CSS-X-20 (DF-41), a new Chinese ICBM

China is developing the CSS-X-20 (DF-41), a new road-mobile ICBM possibly capable of carrying a MIRV payload. China appears to be considering additional DF-41 launch options, including rail-mobile and silo basing. The DF-41, which is expected to have a range of about 14,000 kilometers and be mobile. China has conducted several tests of the DF-41 but has yet to deploy the missile. The number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 5 years.

China has still not completed development of the long-awaited DF-41 ICBM (CSS-X-20), which has been reported in development at least since 1997. The US Defense Department believes that this missile is capable of carrying MIRVs and rumors have spread in the media that the DF-41 can carry six to 10 warheads.

As is likely the case with the DF-5B, though, the number of warheads that the DF-41 carries may be significantly less––perhaps three––and the additional payload capability may focus on decoys and penetration aids to overcome the US ballistic missile defense system. The PLARF conducted its tenth test of the DF-41 in May 2018 and followed it up with a simulated second-strike exercise in January 2019, which may have included the DF-41.

This could indicate that the missile has nearly completed its development and testing cycle; however, the missile is not yet listed as operational in the 2019 Defense Department report. The DF-41 is expected to eventually replace the aging DF-5 ICBM and could potentially be launched from silos and railcars, in addition to mobile TELs.

China will put its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile into service as early as this year, according to a regional defence magazine.

The DF-41, which was described by Washington as the world’s longest-range missile, has entered its final test phase, according to Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defence.

With an operational range of up to 14,500km, the DF-41 would first be deployed to the advanced brigade of the People’s Liberation Army’s new Rocket Force based in Xinyang in Henan province, the report said.

From there, the missile would be able to strike the United States within half an hour by flying over the North Pole or slightly more than 30 minutes by crossing the Pacific, the report said.

But defence analysts said it was not clear if the DF-41 could break through the multilayered US missile defence system in the Asia-Pacific region.

“No one questions the longest range of the DF-41 is near 15,000km. But within just a few minutes of being launched, it might be blocked by the US’ defence system at its Guam naval base,” Professor He Qisong, a defence policy specialist at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said.

The solid-fuel, road-mobile ICBM had been tested at the Wu­zhai Missile and Space Test Centre – also known as the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre – in Shanxi province since last summer, the Kanwa report said.

The DF-41 has been tested at least five times since July, 2014, according to the US-based Washington Free Beacon.

Earlier reports from the website said US intelligence agencies had detected that the PLA’s missile force submitted a DF-41 missile to a “canister ejection test” from a railway-mounted mobile launcher on December 5.

The test was a milestone for Chinese strategic weapons developers and showed that Beijing was moving ahead with building and deploying the DF-41 on difficult-to-locate rail cars, in addition to previously known road-mobile launchers, the website said.

Kanwa chief editor Andrei Chang said the strike rate of the DF-41 would improve further after 2020 when China completed its home-grown BeiDou navigation satellites, helping to wean the PLA off its dependence on the US’ Global Positioning System.

But He said the US might develop technology to jam the BeiDou system’s signals.

“The US has spared no effort to upgrade its missile defence system year after year,” He said. “The missile systems – so far – are just a game of threats played among the great powers.”

Missile Defense Project, “Dong Feng 41 (DF-41 / CSS-X-20),” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 12, 2016, last modified June 15, 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/df-41/.

Original Post Thai Military and Asian Region

Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM)

Some basic stats on the 25 year old AMRAAM.

A rival to AMRAAM is the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), the product of another international missile programme includes Saab Dynamics. This Matra/ BAe Dynamics-led programme included partners from the four Eurofighter-producing countries; Saab Dynamics was an exception but gave the project extra strength because of the export potential of the Gripen and the fact that AMRAAM was seen as a stop-gap solution on the Gripen.

The Meteor partners are Alenia Difesa (Italy), CASA (Spain), GEC-Marconi (UK), LFK (Germany), Matra/BAe Dynamics and Saab Dynamics. The missile itself has a multi-target engagement capability, shoot-up and shootdown performance, a mid-course datalink capability and a high resistance to sophisticated ECM environments.

Just as the IRIS-T had a near perfect customer base, the Eurofighter countries did not want to be dependent on US weapons and, therefore, developed their own missile so they can export it to whom they see fit. Both Eurofighter and Gripen automatically become more attractive to foreign customers who do not wish to be dependent on the US for spare parts. The Swedish Air Force cancelled its financial support for the Meteor development programme in June 1999 because of financial problems but, if parliament agreed to support it, money would come from other sources and development could proceed.

The Swedish Air Force acknowledged that although it could not afford to share in the Meteor development costs, it was still interested in the missile.

Industry partners reacted calmly to this news and waited to see what the political reaction would be. At the Paris Air Show the French government stated that if Meteor was chosen by the UK, it would support the programme and was willing to fund up to 20% of the development costs. Apart from the financial aspect, France would invest its technology and expertise in the programme so that Meteor could be installed on the Rafale and possibly the Mirage 2000-5.

On 20th October 1999 the European Meteor consortium teamed up with Boeing to create the opportunity to export Meteor to countries that used Boeing (ex-McDonnell Douglas) fighters and to compete in the US market against AMRAAM and/or its successors. In May 2000 Meteor won the competition to arm British Eurofighters and so increased the BVRAAM’s foothold in Europe. Whether Meteor will be carried by Gripens remains to be seen. At the Paris Air Show in June 2003, the head of the FMV test centre at Malmen, Colonel Per Olaf Eldh announced that the Gripen had been chosen to undertake the important flight testing of the Meteor missile. The aircraft had proved itself to be better suited than Eurofighter as it is more mature system.


For years now there has been a ton of hype about MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, but now that it has reached operational status, blanket claims are being tossed around in the media as to its capabilities: headlines like “the best in the world“ and “the most deadly” are commonplace. But is it really that simple? Is the Meteor the dream missile every western fighter needs under its wings or in its weapons bays or is it a niche capability?

Rising Meteor

The truth is that the Meteor isn’t that new at all as it has been in development for nearly two decades. Still there is no doubt that the missile is extremely impressive, but it is not necessarily the best solution for the beyond-visual-range (BVR) job for all fighters and for all scenarios.

The Meteor’s roots can be traced back to the mid-1990st grew out of a common European need for a next generation BVR missile. This new missile had to have superior range and overall kinematic performance than the American AIM-120 AMRAAM. The UK, France, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Spain all participated in the program and although European aerospace and defense consortiums are nothing new, some aspects of what the Meteor brings to the fight is.

Meteor’s most impressive feature is its propulsion concept. Think of the Meteor more as an air-to-air cruise missile than as a traditional guided air-to-air rocket. For propulsion, it uses a solid fuel, variable flow, ducted rocket—also referred to as a ramjet—instead of a traditional rocket motor. What this means is that Meteor can throttle its engine during different phases of flight whereas a rocket delivers all of its potential energy in one continuous unmodulated burn cycle. This capability may not sound like a huge deal, but it is.

Nowhere to run to

When a standard air-to-air missile is fired at a target it delivers the same amount of thrust over a certain period regardless of the tactical scenario. If the target can be reached without the rocket motor burning out, or shortly after it does so, the missile will have a high-energy state during its terminal attack phase. This will allow it to maneuver very hard, easily countering a target aircraft trying to evade the incoming missile. If the target is farther away, the missile will usually climb to a high altitude while its rocket motor is burning and then coast on its built-up energy with gravity on its side until it reaches the terminal phase of its flight (its final attack run).

If the target isn’t too far away, and the missile is still above it, it will dive down on the target in an attempt to maximize its ability to make hard maneuvers. The longer the shot, the less energy the missile will have for its critical terminal phase of flight, and that is not a good thing.

Enter the ramjet powered Meteor. Instead of burning off all its fuel right after launch it can throttle its engine back during cruise, thus saving fuel. As it approaches its target it can throttle up, eventually making its terminal attack while at its highest possible energy state, around mach 4.5, even when fired over long ranges.

Not only does this mean the Meteor will have more energy to maneuver during the endgame of the engagement, but this capability also drastically increases the size of the missile’s “no escape zone.” Basically, the Meteor has a far greater ability to “chase” and catch enemy aircraft over long ranges.

So more than just being a better beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile via high-end sensors and a larger rocket motor, Meteor has a totally different—and much smarter—propulsion concept, that not only increases range but also increases its effectiveness of the missile over that range.

A missile that listens and talks to its master

The Meteor competes in other ways than just propulsion. It packs an active X-band radar seeker for locking onto targets during the terminal phase of its flight. In fighter pilot parlance this is when the missile goes “pitbull” and becomes a true fire-and-forget weapon. In other words, the firing aircraft does not need to guide it any farther toward its target in order to ensure that it gets a lock and can make its final attack on its own.

There is a common misconception about most modern BVR missiles, especially the AIM-120 AMRAAM. It is regarded as a fire-and-forget weapon, and it does have a mode to do just that. Basically it takes the targeting data from the aircraft’s radar and calculates where the target “should be” when it arrives in the target area.

It then flies out to that area using its own inertial navigation system. Once there, the missile’s small radar seeker, which has far less range and scanning capability than the radar on the fighter that fired it, starts to look for the bad guy. If said bad guy is within the AMRAAM radar’s cone of detection it can lock on and attack.

The problem is that at intermediate and medium ranges, fire-and-forget performance is abysmal. If the target is not where the missile thought it would be, within a limited cone of the sky, it’s a miss. As such, this mode is more effective for defensive shots as anything else or for shots taken at close ranges where there is less flight time in which the enemy can change course, altitude and tactics.

The way the AIM-120 missile is usually employed at range is by the fighter aircraft that launched it sending it mid-course updates as it flies out to the target. As it goes along its way, and as the range between the missile and the target decreases, its ability to predict where the target will be improves as it has much more recent telemetry to rely on. Ideally the fighter will provide updates to the missile until it locks its own radar on the enemy target.

There is a tradeoff between risk and reward for the pilot firing the missile. He can keep his radar pointing towards the bad guy and continue sending radar data to the missile to improve its chances of a kill, but that may expose him to the enemy as range between him and the target decreases. Once the missile goes “pitbull” and has locked its own radar on the target at close range the pilot can perform the “forget” part of fire and forget concept and can break its lock.

Like the AIM-120, the Meteor probably has a fire-and-forget mode, but mid-course updates are not only key to the missile’s success. Because the missile can modulate its throttle, the autopilot can provide the most efficient flight profile to the target in long-range shots. Greater range means less certainty of where the target will be by the time the missile is close enough to detect it itself.

The Meteor will be able to get those crucial mid-course guidance updates not just from the jet that fired it, but from “third party” sources as well. These can include other fighters, airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, and land and sea-based radar and electronic surveillance systems that provide their own “sensor pictures” to the missile-firing aircraft via data-link. With many assets contributing to a common tactical network “picture” via common data-link waveform and language it provides information that anyone, including the Meteor-armed fighter and the Meteor itself, can exploit.

In fact, the launching jet’s pilot may never have to use his own radar at all to engage a target. Instead he simply assigns the missile a target on his situational display. The missile then gets continuous updates from third party sources—rather than the fighter that fired it—right up to its final attack sequence.

Even if the data-link does not provide high-fidelity “target tracks” that does not mean they are not engagement quality as the missile only has to have the target within its own radar’s cone of detection in order to initiate the terminal attack phase of its flight. This means getting the Meteor close to the target is good enough.

