THE U-TANKERS

U-Tanker & Type VIIC

German “Milch Cow” Type XIV. To extend the range of the Type VII U-Boats, the German Navy built ten submarine tankers in 1941.

The extension of the U-boat war to the American coast in January 1942 created a problem for Karl Dönitz C-in-C U-boat command. Because it took his submarines substantially more time to get to and from their rich target areas off New York or Virginia or Florida than it took to reach patrol lines off Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, their combat time was reduced. To prolong their battle period as much as possible, he resupplied the U-boats at sea, using special submarine tankers. These “milch cows,” twice as big as the standard Type VII combat submarines, carried 400 tons of fuel oil, 50 tons of provisions, a workshop, a physician, and personnel to replace injured or sick combat-sub crewmen. When the first U-tanker began work in March 1942, a U-boat averaged 41 days at sea. With one resupply, this time was extended to an average of 62 days and, with two, to a maximum of 81. Even for the more northerly operations, refueling was essential for efficiency. Experience showed that submarines had to spend from three to five weeks in the operational area before encountering a convoy in a favorable position. This meant that to make success likely, Type VIIC boats had to be refueled twice. After twelve months, by May of 1943, the U-tankers had completed 390 refuelings.

It became clear to the Allies that sinking one milch cow would reduce the effectiveness of many combat U-boats. They were unable to plan such an attack during the codebreaking blackout of 1942 because they could not read the instructions for the refueling rendezvous, and U-Boat Command had taken care to have the submarines meet in remote locations, far from the convoy tracks and out of the range of Allied airplanes. The U-tankers maintained radio silence. Instructions were enciphered in the special officer-grade keys and then reenciphered in the general key; the grid encipherment disguised positions. In 1943, however, with codebreaking restored, it became possible for the Allies to attack tankers. The solved messages sometimes disclosed the date and place of a refueling rendezvous; when these specifics were not available, the O.I.C.’s knowledge of the departures and movements of the supply submarines and of favorite refueling areas could guide ships and airplanes to likely hunting grounds.

But three factors saved the supply submarines for a while: the inability of Allied aircraft to reach the rendezvous, the need for surface forces to stay close to convoys, and the adamant refusal of the British to attack the isolated refueling points for fear that the Germans would guess that their cipher system had been solved. This refusal stemmed originally from the anxiety the British had experienced after the 1941 roundup of Bismarck supply ships, when two that were to be left alone so as not to raise German suspicions were accidentally attacked. Their decision was hardened by leakages that could be traced to Enigma solutions, by four cases in which Enigma solutions were repeated almost verbatim in British messages, and by a scare in March 1943.

The Kriegsmarine, an intercept showed, had grown suspicious about British warships sighted in an area where they would have encountered a German convoy bringing supplies to North Africa had the convoy not been delayed. The first sea lord reprimanded the Mediterranean commander in chief, and Churchill threatened to withhold Enigma intelligence, or ULTRA, unless it was “used only on great occasions or when thoroughly camouflaged.” At the same time, the first sea lord emphasized in a personal message about ULTRA to his American counterpart, Admiral King, his anxious desire that “we should not risk what is so invaluable to us.” The next month he resisted American proposals for using Enigma U-boat solutions to attack U-tankers at their supply rendezvous, arguing that “if our Z [ULTRA] information failed us at the present time it would, I am sure, result in our shipping losses going up by anything from 50 to 100%.”

But this risk declined late in May, when Dönitz pulled his submarines out of the North Atlantic. And a few weeks later an event showed how Enigma information, while still used with great care for its security, could greatly enhance the new offensive strength of the Allies at sea. This new strength consisted of the Americans’ introduction of task forces centered on small, “escort” aircraft carriers. These could bring airplanes to within striking distance of a refueling rendezvous. On June 12 the escort carrier Bogue, using information from both Enigma decrypts and direction-finding, sent out airplanes that, shortly after noon, spotted the 1,700-ton converted minelayer U-118 cruising placidly on the surface. The planes bombed and strafed her, drove her under, and, when she resurfaced, sank her. Her loss forced U-Boat Command to recall some submarines and delayed other combat boats in reaching their target areas. These disruptions, mentioned in Enigma intercepts, showed the Allies the value of attacking the U-tankers—a demonstration that was reinforced in a negative sense when the tanker U-488 refueled twenty-two boats to overcome the emergency. As a consequence, the Americans pressed to use Enigma information against the supply subs. By this time the British fears of the loss of ULTRA were allayed because using aircraft to spot the submarines covered their reliance on cryptanalytic intelligence, so Britain concurred in the American proposal. Enigma solutions now enabled the escort carriers to carry the war to the enemy. For the first time, the Allies attacked U-boats not just defensively, as in fighting off wolfpacks, or fortuitously, as when a plane spotted a submarine, but actively—aggressively seeking out subs and hitting them. Enigma decrypts had changed from a shield to a sword.

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Among the targets of these machete chops was the U-117, a sister ship of the U-118. She had taken her crew of fifty-odd on three supply cruises when, on July 22, 1943, she sailed from France under the command of Lieutenant Commander Hans-Werner Neumann as one of five supply submarines that Dönitz sent to sea in the last third of July. Three of these were sunk while crossing the Bay of Biscay before the end of the month; a fourth was destroyed west of the Faeroes. This put additional pressure on the U-117 to meet and refuel combat submarines that otherwise might not have been able to return home.

One of these was the U-66, a veteran boat that had completed nine patrols in areas ranging from Cape Hatteras to the Mediterranean, had landed a saboteur on the northwest African coast, claimed to have sunk 200,000 tons of shipping, and had provided each of her two commanders with a Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross. On this cruise she had been at sea the extremely long time of three months, during which time she had sunk two American tankers. On July 27, U-Boat Command ordered her to square CD 50, about halfway between Washington, D.C., and Lisbon, Portugal, to rendezvous with the U-117 for reprovisioning.

The message was intercepted. But it had not yet been solved when the cryptanalysts read a message giving a new rendezvous for 8 P.M. August 3. The solution gave the location as “square 6755 of the large square west of” another square, which was disguised by the grid encipherment but which the cryptanalysts thought was CE. This would put little square 6755 in large square CD, making it 37° 57′ north latitude, or roughly east of Washington, D.C., and 38° 30′ west longitude, or north of the bulge of Brazil.

At 1:05 P.M. Eastern War Time, August 1, 1943, the U.S. Navy’s codebreaking unit on Nebraska Avenue in Washington, D.C., teletyped a solved intercept to F-21, the Atlantic section of the Combat Intelligence section of Cominch, where the Submarine Tracking Room was located.

The message was about twelve hours old, the time it took for Commander Engstrom’s back-room boys to crack it and the translators and evaluators to append to each U-boat commander’s name the number of his submarine and the latitude and longitude of its naval grid references. They put these insertions in double parentheses to show that they were not part of the original message. The first part of the text directed two submarines not to refuel but to proceed home. The second and more interesting portion, however, dealt with the U-117: “Neumann ((117)) head for Nav Sq 67 ((probably CD 67 = 37.57 N – 38.30 W)).”

Fifteen minutes later, the teletypewriter tapped out another solved German message. Sent ten hours after the first, it instructed the U-66’s captain, Lieutenant Friedrich Markworth, where and when to get supplies: “Beginning 3 August 15 2000B Markworth ((66)) will provision from Neumann ((117)) in Sq 6755 ((probably CD 6755 = 37.57 N – 38.30 W)).… After execution Markworth report affirmative, Neumann wait in that area.”

The day after these messages went to F-21, Cominch headquarters radioed the information to units at sea that could use it. It was included in the U-boat report for August 2. Not giving the source of the intelligence, the report stated: “Several [U-boats] area 3800 [north] 3830 [west].” The data were repeated in the next day’s report, with a cover source: “Several vicinity 3800 3830 by recent DFs suggesting refueling operations X.”

One of the recipients was the U.S. Navy’s Combat Task Group 21.14, a convoy support group consisting of the escort carrier Card and three old destroyers. The U-boat situation reports told its commander, Captain Arnold J. (Buster) Isbell, where to look for subs to sink. He knew that if refueling, they could be caught at a particularly vulnerable moment—moving slowly on the surface, joined by a fuel hose—and that one of them would be a particularly valuable target. He headed toward the reported U-boat concentration while his planes scouted ahead and to the sides.

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Late in the afternoon of August 3, as the Card was perhaps 150 miles from that area, two of his pilots, reserve Lieutenant (j.g.) Richard L. Cormier, in a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo-bomber, and his wing-man, reserve Ensign Arne S. Paulson, in a Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter, making a routine submarine search, were flying southwest at 5,000 feet in clear skies when Cormier, with his binoculars, spotted a grayish white submarine off to port about 11 miles away. She was fully surfaced, cruising so slowly that no bow wave or wake was noticeable. It was the U-66.

Paulson, on Cormier’s orders to strafe the submarine, gave his fighter full throttle and, 100 feet above the waves, raced directly at the U-boat. At 500 yards, he began firing and saw his bullets strike the conning tower, kicking up puffs of rust. He saw nobody; on the U-boat, however, a machinist who was topside smoking was wounded in both thighs. Cormier then swept in to depth-charge the U-boat, but the charges failed to release. As he circled to attack again, Paulson made another run. It was met at this time with inaccurate antiaircraft fire from the six or eight men now topside. The attack had, however, killed the submarine’s second watch officer and panicked the men in the conning tower into ringing the diving alarm. But Markworth, demonstrating anew why he had won the Knight’s Cross, bulled his way up the ladder, belayed the command to dive, and held his men to their guns.

In his torpedo-bomber, Cormier sped toward the U-boat, skimming the water. He pressed his electrical bomb release and immediately pulled the emergency release. This time his acoustic torpedo and both depth charges dropped. Within seconds, while making a climbing turn, he saw a shock wave centered about 25 feet from the submarine’s starboard side and just forward of her conning tower. It swept to her port side and appeared to lift her from below and make her list to port. Then a heavy column of water about 100 feet high obscured the U-boat. When she reappeared, she was turning to starboard. Paulson attacked again. He saw half a dozen figures, some inert, on the conning tower. His shots killed one sailor who had kept firing despite several wounds, wounded another in the chest, and slightly injured six others. No further fire was returned. Cormier strafed, seriously wounding Markworth in the abdomen. Then it became clear to the men on the submarine that the planes had no more bombs and that it was therefore safe to dive, so the first watch officer gave the order. The bodies of the officer and the seaman had to be left where they were. Slowly at first, and then more rapidly, at an angle of 50 degrees, the U-boat submerged. Just as she was disappearing, Paulson made a final run, firing at the underside of the stern.

Cormier dropped a marker and circled over the spot for forty-five minutes. Though neither he nor the pilots of the other planes that the Card sent saw any debris, oil, or air bubbles, the squadron commander claimed a sinking. He was wrong. Though the U-66 had two fatalities, several seamen wounded, and a captain suffering from a bullet in his guts, and though her ballast and fuel tanks were leaking, she had escaped.

But she still had not met the U-117. She limped east toward home, with not enough fuel to make it and only two days’ worth of provisions. The next day, after midnight, she surfaced. Though the sailor’s body had washed overboard, the second watch officer’s body was, ghoulishly enough, still on the lower machine-gun stand. It and the body of a sailor who had died from his wounds were buried at sea.

