Ivan the Terrible and the Origins of Russian State Security

Ivan the Terrible and Maliuta Skuratov

Ivan IV ‘the Terrible’, Grand Prince of Moscow in 1533 at the age of only three, who became first ‘Tsar of all the Russias’ in 1547, remains the most mysterious as well as the most terrifying of sixteenth-century European monarchs. Though most biographies and many histories of Russia contain portraits of him, all are imaginary. In striking contrast to the contemporary English Tudor dynasty, no authentic likeness of Ivan survives. The written sources are also more fragmentary and more frequently unreliable than in the case of any other major sixteenth-century ruler, though reports by English merchants and diplomats, which were kept secret at the time, fill some gaps in the Russian records.

The reign of Ivan the Terrible cast a long and brutal shadow over the later history of Russian intelligence and security. Stalin, his greatest twentieth-century admirer, called him a ‘great and wise ruler’ but blamed him for not being terrible enough. Had Ivan ‘knifed through’ five more noble families, Stalin claimed, the authority of the Tsar would have been maintained and Russia spared the ‘Time of Troubles’ which reduced it to chaos less than two decades after Ivan’s death in 1584. Stalin himself made no such mistake in the Great Terror of 1936–8 which killed and imprisoned millions of mostly imaginary traitors. In January 1941, Stalin sent instructions to the great film-maker Sergei Eisenstein to make a film about Ivan the Terrible. By commissioning a film showing that Ivan’s Terror was necessary, Stalin sought to justify his own.

Ivan IV lived in constant fear of conspiracies against him. In December 1564 he left the Kremlin for his fortified country estate at Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, about 100 kilometres north-east of Moscow, from which he accused boyars, other nobles and Moscow court officials of ‘treasonable deeds’; even clerics, he claimed, were ‘covering up’ for the traitors. In January 1565 he announced his intention to divide his realm into two: the oprichnina (a term derived from oprich, ‘separate’) under his personal control and the zemshchina (from zemlia, ‘land’) ruled by the boyars in Moscow. Though a complete separation between the two parts of Ivan’s realm was never established and he spent much of his time in the Moscow Kremlin rather than in the country, the royal decree establishing the oprichnina gave the Tsar unlimited power to ‘eradicate treason’ and execute ‘traitors’.

Oprichniks in Novgorod by Mikhail Avilov

Ivan gave responsibility for identifying and disposing of traitors to his newly established imperial guard, the oprichniki, who, bizarrely, he liked to think of as a monastic order with himself as ‘Father Superior’. The oprichniki, though their responsibilities went beyond intelligence collection and analysis, were Russia’s first organized security service. Swathed in black and mounted on black horses, they must have seemed like a vision from the Apocalypse as they rode though Russia. Each had a dog’s head symbolically attached to his saddle (to sniff out and attack treason) and carried a broom (to sweep away traitors). A seventeenth-century silver candlestick preserved in the museum at Alexandrovskaya Sloboda shows Ivan himself on horseback with dog’s head and broom.

The use of dogs’ heads by the oprichniki was entirely new as well as deeply macabre. Though Russians, like Western Europeans, had long been familiar with folk-tales of Hounds of Hell, dog-headed men and dog-headed monsters, no writer or artist had ever imagined dogs’ heads carried on horses. Though the Russians did not practise taxidermy and so had no mounted animals’ heads on the walls of their residences as in Western Europe, a dog’s head, drained of blood, froze in the Russian winter and could have been carried by oprichnik horses when Ivan created the oprichnina in January 1565. But in spring the dogs’ heads must have begun to decompose, thus limiting their use for six months of the year to those oprichniki able to obtain a regular supply.

The dog’s head remains the most gruesome symbol ever devised by a security or intelligence agency (far more so than the stylized skull and crossbones of the Nazi SS). It was also a fitting symbol for the chief oprichnik, Grigory Lukyanovich Skuratov-Belski, better known as Maliuta Skuratov – against strong competition, probably the most loathsome figure in the entire history of Russian intelligence. Skuratov, a nickname inherited by Maliuta from his father, meant ‘worn-out chamois’, a reference to his coarse complexion. ‘Maliuta’ referred to his short stature. Mikhail Bulgakov, the greatest writer of the Stalin era, wrote in his forbidden masterpiece The Master and Margarita:

Neither Gaius Caesar Caligula nor Messalina interested Margarita any longer, nor did any of the kings, dukes, cavaliers, suicides, poisoners, gallowsbirds, procuresses, prison guards and sharpers, executioners, informers, traitors, madmen, sleuths, seducers. All their names became jumbled in her head, the faces stuck together into one huge pancake, and only a single face lodged itself painfully in her memory – the face, framed in a truly fiery beard, of Maliuta Skuratov.

By a curious coincidence, the most homicidal of Stalin’s intelligence chiefs, Nikolai Yezhov, in whose honour the years of the Terror became known as the Yezhovshchina, was as diminutive and almost as unpleasant as Maliuta; he was given the nickname ‘Poison Dwarf’. Though Yezhov was responsible for far more deaths than Skuratov, neither he nor any other of Stalin’s intelligence chiefs rivalled Skuratov’s enthusiasm for the role of executioner-in-chief or showed such sadistic pleasure in mutilating and torturing victims. Stalin’s admiration for Skuratov exceeded that for any of his own intelligence chiefs. In 1940 Yezhov was secretly tried, found guilty of nonsensical charges of treason, and taken to execution, hysterically pleading for his life. He quickly became an unperson, airbrushed out of official photographs. By contrast, Stalin continued to praise Skuratov’s historical record. At a meeting with Eisenstein in 1941 to discuss the making of his film Ivan the Terrible, Stalin declared that ‘Maliuta Skuratov was a great army general and died a hero’s death in the war with Livonia.’ When asked by the actor Nikolai Cherkasov, who played the role of Ivan, whether a scene showing Skuratov in 1569 strangling the Metropolitan of Moscow, Filipp Kolychev (who had publicly condemned Ivan’s murders), could appear in the film, ‘Stalin said that it was necessary to retain this scene as it was historically correct.’ Filipp is now a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. Skuratov was probably the only one of Ivan’s closest associates whom he never suspected of plotting against him.

Ultimate responsibility for Skuratov’s barbarous purges lay with the Tsar himself. Ivan’s way of warfare (he was at war for all but three years of his reign as Tsar) was brutal even by the standards of the day. A German print made in 1561 during the Russian invasion of Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) shows naked women hanging from a tree above the disembowelled bodies of their children while Russian archers use them for target practice. By the heads of the women hang their children’s hearts. Though there is no corroboration for these atrocities in the sparse Russian sources, since we know that Ivan committed equally appalling acts of brutality against his Russian subjects it is unlikely that he spared the Livonians.

As during Stalin’s Terror four centuries later, none of Ivan’s closest associates (save, probably, for Skuratov) could be certain that they would not be suspected of plotting against him. Among the unlikely figures who figured in Ivan’s conspiracy theories was Prince Ivan Petrovich Cheliadnin-Fedorov, who had been Ivan’s childhood tutor and brought him up in his own household, where his wife had been Ivan’s nanny. For the first two years of the oprichnina he had been close to Ivan. In 1568, however, Ivan’s spies told him, probably wrongly, that Cheliadnin-Fedorov was leading a plot to remove him from power.

According to a probably first-hand account by Albert Schlichting, a German interpreter in the Tsar’s court, Ivan summoned Fedorov to the Kremlin, and ordered him to sit on his throne, dressed in royal attire, and hold the royal sceptre. Ivan bowed and knelt before him, saying: ‘Now you have what you sought and strove to obtain – to be Grand Prince of Muscovy and occupy my place.’ But he added: ‘Since I have the power to seat you upon this throne, so I also have power to remove you from it.’ He then stabbed Fedorov several times in the heart with a dagger. Oprichniki added other dagger blows, ‘so that’, according to Schlichting’s gruesome account, ‘his stomach and entrails poured out before the tyrant’s eyes’. With Ivan at their head, the oprichniki then terrorized Cheliadnin-Fedorov’s estates. According to Baron von Standen, a German who served in the oprichnina: ‘The villages were burned with their churches and everything that was in them, icons and church ornaments. Women and girls were stripped naked and forced in that state to catch chickens in the fields.’ In 1569, following rumours that Ivan’s cousin Vladimir of Staritsa was planning to seize the throne (probably as baseless as those about Cheliadnin-Federov), he was forced by Skuratov to drink poison while his children were murdered around him.

Ivan’s reign of terror was no more related to real Russian security needs than Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s. It reached its peak in 1570 with the oprichniki massacre of the people of Novgorod, Russia’s third-largest city, suspected by Ivan of collective treason. Though the level of oprichnik violence may have run out of central control, it is clear that it was premeditated and that Ivan took a personal part in directing it. Before entering Novgorod with the oprichniki, he sent one of his commanders with retinue, probably in disguise, to ‘spy and reconnoitre’ the main targets for pillage and execution. Then, according to Standen, after plundering the bishop’s palace:

He took the largest bells and whatever he wanted from the churches . . . Every day he arose and moved to another monastery. He indulged his wantonness and had monks tortured and many of them were killed. There are 300 monasteries inside and outside the city and not one of these was spared. Then the pillage of the city began . . .

The distress and misery continued in the city for six weeks without interruption . . . Every day the Grand Prince [Ivan] could also be found in the torture chamber in person . . . Several thousand daughters of the inhabitants were carried off by the oprichniki.

According to a contemporary account in a German newsletter, on their triumphal return to Moscow after the victory over imaginary treason in Novgorod, the leading oprichnik had on his saddle the freshly amputated head of a huge English dog (probably a bull mastiff). Ivan’s horse carried a silver replica of a dog’s head whose jaws opened and closed in time with the movement of the horse’s hooves.

During the Stalin era no suggestion was allowed that any of the killings in Ivan’s reign of terror were influenced by the paranoid strain in his personality. Though the horrors of Ivan’s reign of terror have long since ceased to be a taboo subject for Russian historians, they are underplayed by the official history of today’s Russian foreign-intelligence service, the Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki (SVR), which devotes its first volume to intelligence under the tsars. The history makes no mention of the role (or even the name) of the leading oprichnik, Maliuta Skuratov. It blames Ivan’s brutality in part on his disturbed upbringing in a court riven by intrigue and brutal rivalries. At the age of thirteen, according to the official chronicler of Ivan’s reign, he ordered the brutal murder of Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Shuisky, who he complained had treated him with disrespect, resting his dirty boots on the royal bed. Shuisky was torn to pieces by the Kremlin’s pack of hunting and guard dogs.

The SVR official history acknowledges the historic achievement of Ivan III ‘the Great’ (Ivan IV’s grandfather, who reigned from 1462 to 1505) in ending Russian subjection to the Mongol ‘Golden Horde’, but it gives the main credit for the origins of Russian diplomacy and foreign intelligence to Ivan IV and his counsellor, Ivan Mikhailovich Viskovaty, who in 1549 became the first head of Russian diplomacy, though Russia had as yet no permanent ambassadors stationed abroad. Since there was no clear dividing line between diplomacy and intelligence work, the SVR also reasonably regards Viskovaty as Russia’s first foreign-intelligence chief. His greatest achievement was probably to conclude the Treaty of Mozhaysk with King Frederick II Denmark in 1562, which gave mutual recognition to both countries’ territorial claims in Livonia (modern Estonia and Latvia). The SVR official history concludes that Viskovaty overcame strong initial opposition from the Danish king by ‘what is now called in professional intelligence jargon the acquisition of “agents of influence”. It took money and remarkable strength of persuasion to secretly win over the Danish nobles who were then at the right moment able to influence the King . . .’

Ivan the Terrible’s childhood experience of internecine feuding in the Russian court gave him a natural interest in internal divisions in the foreign courts with which he dealt, such as that of Denmark, on which Viskovaty kept him informed. The SVR official history, however, exaggerates the extent to which Ivan ‘appreciated intelligence that helped to orient himself correctly in foreign policy’, allegedly rewarding even those who provided useless information to encourage them to remain involved in intelligence collection. As the horrors of Ivan’s reign of terror showed, his deeply suspicious nature made it unusually difficult for him to distinguish between real and illusory threats. His later admirer, Joseph Stalin, suffered from the same problem at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Though Viskovaty’s judgement was greatly superior to the Tsar’s, he suffered from two major handicaps in understanding the outside world by comparison with senior officials in major Western states. First, Russia, like Turkey, had no permanent embassies. Its ambassadors were sent abroad for specific assignments and returned after they were complete or were seen to have failed. The Kremlin was thus deprived of the constant flow of information provided by English and some other European ambassadors. Also like Turkey, though in lesser degree, Russia lacked the print culture which had generated an information revolution in the West. Moscow’s first printing house was not founded until 1553, a century later than in Western Europe. Established by Ivan IV and Metropolitan Makarii of Moscow and All Russia, its purpose was to print religious texts. It was deeply unpopular with traditional scribes and is believed to have been burnt down by a mob in 1568. The Kremlin deacon, Ivan Federov, who was chiefly responsible for running the printing house, was forced to flee to Lithuania, though printing resumed soon afterwards. The travel books which were immensely popular in Elizabethan England and help, for example, to account for Shakespeare’s detailed knowledge of Italy, in which he set thirteen of his plays, did not exist in Russia. Open-source knowledge of foreign countries and cultures was extremely limited.

Ivan’s and Viskovaty’s first and closest diplomatic ties in Western Europe were with England. They began not as the result of a Russian policy decision but, as the SVR official history acknowledges, as the unexpected outcome of a failed attempt by the young English merchant adventurer Richard Chancellor, then in his early twenties, to reach China through the Arctic North-East Passage. Chancellor arrived on 24 August 1553 at the mouth of the Northern Dvina river on the White Sea, at the site of the future port of Archangel, which at the time was only a small fishing village. The SVR account emphasizes how effectively Ivan’s ‘notification system’, designed to warn the authorities of the unexpected arrival of foreigners on Russian territory, operated even in this remote, sparsely populated area.