The Meteor’s data-link also has two-way capability, so the pilot could re-target the missile while it is already on its way. The pilot can also see the missile’s fuel, energy and tracking state in real-time. This is essential for making quick decisions as to whether or not to fire another missile at the target or to run away if it is properly tracking toward the target or has obtained its own lock.

The thing is that modern data-links on missiles are not exclusive to Meteor, or to modern air-to-air missiles for that matter, but let’s keep it to that scope for this piece.

Reaching peak AMRAAM

Enter the AIM-120D Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), the latest incarnation of the 25 year old Raytheon-built AMRAAM which has even been adapted for surface-to-air use. The D model, which is just coming online right now, also has a two-way data-link with third party targeting capabilities like the Meteor. Additionally, it sports 50% more range than the previous version of the ARMAAM, the AIM-120C7, which itself had increased range over its predecessor variant the AIM-120C5.

Other improvements found in the AIM-120D include an enhanced seeker with a better ability to detect targets off-boresight (off the missile’s centerline axis). This is a big deal for the critical terminal phase of flight, since it can scan a larger area while trying to acquire the target on its own. This upgrade also makes it harder for the enemy to shake the missile of its trail.

The AIM-120D’s capability to engage targets at short range will also be enhanced by this feature, which is a boon for the F-35, which does not carry a short-range air-to-air missile while in stealth configuration. The EA-18G Growler, which is also limited to the AIM-120 alone, will also gain uniquely from this improvement.

This new AMRAAM will also feature a better navigation system with its inertial navigation system (INS) augmented with embedded GPS. Also like the Meteor, the AIM-120D has the latest electronic-countermeasure-countermeasures, making it very hard for the enemy to jam or confuse it.

Overall, these improvements elevate what has already been the “gold standard” of BVR air-to-air missiles for decades. What this new AMRAAM doesn’t have is the Meteor’s ramjet engine and all the benefits that go along with it.

More range over the current AIM-120 is in many ways needed to match the great leaps in fighter radar technology and networked warfare that have become a reality in the last decade and a half. Active Electronically Scanned Array radar sets can see much farther and in much higher fidelity than their mechanically scanned predecessors. This has left pilots who fly fighters equipped with them in a strange predicament where they can see the enemy from much farther away than their missiles are capable of engaging.

The F-15C’s APG-63V3 AESA can reach out much farther (on an order of multiples depending on the target and scenario) than the radar it is replacing. Being able to see bad guys at well over 100 miles away, but only being able to kill that bad guy at say 40 miles is an issue for the very unstealthy Eagle, but not so much for a low-observable fighter. In fact, the F-22 Raptor (and the F-35 eventually) really don’t need larger, longer-ranged missiles, they need more missiles.

More missiles, please

If you ask a F-22 pilot what they want more than anything else, you are very likely to hear “more missiles.” The aircraft, with its stealthiness, supercruise capability and superior situational awareness can get far closer to the bad guys without detection than their 4th generation counterparts like the F-15C. The problem is that the F-22 only has six AIM-120 AMRAAMs at its disposal, and the F-35 will only have four.

Finally, adding the AIM-9X to the F-22’s quiver will actually help with this deficiency as the missile has a limited intermediate range capability, but employing it against certain targets may be too close to comfort. A solution for this conundrum is quietly in the works in the form of a smaller BVR missile like Lockheed’s conceptual Cuda air-to-air missile, also nicknamed the “Halfaraam.” This thing is like the Small Diameter Bomb of air-to-air weapons and will theoretically increase the F-22’s beyond-visual-range missile load by at least double. The F-35 will also greatly benefit from it or a weapon like it.

Rendering of what the hit-to-kill Cuda would look like.

Parallel initiatives to develop such a weapon have been recently dubbed by the USAF the Small Advanced Capability Missile (SACM) and Miniature Self-Defense Munition (MSDM). These are two separate research and development programs that have been awarded to Raytheon and seem to have similar goals. Lockheed’s Cuda could also evolve into a competitor for such a requirement if it were to formally move outside of the exploratory phase or even as a self-funded weapon option.

Although details still remain sketchy, the Cuda’s compact size comes at the sacrifice of two things. The first is the deletion of a warhead. Instead of a 30lb-50lb shrapnel-encased charge and proximity fuse system like what most air-to-air missiles use, the Cuda will slam into its victims like a bullet. This hit-to-kill capability, which has evolved greatly in recent years via ballistic missile defense research, should cause more than enough trauma to fighters to take them down and would probably result in at least a mission kill against larger airframes.

The Cuda will also sacrifice range in comparison to its more long and slender BVR missile cousins. Instead of being able to engage targets at 50 miles (or in the AIM-120D’s case likely much farther), it should be able to do so at ranges of half that distance depending on the scenario. Using such a weapon offensively may be somewhat suicidal for 4th generation fighter, but for 5th generation jets it’s a day’s work.

Cuda, or a missile like it, will also likely feature extreme agility as it has to impact its target directly, not detonate its warhead nearby. This will also make it a capable short-range dogfight missile. This means aircraft like the F-35, that lack a short-range air-to-air missile during stealthy operations, would now have a good option for closer-range situations.

In many ways such a weapon will complement the AMRAAM, or even the Meteor, wonderfully. Instead of carrying a pair of AMRAAMs and a full air-to-ground internal load, an F-35 could carry an AMRAAM and two Cudas. This gives F-35 pilots more options and a greater ability to defend themselves as they make their way in and out of the target area.

These missiles would also likely be able to have the ability to engage surface and ground targets as well, like the AIM-9X, but at much greater ranges. For stealth aircraft, these smaller intermediate-range air-to-air missiles could be a viable weapon for suppression of enemy air defenses if adapted to that mission.

With all this in mind, when it comes to the Meteor and the F-22 and F-35, there simply is far less of a need for its extreme range, and its more bulky structure would just take up more precious real estate within the jets’ weapons bays than the AIM-120 currently does.

America’s air arms and the Meteor

So where does the Meteor and potential future missiles like it fit in with America’s air arms? The US will operate a 4th generation fighter fleet for many decades to come, including F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18 Super Hornets. At face value the Meteor may seem like a relevant weapon for these aircraft to have in high-threat, peer-state warfare scenarios, especially if they are upgraded with AESA radar sets and the latest data-link modems, but even this is on a case-by-case basis

Let’s take the US Navy for instance. With a resurgent threat from major peer-state competitors like Russia and China, the Meteor is the missile to have. It would match well with the Navy’s Super Hornet fleet which is almost entirely equipped with APG-79 AESA radars. It would also finally replace the AIM-54 Phoenix long-range air-to-air missile that was retired with the F-14 Tomcat. Basically it would bring back a real “fleet defender” capability to the Navy’s Carrier Air Wings, and the Super Hornet could carry a lot of Meteor’s at one time if need be and bring them back to the ship. This is something the Tomcat could not do with the Phoenix.

The F-15C could use the Meteor as a longer-range alternative to the AIM-120D but fitment may be an issue. Carrying four on the F-15C’s belly stations should be possible, but the feasibility of mounting them under the Eagle’s wings above drop tanks is questionable. Still, the idea of an F-15C with a pair of AIM-9Xs, a pair of AIM-120Ds, and four Meteors is very enticing as it would make the best of the F-15C’s massive AESA radar. But really the jet could get by with AIM-120D just fine for its mission, which largely includes domestic air defense tasking, and in a major conflict it would not fight alone. And this is precisely where the Meteor’s value comes into play vis-à-vis the F-15C and the F-22, but that will have to wait for a moment.

As much as beyond-visual-range combat is hyped these days, and technology is certainly caught up with the concept, the operational realities that most 4th generation fighters will find themselves in the future doesn’t really support the idea that dog-fighting is dead. Rules of engagement and fear of friendly fire incidents make very long-range missile shots unpalattable during coalition operations like those we have seen time and time again against non-peer state foes over the last few decades.

The cold hard reality is that visual identification of the target is still where the bar sits for weapons release during many operations. Using targeting pods slaved to a 4th generation fighter’s radar (like the F-15C has today via the Sniper pod), or using the F-35’s Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) for long-range examination of aerial targets, can help greatly with this hurdle. The only issue is that using these systems for visual identification of a potential enemy still puts such an engagement deep within the range of any AIM-120 variant. As such, the benefits the Meteor offers would are nullified.

In other words, if you look at history, for the vast majority of operations the Meteor’s extreme range will be unnecessary. That does not make it irrelevant, far from it, but it all depends on what fighters an air arm has at its disposal. For instance, a country that is not buying the F-35 should invest in Meteor to get the best standoff range for their advanced 4th generation fighters. This is especially so if they feel like their fighter aircraft would be used outside of coalition operations with the US at the helm. A Super Hornet equipped Royal Canadian Air Force for instance that has to protect its great norther expanse could really use the Meteor.

Meteor and the USAF’s F-22A/F-15C air dominance team

Remember how we just discussed that the F-22 and the F-35 could use more missiles, lots more, especially to counter-balance against a capable home-team foe with a quantitative advantage? Well when we step outside the platform “vacuum” and look at the F-22 and F-15 as a team, you can see how the Meteor could be a huge force multiplier.

F-15C and F-22 battle doctrine is still taking shape, with small but critical initiatives underway to drastically improve their interoperability. Case in point the podded Talon Hate system which you can and should read all about in one of my past features linked here.

This big fuel-tank shaped pod hangs underneath an F-15C and works as a mobile information gateway data fusion center. It takes information shared among F-22s via their own proprietary and stealthy data-link, including sensor info and communications, and translates it, fuses it, and re-broadcasts it in a data-link waveform and language that F-15s can understand and display to their pilots. Most likely it also is capable of piping this information out to any Link 16 data-link user in the area.

In other words, it takes the F-22’s high-fidelity sensor picture from beyond the front lines and simulcasts it to Eagles and potentially all other allied platforms in the battlespace to see and exploit.

The F-22 can receive Link 16 information but it cannot broadcast in that same form as it could give away their location. By using the Talon Hate as a translator, the F-15s and F-22s can share a common “tactical picture.” This opens up the possibility to employ a whole host of tactics that combined equal more than the sum of their parts.

Boeing has unveiled concepts that have as many as 16 BVR missiles loaded onto an F-15 at one time. This loadout turns the Eagle into a small arsenal ship more than anything else. The missile laden F-15s, operating behind F-22s and even F-35s, who themselves are operating at the forward edge of the battlespace, can provide a steady supply of missiles for the stealth fighters even after their magazines run dry. Think of them as flying artillery batteries.

Working as forward air controllers of sorts, stealthy fighters, and especially the F-22, can use their forward position and advanced sensors to request and direct missiles shots from F-15s operating many dozens of miles behind them. All the while the unstealthy F-15s remain outside the range of the same enemy aircraft they are sending missiles towards to kill. This is where the Meteor’s extreme range and dynamic flight profile could be extremely useful. It keeps the stealth fighters in the fight long after they have expended their own missile stocks and keeps the more vulnerable F-15s at a safe distance from threat aircraft.

The opposite tactic can also be used, albeit at a decrease sensor horizon. The F-15C’s can use their massively powerful radars to scan the skies for enemy aircraft, and deliver that sensor picture to the forward operating F-22s and F-35s. With that information the stealth fighters can operate in their most deadly mode, electromagnetically silent with no radar emissions at all. Loaded with Cuda type missiles and with a full picture of the battlespace ahead, they can maraud enemy formations in great numbers.

