Theodor Tolsdorff

Theodor Tolsdorff was born in Lehnarten, East Prussia, on November 3, 1909. He volunteered for the service in 1934 and was commissioned in the 22nd Infantry Regiment at Gumbinnen, East Prussia (now Gusev, Russia), in 1936. He was still in the 22nd on November 1, 1943, when he assumed command of the regiment. From 1939 to 1945, he rose from a lieutenant commanding a company to a lieutenant general commanding a corps. In the meantime, he earned the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds-mostly on the Eastern Front. He was wounded fourteen times. Tolsdorff assumed command of the 340th Volksgrenadier Division on September 1, 1944, and fought in the Siegfried Line battles. He took charge of the LXXXII Corps on April 1, 1945. After the war, he lived in Wuppertal-Barmen and died in Dortmund on May 5, 1978.

340th Volksgrenadier Division

Col. Theodor Tolsdorff

694, 695, and 696 VG Regiments

340 Artillery Regiment

340 Antitank Battalion

340 Engineer Battalion

(committed in late December at Bastogne under the 1st SS Panzer Corps)

Having absorbed the remnants of another division, the division had more veterans than most, but since it had only recently come from the line near Aachen, it was considerably under strength.

Kampfgruppe Tolsdorff Vilnius

The Home Army intended to use the arrival of the Red Army as an opportunity to seize control of parts of Poland from the Germans, with coordinated uprisings in several cities under the codename Burza (`Tempest’ or `Storm’). In Vilnius, the operation was codenamed Ostra Brama (`Gate of Dawn’), after a famous landmark on the south-east edge of the old heart of the city. Late on 6 July 1944, the Home Army tried to seize Vilnius in an attempt to gain control of the city before the arrival of the Red Army. In the preceding days, the Home Army had effectively secured much of the countryside around the city, but the unexpectedly fast advance of the Soviet forces – about a day ahead of Polish expectations – resulted in Krzyzanowski moving his own timetable forward. Consequently, Krzeszowski had fewer troops at his disposal than he might have wished, and his men were left in possession of only the north-east part of the city. Much of the Polish 77th Infantry Regiment found itself held at arm’s length to the east of Vilnius, its movements further hampered by a German armoured train. Elements of the Polish 85th Infantry Regiment took up positions to the west, beyond the River Vilnia, threatening the German lines of retreat. It is striking that despite years of Soviet and German occupation and tens of thousands of arrests, the AK continued to organise itself into formations that drew their ancestry from the pre-war Polish Army.

Soviet forces arrived outside Vilnius at about the same time that the Poles launched their attack. 35th Guards Tank Brigade, part of General Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army, was involved in heavy fighting with the German paratroopers at the airport, from where fighting gradually spread into the city. On 8 July, Krylov’s 5th Army reached the city outskirts, while the Soviet armour gradually encircled the garrison.

It had been General Aleksander Krzyżanowski’s [Polish Home Army] intention to secure the city for Poland before the arrival of the Red Army, but the planners of Burza had always intended that the Poles would cooperate at a tactical level with the Soviets, though they would attempt to set up their own Polish civil authorities before the Red Army could establish pro-Soviet administrations. Unlike in many of the other `fortresses’ that Hitler insisted were defended to the last man, the Vilnius garrison put up a stiff fight, inflicting heavy losses on their opponents. Rotmistrov’s tanks had suffered considerable losses in Minsk, and now found themselves engaged in close-range combat against a determined enemy, equipped with weapons such as the Panzerfaust, that were at their most effective in this environment. Nevertheless, there could be no question of the Germans holding on for long.

Relief was on the way. The rest of 16th Fallschirmjäger Regiment arrived by train near Vilnius early on 9 July, and almost immediately it was assigned to an ad hoc battlegroup, Kampfgruppe Tolsdorff, which went into action outside the western outskirts. Another formation dispatched to try to stem the Soviet flood was 6th Panzer Division, which had been recuperating in Soltau in Germany after suffering heavy casualties earlier in the year. As the men of the panzer division arrived, they were hastily organised into two battlegroups. Gruppe Pössl consisted of a battalion of tanks from the Grossdeutschland division, a battalion of 6th Panzer Division’s panzergrenadiers, and artillery support; it was ordered to advance to make contact with Tolsdorff ‘s group on the outskirts of Vilnius, and thence to link up with the garrison. Gruppe Stahl, with two panzergrenadier battalions and artillery support, would attempt to hold open the line of retreat.

The attack began on 13 July, with Generalleutnant Waldenfels, the commander of 6th Panzer Division, and Generaloberst Georg-Hans Reinhardt, commander of 3rd Panzer Army, accompanying Pössl’s group. The thin screen of Soviet and Polish forces to the west of Vilnius was unable to stop the thrust, which reached Rikantai, about eight miles outside the city. Here, contact was established with Gruppe Tolsdorff, which in turn had a tenuous connection with the Vilnius garrison. During the afternoon, German wounded were evacuated from Vilnius and along the road to the west.

The Soviet response to the German breakout was slow. Late on 13 July, uncoordinated attacks along the narrow escape route were repulsed, but the following day there were several crises as increasingly strong Soviet pincer attacks cut the road repeatedly. Finally, as darkness fell on 14 July, the Germans withdrew to the west. About 5,000 men from the garrison were able to escape, but over 10,000 were lost.

The Soviet authorities proclaimed the liberation of Vilnius on 13 July, but there was still the question of what to do with the Polish Home Army forces that had fought both against the garrison and against Gruppe Tolsdorff to the west of the city. Krzyzanowski and his fellow officers wished to use their men to recreate the pre-war Polish 19th Infantry Division, itself a controversial unit in that it was raised by Poland in the Vilnius region after that area was seized by Poland.

Rudolf Witzig

Witzig’s 1st Battalion of the 21st Parachute Engineer Regiment at Vilnius

The 954 soldiers of the 16th Parachute Regiment entrained for Vilnius, in the south-eastern corner of modern Lithuania, in July. The German High Command considered the defence of Vilnius imperative. If the city fell, it would be impossible to maintain contact between the two German army groups in the Baltic States and to stop the Red Army’s advance towards East Prussia. It had thus been declared a ‘fortress’ city by Hitler and was to be held to the last man. Schirmer’s regiment was subordinated to Field Marshal Model’s Army Group Centre and the Third Panzer Army. Under the direct control of Major General Stahel, an air-defence officer and commander of Vilnius, the 16th Parachute Regiment joined a hotch-potch of units in defence of the city, including the 399th and 1067th Panzergrenadier Regiments, an independent panzergrenadier brigade, the 16th SS Police Regiment, the 2nd Battalion, 240th Field Artillery Regiment, the 256th Anti-Tank Battalion and the 296th Flak Battalion. In addition, elements of the 731st Anti-Tank Detachment, with 25 Hetzer tank destroyers were also available, as well as the 103rd Panzer Brigade with 21 Panther tanks, the 8th Assault Gun Detachment and the 6th Panzer Division with 23 Panzer IV tanks and 26 Panthers.

Poised to advance on the Lithuanian capital were elements of the Soviet 5th and 5th Guards Armies of the Third Belorussian Front. The Soviet attack on the city began on 8 July 1944, with Russian tanks and infantry attacking across Lake Narocz towards the airfield, which was defended by the paratroopers. After bitter fighting, the Soviet 35th Tank Brigade took the airfield. Intense street fighting then commenced as the Soviets attempted to reduce German defences. By midday, the Red Army had fought its way into the city, overrunning the initial line of anti-tank obstacles and destroying a number of the ad hoc German battle groups. The following day, the Germans reported 500 dead and another 500 wounded. By 9 July, Vilnius was encircled. Two days later, the German High Command ordered a break-out. The following night, the defenders broke contact with the enemy and crossed the Vilnia River. Some 2,000 Landsers made it across. With the fall of Vilnius the Wehrmacht’s position in the Baltic States became untenable.

In the meantime, the 16th Parachute Regiment had been followed to the Baltics by Witzig’s 1st Battalion of the 21st Parachute Engineer Regiment, which arrived from France. The battalion, which had an authorized strength of 21 officers and 1,011 other ranks, had been conducting night parachute training at the Salzwedel airbase when it was alerted for movement to Lithuania. ‘By means of a railway movement of several days duration via Berlin and through the peaceful and marvellously sunny summer countryside of Brandenburg and West Prussia and then through East Prussia the battalion reached the border with Lithuania,’ wrote Witzig. ‘The first deployment took place in the Kaunas area.’ Witzig’s battalion reached their planned defensive positions between Schescuppe and Wilkowischen, located only 10 km from the East Prussian border, at the end of July and began to entrench. Within a few days of arriving, the unit was reinforced with an artillery detachment and elements of an assault gun brigade.

Due to the length of the front we were deployed from right to left as follows: Parachute Engineer Battalion, 2nd Battalion, 1st Battalion, and the 3rd Battalion with the 13th Company in reserve and an assault gun brigade [recorded Witzig]. After a while the regiment, which was only equipped with its infantry weapons, received four 75-mm anti-tank guns, which were distributed among the frontline battalions. This position was held the whole of August and September 1944.

Initially the Russians were nowhere in sight. Instead, the men of Witzig’s battalion witnessed the massive westward exodus of Nazi civilian leaders and their families fleeing for their lives to escape the advancing Red Army. The German population in the path of the Russians was thus left leaderless. ‘This was the beginning of the breakdown of law and order,’ remembered Witzig.

After changing positions several times, the battalion finally made contact with the Russians. Witzig’s 3rd Company relieved the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, a punishment battalion:

Only the commander and a few members of the staff had the required rank. All of the company, platoon, and squad leaders were demoted SS officers and NCOs, who wore only an arm badge with their official position. These men had conducted a jump in a coup de main against the headquarters of Yugoslav partisan commander Marshal Tito, only a few weeks earlier. Only with great effort and at the very last moment had he managed to escape.

On the day of their relief, the SS paratroopers bloodily repulsed a Russian tank attack.

On 20 July 1944, a bomb planted at Hitler’s East Prussian headquarters barely missed killing the leader of the Third Reich. In the confusion that followed the attempt, the vast majority of the Wehrmacht’s leaders swore their loyalty to the Führer, while those opposed to the regime were hunted down, cruelly tortured and brutally murdered. A small number committed suicide; only a few survived. Hearing the news at an impromptu parade complete with loudspeakers, Witzig and his men were stunned and felt betrayed. ‘Can you imagine how you would feel if you learned, fighting in the middle of a war, that someone had tried to kill your president?’ one veteran asked the author, when recounting the incident.

But the war went on. According to Witzig, the Red Army attacked his positions about once a week, usually in division strength. Twice Soviet armour, in regimental strength, broke through the German positions:

The majority of tanks, and especially the accompanying infantry, were destroyed by our forward companies in close combat, while the tanks which penetrated deeper were shot by our assault gun brigade. The position was reformed after each attack.

Witzig noted that the Soviets had a large superiority in artillery, which they used liberally. As a result, the terrain surrounding the German defensive positions ‘looked liked the World War I Verdun battlefield’. From time to time the artillery detachment attached to the regiment neutralized a Soviet battery, but it was a losing battle. Nonetheless, Witzig’s battalion, which was deployed as infantry, fought with great determination.

In one particularly hard-fought battle, Witzig’s battalion was mentioned in communiqués for destroying 27 Soviet tanks and stopping the advance of an entire Red Army tank division. On 25 July 1944, the battalion covered a movement to, first, the Kaunas–Daugavpils road and, later in the evening, still further to the north-east to Jonava and entrenched there. ‘A few days ago a strong concentration of enemy tanks was observed and reported in this area,’ reported Witzig, ‘so it was assumed a major attack was imminent.’ The 1st Battalion, 21st Parachute Engineer Regiment, was attached to a battle group commanded by a Colonel Theodor von Tolstorff for this deployment. Tolstorff was, according to Witzig, an excellent officer, and he would win the Swords and Diamonds to the Knight’s Cross the following year as commander of the 340th Volksgrenadier Division.

As had been so often the case, one of Witzig’s companies was detached from the battalion and Witzig was forced to defend with his three remaining companies. The ground on which the battle was fought was open, although the battalion’s flanks were covered by a large forest. The 1st Company, commanded by Lieutenant Kubillus, deployed on the left of the Kaunas–Daugavpils road, while the 2nd Company, commanded by Lieutenant Walther, deployed on the right as it was clear that the Soviets would focus their attacks on this road. Elements of Lieutenant Schürmann’s understrength 4th Company were attached to the 2nd Company, while the remainder served as a battalion reserve. The 3rd Company, commanded by Lieutenant von Albert, was detached from the battalion to serve as a corps reserve in the rear. According to Witzig, several assault and anti-tank guns were deployed with the battalion, located at the edge of a wood and in battle positions in a cornfield, but were not attached to it. The battalion’s own T-mines, stored in stacks of a hundred, had been left in the woods in forward positions. Witzig notes that every squad was equipped with anti-tank weapons of some sort, including at least one Panzerschreck and three to five Panzerfausts.

The Panzerschreck (‘Tank Terror’) or Ofenrohr (‘Stovepipe’) was similar to the American Bazooka rocket-launcher. More than 1.5 metres long and weighing more than 11 kg it was a handful for any soldier to carry, much less use effectively. However, its 88-mm, 3-kg, anti-tank rocket was capable of stopping any Allied tank at ranges of up to 120 metres. The Panzerfaust, on the other hand, was the world’s first truly disposable anti-tank recoilless launcher. Weighing only 6 kg and easy to use, this shoulder-fired launcher shot a hollow-charge anti-tank grenade, which could pierce 200 mm at ranges of 30–80 metres. This was literally point-blank range against a tank and it took a great deal of raw courage, steady nerves and patience to use the weapon effectively. By 1944, both weapons had acquired a fearsome reputation. In the last year of the war, the Allies would find themselves losing hundreds of vehicles a week to the Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust.