Meanwhile, Buster Isbell on the Card was being further tantalized by F-21’s U-boat situation reports to his carrier task group telling of combat and tanker submarines nearby. On August 6, for example, he was told, “One probably refueler locality 3915 3730 by DFs 052330 and 052350 probably moving NE.” By 2 P.M., he was steering for that area.

That same day, the U-66 proposed a new rendezvous with the U-117 for that noon, some 54 miles north and 12 miles east of the August 1 meeting place. Dönitz acquiesced a few hours later. The Allied cryptanalysts could not read these messages as promptly as the others, and they remained a closed book. But the Tenth Fleet’s ULTRA-based knowledge of the rendezvous attempts, together with its background information that on July 30 the U-117 had been ordered to stand by within 100 miles of 38° 50′ north, 37° 20′ west, a circle within which the August 1 rendezvous was to have been effected, made it worthwhile to keep the Card in the vicinity.

Shortly before noon on Friday, the U-117 and the U-66 finally met. After dark the combat submarine took aboard some provisions and a physician to treat Markworth. But, unable to refuel at night, the pair waited for morning. With daylight, the U-66 began to take on oil. At just about the same time, 6:49 A.M. Saturday, the Card flew off the same kind of airplane pairing as had attacked the U-66, an Avenger and a Wildcat. An hour into the patrol, however, the Wildcat had to return to the carrier because of engine trouble. The Avenger, piloted by reserve Lieutenant (j.g.) Asbury H. Sallenger, continued its routine submarine search. At 9:46, while flying west-northwest at 4,500 feet in a cloudless sky, Sallenger spotted a large white object 15 miles off his starboard bow. He thought at first it was a merchantman, but he soon realized that it was two submarines, painted white, close together, fully surfaced and proceeding very slowly southwest, with neither bow waves nor wakes. The refueling was still in progress.

Sallenger radioed the Card, 82 miles away, and maneuvered to attack. Selecting the U-boat nearest him, which was slightly behind the other, he approached from the port quarter at 220 knots, out of the sun. “This is it!” he told his crew. The U-66, spotting him, shoved the throttles of both diesels to full speed ahead. When Sallenger was about 400 yards from the subs, both opened fire with their 20-millimeter guns. These filled the sky with white puffs, but Sallenger bored in and, from about 125 feet, dropped two depth charges, set to explode at 25 feet. They straddled the U-117. Three seconds later the explosions raised two columns of water on the starboard side, one about 10 feet out, the other some 20 feet out, cutting the refueling hose. Sallenger banked to the left and climbed. The submarine spurted flame from its stern, and dense gray smoke rolled out. The TBF’s turret gunner, Ammunition Mate Third Class James H. O’Hagan, Jr., sprayed the deck with his .50-caliber machine gun, then concentrated his fire around the machine guns on the conning tower. He saw about twenty men. The radioman took pictures, which would be used to improve tactics.

The U-boat began maneuvering erratically, as if her steering apparatus had been damaged. She started to trail a heavy oil slick. The U-66 was following her, seemingly trying to help. After about fifteen minutes, the undamaged U-66 started to submerge, apparently in an attempt to save at least herself. While she was thus vulnerable, Sallenger, who had been watching from 6,500 feet, dove to attack. As he flew along her track at 130 knots in level flight, 200 feet up, the U-117 threw intense antiaircraft fire at him. O’Hagan fired back. Sallenger dropped his acoustic torpedo on the last seen course of the submerged U-boat, 150 yards ahead of the diving swirl and 50 yards to starboard some forty seconds after she disappeared. Sun glare prevented him or his crew from observing any results. But the U-66 escaped.

His armament exhausted, Sallenger soared to 6,400 feet to vector in the other planes. As he circled, the damaged U-tanker tried to dive. For a moment, Sallenger thought she was gone, but she surfaced almost immediately. At 10:33 A.M., twenty minutes after his second attack, two Avengers and two Wildcats arrived from the Card. On command, one of the fighters made a strafing run. He fired a test burst from 2 miles away, but the bullets fell short, and he held his fire until he was in range. During his run, gun flashes from the 20-millimeters at the base of the conning tower winked at him, and he concentrated his fire on this area, though he saw no gunners; apparently they were well protected. He swooped around and attacked from the other side. But the U-boat continued her heavy antiaircraft fire, which forced the lead Avenger, flown by Lieutenant Charles R. Stapler, to weave as it bored in. In a shallow dive, Stapler released two depth charges at 185 feet. They fell close aboard the port side just ahead of the conning tower, and the explosion drenched the submarine. As Stapler pulled up, his gunner strafed the vessel. The first fighter again attacked, and so did the second, just before the second Avenger, coming from the U-boat’s stern, dropped its two depth charges 20 to 25 feet from the submarine on her starboard quarter. Spray covered her. The fighters zoomed down to strafe some more, finally silencing the antiaircraft fire.

As the two Avengers circled, the crippled U-117 turned to starboard, apparently trying to dive but instead only mushing down, stern first. Then she did go under, and the Avengers turned to attack with their acoustic torpedoes. But they pulled up when the bow and conning tower broke water and the submarine, now barely moving, struggled to surface. Quantities of oil leaked from her. After five minutes, she lost the fight. She began to settle. Her stern went down, her bow rose slightly; the conning tower slipped under, then the bow, and she was gone. Now the Avengers could use their acoustic torpedoes. Stapler dropped his 200 feet ahead of the oil slick and 100 feet to starboard of the U-boat’s last track. Ten seconds later, the other Avenger dropped its 400 feet ahead and to port of where the pilot had last seen the submarine. Some distance away, the crew of the U-66, still submerged, heard detonations, some sharp, some muffled.

The Avengers circled. A patch of oil 200 feet in diameter where the submarine had last been seen seemed to grow. The radioman of the second Avenger reported seeing a shock wave in the water forward and to starboard of the same point. The U-66 heard crackling noises, and finally sounds that the crew interpreted as those of a boat sinking. The airmen saw a very light blue area that seemed to be caused by small bubbles aerating the water. This persisted for many minutes. Nothing else was seen. At 11:26 the four planes were recalled to the Card. They were relieved by three Avengers which, however, saw neither submarine. Though Isbell claimed that one submarine had been “definitely sunk” and the other “probably sunk,” he was only half right. The U-66 had escaped. But the U-117 had made her last dive. She had gone down about 17 miles north and 40 miles west of where the August 6 U-boat situation report had told Isbell that “probably refueler” would be found. In the vast wastes of the ocean, that was practically pinpointing the target.

Reporting the episode early Sunday morning, the U-66 did not tell U-Boat Command about the detonations she had heard. U-Boat Command, assuming that the U-117 had survived, gave both submarines a new rendezvous for noon. Later the command observed that with the loss of another milch cow, the last fuel reserve for boats coming from the south had been exhausted, and all fourteen had to refuel now from the U-117. But when the U-66 reported on Wednesday that it had waited two days in vain for the U-117, and when the tanker failed to respond to orders to report, the command concluded that she had been lost during the attack. The critical supply situation forced U-Boat Command into complicated maneuvers: some combat submarines had to give fuel to other boats, then return home using fuel as sparingly as possible. The U-66 made it. The loss of the tankers, Dönitz complained, forced him to end operations in the mid-Atlantic earlier than planned.

Between June and August, American carrier planes, aided by ULTRA, sank five milch cows and reserve tankers. The British lost all reservations about using Enigma intelligence in these operations. On October 2 the Admiralty asked the U.S. Navy whether it could send a task force against a refueling to take place north of the Azores; Navy planes found four U-boats on the surface and sank the milch cow U-460. A similar request less than a week later ended in the sinking of the combat boat U-220. By the end of October, of the ten milch cows that Dönitz had had in service in the spring only one remained. The effect on U-boat operations was severe. Because resupply by U-tankers was so dangerous, Dönitz avoided it, compelling his U-boats to break off their operations correspondingly early and destroying his hopes for a formidable offensive in distant waters, far from Allied air cover. In November he abandoned the convoy routes as a theater of operations.

But he returned to the fray the following month. When a patrol line failed to find any ships, he broke it up into subgroups of three boats each in the hope that they would spot targets. It didn’t work. Between mid-December 1943 and the middle of January, they sighted not one of the ten convoys that sailed close to them, and they sank only one merchant ship. At the end of February, Dönitz formed what would be the last wolfpack worthy of the name. PRUSSIA’s sixteen submarines sank two small British warships—at a cost of seven U-boats. On March 22 Dönitz ordered another withdrawal. In the first three months of 1944, his U-boats sank only 3 merchantmen in convoy out of 3,360—at a cost of thirty-six submarines. He persisted with his “wonder weapons”—the acoustic torpedo and the snorkel, a valved tube to the surface that enabled a submarine to run on its diesels while under water, increasing its submerged speed and range. But he concentrated now on sinking shipping around the British Isles for the expected invasion of western Europe.

ULTRA had little effect on this. The few U-boats dotting the Atlantic posed little threat. The vast convoys, sometimes of hundreds of ships stretching from horizon to horizon, proceeded majestically across the broad expanse of the Atlantic, guarded by sea and by air, bringing the men and materiel that would drive a stake through the heart of the wickedest regime the world had ever seen. With the help of ULTRA, the Battle of the Atlantic had been won.

CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM IN AN AGE OF RELIGIOUS CONTENTION

By 1550, the threat to Christendom from the Ottomans was real, their advance into European lands inexorable. With energy and creativity they cemented their hold on the Hungarian plain around military and governing centres (sanjaklar), which they established to control the Danube and its associated watercourses. The capture of Belgrade in 1521 was followed by the collapse of Hungary in 1526. Buda was pillaged by the Turks in 1526, besieged in 1529 and then finally occupied permanently in 1541. Esztergom was besieged six times before it finally fell to the Ottomans in 1543, to become the front-line fortress and frontier sanjak. Meanwhile, Temesvár was conquered in 1552, thereby broadening and consolidating the Ottoman footprint north of the Balkans. The Turks adapted to local customs as the price for cementing their hegemony. The post-conquest cadastral surveys in central Hungary allocated local resources to support material infrastructure locally in order to make good their claims that they were not a predatory regime. There were tax exemptions and compensation for civilian populations most affected by Ottoman garrisons, paid for from central funds or transfers from the Egyptian treasury.

Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania were unstable, porous, multi-cultural and religiously diverse overlordships where the success of those in authority depended on how they brokered their acceptance with the various local groups, and played off their neighbours against one another. The Ottomans understood how to exploit local grievances and disputes to keep local rulers loyal to them. They embraced Wallachia as a quasi-independent protectorate. It was occupied by garrisons but never subjected to a cadastral survey, nor was its land granted out as prebends (timar) to reward Ottoman cavalry (sipahis) or serving officers in the imperial army (janissaries). That served as the pattern for Moldavia as well, where a failed attempt by local nobles to recover their independence from Ottoman rule in 1538 signalled its more permanent absorption into Ottoman overlordship.