So yes, the Meteor’s range could benefit the F-15C and F-22, but not necessarily that much when you put both aircraft in a vacuum. But when you put them together and enlist the F-15C into arsenal ship operations, having the longest-range missile available with strong “end game” kinematics really enhances the capability of the F-15/F-22, and even the F-35, air dominance team.

What’s new today is old tomorrow

Although the Meteor is just entering service, there are new technologies around the corner that may see the missile age far faster than the AIM-120 has over the last 25 years. Then again, if MBDA can react swiftly enough to changing capabilities, the Meteor could be upgraded and reconfigured to stay at the forefront of air-to-air missile technology, albeit this proposition takes a steady stream of cash to realize.

Multi-mode seekers, which primarily include both Imaging Infrared and active radar on a single missile, could benefit the AIM-120D and the Meteor, and will likely be commonplace on future BVR missiles. Such a setup means that during the terminal phase of flight the targeted aircraft will have to try and break the lock of both radar and a high-end imaging infrared seekers, the latter of which is impervious to electromagnetic jamming. Israel already has this technology working on their Arrow and Stunner interceptors and is looking to migrate the concept to the air-to-air realm.

Israel’s Stunner interceptor and its “dolphin” seeker head that allows it to house both infrared and active radar sensors.

Even tri-mode seekers, where BVR air-to-air missiles incorporate a anti-radiation homing function for suppression of enemy air defenses would be an ideal capability for stealthy aircraft with tight weapons bays and limited stores. This is exactly what was in the works to replace the AMRAAM in the late 2000s. The program was dubbed the Next Generation Missile (NGM) and later the Dual Role Air Dominance Missile (DRADM) before being cancelled by the Obama Administration 2013.

Since then other risk-reduction exploratory programs have emerged, like the Triple Target Terminator (T3) program led by DARPA, although not much has been heard about it for the last couple of years and it seems to have concluded after a limited flight test program was executed.

It is quite likely that any next generation BVR missile will also have a robust secondary ground-attack capability using GPS, radar and even infrared homing. It is even possible that versions of Cuda-like missiles may be adapted to facilitate laser targeting capability for striking small targets with minimal collateral damage. It’s all about flexibility and an extrapolation of the hot concept of “distributed lethality,” being able to use one weapon for multiple types of engagements, thus putting the enemy at greater risk over a larger area and in more ways.

The bottom line is that the AIM-120D signals the end of the AMRAAM’s design life cycle. This does not mean the final AMRAAM is not an incredibly capable missile, but there is only so much that can be pulled from a 25 year old high-performance missile design. The US will move to begin developing a new medium to long-range air-to-air missile very soon. In fact it seems pretty clear that a good chunk of this development has already happened with exploratory research and development programs, some of which were likely semi-clandestine in nature.

Then again, the Pentagon could just invest in and procure the Meteor and concentrate funding on developing smaller intermediate range missiles like the Cuda that are more tailored to its burgeoning 5th generation fighter force. This way the Meteor program would get a huge influx of money and would realize much larger production numbers, thus dropping the unit cost. It would also allow for quicker upgrades to the current design to be made to suit the DoD’s needs.

Well it won’t happen.

The problem is that doing so would have poor support from the defense lobby and no general will get another star on their collar or a big defense industry gig after retiring by importing a missile from Europe. There simply isn’t enough money in it for defense contractors and the US will have nothing to sell to customers overseas in the same class.

In fact, we have laws against that sort of thing and the Meteor would likely have to be built under license here in the US if the Pentagon wanted to buy it en masse. Even then there won’t be lucrative development dollars to be had. Instead the DoD will likely independently develop a similar missile at great cost and will end up with just an upgraded Meteor.

Is the Meteor a must-have masterpiece?

In the end the Meteor may have the longest range and largest no escape zone of any air-to-air missile in service today, but it is not necessarily the best solution for every fighter and every Air Force out there.

For 5th generation stealth fighters, who can operate far closer to threats than their 4th generation progenitors, quantity is more of an advantage than range alone for most combat situations. For 4th generation fighters with modern AESA radars and a quality networked fighting force backing them up, the Meteor can be very useful in limited situations and not really relevant in many others. But when you pair 5th generation fighters with 4th generation fighters and empower them with network connectivity, the equation changes and the Meteor can elevate both via a whole set of exciting new tactics. The AIM-120D can also do this, although to a lesser degree.

The thing is air combat is changing rapidly. With advanced unmanned combat air vehicles and automated swarm warfare that comes with them likely already a reality, as well as innovative ideas like the Cuda in development and airborne laser weapons on the horizon, both the AIM-120D and the Meteor are feel far less revolutionary than what seems to be right around the corner.

In the end calling the Meteor the best air-to-air missile in the world is a simplification of a very complicated proposition, although it certainly seems to have the best long-range engagement capabilities. The reality is that the title of best air-to-air missile in the world depends on what aircraft it is being deployed on and what aircraft it is being deployed against, as well as the combat scenario at hand.

For a Swedish JAS-39E Gripen NG, French Rafale or a Saudi Typhoon upgraded with an AESA radar the Meteor may be a dream weapon. If you are a country flying F-16s, Mirage 2000s or a similar 4th generation fighter without an AESA radar upgrade, limited networking capabilities, and especially if your country’s borders are not measured in the many hundreds or thousands of miles, the Meteor offers little benefit. Quite literally it can engage targets much farther than these jets’ radars can even see and for the air sovereignty/homeland defense mission its advantages are muffled.

Finally, the reality is that the real performance data and the raw capabilities of these missiles are closely guarded secrets. You can find range estimates for the AIM-120D from about 40 miles to nearly 100 miles. Info on the Meteor is just as inconsistent, with range claims form from around 60 to 130 miles. How these missiles actually perform in various real-world scenarios is more important than their basic “brochure” fly-out ranges and features. The AMRAAM has been test fired nearly 4,000 times and used in combat with multiple kills, the Meteor has a long way to go to catch up to figures like that.

Still, it is clear that the Meteor is a seriously capable weapon and it represents a leap in some aspects of BVR missile technology. Does that warrant the title as the best air-to-air missile in the world? Well that is up to you to decide. But as we have discussed, other leaps in air-to-air combat tech are right around the corner and there are strong indications that in this post operational 5th generation fighter reality extreme-range is no longer the Holy Grail air-to-air missile technology.

Jacobite Irish Army

The Jacobite war in Ireland was bloody and long. It was an inter-national war. William employed not just English but also Scottish, Anglo-Irish, Dutch, German, Danish and even French (Huguenot) troops. Although the mainstay of the Jacobite army was Irish Catholics, it did have some British and French officers, and for the campaign of 1690 was supplemented by a sizeable contingent of French, Germans and Walloons.

The Jacobite Army in Ireland

Little is known of the dress of the Jacobite troops. The reconstructions are based on an entry in the ‘Journal of Captain John Stevens’ who gives details of the Irish army at Dundalk on the 19th of June 1690. Stevens also gives details of the flags of the regiments he mentions. This information, recorded in G. A Hayes-McCoy’s History of Irish Flags, has been used to show the dress of the regiments of Irish Guards, of Lord Bellew, the Lord Grand Prior, the Earl of Antrim, Gordon O’Neil, Lord Louth, and Colonel Eustace. The construction of the flags aided by illustrations in Alan Sapherson’s excellent William III at War in Scotland and Ireland 1689-91, and by an article by Ernie Stewart in Gorget & Sash Vol. II, No. 2.

As part of the armed forces of King James II it seems likely that Jacobite soldiers would have dressed similarly to their English and Scots counterparts. I have chosen to show them equipped with ‘apostles’, but this was the new cartouche box, so some supplied with these instead. C. S. Grant in From Pike to Shot (W. R. G.) mentions a reference to St. Ruth bringing “enough material with him in 1691 to make 20,000 uniforms. The colour of the material was buff”. Whether the material was ever used is not known, nor is it clear whether he brought any arms or equipment with him. It is known that only the Grenadiers were supplied with the bayonet.

Red was likely to be the most popular colour, particularly with units in service prior to the ‘Glorious Revolution’. The preference shown by the troops of the Irish Brigade, later in French service, when they resisted all attempts to put them into grey coats shows the preference felt for the colour. Sapherson relates that the Enniskillen Williamites of Zachariah Tiffin’s was a period of transition to regiments might have been Over were “able to take enough red coats from dead and regiment captured Jacobites, after an early engagement to uniform two of the Inniskilling companies”. He goes on to say that they were unhappy when forced later to exchange these for the grey coats the regiment was issued. Whilst the Jacobite coats may just have been of a superior quality, it is also possible that the feelings held by Tiffin’s men and the soldiers of the Irish Brigade were part of the equation in the popular imagination that red coat meant regulars, whilst other colours were worn by ‘militia’ Both Sapherson and Grant agree that later in the war many of the Jacobites were wearing civilian clothing with a white ribbon or a piece paper used to denote their allegiance. Grant further quotes a source commenting on the army at the time of the arrival of St. Ruth, (May 1691) being “dressed in rags”


The King’s Regt. of Irish Guards

This regiment consisted of 2 battalions, being of between 22 and 26 companies of 80 men strong. The red breeches and stockings just guesswork in Williamite service) had similar arrangements. (The First Foot Guards had blue breeches and stockings, the Coldstream Guards red.) If the Irish Guards followed the practice of the 1st Foot Guards and the ‘Coldstreamer’ in dressing their drummers then the Irish Guards’ drummers should wear the same uniform as the other regiments of Foot Guards (now are as the rank and file, heavily decorated with silver lace. The Colour (flag) depicted accords with the description in Stevens, however it is unusual for a regimental Colour and may represent a sort of Royal Standard carried by the Guards. If this is the case then the regiment’s own Colours may more closely resemble those of Dorrington’s regiment. (The Guards became Dorrington’s after the reorganisation of the Irish troops in French service after 1698.)

The Earl of Antrim’s Regt.

A single battalion. The flags of the regiment look to have been part of the inspiration for the flags of the Irish Brigade units.

Lord Bellew’s Regt.

The stripes on the regiment’s flags are black and a colour described as ‘filamot’, obviously a bastardisation of the French feuille morte, or “dead leaf”. (A yellowish brown.) The same colour can be seen on the flags and coat linings of Lord Louth’s Regiment. The red cross patée is used to difference the Colonel’s Colour, being carried below the crown on the top left corner of the flag. The motto is Tout d’en Haut’.

Gordon O’Neil’s Regt

The lining of the coat was white, though the cuffs were red. The red cross patée was used, like Lord Bellew’s, at the top corner of the flag nearest the staff to show the Colonel’s Colour. The lettering would be in gold.

Lord Louth’s Regt.

See the comments under Lord Bellew’s regarding filamot. The Colonel’s Colour of this regiment was plain filamot with just the gold crown and ‘Festina Lente’ motto. The other flags show the disputed versions of other regimental Colours, the upper after Ernie Stewart, the lower after Alan Sapherson

The Lord Grand Prior’s Regt.

The red and white lace shown is attributed by Stevens to the regiment’s grenadiers; however, it is speculated that its possible use by the drummers. The drummers did wear blue.