During the night of 25/26 July, Witzig’s companies entrenched in fighting positions optimized for anti-tank defence, with two to three men in each position. To defend against surprise attacks, a string of forward outposts had been established, especially in the 1st Company sector. These preparations all took place against a backdrop of the constant sound of Russian tanks moving into place just forward of the battalion’s positions. ‘The defensive position was too exposed,’ complained Witzig, who was convinced that the Russians would attack in strength. The battle began that night, with a combat patrol by the 4th Company, which surprised and captured a Soviet tank crew and a commissar. A short time later, a Russian patrol evened the odds by capturing two outposts of the 2nd Company. Shortly afterwards, a third outpost disappeared. ‘Another outpost was gone,’ remembered Witzig. ‘Only the soldier’s rifle was left in his foxhole.’ The sound of tanks massing continued throughout the night and at the crack of dawn the next day they were visible across a wide front some 1,200 metres from the battalion’s positions.

At the break of dawn on July 26, 1944 the men of the battalion were aware that a day was starting that would demand the greatest efforts from them. With a provoking directness an armada of steel and iron, aware of its superiority, deployed so that even the bravest individual felt depressed. Countless T-34 tanks, artillery pieces and the dreaded ‘Stalin Organ’ [multiple rocket launcher] and assault guns were deployed to break through the defensive positions of the parachute engineers. Yet not one round was fired. There was an uncanny silence on both sides, the calm before the storm.

The silence, however did not last long. ‘And then, flashes from the other side, from thousands of barrels simultaneously’, and shells were pounding the German positions unmercifully: ‘Again and again, pounding, hammering, shattering, pulsating, bursting and cracking,’ recorded Witzig. The incessant barrage lasted for an hour without any reduction in intensity, inflicting numerous casualties on the battalion. As it began to lift, Witzig’s men noticed that the German assault guns had abandoned their battle positions and were nowhere to be seen. But there was nothing that could be done, for the Russian tanks, heavily laden with foot soldiers, were already advancing on the paratroopers through the smoke and the dust with more infantry running alongside the tanks.

Witzig’s men held their fire until the first line of enemy tanks were only twenty metres away, then unleashed a devastating barrage of antitank rounds. At this range, nothing, not even the thickly armoured Josef Stalin tank, was immune from the deadly German volley:

The men of the 1st [Company] took heart and set themselves against this colossus. It came to furious fighting directly on the highway. Lieutenant Fromme fired his Panzerfaust at a T-34 which ground to a halt, engulfed in flames. He himself was wounded. Then Lieutenant Kubillus, the company commander, who had hastened to the highway after realizing the focal point of the attack, went down seriously wounded. Sergeant Weber took command of the company. He himself blew apart three tanks, which stood burning and shattered in front of the company foxholes. Then he saw Sergeants Scheuring, Hüchering and a few other engineers, whom he could not recognize because of the dust and smoke, obliterate another three tanks. Within a short period, the men of the 1st Company, using Panzerfausts and Ofenrohr, had turned fifteen tanks into burning, smouldering iron.

As the enemy tank attack was broken up, leaving dozens of T-34s and Soviet assault guns engulfed in flames, the Russian infantry sprang from their carriers to the ground, intent on making the paratroopers pay. Instead, they were cut down at close range by MG 42s. Caught in the open and without their tanks to suppress the machine guns, the Red Army soldiers were slaughtered. Within minutes, the first Russian attack had collapsed under the massed and accurate anti-tank and machinegun fire of Witzig’s parachute engineers. But the battalion, in turn, suffered heavy losses, with the 1st Company reduced to thirty men.

In the meantime, to the south of the Kaunas–Daugavpils road the 2nd Company, reinforced with the understrength 4th Company, was having a more difficult time containing the Russian assault. A group of some fifty T-34s succeeded in fighting their way through the company positions and cutting off the road behind the two companies. ‘The mounted infantry were taken under fire first and forced to jump off,’ wrote Witzig. ‘Engineer Stauss engaged a tank with his Ofenrohr and suddenly a second tank was also on fire. But the remainder rolled westward without bothering about their infantrymen left behind.’ The German assault guns, which might have defeated the Russian tanks, had already left the battlefield and these had been followed by the surviving anti-tank guns, leaving the paratroopers to fight unsupported. ‘I engaged the tanks which were passing close by my right as the Russians did not attack head on,’ remembered Sergeant Hans-Ulrich Schmidt, from Hamburg, relating his escape in the midst of the advancing Red Army:

After the first echelon passed by, I discovered about five Russian soldiers on every T-34. At the same moment another T-34 showed up about 100 metres to the right of me. I fired one shot with my Ofenrohr and hit it, but after two minutes it began moving and firing again. I charged my Ofenrohr with a second shell immediately as I heard the noise of battle behind me. I tried to establish contact to the right and left of me, but no one had remained in their positions. So I left the position and ran back into the cornfield behind me. Here I found myself between several Russian tanks, which surrounded me. I raised my Ofenrohr, aimed and fired, but the electrical firing trigger failed. One of the tanks discovered me and fired with its gun. I was knocked to the ground by the blast of the shell and hit my forehead against the Ofenrohr. That was my salvation. I pretended to be dead and the tanks moved on. After they were out of sight I ran as fast as I could to the rear, concealed by the cornfield.

By this point in the battle, there were Russian soldiers to the front, on the right flank and behind the battalion’s position. Now it was only a matter of breaking contact with the Soviets as quickly as possible, withdrawing before the battalion could be encircled and annihilated, and regrouping on defensive positions to the west. But the Soviet tanks which had broken through had been followed by masses of Russian infantry, which attacked the German paratroopers as they sought to cross the 2 km of open ground to reach the safety of the forest and cover. Now it was the Russian machine guns which fired unremittingly, mowing down the German paratroopers as they sought to escape. Few made it. Only twelve unwounded survivors of the 1st Company made it to the battalion rally point, along with only ten men from the 2nd Company. Major Witzig led the remnants of his battalion through the forests, bypassing the Soviets and avoiding battle until the survivors reached the German lines.

We set out towards the north under heavy fire along a small trail [remembered Private Anzenhofer]. For some time we strayed through the forest in column formation led by Major Witzig, meeting remnants of the battalion. The commander led us, through Russian tank and crowded troop formations, back to our own lines without further losses. To this day, everyone who survived still gives him credit.

Witzig himself had only praise for his men, especially his medical personnel, as he wrote after the war:

Their sense of duty saved the lives of hundreds of German and Russian soldiers. Only someone who has been in the inferno of death and destruction can measure how these men fought. Selfless and fearless, animated by the thought of helping their wounded comrades, no matter which uniform they were wearing and bringing them back safely as quickly as possible.

Many of the German medics were killed or seriously wounded, while others disappeared, never to be seen again.

Over the course of the next several days, other paratroopers rejoined the battalion, which, according to Witzig’s account, numbered sixty-five men. Witzig used these to establish blocking positions and prevent the Russians from breaking through. This remnant of Witzig’s battalion was committed again and again in a futile attempt to stop the Red Army. By the end of August, the 1st Battalion, 21st Parachute Engineer Regiment, had a total strength of 8 officers and 274 men. Of these, however, only 4 officers and 184 men were frontline soldiers. Karl-Heinz Hammerschlag, who fought under Witzig in Lithuania, remembered that from a battalion of more than 1,000 men in the summer of 1944, only 30 remained by September. ‘We had no tanks, no field artillery, no anti-tank artillery and no Luftwaffe,’ he told the author. ‘We fought mostly with Panzerfausts and anti-tank mines.’



Ballistic Missiles at War: The Case of Iraq I

Al-Hussein missiles displayed in their erector-launchers. Baghdad arms exhibition, April–May 1989.

The Soviet “Scud” missile family.

The United States and Soviet Union backed away from a nuclear showdown with the Cuba Missile Crisis. Although the two nations continued to build weapons, the countries agreed to reduce certain types and quantities of nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missiles ranging from the MRBM to a number of ICBMs. Unfortunately, other nations had witnessed how these weapons provided an avenue to strike strategically and to coerce or affect a rival’s behavior. These weapons also became a symbol of national pride so that their mere existence allowed states to demonstrate their resolve in the face of regional disputes or to gain domestic cohesion in the guise of protecting the nation. The Soviet Union and other countries sold technologies and complete systems to bolster client states and earn hard currency from foreign military sales. Two nations that acquired these systems were Iran and Iraq, traditional enemies, but both supported through arms sales by the Soviet Union. Iraq would use its missiles against Iran and would later use them against the United States.

The Middle East erupts: Iran and Iraq

In the late twentieth century, Middle Eastern conflicts had normally revolved around the Arab world and Israel. However, the picture of a unified Islamic world against Israel was not clear. Tensions between secular governments and others, dominated by Islamic fundamentalists, spilled over borders. Different Islamic sects vied for control over nations. Ancient claims over territory did not distinguish between countries that were Arabic, Persian, or Israeli. Other concerns involved economic ones, influence over oil fields and their potential wealth. These problems erupted between Iran and Iraq in 1980. At the end of the conflict, some experts claimed that the two Islamic countries exchanged over several hundred ballistic missile attacks.

Iranian revolutionaries had overthrown a government friendly toward the United States and the West in January 1979. Islamic fundamentalists had created a revolutionary government intent on creating a state that would replace many non-Muslim influences with their fundamentalist Muslim thought and philosophy. Tehran illustrated clearly its focus on removing Western influence by seizing the U. S. embassy. Although the United States gained release of these hostages, the effect was chilling for many nations around the Persian Gulf. One of the goals of the Iranian government was to transform other nations’ governments and societies around the region to mirror its image. Iran tried to export its revolutionary movement west into Saudi Arabia to wrest control over many holy Muslim religious sites. The fundamentalist Islamic Iranians viewed the Saudi monarchy as a decadent group that had betrayed Islam by its continued dealings with the “Great Satan,” the United States and the rest of the West. This same country had supported the former corrupt Iranian government until the revolution. Iraq was also a target, since it had subjugated its Islamic Shiite sect majority; Shiite members dominated Iran. Saddam Hussein and his Sunni sect seemed at odds with the Ayatollah Khomeini by dealing with the godless Soviet Union. Iraq was also a secular state that came into confrontation with the ideals of an Islamic state like the Iranian government. Iran had already deposed of its Shah, who had tried to develop an Iranian secular state.

Iraq was another country subjugated by a single voice. A secular government formed by Saddam Hussein had turned a former monarchy into a socialist government, at least in name. The nation became a threat to surrounding nations such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab emirates, with the potential to spread political instability. These countries feared that Iran and Iraq would spread political unrest in their societies. A powerful Iraq could also threaten Israel directly or through its oil-funded support of its northern Marxist neighbor, Syria. Syrian and radical terrorist groups pressured Tel Aviv’s northern borders and Lebanon. The United States and other nations feared disruptions of oil supplies that could wreck their economies and throw their political futures into disarray.

By 1980, the collision between the Iranian Islamic government of the Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein seemed inevitable. Iran had depended on weapon purchases and training with the United States. This relationship all changed significantly when Islamic fundamentalists took control of the country and held the U. S. embassy personnel hostage for over a year. The United States refused to sell weapon systems and spare parts to Iran. Similarly, economic problems continued as the United States maintained sanctions, including the refusal to buy oil from Iran. Iranian air power, once a top regional force, had fallen into disrepair. Political will was strong, but Iranian military capability was lacking and had limited sustainability.

Iraq had access to the Persian Gulf through the Shatt al Arab area. Iran and Iraq had forged an uneasy agreement in 1975 over the vital property that allowed Hussein to ship oil from his country to sea lanes for export. Hussein’s government, like those of other countries around the Gulf, depended on oil for its economy. Hussein wanted the Iranian government to allow him expanded access to the Persian Gulf by allowing Iraq to control some islands in the Shatt al Arab. Hussein threatened the Iranians to comply with his demand. The Iranians refused.

Hussein decided to launch an attack on his neighbor. Although Iraqi artillery units had conducted some shelling along the border, Hussein ordered no major attacks conducted on Iranian military units. Through early September 1980, Iraq started to prepare for war. Hussein could achieve many of his objectives if he could defeat Iran. He could preempt a possible Iranian supported revolution that might topple the Iraqi government. Since Khomeini had threatened to topple secular states like Hussein’s, removing this menace was paramount. If Iraq pushed Iran back from the Shatt al Arab, then Iraq would have a secure border. A military victory had the potential to make Iraq the regional military and political power in the Gulf. Hussein could also encourage counterrevolutionary forces in Iran to break Khomeini’s power in Tehran. Hussein had strong motivations to feed his growing economy by taking Iranian oil fields. These motivations helped convince Iraq to take Iranian territory on September 10. Iraq demanded that Iran cede the captured area; Iran again refused and started to mobilize. The Iranians and Iraqis soon found themselves in a long war of attrition that would last until 1989.

Iraq’s military had been supplied by the Soviet Union. Iraq did not have to conduct a major military rebuilding program due to any open conflicts with Israel, previous border conflicts, or revolutions before its fight with Iran. On paper, the Iraqi military had a great advantage over the Iranians. The Iranian military was half the size of its prerevolutionary self. The government in Tehran suffered internal problems as the revolution made radical changes. Iraqi government officials believed that taking the islands in the Shatt al Arab would result in some international debate and minor skirmishing but that eventually the territory would remain in Baghdad’s hands.

Iraq tried to knock the Iranians out of the war early, but it could not. On September 22, the Iraqi air force bombed major western Iranian airfields to destroy aircraft on the ground. If the Iraqis could eliminate the Iranian air force, then any danger of Khomeini bombing major industrial or military sites or Baghdad would be remote. Iraqi aircraft also attempted to annihilate the Iranian navy to ensure it would not interfere with its access through the Persian Gulf. Iraqi failure to remove the air and naval threats would encourage the Iranians and allow them to expand the conflict by striking the source of Iraqi wealth and power, oil. Iranian patrol boats, aircraft, and other forces would later attack shipping and oil terminals. Iranian and Iraqi air forces were roughly equivalent in size and strength. Iranian aircraft could bomb Baghdad, Kirkuk, and a key transportation site, Basra.