Transylvania was more complex. It was the densely wooded region to the east of Hungary, whose scattered population was divided into Hungarian (Magyar) nobles and peasants to the west, Turkish peasants and Slavs to the east, Lutheran German immigrants in small towns, and self-governing communities of Szekler forest folk. The princes (voivodes) of Transylvania could not hope to defend their lands against an outright attack by any of their larger neighbours (Poles, Habsburgs, Turks). Their countrymen could raise cavalry on a voluntary basis, but only for the summer months. They needed a protector. But opinions were divided in Transylvania as to where that protection should come from. Around 1550, some (especially in western Transylvania) looked to the Habsburg archduke, and later emperor, Ferdinand I. Others supported John Sigismund Zápolya, a remnant of the Jagiellon dynasty through his mother. He was twice elected king of Hungary (1540–51 and 1556–71), mainly thanks to the protection of the Ottomans.

Rivalry between John Sigismund and Ferdinand was also fomented by religious differences. Transylvania had become a haven for Reformed Protestant proselytizing and, in due course, for Unitarians. The beliefs of the latter seemed to offer the possibilities of syncretism between Christianity and Islam. That appealed to many groups in eastern Transylvania, especially the Szeklers, for whom Islam was a close and not-so-feared neighbour. The Ottomans played on those differences to establish their hegemony while allowing the local Diet to elect its own princes and exacting no hostages or tribute. In Transylvania, a neo-Calvinist prince ruled with Ottoman blessing. Under Turkish aegis, Latin-rite Christians, Calvinists, Lutherans and Unitarians had a recognized place in Transylvanian life, while Orthodox Christians were tolerated. As with the frontiers between Protestant and Catholic Christianity, so those between Christianity and Islam were nowhere as neat as the proponents of Crusade and Holy War on either side would have liked them to be.

The Ottoman empire was (somewhat like the pre-Christian Roman empire) an amalgam of cultures and traditions which its expansion fostered. Islam provided its foundational legitimacy. The sultans conceived of themselves and their social order as Muslim and their state as an Islamic one. Yet, by 1550 the empire spread over three continents and embraced 15 million people. The Ottomans learned how to match the protection of the House of Islam with the practicalities of ruling diverse peoples. Ottoman religious and military élites maintained the primacy of Islamic law but were flexible about how they did so. The interpreters of Islamic law (müftis) presided over mosques and religious schools (medresses). They were independent of the regime and could be the focus of opposition to it. But they were trained in the Sunni Hanafi school of Islamic law, which offered justifications for religious syncretism in terms of the eventual conversion of those who were not originally of the faith. By contrast, those who administered the Islamic law locally (kadis) were appointed by the state, priest-magistrates who drew upon Sultanic law as well as local customs and traditions, while seeking to interpret them within the framework of their understanding of Islamic law (the Shariah). At the same time, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Jewish communities all had their own courts within the empire, and judged people in accordance with their own laws. Genoese, Venetian (and then, later, French, English and Dutch) residents were also allowed their own courts in the trading centres of the empire. Even within the House of Islam, the Ottomans accorded space and legitimacy to the dervish orders. Christians, Jews and Armenians of talent found their way into Ottoman military and administrative élites.

While religious dissent had initially encouraged Christendom to define itself as a belief-community through the exclusion of those who did not subscribe to its beliefs, the Ottoman empire was able to expand in the same period on a basis of qualified inclusion. So although European lands had few Muslims in their midst the Ottoman empire embraced a mixture of Christians of different traditions. The majority of its Balkan subjects were (with the exception of some parts of Albania and Bosnia) Christians. There were minority Christian populations in Anatolia and concentrations of Christians in Middle Eastern mountain regions which had traditionally served as refuges (Mount Lebanon, Sasun and the Tur Abdin). Many Christians in the Ottoman empire acknowledged their allegiance to either the Greek Orthodox patriarch, or the Apostolic Armenian patriarch, both located in the Ottoman capital. Both Church hierarchies were recognized by the Ottoman bureaucracy. But there were many Christians in the Asian and African provinces of the Ottoman empire who were neither Orthodox nor Armenian – Copts, Jacobites, Maronites and Nestorians.

From the later sixteenth century onwards, the globalizing Christian ambitions of Catholic Christianity sponsored attempts by European missionaries from the later sixteenth century onwards to make common cause with these Asian and African Christians and to wean the Orthodox and Armenian faithful to the Latin cause. Their objective was to form a ‘Uniate’ Church (that is, one in communion in Rome) as had occurred in the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands among the Orthodox faithful after 1595. In the Ottoman empire, however, such efforts backfired – not least because Ottoman officials, reluctant to intervene in what they regarded as Christian quarrels of no concern to them, endorsed the rival authorities of the two patriarchies. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the contentions over religion in Constantinople were focused around protecting Catholic missionaries (attempts led by the French monarchy) from hostility originating, in most part, not from Muslims but from the Orthodox and Apostolic Armenian patriarchs.

Western Christendom’s ideologues talked up the need to respond to the Ottoman threat with a Crusade against the Infidel, ignoring the reality that the Ottoman empire was a pluralist entity in which Christianity had an acknowledged place. In a parallel fashion, Islamic religious leaders periodically proclaimed the need for a Holy War (ghâzá), while Ottoman rulers simultaneously sought to retain the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional basis of the empire. Like Christian princes in the West, however, the sultans had to respond to the popular expectations for spiritual renewal in their midst as well as pressures for a greater degree of religious orthodoxy and state-sponsored confessional identity. In both Christian Europe and Ottoman Islam there were mutual and contradictory pressures – some for confrontation and others for coexistence. The resulting ambivalence explains the ebb and flow in the relationships between Europe and the Porte: mutual tensions, followed by renewed and contingent accommodation.

Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean constituted a particular focus for Christendom’s fears. That was where it was most readily understood within an eschatological context. The prophecies of Joachim of Fiore from the years of Christendom’s crusading fervour taught that the Turks were a manifestation of the Antichrist whose final overthrow would signal the End Time. They were joined by other prophetic proclamations with their origins in the last years of Byzantium. In Venice, Florence and elsewhere in Italy, such writings were more widely diffused in print, and given credence in the years of heightened tension from the Turkish menace. As the Ottoman siege of Cyprus unfolded in 1570 so the Brescian alchemist Giovanni Battista Nazari published one of several works to appear from Venetian presses that year predicting that the Venetian Lion, the Imperial Eagle and the Papal Lamb would together slaughter the Turkish Dragon. Equivalent prophecies circulated in the Muslim Mediterranean world as it approached its own millennium (1591–2 in the Christian calendar). One of the most widely distributed predictions within Christendom (appearing in twenty-three printed editions in the years from 1552 to 1600) was that the Ottomans would capture ‘the red apple’, interpreted in the West as the city of Rome.

The Mediterranean was the heart of an economic world straddling continents and civilizations. Its urban centres and hinterlands were linked by patterns of exchange which were both collaborative and competitive. What went on at one end of the Mediterranean was rapidly known, talked about and emulated at the other. Intermediary groups (Armenians, Jews, Moriscos, Christians who had converted to Islam either voluntarily or by coercion and others) served as conduits of information across religious and cultural divides. Venice, Europe’s great entrepôt with the East, had a guild of official translators (dragomen) who acted as intermediaries with the Ottoman empire. These intermediaries relayed Christian and Muslim prophetic voices in the Mediterranean echo-chamber, each urging on the anxieties of the other. One sign of the waning of Crusade was the decreasing economic and cultural influence of the intermediary Mediterranean trading diasporas in the seventeenth century, and the shift in the centre of gravity of Europe’s eschatological and millennial speculation. By the 1620s it had moved away from the Mediterranean and the fear of the Turk, to be relocated in the hands of Protestant interpreters in the upheavals of central Europe.

The Ottoman military conquest of Syria and Mamluk Egypt in 1517 was followed by the acknowledgement of Ottoman suzerainty by the Arab advocates of Holy War in the Maghreb and the corsair states along the North African coast. The latter’s licensed depredations on Christian shipping were the way whereby the Ottomans sustained their overlordship along the shoreline of the southern Mediterranean at little cost to local populations. They also acquired a naval competence with which to challenge successfully the combined maritime strength of Venice and the Habsburgs in the second Ottoman-Venetian War (1537–9). As a result, the Ottomans established their pre-eminence in the Aegean and over the majority of the eastern Adriatic coast. Just as the Ottomans exploited local frustrations against the incompetent Mamluks, so they were adept at fomenting Greek Orthodox resentments of their Latin Catholic overlords in the Aegean islands to establish their hegemony. By 1550, Ottoman naval forces were never more than a day or so away from a port and supplies for their galleys in the eastern Mediterranean. That gave them a considerable advantage over the navies of Christendom when the latter ventured on long-range expeditions east of Malta.

The Ottomans were well informed about the religion and politics of Christendom, thanks to the Jews, converted Moriscos and Christians in their service. The Muslim empire’s westward expansion depended on exploiting Christian divisions and rivalries. By 1550, however, it was reaching the strategic limits dictated by the geography of its land supply-lines. Ottoman military maps tell the story of how important these were, as do their ambitious projects to link the Don and Volga rivers (first conceived in 1563), to build a Suez canal (1568) and another linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara through the Sakarya river (begun in 1591). No amount of local outsourcing to supply the strategically placed outpost garrisons could replace the need to march men and equipment to the campaign front line. Equally, the materials and crews to man their Mediterranean fleets were not summoned out of thin air. They required logistic planning and forethought. Even more important in limiting Ottoman expansion to the west was the reality that the further they penetrated into the core of European land-space the more they encountered peoples who were acculturated not to accept Muslim rule and prepared to resist it.

Nor was the Islamic world itself immune to religious division. Developments here, as in other aspects of the Middle East, bear comparison with those in the West. In 1501, the Grand Master of the Safaviyeh Order, a Sufi group of mystics from what is now northwest Iran, proclaimed himself Shah (‘king’) Ismail in Azerbaijan and Iran and established his capital in Tabriz. Claiming to be the direct male descendant of the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, he succeeded in imposing Shi’ism as the religion of what coalesced under his authority and that of his successors as the Persian Safavid empire. Thousands of Shi’a adherents (fundamentally divergent from Sunni Islam) were massacred by the Ottomans in Asia Minor in an effort to repress the heresy in the first half of the sixteenth century, while the supporters of Ismail desecrated Sunni graves and sought to advance Shi’ism by military means, regarding the shah as both a religious leader and a military chieftain.

The periodic wars that broke out between the Ottomans and Safavid Persia in the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth centuries took resources and focus away from Ottoman expansion to the west, which in turn further opened the door to a coexistence with Europe. With the Portuguese (and later the Dutch) holding sway in the Indian Ocean and hovering at the entrance to the Red Sea, the possibility that Europe would make common cause with the Safavid rulers of Persia was a constant preoccupation in Constantinople. Further Islamic dissent also appeared in the sixteenth century from the Saadi, an Arab dynasty located in southern Morocco, whose members claimed to be (like the Safavid) directly descended from the Prophet’s family. At the Ottoman Porte, as in the capitals of Europe, the relationships between East and West came to be seen in terms of global strategic imperatives rather than a Crusade.