In England, Crown and parliament would eventually reach an understanding. Charles II came to the throne in 1660, when Cromwell’s body was uprooted from its grave and hung on a pole in London by the jubilant Royalists. In Ireland, the Catholic population once more began to sense that its lot might be improved. At first, such hopes were scotched firmly: the king did indeed restore a portion of the country’s landed Catholics to their estates, but more than 80 per cent of Ireland’s land remained in Protestant hands. By 1685, however, there was once again a Catholic monarch on the throne: James II, younger son of the executed Charles I, who had been drawn to the old faith while living in Royalist exile in France. His brother Charles II had disapproved of James’s conversion and ordered that Mary and Anne, the two surviving children of his first marriage, be raised as Protestants; in 1673, however, James was permitted to marry a Catholic Italian noblewoman, Mary of Modena. So when he succeeded Charles, James II was bringing about what must have seemed a nightmare vision to English Protestants. The new monarch wrote that: ‘If occasion were, I hope God would give me his grace to suffer death for the true Catholic religion as well as banishment.’ There was no doubting his allegiance to the old faith.

To watching Catholics, of course, James’s accession to the throne represented dreams of renewed religious freedom. These sensations of Catholic excitement and Protestant horror only increased when James began instituting reforms: admitting Catholics to high government office, for example, and suspending the laws that had discriminated against them. In his Irish policies, to be sure, James proved to be as cautious as his brother had been before him, and equally mindful of the dangers of opening the floodgates of religious liberty. But stirrings could be felt nonetheless, in Ireland as in England, and Protestant unease spread across the country. At first, this discomfiture could be held in check: James and his consort were childless, and it was assumed that his Protestant daughter Mary would in due course inherit the throne, reintroducing reformed rule.

In 1688, however, Mary of Modena gave birth to a son. Now the work of Henry VIII, Elizabeth and Cromwell seemed set to be overturned by a new Catholic dynasty. For parliament, faith and liberty were indivisible – yet here was England about to be pulled back under popish rule. The Parliamentarians, therefore, began preparations for rebellion once again; and this time they looked abroad for a leader. They turned to Holland – to Prince William of Orange, who was both a leader of Protestant Europe and James’s own son-in-law, having married his daughter Mary in 1677. William himself was pragmatic: his reputation as fervent champion of Protestantism is by no means deserved, because although Holland was ostensibly Calvinist in orientation, it was a remarkably diverse and liberal society, with large populations of Catholics and Jews.

This period in European history was dominated by a high degree of tension and frequent conflict involving France on the one hand and on the other a shifting Grand Alliance consisting of most of the other major powers of central and western Europe. The coming conflict in Ireland, indeed, was a sideshow, albeit an important one – a single component in a much larger continent-wide struggle for power that would continue into the eighteenth century. To be sure, it was partly religious in nature. By the middle of the seventeenth century the Counter-Reformation was in full flood and the boundaries of Protestant Europe had as a result been pushed back. The French revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, which since 1598 had granted civil and religious liberties to Protestants in that country, had caused several hundred thousand Huguenots to flee to England, Holland and Protestant parts of Germany and Switzerland. Yet in essence these were conflicts rooted not in religion – except in Britain and Ireland – but rather in political rivalry. At this time, William’s Dutch lands were under constant threat from rampant French armies to his south; an alliance with England would bring the power of its army and navy to his aid – and William would, as a result, hold the destiny of Ireland and England in his hands.

So when the English parliament sought his aid against James, William seized the opportunity. When it came to the point, indeed, the so-called Glorious Revolution was effected without bloodshed and with remarkable rapidity. A Dutch army landed in southwest England in November 1688; by December, James had fled to France and his son-in-law William and daughter Mary were on the throne. At once the scene shifted dramatically to Ireland, where James’s supporters, the Jacobites, would shortly face the Williamites in a bitter two-year struggle for supremacy. This would prove to be the last war of a violent century and the final stand of Catholic Ireland against a Protestant ascendancy. And it was a campaign shot through with irony: for the Catholics were defending the rights of the legitimate King of England, Scotland and Ireland, while the Protestants were fighting in the cause of a usurper.

The administration at Dublin Castle was in the hands of James’s appointees – most of the rest of the undergraduates and Fellows of Trinity College had fled Ireland in response to the new regime – and the Jacobites in addition controlled virtually the whole of Ireland, with the exception of pockets of resistance in Ulster. By any measure, therefore, the circumstances must have appeared bright for James when, in March 1689, he sailed from France and landed at Kinsale. He was in the company of the French ambassador and a force of French troops – and awaiting him was an Irish army of forty-two thousand men. He marched directly to Cork and from there to Dublin, cheered as he went by crowds who sensed an opportunity to win back the lands that had been confiscated almost forty years before. In Dublin, the Irish parliament declared that its English counterpart could no longer legislate for Ireland: James agreed to this measure but refused either to repeal the Act of Settlement or to establish the Catholic Church in Ireland. James’s position was of course a difficult one: he was obliged to please his Irish hosts, but did not want to do so at the expense of provoking a watching English population. As a result of this balancing act, however, his welcome in Ireland cooled substantially.

By now the Jacobite hold over Ireland had been strengthened by further successes in Ulster, which had swept much of the province clean of resistance. Such as remained was holed up at Enniskillen and especially at Protestant Londonderry, which had proclaimed its loyalty to William and Mary and shut its gates to James’s emissaries as early as December 1688. The crowded city had remained obdurately resistant ever since, but in April 1689 James himself resolved to travel north, confident that his presence would resolve matters and win over the leaders. Instead, he was fired on from the ramparts and forced to beat a mortifying retreat; and the siege of the city, which had been closing since December, now began in earnest.

Few held out much hope that the city could survive a siege of any duration: its fortifications had been built to withstand not modern weaponry but the raids of the surrounding Gaelic Irish; and while Derry was perched on a steep hill and surrounded almost entirely by easily defensible river and marsh, it was also encircled beyond that by even higher ground, from which the city was an easy target of enemy bombardment. Furthermore, it was by now chronically overcrowded. Hunger and disease soon became a serious issue for the population of some thirty thousand defenders and refugees; and it was doubtless of little comfort that the surrounding Jacobite army, at the end of its supply lines, had endured an uncomfortable winter and was now similarly ravaged.

The besiegers also lacked the paraphernalia of modern warfare: they possessed little ammunition and siege equipment, and it was clear that they hoped Derry would be taken as a result of starvation and weakness rather than by force. A boom had been laid downriver to prevent any Williamite supply ships from coming to the city’s aid; and this measure worked well until 28 July, when, with conditions inside the walls now desperate, two ships did succeed in breaking through the barrier and sailing up to the quays of Derry to bring supplies to the defenders. Shortly afterwards, the 105-day siege was lifted and the disconsolate Jacobite army began to straggle away. At the same time the simultaneous siege of Enniskillen, which had pinned down Jacobite forces across much of the midlands, was raised.

The Siege of Derry marks the apotheosis of the Ulster Protestant tradition of defiance (‘No Surrender’) in the face of adversity. Quite apart from this profound symbolic resonance, however, the event was of some political significance too, for its duration and its ultimate failure had significantly weakened James’s position in Ireland. This deterioration was further signalled a few weeks later, when the first Williamite forces sailed into Belfast Lough and took up quarters in Belfast. The winter to come consisted of stalemate, but many more thousands of Williamite soldiers arrived from England and Europe in the spring of 1690; and William himself arrived – reluctantly, for he had no wish to be diverted towards distant Ireland – in Belfast on 14 June with a force of fifteen thousand. On 30 June, the two kings met on the banks of the river Boyne in County Meath: William at the head of thirty-five thousand Danish, English, Huguenot and German soldiers, plus Ulster regiments; James leading twenty-five thousand Irish and French troops.

The Battle of the Boyne of the following day, though it was certainly not the great decisive engagement of Irish myth, has provided one enduring image: that of William on a white charger, his vast force wholly outnumbering, outgunning and outflanking the Jacobites. Afterwards James fled, first to Dublin and then back to Kinsale: he didn’t stop, in fact, until he reached France. His reputation was damaged fatally in the process; and in addition, the Battle of the Boyne took on a practical significance that it would have lacked had James stayed to fight another day: it delivered Dublin and the province of Leinster to William. And yet the Boyne did not end Irish hopes of recovering religious liberty and lost landholdings: the Jacobites had been only scattered, not destroyed; and William would encounter a significant reverse just over a month later, as his attempt to take Limerick by storm was repelled by the city’s defenders. Shortly afterwards he sailed from Ireland, leaving final victory to his lieutenants.

The war in Ireland ground on, in fact, for another year – and the decisive battle was the bloodiest in Irish history. On 12 July 1691, at Aughrim in County Galway, the Williamites faced another army of Irish and French troops; each side fielded approximately twenty thousand men. The Jacobites had previously retreated west across the Shannon out of weakness – but now at Aughrim their leaders felt renewed confidence. Their situation was strong, not least because the army was under the command of the French general Charles Chalmont, Marquis de St Ruth, a name associated with the crushing of the Protestants of France. The Jacobites also had the advantage of being positioned on high ground and dug in amid the ruins of Aughrim Castle; any Williamite advance would have to be made across flat fields that even in high summer consisted of little more than bog. For St Ruth, moreover, this was holy war. Addressing his army on the eve of battle, he declared that the Jacobites were engaged in a battle for souls: ‘Stand to it therefore my dears, and bear no longer the reproaches of the heretics who brand you with cowardice, and you may be assured that King James will love and reward you, Louis the Great will protect you, all good Catholics will applaud you, I myself will command you, the church will pray for you, your posterity will bless you, God will make you all saints and his holy mother will lay you in her bosom.’ As if to underline this fact, a phalanx of priests moved through the ranks to offer Communion just before battle commenced.

And, at first, fortune favoured the Jacobites: their enemy advanced three times through waist-high waters, only to be repeatedly driven back and slaughtered; many Williamite soldiers drowned in the bog. It seemed to be a rout – yet at the crucial moment, the Jacobites were stymied by poor planning and incompetence. Running short of ammunition, they discovered that their reserve supply was of English design and incompatible with their French-made muskets, so the tide turned once again. The Williamites now advanced, and St Ruth – who still believed that victory was within his grasp – was decapitated by a flying cannon-ball. Now his men were thrown into confusion: their line broke, the enemy surged forward and the Jacobites were hunted across the marshy fields. At the close of battle, seven thousand had been killed: it was the biggest loss of life in any Irish battle, and the bulk of the remaining Catholic elite lay among the dead. It was at this point that the Catholic threat was extinguished for the next hundred years. Protestant control had at last been achieved: by the end of the Williamite wars, only some 20 per cent of Irish land remained in Catholic hands. Yet for all that, a sense of siege had not been wholly dissipated. It was necessary now to design a new political order – one that would eliminate the Catholic threat and secure once and for all a Protestant dominion in Ireland.

German Transport System WWII

German BR 52 locomotive, 1944 by Frédéric Mouchel

A BR 52 locomotive at work during war time

The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 was perhaps the most significant event in modern history. From the defeat of Germany, evolved the world we know today. Significantly the freedom we have to express our opinions and to debate topics such as this are the direct result of the actions of millions of brave men and women who fought to defeat Hitler’s regime. We owe a great debt to the many who paid the ultimate sacrifice for what we take for granted today.

As much as the defeat of Germany was achieved by force of arms from the Allied nations, defeat also came from within. Germany was not adequately prepared for war in 1939, and the early victories were achieved through the relatively new tactics of Blitzkrieg, modern equipment, superb training and leadership, ineptitude of the enemy and plain good luck.