The local governor came aboard Chancellor’s ship, agreed to ‘afford him the benefit of victuals’, and sent a messenger to seek further instructions from the Tsar. When no instructions had been received after three months, Chancellor decided on 25 November to set off himself by horse-drawn sleigh on what he found a ‘very long and most troublesome’ journey to Moscow. Having covered the greater part of the 600-mile journey, he met coming in the opposite direction a messenger from the Kremlin, who had earlier lost his way, bearing an invitation to him from Ivan IV written ‘with all courtesy’. On arrival in Moscow, Chancellor and his men were kept under surveillance for twelve days before Viskovaty informed them that they were to be received by the Tsar. In the royal court, wrote Chancellor later, ‘there sat a very honourable company of courtiers to the number of one hundred, all apparelled in cloth of gold down to their ankles’. The throne room made Chancellor’s men ‘wonder at the Majesty of the Emperor [Tsar]’:

His seat was aloft, in a very royal throne, having on his head a diadem, or crown of gold, apparelled with a robe all of goldsmith’s work and in his hand he held a Sceptre garnished, and beset with precious stones, and besides all . . . there was a majesty in his countenance proportionable with the excellence of his estate . . .

Chancellor and his men were invited to an enormous dinner which gave an unexpected insight into the nature of Ivan’s personal autocracy. In the course of the meal Ivan addressed each of the many nobles and other diners by name: ‘The Russes told our men that the reason thereof . . . was to the end that the emperor might keep the knowledge of his own household, and withal, that such as are under his displeasure might by this means be known.’

Because of difficulty in transliterating his surname into Cyrillic, official Russian documents referred to Chancellor by his first name, ‘Richard’. Following his return to England in 1554, the Muscovy Company was founded in London to trade with Russia. At a time when Russia still had no outlet on the Baltic coast, the new company offered an important trading link with the West and a valuable source of arms and munitions for Ivan’s many wars, as well as of luxury goods. The Muscovy Company (later known as the Russia Company) also made a lucrative trade by importing furs and ship-building supplies. After Chancellor’s second voyage to Russia in 1555, Ivan ordered the construction of an embassy for English diplomats and merchants within the walls of the Kremlin, and gave the Muscovy Company exemption from Russian customs duties. According to the SVR official history, which largely agrees with Western accounts:

Flushed with success, Chancellor returned home [in 1556] with a rich cargo in his ship and the first Russian ambassador [to England] on board, Osip Nepeya. In a stormy night at the Scottish coast, the ship crashed against the rocks. Whilst trying to save the Moscow ambassador, Chancellor was killed along with his son and most of the crew. Nepeya escaped and was ceremoniously received in London, where local merchants arranged a celebration in his honour.

Nepeya returned to Russia in 1557 on the ship of Chancellor’s successor, the experienced sea captain Anthony Jenkinson (‘Anton Iankin’ in Russian documents), who acted as both English ambassador and Moscow representative of the London Muscovy Company. With them, at Nepeya’s request, travelled English craftsmen, doctors, and gold and silver prospectors. Unsurprisingly, after his terrifying voyage to London, Nepeya expressed ‘great joy’ on his safe return to Russia.

The different roles of Nepeya and Jenkinson exemplify the gulf between English knowledge of Ivan IV’s Russia and Russian understanding of Tudor England. Nepeya had come to London on a temporary diplomatic mission to cement the trading relationship begun by Chancellor. He left no Russian embassy or representative behind him in London. Because of Russia’s lack of any direct sources of information in Tudor England, news of the death of Edward VI, the accession of Mary, her marriage to Philip II, Mary’s death and the accession of Elizabeth seem to have been brought to Moscow by Chancellor and Jenkinson. It is highly unlikely that the Tsar and his advisers understood the political and religious complexities of these regime changes. In addition to the problems of translating Tudor diplomatic communications written in Latin, they found them more generally confusing. Ivan later complained to Elizabeth: ‘How many letters we have received in all this time, and all with different seals! That is not the royal custom. And such documents are not trusted in any State. Rulers of States have only one seal.’ Ivan, however, claimed to have believed all these documents and to have done as Elizabeth had asked.

Unlike Nepeya in London, Jenkinson established a permanent English embassy and trade mission in Moscow. He quickly became the most influential foreigner at Ivan’s court. Jenkinson’s warm welcome in the Kremlin in December 1557, when he presented letters to Ivan from Queen Mary and her husband, Philip II, must have owed something to Nepeya’s account of how Chancellor had been drowned saving his life during the voyage to England. A gargantuan dinner followed on Christmas Day, 1557. Jenkinson already knew from Chancellor’s account of his first visit to the Kremlin that the dinner would enable him to judge the extent of the Tsar’s favour. Ivan made clear to the whole court that Jenkinson was an exceptionally honoured guest. Seated by himself at a table of his own next to the Tsar’s, ‘the emperor sent me divers bowls of wine and mead, and many dishes of meat from his own hand’. Ivan showed his favour once again at the Twelfth Night dinner in Ivan’s Kremlin palace, where, wrote Jenkinson, ‘I sat alone as I did before directly before the emperor, and had my meat, bread and drink sent me from the emperor.’ Despite the warmth of the royal welcome, Jenkinson had no illusions about Ivan’s tyrannical regime: ‘He keepeth his people in great subjection; all matters pass his judgment be they never so small.’

Though Chancellor’s and Jenkinson’s accounts of their pioneering missions to the court of Ivan the Terrible are nowadays recognized as important historical sources, at the time they were treated by both the Muscovy Company and the Tudor court as intelligence reports to be kept secret. None of Chancellor’s reflections on his time in Russia were published until 1589, five years after Ivan’s death. Ivan and Viskovaty, among others, would have been outraged by Chancellor’s frank comments on Ivan’s tyrannical rule, on the Tsar’s court (‘much surpassed and excelled by the beauty and elegancy of the houses of the kings of England’) and on some beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Church (‘foolish and childish dotages of . . . ignorant barbarians’). Chancellor provided military as well as political intelligence, notably a report entitled ‘Of the discipline of war amongst the Russes’, which would also have caused offence in the Kremlin. He made, however, the wildly exaggerated claim, probably derived from boasting in the Kremlin, that, in time of war, the Tsar ‘never armeth a less number against the enemy than three hundred thousand soldiers’. The Muscovy Company regarded even Chancellor’s less controversial reports on the main Russian cities as commercial intelligence which was too valuable to potential rivals to be made public.

Ivan’s personal favour allowed Jenkinson unlimited freedom to travel through Russia and cross its borders. After a perilous expedition to Central Asia, he returned to the Kremlin in September 1559 to a hero’s welcome, bringing with him twenty-five Russians whom he had rescued from slavery, as well as six Tatar envoys. No British representative since has ever won such favour in the Kremlin. After spending a year back in London, Jenkinson returned to Russia for the third time in 1561 and, in the course of his own travels further east, became the first English envoy to be used as a secret emissary by a Russian Tsar. In 1562 Ivan personally entrusted him with a hazardous mission to Abdullah-Khan, ruler of Shirvan in the eastern Caucasus, whence he returned a year later with a large consignment of silk and jewels as well as what Ivan regarded as favourable letters from both Abdullah-Khan and the ruler of Georgia. Jenkinson was rewarded with further concessions for the Muscovy Company.

Ivan continued to take Jenkinson into his confidence to a remarkable degree, unaware that in 1566 he wrote to William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, denouncing the oprichniki campaign of terror against nobles suspected of plotting against the Tsar. In the summer of 1567 Ivan began telling Jenkinson that, because of (probably largely imaginary) plots against him, he might have to seek asylum in England. Having taken leave of Ivan on 22 September 1567, Jenkinson returned to England by sea with an official letter and a secret message from the Tsar, both of which he delivered personally to Elizabeth in November. Remarkably, Ivan had thus selected for what he regarded as an important secret assignment a trusted English adventurer in preference to a Russian envoy. In the messages Ivan stressed his desire for a Russian–English alliance, to be negotiated via Jenkinson, and made the extraordinary proposal (unique in the history of English foreign relations) that each monarch should have the right to take refuge in the other’s country: ‘The Emperor [Tsar] earnestly requireth that there may be a perpetual friendship and kindred betwixt the Queen’s Majesty and him.’ Ivan may well have wished to conceal his request for political asylum from Viskovaty and other Kremlin officials.

Ivan had expected Jenkinson to return to Russia with Elizabeth’s reply. Jenkinson, however, was replaced by a new envoy: the diplomat Sir Thomas Randolph, former Master of Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford. Randolph was the brother-in-law of Elizabeth’s intelligence chief and Foreign Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, who probably had a hand in his appointment. Walsingham later used his influence on three occasions to help Randolph become MP for Maidstone. No record survives of what Randolph discovered after his arrival on the White Sea coast in July 1568 about the oprichniki reign of terror, but he clearly feared for his own personal safety, writing to William Cecil even before he reached Moscow that he was anxious to conclude his mission and return to England as quickly as possible. George Turberville, Randolph’s secretary and a former Fellow of New College, Oxford, privately denounced the Russians in poems sent to his friends as ‘a people passing rude, to vices vile inclin’d’. Randolph’s reception on arriving at Moscow late in September added to his anxieties. There was no one to welcome him; even members of the English embassy were not ‘suffered to meet us’. As he later acknowledged, the contrast between his own initial reception and that of Jenkinson ‘bred suspicion in me’. Though supplied with victuals, he was disturbed by the hostile manner of the Russian appointed to ensure that he did not leave the embassy and received no visitors: ‘We had no small cause to doubt that some evil had been intended unto us.’

After seventeen weeks under house arrest, Randolph was finally invited to an audience with the Tsar on 20 February 1569. Ivan failed to invite him to dinner, as he had done Chancellor and Jenkinson, but freed him from house arrest: ‘I dine not this day openly, for great affairs I have; but I will send thee my dinner, and give leave to thee and thine to go at liberty, and augment our allowance to thee in token of our love and favour to our sister the Queen of England.’ A few days later Ivan summoned Randolph for over three hours of secret talks in the early hours of the morning. The Tsar then left Moscow for Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, believed by Randolph to be ‘the house of his solace’. On his return to the Kremlin six weeks later, Ivan summoned Randolph for further talks, during which Randolph claimed to have secured all the ‘large privileges’ he had sought for the Muscovy Company.

Ivan, however, was seriously dissatisfied. He had hoped to secure an alliance with England, directed mainly against Poland. Randolph stuck to his instructions to ‘pass these matters with silence’, leading the Tsar to complain in a letter to Elizabeth that her envoy’s ‘talk was of boorishness and affairs of merchants’, and failed to address ‘our princely affairs’. To accompany Randolph on his return voyage to England in October 1569, Ivan sent his own ambassador, Alexander Grigoryevich Sovin, with a draft treaty of alliance to which he was instructed to obtain Elizabeth’s signature. Sovin was told that no changes could be accepted in the draft, predictably failed in his mission, and returned to Russia in the following year.

Ivan’s diplomacy and intelligence collection suffered a major self-inflicted blow on 25 July 1570 with the execution of Viskovaty, who fell victim to another of the Tsar’s conspiracy theories, bizarrely accused of plotting with Lithuania and urging the Ottoman Turks and the Khan of Crimea to invade Russia. In reality, as contemporary records show, so far from plotting with Viskovaty, Lithuanian envoys found him ‘not well disposed’ and ‘intractable’ in negotiations with them. Having refused to beg forgiveness for treason he had not committed, Viskovaty was strung up in a market square and sliced to death. Skuratov began the execution by cutting off his nose, another oprichnik removed his ears and a third hacked off his genitals. Ivan complained that Viskovaty died too quickly. Over a hundred other gruesome executions followed of probably innocent victims. Viskovaty’s fate prefigured that of Stalin’s three most powerful intelligence chiefs, all of whom were also executed for imaginary acts of treason, which, absurdly, included spying for Britain.

The bizarre nature of Ivan’s relations with England in the aftermath of Viskovaty’s execution reflected the Tsar’s loss of his diplomatic expertise. On 24 October 1570, outraged by Elizabeth I’s refusal to sign the draft alliance delivered by Sovin, Ivan personally penned a letter to the Queen which, so far as is known, was the rudest she ever received. According to the translation prepared for Elizabeth, he said that his previous willingness to correspond with her on ‘weighty affairs’ of state had been based on the mistaken belief that ‘you had been ruler over your land, and had sought honour to yourself and profit to your Country . . . But now we perceive that there be other men that do rule, and not men but boors and merchants, the which seek not the wealth and honour of our majesties, but they seek their own profit of merchandise . . . And you flourish in your maidenlike estate like a maid’, he added insultingly, before announcing the cancellation of the rights previously granted to the Muscovy Company: ‘The privilege that we gave to your Merchants be from this day of none effect.’

Despite the rudeness of the letter, Elizabeth and her advisers clearly believed that the trading privileges of the Muscovy Company were too important to abandon. It was therefore decided to ignore Ivan’s insults and send the Tsar’s favourite Englishman, Anthony Jenkinson, on a new mission to Moscow as English ambassador as well as Company representative to try to restore relations. His mission began badly. After landing on the Arctic coast in July 1571, he was stranded for over six months as the result of travel restrictions imposed after an outbreak of plague. His first report to William Cecil (newly ennobled as Baron Burghley) gave further details of atrocities committed during the oprichniki reign of terror. Jenkinson eventually had an audience with Ivan in the Kremlin on 23 March 1572. His instructions were to persuade Ivan to agree to reinstate the privileges of the Muscovy Company by hinting at the possibility of an Anglo-Russian political alliance but to make no binding commitments. Such was the Tsar’s confidence in Jenkinson that, at their next meeting on 13 May, Ivan agreed to restore all the Company’s privileges and complimented ‘Anthony’ on his role in restoring Russian–English relations. Jenkinson arrived back in England on 23 July after what the Dictionary of National Biography terms ‘a brilliant culmination to a career which won him a permanent place in the history of Anglo-Russian relations’.