The Iraqis also misjudged Iranian will to continue the ground war. Despite the material and training advantages, Iran continued to attack Iraqi positions, and it would not cede any lost territory. Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces would conduct human wave attacks against the Iraqis. Soon, the conflict resembled World War I, with fighting between trenches and movements measured in yards, and it lasted for years. Control over areas around the Shatt al Arab and the borders was traded between the two sides. The Iraqis needed a new strategy to break the stalemate.


Saddam Hussein’s arsenal contained some rocket and missile systems before 1980. Hussein authorized his nation’s weapons inventory into operation against the Iranians. These systems focused on supporting battlefield operations. Iraqi systems were a supplement to artillery, not designed for strategic effects. The Iraqis did gain some experience by building and modifying these missile and rocket systems. Iraqi military commanders used multiple rocket launchers and missiles that had ranges of less than 100 kilometers (about sixty miles). The Soviet Union had sold the Iraqis some Free Rocket Over Ground (FROG)-7s (their Soviet designation is R65A or Luna), also deployed in the Cuban Missile Crisis, that had a limited range of sixty kilometers (thirty-seven miles). The FROG-7 was a development from the 1950s that was widely sold abroad. These rockets could not lift a sizeable conventional warhead in lieu of its designed twenty-five-kiloton yield nuclear payload. The FROG-7 had a 450-kilogram (about 1,000 pounds) conventional warhead capacity.

Iraqi military commanders started to use the FROG-7 in its early campaigns against Iran in 1980. The weapon had a single-stage construction powered by a solid propellant engine. This relatively primitive ballistic missile did not have a guidance system but was spin stabilized. The missile had limited usefulness and was very inaccurate, especially against entrenched Iranian forces. The FROG-7 had less capability than a German V-2, but it did possess a key advantage: it was launch capable off a single wheeled transporter/erector/launcher (TEL). An experienced crew could launch a missile every twenty minutes. Normally, another vehicle carrying three additional missiles followed the TEL. The Soviets had improved the FROG-7 by 1980, but it was still a primitive weapon.

Limitations of the FROG-7 forced the Iraqis to reconsider the FROG-7’s use against other targets, cities, or larger urban areas. Early Iraqi missile operations focused on two locations, Ahwaz and Dezful, that had limited military value. The strikes concentrated on supporting Iraqi ground movements into Iranian territory. These FROG-7 attacks were sporadic and of limited value, however. Crews used ten missiles in 1980 and then fired fifty-four missiles the next year. Iraqi military commanders later phased out the missile from a direct combat role with only a single missile in 1982 and two missiles in 1984. Even against relatively large targets like cities, the FROG-7 was ineffective. Some missiles, just like the earlier V-2s, missed the target entirely. Baghdad needed a new missile to strike Iranian cities with more punch and accuracy.

The Iraqi government sought to increase the yield and range of its ballistic missile inventory. It turned to its R-17 (NATO code named SS-1C SCUDB) missiles that the Soviets supplied to Iraq in the early 1970s. The SCUD-B was a single-staged, liquid fueled ballistic missile that used storable hypergolic propellants. A fully fueled and maintained ballistic missile could hit a target at an extended range of 330 kilometers (180 miles) with a CEP of about 450 meters (1,500 feet). SCUD-Bs could carry a 985-kilogram (2,175-pound) warhead. The missile had an inertial guidance system that used three gyroscopes to improve the accuracy of the missile over the FROG-7 despite the fourfold increase in range. Signals to the control vanes on the tail assembly would help correct the flight path of the missile in flight as long as the engine was operating.

The SCUD-B provided added capability to the Iraqis. Soviet engineers designed the SCUD-B to deliver nuclear, conventional, or chemical warheads. The warhead detaches from the missile’s body. This capability provided the Iraqis with an ability to select an appropriate yield with either a conventional or a chemical weapon. The SCUD-B was also a very mobile weapon, like the FROG-7. Crews launched it from a TEL that would raise the missile from a horizontal to vertical position, ignite it, and move to another position to fire another missile. Still, the SCUD-B had problems. Its range was not sufficient to hit Tehran or other key targets. Unless Iraqi forces could take more Iranian territory, the SCUD-B could do little against Tehran. The Iraqis needed improved capabilities since the ground war was a stalemate.

Hussein now faced the prospect of acquiring new longer-range SCUD-Cs which had a range of 600 kilometers (or 373 miles), which still could not reach Tehran. Another option for Baghdad was purchasing advanced ballistic missiles from the Soviet Union (like the OTR-22 IRBM or SS-12 Scaleboard) or building its own ballistic missiles. Soviet sales or deployments of IRBMs were not possible due to ongoing arms reduction negotiations with the United States. Sales of an SS-12 and a SCUD-C might also widen an ongoing arms race within the Middle East that could have long-term consequences for the Soviets. Expectedly, the Soviets declined to sell more advanced and more accurate weapons to Iraq. Saddam Hussein would have to gain ballistic missile superiority by modifying Iraq’s existing stock of SCUD-B missiles or by building variants of the delivery system. Iraqi missile engineers and designers would work on two variants of the SCUD-B, the Al-Husayn and Al-Abbas.

Modifying the SCUD-B into a delivery platform with an extended range required resources. Although the Iraqis had experimented with modifying some missiles, this was very different from extending the range of a relatively large ballistic missile. This effort required additional time, expertise, and funds. The ground war had slowed with no major effective offensive actions that had directly threatened either nation’s capitals. Expertise to improve Baghdad’s missile designs from other countries, such as the Soviet Union, would take time to find and then employ. The continued war on the ground, disputes in areas around oil terminals in the Shatt al Arab, and Iranian attacks on oil shipping lanes affected Iraqi finances. Trading off ballistic missile development against purchasing weapons to fight the war on the ground, air, and sea was a gamble. Still, Hussein started a program to modify the SCUD-Bs.

Iraqi launch crews would use SCUD-Bs and modified variants to attack some cities. Hussein directed these attacks against the cities to break the will of the Iranian population. These operations amounted to terror raids to force the Iranian government to either fail or negotiate an end to the war. On October 27, 1982, Hussein’s missile crews began to replace FROG-7s with SCUDBs. The crews would still launch a limited three SCUD missiles in 1982. SCUD-B crews began ramping up: to thirty-three launches in 1983; twenty-five firings in 1984; a huge barrage of eighty-two missiles in 1985; no launches in 1986; attacks in 1987 to match their record in 1984; and 193 attacks in 1988. There is some dispute about the actual number of missile launches, but most estimates place the number of launches at no more than 251. Iraq focused many of its early SCUD attacks on border cities such as Ahwaz, Borujerd, Dezful, and Khorramabad. Even with their greater range and improvement in payload, these missiles did not provide sufficient damage. Unless the missiles hit a large factory, school, or area where people gathered, they became merely terror devices.

Ballistic Missiles at War: The Case of Iraq II

A map indicating the attacks on civilian areas of Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait targeted during the “War of the cities”

Iraqi efforts to expand the SCUD-B’s capabilities resulted in development of the Al-Husayn missile. This missile had an increased range of 650 kilometers (400 miles) and was thus capable of striking central Iran. Iraqi engineers reduced the payload to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) and increased the amount of propellant carried by the missile by about 25 percent. Engineers extended the missile’s fuselage to carry five tons of additional liquid propellant to power it for a seven-minute flight. Launch crews could reload and fire an Al-Husayn within an hour.

Defense experts believed that the Al-Husayn had the capability to carry a high explosive or chemical warhead. As for its earlier SCUD-B cousin, launch crews for the Al-Husayn used a locally produced wheeled TEL for operations. There is some debate whether the Al-Husayn was solely of Iraqi design. Several nations, such as the Soviet Union, China, Egypt, France, East Germany, Libya, and North Korea, had the technology or experience with these ballistic missiles to provide Saddam Hussein’s engineers with sufficient information, components, or designs to modify the missile. Hussein also sought technical and component support from two unlikely allies, Argentina and Brazil. Hussein had offered financial help to these nations to develop their own ballistic missile programs. The Iraqis purchased 350 SCUD-Bs in 1984 and 300 more in 1986. These acquisitions provided additional systems for components and flight testing. Additionally, the Soviet Union may have supplied advanced SCUD-C components to allow the Iraqis to expand their weapons’ capabilities.

Iraq now had the capability to strike targets around Tehran. The missile’s seven-and-a-half-minute flight gave Iran little hope for warning its populace to take cover. Additionally, the Iranians had no active defensive capability to shoot down these vehicles, nor did they have a means to identify launch sites for attack by aircraft or artillery. These weapons provided a simple way to threaten cities and attack them without warning, a perfect terror device.

Iraq began to test the Al-Husayn in August 1987. Although flight tests proved the missile could work, there were some concerns. Iraqi engineers had to strengthen the airframe to compensate for larger fuel and oxidizer tanks. Fabrication teams had to extend internal tanks and provide additional air tanks to give adequate pressurization for the increased volume for the propellants. Iraq could use spare SCUD-B components for some assemblies, tanks, electronics, wiring, and other parts. However, they would have to weld them together, always a questionable proposition. In Iraq’s case, the welding quality would eventually affect the missile’s capabilities. Iranian forces witnessed many of these missiles that crashed, without warhead impact, due to welding problems. Pressurization or fuel leaks could have hampered the missile’s operation. Iraq also tried to improve guidance systems to increase the missile’s accuracy. Hussein’s government claimed that the missiles now had a CEP of 500 meters (1,640 feet). Some CEP estimates place the true accuracy at 2.6 kilometers (about 1.9 miles). The Al-Husayn missile effort was still a great strategic leap forward for Iraq. Even so, Iraq wanted even greater ranges.

The other major SCUD modification by the Iraqis was a more radical change to the missile to ensure it struck deeper into Iraq and potentially into other Middle East countries. Iraqi military officials tried to build on the success of the Al-Husayn by further reducing the SCUD-B’s payload and increasing the propellant capacity. Iraqi engineers christened this modified Al-Husayn vehicle the Al-Abbas. Engineers reduced the missile’s payload to only 300 kilograms (660 pounds), but it could strike a target at 900 kilometers (560 miles). Iraqi launch crews could now reach Tehran with ease and many parts of the Middle East as well, including all of Israel. Despite the greater range, the accuracy of the missile proved suspect. The CEP was about the same as that of the Al-Husayn, but official claims credited the Al-Abbas with a CEP of 300 meters (980 feet), less than a short-range unmodified SCUD-B. Iraqi missiles never met these capabilities in flight testing or apparently in the field. However, if crews launched the missile at large urban areas like Tehran and the purpose was to conduct a terror attack, then accuracy might not be necessary.

Iran was not helpless; it could respond to Iraqi missile attacks. Under Iranian air force control, launch crews fired SCUD-Bs against the Iraqis in March 1985. Libya first sold SCUDs to Iran, and then North Korea shipped about 100 missiles to Iran in 1988. News reports named Syria as a source of SCUDs for Iran. Curiously, these same countries may have provided components, technology, and assistance to Baghdad during the war. Iranian missile crews bombarded Iraqi positions and cities in retaliation for ballistic missile strikes. Iran first used fourteen missiles in 1985 launches; decreased to eight the next year; increased to eighteen in 1987; and spiked at eighty-eight missiles in 1988.

The Iranians did not have to modify their missiles. Iranian SCUD missiles did not have to traverse as great a distance to strike major cities as their Iraqi counterparts did. The distance between Baghdad and the border, less than 250 kilometers, or about 150 miles, was closer than Iraqi missile ranges to Tehran. As long as the ground war did not alter the battlefield, Iranian SCUDs could hit their targets. However, the Iranians did have an advantage over the Iraqis. Iranian revolutionary military forces held control of Iranian territory with vigor and wanted to avenge the unprovoked attack on their nation. Religious zeal allowed Iranian commanders to trade blood for territory through human wave attacks against prepared defensive positions. Time was on Iran’s side, as they could use attrition against the Iraqis. Tehran had to just push back the Iraqis and use its unmodified SCUDs. Iran was not motivated to extend its ballistic missiles’ range.

Superficially, Tehran had a tremendous advantage over the Iraqis in terms of missile range. However, several mitigating circumstances limited Iran’s ability to take advantage of this situation. Iran, under economic sanctions from many nations, had problems selling its main export commodity, oil. The constant fighting in the Persian Gulf between Iranian and Iraqi air and naval forces reduced the flow of oil to both countries and affected their ability to gain hard currency to purchase weapons or support. The Iraqis, however, had outside financial support to wage their war against Iran. Islamic fundamentalism threatened Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other countries that were supported by the Iranian religious and political leadership. These countries started to provide loans and direct financial support to Saddam Hussein in his effort to fight Iran. The Iranian air force was also running out of resources, and its capabilities diminished slowly with time. Iraq could supplement missile attacks with aircraft raids to strike the larger cities. Iran could not do the same with its aircraft and had to rely on ballistic missile strikes that came from a decreasing pool of available weapons. One option for Tehran was to try to build SCUD-B systems. Instead of focusing on ballistic missile modifications, Iranian engineers concentrated only on production capability, but they failed to make operational improvements. The production centers allowed Iranian military forces to launch forty-kilometer-range (25-mile) Oghab vehicles. Oghabs supported ground operations and limited attacks on Iraqi cities. Iranian military commanders used these unguided missiles like artillery.


The conflict between Iran and Iraq dragged on. There was no sense of any negotiations or efforts to end the conflict. Ground operations continued with horrendous casualties. Both sides were bled white with losses. The conflict focused on urban and economic targets to inflict sufficient pain to force one side to capitulate. Iraq would have to rely on aircraft strikes until its engineers and production capability could make the Al-Husayn or Al-Abbas system operational or push Iranian ground forces back. Iran could reply by its limited aircraft, but its SCUD-Bs had sufficient range to respond immediately. By 1987, attacks on cities started in earnest. When Hussein finally gained the capability to launch his Al-Husayn missiles, a new strategy emerged. Iraqi military forces could now hit Tehran without effect. On February 29, 1988, the Al-Husayn demonstrated its operational capabilities when Iraqi military missile crews launched five vehicles into Iran. This capability breathed new life into the Iraqi scheme to change the nature of the war. A new fifty-two-day “War of the Cities” erupted in the theater that would force both sides to the negotiating table.