Zabrodskyi’s Raid: The First Major Ukrainian Counteroffensive

Zabrodskyi in 2014

Major Battles of the Russo-Ukrainian War

Despite Russian efforts to confound Ukrainian counteraction, Ukrainian forces were successful at pushing back Russian and partisan forces to the boundaries of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Ukrainian success in these early operations triggered a transition in the war- Russia became far more aggressive in response. As a result, Russia unleashed conventional warfighting capabilities, techniques, and force structures not recently seen on modern battlefields. Likewise, the Russian army became more overt in its presence and began to funnel more armored and mechanized combat systems into the Donbas, to include the venerable T-80 and T-90 main battle tanks. In response to the shifting momentum following the battle of Zelenopillya, Ukraine launched an armored raid into the Donbas, seeking to thwart Russian initiative, weaken DPR and LPR partisan forces, and assist a beleaguered Ukrainian formation isolated at the Luhansk airport. Analyst Phillip Karber called the raid the longest armored raid in history, as the Ukrainian 95th Air Assault Brigade, under command of Colonel Mykhailo Zabrodskyi, penetrated the Russian front and wreaked havoc deep within the Russian-controlled region. The raid resulted in a two hundred-mile excursion through Russian and partisan held territory in which Zabrodskyi’s 95th Brigade scored a number of tactical successes.

“Zabrodskyi’s Raid,” as the mission became known, launched from the ATO headquarters in Kramatorsk and advanced south and east along highways H21 and E50. Zumbrowskyi’s 95th Brigade fought conventional ground combat with Russian and partisan forces at Bakhmat, Debal’tseve, Saur-Mogila, and Luhansk. The 95th Brigade, being an Air Assault brigade, was significantly augmented with tanks, mechanized infantry, and self-propelled artillery to support the operation. Additionally, Zabrodskyi led the brigade through a contested river crossing on Highway 21 along the Mius River, outside Krasnyi Luch. Following the successful river crossing, the 95th Brigade fought its way through Krasnyi Luch in route to Luhansk.

The 95th Brigade’s combat at Luhansk centered largely at the airport and was conducted from July 13-24, 2014. Fighting at Luhansk, the 95th Brigade, consisting of approximately sixty to seventy tanks and infantry fighting vehicles had two objectives. First, it was to assist the encircled Ukrainian unit and prevent its destruction. Second, the 95th Brigade was to regain control of the airport from Russian and partisan forces.  On July 13, 2014, Zabrodskyi’s brigade penetrated the Russian defensive perimeter, reached the airport, and made contact with the beleaguered Ukrainian forces defending the airport. Ukrainian forces conducted joint operations, employing their air force in conjunction with the 95th Brigade to attack the Russian defenders at the airport. The unified action of the Ukrainian armed forces loosened the grip Russian forces maintained around the airport, allowing the trapped formation to extricate themselves. As part of this effort, Russian forces employed air defense missiles to deny Ukrainian forces resupply at the airport and to disrupt their ability to conduct joint operations. As a result, the Ukrainian air force lost two aircraft, an An-26 on July 14 and a Su-25 on July 16. Additionally, two more Su-25 aircraft were downed by Russian air defenses on July 23 at Saur-Mogila. However, exhausted and out of supplies, Zabrodskyi’s 95th Brigade culminated on July 23. Later that day the force withdrew from the Luhansk airport, returning to the relative safety of Kramatorsk. Zabrodskyi’s raid succeeded in arresting Russian offensive action, but only briefly. The raid also succeeded in relieving the isolated Ukrainian force at Luhansk airport, but the mission failed to wrest the facility from Russian control.

 

EGYPT: ‘THE BEGINNING OF A SERIES OF GREAT MISFORTUNES’

Bonaparte and his chief of staff in Egypt, painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1863

Early on the morning of 5 May 1798, Napoleon slipped out of Paris to join a 40,000-strong French army sailing towards Egypt. A popular general after his victories in northern Italy, he had been lobbying his civilian superiors for an invasion of Britain. But the Royal Navy was still too strong, and the French were not ready to confront it. In the meantime, France needed colonies in order to prosper, as its foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand believed, and a presence in Egypt would not only compensate the French for their loss of territory in North America, it could also pose a serious challenge to the British East India Company, which produced highly profitable cash crops in its Indian possessions.

Expanding across India, the British had expelled the French from most of their early bases on the coast. In 1798, the British were locked into a fierce battle with one of their most wily Indian opponents, Tipu Sultan, an ally of France. French control of Egypt could tip the balance of power against the British in India while also deterring the Russians, who eyed the Ottoman Empire. ‘As soon as I have made England tremble for the safety of India,’ Napoleon declared, ‘I shall return to Paris and give the enemy its death blow.’ Apart from his country’s geopolitical aims, Napoleon cherished his own private fantasy of conquering the Orient. ‘Great reputations’, he was convinced, ‘are only made in the Orient; Europe is too small.’ From Egypt he planned to push eastwards in an Alexander-the-Great-style invasion of Asia, with him riding an elephant and holding a new, personally revised Koran that would be the harbinger of a new religion.

Napoleon travelled to Egypt with a large contingent of scientists, philosophers, artists, musicians, astronomers, architects, surveyors, zoologists, printers and engineers, all meant to record the dawn of the French Enlightenment in the backward East. The momentousness of the occasion – the first major contact between modernizing Europe and Asia – was not lost on Napoleon. On board his ship in the Mediterranean, he exhorted his soldiers: ‘You are about to undertake a conquest, the effects of which on civilization and commerce of the world are immeasurable.’ He also drafted grand proclamations addressed to the Egyptian people, describing the new French Republic based upon liberty and equality, even as he professed the highest admiration for the Prophet Muhammad and Islam in general. Indeed the French, he claimed, were also Muslims, by virtue of their rejection of the Christian Trinity. He also made some noises – familiar to us after two centuries of imperial wars disguised as humanitarian interventions – about delivering the Egyptians from their despotic masters.

Appearing without warning in Alexandria in July 1798, the French overcame all military opposition as they proceeded towards Cairo. Egypt was then nominally part of the Ottoman Empire though it was ruled directly by a caste of former slave-soldiers called Mamluks. Its meagre armies were not equipped to fight war-hardened French soldiers who outnumbered the Egyptians and were also backed by the latest military technology.

Reaching Cairo after some easy victories, Napoleon commandeered a mansion for himself on the banks of the then Azbakiya Lake, installed the scholars from his baggage train at a new Institut d’Égypte, and set about politically engineering Egypt along republican lines. He thought up a Divan consisting of wise men, an Egyptian version of the Directory that exercised executive power in Paris. But where were wise men to be found in Cairo, which had been abandoned by its ruling class, the Ottoman Mamluks? Much to their bewilderment, Cairo’s leading theologians and religious jurists found themselves promoted to political positions and frequently summoned for consultation by Napoleon – marking the first of many such expedient attempts at politically empowering Islam by supposedly secular Westerners in Asia.

Suppressing his allegiance to the Enlightenment, Napoleon vigorously appeased conservative Muslim clerics in the hope they might form the bulwark of pro-French forces in the country. He dressed up in Egyptian robes on the Prophet’s birthday and, much to the disquiet of his own secular-minded soldiers, hinted at a mass French conversion to Islam. Some sycophantic (and probably, derisive) Egyptians hailed him as Ali Bonaparte, naming him after the revered son-in-law of the Prophet. This encouraged Napoleon to suggest to the clerics that the Friday sermon at al-Azhar Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest buildings, be said in his name.

The devout Muslims were flabbergasted. The head of the Divan, Sheikh al-Sharqawi, recovered sufficiently to say, ‘You want to have the protection of the Prophet …You want the Arab Muslims to march beneath your banners. You want to restore the glory of Arabia … Become a Muslim!’ An evasive Napoleon replied: ‘There are two difficulties preventing my army and me from becoming Muslims. The first is circumcision and the second is wine. My soldiers have the habit from their infancy, and I will never be able to persuade them to renounce it.’

Napoleon’s attempt to introduce Egyptian Muslims to the glories of French secularism and republicanism were equally doomed. Cairenes deplored his dramatic alterations to the cityscape, and the corrupting influence of the French in general. As one observer wrote, ‘Cairo has become a second Paris, women go about shamelessly with the French; intoxicating drinks are publicly sold and things are committed of which the Lord of Heaven would not approve.’ In the summer of 1798, Napoleon made it mandatory for all Egyptians to wear the tricolour cockade, the knotted ribbon preferred by French republicans. Inviting members of the Divan to his mansion, he tried to drape a tricolour shawl over the shoulders of Sheikh al-Sharqawi. The Sheikh’s face turned red from fear of blasphemy and he flung it to the ground. An angry Napoleon insisted that the clerics would have to wear the cockade at least, if not the shawl. An unspoken compromise was finally arrived at: Napoleon would pin the cockade to the chests of the clerics, and they would take it off as soon as they left his company.

The Islamic eminences may have been trying to humour their strange European conqueror while trying to live for another day. Many other Muslims saw plainly the subjugation of Egypt by a Christian from the West as a catastrophe; and they were vindicated when French soldiers, while suppressing the first of the Egyptian revolts against their occupation, stormed the al-Azhar mosque, tethered their horses to the prayer niches, trampled the Korans under their boots, drank wine until they were helpless and then urinated on the floor.

Napoleon, though ready to burn hostile villages, execute prisoners and tear down mosques for the sake of wide roads, actually indulged in fewer atrocities in Egypt than he was to elsewhere; he was always keen to express his admiration for Islam. Still, the Egyptian cleric and scholar ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, who chronicled Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt, described it as ‘great battles, terrible events, disastrous facts, calamities, unhappiness, sufferings, persecutions, upsets in the order of things, terror, revolutions, disorders, devastations – in a word, the beginning of a series of great misfortunes’. And this was the reaction of a somewhat sympathetic witness. When the news of Napoleon’s exploits arrived in the Hejaz, the people of Mecca tore down the drapery – traditionally made in Egypt – around the sacred Kaaba.

The dramatic gesture clearly expressed how many Muslims would see Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. It had disrupted nothing less than the long-established cosmic order of Islam – something that human history had shown to be more than a widely shared delusion.

The word ‘Islam’, describing the range of Muslim beliefs and practices across the world, was not used before the nineteenth century. But few Muslims anywhere over the centuries would have doubted that they belonged to both a collective and an individual way of life, an intense solidarity based on certain shared values, beliefs and traditions. To be a good Muslim was to belong to a community of like-minded upholders of the moral and social order. It was also to participate in the making and expansion of the righteous society of believers and, by extension, in the history of Islam as it had unfolded since God first commanded the Prophet Muhammad to live according to His plan. This history began with astonishing successes, and for centuries it seemed that God’s design for the world was being empirically fulfilled.

In AD 622, the first year of the Islamic calendar, Muhammad and his band of followers established the first community of believers in a small town in Arabia. Less than a century later, Arab Muslims were in Spain. Great empires – Persian and Byzantine – fell before the energetically expanding community of Muslims. Islam quickly became the new symbol of authority from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas, and the order it created wasn’t just political or military. The conquerors of Jerusalem, North Africa and India brought into being a fresh civilization with its own linguistic, legal and administrative standards, its own arts and architecture and orders of beauty.

The invading Mongols broke into this self-contained world in the thirteenth century, briskly terminating the classical age of Islam. But within fifty years the Mongols had themselves converted to Islam and become its most vigorous champions. Sufi orders spread across the Islamic world, sparking a renaissance of Islam in non-Arab lands. From Kufa to Kalimantan, the travelling scholar, the trader and the Friday assembly gave Islam an easy new portability.