By the time Ivan began negotiations with Jenkinson, his main anger was directed not against Elizabeth I but against his own oprichniki, whom he blamed for failing to defend Moscow against a devastating Tatar raid in 1571, which (as reported by Jenkinson to Cecil) laid waste much of the city outside the Kremlin. In 1572 Ivan formally abolished the oprichniki. Though Jenkinson did not return to Russia after 1572, Ivan continued to make occasional secret use of other English diplomats. In 1580 he entrusted an English diplomat in Moscow, Jerome Horsey (later knighted), with what he regarded as a secret mission to England to obtain supplies of ‘powder, saltpetre, lead and brimstone’.50 Horsey doubtless reported his secret mission to his patron, Sir Francis Walsingham, and later dedicated to him a book on his travels in Russia.† Horsey’s seventeen years in Moscow epitomize the frequent sixteenth-century overlap between diplomacy and espionage. What is remarkable in Horsey’s case is that, because of Russia’s lack of both diplomats and spies in England, his services (like those of Jenkinson before him) were used by the Tsar, as well as, more frequently, by Walsingham. Horsey was so trusted by Ivan that he was invited into his Treasury and, in 1581, given a secret letter, hidden in a flask, to take to Queen Elizabeth.

During the final years of his reign, Ivan continued to suffer from uncontrollable fits of rage. During one of them in 1581, he accidentally killed his son and heir. Ilya Repin’s famous painting, which shows the Tsar grieving over the bloodstained body of his son Ivan, which was completed in 1885, four years after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, so disturbed his son Alexander III that he had it temporarily removed from Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.

The SVR official history plausibly argues that, after the death of his son, in the final years before his own death, in 1584, Ivan began to ‘repent’ that he had ordered so many executions. From 1583 all monasteries started regular ‘Remembrances of the Disgraced’. The execution Ivan most regretted was almost certainly that of Viskovaty, whose expertise had never been replaced. Ivan personally sent to the Holy Trinity Monastery 223 rubles for the ‘remembrance of the soul of Viskovaty’ as well as another twenty-three rubles to pay for candles. No other intelligence chief has ever been remembered in this way by a ruler who ordered his execution.

Ivan IV was succeeded by his devout but simple-minded younger son, Tsar Fedor I (a ‘silly prince’, in the opinion of Sir Jerome Horsey). Real power, however, lay with a faction-ridden regency council in which Boris Godunov (best known nowadays as the anti-hero of Mussorgsky’s popular nineteenth-century opera) eventually won a prolonged power struggle. Horsey, who, as under Ivan IV, was occasionally used by Godunov for secret missions, reported that at one point during the power struggle, also like Ivan, Godunov told him he might seek refuge in England. He found Godunov ‘of comely person, well favoured, affable . . . not learned but of sudden apprehension, and a natural good orator’. But Godunov was also superstitious (‘affected much to necromancy’) and ‘revengeful’. He had a sinister past both as an oprichnik from the age of about twenty and as the son-in-law of the most bloodthirsty of all the oprichniki, Maliuta Skuratov. To rise in the court of Ivan the Terrible, he must have shown enthusiastic support for the brutal execution of imaginary traitors in Novgorod and Moscow. Probably largely at the expense of his victims, Godunov built up enormous wealth. The historian Catherine Merridale describes him as the nearest sixteenth-century ‘equivalent of a twenty-first-century oligarch’.

Unlike Ivan IV, however, Godunov tried – successfully – to avoid foreign wars. He deserves much of the credit for the twenty-year period of peace which followed Ivan’s death. During the regency Godunov also showed no liking for the public execution of traitors. Instead he proceeded behind the scenes, built up a large network of informers and disposed secretly of some of his main rivals. While ambassador in Moscow from 1588 to 1589 on a mission to settle disputes involving the Russia Company, the English writer and diplomat Giles Fletcher, a former Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, felt under almost continuous hostile surveillance. As he complained to Burghley, ‘My whole entertainment from my first arrival till towards the very end was such as if they had devised means of very purpose to show their utter disliking both of the trade of the Merchants, and of the whole English nation.’ Though he was eventually able to negotiate an agreement, according to the well-known writer Thomas Fuller when he returned home in the summer of 1589 ‘he heartily expressed his thankfulness to God for his safe return from so great a danger; for the Poets cannot fancy Ulysses more glad to be come out of the Den of Polyphemus, than he was to be rid out of the power of such a barbarious Prince’.

In 1591 Fletcher tried to publish a book based on his experiences, entitled Of the Russe Commonwealth, or, The manner of government by the Russe emperor . . . with the manners, and fashions of the people of that country. The best and most detailed account by any Elizabethan traveller to Russia, it made clear Fletcher’s loathing for the Russian political system: ‘The state and form of their government is plain tyrannical.’ The worst of the tyrants had been Ivan the Terrible:

To show his sovereignty over the lives of his subjects, the late emperor Ivan [IV] Vasilevich in his walks or progresses, if he had misliked the face or person of any man whom he met by the way, or that looked upon him, would command his head to be struck off, which was promptly done, and the head cast before him.

The governors of the Russia Company no doubt believed, as they had done after Richard Chancellor produced an account of his mission a generation earlier, that publication of Fletcher’s book would reveal valuable commercial intelligence to their competitors. But their main fear was that, if the Godunov regime discovered what Fletcher had written about their ‘tyrannical’ rule, ‘the revenge thereof will light on their people and goods remaining in Moscow, and utterly overthrow the trade forever’. Burghley clearly agreed and the book was suppressed. Its contents were still highly sensitive two and a half centuries later. In 1848 Tsar Nicholas I ordered the confiscation of the first Russian translation of Of the Russe Commonwealth and severe punishment of the officials of the Imperial Moscow Society of Russian History and Antiquities who had dared to publish it in their Proceedings. No other British intelligence report on Russia has remained so controversial for so long.

On the death of Fedor I in 1598, Boris Godunov became Tsar. Though most of the details of his surveillance system will probably never be known, his network of spies and informers increased. Servants were encouraged to inform on their masters. Even slaves were used as informants. Boris’s uncle, Semen Nikitich Godunov, his chief inquisitor and an enthusiastic torturer, reported to him regularly on the evidence of treason he claimed to have uncovered during his brutal interrogations. But Godunov’s surveillance system and secret intrigues failed to secure the succession. On his death in April 1605 he was succeeded by his son, the well-educated sixteen-year-old Fedor Borisovich Godunov, who was crowned Tsar Fedor II. In May the army mutinied and many of its commanders sided with a pretender to the throne, the so-called first ‘False Dmitrii’. In June Fedor II and his mother (Skuratov’s daughter) were strangled in the Kremlin by Dmitrii’s agents and their bodies put on public display. The hated Semen Godunov was thrown into a prison cell and left to starve to death. There followed years of chaotic civil war and Russia’s ‘Time of Troubles’.


The First Three Generations of Modern War

The 1982 Hama Massacre

The Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu said, “He who understands himself and understands his enemy will prevail in one hundred battles.” In order to understand both ourselves and our enemies in Fourth Generation conflicts, it is helpful to use the full framework of the Four Generations of modern war. What are the first three generations?

First Generation war was fought with line and column tactics. It lasted from the Peace of Westphalia until around the time of the American Civil War. Its importance for us today is that the First Generation battlefield was usually a battlefield of order, and the battlefield of order created a culture of order in state militaries. Most of the things that define the difference between “military” and “civilian” – saluting, uniforms, careful gradations of rank, etc. – are products of the First Generation and exist to reinforce a military culture of order. Just as most state militaries are still designed to fight other state militaries, so they also continue to embody the First Generation culture of order.

The problem is that, starting around the middle of the 19th century, the order of the battlefield began to break down. In the face of mass armies, nationalism that made soldiers want to fight, and technological developments such as the rifled musket, the breechloader, barbed wire, and machine guns, the old line-and-column tactics became suicidal. But as the battlefield became more and more disorderly, state militaries remained locked into a culture of order. The military culture that in the First Generation had been consistent with the battlefield became increasingly contradictory to it. That contradiction is one of the reasons state militaries have so much difficulty in Fourth Generation war, where not only is the battlefield disordered, so is the entire society in which the conflict is taking place.

Second Generation war was developed by the French Army during and after World War I. It dealt with the increasing disorder of the battlefield by attempting to impose order on it. Second Generation war, also sometimes called firepower/attrition warfare, relied on centrally controlled indirect artillery fire, carefully synchronized with infantry, cavalry and aviation, to destroy the enemy by killing his soldiers and blowing up his equipment. The French summarized Second Generation war with the phrase, “The artillery conquers, the infantry occupies.”

Second Generation war also preserved the military culture of order. Second Generation militaries focus inward on orders, rules, processes, and procedures. There is a “school solution” for every problem. Battles are fought methodically, so prescribed methods drive training and education, where the goal is perfection of detail in execution. The Second Generation military culture, like the First, values obedience over initiative (initiative is feared because it disrupts synchronization) and relies on imposed discipline.

The United States Army and the U.S. Marine Corps both learned Second Generation war from the French Army during the First World War, and it largely remains the “American way of war” today.

Third Generation war, also called maneuver warfare, was developed by the German Army during World War I. Third Generation war dealt with the disorderly battlefield not by trying to impose order on it but by adapting to disorder and taking advantage of it. Third Generation war relied less on firepower than on speed and tempo. It sought to present the enemy with unexpected and dangerous situations faster than he could cope with them, pulling him apart mentally as well as physically.

The German Army’s new Third Generation infantry tactics were the first non-linear tactics. Instead of trying to hold a line in the defense, the object was to draw the enemy in, then cut him off, putting whole enemy units “in the bag.” On the offensive, the German “storm-troop tactics” of 1918 flowed like water around enemy strong points, reaching deep into the enemy’s rear area and also rolling his forward units up from the flanks and rear. These World War I infantry tactics, when used by armored and mechanized formations in World War II, became known as “Blitzkrieg.”

Just as Third Generation war broke with linear tactics, it also broke with the First and Second Generation culture of order. Third Generation militaries focus outward on the situation, the enemy, and the result the situation requires. Leaders at every level are expected to get that result, regardless of orders. Military education is designed to develop military judgment, not teach processes or methods, and most training is force-on-force free play because only free play approximates the disorder of combat. Third Generation military culture also values initiative over obedience, tolerating mistakes so long as they do not result from timidity, and it relies on self-discipline rather than imposed discipline, because only self-discipline is compatible with initiative.

When Second and Third Generation war met in combat in the German campaign against France in 1940, the Second Generation French Army was defeated completely and quickly; the campaign was over in six weeks. Both armies had similar technology, and the French actually had more (and better) tanks. Ideas, not weapons, dictated the outcome.

Despite the fact that Third Generation war proved its decisive superiority more than 60 years ago, most of the world’s state militaries remain Second Generation. The reason is cultural: they cannot make the break with the culture of order that the Third Generation requires. This is another reason why, around the world, state-armed forces are not doing well against non-state enemies. Second Generation militaries fight by putting firepower on targets, and Fourth Generation fighters are very good at making themselves untargetable. Virtually all Fourth Generation forces are free of the First Generation culture of order; they focus outward, they prize initiative and, because they are highly decentralized, they rely on self-discipline. Second Generation state forces are largely helpless against them.

Fighting Fourth Generation War: Two Models

In fighting Fourth Generation war, there are two basic approaches or models. The first may broadly be called the “de-escalation model,” and it is the focus of this article. But there are times when state-armed forces may employ the other model. Reflecting a case where this second model was applied successfully, we refer to it (borrowing from Martin van Creveld) as the “Hama model.” The Hama model refers to what Syrian President Hafez al-Assad did to the city of Hama in Syria when a non-state entity there, the Moslem Brotherhood, rebelled against his rule.

In 1982, in Hama, Syria, the Sunni Moslem Brotherhood was gaining strength and was planning on intervening in Syrian politics through violence. The dictator of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, was alerted by his intelligence sources that the Moslem Brotherhood was looking to assassinate various members of the ruling Ba’ath Party. In fact, there is credible evidence that the Moslem Brotherhood was planning on overthrowing the Shi’ite/Alawite-dominated Ba’ath government.

On February 2, 1982, the Syrian Army was deployed into the area surrounding Hama. Within three weeks, the Syrian Army had completely devastated the city, resulting in the deaths of between 10,000 and 25,000 people, depending on the source. The use of heavy artillery, armored forces, and possibly even poison gas resulted in large-scale destruction and an end to the Moslem Brotherhood’s desires to overthrow the Ba’ath Party and Hafez al-Assad. After the operation was finished, one surviving citizen of Hama stated, “We don’t do politics here anymore, we just do religion.”

The results of the destruction of Hama were clear to the survivors. As the June 20, 2000, Christian Science Monitor wrote, “Syria has been vilified in the West for the atrocities at Hama. But many Syrians – including a Sunni merchant class that has thrived under Alawite rule – also note that the result has been years of stability.”

What distinguishes the Hama model is overwhelming firepower and force, deliberately used to create massive casualties and destruction, in an action that ends quickly. Speed is of the essence to the Hama model. If a Hama-type operation is allowed to drag out, it will turn into a disaster on the moral level. The objective is to get it over with so fast that the effect desired locally is achieved before anyone else has time to react or, ideally, even to notice what is going on.

There is little attention to the Hama model because situations where the Western states’ armed forces will be allowed to employ it will probably be few and far between. Domestic and international political considerations will normally tend to rule it out. However, it could become an option if a Weapon of Mass Destruction were used against a Western country on its own soil.