From February 29 to April 20, both sides traded ballistic missile and air strikes on their capitals and other targets. While the missiles were inaccurate, Iraqi and Iranian SCUDs and their derivatives still produced massive physical damage and some casualties. Like their forebear, the V-2, and its attack on London, the missiles’ purpose was to strike terror on the population. Some analysts believed that the Iraqis’ missile inaccuracies approached several magnitudes above their stated CEPs. However, there were reports of Iraqi missile attacks conducted in salvos that landed around defined targets. Iraqi missile attacks appeared to gain in accuracy as the campaign continued. Even with the missiles’ improved accuracy, cities became the attack’s focus. Conducting a psychological attack on cities was easier than trying to destroy a specific military site like an airfield.

The greater Tehran and Baghdad urban areas sprawled for hundreds of square miles and had populations counted in the millions. Given each side did not have a warning system or a missile defense system, the population could do little except to prepare bomb shelters or leave the area. The only indication of an incoming missile strike was at warhead impact, as the vehicle attained speeds of Mach 1.5. The psychological impact of a missile that could kill many people quickly and allowed no defense terrorized the population. Ultimately, few died from these attacks, but their psychological effect created more impact than physical ones. Iran lost approximately 2,000 casualties and Iraq suffered only 1,000 losses in these attacks. These casualties were minor relative to the size of both capitals and major cities. Crowds could witness the destruction of a block or homes or large craters that forced people to speculate where the next Al-Husayn would land.

Iraq redoubled its efforts to panic the Iranian population. During the period, Iraqi air force pilots conducted over 400 sorties against urban and economic targets. Al-Husayn launch crews fired from 160 to 190 missiles against Tehran and Qom. Additionally, the Iraqis could use their SCUD-B stock to strike other border targets. The Al-Abbas was not ready for operation, but its flight testing and Iraqi propaganda statements continued to spew information about its future capabilities. The rate of Al-Husayn missile attacks was relatively low, about three per day during the “War of the Cities.” News reports concerning the possible Iraqi use of chemical weapons, however, chilled the Iranian population. The Iranian people became convinced that Baghdad had the will and capability to use chemical weapons against them, as reports surfaced about how Hussein authorized battlefield employment of his chemical munitions against Iranian military forces and later the Iraqi Kurdish population. Iranian military forces understood that the Al-Husayn and Al- Abbas also had the ability to carry chemical warheads. These fears forced Iranian populations to consider leaving Tehran and other cities. As the ballistic missile campaign intensified, people started to depart. Khomeini himself evacuated the capital. After news reports made his departure public, millions followed him. Approximately a third of Tehran’s population left for safety. While Iranian morale wavered, Iraqi confidence started to rise. The Iraqi strategy was starting to work.

Iran responded to the Iraqi attacks with its own SCUD-Bs. Iran launched about sixty-one ballistic missiles. These missiles represented most of Iran’s remaining SCUD stocks. Given the quantitative disadvantage in missiles and Iraq’s seemingly large production capability, Tehran needed to evaluate its position. Unlike the failed German V-2 campaign to pressure the British to negotiate, the War of the Cities had succeeded in forcing Iran to consider ending the war. Khomeini could not face a continued bloody war with his neighbor, economic atrophy, and a panicked population. Tehran considered the potential for continued Iraqi attacks with ballistic missiles and aircraft, and the Iranian government decided to accept a ceasefire with Baghdad in July 1988. The Iran-Iraq borders did not change appreciably; Hussein had gambled and received little for his nation’s sacrifice.

Al-Husayn missile attacks helped end the conflict. Given the prospects for peace, the growing discontent for additional casualties, fears of additional attacks, and no capability to win the war, the missile strikes took their toll. The United States had also entered the conflict by protecting commerce and ensuring security for oil deliveries in the Persian Gulf, one of the main weapons Iran used against Iraq. Given the crumbling military, political, and economic conditions in Iran, the ballistic missile launches created conditions that caused a faster unraveling of Tehran’s strategic position. Conventionally armed missiles and strategic bombardment proved a capable weapon against populations that were already in a fragile state to capitulate. Fortunately, Hussein did not arm the Al-Husayn with either a chemical or a biological weapon. With this success, Iraq would continue to develop advanced weapons programs. This lesson was not lost to Tehran, as that government also worked to develop long-range missile systems. Each side would later seek to arm these vehicles with an ultimate weapon, a nuclear device.

Three Negapatam Naval Battles

Negapatam, Battle of June 25, 1746

Also known as the Battle of Fort St. David, this action A between French and English forces during the War of the AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, 1739-48, took place between Negapatam and Fort St. David on the east coast of India. A small English squadron, commanded by Commodore Edward Peyton, was cruising off the Coromandel coast on June 25. It sighted a small enemy squadron commanded by Admiral the Comte Mahe de la Bourdonnais. The more powerful English force, which consisted of six ships, including the 60-gun Medway, seemed incapable of taking decisive action. The engagement, which began at 4 P. M. was constrained by a lack of wind, but the English commander proved ineffective. The French were able to withdraw from a potentially dangerous situation with less damage than their opponents. Peyton also withdrew from the area, and the French were able to capture the Indian city of Madras.

Line of Battle

Royal Navy

HMS Medway

HMS Preston

HMS Harwich

HMS Winchester

HMS Medway’s Prize

HMS Lively (1740)


Achille, 72 guns

Bourbon, 44 guns

Phénix, 44 guns

Lys, 40 guns

Neptune, 40 guns

Saint-Louis, 36 guns

Duc d’Orléans, 36 guns

Insullaire, 30 guns

Renommée, 30 guns

Bertrand Francois, Comte Mahe de La Bourdonnais, 1699-1753

French naval commander, born in St. Malo. Beginning J’ his career at sea in the service of the French East India Company, he distinguished himself at an early stage when, in 1723, he played a leading part in the capture of Mahe on the Malabar coast. After a brief period in Portuguese service, he was appointed governor of Madagascar and Mauritius in 1734. As the War of the AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, 1740-48, began, La Bourdonnais returned to France and was given another sea command. His new fleet was ordered to India, where he scored several successes against the British. He prevented Mahe and Pondicherry from falling into enemy hands and, in 1746, blockaded and captured Madras. The English, anxious to recover the city, paid La Bourdonnais 9 million livres to relinquish control. His acceptance of this bribe led to a serious dispute with Joseph Dupleix, governor-general of the French Indies, with accusations and counteraccusations being made. On his return to Madagascar, he found that Dupleix had replaced him as governor. When he finally arrived in France, he was accused of failures in administration; after spending two years in prison awaiting trial, eventually he was acquitted.

HMS Yarmouth (70), Pocock’s command in 1758-9

Negapatam, Battle of August 3, 1758

Some three months after their engagement in the Indian Ocean at CUDDALORE, in April 1758, the English and French fleets met again off Negapatam on the east coast of India. This second battle, on August 3, 1758, was an inconclusive as the first and had little or no impact on the course of the SEVEN YEARS’ WAR, 1756-63. Vice Admiral Sir George Pocock, who had seven British ships of the line under his command, returned to the fight on July 27, appearing off Pondicherry, which was held by the enemy. A French squadron of nine ships of the line, under the command of Admiral the Comte d’Ache, left Pondicherry the following day and was pursued southward for a few days. Eventually the French were brought to battle off Negapatam on August 3, and in fierce fighting they sustained particularly heavy casualties. The Comte d’Ache’s tactics were wholly defensive, and the French squadron made good its escape to the north as soon as possible.

Anne Antoine, Comte d’Aché (23 January 1701, Marbeuf – 11 February 1780) was a French naval officer who rose to the rank of vice admiral. He is best known for his service off the coast of India during the Seven Years’ War, when he led the French fleet at the Battle of Cuddalore and Battle of Pondicherry. He also failed to provide adequate naval support to French troops attempting to capture Madras in 1759. After he received rumours of a British attack on the major Indian Ocean naval base Mauritius he did not go to the aid of the French forces in Pondicherry which was being besieged by the British. Pondicherry, the French capital in India, subsequently surrendered leaving Britain dominant in the continent. After the war he retired to Brest where he died in 1780.

Master of the Seas of the Two Indies: the Naval Career of Admiral Sir George Pocock

Negapatam, Battle of July 6, 1782

Following the Battles of SADRAS and PROVIDIEN, the naval engagement off Negapatam was the third battle between British and French naval forces in the Indian Ocean during the latter stages of the AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, 1775-83. After the Battle of PROVIDIEN, April 12, 1782, Admiral Sir Edward HUGHES and his squadron of 11 ships of the line had completed their voyage to Trincomalee in Ceylon, where he disembarked troop reinforcements. The French force, which also consisted of 11 ships of the line, commanded by Admiral Pierre de SUFFREN, had returned to the Coromandel coast near Madras. Suffren then landed troops at the coastal town of Cuddalore, with the objective of retaking Negapatam, some 60 miles away, which was held by the British. Hughes, who was aware of the enemy’s intentions, sailed for Negapatam. The two opposing squadrons clashed on July 6. Fighting was intense but, like the two earlier engagements, did not produce a clear outcome. However, the French were unable to land at Negapatam and Suffren was forced to withdraw to the north while the British entered the city.

Detail of a 1794 map of south India and Ceylon.

Anglo-French Rivalry in Indian Ocean, (1780–1783)

During the War of American Independence, the French attempted to overthrow British dominance in India. Command of the sea was a vital ingredient, but, in five bloody battles, attempts to seize control by Admiral Pierre André de Suffren were frustrated by the dogged defense put up by Sir Edward Hughes.

By 1760 the British had secured a dominant position in India. There was still the danger of an attack by France and dissident local princes. When the East India Company seized the remaining French bases on the outbreak of the American war, it provoked such action. In 1780 the nawab of Mysore, Haidar Ali, supported by French troops and ships from Mauritius, invaded southern India. Based on Madras, a small army under Sir Eyre Coote held the hordes of Haidar Ali at bay, while Sir Edward Hughes countered the efforts of the cautious French Admiral d’ Orves. By 1782 the British had been successful in defending their own bases while reducing those of the French, including Trincomalee in modern Sri Lanka.

Rear Admiral Suffren then arrived to take command. One of the French navy’s most original and aggressive tacticians, he immediately sailed in search of his enemy. The two squadrons first met at Sadras, near Madras, on 17 February 1782. Hughes, to leeward, formed his nine ships into a tight line of battle heading west. Suffren, sailing south with 11 ships, determined to destroy the British rear. While his own division engaged them from windward, he ordered Tromelin’s to “double” Hughes’s line and attack from behind. Owing to disaffection or incompetence, Tromelin disobeyed and remained effectively out of the action. After two hours, a furious Suffren abandoned the engagement.

On 12 April the two squadrons met again off Providien near Trincomalee. Hughes kept his 11 ships in a tight line of battle, while Suffren swept down from windward, attacking his center with 12 ships in crescent formation. There followed a hard-fought engagement that lasted until a change of wind enabled Hughes to retreat. The British completed repairs in Trincomalee, then took up position before Negapatam, anticipating a French attack. On 6 July Suffren appeared. Having the weather gauge, Hughes formed in line, prevented the French from maneuvering, and the battle became, once more, a bloody and indecisive duel.

The British were refitted in Madras but, hearing that Suffren was attacking Trincomalee, sailed—too late—to the rescue. Hughes appeared off the port with 12 ships on 3 September, and Suffren hurried out with 14 to meet him. The British withdrew seaward, the French following in ragged formation. Hughes then formed in line to receive them, but Suffren’s van overshot and reversed his numerical advantage. Lack of wind prevented the mistake from being corrected, and the result, once more, was a bloody but indecisive battle.

The next six months were dominated by action on land, which culminated in the siege of a French army in Cuddalore. Then Suffren and Hughes—the latter now numerically superior as a result of reinforcements from England—appeared to give support and, on 20 July 1783, the two exhausted and badly manned squadrons met for the last time. Although their fighting spirit remained undiminished, neither could achieve more than a sterile engagement in line. The arrival of news that the war had ended put a stop to further conflict. Suffren returned to France a hero, even though his failure to win command of the seas had doomed the attempt to overthrow British power in India.

Pierre Andre de Suffren de Saint Tropez, 1729-88

One of France’s greatest naval commanders, Admiral Suffren gained his formative experience during the War of the AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, 1740-48, entering as a garde de la marine, or midshipman. After fighting off Toulon in 1744 and at Cape Breton in 1746, he was captured by British Admiral Edward HAWKE in 1747. Released at the end of the war, Suffren spent some time in the service of the Knights Hospitallers of Malta. He continued in membership of this order throughout his career and gradually progressed up its ranks. During the SEVEN YEARS’ WAR, 1756-63, Suffren was captured once more by the British when the Ocean, the ship in which he was serving, was seized off Lagos, Portugal, by Admiral Edward BOSCA WEN in 1759. During the AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, 1775-83, he first saw service in North America and the West Indies, where he commanded a French squadron that fought Admiral John BYRON at GRENADA in 1779.

In 1781 Suffren was dispatched to the Indian Ocean in command of a squadron of five ships that was to operate against the British fleet in the East Indies. En route he attacked a British squadron anchored off the Cape Verde Islands and thus neutralized a potential threat to the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope. Suffren’s squadron was enlarged to 11 ships of the line when he arrived at Mauritius because of the death of Admiral d’Orves, who commanded a force of six ships also operating in the area. With a strengthened fleet Suffren began an epic 18-month struggle against larger forces under the command of Admiral Sir Edward HUGHES off the coast of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). With great skill and determination, but with no permanent base, he engaged the British in five separate battles from SADRAS, February 17, 1782, to CUDDALORE, June 20, 1783. His greatest achievement was the capture of the British base of TRINCOMALEE, Ceylon, on August 22, 1782, with the loss of only one ship of the line throughout the entire campaign. Suffren returned home as a hero but died shortly afterward, possibly as the result of a duel.