Significantly Germany’s ill preparedness for war manifested itself in the first months of war and by December 1940 was readily apparent in the German transport system which was buckling under the demands of the German armed forces. This was no more apparent than with the Reichbahn, the German railways, an amalgamation of the former state railway systems.

The Reichbahn was forced to absorb a vast network of railways in varying condition, and locomotives and rolling stock that were often incompatible. As there were few common designs the new railway system was burdened by operational problems, increased and often duplicated costs and a maintenance headache of mammoth proportions.

Much of the plant and equipment was built in the late nineteenth century and the early 1900’s and had not been modernized because of the Great War, the chaos of the Weimar republic and the Depression. As much as a massive modernization programme was begun, with a view of upgrading track and other facilities, the construction of standardized locomotives and rolling stock, it was not complete by the beginning of war. This problem grew as the war progressed as they advanced deeper into the Soviet Union. Because of the restricted loading gauge and the increased demands of the German forces, the Reichbahn was forced into a never-ending cycle of building more locomotives and rolling stock to achieve the task.

With the invasion of the Soviet Union the demands on the railways reached crippling proportions, culminating in the coal shortage of winter 1941/1942. There was no shortage of coal, but a lack of coal wagons which had been appropriated by the Wehrmacht and due to the chaotic conditions at the railheads behind the front these wagons were simply tipped off the tracks to allow space for the following trains.

Equally problematic for the Germans were the loss of over 100,000 trucks and 200,000 horses between the opening of Barbarossa and March 1942. These losses were to have an impact against the chances of success some six months later at Stalingrad.

It was clear such a situation could not continue otherwise the rail system would soon collapse. Albert Speer (Minister for Armaments and Munitions Production) and Erhard Milch (Director of Air Armament & state secretary in the Air Ministry) were charged with setting the railways right, and with brutal efficiency they cleared out the railway administration, sacking the incompetent heads of the railways and throwing out the rule book. To alleviate some of the operational problems, longer and heavier trains were run at faster speeds. An accelerated programme of converting the Russian broad gauge system to the German standard gauge system, the construction of longer passing loops and new railway yards was set in motion.

Short term measures alleviated the crisis, but only a massive construction programme would provide a permanent solution. The effects of the enforced intervention were highly visible in 1943 with the construction of over 4,500 locomotives and nearly 52,000 freight wagons. As formidable as these figures may seem they were never enough to resolve the crisis that engulfed the Deutsche Reichsbahn from 1939 to 1945.

Rheinmetal Borsig were charged with building a family of Austerity class locomotives, all based on standardized designs. One of these locomotives was so successful over ten thousand were built and many remained in service until the end of steam operations in Europe.

All these measures were only partially or such successful as the demands from the various fronts, in particular the Eastern Front, continued to place undue strain on a system that was not designed for such traffic. To transport a fully equipped panzer division could require up to three hundred trains. Multiply that out over the entire Eastern front, coupled with the normal supply demands and it is easy to see why the German railways could not keep up with the demands of war.

In addition the railways had to compete for labour, cope with the burden of transporting Jews, which coincidentally often had priority over trains heading for the front. Until the bombing campaign against the railways intensified in 1943 the system held together. Most aiming points for these raids were on the town centres, where the central railway stations and yards were situated, so as the bombing tempo increased, so did the damage and disruption.

As much as the emergency measures freed up the traffic to and from the Eastern front it was obvious the chain of patched up railway lines leading to the railhead on the river Chir over 100 kilometers west of Stalingrad were incapable of supporting German forces. The track was not well ballasted or in good condition, slowing trains considerably. The Luftwaffe used four trains per day, but this was not enough and many supplies, especially fuel were flown into German held airbases. Further compounding the problems were a rail yard too small to cope with the traffic and the resulting congestion placed great strain on the largely horse drawn vehicles supplying German troops in Stalingrad.

This situation was compounded in late October 1942 when it was obvious the Soviets were preparing an offensive against the flanks of the German forces. To reinforce the 3rd Romanian army, Hitler ordered the 6th Panzer division with two infantry divisions to transfer from France on the 4th November. Nearly one thousand train loads were required for this move east and it was nearly one month later these forces arrived, long after the Soviet offensive had surrounded Paulus’ 6th army.

The situation was hardly better in the build-up for Operation Citadel, with lengthy delays of moving the troops and equipment forward. On a smaller scale the sheer difficulties in transporting the new Tiger tanks to the front caused delays, that were only resolved with a combination of ingenuity, skill and a lot of sweat.

By mid-1943 the Allied bomber offensive was causing very real disruption for the railways. Although damage could be repaired relatively quickly by experienced crews, damage was becoming cumulative in some areas where bombing was frequent. Of added concern were the rising casualties amongst train crews, mechanical and maintenance staff along with the various administrative branches that kept the trains running. While the personal strength reached over one and a half million by the end of 1943, the replacement of skilled personal was not easy, as a consequence the standard of maintenance gradually declined and the accident rate which had been on the rise since the beginning of the war, worsened.

This was compounded in early-1944 when after the defeat of the Jagdwaffe in February-March, American fighters after completing escort duties were allowed to attack targets of opportunity. They were so successful in shooting up anything that moved, the Deutsche Reichsbahn reported in June the daily average number of trains wrecked in May by marauding Allied fighters was over forty trains per day! This loss rate was outstripping German production of locomotives and rolling stock, already in decline to the increasing demands of the German armed forces. Now repair crews had to range far and wide over the German countryside, clearing train wrecks and repairing track. The destruction of railway bridges became a further dislocation as these were harder to repair. Another grave concern was the massive loss of experienced train crews, placing further strain on the overburdened system. A worse situation existed in the occupied countries, especially France where the railway system had been damaged beyond repair by Allied airpower in preparation for the D-Day landings. Without the railways the German army was forced to endure lengthy and dangerous road marches attempting to reach the battlefronts.

Fortunately for the Deutsche Reichsbahn Allied air support for the invading forces diverted much airpower away from German targets, however day and night bombing of German cities continued to pummel the railway system. Though the railways operated right till the collapse of the Third Reich, the ability to adequately supply German armed forces in the chaos of the collapse was no fault of the railway crews and staff who performed Herculean efforts to keep the trains running.

The German railways, like German industry was not prepared for war in 1939, and incompetence and poor planning led to the crisis of early-1942. The efforts to alleviate the situation, while tackled with vigour and considerable expense would never make up the shortfalls of the early war years, ensuring the German armed forces could never be adequately supplied to fight a protracted war.

A common factor soon appeared, especially on the Western front, where German armoured columns were forced to drive to the battlefronts because the railways were no longer operational.

By war’s end the German railways were a barely functioning shambles, though some services were still operating remarkably efficiently. With the flow of spare parts, replacement troops, fuel, munitions and rations slowed to a trickle by the collapse of the railways the effectiveness of German forces decreased dramatically.

Six years earlier the German railways were hard pressed to supply Germany’s war needs and they never were able to. Without an adequate supply chain, no nation can win a war.

The American railroad system

The American railroad system was blessed with a generous loading gauge and consequently with fewer train movements could move greater tonnage. Thus America won the tonnage per mile war, which was to be a critical factor in 1944.

Another factor was the wear and tear on track and equipment. All combatants during the war experienced a decline in the efficiency of their railway systems under the increased traffic demands, America included. By the end of the war, many US railroads were in a bad way from these demands. Consequently in the immediate post war period many railroads were forced to spend heavily on track and plant repairs, replacement of locomotives and rolling stock without any assistance from the US government which was spending its tax dollars on airports and highways.

Consequently some railroads went into insolvency or were forced to amalgamate with their competitors. The replacement of worn out engines was another problem and proved to be prohibitive. Companies were faced with replacing large numbers of steam locomotives, not a cheap option by any stretch of the imagination. Diesel locomotives were a cheap option and the railroads embarked on a massive dieselization programme. Unfortunately for the railroads a lot of the first-generation diesels weren’t much good and they were forced to replace them within ten years. This was an expense many companies could not afford, indirectly leading to more bankruptcies and forced amalgamation of some railroads.

In consequence the demands of America’s war effort had large scale and long terms effects on the US railroads and that was without the dropping of one bomb on the US mainland.

Road Transport

Equally problematic for the Germans were the loss of over 100,000 lorries and 200,000 horses between the opening of Barbarossa and March 1942. These losses were to have an impact against the chances of success some six months later at Stalingrad.

Some of the critical problems facing German forces in the east.

At Stalingrad the logistical nightmare proved fatal for the 6th Army. Firstly the railheads were some one hundred kilometers in the rear, this was even worse in the Caucasus where the distance from the railheads to the front was measured in hundreds of kilometers. Quite simply German forces could not rely on enough material reaching them at critical times. All this was due to poor planning in the early stages of Operation Blau. The original concepts were simple, go for the oil! But as the weeks of planning dragged by the operation grew more complex. An example of this was Stalingrad was not a priority target; in fact German forces were to cross the Volga north and south of the city in a massive encirclement similar to Kiev. By the time the preparation attacks for Blau began in May the whole offensive and its objectives rivalled Barbarossa in size. How were the Germans to succeed with forces less than was available twelve months earlier?

Soviet tactics in the latter stages of the battle negated German air superiority and of course the Luftwaffe never had enough aircraft to meet the ever-expanding demands of the army. Quite simply as the battle for Stalingrad progressed the Luftwaffe weakened by the attrition of months of campaigns could do little to halt the build-up of Soviet forces behind their lines.

The Soviet advantage of course was the fact they had a railhead on the eastern side of the Volga, which along with the massive concentration of Soviet artillery was a favourite target of German bombers. Along with the ferries across the Volga, the Luftwaffe pounded these targets, but never managed to eliminate them. As the battle progressed the Soviets were able to infest these targets with large numbers of AA guns making the Luftwaffe task much more difficult and deadly.

Often today the ramifications from the Soviet counter offensive at Moscow are discounted. Most markedly it convinced the Soviets it could defeat the Germans and while it did not achieve all objectives and proved to be most costly in the end the Soviets learned many valuable lessons.

The success of the Luftwaffe supplying trapped German garrisons was achieved at great cost and coupled with the heavy loss of transports over Crete earlier in the year, would have a fatal impact over Stalingrad. By the end of 1942 the transport arm was no longer strong enough to carry out such a task, a fact that had been long lost by Goring and Jeschonnek, despite warnings from Milch who was facing many hurdles in lifting German aircraft production just to replace losses, let alone expand the force.

The first time the Soviet air force attempted to directly challenge German air supremacy was in fact at the battle of Kursk. While the Germans did regain the advantage in the early stages of the battle the Soviet air attacks before Citadel kicked off, did disrupt German preparations.

Ahhotep I, Ancient Egyptian Warrior Queen

A stela at Karnak dating from the sixteenth century BCE gives us our first evidence of a woman proving influential in a military sphere: on it, Ahhotep I (c. 1560-1530 BCE) is described as `having pulled Egypt together, having cared for its army, having guarded it, having brought back those who fled, gathering up its deserters, having pacified the South, subduing those who defy her’. The tomb of Ahhotep II contained her now-destroyed mummy and gold and silver jewellery as well as daggers and an inscribed ceremonial axe blade made of copper, gold, electrum and wood; three golden flies were found too: these were usually awarded to people who served bravely in the army.

Unique epithets are given to her: ‘one who cares for Egypt; she has looked after her soldiers . . . she has brought back her fugitives, and collected her deserters; she has pacified Upper Egypt, and expelled her rebels.’