The main reason we need to identify the Hama model is to note a serious danger facing state-armed forces in Fourth Generation situations. It is easy, but fatal, to choose a course that lies somewhere between the Hama model and the de-escalation model. Such a course inevitably results in defeat, because of the power of weakness.

The military historian Martin van Creveld compares a state military that, with its vast superiority in lethality, continually turns its firepower on poorly-equipped Fourth Generation opponents to an adult who administers a prolonged, violent beating to a child in a public place. Regardless of how bad the child has been or how justified the beating may be, every observer sympathizes with the child. Soon, outsiders intervene, and the adult is arrested. The power mismatch is so great that the adult’s action is judged a crime.

This is what happens to state-armed forces that attempt to split the difference between the Hama and de-escalation models. The seemingly endless spectacle of weak opponents and, inevitably, local civilians being killed by the state military’s overwhelming power defeats the state at the moral level. That is why the rule for the Hama model is that the violence must be over fast. It must be ended quickly! Any attempt at a compromise between the two models results in prolonged violence by the state’s armed forces, and it is the duration of the mismatch that is fatal. To the degree the state-armed forces are also foreign invaders, the state’s defeat occurs all the sooner. It occurs both locally and on a global scale. In the 3,000 years that the story of David and Goliath has been told, how many listeners have identified with Goliath?

In most cases, the primary option for state-armed forces will be the de-escalation model. What this means is that when situations threaten to turn violent or actually do so, state forces in Fourth Generation situations will focus their efforts on lowering the level of confrontation until it is no longer violent. They will do so on the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. The remainder of is therefore focused on the de-escalation model for combatting insurgency and other forms of Fourth Generation warfare.

The Battle of Amiens and the Development of British Air-Land Battle, 1918–45 Part I

The Battle of Amiens was one of the most influential battles of the twentieth century. Four days of intense combat from 8–12 August 1918 saw the British Fourth and French First Armies shatter the German Second Army and drive it back, together with the German Eighteenth Army, up to 20 km on a 50 km front between the Oise and the Ancre. In the process the British and French took 30,000 prisoners of war, killed or wounded at least another 13,000 men, and captured almost 500 guns. Although more widely associated with the massed use of tanks, the Battle of Amiens also saw the largest concentration of British airpower for a single operation in the war. Deployed as a separate service for the first time in a major offensive, the Royal Air Force (RAF) played a pivotal role in the combat performance of the Fourth Army. Swarming over the battlefield, its aircraft engaged any German defenders in direct contact with the leading ground troops, harried the retreat of those less resolute and repeatedly drove reinforcements from the road as they struggled forwards in an attempt to avert disaster. In the course of the battle, both the Army and the RAF identified many lessons which they ruthlessly applied during the remainder of the war. As a result they developed a potent Air-Land capability which struck with repeated success at the German Armies in the west and ultimately drove them to request an Armistice.

However, the events at Amiens also provided a critical point of reference that directly influenced the development of British Air-Land battle in the interwar period and its subsequent conduct in the Second World War. In its efforts to maintain its existence as an independent Service in a period of severe economic retrenchment, the RAF used its experiences at Amiens to distance itself from the task of close air support before recasting the role of airpower in the land battle as that of interdiction. Consequently, to a large extent the lessons from Amiens were responsible for the flawed conduct of Air-Land operations in France and Flanders in 1940 and the resultant catastrophic Allied defeat. However, they also provided the intellectual framework around which the British were able to hone the integrated concepts of Air-Land battle with which they took part in the defeat of Hitler’s forces in the Mediterranean and North Western Europe between 1942 and 1945.

The drift away from close air support during the interwar period has been analysed in several recent studies. David Hall has argued that the primary cause was the short-sighted and conservative view of airpower held within the War Office. He suggests that the Army, unable to grasp the tenets and potential of air power, made successive attempts to gain command of its own aircraft based on the mistaken belief that the aircraft was a tactical battlefield weapon. This argument contains certain elements of merit, not least in highlighting the consistent and not always helpful calls by the War Office for command of its own air component. However, it glosses over several shortcomings in the analysis of the equally command fixated Air Staff in the interwar period which, as will be seen, led to the dysfunctional conduct of Air-Land operations. These shortcomings are more widely acknowledged by Richard Muller. He too highlights the blight placed on the development of close air support by the ongoing and often vitriolic debate over command and control and concludes that the British lacked an ‘. . . intellectual [and] practical foundation for using their air force in support of the army’.

The Battle of Amiens took place at a key moment in the history of the RAF. Although it had been an independent Service since 1 April 1918 with elements conducting a strategic air attack on Germany, by far the greatest proportion of its effort was on the Western Front under the overall control of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Each BEF Army commanded an RAF Brigade which comprised of a Corps Wing and an Army Wing. The Corps Wing consisted of squadrons whose main tasks were the control of artillery fire and tactical reconnaissance to give formation HQs as clear a picture as possible of the battle situation as it developed. The Army Wing consisted of fighter-reconnaissance, fighter and bomber squadrons whose task it was to take the battle beyond the front line to both protect the Corps Wing from the German Air Force and attack targets in depth. In addition to the Brigades permanently affiliated to the Armies, GHQ commanded IX Brigade RAF which consisted of two ‘Army’ Wings and a specialist ‘Night operations’ Wing, but which had no permanent command relationship with any Army HQ, being allocated to the sector of the front where the need was greatest as reinforcement. At Amiens, Fourth Army had V Brigade under command with IX Brigade in direct support and support from III Brigade from Third Army, I Brigade from First Army and X Brigade from Fifth Army available if necessary. Furthermore, V Brigade was reinforced with 8 Squadron, which since 1 July 1918, had been permanently attached to the Tank Corps to develop co-operation techniques between the two nascent arms.

The air plan that the RAF attempted to execute at Amiens was ambitious and strikingly modern in concept, consisting of three broad phases. First, the bomber and fighter squadrons of IX Brigade were to achieve air superiority in the attack sector by destroying the German air units already in the battle area on the ground with a surprise dawn attack. The IX Brigade fighters were then to oppose any German air force reinforcements that attempted to join the battle. Second, the Corps and fighter squadrons of V Brigade were to provide close support to the ground formations of Fourth Army as they punched their way through the German defences and then disrupt any attempts the Germans made to deploy their local reserves. Finally, the bomber squadrons were to launch evening attacks on key railway stations to disrupt the arrival of German strategic reserves attempting to reach the battle area.

The weather disrupted the plan from the outset as thick fog shrouded the battle area preventing IX Brigade from completing its attack on the German aerodromes to full effect. However, from around 09.00 hrs onwards, the clearing conditions allowed V Brigade to increasingly influence the battle. In the thick of the action was 8 Squadron whose aircraft maintained a steady stream of information to the Tank Brigades HQs on the progress of the battle. In addition to this task, by 09.50 hrs, it’s aircraft became increasingly involved in the attack on machine guns and field guns being used by German rearguards to hold up the tanks, dropping 81 bombs and firing 6,570 rounds by the close of the day. Alongside 8 Squadron, the fighter squadrons of V Brigade ranged across the battlefield engaging the ‘exceptional targets’ caused by the confusion within the German lines. Numerous attacks were made both on the line of contact between the ground forces and in depth as the German reserve regiments and battalions attempted to move forward. Among other examples, they disrupted the counter-attacks of 27th and 54th Reserve Divisions at Morlancourt and 109th Division at Harbonnières. Similarly, the 119th Division took over nine hours to travel 15 kilometres by lorry to the front line at Vrély, being forced to halt numerous times by incessant aerial attack. The German Second Army was never allowed to make a coherent response against its assailants.

Whilst V Brigade was completing its mission in support of Fourth Army, the plan for the air battle took a fundamental change of direction. Pilots flying over the battlefield had noticed major traffic congestion around the bridges over the River Somme approximately 15 kilometres behind the front line. Consequently, around midday, Major-General Salmond, GOC RAF, cancelled the planned bombing missions of the railways and redirected IX Brigade to mount attacks, with both bombers and bomb-armed fighters, on the bridges in an attempt to cut the German lines of communication. The attacks met with little success as the bridges proved difficult targets to hit and the bombs that were used lacked the power to cause any major structural damage. Furthermore, the removal of the IX Brigade fighters from their counter air task coincided with the arrival of significant German air reinforcements, in particular the elite air combat specialist Jagdgeschwader units flying in from Champagne. The ensuing air battle raged over the next two days as IX Brigade attempted in vain to destroy the bridges. Only on 10 August did the Brigade admit defeat and revert back to the original task of interdicting the railway system.

Analysis of the air Battle at Amiens was swift and, unsurprisingly given the acute need of the BEF to maintain its operational tempo, paid particular attention to the conduct of close air support. The vulnerability of tanks to anti-tank guns once they had outrun their artillery support was of great concern as noted by both the 4 and 5 Tank Brigades. The belief that aircraft could neutralize this threat was one of the primary lessons taken to heart by V Brigade after the battle. On 14 August Brigadier Charlton circulated a memorandum to his squadrons, highlighting the importance of this new task, stating that, ‘. . . it will be seldom that the duty in which machines are at the moment engaged will not yield in importance to offensive action against the anti tank gun’. His perspective was reinforced by 22nd Wing’s report on the close air support given by its fighter squadrons during the battle, submitted on 19 August. One of its key recommendations highlighted the necessity for close liaison with Tank units to optimize the effectiveness of fighter aircraft engaged in attacking anti-tank defences. Action was swift and within two days 73 Squadron, equipped with Sopwith Camels, was removed from IX Brigade and grouped with 8 Squadron in order to specialize in ground attack with single-seat fighters. This small ‘group’ spent the remainder of the war in permanent support of the Tank Corps, moving flights across the BEF as they followed the tanks. Ground attack also became a higher priority for 8 Squadron as a policy change reduced the number of aircraft allocated to contact patrol work to the minimum necessary, with the remainder diverted to attack anti-tank guns. Furthermore, command and control was improved through the use of wireless telegraphy to enable the engagement of fleeting targets. This system integrated the efforts of the Corps and Army Wings more effectively and provided significant assistance to the later battles at Bapaume (23 August), the Hindenburg Line (27–9 September) and Le Cateau (8 October).

By the time of the Armistice in November 1918, the RAF had become a sophisticated exponent of air power in support of ground forces, complementing its unique roles in the strategic arena. Unfortunately, this situation was not maintained in the interwar period as inter-Service rivalry and senior officer prejudice relegated this capability in importance to the extent that by 1930 it had almost ceased to exist. Only with the rise of the nascent Continental threats in the mid-1930s did the concept of an integrated Air-Land battle re-emerge.

The erosion of Air-Land capability resulted chiefly from two factors; fiscal constraints and inter-Service rivalry. The austere post-war fiscal context ensured that the defence budget was so low that the individual Services struggled to maintain sufficient resources to meet their many requirements. These difficulties were apparent from 1918 onwards as Defence and social reform programmes competed for funds provided by a reduced GDP that was 13 percent lower in 1921 than it had been in 1913, and undermined by the increased annual cost of servicing the national debt which jumped from £24.5M in 1913 to £344.5M in the 1920s. In such circumstance major economies needed to be made in a significantly restructured national budget. Within a year of the signing of the Armistice the Cabinet instituted the cardinal assumption that Britain would not be engaged in a great war within ten years and that no Expeditionary Force would be required for this role; the so-called Ten Year Rule. This allowed the Treasury to drastically cut the Defence vote from £616M in 1919/20 to £232M in 1920/21. This process was continued by subsequent Governments until 1931/32 when the allocation to defence was £107M.

One of the major consequences of this retrenchment was an increased level of rivalry between the Services. Whereas co-operation had been one of the hallmarks of success in the relatively resource-rich context of 1918, by the early 1920s inter-Service relations became increasingly adversarial. Under the leadership of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Trenchard, the RAF defended itself by claiming that airpower could substitute for the manpower-intensive roles previously conducted by the other Services when Sir Eric Geddes conducted his review of National Expenditure. Alongside the role of ‘Air Policing’ of the Empire, Trenchard and his staff also developed an embryonic Continental strategy built on the delivery of a strategic air attack on vital centres of production. In this way an enemy nation would be prevented from bringing its potential strength to bear on the battlefield. Although there appears to have been some confusion within the Air Staff as to how this would be achieved, a crucial element of this debate was Trenchard’s view that air superiority would be an essential precondition. In the prevailing financial climate, the RAF would not have the resources to fulfil all its potential tasks and in prioritizing its new roles over the old, the RAF’s shift away from close support began.

Trenchard’s position was articulated in the first formal document to deal with the issue of Air-Land battle, Confidential Document (CD) 21, published in June 1921. This document contained a section discussing the tactical roles of aircraft operating in support of the Army, describing an organizational and operational concept identical to that used in November 1918. Unsurprisingly, when discussing the use of aircraft for offensive action the document stated that aircraft were, ‘. . . very valuable to silence anti tank guns . . .’, and that widespread bombing of the battlefield was to be discontinued a few hours after zero in order to ‘. . . concentrate on main routes . . .’.

However, while this section may have placated the Army, Trenchard’s vision was articulated in the following pages. Part II of CD 21 was introduced by the exposition that the primary role of air power was, ‘. . . air fighting, air defence against a continental or other threat, [and] aerial bombardment of enemy establishments’. This represented a point of departure from the status quo by the RAF. Although part I described the concept of air support in its established form, the assertion that air power’s primary role lay elsewhere would by implication result in the relegation of tasks in support of the other two Services.