Sir Edward Hughes, (1720–1794)

British admiral who achieved fame by resisting French attempts under Admiral Pierre André de Suffren de Saint-Tropez in 1782 to seize control of the Indian Ocean, and thus of the subcontinent itself. Born in Hertford, England, in 1720, Hughes joined the navy and saw action in many of the principal naval encounters of the period. He was at Vernon’s capture of Porto Bello (1739) and Cartagena (1741), the Battle of Toulon (1744), and the seizures of Louisbourg (1758) and Quebec (1759). He was a fine seaman with such a marked concerned for his crews that Suffren’s men mocked him with the nickname “Mère Hews.”

The climax of Hughes’ career came when, as a vice admiral, he commanded British naval forces in India during the War of American Independence. In 1780 the French and their local ally Haidar Ali made a determined attempt to overthrow British power in southern India. Small British and French armies became locked in a desperate struggle for the coastal bases that were vital to local control. Hughes played a key role in providing support and supply, in blockading the enemy, and in preventing any blockade by them. In January 1782 he captured the French base of Trincomalee.

Then in 1782 Hughes faced a dangerous opponent with the arrival of the new French commander in chief, Rear Admiral Pierre André Suffren. One of the French navy’s few aggressive tacticians, Suffren immediately went on the offensive, meeting dogged resistance from Hughes in five hard-fought battles off southern India of Sadras, Providien, Negapatam, Trincomalee, and Cuddalore before peace in 1783 put an end to the confrontation between the two exhausted and battered squadrons.

Hughes and Suffren were alike in both determination and girth, being short and fat with notorious appetites and substantial bellies. But there the resemblance ended. Suffren was an original thinker, who attempted to circumvent the prevailing doctrine that the line of battle was sacrosanct in ways that his subordinates either could not understand of were unwilling to follow. Hughes, by contrast, while he exploited the tactics of the line of battle with skill and gallantry, made no attempt to experiment and never would have considered doing so. He had been appointed to India because he was “safe,” and his record justified the choice. His stubborn, if unoriginal, tactics frustrated Suffren’s attempts to seize command of the seas and ensured the maintenance of British hegemony in India. Hughes returned to England in 1785 to receive the thanks of Parliament and to enjoy the £40,000 a year he is said to have amassed in India. He died as a full Admiral of the Blue at his estate in Luxborough, Essex, England, on 17 February 1794.


The Crusader States have sometimes been thought culturally barren, ruled by military men with limited horizons. This does them an injustice. They included both men of true piety, anxious to adorn sacred sites captured in early years at great sacrifice, and the secular-minded, aware of the value of pageantry and display for attracting pilgrims and impressing both allies and enemies. The states lay at a crossroads between the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Churches, long divided but brought into contact and sometimes reconciliation through the needs of settlers and the interests of queens. Queens had great patronage and the marriage policies of kings of Jerusalem and the Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus (1143–1180), intent on developing friendship with the settlers to establish ancient Byzantine claims, issued in the arrival in the kingdom of an Armenian as queen and a Byzantine princess, who attracted craftsmen from far and wide, ready to exercise their skills on sites of international renown. Their work reflected a pot-pourri of interests and traditions. Sculpture, mosaics, working of copper and illustrated manuscripts all flourished and a significant number of fine buildings were erected and embellished, especially in and near Jerusalem.

Jerusalem had pride of place as the object of pilgrimage, overflowing in the season and quiet in the winter. Pilgrims brought income to the burgesses and to the ports. At times of political and economic crisis, during famines and outbreaks of plague, refugees sought help, and not in vain. Kings and patriarchs had a well-deserved reputation for feeding and succouring them. In the 1070s, when Jerusalem was still in Muslim hands, men from Amalfi obtained permission to open a hospital, a place of refuge where pilgrims could recover from the hardships of their journey and those expecting to die in the Holy City could be looked after and given the sacraments. After the crusaders’ conquest it began to expand on a site south of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Capable of holding a thousand patients, it tended Christians and Muslims alike: pregnant women, for example were cared for and temporary arrangements made for looking after their children. Only lepers were denied entry. There were individual beds, coverlets and slippers. The diet was of a standard normally available only to the rich, with meat three times a week, pork and mutton for the stronger, chicken for the weaker and white bread.

The most important centre of all was the Sepulchre, transformed into a pilgrimage church designed to carry visitors through ambulatories and chapels to the Sepulchre itself under a Byzantine rotunda; a splendid Byzantine representation of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ was moved, then reassembled on the ceiling of the choir. This rescued and refurbished church was re-consecrated by the patriarch at dawn on the morning of 15 July 1149, the fiftieth anniversary of the capture of the city. In the entrance to the Dome of the Rock, thought to be Solomon’s Temple, an iron grille was set up by the crusaders; a beautiful creation of an original delicate fleurde-lys design, it would have captivated the eye when the rows of candles lit up the interior of the building.

Inside the city Queen Melisende built a beautiful Gothic church dedicated to St Anne; outside, she created an abbey at Bethany for her sister Iveta to be abbess, reworking an ancient building and adding a church over Lazarus’s tomb. Around the city, shrines were created or repaired to provide a full experience of visits, prayers and memories. At Hebron a happy discovery of the remains of the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made possible the conversion of a mosque into a basilica visited by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians.

The scriptorium of the Church of the Sepulchre had a distinguished history. According to tradition, the Melisende Psalter was the fruit of reconciliation between Fulk and his queen after a serious political and matrimonial conflict, taking the form of a presentation to the queen for her private devotional use. Ivory covers of Byzantine workmanship illustrated two aspects of kingship: David, warrior and psalmist, on the front with medallions of virtues and vices in conflict; and on the back a Byzantine-costumed figure performing the classic works of mercy, also shown on medallions. The warrior defends his city; the ruler on the back uses his power to look after the weak and helpless. The inclusion of English saints in a calendar within suggests the influence of the English prior of the Sepulchre, William, and its colouring reveals Armenian influence. There were other beautiful manuscripts: a sacramentary for use at Mass and illustrated gospel books.

Bethlehem had a Byzantine church where Baldwin I was crowned on Christmas Day 1100. Here a tomb was created for Joseph of Arimathea and a series of mosaics initiated to commemorate the marriage of King Amalric with the Byzantine princess Maria of Antioch, carrying forward Manuel’s project of drawing together Christian churches against the Muslim menace while disregarding points of difference and, in the case of the Western Church, not standing pat on the vexed question of the Procession of the Holy Spirit. Manuel and Amalric were recorded together as sponsors and the work was carried out by both a Byzantine churchman and a Melkite. At Nazareth there was a church of the Annunciation and a grotto dedicated to the visitation of the Archangel Gabriel. Sculptured capitals were prepared to adorn its walls. The Mamluk Sultan Baybars destroyed the building but capitals were buried, presumably in hopes of better times and, discovered in 1908, were revealed as attractive and graceful work in the style of the French Romanesque.

One scholar of note gave his life to the kingdom. William of Tyre was born in Jerusalem about 1130, most probably a son of one of the city’s burgesses. He studied at the school attached to the Sepulchre, then went for some twenty years to immerse himself in the best schools of the day, following liberal arts and theology at Paris and Orléans and civil and canon law at Bologna. Unlike others of non-aristocratic origins who broke the glass ceiling of the time and went on to make careers in the West, William chose to come home to the Holy Land to serve king and Church until his death, probably in 1184. He wrote his History of Jerusalem to stimulate Western churchmen of his own stamp to much greater efforts to exhort the faithful to preserve Jerusalem. He started with eight books on the First Crusade, then others, turn by turn, on the kings. No reader can fail to be gripped by the memorable passages on, for example, his discovery that King Amalric did not believe in the resurrection of the body or the moment when, as tutor to Baldwin the Leper, he realised that his pupil had a fatal disease. He also shows an awareness of just acts carried out by Muslims – not a common feature of Western writing. It is one of the finest chronicles of the twelfth century. Not only that, but William also wrote an account, tragically lost, of the Muslim princes from the time of Muhammad. What is most significant is his patriotism. The kingdom he served had its fair share of adventurers and opportunists and squalid disputes. It was loosely multicultural, a very imperfect unity. And yet it could make this very able man into a true patriot. Given more time, William might have had more successors with the same emotions, providing a vital glue for this fighting society.

The multicultural aspect worked tolerably. In his utilitarian fashion Baldwin I invited into Jerusalem Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians from beyond the Jordan to make up for those lost in the massacre of 1099. A Latin episcopate ruled, but it did not matter much for relations with other Churches, since the Orthodox episcopate was accustomed to the position of dhimmis under the Muslims. They kept their own courts, albeit always subordinate to the Franks, and were free to worship in Jerusalem at their own churches. Monasteries were undisturbed and Armenians and Jacobites (Nestorians), condemned by the Byzantine Church, had greater freedom under the Franks. Trade helped. In market courts at Acre witnesses swore on their own sacred books: the Quran for Muslims, the Torah for Jews, the Gospel for Christians. There were always Bedouin, ever unmanageable, and there were resentful Muslims and Muslim slaves. But by and large the divisions, ethical and ecclesiastical, of a crossroads kingdom did not work against kings’ interests; some actually helped them.


Superiority in naval power was crucial for the Crusader States. It was the one point where the Muslims of Egypt were at a disadvantage because of their lack of timber for shipbuilding. They could and did win naval battles at times, but could never commit their ships without inhibition. The climate made it imperative to have the opportunity for crews to obtain fresh water at frequent intervals, and in consequence they were perennially in an awkward, even dangerous, situation because of their lack of secure sources for water supply.

The obtaining of ports, ships and watering-sources along the littoral had been seen as an imperative need by the kings of Jerusalem and it is in this light that one should look at the treaties which they made with Italian cities. The Genoese made a critical contribution via the timber supplies they made available in 1099. They, and their rivals from Italy, were vital for securing the littoral of the Holy Land and its ports.

The treaties Baldwin I made with the cities to secure Arsuf, Caesarea and Acre in his early years were rents in the unity of jurisdiction of the kingdom but the concessions thus made cemented its security, giving a general maritime domination to the Crusader States and ensuring the passage of warriors and pilgrims from the West as the land route was given up. In the 1170s during the sailing season there might be as many as seventy pilgrim vessels at anchor in the harbour at Acre – and pilgrims were a source of reward to kings as well as to the Italians, because of the profits from royal markets and the taxes which kings could levy at the ports. Baldwin I bequeathed to his successors demesne in Judaea and Samaria and drew rewards from his domination of the great caravan route from Egypt to Damascus. He built at speed a castle by the route at Shawbak on a ridge near the plateau of Edom, acting as a focus for Christian settlement with its productive hinterland and water cisterns. In the following year he built two more fortresses, creating a line stretching down to Aqaba; only Shawbak remained for his successors. In 1142 Pagan the Butler, who had become lord of Transjordan, refortified Kerak in Moab, farther north of Shawbak and 10 miles to the east of the end of the Dead Sea, continuing the menace to Muslim caravans.

The military orders were of great importance to the kings with their perennial shortage of money. The West’s passion for sustaining Jerusalem issued in the foundation of these orders, combining, not without some controversy, the role of monk and warrior. Pilgrims travelling along the vulnerable road from Jaffa needed protection from banditry; the Hospitallers seem to have started hiring fighters to escort them. The notion of the monk-knight evolved from this and was so valuable and so popular that it came to be more important than the care of the sick – still not neglected, but given second place. In chivalric style, patients were referred to as ‘our lords, the sick’, but the Knights took the spotlight. They took vows, as monks did, and sustained a modified Benedictine liturgy while devoting their lives to fighting, castle guard and castle-building, giving kings the immense value of a standing army, a dedicated, highly trained body, fine horsemen with a musculature and control of weapons to match anything the Muslims could offer. In the West they received many donations, legacies and endowments, providing the resources to sustain the Knights and sergeants indefinitely, and they took on the distinctive uniform for the Knights in action: a white cross on a red surcoat and the Maltese cross on capes. Their takeover in 1142 of an Arab castle in Syria, which became Krak des Chevaliers, was crucial as it protected the north-east flank of the County of Tripoli and blocked access of Muslim forces to the coast.

The Templars grew out of an initiative of a knight who was a vassal of the count of Champagne; like the Hospitallers, they were charged to protect pilgrims and developed from what was a very small initiative to a substantial enterprise through the eloquence of St Bernard of Clairvaux, his personal contacts and the encouragement of Baldwin II. To the patriarch’s anger, both orders were exempt from his jurisdiction. On the Second Crusade the Templars helped save the day in an ill-conceived land expedition, showing their calibre in war, in knowledge of the terrain and in the ready availability of their treasure. The elite Knights and the sergeants who served them were never numerous: they worked with auxiliaries and mercenaries. In medieval style, Templars and Hospitallers were great rivals. Yet this drawback was far outweighed by the professional quality they brought to castle and battlefield.

At an early stage kings established an unusual degree of control. A dispute over succession to the County of Tripoli after the death of Raymond of Toulouse in 1109 was used by Baldwin I to establish the king’s authority in a territory where he was not, strictly, overlord. He had become the arbiter of Outremer. Temperamentally out of kilter with the Gregorian reformers, the bishops who served in the Crusader States were of a kind well adapted to serve kings and barons and looked back to an earlier style of episcopal action, working closely with secular authority. Baldwin II had his residence at the southern end of the Haram. He was impressed by the activities of the Templars, saw a vital need for more trained manpower and so gave them space. The al-Aqsa mosque became their headquarters and they constructed great stables in vaults below. The belief that they were on the Temple site gave the Templars their title. The earliest bishops were chaplains of the crusaders; subsequently, recruitment generally came from clergy who had originally come from the West and might well have family connections with the settlers, rather than from the younger sons of aristocrats in the Holy Land, who were needed for military service. William of Tyre himself, although he became archbishop of Tyre in 1175, served as chancellor from 1174 to 1183. It was the proper business of the episcopate, it was felt, to aid leaders with their charters and their records. Frederick, William’s predecessor as archbishop, came from Liège, was an Augustinian canon at the Temple of the Lord who became bishop of Acre and had a career as a secular administrator, a peacemaker and a diplomat, representing in Rome both the patriarch and the king of Jerusalem. William described him as ‘a nobleman from Lorraine. He was extremely tall and although he was not very well educated, he took great pleasure in warfare.’