Indeed, Islam was as much a universalizing ideology as Western modernity is now, and it successfully shaped distinctive political systems, economies and cultural attitudes across a wide geographical region: the fourteenth-century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta had as little trouble getting jobs at imperial courts in India or in West Africa as a Harvard MBA would in Hong Kong and Cape Town today. The notion of a universal community of Muslims, the umma, living under the symbolic authority of a khalifa (caliph), in a Dar al-Islam (land of Muslims), which was distinct from the remote and peripheral Dar al-Harb (land of war), helped Muslims from Morocco to Java to imagine a central place in the world for themselves and their shared values.

Itinerant Muslim traders from India were still displacing Hinduism and Buddhism in Indonesia and even Indochina as late as the seventeenth century. Extensive mercantile networks and pilgrimage routes to Mecca from all corners of the world affirmed the unity of Dar al-Islam. World trade in fact depended on Muslim merchants, seafarers and bankers. For a Muslim in North Africa, India or South-east Asia, history retained its moral and spiritual as well as temporal coherence; it could be seen as a gradual working out of God’s plan.

Though beset by internal problems in the eighteenth century, Muslim empires still regarded Europeans as only slightly less barbarous than their defeated Crusader ancestors. So the success of Napoleon suggested something inconceivable: that the Westerners, though still quite crude, were beginning to forge ahead.

Europe was to express, as the nineteenth century progressed, an idea of itself through its manifold achievements of technology, constitutional government, secular state and modern administration; and this idea, which emerged from the American and French revolutions and which seemed to place the West in the avant-garde of progress, would be increasingly hard to refute. Already in 1798, a remarkably high degree of organization defined the post-revolutionary French state as well as the French people, who were coming together on the basis of an apparently common language, territory and history to constitute a separate and distinct ‘nation-state’.

Faced with the evidence of Europe’s advantages, many Muslims were initially bemused and unable to assess it correctly. ‘The newly established republic in France’, the Ottoman historian Asim recognized in 1801, ‘is different from the other Frankish polities.’ But then he went on to say: ‘Its ultimate basis is an evil doctrine consisting of the abandonment of religion and the equality of rich and poor.’ As for parliamentary deliberations, they were ‘like the rumblings and crepitations of a queasy stomach’. Some of this cultural arrogance lingered in the eyewitness accounts of Napoleon’s conquest by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti. The cleric generally found French practices distasteful, even barbaric: ‘It is their custom’, he wrote, ‘not to bury their dead but to toss them on garbage heaps like the corpses of dogs and beasts, or to throw them into the sea.’ ‘Their women do not veil themselves and have no modesty … They [the French] have intercourse with any woman who pleases them and vice versa.’ Al-Jabarti also mocked French hats, the European habit of peeing in public, and the use of toilet paper. He contemptuously dismissed Napoleon’s claim to be a protector of Islam, laughing at the bad Arabic grammar of the Frenchman’s proclamations, and he sniggered when the French failed to launch a hot-air balloon at one of their demonstrations of European scientific prowess.

Al-Jabarti’s limited experience of political institutions made him misunderstand French revolutionary ideals: ‘their term “liberty” means,’ he concluded too hastily, ‘that they are not slaves like the Mamluks’. He sensed the hostility to his own Islamic values in Napoleon’s claim that ‘all the people are equal in the eyes of God’. ‘This is a lie, and ignorance, and stupidity,’ he thundered. ‘How can this be when God has made some superior to others?’

Still, al-Jabarti, who had been educated at al-Azhar, couldn’t fail to be impressed when he visited the Institut d’Égypte, where the intellectuals in Napoleon’s entourage had a well-stocked library.

Whoever wishes to look up something in a book asks for whatever volumes he wants and the librarian brings them to him … All the while they are quiet and no one disturbs his neighbor … among the things I saw there was a large book containing the Biography of the Prophet … The glorious Qur’an is translated into their language! … I saw some of them who know chapters of the Qur’an by heart. They have a great interest in the sciences, mainly in mathematics and the knowledge of languages, and make great efforts to learn the Arabic language and the colloquial.

Al-Jabarti was also struck by the efficiency and discipline of the French army, and he followed with great curiosity the electoral processes in the Divan that Napoleon had created, explaining to his Arab readers how members wrote their votes on strips of paper, and how majority opinion prevailed.

Al-Jabarti was not entirely deaf to the lessons from Napoleon’s conquest: that the government in the world’s first modern nation-state did not merely collect taxes and tributes and maintain law and order; it could also raise a conscript army, equip well-trained personnel with modern weapons, and have democratic procedures in place to elect civilian leaders. Two centuries later, al-Jabarti seems to stand at the beginning of a long line of bewildered Asians: men accustomed to a divinely ordained dispensation, the mysterious workings of fate and the cyclical rise and fall of political fortunes, to whom the remarkable strength of small European nation-states would reveal that organized human energy and action, coupled with technology, amount to a power that could radically manipulate social and political environments. Resentfully dismissive at first of Europe, these men would eventually chafe at their own slothful and uncreative dynastic rulers and weak governments; and they would arrive at a similar conviction: that their societies needed to attain sufficient strength to meet the challenge of the West.

Banner System (1601-1912)

The banner system was the military, political, and social organization created by the Manchus led by Nurhaci (1559-1626) in the early seventeenth century. It later incorporated the Mongols and the Chinese, acting as the military tool for the Manchu conquest of China and serving as a backbone of the Qing Empire for centuries.

As the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) waned, the Jurchens (Manchus) led by Nurhaci started to consolidate power in northeastern China. Although Nurhaci monopolized the trade in the region, he recognized the importance of creating an effective and powerful military apparatus in order to unify the Jurchens and to realize the goal of empire building.

In 1601, Nurhaci created the banner system by organizing the Jurchens into four banners with four basic colors as identifications: yellow, white, red, and blue. As he recruited more warriors, he created another four banners in 1615: banners with flags embroidered with the four original colors. Historically, this system is called the Eight Banner System.

The banner system was administered through three levels: banner (gusa), regiment (jalan), and company (niru). The whole system functioned as a military force as the banners served as a tool in wars, and a membership in a given banner symbolized the status as a warrior. The stratification of the banner into three levels facilitated effective commandership as all banner men were required to be loyal to Nurhaci. To strengthen fighting capability, Nurhaci’s descendants added eight Mongol and eight Chinese banners in 1634 and 1642.

The banner system was also a political polity as well as a social organization. Principally, all Manchus, Mongols, and the Chinese who surrendered early were banner men. The distinction between soldier and civilian was vague, and they were identical in many cases. At peace, banner men engaged in farming and Banner System I 19 receiving military training; they were dispatched to the front once a war broke out.

When the Manchus conquered China in 1644, the total number of soldiers in the banner system reached 168,900. After 1644, the banner system became a hereditary military caste. By the end of the seventeenth century, the number of banner men totaled a quarter million, a stable figure until 1912. Roughly half of all banner men and their families were stationed in Beijing (Peking) as defenders of the capital. Over 100 banner garrisons were established in major cities or strategic locations throughout the Qing dynasty (1644- 1912), such as those along the Grand Canal and the Yellow River (Huanghe) and Yangzi (Yangtze) Rivers, in the coastal regions, and in the northeast and northwest. A garrison inside a major city was called the “Manchu City” separated from Chinese civilians to avoid direct confrontation. Being in those isolated colonies, the garrisons remained one of the prominent institutions of the Qing dynasty.

Although the banner troops originally were fierce fighters, their life in a new environment in vast Chinese land eventually debilitated their militant spirit. The emperors often issued edicts to remind them of preserving tradition, but the banner system was gradually eroded by banner men’s indulgence in an enjoyable life. In 1735, barely a century after the Manchu conquest, Emperor Qianlong (Ch’ienlung) (reigned 1736-1795) started to rely on the Chinese Green Standard Army to suppress bandits and uprisings. Even though banner men continued to be a state-sponsored military force, they were no longer a regular army.

The banner system proved to be ineffective during the First Opium War (1840-1842) and the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864). As a result, Hunan (Xiang) Army and Anhui Army replaced it. By the end of the nineteenth century, the rise of the New Army (Beiyang Anny or Xinjun) disfranchised the banner system as a military force.

As imperial decay continued, the banner system became a burden to the Qing government, as the state funding diminished. Consequently, banner men lived in poverty and were encouraged to seek self-support. Banner men in urban areas such as Beijing were absorbed into the urban labor force, while those who lived in frontier regions such as Heilongjiang (Heilungkiang) Province became farmers. The Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the abdication of the last Qing Emperor Xuantong (Puyi) (1909-1911) declared the demise of the banner system.

References Crossley, Pamela Kyle. Orphan Warriors: Three Manchu Generations and the End of the Qing World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990. Di Cosmo, Nicola, ed. Military Culture in Imperial China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. Elliott, Mark C. The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. Powell, Ralph L. The Rise of Chinese Military Power, 1895-1912. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955. Rowe, William T. China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999

 

The Role of Pre-Conflict Conflict and the Importance of the Syrian Crucible

Russian private military contractors in Syria, March 2017

The vibrant writing and discussion that forms the corpus of ideas in Russian military thought is exemplary of a timeless tradition among defense establishments, ever debating the changing character of war, operational concepts, and capabilities that will define the battlefield. Naturally the debates never end, but eventually the time comes for military reform, modernization, and to choose a direction for the development of the armed forces based on a congealed view of the operating environment and the future tendencies in warfare. For Russia’s General staff this period began with the military reforms of 2008- 2012, and a state armament program launched in 2011 that was subsequently renewed in 2018. Since 2014, the Russian military has also had ample opportunity to bloody itself in multiple conflicts, putting the new force through a trial by fire, and integrating those experiences into the next cycle of concept development for armed forces.

The evolution of current Russian thinking on warfare can be confidently traced to the debates in the 1980s on how best to reform Soviet armed forces, and the subsequent discussions on the nature of Sixth Generation warfare in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Russian General Staff’s understanding may begin with a classical reading of the correlation forces, but is based more on the correlation of forms and methods in warfare. As such, the salient features of Russian military thought include: a greater appreciation that modern precision guided weapons and standoff conventional capabilities can create effects throughout the depth of the enemy’s lines, that there are no longer operational pauses in conflict, and non-military or indirect methods are at times much more effective than direct action. The absence of spatial distance, made prominent by advancements in global domains such as cyber, space, or information, all of which are commonly integrated in Russian writing on information superiority, has led to a battlefield shaped by capabilities that yield persistent effects.

Russian conceptualization of the modern battlefield sees a leveling off of the tactical, operational and strategic, with the armed forces now living more firmly in the operational-strategic or operational-tactical space. Based on a strong appreciation of the U.S. way of warfare, which is principally aerospace blitzkrieg enabled by an information driven military machine, Russia sees the initial period of war as being decisive to the conflict. Modern weapons, persistent effects, and a host of capabilities that are employed during a threatened period prior to the onset of overt hostilities have raised fundamental questions about the viability of territorial defense and the pacing of conflict. In the Russian view, massed conventional strikes with precision guided weapons can impose damage equivalent to that previously assigned to tactical nuclear weapons. As a consequence, the emphasis has shifted from 20th century industrial warfare to the threatened period of war and the initial period of conflict. Large armored formations, or operational maneuver groups of the 1980s, are now consigned to the much later and less relevant phases of war.