The drift away from Army support tasks was even more pronounced in Confidential Document 22 (CD22), The Operations Manual RAF, published in 1922. This publication was a much more detailed articulation on how the RAF was to operate on deployment than its predecessor. Although it acknowledged the requirement for co-operation with the Army by including an entire chapter on the subject, the close support role was now formally subordinated to the perceived primacy in the need to gain air superiority. This shift towards the air superiority role had two major implications, both of which undermined the delivery of air support to the Army. First, despite acknowledging the utility of air power in countering anti-tank defences and stating that the best aircraft to undertake this role was the single-seat fighter, in order to maintain the flexibility to concentrate forces onto the air superiority task, CD22 also directed that role specialization for these aircraft be minimized. This represented a significant shift away from the combat-proven experience of the air units and formations that fought at Amiens that would almost certainly result in a degradation of close support capability. The second implication was that aircraft earmarked for gaining air superiority were unlikely to be risked on the lower priority task of low-flying attacks which, it was understood, would result in exceedingly high casualties.

The Battle of Amiens and the Development of British Air-Land Battle, 1918–45 Part II

As a successor to the Hurricane, Hawkers had designed the Typhoon around the massive 24-cylinder Napier Sabre engine. The new fighter had a troubled gestation; engine and structural failures were all too frequent events. Although designed as a high-speed fighter, it lacked manoeuvrability, performance fell off with altitude, and at high speeds it became nose-heavy. In consequence, it was relegated to the close air support role.

The concept that low-flying attacks led to unsustainable casualty rates appears to have become something of an article of faith within the RAF in the interwar period. It was highlighted by Brooke-Popham, who in a lecture to the RAF Staff College in 1924, used the Battle of Amiens to argue that close support with low-flying attacks could not be maintained for more than a few days and was unlikely to be worth the cost, particularly if it compromised air superiority. Likewise, in 1934 the fears associated with low flying were being repeated by the RAF instructor at the Army Staff College in Camberley, Wing Commander John Slessor. Although he highlighted the potential efficacy of low-flying attacks on ‘third rate’ troops, he again used the example of Amiens, alongside that of Cambrai, to suggest that the cost against a capable enemy would make the task untenable.

Unfortunately, by extending the fairly specific evidence of casualty rates at Amiens, particularly those of 8 August, into deductions with more universal applicability, the Air Staff appear to have been selective in their analysis. Their suggestion that low-level attacks were uniformly costly, is not wholly supported by key contemporary documents and nor did they analyse the relative novelty of close support in August 1918. It was not acknowledged that low-level attack in the fluid offensive conditions at Amiens was still an unusual skill for the pilots involved. 8 Squadron had only been operating with the Tank Corps since 1 July 1918, and 73 Squadron was ordered to specialize in this role only after the battle. Had the Air Staff taken the time to analyse air support between 9 August and 11 November 1918, the RAF in general, and these Squadrons in particular, became vastly more effective. On 8 August the ten Squadrons of 22nd Wing flew 261 sorties in support of Fourth Army, dropping 703 25 lb bombs and firing 65,860 rounds of ammunition at ground targets. In the process they suffered 24 casualties of which at least 17 were shot down. The following day 238 sorties were launched dropping 860 bombs and firing 56,290 rounds. This time only 3 aircraft were lost. This dramatic reduction in casualty rates continued through 10 and 11 August where 8 and 5 casualties were sustained from 331 and 282 sorties respectively. This improvement continued into the latter stages of the war as on 10 October, the Wing flew 147 sorties, dropped 458 bombs and fired 39,970 rounds at ground targets without losing an aircraft. The pilots of 22nd Wing clearly learnt from their previous mistakes.

The improvement in performance was even more marked in 8 and 73 Squadrons. Aircraft from these units now refrained from flying indiscriminately at low level in the dangerous airspace over the battlefront, and began to concentrate their efforts on areas where anti-tank defences could be expected to exist. This change in policy seems to have brought about a marked reduction in the number of casualties suffered. At the Battle of Albert, between 22 and 25 August 1918, 8 Squadron dropped 132 bombs and sustained 1 casualty, while 73 Squadron cut its teeth in the close support role by dropping 24 bombs and firing 8,850 rounds of ammunition at ground targets without a single casualty. Furthermore, 73 Squadron is recorded as having given highly effective support to tank units at Ramicourt and Montbrehain on 2–3 October 1918, dropping 94 bombs and firing 7,100 rounds with one wounded pilot being the only casualty. Indeed, from around 1,000 sorties by 8 Squadron aircraft between 8 August and 11 November, a mere five were listed as missing. In contrast, 107 Squadron lost five aircraft from 15 sorties when intercepted by German fighters over the Somme on the morning of 9 August 1918. Whatever the perceived dangers associated with close air support, in the skies over the Western Front there were clearly more dangerous roles.

By misinterpreting the casualty data from low-level attack it would appear that the Air Staff were guilty of the subjective misuse of the evidence of Amiens which created a false perspective of the facts. This may have been inadvertent but in the debate over support to the Army, the RAF was the clear beneficiary. This also contradicts David Hall’s belief that the General Staff were to blame for the deterioration in inter-Service relations and the development of tactical airpower; the Air Staff played an equal role at least.

As a consequence of this doctrinal evolution, by the late 1930s the senior echelons of RAF leadership were so far removed from the concept of close support to the Army on the battlefield that they lost the capability in any meaningful sense, particularly with respect to training. As early as 1928 RAF reports were highlighting the fact that fighter squadrons were to be primarily trained to obtain air superiority rather than participate in the ground battle and discouraged ground attack training for the coming year. Although an exceptional exercise was conducted with the Army in 1938 the conclusions it drew were vague and sometimes contradictory. In 1939, while briefing 1 (Bomber) Group for their training support task to the Army, Air Commodore Willock, DSD RAF, stated that, ‘[w]hat we want to avoid above all for the Army to think that air forces should be diverted from their normal functions or that the potentialities of low flying aircraft should lead to their misuse’. His suggestion that any such aspirations may have resulted in some ‘confused thinking’ at the War Office may have been correct in certain aspects, but the War Office did not have a monopoly on this vice; the Air Ministry could be equally indulgent. As well as minimizing the necessary training, the Air Staffs lack of appetite for close air support also undermined the requirement for any specialist aircraft. When proposals to this effect were made in 1935 they were rejected by the Air Staff on the grounds that such aircraft were, ‘. . .neither in the role of the RAF in war, nor its “imperial police” duties in normal times . . .’ despite Deputy Director Plans, Group Captain Arthur Harris, observing, ‘. . . we shall undoubtedly in the future on occasion wish to exploit this form of attack and there is a danger that this requirement may be overlooked . . .’. Without the necessary training or specialist equipment, by 1939 close air support was truly moribund in the RAF.

Despite being partly used to justify the drift away from the task of close air support during the interwar period, consideration of the Battle of Amiens also played a major role in reintegrating the air and land battles through the concept of air interdiction. The key personality in this respect was Slessor. During his time as an instructor at Staff College, in addition to the dangers associated with close air support, he pointed out the potential for air power to influence the land battle by cutting enemy lines of communication in order to isolate the battlefield, the task we now term Air Interdiction. The concepts he developed were refined and eventually published in 1936 in his key book, Air Power and Armies. In this he concluded that an enemy’s critical vulnerability were his transportation systems in general and his railways in particular. The integrated nature of the railway systems suggested to Slessor that an attack at one point could have a consequence hundreds of miles away due to resultant congestion and delays. This effect became particularly pronounced at junctions where the delays could be simultaneously transmitted along several lines and hinder the use of alternative routes.

Slessor illustrated his conclusions on air interdiction with a lengthy examination of the Battle of Amiens in which he was as excoriating in his criticism of the conduct of the deep battle as he was of close support. Although acknowledging that elements of the air plan were intended to isolate the battlefield, he was extremely deprecating of the attempts to destroy the Somme bridges. In his opinion, not only was this difficult to achieve, it would not realize the desired effect and was therefore a waste of time and resources. In his opinion, far more utility could have been gained by attacking the key rail junctions at Cambrai, Le Cateau, Le Nouvion, Vervins and Laon. By assuming that Rawlinson intended to conduct a deep operation, Slessor suggested that after the successful ‘break in’ battle, Fourth Army was brought to a halt in by the arrival of 16 German divisions from their strategic reserves. Six of these divisions came from Armies on the northern flank of the German Second Army and passed through the key rail junction of Cambrai over a 48 hour period. Had they been prevented in so doing Slessor concluded that the Second Army would have been hard-pressed to reform an effective defensive line. His vision made its way into official doctrine in both the Air Force and Army operational manuals in the run up to the Second World War. In both the 1932 and 1938 editions of the War Office Manual, ‘The Employment of Air Forces with the Army in the Field’ (EAF) and the 1935 edition of AP1300, RAF War Manual Pt1 – Operations, advice was given that that the most appropriate target set for bombers employed in support of the Army was the transport system of the enemy.

What Slessor did not consider however was timing of the arrival of these reinforcements and how they influenced the development of the battle. The German troops defeated on the first day were already in place and those defeated on the second day deployed by foot or road vehicle. Only in the evening of 9 August did the Fourth Army run into troops deployed by rail. By this time Fourth Army’s artillery target intelligence was greatly reduced from the outset of the battle and very few tanks remained combat ready; the Fourth Army had already shot its bolt.

The Battle of Amiens had a baleful effect on the delivery of an integrated Air-Land battle in the interwar period. Subjective analysis of the close air support delivered by the RAF enabled the Air Staff to overestimate the cost of close air support missions and by extension threaten its ability to attain air superiority. This in turn generated the institutional view that fighters should not be used in the close support role except in dire emergency. Concurrently, doctrinal thought was shifting the efforts of the bombers from attacks on the battlefield to the enemy rear area. Consequently there was little appetite for the task for close air support to troops in contact and little training was conducted. Crucially, this undermined the development of the necessary capability to conduct or control such missions, even if the RAF subsequently chose to do so. Not without reason did an RAF officer point out that in the interwar period, ‘. . . the RAF forgot how to support the Army’.

The dysfunctional outlook of the Air Staff in the interwar period had a catastrophic impact on the ability of the RAF to contribute effectively to a land campaign at the outbreak of hostilities. By focussing its fighters on the battle to achieve air superiority it significantly degraded its ability to attack ground targets. Consequently, this task fell to its bomber units which would be forced to survive due to luck rather than judgement if heavy defences existed. This lethal shortcoming was cruelly exposed by the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940.

Although the rumbling debate over a separate air arm for the Army was reignited by the decision to commit the Army to the Continent in February 1939, the squadrons that deployed to France at the outbreak of hostilities remained firmly under command of the RAF. Although originally deployed in two elements, the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) and the Air Component in support of the Army, they were soon unified under Air Marshal Barratt as the British Air Forces in France (BAFF), consisting of 14 squadrons of medium bombers, five and a half fighter squadrons and four reconnaissance squadrons. Unfortunately however, alongside their French allies they were significantly weaker both in quantity and quality than the Luftwaffe, containing many obsolete aircraft. The Nazi invasion on 10 May 1940 pitched these forces into battle and immediately they were found wanting with the crucial engagements taking place over the Meuse crossings.

Following XIX Panzer Corps’ establishment of crossing points over the Meuse on 14 May, BAFF joined the French Air Force in attempting to cut the pontoon bridges over which Guderian’s troops were trying to deploy. The attacks were disastrous. The 109 British and 43 French bombers supported by 250 fighters, faced 300 German fighters and 303 anti-aircraft guns concentrated over and around the vital bridges. Although the raids rolled on throughout the day, the largest took place between 16.00 and 17.00 hrs when 71 Battle and Blenheim bombers hurled themselves into the fray. Stripped of their weak fighter escort by the German fighters, those flights that got through were hacked apart by the German anti-aircraft gunners. Of the 71 sorties flown, 40 aircraft were shot down; a loss rate that remains the RAFs highest for a comparable mission.

It is of interest to note what may have happened had the RAF’s priorities been different. Notwithstanding the additional four fighter squadrons sent to France at the advent of the German assault, 43 remained in the United Kingdom on strategic defence duties. Had a larger proportion of these been deployed to the Continent and been committed to the battle over Sedan, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that air parity and maybe even limited superiority may have been gained. XIX Panzer Corps completed its bridges with the ‘last yard of available pontoon equipment’. If these had been hit no other equipment was immediately available. The ensuing delay would have brought the German tempo in line with that of the French and enmeshed them in a damaging and potentially fatal battle on the river. The consequences of such a battle will remain in the realm of counter factual speculation, however, as Kershaw has pointed out, support for the Nazi party was to a large extent built on the delivery of stunning and cheap victories that swayed the less belligerent elements of the German population; defeats could have easily taken them in the opposite direction. At the very least, a stalemated Western Front would have denied the Germans the advanced airfields necessary for their single-seat fighters to participate in the Battle of Britain.

Throughout the next two years the War Office continued to agitate for its own resources and the Air Ministry continued to resist. The impasse was broken in the summer of 1942 when two remarkably similar papers were drafted. The first, drafted by the War Office forwarded the suggestion that a new organization, the Army Air Support Group (AAS Gp), be formed consisting of fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. The intent of the proposal was not dismissed out of hand by the Air Ministry, although they felt unable to give assent to the detail on the grounds that it included permanent decentralization. Instead, they produced a paper of their own written by Slessor that proposed the creation of a similar mixed force to the War Office paper, except this force was to be formed from the existing RAF Fighter, Bomber and Army Co-operation Commands and placed under command of the RAF. Despite a last twitch of resistance from the War Office, the Slessor Plan reflected the advances that had been made in the Desert Air Force that had recently defeated Rommel at El Alamein. Buoyed by this associated success, it received support from Churchill and in early 1943 the Tactical Air Force (TAF) was born.

The TAFs that were prepared for the re-entry into Europe were essential in enabling the RAF and their allies to implement the doctrines of interdiction outlined by Slessor in the 1930s. Equipped with new medium bomber aircraft such as the Boston and Mitchell, and rugged fighter bombers such as the Typhoon, the TAFs possessed the means to strike powerfully at the enemy both at the battlefront and the lines of communication leading to it. However, the path towards interdiction was not always smooth and required assistance from Slessor himself to clear the final obstacles.