It is an extraordinary encomium for an exceptional woman. As well as recording Ahhotep’s role in governing the country, the verses more than hint at her involvement in putting down the rebellion of Tetian and reimposing law and order throughout the land. It is no coincidence that Ahhotep’s grave goods from her grateful son included a necklace of golden flies, awarded for bravery in battle (the fly was an appropriate symbol of perseverance). She was evidently a force to be reckoned with, and would serve as a powerful role model for other ambitious royal women later in the dynasty.

Ahhotep’s curious epithet, mistress of the shores of Hau-nebut, is particularly tantalizing. Much later, in the Ptolemaic Period, the phrase “Hau-nebut” was used to refer to Greece, and it suggests a connection between the Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian royal family and the Minoan civilization of Crete. It may be no coincidence that, in addition to the golden flies, Ahhotep’s burial equipment included two objects, a dagger and an axe, with characteristically Minoan decoration.  

The wife of SEQENENRE TAO II, who died in the campaigns waged to expel the Hyksos from Egypt, Ahhotep was one of the several powerful and determined women who exercised considerable influence in the New Kingdom, especially in the Eighteenth Dynasty, of which she was long revered as the ancestress. On Seqenenre Tao’s death his son KAMOSE succeeded; it is not known for certain if he was the child of Ahhotep. Although Kamose was instrumental in carrying on the war against the Hykos after Seqenenre Tao’s death, he did not long survive his father. After his death, Seqenenre Tao’s son by Ahhotep, AHMOSE, was proclaimed king. He was too young to undertake the full responsibilities of the kingship and his mother acted as regent until he was sixteen. Ahhotep probably died in the early years of her son’s reign; she was rewarded with divine honours and a long-surviving cult was established in her memory.


Archimedes (287-212 BCE)

Archimedes of Syracuse was one of the ancient world’s great scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. In mathematics, his work on geometry, particularly cones, spheres, and cylinders, was unsurpassed. He anticipated calculus and studied in depth hydrostatics, mechanics, matter, and force. He perfected the screw used in irrigation and solved many engineering problems associated with the use of the pulley, wedge, and lever. In geodesy, Archimedes estimated the circumference of the earth to be 300,000 stadia. Archimedes was the first to study and make an accurate approximation of pi.

Archimedes, like other ancient engineers, plied his craft in making fascinating inventions, particularly in military science. During the Second Punic War and the battle for Sicily in 212 BCE, the Romans laid siege to the Greek city of Syracuse, ruled by Hiero. Archimedes to apply his inventions based on research into the principles of mechanics to help defend the city. Plutarch, in his Life of Marcellus, described the fascinating array of military devices that Archimedes had invented. Although the Romans took the city and Archimedes was killed, they were astonished by the incredible power of Archimedes’ machines. Huge cranes were able to latch onto Roman triremes and pick them up and dash them against the walls of the city and rocks below.

According to the Roman historian Plutarch, Archimedes considered such work “ignoble and vulgar, ” and there is no mention of it in the fifty extant scientific works he wrote. He instead wrote about his fundamental discoveries in mathematics, chiefly formulas on finding the areas of various geometric figures and determining the volumes of spheres. But however disdainful Archimedes might have been about the practical uses of his scientific discoveries, he was a fervent Syracusan patriot. So when Hieron II, the ruler of Syracuse, begged his help in 215 b. c. e. at the moment of the city’s greatest crisis, Archimedes put his scientific genius to work in the service of war.

Syracuse, a Greek colony in modern-day Sicily that occupied a key strategic position athwart Mediterranean trade routes, had made the error of supporting the Carthaginians in their war against Rome. The Carthaginians were defeated, and now the Romans had come after Carthage’s ally Syracuse. A Roman invasion fleet of eighty ships showed up in Syracuse’s harbor to begin a blockade while some fifty thousand Roman troops prepared to besiege the city. Appointed general of ordnance for the city, Archimedes went to work. He designed a number of advanced war machines, including a huge swinging crane that hurled 600-pound leaden balls; rapid-firing catapults that shot bundles of Greek fire; and, if some accounts are to be believed, a system of giant mirrors that reflected concentrated sunlight to burn ships. For three years the Roman besiegers threw themselves at this array of military technology, to no avail: Roman ships were smashed to pieces and Roman troops were cut down at long range by high-velocity fire from catapults Archimedes positioned atop the city’s defensive walls. Finally, in 212 b. c. e., while the Syracusans were celebrating a religious festival, the Romans discovered an unguarded gate, and the city fell. Roman soldiers who poured through the gate found a half-naked elderly man sitting in a bed of sand, absorbed in drawing geometrical shapes. When one of the soldiers stepped onto the sand, the old man snapped at him, “Keep off, you!” Enraged, the soldier immediately ran his sword through Archimedes of Syracuse, then joined his comrades in an orgy of looting and killing that destroyed the city.

Archimedes’ Death Ray

While the name definitely hints at a common Steampunk/science-fiction trope, Archimedes’ Death Ray contraption has been the subject of innumerable historical debates that have either tried to prove or disprove its existence or at least effectiveness. In any case, the use of the so-called Death Ray mechanism was first mentioned by the historian Galens, 350 years after the Roman siege of Archimedes’ home-city of Syracuse (which in took place in 214 BC). Designed by the great Archimedes himself, the weapon setup possibly entailed a series of mirrors that collectively reflected concentrated sunlight onto the Roman ships. As a result, the concentrated form of light affected an increase in temperature, thus ultimately leading to the burning of the ships from afar (take a look at a modern ‘death ray‘ that aptly proves this phenomenon).

Now when it comes to credibility, Discovery’s Mythbusters already took two digs at the technology, and sort of disproved its potential. On the other hand, MIT conducted their tests in 2005 (by using mirrors in parabolic arrangement and a replica of a Roman ship), and they were actually able to set the ship on fire. However, in their case, the ship was stationery – which would have been impractical in a real-time scenario with the undulating waves and the ongoing naval maneuvering. But even this predicament was solved, when a Greek scientist named Dr. Ioannis Sakkas was actually able to set a moving ship on fire from a distance of 160 feet (49 m). He did it by distributing a total of seventy mirrors (each having 15 sq ft area) among seventy (or sixty) men, and the concentrated beam reflected from these individual pieces was able to set a rowboat aflame, thus possibly lending credence to Archimedes’ Death Ray weapon.

Medieval Campaign Organisation and Warfare I

William the Conqueror is probably the best known soldier and general of the eleventh century. The conquest of England in 1066 was not only a major historical event, it was also one which has stuck in the minds of at least the English-speaking world. William was a minor when his father died in 1035, and the struggle to impose himself upon Normandy was long and bitter. It was only with the help of his overlord, Henry I of France (1031–60) that the greatest rebellion against him was defeated at the battle of Val-ès-Dunes in 1047 of which we know almost nothing. However, the rebel leader, Guy of Burgundy, took refuge in the castle of Brionne where he held out for three years. Thereafter, although William’s position improved, the propensity for rebellion remained. In the wake of his capture of Tours in 1044 Geoffrey Martel, count of Anjou (1040–60), turned his attention to Maine, where the major city of Le Mans was captured in 1051. After the count of Maine’s widow, her son Herbert and daughter Margaret had fled to the Norman court, Geoffrey seized both Domfront, a fief held of the count of Maine by the Bellême family, and the Norman town of Alençon, offering as an inducement to their soldiers a licence to ravage in the Norman lands. William failed to take Domfront by coup de main and built four castles, probably earthwork and wood structures, to blockade it while maintaining an active posture which enabled him to rally his troops against an effort to relieve it by Geoffrey, whose forces retired intact and watchful. William now faced a difficult situation for their presence prevented him from ravaging. However, William had apparently kept a close eye on Alençon in the meantime, and, when he realised that its defences were weak, suddenly seized it, dealing so harshly with its garrison that Domfront decided to come to terms. The campaign certainly illustrates William’s generalship, with its tight control over events. It indicates how the castle and its supply dominated war yet not at the expense of mobility which was the key factor in William’s victory. It should also be added that Geoffrey was a good general, but here he was at the very edge of his authority, so his power was attenuated and his ability to bring it to bear without enormous effort limited. William’s own stabs against Maine failed for much the same reasons, until after Geoffrey’s death in 1063 when, taking advantage of the internal conflict then rending the house of Anjou, he advanced against Le Mans with fire and sword as described by William of Poitiers.

In the years 1051–2 there occurred a major shift in alliances in northern France. The Norman dukes had long been close allies of the Capetian royal house. William’s father, Robert I, had sustained Henry against the revolt of 1031 and in return the king had supported his son as we have seen. But the Capetians had also long been friendly with the house of Anjou, who had been their allies against the grave threat posed by the counts of Blois-Champagne, most recently accepting their conquest of Tours in 1044 from the Blésois.6 When these two allies quarrelled over Maine, King Henry supported the Angevins, posing a grave threat to William whose régime was still far from secure after his recent minority. In 1053 William of Arques, a great lord of upper Normandy with many allies, rebelled and his castle of Arques, newly built and well-fortified, was the focus of events. William’s men at Rouen, his principes militiae, tried unsuccessfully to interfere with the preparation of Arques, but when William arrived he built a counter-castle and settled down to a siege. King Henry led an army into Normandy, ravaging as he went, but was ambushed and, although he got supplies into Arques, his force was so weakened that the castle fell soon after his withdrawal. In the following year Henry tried again with two armies, one under Odo, his brother, striking into Eastern Normandy and the other under his own command, supported by the Angevins, advancing via Evreux. The duke adopted the classic tactic of shadowing his enemy, and one of his detachments fell upon French ravagers at Mortemer causing such loss that both French armies withdrew. The same tactics of shadowing the French, preventing them from spreading out to forage, were employed in 1057 and this time William fell upon the French and Angevin army as the tide cut it in two crossing the Dives at Varaville, causing very heavy losses. It was at this battle that, according to Wace, archers played a notable role. There is much to admire in William’s generalship in all these campaigns. He was a master of the contemporary techniques of war and succeeded in impressing his vassals and preserving their loyalty. Perhaps even more important is to notice the scale of effort which he managed to sustain despite his internal difficulties. He, and indeed his opponents, mounted major campaigns interspersed with sieges and lesser affairs over a period of very nearly ten years. This obviously says a great deal about the economic efficiency of the manorial economy, but it also says a great deal about the ability to organise, recruit and sustain armies. It is a theme not much discussed by modern historians of the period, but it was of course a vital skill in the circumstances of the crusade.