Russian thinking is informed by the desire to acquire the advanced capabilities fielded by Western militaries, as successful organizations often seek to replicate each other’s advancements, but to use them for different purposes, adopting said technology or approaches to counter and defend against the perceived Western way of warfare. Hence Russian armed forces are investing heavily in precision guided munitions, electronic warfare, new generations of long range standoff weapons, unmanned systems, and robotics designed to integrate into Russia’s advantages in the area of ground-based fires. Beyond making the current force much more lethal and capable against current generation counterparts, the goal is to successfully engage in confrontation via non-military means during crisis, establishing information superiority over the adversary, and blunt or retaliate against a massed aerospace attack in the initial period of war. Understanding that Russia is not an expeditionary maritime or aerospace power, it does not need these capabilities for global power projection, but instead for defense of the homeland, to impose the Kremlin’s will on neighbors, and to project power into adjacent regions just beyond Russia’s near abroad.

Several offense and defense centered concepts have emerged to answer the challenges defined by this conception of the threat environment, integrating newly available capabilities after considerable investment in the armed forces. Russian armed forces are organized around a series of ‘strategic operations’, many of them overlapping. These are designed to attack the adversary as a system, targeting the opponent’s ability and will to sustain a fight, with emphasis on logistical, information, and critical civilian infrastructure.

A second approach develops the tactical-operational space, allowing Russia’s ability to conduct war through the adversary’s operational depth by linking reconnaissance complexes with long range fires. This is designed to leverage Russia’s firepower and compensate for the military’s historic blindness – that is, its inability to target enemy forces in real time beyond the tactical ranges of a battlefield. Russia’s goal is to make much greater use of that 100km-500km tactical-operational space, which will allow it to successfully conduct warfare across domains, and substantially bolster its conventional deterrence against would-be attackers, regardless of their technological or numerical superiority.

Finally, the country is headlong into developing the capability and capacity to conduct long range fires that can target the full depth of adversary lines, at operational-strategic distances (500km-2500km), investing in the number of available fires. Such strikes will be integrated with offensive non-kinetic capabilities targeting enemy infrastructure, based around the desire to challenge the adversary’s will, create operational pauses during conflict for negotiation, and destroy key infrastructure that the other side would need to sustain a campaign. This approach is flexible, aimed at both denial and punishment. It is an attempt to coerce through cost imposition while remaining scalable to achieve warfighting aims. The scalability remains aspirational, as Russia still has a long way to go in acquiring conventional standoff weapons in large quantities.

Defensive concepts seek to solve the Russian nation’s historic vulnerability and penetration by opponents’ modern offensive systems, against which defense is both technically and economically difficult to mount. Russia is integrating civilian and military infrastructure under a concept in which everyone fights, creating new decision-making mechanisms like the National Defense Control Centre, and bringing civilian leadership into military simulations. This is in effect the ability to conduct total mobilization, particularly effective in bolstering a country’s coercive credibility in a crisis, allowing them to signal the readiness to absorb casualties and engage in total war. Meanwhile, the job of aerospace forces is to blunt aerospace attacks and impose high costs with integrated air defenses against technologically superior air powers like the United States. Air defense, missile defense, and electronic warfare come together to reduce the effectiveness of Western weapons, absorb those fires, and protect critical infrastructure in the Russian homeland.

A phased concept of strategic deterrence, increasingly prominent since 2009, is intended to make use of imposed operational pauses to effect escalation management, or deterrence in conflict. Integrating instruments of national power, Moscow seeks to prevent hostilities via anticipatory operations in a time of crisis, and attack key enemy nodes during the initial period of war. A pulsed attack on critical enemy infrastructure, for example, could impose ‘gut checks’ on an opponent’s desire to further continue fighting, assuming the asymmetry of interests at stake favors Moscow (and in the Kremlin’s conception it always does). If escalation management fails, the final step is to demonstrate the readiness and determination to use nuclear weapons, and if necessary, employ them. Nuclear escalation when defending is quite credible, as it presumes greater resolve, based off of interests at stake, and distinct force advantages favoring the Russian side. In this respect Russian nuclear concepts differ little from NATO’s Flexible Response of the 1960s and the Schlesinger Doctrine of limited nuclear options of the 1970s. However, for Russia such approaches are inherently much more credible, as Russia’s deterrence is central versus extended, and the decision-making mechanisms involved will be unitary as opposed to in consultation with allies or an alliance command.

However, military thought and operational concepts rarely survive actual combat like nothing else. Whatever senior officers m ay write or say, all militaries have a tendency to want the same things: high-end capabilities, larger force structures, expensive platforms, and numerous general officer billets. These are what one might call institutional proclivities borne of the profession. It is war that helps to focus the minds of General Staff officers on those capabilities and concepts they need in order to win. Ukraine demonstrated the need to restructure the ground force, rethink maneuver elements like battalion tactical groups, and tilt back from overly focusing on just defending against the U.S. way of warfare.

There is no substitute for a large and effective ground force if one seeks to impose their will on neighbors, because only a capable ground force can hold terrain. Without it one cannot threaten invasion, and thus cannot effectively coerce, as airpower is notoriously ineffective as a tool of coercive diplomacy. At the end of the day, Russia is a Eurasian land power, and at the heart of its force beats land-based firepower together with a large armored fist. Ukraine was a stark reminder that local and regional wars remain the most likely contingencies for Moscow, and Russia would have to reinvest in not just equipment but the force itself, dramatically increasing the number of contract servicemen, improving their personal kit, and integrating land-based fires with autonomous ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems on the battlefield.

Syria on the other hand is proving a transformative conflict for the Russian armed forces, where not only equipment but the entire Russian cadre of senior officers have gained operational experience in warfighting. Russian Aerospace forces came of age in Syria, with much of the air force intentionally bloodied in the conflict. Most long-range missiles and other high-end capabilities have been tested in Syria, together with various reconnaissance platforms to direct them. Russian armed forces quickly realized their limitations in both the dearth of weapons available to prosecute moving targets on the battlefield, and the lack of planning experience that would permit real time integration of ground forces with airpower. These problems are in the process of being addressed. The Russian military establishment has proven fairly forthright in evaluation of its performance, seeking to leverage Syria in order to build a proven military.

However, the Russian armed forces deployed in Syria today are already quite different from the force that first began the campaign in fall 2015. Based on that experience, the backbone infrastructure is slowly falling into place, allowing Russian airpower to effectively support ground units, in real time, with newly developed precision weapons. Most importantly, the Russian military experience in Syria exposed the weaknesses in modern equipment, force structures, and operational concepts at a time when they were relatively nascent, giving the Russian General Staff useful results when there is plenty of opportunity to adjust course. As a result, Russian armed forces are increasingly able to conduct combined arms warfare, project fires at operational distances, and e stablish the state’s coercive credibility to shape adversary decision-making, restoring the military as a useful and reliable instrument of national power.

 

Braddock Down

Early in November 1642, though his forces were still not complete, Ralph, Lord Hopton (1598–1652), after some indecisive skirmishing with Colonel William Ruthven’s men out of Plymouth and encouraged by promises of support from the Devon Royalists, moved eastwards across the Tamar. His ‘volunteers’ proved, however, no more eager to leave their native county than had the Trained Bands, and had to be bribed with an advance of pay.

Partly because of prompt countermeasures by the Parliamentarians, Hopton’s anticipated support from the Devon Royalists failed to materialise, and, although he was able to chase Ruthven back into Plymouth and occupy Tavistock, the Royalist commander had no more substantial success to claim. Urged on by further promises of support, the Cornish Army advanced on Exeter, which Hopton had been assured would surrender without a fight. However, on arriving before Exeter on 18 November, Hopton found his summons firmly rejected, and, after an exchange of artillery fire, the Cornishmen were sufficiently roughly handled in a sally by the defenders to abandon their attempt and pull back to Tavistock.

With more optimism than solid grounds for confidence, Hopton turned his attention to Plymouth, and, with his headquarters at Plympton, established a number of outposts to blockade the town on its landward side. Some indecisive skirmishes followed, with Ruthven, by now being reinforced and supplied by sea, making initially unsuccessful attempts to break the Royalist blockade. Still hoping for support from Devon, Hopton and the Royalist High Sheriff of the county called upon the posse commitatus to muster at Modbury on 6 December. As was usually the case, only a few men appeared, and these, according to Hopton, were ‘so transported with the jollity of the thing that no man was capable of the labour, care and discipline’.

This jovial gathering was too good an opportunity for Ruthven to miss, and in a dawn sortie on 7 December he quickly dispersed the militia, Hopton, according to one account, narrowly escaping capture. His designs on Plymouth thwarted, Hopton withdrew to Totnes in largely pro-Royalist south Devon, and pillaged the surrounding countryside. The Parliamentarians meanwhile were strengthening the defences of Barnstaple in north Devon and raising troops in the area to combat a Royalist force mustering at Torrington.

Just before Christmas 1642, again optimistically believing hints of local Royalist assistance, Hopton made a renewed advance on Exeter. He was once more disappointed with the outcome. The Cornish lacked the strength fully to blockade the city, which had been reinforced from Plymouth by Ruthven. After a half-hearted assault had been repulsed on 1 January, the Royalists retreated slowly westwards, ‘in that bitter season of the year’, as Hopton ruefully put it . As they trudged back towards the Tamar, via Crediton, Okehampton and Bridestowe, the sullen Cornish foot were ‘through the whole march so disobedient and mutinous, as little service was expected of them if they should be attempted by the Enemy.’ Despite Hopton’s fears, however, when a party of Parliamentarian horse approached near Bridestowe, the Cornishmen promptly fell into rank and saw them off.

By 4 January 1643 the Royalist army was back in Cornwall at Launceston, its first invasion of Devon having ended in ignominious failure.

The initiative now passed to the Parliamentarians. Reinforcements, including three regiments of foot, under a new and more energetic commander, the Earl of Stamford, were on the way, and these reached Exeter on 6 January. Stamford’s plan was to unite his forces with those under Ruthven at Plymouth and, with a combined strength of 4,500 men, cross the Tamar and destroy the Cornish Royalists. Instructions were sent by Parliament for additional funds to be raised in Devon to support this force.

The Royalists were in a poor condition to meet the imminent threat of invasion. Many of their troops were mutinous through lack of pay, and lacked arms and ammunition. They were saved by a mixture of blunders by their opponents and an unexpected stroke of good luck. Ruthven, possibly anxious to capitalise on his initial success or, as is sometimes suggested, wishing to gain credit for defeating the Royalists before Stamford arrived, attacked the crossing of the Tamar at Newbridge with a mixed force of troops, including units from Dorset, Somerset and Devon, and a small Cornish Parliamentarian regiment of foot under Francis Buller. The Royalists had broken down the arches of the bridge, but whilst Ruthven’s musketeers exchanged fire with its Royalist defenders his horse and dragoons crossed at a ford below the bridge, chasing off a small group of enemy dragoons and capturing three or four of them.

Next morning, probably after effecting temporary repairs to the bridge, the Parliamentarian force crossed into Cornwall. In response the Royalist garrison of Saltash abandoned the town and withdrew through Launceston to join Hopton’s main force at Bodmin. Ruthven himself crossed by boat from Plymouth to join his troops at Saltash, bringing with him reinforcements, including Carew’s Cornish horse and his own Scots professional soldiers. Probably hastened by news of the Earl of Stamford’s imminent arrival at Plymouth, he pushed on to Liskeard.