Slessor moved to the Mediterranean theatre as Deputy Commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF) on 14 January 1944. On arrival he found a debate raging and how the campaign in Italy could be best supported from the air. Slessor conducted a review which articulated for the first time an integrated campaign between the Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force (MASAF) and the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force (MATAF). Alongside its strategic role against Germany, the MASAF was to attack the rail network north of the Pisa-Rimini line. South of that line the railways were to come under attack from the MATAF.

In what came to be known as Operation STRANGLE, the medium bombers of the MATAF targeted the marshalling yards while the fighter bombers targeted rail lines and bridges. As a consequence of this assault, by 4 April only 1,357 tons out of the requirement for 2,261 tons per day was getting through to the German front line. Although this campaign was unable to totally isolate the Germans in the Gustav Line, it made the maintenance of their position virtually untenable. As a result, in contrast to the failed ground attacks in February and March, the DIADEM offensive in May shattered the German Tenth Army.

In North West Europe, the air campaign in support of OVERLORD mirrored that in the Mediterranean. The former CO of 8 Squadron, Leigh-Mallory was by this time in command of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force which included the 2nd TAF. In the build up to D-Day, an acrimonious debate broke out between Leigh-Mallory and the strategic air chiefs, Harris and Spaatz over nature of the planned assault. Whereas Harris and Spaatz saw their main effort as the POINTBLANK campaign against strategic targets in Germany, Leigh-Mallory wished to see them utilized against the transport network leading into Normandy. Experience gained in Italy ensured that the debate was decided in favour of Leigh-Mallory. The campaign that followed was perhaps the epitome of an integrated Air-Land battle to date. While Bomber Command and the US VIII Air Force struck at key rail hubs in Western Europe, the final 2 weeks leading up to D-Day saw an intense assault by 2nd TAF and the US IX TAF to isolate the Normandy battlefield. By 5 June all bridges over the Seine downstream from Paris had been cut and such damage done that the German authorities considered the western rail network, ‘. . . to be completely wrecked’. Nor did the attacks stop on 6 June. The Panzer Lehr Division, in an echo of 119th Division’s experience on the Amiens-Roye road in 1918, described the road north from Vire as ‘fighter-bomber racecourse’ as it came under sustained air attacks losing over 80 combat vehicles in the process. The experience of Panzer Lehr became the norm for the German Armies in Europe from the spring of 1944 until the end of the War. Under savage assaults from the Allied tactical airpower they were never able to concentrate sufficient combat power to mount a realistic challenge to the Allied ground forces and those that they did were destroyed piecemeal.

The application of tactical airpower in Europe between 1943 and 1945 has been the subject of a detailed study by Ian Gooderson. He noted with interest the balance between 2nd TAFs conduct of close air support and interdiction in the guise of ‘armed reconnaissance’. His research indicates that armed reconnaissance was by far the more dangerous of the tasks and suggests that mutual support available from ground forces was partly responsible. This is a valid point and may point to the reason why 8 and 73 Squadrons had such low casualty rates in late summer 1918.

In conclusion we can see that the Battle of Amiens played a pivotal role in the development of British Air-Land battle capability between 1918 and 1945 as it provided the ‘evidence’ which at first separated the RAF from the ground battle before generating its renaissance in a different form. Whereas the response to high casualty levels during the First World War had been to create specialist units in the close air support role and improve command and control measures, the bitter debates in the interwar period had seen this skill wither on the vine. Parsimonious budget allocations exacerbated tensions between the Services. These resulted in acrimonious debates that became increasingly focussed on the sterile issue of command and control of the Air-Land battle rather than its successful prosecution. Rather than produce an objective study of combat experience, the RAF took a subjective view of the losses sustained at Amiens in order to reject participation in the land battle as a profitable task. This took such a deep-rooted hold that the RAF failed to train or equip its personnel for a role that was immediately required once the decision was taken to deploy forces to the Continent in 1939. Notwithstanding the wider shortcomings of the land campaign, the ensuing disaster in 1940 found much at fault in the Air Ministry in the preceding two decades. However, the lessons drawn from the Battle of Amiens also laid the foundations for the rediscovery of Air-Land battle in the latter part of the war. Although the redevelopment of the command and control, and TAF ‘hardware’, took place independently, the doctrine of air interdiction was rooted in the 1930s analysis of the air battle over Amiens. This provided the final piece in the combat system with which the British and their Western Allies battered the Axis forces into defeat in 1945 and which could trace its heritage to the battlefields of Amiens in 1918.

French Naval Operations 1958-2000

Charles de Gaulle is the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). The ship is the tenth French aircraft carrier, the first French nuclear-powered surface vessel, and the only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States Navy. She is named after French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle.

The ship carries a complement of Dassault Rafale M and E‑2C Hawkeye aircraft, EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters for combat search and rescue, as well as modern electronics and Aster missiles. She is a CATOBAR-type carrier that uses two 75 m C13‑3 steam catapults of a shorter version of the catapult system installed on the U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, one catapult at the bow and one across the front of the landing area. Charles de Gaulle is the only non-American carrier-vessel that has a catapult, allowing operation of American aircraft such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the C-2 Greyhound.

The visible presence of powerful Marine warships was an important part of the policy of de Gaulle and his successors. In asserting that France had returned to the major world power role Marine warship visits were freely used to reinforce this message. In the last forty years of the 20th Century Marine vessels paid visits to most countries possessing a sea coast, the training mission of the helicopter carrier Jeanne d’Arc on an annual cadet training cruise being the vessel frequently chosen. Three visits merit particular mention, a warship visit to the United States in 1964, President de Gaulle’s highly controversial visit aboard the cruiser Colbert to Canada in 1967, and the visit of the missile destroyer Duguay-Trouin to China in 1978, the first foreign warship to pay a courtesy visit to China since 1940. After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact organisation warships visited Bulgarian and Romanian ports, and also Angola.

Operations involving surface ships are best set out in chronological sequence. In April to October 1974 Marine, Royal Navy and United States naval vessels worked to clear war debris in the Suez Canal resulting from the 1973 Egypt-Israel conflict. Four years later Marine vessels supported a French contingent protecting French technical aid staff at a time of unrest in Mauritania.

Marine aircraft flew over Mauritania and Chad during the periods of civil unrest and conflict in the late 1960s and 1970s. These former colonies were seen as a NATO southern flank glacis. Marine aircraft flew from bases at Dakar and Nouakchott and were concerned with intelligence gathering. The flights were almost certainly watching and passing details of the advance of Libyan forces into Chad, and later in the 1970s the activities of the Polisario insurgents in Morocco. The Aéronautique (from 1998 Aéronavale) also maintained patrols over metropolitan French coastal areas.

The independence of Djibouti, to become the Territory of the Afars and Issas in the spring of 1977 raised particular issues for the Marine. Both of the territory’s neighbours, Ethiopia and Somalia were known to be interested in its future. It was, though, an important base for the Marine’s operation in the Indian Ocean which had included an evacuation of civilians from Madagascar in 1972, and for the reassertion of French control in the Comores in 1975. A permanent force of five small frigates or other patrol vessels had been set up in 1972 to demonstrate French power and interest in the area. To make this interest entirely clear a major demonstration of Marine, Aéronavale and surface ship power was essential; this took the form of the arrival of the Clemenceau, the anti-submarine missile frigate Tourville, the missile destroyers Dupetit-Thouars and Kersaint, and the assault landing ship Ouragan for the actual independence, these vessels being relieved by the Foch and other vessels of the same capabilities a little later. The point was duly made. French naval installations although in certain details scaled down were nevertheless secured for future use.

The year 1982 provided an unexpected opportunity for Aéronautique training with also very timely help in aircraft and missile recognition training for Royal Navy vessels in the south Atlantic on their way to the Falklands. Facilities at Dakar were made available to help the movement of British troops and on exercises Super Étendard aircraft equipped with Exocet missiles made mock attacks on the Royal Navy ships whose crews were shortly to meet the same aircraft and missiles in the hands of the Argentinians.

The fighting and civil war in Lebanon from 1982 to 1989 involved the Marine in a series of operations. The first of these along with ships of other navies was the evacuation to safety of French nationals, some 1,200 being rescued. Marine vessels also patrolled along the coast. There followed a requirement to help with support for the multi-national French, American and Italian force on land. Landing vessels were used on occasions, the Foch participated in the patrolling and a small air and support base was opened at Larnaca in Cyprus. In October 1983 fifty-eight French soldiers of the multi-national ground force were killed and on 17 November Super Étendard aircraft from the Clemenceau which had arrived in the area attacked a rebel stronghold believed to have been held by Iranian and other Islam extremist groups. Reports on the success or otherwise of the attack are contradictory, but other air attacks were to follow into early 1984 before the withdrawal of the force. Marine vessels maintained general patrolling only further out to sea in the eastern Mediterranean until 1989 when ongoing Lebanese violence appeared to threaten the Christian community. The Foch and four frigates restored a measure of security despite intense Syrian hostility and, after the evacuation of wounded, the Foch and the four were withdrawn. Some minesweepers together with United States and Italian vessels were despatched south for work in the Gulf of Suez.

As a consequence of French military intervention in Chad a crisis in French relations with Libya arose in September 1984. The Foch and escorts were sent to display power off the Libyan Coast, a démarche which brought Libyan action to a halt.

Two Marine humanitarian operations evacuating civilians from an area in conflict or struck by natural disaster occurred in 1986. In January Marine, Soviet and Royal Navy warships (including as she was on the spot the British Royal Yacht Britannia) covered the evacuation of civilians from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen over a fourteen-day period. In May vessels mainly auxiliary logistic support based on Noumea evacuated people made homeless by a typhoon on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

The opening of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980 soon led to the harassment of tanker and container ships sailing from Basra. Iranian coastal missile boats and helicopters armed with missiles attempted to interfere and minefield warnings were issued. After an initial display of force that included the Suffren a small escort vessel patrol system was set up, the vessels accompanying merchant shipping. Friction and mine laying worsened in 1985-86 and led to a major crisis in July 1987 when following a diplomatic incident the Iranians seized the staff of the French Embassy in Teheran and held them as hostages. In response there followed a notable display of power projection by the Marine. In late July and August first the frigate Georges Leygues, then the Clemenceau supported by the missile destroyers Suffren and Duquesne with finally a squadron of minesweepers together with logistic support vessels were despatched to the Straits area. The Clemenceau remained in the area for just over a year, the other vessels exchanged crews with the arrival of replacements every three months or with crew reliefs flown out from France. The crew of the Clemenceau were given forty-five days’ leave in France on rotation. In June the Teheran government began to give way and by September the crisis had ended. The firm proactive French response, with the massive supply needs of warships and aircraft fuel, food, water and turn-over of personnel was only made possible by the availability of the Djibouti base.

In 1988 further unrest in New Caledonia and the Tuamotu archipelago required small-scale Marine support for two military stabilisation forces.

The Iraq invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War that followed in July 1990 caught the French government by surprise, it had been believing that Saddam Hussein’s earlier pronouncements had been only rhetoric. The war also caught the Marine at a difficult time. The Clemenceau was thirty years old, the Foch only two years younger. The largest missile ships Duquesne and Suffren were also thirty years old and under repair. Although the liberation of Kuwait had been approved by the United Nations there were powerful political voices in Paris opposing any deployment of French forces in any operation led by an American. At the same time an operation led by the United States and Britain without France would be a serious loss of status and prestige, most particularly in the Gulf Arab states. It is against this background, culminating later in the resignation of the Defence Minister that the uneven pattern of French commitment to the war has to be understood.

At the outset, the Marine despatched two frigates, Montcalm and Dupleix with two sloop escorts to the Gulf for the evacuation of French nationals from Kuwait. These were followed by the Clemenceau carrying a company of infantry and forty-two helicopters designed to support ground warfare, and the now obsolescent anti-aircraft cruiser Colbert. These arrived in the Gulf and exercised with United Arab Emirate forces in ground warfare manoeuvres, the helicopters participating from land airstrips in the exercises. It was believed that this show of force indicated alliance with the assembling U.N. force and maintained French prestige – but it also begged the question of what use was the Clemenceau with no strike aircraft while the Foch which had strike aircraft embarked remained in the Mediterranean. Argument over the legitimacy of further operations was settled by the sacking by the Iraqis of the French Embassy in Kuwait and plans were then prepared for a French ground forces participation. The Clemenceau was slowly withdrawn calling at the Saudi Arabian port of Yanbu for the helicopters to be landed and then flown back on to the Gulf theatre, the ship then returning to Toulon. The whole deployment was criticised as a failure, impressing no one, not even the Iraqis, but it should also be remembered that even a full complement of Super Étendard aircraft would have counted for little against the massive American strength.

Agreement was reached (after a vain attempt by Paris to assemble a European Union formation headed by a Marine admiral) on an allocation of zones for the blockade of supplies to Iraq, the United States, Great Britain and France each receiving an area for control, that for France being the southern coast line of the Arabian Peninsula and the Hormuz Straits. The French land force units were disembarked at Yanbu. The aircraft carriers were not used again, there being a shortage of both aircraft and trained crews and the inability of the Super Étendard to carry a cost-effective bomb load at long range. At the time of the final preparations for the great Desert Storm land offensive and at its actual opening there was only one Marine combat vessel, the missile destroyer Jean de Vienne, replaced in rotation by the Latouche-Tréville, on escort duty in the Gulf. To help the French land forces were the support vessels Foudre and La Rance in use as hospital ships.

In the Mediterranean three nuclear-powered attack submarines and four conventional boats were keeping watch off the Algerian and Libyan coasts in case of any reprisal threat of which there was little sign other than rhetoric from the Libyan leader Gaddafi. The Foch was kept at Toulon apparently arising from concern that any alignment with America in the ground forces operations would lead to unrest in the Maghreb. There had earlier been dissent in the Council of Ministers over the issue of the balance of international relations.

