactical victories, Paris was still threatened by a vast Austrian force, and Napoleon had to force-march for two days to catch up with the allies on the Seine. His exhausted men had covered 60 miles (95 km) in mid-winter conditions, and, on arrival, they were pitched straight into battle. On 17 February at Nangis, the Coalition corps of the Russian General Peter Wittgenstein was surprised and routed, throwing the Bavarians, who were in support of them, into disorder. The Austrians attempted to make a withdrawal, despite their greater numbers, leaving a covering force under the Prince of Württemberg at Montereau. Any hope of an organized withdrawal was thwarted, however, when the French opened up with a massed battery of guns, then launched columns of infantry at the town, which fell after a sharp fight. Another 2,500 Frenchmen lay dead or dying on the field, but Schwarzenberg had been persuaded to hold his main force 40 miles (65 km) back, and Napoleon had bought himself a little more time.

Nevertheless, Napoleon soon learnt that Blücher had recovered and the Prussians were on the move again, meaning the French would have to switch their axis a third time. Napoleon detached a portion of his force to delay Schwarzenberg, then hastened after Blücher who was within 25 miles (40 km) of the capital. But Schwarzenberg understood the relentless logic of time, numbers and position: as soon as Napoleon left to tackle the Prussians, he resumed his advance on Paris. Napoleon’s covering force was defeated at Bar-sur-Aube on 27 February.

Blücher was advancing along the River Marne with 85,000 men when Napoleon caught up with him. The Prussian Field Marshal had anticipated an impetuous attack, and planned to pin Napoleon down long enough for the Russian General Ferdinand von Wintzingerode to outflank him with overwhelming numbers. But Napoleon moved too fast for him. Pinning Blücher at Craonne, the French executed a dramatic flank assault on 7 March. The old Marshal was forced to withdraw, albeit in good order, inflicting some 5,000 casualties on Napoleon’s dwindling forces. Blücher still hoped to outwit his adversary. At Laon, on 9 March, Blücher halted and deployed his entire force against Napoleon, who could only muster half their numbers with a force that consisted of thousands of raw conscripts. Boldly, Napoleon sent 9,500 men under Marshal Auguste de Marmont on a flanking move, while his main body made a frontal assault.

Marmont’s inexperienced men struggled to get into position and were in turn outflanked by Yorck’s corps, which had been carefully positioned in advance. Marmont was soon in trouble, trying to extricate his men under fire. It was only the defiant stand of a company of guardsmen at the Festieux Defile against Prussian cavalry, and a voluntary counter-attack by Colonel Etienne Fabvier’s battalion (supported by just two cannon) that saved the situation. Napoleon continued to hammer away until evening, but he had no troops available for any further manoeuvres. Still his men followed him doggedly. He withdrew, leaving behind another 6,000 killed and wounded, and made his way to Soissons.

There, Napoleon learnt of the fall of Rheims and the continued allied advance on Paris. Although suffering a variety of ailments and worn out by weeks of furious preparation and campaigning, Napoleon hurled himself at the task of retaking the old city in an attempt to sever the allies’ line of communication, and thereby halt their move towards Paris. On 13 March, Napoleon appeared before Rheims and routed the Russian corps under Emmanuel St Priest. The move, brilliantly concealed and speedily executed, had given him a position astride the line of communication of both Schwarzenberg and Blücher, just as he had hoped. Exhibiting the tough good humour of his old campaigns, he joked: ‘I am still the man I was at Wagram and Austerlitz.’

Schwarzenberg, who had intercepted Napoleon’s dispatches and therefore knew his plans, nevertheless decided to continue his advance on Paris. This forced the French to chase him. On 20 March, with his troop numbers dwindling from fatigue and combat, Napoleon struck at the Austrians near Arcis-sur-Aube. The Austrians spent the night reinforcing their advance guard so that, as dawn broke, 80,000 Coalition troops confronted Napoleon’s remaining 28,000 men. Schwarzenberg initially hoped Napoleon would attack, but when Napoleon seemed inactive, he felt unsure of himself and allowed the French to filter back across the River Aube. Realizing that Napoleon was getting away, the Austrians belatedly launched an attack in the afternoon, but Napoleon and his tired little army escaped.

On 25 March, Napoleon’s rearguard (under Marshals Mortier and Marmont) was defeated in the Battle of Fère-Champenoise. The French National Guard gallantly went down fighting in the action, losing 3,500 out of their original strength of 4,000. Napoleon’s force was no longer sufficiently strong to defend the capital, or to defeat the allied armies in the field. Nevertheless, the Paris National Guard made a brave stand at Clichy until driven back to Montmartre. Marmont and his 500 remaining troops held on for as long as possible, but the allied numbers were overwhelming and he accepted defeat on the outskirts of Paris. Lieutenant Viaux of the 2nd Grenadiers of the Guards, an invalid, gathered twenty comrades at Montmartre for a defiant, but ultimately hopeless last stand in which they all lost their lives. Outside the capital, Napoleon and his guardsmen were still spoiling for a fight, but Ney and the other senior officers (along with the surviving members of the army) had had enough. Paris was occupied by 145,000 allied troops and Napoleon, deciding to reject the offers from his loyalists to start a guerrilla war, abdicated.

Even then, Napoleon was not finished. With each of the European allies ranged against him, still discussing their plans for a post-Napoleonic ‘restored’ continent, Napoleon escaped from his island prison on Elba less than a year after being incarcerated there. On 1 March 1815, he landed in France with just 200 men: the most loyal of his grognards from the old Imperial Guard. Even though French civilians were cautious and sometimes hostile to Napoleon’s return, there was little support for the royalists of the House of Bourbon either. The French army was perhaps the key to the whole venture, and Napoleon knew it. Confronted at Grenoble, Napoleon appealed to his soldiers’ loyalty and was received with great enthusiasm. The little force grew to 14,000 as it advanced on Paris. Veterans set off from their towns and villages to rejoin the ‘Eagles’, while some of the senior officers (conscious that they had betrayed their Emperor in 1814 to join the new Bourbon regime) fled into exile. Within weeks Napoleon had raised an army of 124,000 fit to take the field, with 100,000 in depots and 300,000 in training. The allies were forced to respond, recreate their own armies, advance on the French frontiers and again march against Napoleon.

Napoleon inflicted a temporary defeat on Blücher at Ligny on 16 June 1815, before turning to confront the Anglo-Dutch-Belgian army at Waterloo two days later. Even this battle, Napoleon’s final defeat, was, in the words of the victorious commander, the Duke of Wellington: ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’. Napoleon had come very close to resurrecting his entire political apparatus and might, in time, have intimidated his rivals into some sort of accommodation both in domestic and foreign affairs. His resilience, his capacity for decisive action and his sheer determination against all the odds serve to make Napoleon an inspirational figure. In 1814, Napoleon had proved that he possessed the tactical skill and loyalty of his troops by confronting and defeating vast numbers of enemy forces. Through speed and manoeuvre he was able to outmarch and outwit his adversaries. Although Napoleon was unable to alter the deteriorating strategic situation, it is remarkable that he was able to command such a presence among his troops. Critics continue to dissect his errors and personal flaws, but his achievements, particularly in 1814, remain undiminished. Wellington, who believed that Napoleon should have kept his forces concentrated in 1814, nevertheless concluded that the Six Days’ Campaign that year was all ‘very brilliant, probably the ablest of all his performances’.