Even William’s admiring biographer, William of Poitiers, admits that he evaded battle whenever possible. Indeed, Varaville was the only occasion before Hastings when he engaged on any scale in the open field and it was then only in the most favourable circumstances. The qualification ‘on any scale’ is important, for there were many occasions during these years when there were fights, but they were of a limited kind which could only have limited results. In 1053 and 1054 King Henry simply absorbed minor defeats. William’s was not a technique without battles – rather he committed himself to a style of war which avoided heavy losses and conserved his forces, preferring the tactics we have noted above. In this he showed wisdom, for battle on any scale could be very expensive and was terribly hazardous. The battle of Cassel on 22 February 1071 was fairly widely noted by contemporaries. In 1070 Baldwin VI of Flanders died and the succession of his fifteen year old son, Arnulf III, who was supported by his mother Richilde, was contested by the dead count’s brother Robert I the Frisian, father of Robert II of Flanders who went on the First Crusade. Robert rallied support especially in northern Flanders and struck suddenly at Cassel where Arnulf’s army was concentrated; in its ranks was Eustace II count of Boulogne, a major vassal in Flanders and in England and father of three participants in the First Crusade, Eustace III of Boulogne, Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin. Arnulf was supported by his overlord Philip of France, whose aunt Adela had married Baldwin V of Flanders (1035–67), amongst whose forces was a contingent of ten knights from Normandy led by William FitzOsborn, a small force whose size indicates that the Conqueror, who had married Baldwin V’s daughter Mathilda, was very much more concerned with affairs in England. Robert seems to have advanced quickly toward Cassel, evidently seeing battle as offering a quick decision and needing to force it before the superior strength of his enemies could gather. We do not know for certain who held Cassel at the start of the battle, the details of which are largely lost to us. One source suggests that Robert lured the allies into an ambush by a feint, but beyond this there is confusion. What interests us is the extraordinary outcome of this battle. Arnulf III was killed and so was William FitzOsborn; Richilde was captured by Robert’s men, and Robert the Frisian was captured by Eustace II of Boulogne. Within a month the king of France had concentrated a much larger force at Montreuil and was ready to resume the war, but he was forced to recognise Robert who was freed in exchange for Richilde and was elevated to the county through the support of Eustace II. Baldwin of Hainault, the other surviving son of Baldwin VI, later unsuccessfully contested the county of Flanders, but was to die on crusade with Robert’s son, Robert II, in 1098. Robert the Frisian had had little option but to seek battle, for most of his support was in the poorer part of Flanders and his rival had powerful allies. The immediate outcome of his strategy was poor reward for his bravery, although in the long run the death of Arnulf opened the way for a favourable political solution. Over a century later the risks were just as great. In September 1198 Richard I of England (1189–99) fell upon the army of King Philip of France (1180–1223) as it tried to relieve Courcelles, inflicting a severe defeat during which the bridge at Gisors broke throwing the French king into the water where he ‘had to drink of the river’. Richard reported these events in a letter to the bishop of Durham which has a confessional, almost apologetic note, reflecting the hazards of resorting to battle: ‘In doing this we risked not only our own life but the kingdom itself, against the advice of all our councillors’. Such sober reflection from one of the greatest of all medieval generals explains why major battle was only to be undertaken in the most favourable circumstances, as William showed at Varaville, or for the highest stakes, as in the Hastings campaign.

Because of its spectacular and decisive results, Hastings is perhaps the most celebrated of all medieval battles. Certain aspects of the Hastings campaign need to be emphasised, however, because they illuminate the nature of war in the late eleventh century. In the first place the scale of the undertaking, requiring the collection and construction of a fleet, was enormous. The devoted biographer of William tells us that when his hero announced his intention of conquering England as news came through of the death of Edward and the usurpation of Harold, many advised him that such an undertaking was beyond the strength of the Normans and some seem to have refused to take part or promised, then reneged. Indeed it was a huge undertaking. William was obliged to consult with his magnates in a series of conferences at Lillebonne, Bonneville-sur-Touques and Caen at which they agreed to unprecedentedly heavy contributions to the army and, also apparently, to the provision of ships such as the sixty raised by William FitzOsborn. It seems likely that William established the number of troops which each lord owed him according to the extent of his lands, and then concluded agreements over and above such figures for the special circumstances of the great expedition. According to Wace, William FitzOsborn exhorted them to provide at least double their obligations and this caused anxiety amongst the magnates lest the increased contribution be seen as a precedent, leading the duke to assure them individually that this would not be so. Indeed, in one sense the critics of the expedition were proved correct, for William had to seek resources outside Normandy. The presence of Flemish, French and Breton troops in the host at Hastings, and afterwards amongst the new aristocracy of England, is too well known to need discussion here. The importance of Eustace II of Boulogne in the Bayeux tapestry testifies to this, and we know of the presence of soldiers from Poitiers. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio suggests the presence of South Italian Normans. This indicates the range of his recruiting effort. Wace gives some hint of the diversity of the Conqueror’s arrangements when he speaks of soldiers coming to him in groups and singly. ‘Many wished for the duke’s lands should he conquer England. Some requested pay and allowances and gifts. Often it was necessary to distribute these, to those who could not afford to wait.’ Overall some 14,000 men including sailors were mobilised, of whom something like 8,000 were effectives, including 3,000 cavalry. Amongst the 5,000 foot were a lot of archers who appear, from the Tapestry, to have been lightly armed, and a sizable corps of what William of Poitiers calls pedites loricati, heavily armed footsoldiers. In the battle the duke would find it convenient to divide his force into divisions of Normans, Bretons and French. This vast assemblage must have stripped Normandy of troops, but such exposure was possible because two inveterate enemies had died in 1060, Henry I of France and Geoffrey Martel of Anjou. The regency of France was in the hands of William’s father-in-law Baldwin V of Flanders. This huge force had to be concentrated near Dives-sur-Mer where the fleet gathered in the summer of 1066, and it had to be supplied, for William of Poitiers tells us that William would not allow the troops to plunder and so arose what he describes as an extraordinary situation: despite the presence of squadrons of knights, farmers could get on with their business and travellers come and go without fear, an interesting comment on contemporary chivalry!

This concentration of forces at Dives of some 14,000 men and 2,000–3,000 warhorses presented a formidable problem of supply. The task of feeding and watering them, it has been suggested, demanded 9,000 cartloads of grain, straw, wine and firewood along with eight tons of iron for horseshoes alone. They generated 700,000 gallons of urine and five million pounds of horseshit during their stay and this had to be removed. In addition there must have been many draught animals and indeed the Bayeux tapestry shows us military supplies being moved on specialised vehicles. Warhorses were very valuable and supporting sizable numbers of them was a grave problem. Recent research indicates that the breeding of specialised strains of horses was a great burden, requiring enclosed parks to isolate mares and suitable stallions in well-found studfarms. In addition, it must be recognised that in western Europe there were few ranges where horses could graze and that these animals were stall-fed with grain and hay. They thus competed with men for grain while for the provision of hay, meadows needed to be developed. This explains the contrast between the west where the development of bigger and heavier animals was a necessary consequence of this costly regime, and the east where the availability of ranges in Asia Minor and the Euphrates plain, as in North Africa, fostered the development of a lighter breed, though the progress of this distinction was limited in the eleventh Century. Supporting such animals was a major drain on the peasant surplus at the best of times. In conditions of war, feeding horses presented terrible problems. In August and September of 1914 von Kluck’s First Army, which marched on the right of the German attack under the famous ‘Schlieffen Plan’, had 84,000 horses consuming two million pounds of fodder per day, or twenty-four pounds of grain and hay each. Although they were advancing in a most favourable season the cavalry were tired by the time they crossed the French frontier and in poor condition by the start of the Battle of the Marne on 6 September. The lot of the draught animals was worse and the guns were badly delayed. Difficult as the conditions of 1914 must have been, they were infinitely better for the survival of animals than in the eleventh century. William’s concentration at Dives took place at a most favourable time of year and his subsequent deployment enjoyed good fortune. However, the crusaders faced much more difficult conditions and the state of the horses rapidly became a major preoccupation for the army, as we shall see. Once into the Anatolian steppe, animals were very vulnerable, and it seems unlikely that any western Europeans animals survived the journey.

Contemporaries were deeply impressed by the fleet which William gathered, and which is so graphically illustrated in the Tapestry. Its actual size was not definitely known to contemporaries. The ship list of William the Conqueror suggests that the Norman lords should have produced some 776 ships, and Wace recollects being told that the fleet which sailed numbered 700 less four, though he had also found the figure of 3,000 written down. It is not necessarily the case that the Norman lords produced their quotas and figures as low as 400–500 have been suggested, but most writers believe that a total of between 700 and 1,000 concentrated at Dives where the army was gathering. William of Poitiers tells us that the duke ordered that ships be constructed, but it is unlikely that a huge fleet could have been built in the period between the death of the Confessor and the landing at Pevensey on 28 September. The evidence suggests that the duke acquired existing ships, in particular hiring them along with mercenaries from Flanders. The greater number of them were merchantmen suitable for the transport of horses and supplies as well as men, though a number of longships and skiffs were undoubtedly included. The emphasis on shipbuilding in William of Poitiers and the Tapestry probably owes much to the excitement generated by this activity. But evidently William was pressed to find enough ships, for the Tapestry appears to show unseasoned wood being cut for shipbuilding. It seems unlikely that William had special transports made for his horses, such as those used by the Byzantines, for the Tapestry does not show anything resembling them and the written sources do not give any indication of such exotic vessels. By early September the concentration of forces at Dives seems to have been complete and the fleet sailed on a westerly wind for St Valéry where it waited fifteen days until a gentle southerly took it to England. By any standards this was a remarkable logistical and organisational achievement. It is important to recognise that while exceptional, it was not unique.

King Harold of England knew of the intentions and preparations of the duke of Normandy; indeed William of Poitiers records the reception given to an English spy. By May Harold set in train his own preparations, hastened by the raids of his dissident brother Tosti on southern England. His fleet was apparently slow to mobilise, but he may well have attempted a spoiling attack on William’s forces across the Channel, while on land his troops stood ‘everywhere along by the sea’ for the English had an efficient military system. This Anglo-Saxon fyrd was centred on the retainers of the king and the great thegns and perhaps some mercenaries, supplemented by shire levies whose localities provided them with support. The peculiarity of the Anglo-Saxon military tradition was the failure to develop any effective cavalry. Although the élite of the army rode to battle there is every evidence that they fought on foot. Thus, although they could move quickly across country, they lacked battlefield mobility, the key factor in the coming war. Then on 8 September the Anglo-Saxon fleet and army broke up, the former going to London with losses, because, as the Chronicle tells us: ‘the provisions of the people were gone’. It is easy to contrast this logistic disaster unfavourably with the triumph across the Channel. However, to maintain an army and a fleet as long as this was a major achievement, especially as considerable forces stayed in the north to guard against the threat of attack from Tosti and Harald Hardrada. Moreover, when Harold heard of the Norse attack on York, he was able to gather his army and strike very quickly, which suggests that not all had dispersed. Probably the extent of his demobilisation has been exaggerated and the best troops remained with him. Furthermore, the English fleet took to the sea quickly to cut off the Normans after they landed on 28 September. On 12 September the Norman fleet left its concentration area in and around Dives and sailed east to St Valéry, just as Harold heard of the landing of Harald Hardrada at York with a fleet of 300–500 ships reinforced by Tosti; they defeated earls Edwin and Morcar at Fulford Bridge on 20 September with a great slaughter on both sides and took possession of York. By 24 September Harold, after a whirlwind march, was at Tadcaster. On 25 September he marched his troops through York and surprised and slaughtered the Danish army at Stamford Bridge. Hearing of the Norman landing at Pevensey of 28 September, he turned his army south and after spending 5–11 October raising more troops in London, marched out to confront William whose spies warned him of the coming of the Anglo-Saxon army on 13 October. The next day the battle took place and Harold was killed. The organisational effort made by both sides in this summer of 1066 was remarkable and it points to the abilities of commanders. It was paralleled elsewhere in Europe at this time. The Norman conquest of South Italy and Sicily reached its climax in the years 1071 and 1072 when the major cities of Bari and Palermo fell. Bari was the last major bastion of Byzantine power in Italy and its powerful fortifications were deservedly feared. When Robert Guiscard began the siege on 5 August 1068 he knew he was starting a major undertaking and that blockade by sea was vital. In 1060–1 the Normans had demonstrated their willingness to take to ships with a series of raids on Messina which culminated in its seizure by a force which included 700–1,000 cavalry whose mounts had to be ferried across to Sicily. This successful lodgement opened the way for a conquest made easier by divisions amongst the three major Muslim Emirates. Bari was a much greater operation in the course of which a land blockade was established and complemented with a sea blockade, during which the Norman ships were linked together to form a barrier to penetration into the port. A Byzantine relief force did break in, however, in 1069, and a sea and land diversion against Brindisi was heavily defeated. However, the Normans enjoyed aid from Pisa whose fleet brought troops and crossbowmen for land as well as sea operations. The defeat of a major Byzantine fleet in 1070 opened the way for negotiations which culminated in a negotiated surrender of the city in April 1071. This long operation was then followed by the siege of Palermo begun in August 1071, to which the Hauteville brothers, Robert and Roger, brought a force of fifty-eight vessels. On land they built siege machines and on sea a blockade was established which was not totally successful for a North African fleet broke through to provision the city. However, in the end hunger brought the city to a negotiated surrender on 10 January 1072.