While the Army and the Air Force were fully involved in the fighting, the Marine was not. In the period after the cease-fire, though, Marine mine-clearance vessels were to play the lead part in a French-Belgian and Netherlands formation of ships.

The message, ruefully absorbed, for the Marine was that France alone could now never be considered to be in the same super-power league as the United States. It could not command the same mass of naval or air resources, nor could it have at its disposal the wealth of satellite intelligence, much now real time. Attempts to present powers that it could not possess only harmed France, and real value would be best gained by useful support.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia was to provide the Marine in its last 20th Century commitment to show such support. A combined United States, Royal Navy and Marine aircraft carrier force maintained an effective blockade of the Adriatic coastline in 1993, the Clemenceau serving until June and then being replaced by the Foch. The frigate Jean de Vienne and a sloop were used in a close blockade of the Montenegro coast, and the hospital ship La Rance was stationed at Dubrovnik. During these operations personnel of the Marine were brought back to NATO procedures and communications.

The October 1998-June 1999 Kosovo crisis and operation formed a last chapter of the Yugoslav events, the necessary ending of Serb administration. Intervention became essential after a massacre in January 1999. For the Marine the years 1988 and 1999 had proved difficult, the costs and logistic requirements had imposed force reductions. No anti-aircraft missile frigate could be made available until the arrival of the Cassard in mid-February. The Clemenceau was now no longer in service, the age of the Foch daily more evident. It was however felt important that the Marine should be present and all not left to the Americans and British.

The Foch remained on station from the end of January to the end of May. Until mid-February the anti-submarine frigates Surcouf and Montcalm were in support, from mid-February the Cassard with a Royal Navy frigate, and in May the anti-aircraft frigate Jean Bart. Two nuclear-engined attack submarines, the Amethyst from February to April and the Saphir in May were at work off the Montenegro coast at Kotor ensuring a blockade of Serbia. The presence of the Foch was seen by some, especially air force personnel, as unnecessary and unhelpful. The Foch’s aircraft had to fly on operations from land, the carrier’s catapults being unequal to the task; some friction ensued. Much of the supply necessary for the force was brought by auxiliaries from Djibouti, but another limitation for the Foch was her small stock of guided bombs which could not easily be replenished.

The Marine cooperated with and helped the small states of former French West and Equatorial Africa (with the exception of Guinea Conakry) and has maintained a small warship on patrol in the Gulf of Guinea. This patrol and a much longer lasting requirement for the Marine opened in the last years of the century, one requiring only small vessels but tactical skill in ships’ boat handling, combating piracy off the coast of Somaliland.

The predicament of “boat people” seeking escape from Vietnam in the early 1980s presented the Marine with a humanitarian problem in the South China Sea off the Gulf of Siam. On occasions a corvette on patrol would pick up boats crowded with refugees and with the cooperation of a charity, Médecins du Monde, at first landing them in Malaysia or the Philippines. On one such occasion the Jeanne d’Arc on a training cruise was involved. Such rescue raised a number of issues, the diplomatic propriety of an armed warship engaged in such work far from its metropolis, the increasing unwillingness of countries to receive refugees, some political objection by the French Communists at home and the charity’s shortage of funds and consequent difficulty in resettling the hundreds of people rescued.

The policy that emerged eventually provided for Marine helicopter search, communication systems and rescue of “boat people” on the spot, provision of food and water, all prior to the refugees being transferred to one of the charity’s rescue vessels, a policy akin to that of traditional help in the event of a nature disaster.

Although only indirectly related to the Marine its ships and operations, mention should be made of the massive sales of French naval equipment, ships built in France for direct sale or vessels at the time surplus to requirements of the Marine, submarines, aircraft, Exocet and Crotale missiles. Training staff have been sent on loan service to a number of foreign navies. On at least one occasion, during the Iran-Iraq war French-made missiles were launched against French vessels.

At the start of the 1990s the Marine’s total strength was 66,000, a total including the Aéronavale and Fusiliers marins. Its operational command structure was built on five commands, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean and ICBM submarines. One or two frigates were to be stationed permanently in the Red Sea/Indian Ocean, at Papete and New Caledonia and one at Martinique.

The building of the new generations of ships and the uses to which they were put makes impressive reading. Behind the story, though, lay another, especially in the late 1980s and 1990s. The second aircraft carrier was not the only vessel, but one among a number of others to be cancelled. Navies everywhere became more and more expensive at an alarming rate, yet if the ships were not fully abreast of all aspects of technology they became liabilities rather than assets. Great Britain was experiencing the same difficulties, the Royal Navy suffering cuts in a number of categories of warship that it considered essential. The common difficulties led to a meeting in December 1998 at St Malo at which President Chirac of France and Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom sponsored agreements for much closer naval cooperation, in particular including joint operations in crises and a series of joint exercises. A century after the historic 1905 Marine naval visit to Portsmouth, the Charles de Gaulle was welcomed in the Solent in June 2005 at a review essentially marking the bi-centenary of the battle of Trafalgar.




Roman Army at Adrianople.

Following Valens’s defeat and death, the empire’s government of the East, closely identified with the person of the emperor, ceased to exist. The ministers and the insignia of power and even the imperial treasury had traveled with Valens wherever he went, and all those people and riches were scattered, fleeing through the Balkan Mountains. No authority in Constantinople was capable of assuming power, even if only provisionally, and for once no general decided to take advantage of the situation by usurping the throne.

Only in the West were there an emperor and a government. In fact, there were two emperors: Gratian, who was a young man of nineteen, and his little brother Valentinian II. As soon as Gratian learned of the enormity of the Roman defeat and the death of his uncle, he and his army retraced their steps in great haste and took up positions in lllyricum, resolved to defend the empire should the barbarians come their way. It was up to Gratian and his ministers to choose a new emperor of the eastern empire, and they needed a few months to find the right candidate, but in January 379, Theodosius, one of Gratian’s generals, was, with the consent of the army, proclaimed emperor of the East.

Much the same process had occurred when Valens was nominated: First the army of the West acclaimed Valentinian, and only afterward did he decide to appoint his younger brother to govern in the East. From a political point of view, the East was indeed the younger brother of the West, for several reasons: The empire had been born in the West, Rome was in the West, the richest senators wrere those from the West; the western units of the army traditionally contained the most seasoned warriors, and they were also the ones that most easily succeeded in imposing their candidates for the imperial throne. Moreover, the West was synonymous with Latin, and Latin was still the language of the army and the law. But Easterners were starting to reject this status of political minority; for some time, they had known that theirs was the most populous, wealthiest, and most civilized part of the empire. Constantine had simply recognized that fact when he transferred the capital to the shores of the Bosporus. In the dissatisfaction that the Greek East felt at the political and military hegemony of the Latin West lay the seeds of competition—if not hostility—between the two parts of the Roman Empire; those seeds would not fail to produce fruit, and soon.


Theodosius is the last great protagonist of this story: the man who, in the years after Adrianople, worked harder than anyone else to fill the breach and redress the situation as far as possible.

Like almost all emperors, Theodosius was a career army officer; he came from the Far West, from Spain, and he was only thirty-two years old, but he already had experience to spare. His father, Theodosius the Elder, had been Rome’s most famous general in the days of Valentinian and had fought in half the world, from Britain to Africa. His son had grown up accompanying him on his various campaigns until, at a very early age—twenty-six or twenty-seven—he was appointed governor of one of the frontier provinces. At the time, Theodosius, a young man with all the right connections, seemed destined for swift promotion and a brilliant career; but in the Roman Empire, careers sometimes ended suddenly and badly. Valentinian started to mistrust Theodosius the Elder, who was too popular with his soldiers, exactly the type of general who might attempt a coup d’etat, and so the emperor relieved him of his command and subjected him to a political trial. Then Valentinian died, but his sons, likewise unwilling to keep so awkward a man as Theodosius the Elder on their hands, had him condemned to death and executed. His son was spared on condition that he retire to private life, and he had gone to live on his estates in Spain.

All this had happened in 376. Two years later, Gratian found himself obliged to choose a candidate to rule the eastern empire, one with shoulders broad enough to bear up under a frightful load. Moreover, the emperor’s choice had to be popular with the army, otherwise, Gratian’s own throne might begin to wobble. His selection of Theodosius, who met these requirements, quickly proved to be an astute move. Theodosius was cruel when necessary, but he had a political sensibility; he knew how to accept compromise when it was inevitable, but he also knew how to solve a problem at its root when he thought the situation required it. For example, he brutally simplified the religious question. When named emperor, he was not yet even a Christian, but he quickly got himself baptized and lined up with the Catholics, not the Arians. As Arianism was almost unknown in the West, this was probably an obligatory choice for a Westerner, but Theodosius drew political conclusions from it. The new emperor would put an end once and for all to the religious disputes which sowed discord among his subjects and which, in Valens’s time, had weakened the very authority of the emperor; he would no longer allow these theological arguments, so typical of Greek intellectuals, to split the East. One year after taking power, Theodosius published an edict three lines long, in which he decreed that his subjects were bound to follow the only true religion, namely Catholicism. All other Christian sects were stripped of their authority; they could no longer possess religious buildings or practice their faith in public, and should anyone object, not only would God punish him in the next life, but the state would see to his punishment in this one as well.

The edict in which Theodosius imposed Nicene Catholicism as the state religion of the empire was issued at Thessalonica in 380, and it was emblematic of the new emperor’s summary way of working and of his capacity for drastically simplifying problems. The Arians were the edict’s primary targets, and in practice it condemned their church to death by slow strangulation.

With the pagans, Theodosius was at first a bit more cautious, but when he felt strong enough to do so, he took drastic measures against them, too. Sacrifices had long been forbidden, but in 391 the emperor definitively suppressed all pagan cults, closed their temples, and forbade under penalty of death any form of polytheistic worship; the following year, he extended the prohibition to the private worship of the Lares and Penates, the Roman household gods.


Unable to use so unilateral an approach in handling the crisis with the Goths, Theodosius showed himself capable of much greater flexibility. Obviously, the war was not over, and therefore his first goal was to reconstitute the army and resume operations against the Goths. The barbarians had to be made to understand that, despite their great victory at Adrianople, the Roman Empire was not yet defeated. Without losing any time, Theodosius promulgated some extremely harsh laws: Enlistment officials were required to sign up all conscripts at once, without allowing themselves to be swayed by exemptions or bribes; all proprietors of great estates had to furnish their quota of men, taking them from among the peasants who worked their land; all deserters, and all those who were obligated by law to perform military service but had so far, one way or another, managed to avoid it, had to report to their units or face a death sentence. The enlistment officials were authorized to draft, without any formalities, all soldiers’ sons, all vagrants, all unemployed men without a permanent residence, and also all immigrants capable of bearing arms. The emperor threatened death by burning as the punishment for any administrator of a large estate who concealed the presence of an immigrant among his workers; all immigrants were to be reported and consigned to the enlistment officials.

With these drastic measures, Theodosius succeeded, for better or worse, in putting the army back on its feet; at the same time, he was hiring Hunnish and even Gothic mercenaries. Although the Goths had entered the empire in different groups and merged into a single army under Fritigern’s command, they continued to be an aggregation of tribes, some of them with no connections at all to one another; many of those tribes had remained on the other side of the Danube, withdrawing to mountainous regions where they were able to keep the Huns at bay. Theodosius did not hesitate to open negotiations with their leaders, offering advantageous terms to any of them willing to furnish him with mercenaries to fight against the other Goths, and some of the leaders accepted the deal. One in particular, Athanaric, had once been very popular among the Goths, had fought against the Romans, and then had been more or less shoved aside, not least because he was old. Theodosius invited him to Constantinople, received him with all honors, and had his statue erected in the Hippodrome, next to those of Roman politicians; and although Athanaric died shortly afterward, many warriors had accompanied him to Constantinople, and they agreed to serve in the Roman army.


The army as rebuilt by Theodosius was not necessarily capable of succeeding where Valens’s army had failed. The veterans who fell at Adrianople were not easy to replace, and the quality of the new units surely did not reach the level of those that had been destroyed. But Theodosius used the army not so much to defeat the Goths as to force them to negotiate and to accept a reasonable compromise. Even though Adrianople had been a crushing victory, the victors were still in a precarious situation. The Gothic leaders’ strategic abilities were of little use if their men could not manage to take any cities; without fortified cities to serve as bases and winter quarters, the barbarians could be masters of Thrace, they could advance to the suburbs of Constantinople, but they could not say they had conquered the country. However well armed they might have been, they were still just vagabond marauders, and what was worse, the authority that Fritigern had won for himself in the moment of danger had partly dissolved the morning after the victory, when it seemed that anything was possible, and many chieftains had decided to strike out on their own.

Theodosius and Gratian conducted their operations prudently, reoccupying lost territory a little at a time, guaranteeing the security of Constantinople, and trying to show the Goths that the empire was still able to make them pay a heavy price. It was half a bluff, but in the end it was successful. One after another, the leaders of the various groups let themselves be persuaded to make peace, in exchange for the same concessions, more or less, that Valens had promised in the beginning and then taken back. Some of the leaders received cultivable land, enough for the families of their men to settle on, in the same territories they themselves had laid waste during years of pillage and atrocities; other chieftains received officers’ appointments and stipends in the army, and their men were persuaded to enlist. At last, in 382, Theodosius scored a coup by convincing Fritigern, who was still in command of the largest Gothic band, that he should agree to talks.

The envoy sent to negotiate with Fritigern was Saturninus, who had directed operations against the Goths the year before Adrianople and was one of the generals who escaped the massacre by a whisker. Saturninus negotiated a treaty that at least in appearance satisfied everyone, and he was received in triumph upon returning to Constantinople. The following year, in recompense, the emperor appointed him consul.