Another duty of the episcopate was to carry the True Cross to battlefields. This was above all the duty of the patriarch of Jerusalem but it could be carried by bishops. The kingdom also attracted men with a strong sense of liturgy, seeing a prime duty in ensuring that rites were performed to a high standard in the multitude of shrines welcoming pilgrims, and those who had a practical, outgoing piety, looking after the sick and poor and organising their care.

The assembly of Nablus, summoned in 1120 by Baldwin II, an avaricious but devout king known for the hard skin on his knees created by hours of prayer, was designed to avert the wrath of God on his kingdom by a series of decrees repressing immoral behaviour and to ensure that tithes were not sequestrated by barons but paid to the Church. It included a blunt clause permitting clergy to engage in warfare – a decision that went beyond anything officially permitted hitherto in the Western Church but characteristic of the general role of clergy in the kingdom.


Between 1115 and the mid-1160s the armies of the Christians, not the Muslims, were the aggressors. Once Baldwin I had secured the position of the Crusader States, the armies of the settlers, sometimes reinforced by crusaders from the west, sometimes not, generally ruled battlefields and maintained military superiority with their cavalry charges and their insistence on seizing the initiative. Of course, there were set-backs. Antioch soon became a worry. It lay as far away from Jerusalem as Edinburgh lies from London, and it was subject to pressures both from Byzantium and from Muslims. Normans ruled in Antioch but in one catastrophic episode in 1119, known as the Field of Blood, in an act of impetuous folly Roger of Salerno, regent for Bohemond’s young son, did not wait for settler reinforcements from Tripoli and Jerusalem, and, with his own limited resources, took on a Muslim attacker, Il-Ghazi the Artuqid, once co-governor of Jerusalem. Roger and all his knights were lost. Baldwin II rose to the occasion, used all the powers of decision which the kings had acquired, distributed the widows and saw that Antioch stayed a Christian bulwark. But he had to spend time in the north and so did his successor, Fulk, causing resentment among Jerusalem barons.

In the south the initiative remained with the Christians until the rise of a counter-force on the Muslim side based on Mosul and Aleppo later in the century. The Israeli historian Ronnie Ellenblum argues that Frankish rule achieved a level of security in its key lands which the Levant had not had for generations and permitted a hitherto unsuspected peaceful agricultural settlement on certain sites. This attracted fresh craftsmen who enjoyed friendly working arrangements with local Christians, probably underpinned by intermarriage between Franks and Eastern Christians, echoing at a lower level the marital arrangements of kings.*

It is clear that historians have underestimated the peaceful survival in parts of the Holy Land of Christians who lived on as dhimmis, did not succumb to the long-term pressure to convert to Islam and thus avoid the tax imposed on them. The work of Ellenblum has fleshed out this hypothesis. He has looked more closely at the nature of fortification in these areas and concludes that the so-called ‘castles’ were often simply fortified manor houses, widespread in western Europe as the vogue grew for these structures, designed to assert a lord’s power and give focus to a settlement, rather than guarding against some armed threat. Records of boundary disputes imply that Franks in these settlements took a close personal interest and were not distant absentees dependent on a dragoman, in the manner of the absentee lairds in the Highlands of Scotland or the Protestant Ascendancy in southern Ireland with their harsh local representatives.

Where records allow, they reveal another surprising fact – that the economic migrants who made the long journey from the West to work in these small settlements came not from northern France but from central and southern France, Catalonia and Italy. The truly enterprising in the Middle Ages, as Marc Bloch long ago taught us, were willing to travel great distances to earn well and improve status. Magna Mahumeria, north of Jerusalem, gives us a picture of the pattern of skills within that settlement. Here were construction workers, carpenters, gardeners, vineyard workers, metalworkers, butchers and bakers, clearly freemen with skills, willing to travel and make new lives where local shortages had forced better pay for their talents.

Significantly, the settlements had adapted to the conditions of Near Eastern agriculture, such as thinner soils, locusts and much greater aridity. They had developed the technology needed to cope with problems of climate and pests and were practising terracing, making irrigation canals and using oil presses. This is likely to have involved co-operation with Muslims and small farmers. Ibn Jubayr, who travelled through the Holy Land in 1184 as Saladin threatened the Crusader States, noted Christians and Muslims working the land in co-operation and he concluded that some Muslims, badly treated by their co-religionists elsewhere, had come to prefer Christian-occupied territory. On Ellenblum’s map various indicators – the burgus, the manor house, the church or the monastery – guide the reader towards the sites of these settlements while a set of numerals act as keys to the detailed information on which Ellenblum’s reconstruction is based. At a glance one can see a conglomeration of settlements clustering north of Jerusalem, another cluster farther north round Neapolis (Nablus) and a line of others by the coast and near Acre. There are a few west of Galilee,† and Ellenblum reminds us that Christians there were at peace and not exposed to Muslim attack until as late as 1169.

In and around Jerusalem churchmen carried on the quiet work of consolidation and improvement of rents and holdings, characteristic of many a monastic house in western Europe. So, for example, the canons of the Holy Sepulchre contracted in 1132 with a widow in Jerusalem to provide her with an annuity and food from their kitchen for life, specified as a loaf of bread per day, half a litre of wine and a cooked meal, a meat meal or whatever the canons ate on Sundays and great feast days. They also made immediate repairs to her property and in return gained possession of her orchard and the reversion of her house on her death. The cartulary of the Sepulchre is a full one in good preservation; no doubt similar quiet economic advances, less well recorded, took place elsewhere.

The Fatal Flaw

The Crusader States were not weak and artificial entities, fragments of western Europe in an alien world doomed to a short life, as has been commonly believed. Step by step, building a case within his narrative of events, Malcolm Barber in 2012 destroyed this view.‡ The Crusader States were viable and their weaknesses surmountable. They could have lasted a lot longer, Jerusalem remaining Christian, but for one major flaw: the lack, generation after generation, of a male heir of full, fighting age. ‘Woe to the kingdom when the king is a child!’ In the medieval world that could easily be disastrous.

The genealogy of the kings shows their misfortune. Baldwin I left no child at all. His cousin Baldwin II was happily married to the Armenian Morphia but had only four daughters. A suitable husband was found for Melisende in Fulk V Count of Anjou, a warrior and a pilgrim who knew the kingdom well. They were married in 1129 and had two sons, Baldwin and Amalric. After Fulk’s early death Melisende was crowned together with her thirteen-year-old son Baldwin III. They ruled together until Baldwin, after some struggle with his mother, insisted on ruling alone. He married Theodora, niece of the Emperor Manuel, who gave a handsome dowry. But she was only twelve years old and after over four years of marriage there were no children. She and Baldwin died young and the crown descended to Melisende’s second son, Amalric, albeit not without controversy. Amalric’s first marriage to Agnes of Courtenay was annulled. With Agnes he had a son, Baldwin, and a daughter, Sibylla; by his second marriage to Maria Comnena, great-niece of the Emperor Manuel, he had a daughter, Isabella. Amalric, in the tradition of both Baldwin I the Conqueror and Baldwin III, aimed at extracting tribute or land from Egypt or even achieving outright conquest with the aid of Byzantium. He worked hard at the project but failed to break through and in 1174 died of dysentery.

There followed a succession disaster. Baldwin IV, the eldest son, was a leper who led in battle and in council as best he could, winning one important victory, but he was doomed to an early death and could never sire a son. Which of the daughters would succeed? Sibylla or Isabella? It turned out to be Sibylla. In a bad case of romantic love triumphing over duty, she insisted on marrying as her second husband Guy of Lusignan, an aggressive, insecure adventurer, outwitting opposition in the kingdom. Unhappily aware that hereditary right could bring in as heir the leading baron Raymond of Tripoli, a descendant of Baldwin II’s daughter Hodierna, Guy succumbed to the slanderous suggestion that Raymond was seeking to discredit him, made a fatal decision to fight and in three days lost the kingdom’s field army. The kingdom never recovered. Its promise of future prosperity and vitality was snuffed out.


Ottoman defences

Positions of forces at dusk on October 31, 1917, during the Battle of Beersheba at the time of the charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade.

British forces are shown in red, Turkish forces are shown in blue. The position reached by the regiments of the 4th Light Horse Brigade after the attack is shown in pale red. Note: there is no evidence that the 4th Light Horse Regiment crossed the Wadi Saba during their attack, nor that the 60th Division attacked south of the Wadi Saba. The Australian Mounted Division headquarters is shown where the Anzac Mounted Division headquarters moved to, after the capture of Tel el Saba. Neither the Gullett map nor Bou’s map locates the headquarters of Anzac Mounted Division, Australian Mounted Division and Desert Mounted Corps at Kashim Zanna despite numerous sources placing them there. [Preston 1921 pp. 25–6, Powles 1922 pp. 136–7, Hill 1978 p. 126]

The final preparations for the attack on Beersheba began in the middle of October 1917. The last branch lines of the railways running east were laid as quickly and as late as possible, while supply dumps and hospitals were also delayed until the last possible moment. On 22 October, Allenby issued his final orders. It had been thought that a week would suffice for moving the divisions involved, but this was extended to ten days. Troops would only move at night, and an average speed of 1mph had to be allowed for, given the difficulties of navigating in the dark across ground that was broken with wadis and nullahs, and offered little in the way of definite landmarks. Some brigade columns ended up using a system of setting up lamps at intervals, between which the troops would march. The two cavalry divisions aimed deep into the desert south of Beersheba – the Australian Mounted Division to Khalasa and the A&NZ Mounted Division to Bir Asluj. Both divisions, like the infantry that moved through positions closer to the front lines south-west of Beersheba, moved in stages as brigades, so as not to over-tax the water supplies at any one place. In preparation for the offensive, nine officers and 117 other ranks were left behind by each infantry battalion, to form a cadre to either provide reinforcements, or for the battalion to be re-formed around if casualties were catastrophic.

Engineers worked hard to develop these water sources as rapidly as possible, and supplemented some of them by connecting them to the pipeline system. The springs at Shellal were connected to the pipeline, so that water came to it all the way from the Sweet Water Canal outside Cairo, while the pipe-head and springs had equipment installed that could fill some 2,000 ‘fanatis’ (large, metal jerrycan-like containers which could be carried, one on each side, by camels) with 25,000 gallons per hour. Supply dumps were also rapidly thrown up. It was intended to place dumps containing everything the army would need for the first week of the offensive as close to the front lines as possible, and along its entire length. XXI Corps, holding the line opposite Gaza, would need these supplies just as desperately as the more isolated Desert Mounted and XX Corps, despite being nearer the railway system. To give the two eastern corps as much support as possible, XXI Corps’ transport was stripped away and sent to their aid, leaving the corps essentially immobile from 8 October. Three motor transport companies totalling some 130–140 vehicles were also brought up from Cairo, despite their limited use in the rough desert terrain, while 134 of the more useful Holt’s tractors were also used. These heavy caterpillar-tracked vehicles were more adept at crossing rough ground, although they did it slowly and noisily, and were useful for hauling ammunition in bulk.

Camel companies would form the backbone of the mobile supply system. Some 32,000 were deployed with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force [EEF]. For now, XX Corps had 20,000 of them – 8,000 attached directly to the divisions to carry their own stores when they moved, and 12,000 under the direction of the Corps HQ for forming supply convoys. XXI Corps and the Desert Mounted Corps each had 6,000 camels for their own use, to carry food, water and ammunition. Eventually, of the four infantry divisions of XX Corps (10th, 53rd, 60th and 74th), three had three echelons of transport, and the fourth had two, while the Desert Mounted Corps also had three. Each echelon carried a day’s worth of supplies for each division, and the three echelons would, in theory, create a continuous chain of convoys moving between the advancing divisions and their supply dumps.

This activity could not and did not go unnoticed, and in the early hours of 27 October the Ottomans pushed out a large reconnaissance west of Beersheba. This operation was actually carried out in considerable force – the 125th (OT) Regiment of the 16th (OT) Division towards the ridge of El Buggar, and elements of the 3rd (OT) Cavalry Division and 27th (OT) Infantry Division slightly to the east. It struck against an extended piquet-line of British cavalry provided by the 8th Mounted Brigade, screening the movements of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, and strung out in a line along El Buggar ridge and then across several hills known as Points 720, 630 and 510. The right of the line was held by the 1st County of London (Middlesex) Yeomanry, the left by the 3rd County of London Yeomanry, with the City of London Yeomanry in reserve behind. The line was 19km (12 miles) long, and held by isolated posts of one or two troops (thirty to sixty men) at key points. The advancing Ottoman formations broke over these scattered posts at 4.15 a.m. on 27 October, supported in places with artillery fire. On Point 720 Major Alexander Lafone, commanding ‘B’ Squadron, 1st County of London Yeomanry, had only two of his troops with him, but still managed to hold off several charges by the Ottomans throughout the morning. At 10.10 a.m. he managed to send a final message to his headquarters that: ‘My casualties are heavy. Twelve stretcher-bearers required. I shall hold on to the last as I cannot get my wounded away.’ In fact, he managed to move most of his wounded – which was most of his men – down into trenches behind the crest of the hill, covering their retreat with the remaining three unwounded men. Soon after 11 a.m. another wave of Ottomans attacked and, seeing the hopelessness of the situation, Lafone ordered his remaining men to fall back, apparently stepping out into the open to meet the charge on his own. The post, and Lafone, fell. He would receive a posthumous Victoria Cross for his ‘conspicuous bravery, leadership and self-sacrifice’.

Attempts by the brigade reserves to relieve the various posts failed, although they did, with artillery support from the Hants Battery RHA, stem the Ottoman advance. Late in the day the 3rd ALH Brigade and 158th Brigade arrived to counter-attack and the line of outposts was reoccupied. Both sides would claim inflated enemy numbers and casualties, but the 8th Mounted Brigade suffered ten officers and sixty-nine other ranks killed or wounded (against ‘200’ claimed by the Ottomans); of these, ‘B’ Squadron, 1st County of London Yeomanry suffered two officers and eight other ranks killed, ten wounded and eight missing. The Ottomans recorded one officer and nine men killed, and around forty wounded, but had failed in their aim of clarifying the numbers and intent of the forces moving across their front. While an attack on Beersheba still remained the likely answer, the true question – whether this was to be the main British thrust or merely the diversion – was as unanswered as before.