At this point, what the Royalists would claim as the workings of Providence intervened on Hopton’s behalf. On 17 January stormy weather forced three Parliamentarian ships, laden with arms and ammunition — and, equally importantly, money — to seek shelter in Falmouth, where they were promptly seized by the exultant Royalists. With their contents, and £204 rapidly raised by Francis Bassett, Hopton was able to re-equip his men and provide them with all their pay arrears plus an additional fortnight’s wages in advance. A rendezvous was called the same day at Moilesborrow Down, where the five volunteer foot regiments, with a few horse and dragoons and some of the Cornish Trained Bands and posse comitatus were gathered, making a total of about 5,000 men.

Refreshed and revived, the Royalist Council of War met on 18 January at Lord Mohun’s house at Boconnoc, where their troops spent the night encamped in the park. The Council decided that their only hope lay in engaging Ruthven before he could be reinforced by Stamford, and around noon on 19 January the Royalists set off in search of the enemy.

As Hopton’s men crested the hill above Boconnoc, their scouts sighted the enemy drawn up on rising ground on the eastern side of Braddock Down, just to the west of the present-day village of East Taphouse. The terrain consisted of two areas of heathland, with a few enclosures and areas of shrubs. Several prehistoric tumuli formed prominent features.

Both commanders seem to have been slightly surprised by the encounter. Ruthven had left Liskeard that morning, heading for Lostwithiel, and apparently believed the enemy to be in retreat. His march had been slowed by ‘narrow and very dirty lanes’ and, despite having Cornish Parliamentarians with him, he seems to have found difficulty in obtaining accurate information regarding the locality and Royalist movements. The Parliamentarian commander claimed later that he had been surprised when Hopton’s men emerged from the woods above Boconnoc, and after some skirmishing between opposing horse and dragoons the Parliamentarians fell back to the ridge just short of East Taphouse, and both sides began to deploy for battle.

The Royalists had simplified their confused command structure by requesting Hopton to command during the battle, and he drew up his forces on the west side of Braddock Down‘in the best order he could’. He had a slight advantage in numbers, with perhaps 5,000 men against a Parliamentarian force of 3–4,000. Both armies included troops of widely varying quality.

Hopton advanced a party of musketeers to line the hedges of some small enclosures to the front of his main position and drew up his body of foot on the ridge itself, in two lines, with horse and dragoons stationed on his flanks. The Parliamentarians, who probably had a slight numerical advantage in horse over Hopton’s 250 troopers, deployed in similar fashion on the north-east side of Braddock Down, keeping a reserve of foot in the hedges behind their main position.

The opposing forces were within musket shot of each other, and neither at first showed any desire to quit their strong position and launch an attack. About two hours of largely ineffectual exchanges of musket fire between the opposing forlorn-hopes in the hedgerows followed, until Hopton decided to take the initiative.

Two light guns, or drakes, belonging to Lord Mohun were dragged up the hill from Boconnoc and advanced within range of the enemy, concealed behind a party of horse. With the Parliamentarian artillery still bogged down in the lanes leading from Liskeard, Hopton decided to launch a general assault.

Prayers were said at the head of the divisions of foot and then, after the drakes had fired a couple of rounds, the Cornish foot advanced down one slope and up the other towards the Parliamentarian position. The assault was headed by Sir Bevil Grenville’s Regiment of Foot, with the less reliable Trained Bands and militia in support. The horse charged on both wings.

Enemy resistance quickly collapsed. Ruthven’s first line broke with little fighting. The reserve, behind the hedges, at first attempted a stand, but when their mounted officers made off the troops joined the flight.

Sir Bevil Grenville wrote an exultant account of the action to his wife:

My dear love,

It hath pleased God to give us a happy victory this past Thursday being the 19th of January, for which pray join me in giving God [thanks]. We advanced yesterday from Bodmin to find the enemy, which we heard was abroad; or, if we miss finding him in the field, we were resolved to unhouse him in Liskeard or leave our bodies in the highway. We were not above three miles from Bodmin when we had view of two troops of their horse to whom we sent some of ours which chased them out of the field, while our foot marched after our horse. But night coming on we could march no further than Boconnoc Park where (upon my Lord Mohun’s kind motion) we quartered all our army that night by good fires under the hedge.

The next morning (being this day) we marched forth at about noon, came in full view of the enemy’s whole army, upon a fair heath between Boconnoc and Braddock Church. They were in horse much stronger than we, but in foot we were superior as I think.

They were possessed of a pretty rising ground which was in the way towards Liskeard, and we planted ourselves on such another against them within musket shot, and we saluted each other with bullets about two hours or more, each side being willing to keep their ground of advantage, and to have the other come over to his prejudice. But after so long delay, they standing still firm and being obstinate to hold their advantage, Sir Ralph Hopton resolved to march over to them and to leave all to the mercy of God and valour of our side.

I had the van; and so, solemn prayers in the head of every division, I led my part away. Who followed me with so good courage, both down the one hill and up the other, that it struck a terror in them. Whilst the seconds came up gallantly after me, and the wings of horse charged on both sides.

But their courage so failed them as they stood not our first charge of foot but fled in great disorder and we chased them divers miles. Many were not slain because of their quick disordering, but we have taken about six hundred prisoners. Amongst which Sir Shilston Carmedy is one, and more are still brought in by the soldiers; much arms they have lost, eight colours we have won, and four pieces of Ordnance from them.

And without rest we marched to Liskeard and took it without delay, all their men flying from it before we came.

And so I hope we are now again in the way to settle the country in peace . . . Let my sister and my cousins of Clovelly, with your other friends, understand of God’s mercy to us. And we lost not a man . . .

The Parliamentarian rout was apparently hastened when the townsmen of Liskeard attacked their rear. Hopton suggested that the Cornish deliberately spared many of the fugitives, possibly because some of them were their pre-war neighbours, but the final tally of prisoners was at least 1,250 men, with perhaps 200 dead. Two Parliamentarian demi-cannon and a number of smaller pieces were captured, probably abandoned in the lanes leading to Liskeard.

As the victorious Royalists occupied Liskeard that night, Ruthven fled to Saltash, which he garrisoned before decamping to Plymouth. Pressing his pursuit, Hopton stormed Saltash on 22 January, taking 140 prisoners. Meanwhile a second Parliamentarian force under Lord Stamford had begun an advance on Launceston, but, on learning of the rout at Braddock Down, it retreated to Plymouth. Cornwall was for the moment clear of the enemy and the initiative was back in Hopton’s hands.

THE BUSINESS OF WAR

Spanish Tercio, Thirty Years War

An officer of Pappenheim’s Black Cuirassiers (Thirty Years’ War) holding a wheel-lock pistol, painted by Anatoly Telenik.

Military change profoundly affected Europe’s states. It is sometimes called a ‘military revolution’, although that does not adequately delineate the chain-reactions, occurring over a long time-frame, which transformed the way that states defended themselves. What began in Italy in the fifteenth century was still being felt in the early eighteenth century. An arms race, unleashed in part by the way in which firearms and artillery affected the conduct of war, changed what soldiers wore, the equipment they carried, and the training and preparation that they needed. It transformed the role of the cavalry and its tactics. It altered the wounds they inflicted on one another and their chances of being killed. Firearms produced a step-change in the capital investment upon war. Weapons had to be purchased and stockpiled. Stronger fortifications required more investment in fixed-capital structures, which entailed maintenance and year-round garrisoning. Stronger fortifications meant longer sieges, stretching normal campaigning beyond the summer season and the equipment required. There was an equivalent arms race at sea, resulting from mounting guns on ships and a consequential shift in tactics to a style of combat based on firepower, similar to that used by artillery in sieges.

The visible result of military change was fortifications whose traces still mark the European landscape – distinctive arrow-headed bastions of earth, the lowest parts reinforced in stone or brick to prevent the ramparts from being degraded, with outer-works known as ravelins (triangular), horns (twin-pointed) and crowns designed to deliver a curtain of fire upon would-be besiegers. Engineers were in demand, lured by projects and rewards from one prince to another as states increased their protection with the latest designs of fortified strongholds. Military manuals in the early seventeenth century were replete with ballistic details. Growing international tensions in Europe in the early seventeenth century are reflected in the thousands of miles of newly constructed or modernized fortresses. They included those built by engineers for Henry IV’s head of fortifications (the duke of Sully) from Savoy to Picardy on the French frontiers. Engineers for the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Habsburgs built defensive lines along the rivers in the Netherlands and in the lower Rhineland. The Austrian Habsburgs countered those built by the Ottomans across the Hungarian plain.

The importance of these fortresses in contributing to a military revolution can be exaggerated. Sieges were long and complicated affairs, expensive in materials and lives. Artillery was cumbersome and only fired mortar rounds slowly. As in naval warfare, the mobilization for siege warfare was a hostage to fortune. French commanders in the Thirty Years War found themselves committed by strategists in Paris to sieges which absorbed massive resources, the limited strategic gains being offset by a failure to hold a stronghold somewhere else. Shrewd military commanders in the Thirty Years War and English Civil War avoided sieges. What mattered was operational effectiveness, and for that the military equivalent of subcontracting was an important way for states to provide well-trained and reliable troops, feed and pay them, and motivate them to undertake the arduous route-marches and campaigns which the attritional warfare of the Thirty Years War demanded. Military ‘devolution’ (outsourcing) was as important as military ‘revolution’.

The resort to mercenaries to supplement the resources of a prince was well established, especially on the frontiers of Christendom, where the empty political spaces were occupied by militarized groups (such as Cossacks, Uzkoks and others) which had a tradition of combining raiding and piracy. Privateering was an established way of contracting for naval forces. Condottieri from leading families in the Italian peninsula (the Sforza, the Gonzaga) furnished forces to the Habsburg and Valois combatants in the Italian Wars, their contracts sometimes including a retainer (condotta in aspetto) to ensure that their men were held in readiness for another campaign. The best-trained forces of sixteenth-century Europe were its mercenaries. The Swiss infantry forged the technique of organizing a defensive square of soldiers with halberds, protected by a fringe of pikemen. That, in turn, was adopted by the Spanish tercio and German Landsknechte. The latter were mercenary soldiers, raised through the Holy Roman Empire by smaller German territorial princes and nobles whose units were then contracted out to princes. The effectiveness of the Swiss infantry squares depended on skills that were spread through the companies, coupled with leadership.

Those qualities were acquired by experience. Swiss soldiers were recruited from close-knit peasant communities, comrades staying together in their contingents. Their commanders came from families where military service was regarded as an honourable career. The double-pay pikemen at the flanks of the companies were especially crucial to their solidity under fire. The Landsknechte had a more diverse basis for recruitment (including, after the Reformation, religious diversity) but many of them saw it as a professional calling. Each company had its elected officers who were responsible for troop movements, lodging and supplies, and who represented the interests of the soldiers to the captain. As in the Swiss companies, the men were divided into small groups who trained together. German contracting colonels came from among the smaller territorial princes or imperial nobility, but officers were ‘acclaimed’ by the soldiers at large, assembled in a circle, the body which also collectively enforced military discipline. The notorious flamboyance of mercenaries’ clothing – multi-coloured jackets, slashed breeches and outrageous cod-pieces – reflected the cultural and social assumptions of men who flaunted their sexuality and killing prowess.