The rhetorician Themistius, who a few years earlier had publicly congratulated Valens for making peace with the Goths, was charged with delivering an encomium in honor of Saturninus. In this oration, humanitarian rhetoric encountered before can be heard to vibrate anew, as if nothing had changed. Themistius lauded the government for having found a political solution to the problem, for receiving the Goths in peace instead of trying to annihilate them: “Philanthropy has prevailed over destruction. Would it perhaps have been better to fill Thrace with corpses instead of farmers? The barbarians are already transforming their weapons into hoes and sickles and cultivating the fields.” This was the ideology of the “melting pot,” viewing the barbarians as destined to be integrated into the empire as so many had been admitted in the past. Their descendants, Themistius said, “can’t be called barbarians; for all intents and purposes, they’re Romans. They pay the same taxes we do, they serve with us in the army, they’re governed in the same way and subject to the same laws. And before long, the same thing will happen with the Goths.”

In practice, Theodosius’s solution to the Gothic problem had been in the air for a long time and more than once had been on the point of implementation before going awry. Valens had let the Goths into the empire with the idea of enlisting them in the army, and although the inefficiency and corruption that characterized the military authorities’ treatment of the refugees had driven them to rebellion, Valens had always remained open to the prospect of a negotiated peace; indeed, just a few hours before being killed at Adrianople, the emperor had been involved in discussions with Fritigern’s envoys, trying to find a solution. In 382, Theodosius did exactly what could have been done six years before, though he could not easily cancel out everything that had happened in the interval—the years of pillaging and atrocities, the destruction of an army, the death of an emperor, and the siege of the imperial capital. After Adrianople, enrolling Gothic warriors in the imperial army was much more difficult, as was explaining to the civilian population that the Goths were really just refugees, people who should receive humane treatment, a useful workforce.

And yet the ruling classes of the empire gave this a try, and one can either admire their goodwill or be astonished by their cynicism. To the politicians who collaborated with Theodosius, the acceptance of the Goths, despite everything that had happened, posed no problem at all; official speeches and the verses of the court poets all harped on the same string. A Gaulish rhetorician, Pacatus, enthused over all the new Roman soldiers, barbarians, yes, but so willing to learn: “O wonderful and memorable! Those who once had been enemies of Rome, now marching under Roman commanders and Roman banners, following the standards they used to fight against, filling as soldiers the cities they had formerly emptied and devastated as enemies. The Goth, the Hun, and the Alan, learning to express themselves according to the rules and taking their turn on guard duty and fearful of being criticized in their officers’ reports.” The tale of the barbarian who throws away his animal skins and learns to dress like a civilized person and obey orders and observe discipline was told again and again by the authors of Theodosius’s time, and the implication was clear: Exchanging those bestial clothes for garb befitting a citizen and learning to live according to the rules made one a Roman. All the rhetoric about the universality of the empire, about its capacity for assimilation, was trotted out to demonstrate that Theodosius had made the right choice. And, to be clear, it wasn’t all empty rhetoric; to a certain degree, that capacity for assimilation genuinely existed. The empire really was absorbing the barbarians, even though, as it did so, it inevitably changed.

The most striking example of how the Roman army absorbed and integrated the Goths is given by a group of gravestones found in the latter half of the nineteenth century in a paleochristian cemetery near Portogruaro, in the Veneto, where once stood a Roman city with a name of good augury, Concordia. A considerable number of these gravestones, almost forty, are dedicated to soldiers in Theodosius’s army, soldiers from many different regiments—so many that people at first wondered why they had all been buried in this one particular place. Later research suggested that toward the end of his reign, in 394, Theodosius had fought a great battle more or less in that area against one of the usual usurpers, and part of his army probably remained encamped near Concordia for a long time, so we may conclude that the gravestones go back to that period. Since they come from a Christian cemetery, all the gravestones presumably memorialize soldiers who were Christians. Many regimental names are of the fanciful variety typical in the late empire—the Bracchiati, the Armigeri—and many have the names of barbarian tribes: The Heruli seniores, for example, or the Batavians, the unit held in reserve at the battle of Adrianople, whose troops had saved their skins by running away in time.

If you read the inscriptions on all these gravestones, they give the impression that the army was a very compact society, where everyone was linked to everyone else by ties of camaraderie or kinship, and also by religious bonds. In many cases, the inscription states that the dead man’s gravestone has been paid for by his comrades-in-arms or by fellow villagers or countrymen serving in the same regiment; the frequent mention of wives demonstrates that the military was a real microcosm, in which men lived with their families. Moreover, the tone of these inscriptions is decorous and devout, and they offer many dedications and regards “to the best of colleagues,” “to the holy church of the city of Concordia.” But a close look at the names of the soldiers reveals that they were almost all barbarians. They all have Flavius as a first name, because it had been the name of the imperial family since the reign of Constantine, and every immigrant who was granted citizenship received that name; following Flavius, almost every soldier has a Germanic and in many cases even a Gothic name, such as Flavius Andila, a noncommissioned officer in the Bracchiati, or Flavius Sindila, who served in the Herulian regiment.

This was the positive face of integration, the proof that Theodosius’s policy could succeed: The Goth became a Roman soldier, swore loyalty to the empire, learned to comply with military discipline and to appreciate his stipend and his pension; and the army, which was a community, seemed like the perfect machine for handling this integration process. It absorbed barbarians, ground them down, and transformed them into Roman veterans, into the men whom emperors in their public discourses addressed as “comrades in arms” and who constituted the real pillar of the empire.


Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Report, July 1944

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, professional soldier, decorated veteran of the First World War, was well liked by the National Socialist leadership and for a time commanded Hitler’s headquarters military guard. In the Second World War he acquired fame as commander of 7th Panzer Division in the campaign in the west in 1940. From 1941 he was the best known general in the German forces fighting in North Africa, and he finally commanded Army Group B in France when Allied forces had landed there in 1944. By this time, he was a sworn enemy of Hitler and ready to collaborate with the conspirators who planned the uprising of 20 July 1944. The events of that day might have taken a different turn had Rommel not been severely wounded on 17 July 1944. When Rommel’s involvement in the conspiracy was revealed, Hitler gave him the choice of suicide, or a trial followed by kith-and-kin imprisonment of his family.

In the document printed below, Rommel confronted Hitler with an ultimatum. He did so through proper channels, that is to say, through his superior, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, Supreme Commander West. Kluge sent the ultimatum to Hitler and addressed to the Führer his own assessment of the situation, which fully supported and partially repeated that of Rommel.


The Commander-in-Chief of Army Group B

H.Q., 15.7.44

Considerations of the Situation

The situation on the Normandy front grows more difficult daily and is approaching a severe crisis.

Due to the severity of the fighting, the enemy’s enormous use of material, above all artillery and tanks, and the effect of the enemy’s unrestricted command of the air over the battle area, our own casualties are so high that the fighting strength of the divisions is rapidly diminishing. Replacements from home come only very sparingly and, with the difficult transport situation, take weeks to reach the front. As against casualties of around 97,000 men (including 2,360 officers) – that is, on average 2,500 to 3,000 men per day – replacements to date number 10,000 (of which around 6,000 have actually arrived).

Material losses the deployed troops have incurred are also uncommonly large and could be replaced up to now on only a very small scale, for example, so far 17 tanks as against losses of 225.

The newly arrived infantry divisions are raw, unused to battle, and – with their small establishment of artillery, armour-piercing guns, and close-combat anti-tank guns – not in a state, after hours of barrage and heavy bombing, to successfully repulse major enemy offensives for any length of time. As the fighting has shown, with this use of material by the enemy, even the bravest troops will be smashed piece by piece, losing men, arms, and territory.

Through the destruction of the railway system and the threat of the enemy air force to roads and tracks up to 150 km behind the front, supply conditions are so difficult that only the barest essentials can be brought up, and it is necessary to exercise the greatest economy in everything, above all in artillery and mortar ammunition. These conditions are not likely to improve, as enemy action is steadily reducing available transport capacities, and enemy activity in the air is likely to become more effective as the many airfields in the bridgehead area are taken into use.

No new forces of any consequence can be brought into the Normandy front without weakening the front of the 15th Army [on the Channel] or the Mediterranean front in southern France. The front of the 7th Army alone urgently needs 2 fresh divisions, since the troops there are exhausted.

On the enemy’s side, fresh forces and quantities of war materiel flow to the front every day. The enemy supplies are undisturbed by our air force. Enemy pressure is becoming steadily stronger.

In these circumstances, we must expect that the enemy in the foreseeable future will succeed in breaking through our thin front, especially that of the 7th Army, and thrust deep into France. I may refer to the enclosed reports of the 7th Army and the 2nd Paratrooper Corps. Apart from the Panzer Group West’s sector reserves, which for the time being are tied down by the fighting on their own front and, due to the enemy’s command in the air, can only move by night, no mobile reserves are available at 7th Army for defence against such a break-through. Action by our air force will have, as before, very little effect.

The troops are everywhere fighting heroically, but the uneven struggle is nearing its end. In my opinion, it is necessary to draw conclusions from this situation. As Army Group Commander-in-Chief I feel myself in duty bound to speak plainly on this point.


signed Rommel

General Field Marshal.

Humber class – Monitor

The original design of the Humber class, with the twin 6in turret forward. Note her extremely broad beam, essential to carry her heavy armament on such a shallow-draught vessel. The profile drawing shows one of the twin propeller shafts, but in reality these were enclosed within a cavity at the rear of the hull, between the twin rudders. When their turret guns were worn, Severn and Mersey received two 6in on individual mountings fore and aft, so their 120mm howitzers on the stern deck were moved one deck higher up, to allow the rear 6in a clear field of fire.

The three heavily-armed and armoured vessels of the Humber class were originally designed by Vickers for the Brazilian Navy, to complement the South American dreadnought race. Just as with the battleship Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilians found themselves unable to pay for the completed river monitors. Henry Wickham, a British botanist and explorer, had secretly stolen thousands of Hevea seeds out of the Brazilian jungle. Grown and propagated at Kew, they had provided the genetic stock for rubber plantations in Malaya and elsewhere. The industrial scale harvesting of the rubber in Malaya ruined the cottage-industry rubber growers in Brazil, and the country’s economy collapsed. Vickers found no buyers for the river monitors, even though the Romanians inspected them. (Presumably in 1914 it would have been impossible to deliver them via the Dardanelles, and they were never designed to be broken down and transported in sections.)

At the same time as he placed machine-gunners on the gangplanks to prevent the Turkish crewmen from boarding Rio de Janeiro to sail her home, Churchill requisitioned the three Brazilian river monitors. The Royal Navy had no immediate plans for their employment, but it was felt necessary to prevent their sale to another Power.

When they ran their RN trials, it was found that none of the three could attain their contract speed of 12 knots. In fact, at full load displacement and with several months’ hull fouling, none could even reach 10 knots. In any side wind on the high sea, they were simply blown sideways, and their decks were awash in even moderate swells. It was also quickly discovered that they could not be steered going astern. To remedy this a hinged flap was fitted on the stern above the propeller cavity. Another fault emerged during gunnery trails, when a pair of strengthening straps had to be bolted along the top side of the boat deck, continuing down to the foredeck, to remedy a structural weakness at the join of the foredeck and superstructure.

Once modified, the three soon proved their worth in bombarding the advancing German troops on the Belgian coast with their 6in guns and 4.7in howitzers. In fact, before they were withdrawn because of increased U-boat activity (one had even fired a torpedo at Severn which passed underneath her thanks to her shallow draught), both Severn and Mersey had worn out their turret guns. As no spares were available for the special Vickers design, both ships had the turret removed, and single 6in guns fitted fore and aft. To allow space on the quarterdeck, the two 4.7in howitzers had to be moved up to halfway along the boat deck. The RN also took the opportunity to double the thickness of the armoured deck over the magazines.

Thus rearranged, the trio were shored up and towed to the Mediterranean, for possible deployment at Gallipoli. Humber stayed in the Med, seeing action at Gallipoli and Mersa Matruh, and finishing the Great War as guardship at the Southern end of the Suez Canal. Her two sisters carried on with their epic voyage to the Rufiji Delta, where the German light cruiser Königsberg was holed up for engine repairs after sinking HMS Pegasus at Zanzibar. Blockading cruisers drew too much water to be able to come within gun range of Königsberg’s hiding place.

With the aid of spotting aircraft, the two shallow-draught monitors carried out two attacks. The first ended when a hidden German spotter brought accurate shellfire down on Mersey, damaging her and forcing both monitors to withdraw after scoring just three hits on Königsberg. During their second attack, they succeeded in crippling the German cruiser, and her captain detonated two torpedo warheads to scuttle his ship. Her 10.5cm guns were to turn up again on the East African battlefield, one even arming the Graf von Götzen on Lake Tanganyika.

After their successful mission the two monitors provided gunfire support for land forces, and at the end of hostilities sailed up the Danube. Then in 1919 all three were earmarked for North Russia, but in fact only Humber was deployed.


Humber 17 June 1913, Severn 19 August 1913, Mersey 30 September 1913 by Vickers, Son & Maxim, Barrow.


Displ: 1,155 tons light, 1,520 tons full load; L: 81.3m/266ft 9in; B: 14.9m/49ft; D: 1.32m/4ft 4in light, 5ft 7½in full load.


9 officers + 131 men.


Twin screws; VTE steam engines, 1,450ihp/9.5 knots.


As designed: 1 × twin 6in; 2 × 4.7in howitzers; 4 × 3-pounder QF; 6 × 7mm Hotchkiss MG /4in turret face and conning tower sides; 1½in (38mm) to 3in (76mm) hull sides; deck 1in (25mm) to 2in (50mm). As modified: Humber: twin turret + I × single 6in; + 3in HA. Severn and Mersey: 2 × single 6in.


Severn and Mersey sold for scrap 1921; Humber converted to crane barge 1920, scrapped after 1945?