On the same day, a massive British bombardment of the Gaza defences began.

To prepare for the coming attack, the III (OT) Corps commander, Colonel Ismat Bey, did all that he could to defend his post. Beersheba was a new town, although on very ancient foundations. It was the site of the Wells of Abraham, the very reason why it was being fought over and the source of its name. Sometimes rendered as Bir Es Saba, Bir Saba, or some variation on those spellings, the name meant ‘The Seven Wells’, and the source of the water was the Wadi Saba, which runs down from the north-east to a point 3.2km (2 miles) east of the town, where it joins several smaller wadis near the mound of Tel Saba. It then runs west, past the southern edge of Beersheba. In recent centuries it had been a small village existing on trade with the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Negev desert to the south, but at the turn of the twentieth century the Ottomans decided to develop it into an administrative centre for the Negev region. A railway, a governor’s residence (now the Negev Art Museum), a mosque and other building had been built as a nucleus for the new town, and parks were laid out around them. This central area was widely spaced out, and the houses and commercial premises that grew around them were also well dispersed. By August 1916, when Swedish explorer Sven Hadin visited the town as Djemal Pasha’s guest, it had become something of a model town, albeit still on the inhospitable side:

Until the war broke out, Bir es-Seba – or ‘The Seven Wells’ – was a miserable hole; now it has suddenly become an important base … When the worst heat was over, the colonel and the government surveyor, Dr Schmucher, took me on a tour of the town, which is springing forth out of the desert at an American pace. We visited various buildings on the base, the electric stations, the factories and workshops, the printing office, the bazaar, the hotel, the parks and gardens – which of course have not yet grown much – and the ice factory – the most beneficial establishment in this heat. Then we visited the agricultural school, the motor-driven pumping plants, the immense reservoirs, at which water is distributed to camels, horses, asses, and mules. Finally we visited the hospital, in which 400 sick were lying at the time, cared for by Austrian physicians and nurses. Bir es-Seba’s climate, while not exactly unhealthy, is very unpleasant. The region is very windy, the desert sandy, the soil broken up because of the heavy traffic, and no vegetation offers protection from the suffocating dust clouds that roll from all sides into the burning hot streets.

Ismat Bey threw out forward defences around 3–4km from the centre of the town in an arc running from the south to the west, covering the most likely lines of approach for the British. He added further defences at Tel Saba, which dominated the approaches from the otherwise flat east and south-east. All of these defences had been seen and plotted by British reconnaissance, although a smaller crescent of trenches, closer in and to the south of the town just below the Wadi Saba, had not. To man these positions, Ismat Bey had ten battalions of infantry (seven from the 27th (OT) Infantry Division and three from the 16th (OT) Infantry Division), two cavalry regiments from the 3rd (OT) Cavalry Division, a reserve of one infantry battalion and one cavalry regiment, and an assortment of support troops – engineers, searchlights, signallers and a mobile bakery. This gave a total fighting strength (i.e. riflemen and cavalry sabres, as opposed to supporting clerks, cooks, herdsmen, etc.) of somewhere less than 5,000 men. For heavy weapons, he had just five batteries of four field guns each, although between his various regiments and battalions he could muster some fifty-six machine guns. To provide enough troops to man his defences, he was forced to deploy his cavalry as infantry rather than maintaining them as a mobile reserve, a decision that would be heavily criticised by Kress von Kressenstein later. For his own part, the German was still convinced that there was not enough water to sustain a serious British attack on Beersheba.

The British had found the water, though, and by dawn on 30 October all was ready. At Bir Asluj (where the water supply was shorter than expected), 38km (24 miles) south of Beersheba was the A&NZ Mounted Division and the headquarters of the Desert Mounted Corps. At Khalasa, 48km (30 miles) south-east of Beersheba, was the Australian Mounted Division, while the Yeomanry Mounted Division was detached to Shellal, covering the gap between XX and XXI Corps. The 7th Mounted Brigade, still independent and under Allenby’s direct control, was at Bir El Esani. At dusk on 30 October, having drunk their fill, the two Mounted Divisions would strike out on long flanking marches to the east of Beersheba; the A&NZ Mounted Division would be east and north-east of the town for the attack, and the Australian Mounted Division to the south-east. The 7th Mounted Brigade would remain to the south, ready to support the main infantry assault.

This assault would be launched by the 60th and 74th Divisions. The former spent the night at Abu Ghalyun, and the latter at Khan Khasif, which still placed them some 16 or 19km (10 or 12 miles) from their starting points for the following day. The 60th Division would attack Beersheba from the south, and the 74th from the south-east. The 53rd Division was slightly further west, applying pressure to the Gaza–Beersheba road, while the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (with two battalions of the 158th Brigade, 53rd Division) covered the gap between them and the 74th Division. The 10th Division was held back in reserve. Between the cavalry and infantry divisions, the British fighting strength was over 40,000 men.

Charles Hennessey of the 2/15th London Regiment (also known as the 2nd Civil Service Rifles) was briefed by his commanding officer at the assembly point:

From this we learned exactly how the various British Divisions were disposed along the front from Gaza on the extreme left, to where we were on the extreme right. We were also shown a number of aerial photos of the Turkish trenches, and were told to make a particular study of the ones it was ‘C’ Company’s business to deal with.

Following this cosy chat we were each issued with 2 Mills Bombs, an extra bandolier of ammunition, and a couple of aeroplane flares. It now appeared that the Battalion was on the extreme right of the British line; that the only troops on our right were a few squadrons of London Yeomanry; and, as we had already been told, that our Company was to form the first wave of the attack on Beersheba.

One night only was spent at the Assembly Point, and the following evening ‘C’ Company moved off to take up a position in a ‘wadi’, which we learned was to be our jumping off point. Our soda water bottles had been filled with tea and rum the day before, and dire were the penalties threatened if we drank any of it if permission hadn’t been given. The march to our ‘wadi’ began after dark and word was passed that there was to be no smoking, and no talking or other noise, in case the Turks should hear us. What a hope! Of course Johnny Turk could hear us coming. The loud clanking of our equipment could have been heard for miles.

At dusk on 30 October the desert seemed to come alive as tens of thousands of men, horses and vehicles rose out of their daytime cover and began the advance on Beersheba. Captain Ashton of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was with the 53rd Division:

The noise of tractors bringing up guns was overpowering, as if the whole British Army was on the move, and sounded like the roar of London traffic from a little way off. The whole plain behind us hummed with mechanical noises, and I marvelled that the enemy in their trenches could not hear it. They afterwards told us they were taken by surprise, but it is indeed hard to believe.

The night was bitterly cold, but marching kept the men warm. When the units began to reach their allotted positions in the early hours the real suffering began. Hennessey:

Around midnight we filed into a shallow wadi and were told to make ourselves comfortable till dawn. It soon became very cold, and we missed our greatcoats which had been left behind in our packs. We were also short of our tunics as we’d been told we should be carrying out the attack in our shirt sleeves. There certainly seemed a lot of people who were determined to make the war as difficult for us as possible. Taking it all round it was a dreary time waiting in the dark and cold for the arrival of dawn.

For Gunner J.W. Gough of the Royal Field Artillery, waiting was also the hardest part:

3 a.m.: We have now been in our position for an hour or so, it is very cold hands quite numb. Laying tel. wires etc. here. Bty is opening fire on enemy at 7 am. 6.15 a.m.: Bty ready for action & lined on target – only awaiting orders from Hdqrs. All the men are tired & hungry after travelling and digging etc. Hostile planes are about, we’re not spotted – yet. I am detailed to repeat orders from B.C. to B.L. by megaphone. I’d gladly accept a cup of tea or anything warm before we ‘raise the curtain’ – with I trust, a splendid ‘debut’ for Johnnie Turk.

The curtain was to be raised by the 60th Division. In front of the Ottoman line to the south of Beersheba stood a hill, known at the time as Point 1069, although it was later renamed Point 1070. Point 1069 gave good views over the Ottomans lines, the British positions, and the surrounding landscape. It had to be taken before the general attack could go forward, and responsibility for this fell on General Shea, commanding 60th Division. He was given free rein as to judging when the preliminary bombardment had cut the wire, and so when to send his men in. This was not an easy call to make. The guns designated for the barrage on Point 1069 opened fire at 5.55 a.m. Over a hundred guns [1] concentrated on a 4,500yd front, and after an hour so much dust had been raised by the explosions that nobody could tell what the state of the wire was. The barrage was suspended for half an hour or more to let the dust settle, but even then the view was unclear. In the end Brigadier General De Costa, commanding 181st Brigade, who would be making the assault, requested and received permission from Shea to resume the bombardment while he moved his force forward behind its cover. An intensification of the barrage was planned for 8.20 a.m., to last ten minutes, by which time his brigade were only 460m (500yds) from their objectives on the crest of the point. Wire-cutting parties went forward under the cover of the barrage, which was landing in some places just 27m (30yds) ahead of them, and made gaps or widened existing holes. At 8.30 a.m. the 2/22nd London Regiment stormed the point. The following day, Colonel A.D. ‘Bosky’ Borton, commanding the 2/22nd, wrote home to his father, with slight variation on the official reports:

The eyes of many were on us, and we ‘did them proud’ … We worked our way up to about 500 yds. of the enemy and lay ‘doggo’ while our Artillery tried to cut gaps in the wire. This however they could not do as well as each shell raised such an awful dust that observation was impossible and we had to lie up for two hours under a very heavy fire in the open. It was darned trying, but the men were too wonderful. Our casualties during this time was pretty high – about 15%. The Brigadier then got a message out to me to know whether we could go without the gaps being cut?

It was the one thing that I had been hoping for, as I felt that no was wire was going to stop us. I was very lucky, as owing to my having had to shove all my 4 companies into the line, I was able to hand over my Battalion HQ to my Adjutant and go with the men. I’d got a flag with the Queen’s badge on it, in my pocket, and … I tied it to my walking stick and away we went. I’ve never felt so damned proud in my life. The Flag was a surprise to the men and tickled them to death! We got in practically without loss, we cut the wire 25 yards behind our own barrage. This of course meant a few hits from our own guns, but not a soul in the trenches dared show his head, and the moment the guns lifted we were into them with bomb and bayonet and scuppered the whole garrison.

As Borton led his men on, the 2/24th Londons swung around the flank and cut the Point off from the Ottoman forces to the north. The 2/23rd Londons then came up to support the 2/22nd and extend their line, while the 2/21st remained behind in reserve. Once the Londoners burst through the wire it was all over in a matter of minutes, with ninety prisoners and Point 1069 being taken.

The way was now clear for the 60th and 74th Divisions to advance on the main Ottoman line. The 74th had already marched as close to the Ottoman lines as possible, suffering from artillery and long-range machine-gun fire as they did so. Their path lay across a series of low rises, and as the columns crossed the crest of each they stood out stark against the skyline as easy targets. This fire pushed the right-hand unit, 231st Brigade, further right, and the left-hand unit, 230th Brigade, had to extend their own line to cover the growing gap between them. Despite these problems, by 10.40 a.m. the 231st Brigade had advanced to within 460m (500yds) of the Ottoman lines, while 230th Brigade was held at around 820m (900yds) out. Meanwhile, 60th Division paused, and had breakfast.

With guns having been hauled up onto the point to support the attack, the barrage was restarted. Again, it fell to Shea to decide when the wire was suitably cut for the two divisions to advance, and at 11.40 a.m. he consulted General Girdwood, the commander of 74th Division. Girdwood’s view of the Ottoman wire was also obscured by dust, but he assured Shea that his men would find a way regardless. Shea passed this up the chain of command to Chetwode, who authorised the attack to start at 12.15 p.m. William Hendry of the 2/14th London Regiment (London Scottish) recalled:

Then an order came to make a meal, in which we soon consumed our bottle of rum, as it was a cold night. We then said good-bye to the desert. Our machine gunners took up their covering positions, then our guns started to bark, pouring shells on a hill on our left which had to be taken before we could advance. Suddenly a rocket burst in the air, which was the signal that the hill had been captured, and over the top of the hill we went, with the din of our machine gun bullets and shells whizzing over head. We dropped down like lightning into the wadi below and up again we went hard for the Turk’s trenches. The barbed wire was well cut by our shells and all we found was a few killed and wounded. According to a doctor we captured the men had flown along the trenches to be taken prisoners by the trousered regiment, as they did not want to be captured by the skirted devils as called us, they were given to understand we took no prisoners. Well we advanced to a position as arranged and soon got to work with picks and shovels digging in, as bullets were still coming at us from the direction of Beersheba.

[1] Consisting of seventy-six 18-pounders, twenty 4.5in howitzers, four 3.7in howitzers, eight 60-pounders, eight 6in howitzers, and some 4.5in howitzers designated for counter-battery fire as and when the Ottoman artillery revealed their positions.


The town of Beersheba in Palestine, 1917. Captured by Australian light horse on 31 October 1917 during the First World War.

By 1 p.m., the 60th Division (less the 2/22nd Londons, digging in on Point 1069) had taken all of their objectives, about a mile and a half beyond the Ottoman trenches. The 74th Division had been delayed by having to send forward wire-cutting parties, but were able to declare their own objectives achieved only moments later. Acting Corporal John Collins of the 25th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers took a leading role in the attack, and was one of the first to enter the Ottoman trenches and engage the enemy hand to hand. During the 74th Division’s long march under fire he had repeatedly risked himself to rescue the wounded and bring them back under cover, and after the final assault he led a Lewis gun section out beyond the objective, giving covering fire for his unit as it consolidated its position and reorganised their scattered men. For his ‘conspicuous bravery, resource and leadership’ throughout the day, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Over all, resistance had been lighter than expected. Although well sited, the Ottoman lines were thinly held, and once the British infantry had closed to bayonet range the 67th and 81st (OT) Infantry Regiments had been unable to resist the weight of numbers thrown against them. As the final assault started, as many Ottoman units as possible were withdrawn in good order back towards the town, and for the moment no British pursuit was mounted. After their night march and morning’s action, the troops badly needed to rest, quite apart from the need to re-form themselves after the advance. On top of this, it had been decided that the Desert Mounted Corps should be the ones to actually take the town, as they would be in greater need of the water. In fact, only the 230th Brigade of the 74th Division would see any further action, at dusk as they advanced north to cut the Beersheba to Tel el Fara road. At 9.40 p.m. the divisional commanders received news that the town had fallen into British hands at 7.40 p.m.