Cavalry companies (Reiter) were much in demand, another part of the German soldier-business. Military changes made the traditional ‘man-at-arms’ – a man on a horse, protected with plate armour – a specialized and expensive military weapon. Units of heavy cavalry still survived in France, Venice or Milan into the seventeenth century, satisfying noble pretensions, but mostly they were replaced by bands of mounted cross-bowmen and handgun-men, deployed with some armour protection. German Reiter specialized in the pistolier tactics known as caracol – from the Spanish for ‘snail’ – which created or exploited a collapse in the infantry squares of an opposing army. Such techniques were primarily responsible for the Protestants’ Mühlberg defeat (1547). It required considerable experience to undertake such manoeuvres in battlefield conditions.

Elongated campaign seasons, larger armies and attritional warfare expanded the opportunities for contracted-out military forces. At the same time, the insolvency of princes increased the attractiveness of sharing the costs of raising, equipping, paying and supplying armies with a military contractor. The military ‘enterpriser’ acted as both contractor and creditor. Enterprisers existed throughout the military hierarchy, from colonels and privateering captains through munitioneers and purveyors, up to generals and admirals. Their relationships with states varied, depending on what they offered (and were asked) to undertake. The willingness of enterprisers to expand their range of activities, to advance princes and governments credit, and to take on operational responsibilities, may of itself have intensified military engagements.

Operational-financial contractors existed in naval as well as military spheres. The Mediterranean galley squadrons of the Habsburgs were built, outfitted and maintained by private contractors. Genoese galley fleets were contracted to the Habsburgs. Three of the ships in the 1588 Spanish Armada were built by private contractors, and 45,000 of the 60,000 tons of the fleet that year came from hired merchantmen. Captains (Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh being notable examples) used their ships as business ventures. They raised their capital in consortia, running privateering operations or hiring their vessels to the state, as opportunities dictated. ‘Get a good ship and judiciously manage her’ was the advice to indigent younger sons of English gentry, brought up to believe the exaggerated stories of the profits accruing to Elizabethan adventurers.

The biggest profits from military contracting were to be made in munitions and armaments supplies. Genoa, Hamburg and Amsterdam acted as the centres, but they relied on secondary providers. The Genoese merchant houses of Stefano and Balbi provided the armour and arms to Spanish forces. The Marselis brothers were among the Hamburg munitioneers who serviced the needs of the armies of northern Europe. The Amsterdam armaments manufacturer Elias Trip built armed vessels for the Dutch East India Company, but hired them out to the Portuguese and Venetians during the Twelve Years Truce (1609–21), and then contracted them to the Dutch and the French. Louis de Geer, whose industrial concerns included the development of the Swedish copper and iron works in the 1620s, was approached by the Swedish general Lennart Torstensson in 1644 to provide a fleet of thirty-two crewed and armed Dutch ships against Denmark and Norway (Torstensson War, 1643–5). De Geer was happy to oblige – at a price (466,550 talers).

French and Dutch Protestant forces in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries recruited German infantry and cavalry. They were signed up for the duration of hostilities rather than for a campaign. The capitulations which laid out the terms of the contract were signed in the Rhineland cities where their commanders organized their financial backing. Although the core of the Army of Flanders was provided by Spanish veterans, the majority of the troops which served were raised by similar means. Then, in 1603 the government of the archdukes in the southern Netherlands handed over its operational management to the Genoese enterpriser Ambrogio Spínola, whose credit was better than that of the Spanish government itself. In the Long Turkish War the regiments in the Austrian Habsburg armies came from Italy, Spain and France as well as Germany, their cosmopolitan forces including many Protestant and Catholic enterprisers who followed where opportunities beckoned.

The importance of training increased with the spread of partially mass-produced portable firearms. These included the heavy-duty musket (supported by a rest on the ground when fired) and the lighter arquebus. These weapons were initially fired by a matchlock, a primitive mechanism that dropped slow-burning match-cord into a flash-pan to ignite the powder with the operation of a hand-lever. But dog-locks, wheel-locks and flint-locks – devices to produce a spark to ignite the charge – became more widely available. The introduction of the flint-lock is often credited to Marin le Bourgeois, a French gunsmith (and lute-maker) patronized by the French kings Henry IV and Louis XIII. But there was a trade-off between weapon weight and performance. Only larger-bore muskets could pierce armour at over 200 paces and, until the Thirty Years War (when the rifling of gun-bores that had begun to make hunting firearms more accurate was applied to military weapons), they were inaccurate. Portable firearms therefore depended on being used en masse and at close range with pikemen still essential to protect infantry in battle. Such developments placed even greater emphasis on drill and experience.

Gradually in the earlier seventeenth century the preference emerged for a more linear deployment over the more traditional large square blocks of troops. In his Art of War (1521) Machiavelli was among the first to stress the benefits of that formation. Contemporaries were aware of the disadvantages too. Linear formation lost the cohesion of the square. If challenged upon a flank, the long line had to pivot – a laborious manoeuvre, needing practice and officer oversight. Similar trade-offs were in play in the experiments with lightly armed, mobile cavalry organized into smaller units and shallow lines, offering great battlefield manoeuvrability but at the cost of the cumulative weight of a deep column of cavalry pouring into enemy positions. The Spaniards retained their company squares and it does not seem to have been a disadvantage to them. The French were slow to adopt newer cavalry formations but it did not compromise their victory at Rocroi (19 May 1643). Battlefield tactics did not spearhead a military revolution.

There was a profusion of printed books, covering every aspect of war. In words and diagrams, with lead soldiers, wooden models and mechanical toys, it was a subject of intense discussion. ‘Evrie day,’ noted the Elizabethan soldier Roger Williams, there were ‘newe inventions, strategems of warres, changes of weapons, munitions, and all sorts of engines newlie invented.’ For all that one learned in books, however, there was nothing like the experience of the real thing. The warfare of the late sixteenth century had created the pools of expertise which influenced soldiers of the next generation. The school of Alessandro Farnese, Spanish commander in Flanders in the 1580s and 90s, was highly prized. So too were those of Henry IV and Mauritz of Nassau and his cousin William Louis. The results were watched and to some extent copied in Protestant Europe in the next generation. In a letter to Mauritz in December 1594, William Louis mooted the idea of five rotating ranks of musketeers (based on the Ancient Greek military writer Aelian) to replicate the hail of fire which the Romans reputedly achieved with javelins and sling-shooters. It turned out that it took ten ranks to achieve that result. Intensive drilling was essential, as explained in Jacob de Gheyn’s Arms drill with arquebus, musket and pike (1607), the most successful military manual of its day.

Humanists championed the virtues of conscripted militia and criticized the unreliability, venality and lack of zeal in mercenary soldiers. Their case supported the vision of a Christian commonwealth in which citizens defended the patria in support of their prince. The reality was, however, that wherever conscripted citizen armies were attempted (for example, Machiavelli’s Florentine experiment in 1512 and the French ‘legions’ of the 1540s), they were a failure. Cheaper, they were poorly trained and tended to desert. Justus Lipsius (who knew little about armies but a lot about Tacitus) influenced the next generation with his critique of flamboyantly dressed mercenaries who were a law unto themselves, and his arguments in favour of disciplined, conscripted troops. ‘I likewise require modestie of apparell’ runs the English translation of Book V of his Politics, where he presented his blueprint for ‘a severe conforming of the souldier to valour and virtue’. Military enterprisers in the Thirty Years War and English New Model Army generals disciplined their troops not because they read Lipsius but because they had a stake in the units they commanded.

The regiments which campaigned in the period from 1620 to 1650 were raised and maintained in a variety of ways. There were forces that were financed, administered and directed by the state (parts of the French and Spanish armies, the core of the Swedish army, the New Model Army) at one extreme of the spectrum. General contractors (such as Albrecht von Wallenstein, Ernst von Mansfeld and Bernard of Saxe-Weimar) who ran armies almost as private states in their own right lay at the other. In between there were entrepreneurs offering packages of military and naval force but under the overall control of statesmen, partially state-controlled operations, where some elements (munitions, supplies and so forth) were contracted out, and specialized providers of munitions and other services. Particular circumstances dictated the degree to which military forces were contracted out. What they all had in common was a willingness to fight longer and harder, with higher proportions of casualties. Some of the battles of the Thirty Years War (Rheinfelden, 1638; Freiburg, 1644, for example) lasted over twenty-four hours. At the second battle of Breitenfeld (1642) half of the imperial forces lay dead or wounded or had been taken prisoner; 30 per cent of the opposing Swedish troops were dead or injured. At the battle of Jankau (1645) Lennart Torstensson’s Swedish army of German mercenaries was pitched against the imperial forces led by Melchior von Hatzfeld. Four to five thousand of the 16,000 soldiers on the imperial side were killed or missing by the end of the battle, and a similar number were captured by the Swedes. Regimental soldiers were tough, resourceful and adaptable – prepared to undertake forced marches of hundreds of miles and then pitch into battle without delay.

Such commitment was not generated by loyalty to an individual ruler, except when he was also a battlefield commander as in the cases of Gustav Adolf and Oliver Cromwell. It owed little to religious or patriotic zeal. The armies were composed of different nationalities: Gustav Adolf’s army in northern Germany in 1631 comprised 43,000 Swedes and 36,000 Germans, Scots, Livonians and Latvians. The Army of Flanders was Spanish in name but cosmopolitan in composition. An Italian colonel in imperial service might recruit German or Hungarian soldiers, supplemented by men from Italy or elsewhere. Colonels and commanders did not generally impose confessional adherence on their forces. Religious pluralism was the consequence of recruiting and retaining soldiers for their experience rather than their zeal. Many of those fighting in the English New Model Army (1645–60) did so for religious reasons, and Cromwell became notorious for appointing those of humble means but strongly held Protestant beliefs (‘I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else,’ he wrote to the earl of Manchester). But when their junior officers and ranks became politicized over back-pay in the years from 1647 to1649 they supported the Independents, who rejected a state-imposed religious confession. Scottish Calvinists who, like Robert Munro, joined Gustav’s army ‘for the cause of religion’, fought for a Lutheran of decidedly broad-minded views, at odds with the ecclesiastical establishment of his own country, subsidized by Catholic France. Maximilian of Bavaria’s determination to insist on Catholic officers in his army inherited a broader tradition, encapsulated by the Jesuit Antonio Possevino’s 1569 manual, A Christian Soldier (copies of which were distributed to troops before Lepanto), which drew on crusading traditions. By 1650, those were traditions in clear retreat.

Military commitment was generated within fighting forces themselves. Battlefield commander-enterprisers had a personal financial stake in the survival and success of their units. Their own reputations as well as the fortunes of their backers rested on the operational decisions they made. Survival depended on developing and retaining experienced soldiers. Whatever short-term gains there might have been in recruiting dregs, in the longer term it was ‘able’ seamen and ‘old soldiers’ whose experience counted for most. Securing their services meant recruiting from as broad a background as possible, offering competitive pay, equipping them well, increasing the numbers of double-pay men in the ranks and enhancing prospects of advancement. Year-on-year campaigning, with the reality of different states competing for what military enterprisers offered, strengthened the contemporary perception in the Thirty Years War that soldiery was a career. Among the 15,000 troops of the Bavarian army which disbanded in 1649, six regiments had served continuously since 1620, and a further six had been in action for over two decades. A majority of regiments in German forces had perhaps seen a minimum of six years of continuous campaigning. Most important of all, battlefield commanders were responsible for feeding and paying their men. Their own credit lines and logistic support were essential to their military success.