While the infantry had been coming on from the south-west, the cavalry had attacked from the east. Theirs had been a long ride to get into position, and Lieutenant Briscoe Moore of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles found that:

The early morning hours of darkness are the most trying, for then vitality is at its lowest and fatigued bodies ache all over. Then comes the first lightening of the eastern sky, and the new day dawns with a cheering influence, which is increased as the next halt gives the opportunity for a hurried ‘boil-up’ of tea; after which things seem not so bad after all to the dust-smothered and unshaven warriors.

The A&NZ Mounted Division had advanced to the north-east of Beersheba. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR) Brigade had turned towards the eastern side of the town, with the 1st ALH Brigade slightly behind them in reserve. Meanwhile, the 2nd ALH Brigade carried on north and pushed back the 3rd (OT) Cavalry Division, capturing the Ottoman post on Tel el Sakaty at noon, and from there cut the Hebron road by 1 p.m. This road would later also be cut much further north, about 32km (20 miles) north-east of Beersheba, by a small but heavily armed party of about seventy cameliers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Newcombe of the Royal Engineers. Newcombe had already established a reputation for daring independent action with the Sharifian forces in Arabia, and on the night before the attack he had led his force out of Bir Asluj as far north as they could reach. Armed with ten heavy machine guns and a number of Lewis guns, his men established themselves across the Hebron road late on 31 October and proceeded to create as much noise and destruction as possible, attacking passing convoys and cutting the telegraph lines. He had hoped to attract local tribesmen to rise up and aid him, but was disappointed in this. Even still, his force held out until 2 November, created much confusion (giving the Ottomans the impression that the British intended to advance on Hebron) and drew off small but significant Ottoman forces to deal with him. Eventually the force was overwhelmed after taking 50 per cent casualties. Newcombe was taken to Constantinople as a prisoner, although he would rapidly escape with the aid of a French lady whom he later married, and lived free in the city for the best part of a year. This amazing character deserves to be better known.

The A&NZ Division then began to advance in towards Beersheba at shortly before 9 a.m., and the NZMR Brigade and the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade (attached from the Australian Mounted Division) were told off to attack the dominating height of Tel el Saba. Around 300m (1,000ft) high at the time, the tel sat at the convergence of two wadis, and these would provide the key to taking the position (as well as a source for a small amount of water for the horses). They provided the only decent cover in the area and led directly to the tel, but even so, it would prove a tough nut to crack. A battalion of the 48th (OT) Infantry Regiment was well dug in, with machine-gun and artillery support, and excellent fields of fire. The Auckland Regiment NZMR was first into action, supported by the Somerset Battery RHA. Their 11th Squadron rode along the wadi bed to about a mile from the tel before dismounting and beginning to advance on foot, coming under heavy machine-gun fire from the tel, and from a smaller hill slightly to the east of it. The other two squadrons – the 3rd and 4th – managed to close to about 800m (875yds) from the tel before being forced to dismount in the wadi. The Canterbury Regiment NZMR came up on their right flank, while the Somerset Battery opened fire from around 3.2km (2 miles) away, at which range their fire was too inaccurate to be very effective. The 3rd ALH Brigade advanced on their left, and at 10 a.m. the 1st ALH Brigade was also committed to the attack. An hour later the Inverness Battery RHA added their fire to the barrage, and under the cover of this the Somerset Battery advanced, halving their own range and improving their accuracy. This battery was being directed by the commander of the Auckland Regiment, and the regimental history records that, after this move:

No time was lost in correcting the range of the guns, a signaller with flags passing on the messages given to him orally by the Auckland colonel. It was only a matter of minutes before several changes in the range were flagged back, and the shells were bursting right over the machine-gun emplacements of the enemy. ‘That’s the stuff to give ’em,’ ejaculated Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll as he saw the goodly sight.

Immediately this remark was sent back as a message by Lieutenant Hatrick, who doubtless had his tongue in his cheek as he did so. After the fight the battery commander, an Imperial* officer, inquired who sent this message. ‘I could not find it in my book of signals,’ he said, ‘but I would like to say that we understood it perfectly, don’t you know.’

As the barrage gained effectiveness, the attack moved closer in short dashes under galling machine-gun fire. New Zealand and Australian troopers converged on the tel from the north, east and south, and at 2.40 p.m. the smaller hill was captured, along with sixty Ottoman soldiers and two machine guns that were turned onto the tel. With this additional covering fire, the Aucklands rose for a final dash. Briscoe Moore recorded:

The line then commenced to move forward, first one part advancing covered by the fire of the others, then another section. The ground, being more or less broken, afforded fairly good cover, but the Turkish artillery made good shooting and put over many good bursts of shrapnel which whipped the ground amongst the advancing New Zealanders into myriad spurts of dust. The engagement thus developed until the attacking line was perhaps two or three hundred yards from the Turks, when heavy fire was exchanged from both sides. Then the New Zealanders charged with fixed bayonets, pushing the attack home with great determination as they mounted the rising ground towards the enemy. The sight of the cold steel coming upon them was evidently too much for the morale of the Turks, for their fire died down as our panting men approached their trenches, and those that did not bolt soon surrendered. Thus was another victory added to the record of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade.

The Ottoman forces had already begun to withdraw towards the town as the final assault swept over the tel at 3 p.m., but even so seventy prisoners and two machine guns were captured. The way now lay clear for the advance into Beersheba itself.

However, time was beginning to become an issue. The remains of the Ottoman forces were consolidating in the town, and were in a position to easily blown the wells should either wing of the British attack resume its advance. Meanwhile, dusk was approaching, only two hours away. The next move had to be not only decisive, but also swift, and Chauvel turned to his last uncommitted cavalry formation, the Australian Mounted Division under Major General Henry Hodgson. A brief consultation followed. The 5th Mounted Brigade was probably best suited to make a mounted charge into the town; they were equipped with swords and trained for fighting from the saddle. However, they were several miles away, and with time of the essence it was decided to use Brigadier General William Grant’s 4th ALH Brigade instead. Although unsaddled and dispersed, they were close at hand and well rested having seen no action yet during the day. Although no water had been found for the horses, some feed had been issued to them. At 3.45 p.m. Grant ordered his men saddle up and form up, and called his senior officers together for a briefing. They would have to cross several miles of open ground, swept by artillery and machine-gun fire, and then tackle a crescent-shaped system of trenches just south of the Wadi Saba. This system consisted of several lines of trenches, but thankfully had no barbed wire protecting them.

At 4.30 p.m. his forces were ready. The 4th ALH Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Murray Bourchier) were on the right, with the 12th ALH Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Donald Cameron) on the left. Each was drawn up in three lines, each of a single squadron, with their headquarters, signallers and ambulances behind. Within each line, each trooper was spaced at about 4 or 5m (4 or 5yds) from his neighbours, so that a single burst of machine-gun fire or shell would not cause too many casualties. The gaps between the squadrons was 300m (330yds), giving plenty of time for the riders coming up behind to swerve around any fallen men or horses in front of them. Behind the two leading regiments, the 11th ALH Regiment was held in reserve. The 5th and 7th Mounted Brigades were also ordered to come up with all haste to support the attack, while the Notts Battery RHA and ‘A’ Battery HAC provided covering fire.

As the advance started, two German aircraft swept out of the sky to bomb and strafe the advancing ranks, but with little effect. Instead, the advancing squadrons, beginning at the walk, sped up into a trot. Artillery, long-range machine-gun and rifle fire was now falling among them, but the advance remained steady and sedate, making sure that the formations remained together for maximum impact. Closer to the enemy, they broke into a canter, and finally a gallop for the last few hundred metres. The fire of all calibres was heavy and intensive now, but the Australians had two advantages: the dust thrown up by their horses’ hooves, and the speed of their advance. As panic and urgency gripped the Ottoman defenders, many forgot to adjust the sights of their weapons. These had been set high initially for the long-range fire, but as the troopers got closer many forgot to lower their sights, sending their bullets and shells high over the Australians’ heads. According to one study, most of the weapons recovered after the charge still had their sights set at 800m (875yds). However, enough accurate fire was being laid down, and the horsemen faced additional dangers from steep-sided wadis, rifle-pits and trenches, all of which could easily disable a horse. Sergeant Charles Doherty charged with the 12th ALH:

As the long line with the 12th on the left swung into position, the rattle from enemy musketry gradually increased in volume … After progressing about three quarters of a mile our pace became terrific – we were galloping towards a strongly held, crescent shaped redoubt of greater length than our own line. In face of this intense fire, which now included frequent salvos from field artillery, the now maddened horses, straining their hearts to bursting point, had to cross cavernous wadies whose precipitous banks seemed to defy our progress. The crescent redoubt – like a long, sinuous, smoking serpent – was taking a fearful toll of men and horses, but the line remained unwavering and resolute. As we neared the trenches that were belching forth death, horse and rider steeled themselves for the plunge over excavated pitfalls and through that tearing rain of lead.

Trooper J. ‘Chook’ Fowler, in one of the following lines, captured the confusion of the charge:

The level country near the trenches was deep in dust. This was one of the worst features of the Palestine Front, for six months each year without rain. The horses in front stirred up the dust and we could see only a few yards, our eyes almost filled with dust, and filling the mouth.

The artillery fire had been heavy for a while. Many shells passed over our heads, and then the machine-gun and rifle fire became fierce as we came in closer to the trenches some of the Turks must have incorrectly ranged the sights on their rifles, as many bullets went overhead … The machine-gun fire was now very heavy. I felt something hit my haversack and trousers and later, on inspection, I found a hole through my haversack and two holes in my trousers. One bullet left a black mark along my thigh. Some horses and riders were now falling near me. All my five senses were working overtime, and a ‘sixth sense’ came into action; call it the ‘sense of survival’ or common sense. This said, ‘If you want to survive, keep moving, keep moving,’ etc. So I urged my horse along, and it wasn’t hard to do so as he was as anxious as I was to get past those trenches … No horseman ever crouched closer to his mount than I did. Suddenly through the dust, I saw the trenches, very wide with sand bags in front; I doubt if my horse could have jumped them with the load he was carrying, and after galloping two miles. The trench was full of Turks with rifle and fixed bayonets, and hand grenades. I heard many grenades crash and ping-g-g-g-g over the noise of rifle and machine-gun fire. About 20 yards to my left, I could just see as a blur through the dust some horses and men of the 12th Regiment passing through a narrow opening in the trenches. I turned my horse and raced along that trench. I had a bird’s eye view of the Turks below me throwing hand grenades etc. but in a flash we were through with nothing between us and Beersheba, and the sound of machine guns and grenades behind.

The 4th ALH met the thicker sections of trenches and became embroiled in clearing them, using their bayonets as swords or dismounting to clear the trenches hand-to-hand. It was hard, grim work but many of the Ottoman defenders were stunned by the suddenness and brutality of the attack. The 12th ALH met with less resistance and fewer trenches; parts of their leading squadron dismounted to clear those they encountered while the two following squadrons sped on into the town. At 4 p.m. Ismat Bey had ordered a general withdrawal of the forces in Beersheba, and the effect of the Australians, even if now in small, scattered groups, erupting through the streets was immense. Ismat Bey barely escaped, while most of his staff and the papers in his headquarters were captured. The Australians rounded up over a thousand prisoners, and captured nine field guns and three machine guns. The 11th ALH, coming up behind, carried on through the town and pushed the last Ottomans out of the northern parts. Ismat Bey was only able to stop the retreat and begin re-forming his men some 8 or 9.5km (5 or 6 miles) north of Beersheba, although it took days to properly re-establish his corps.

Beersheba had fallen. A few demolition charges had been set off by the Ottomans, but the wells were taken largely intact, but unfortunately proved not to as prolific as thought. Barely enough was found to water the mounted divisions, and over the next two days the cavalry and infantry carried out small, limited attacks north and east of the town to secure further sources. The infantry had to remain reliant on water convoys from the rear. In the town, the work to clear up after the battle began. Patrick Hamilton helped to collect and treat the wounded:

In the operating tent our medical officers worked steadily and almost in silence. Continuous skilled surgery hour after hour. Anaesthetics, pain killing injections, swabs, sutures, tubes in gaping wounds, antiseptic dressings, expert bandaging. The medical orderlies did a fine job assisting.

Stretcher bearers were standing by for the change-over. Two on either side lift the stretcher clear of the stands, and replace with the next patient all within two minutes. The pace never slackened!

Here, out in the field at night, surgical work of the first order was performed. This was the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance at work! About 2 a.m., after six hours of dedicated work by all hands, the last of our 45 wounded was put through. All patients by now were bedded down under canvas and made as comfortable as possible. Most slept through sheer exhaustion or under drugs. We arranged shifts and lay down on the hard ground fully clothed for a few hours’ rest.

In total, over 1,500 prisoners had been taken. During its charge on the town, the 4th ALH Brigade had suffered surprisingly light casualties – two officers and twenty-nine men killed, and four officers and twenty-eight men wounded. The 60th Division had suffered three officers and sixty-seven men killed, and thirteen officers and 358 men wounded. On the Ottoman side, the III (OT) Corps had been almost destroyed, although they had no reason to feel ashamed. While accusations and recriminations flew between the corps and Kress von Kressenstein, with the fact that the corps had a high proportion of Arab troops being often cited as a reason for its ‘poor’ performance, they had in fact behaved admirably. The Ottoman lines had held against great odds and heavy attacks through most of the day, longer than the British had thought they would. It was only the late, desperate charge of the 4th ALH Brigade that had finally shattered their lines.

With Beersheba taken, attention now turned to the western end of the line, and the great fortress town of Gaza.