These remarkable operations in the south were paralleled as feats of organisation by the German expeditions to Italy. Documentation on the military organisation of the German kings is sparse, but the Indiculus Loricatorum is a list of the reinforcements called for by Otto II (973–83) after his defeat in 982 at Cortone. A total of 2,090 mounted men were called to service on the basis of what appears to have been established servitia debita which formed the recruiting base of the imperial army. On the marches of Germany a regular levy, the census, was imposed upon the Slavs in order to maintain the garrisons and military forces of their conquerors. In 1026 Conrad II (1024–39) undertook the expedition to Italy which led to his imperial coronation. It is not generally seen as a major military action but Italy was unfriendly. After the crowning in Milan, Conrad ravaged the lands of hostile Pavia, though he was unable to take the city. He had to put down a revolt in Ravenna before proceeding to Rome. The imperial coronation was brilliant, but afterwards a German and a Roman quarrelled over a hide and severe fighting broke out involving the entire German army. The ‘Investiture Conflict’ was a German civil war involving bloody battles in a land where the castle was emerging as an important factor. During its course Henry IV led several major expeditions to Italy including the siege of Rome in 1083 in which Godfrey participated when siege machinery, including rams, was constructed. The regularity and scale of the Italian expeditions of the German emperors made a profound impact on the emergence of the German knightly class, the ministeriales. In the twelfth century the codes which governed their conduct were elaborated, particularly with regard to their duties on the ‘complicated and onerous imperial ventures into Italy’, with both heavy fines for failure to comply and fitting out allowances payable from their lord. In 1154 the archbishop of Cologne required that all holding land worth five marks should go, and they were given ten marks for equipment together with supplies, horses and pay of one mark per month once over the Alps. In 1161 the archbishop sent 500 men at a cost of 10,000 marks.

The organisation of war was the primary concern of government, but even at its best it remained, by our standards, simple. In essence those who held land of the king owed service in one way or another and this obligation co-existed with an older Germanic tradition that all free men had a duty to serve the king in moments of emergency. We have noted the establishment of quotas in Germany and the same process was at work in Normandy, although it should be stressed that ‘feudalism’ was emergent in the late eleventh century and that as yet there was only ‘a tangle of incipient feudal customs, partly built up from below’.39 In any case, powerful rulers had sources other than nascent feudal obligation for the raising of great armies. It is now clear that paid troops had always played a major role, as they did, for example, under William Rufus. The distinctions between mercenary, endowed knight and household knight are not clear – those serving from obligation beyond some fixed period might well be paid, and there was a strong tendency to argue about how far obligations went. The aristocracy and the knightly class certainly provided a large pool of skilled manpower trained in war from which soldiers could be recruited. Moreover, it was upon the royal household, their wealth and their leading followers, that the Norman kings relied to raise armies. These professional groupings of household followers around the king – paid and aspirant, or endowed and paid and hoping for better – were what the king relied on for the core of his army and its command. In time of war such a body could expand and serve as the command force of a great army. Through them the sinews of war were channelled, for in the end it was money which made victory. Although such bodies, such military households, can only be documented from the early twelfth century, it is unlikely that they were invented – rather they must have evolved over a period of time. In 1101 Henry I negotiated an arrangement with Robert II of Flanders whereby the latter swore to be his man and to provide 1,000 knights in return for a fee. William Rufus almost certainly made the same arrangement when he met Robert in 1093. It is interesting that the treaty specified that each knight was to be provided with three horses. It seems likely that this kind of organisation was the secret of Rufus’s reputation for raising and paying armies. A medieval army was a composite of forces around a core of loyal leaders whom we can regard as generals. They were not merely military men; they also formed an administrative corps for the vital task of handling and paying out money. Clearly both William Rufus and Henry I needed such a body if they were prepared to take on large Flemish forces. Of course we cannot describe such organisation with any certainty outside the Anglo-Norman sphere, and clearly for Suger such capacity was a matter of wonder. What is of interest is that such capacity had already come into being amongst the Normans on the eve of the First Crusade; they were a major element in the army of conquest which Urban II called into being in 1095. This organisational development indicates the degree to which war in the late eleventh century was not a matter of instinct, of ‘kick and rush’, but of guile and organisation, in short of generalship. This explains the rarity not of battle but of battle on a large scale. They understood the context in which they were making war. To attack your enemy’s economic base, isolate his castles, starve his population, these were surer methods and more applicable to the usually limited objectives for which men fought. However, there were occasions when the stakes were so high that all had to be risked on the throw of battle, and on these occasions the men who directed things sought to ensure that their chances of victory were as great as possible in what was the most risky of all undertakings.

Medieval Campaign Organisation and Warfare II

Fulk le Réehin, count of Anjou (1067–1109) described how he fought his brother for the county over a period of eight years:

But still he attacked me yet again, laying siege to my fortress of Brissac. There I rode against him with those princes whom God in His clemency, permitted to join me, and I fought with him a pitched battle in which, by God’s grace, I overcame him; and he was captured and handed over to me, and a thousand of his men with him.

The repeated invocation of God’s name shows how few illusions Fulk had about the chances of battle.

Duke William of Normandy shared his wariness, but in the expedition against England battle was unavoidable. Its risks probably underlay the unwillingness already noted of some of the Norman lords to join in the enterprise. William’s attack on England enjoyed great good fortune. His preparations had taken a very long time, yet he found exceptionally good weather very late in the year for the crossing on 27 September 1066. In the passage from Dives to St Valéry his fleet had suffered losses, but none are recorded for the main crossing on 27 September and this suggests that the favourable breeze that day did not exceed Force 3.5, about 10 mph. In any greater wind his precious horses would probably have suffered losses for they were housed in ordinary transports, not ships specially designed for the purpose. It seems likely that he had sent out light ships to watch the English fleet and coasts and so would have known of the partial collapse of the enemy defences on 8 September and probably also of Harold’s march north. Since William seems to have been well aware of Norse interest in England and had encouraged Tosti, Harold’s estranged brother, in his attacks on England, this was not mere good luck. William’s diplomacy to isolate Harold had been intensive and he was able to unfurl a papal banner before his army. After landing at Pevensey William soon realised that Hastings was a better site, and moved there a day later. Immediately he began to fortify his bases, building castles at both to protect themselves and provide safe harbour for the fleet. At the same time he raided the countryside, a process shown vividly in the Tapestry. It is possible that this ravaging, in Harold’s own earldom, was intended to provoke the enemy into an overhasty attack, but the feeding of such a large host would have compelled it anyway. With a secure base William could dominate the Sussex coast, but in the longer run his situation was not very favourable, for the English fleet would soon threaten his communications which in any case were at risk as the weather deteriorated and the autumn storms blew up. William wanted a quick solution, as he had probably known all along; he needed to seek battle and to capitalise quickly on his strength and the high morale of his army buoyed up by promises of English land. On the other hand, he hardly dared risk deep penetration of an enemy hinterland where he would find difficulties enough later, even unopposed. But he was ready for battle. According to William of Poitiers, a Breton servant of the Confessor, Robert Fitz-Wimarch, sent a message warning him of the coming of the Saxon army and urging him to take refuge in his fortifications, but William rejected this advice eagerly stating his desire for battle. It was William’s great good fortune that Harold played into his hands, but this was a miscalculation brilliantly exploited by the Norman duke.

Harold’s victory over the Danes at York on 25 September was, by all accounts, a bloody affair which, coming on top of the losses at Fulford on 20 September, must seriously have reduced the available effectives in the Anglo-Saxon army. Traditionally, he is supposed to have heard of William’s landing on or shortly after 1 October and then to have been obliged to retrace his thirteen-day 190-mile march to London, arriving at Hastings on 13 October. If this chronology is in any way correct, then we can suppose that not all of his army came with him, for Ordericus says he spent five days in London raising forces. This may or may not be precisely true, but Harold would have needed some time to concentrate troops and surely no considerable army could have moved so far so fast. Harold then set off and reached Battle on the evening of 13 October. We do not know what his intentions were. It is possible that he hoped to take the Normans by surprise as he had the Norse and this was certainly what the Normans later thought, even fearing a night attack which caused the army to spend an uncomfortable and sleepless night. It is equally possible that he wanted to force William’s army to concentrate by its fortifications, cutting it off from food – a tactic we have noted used by William himself. In either case his error was to march as close to his enemy as Battle, a mere seven miles from the main enemy encampment. This was the edge of the wooded lands and he could go no further for, like all Anglo-Saxon forces, his army was used to fighting on foot – although its leading members travelled on horseback. On the open Downs such an infantry force could be cut to pieces by the Norman cavalry. The error was compounded because William pounced on it. For William had been at pains to keep a close watch for enemy movements – his emphasis on good reconnaissance was a life-long characteristic. Early on the morning of 14 October he marched quickly to Battle and deployed his army catching Harold unawares, as the Chronicle E has it: ‘before all the army had come’ and D more interestingly: ‘And William came against him by surprise before his army was drawn up in battle array. But the king nevertheless fought hard against him with the men who were willing to support him’. Florence of Worcester says that only half Harold’s army had assembled and only a third deployed when the Normans struck.

Harold managed to seize a strong position at the mouth of a funnel through the woods on the main road by the present village of Battle. He had a strong position for defence and his men were determined. But they had no way of attacking the enemy who could retreat easily and attack once more, unless they obligingly panicked. Nor could Harold’s forces retreat for the enemy were upon them. Harold’s impetuous rush forward meant that his army was immobilised, unable to go forward or back, and though it barred William’s route inland the initiative in the forthcoming battle would lie with the Normans. This is the force of William of Poitiers’s famous comment: ‘What a strange contest then began, in which one of the protagonists attacked freely and at will, the other enduring the assault as though rooted to the ground’. Moreover, there was an additional problem springing from Harold’s haste; his army appears to have had very few archers. This does not mean that they were without missile throwers – javelins, axes and clubs fly through the air in the Tapestry. But the bow outranged all these: it was a striking vulnerability, and William’s deployment was organised to exploit it. His army advanced in three lines with archers thrown forward, followed by armoured foot and then the cavalry. In addition his line was divided into three divisions, with the Bretons on the left, the Normans in the centre and the French on the right. In effect William was assaulting a fortress – the close-packed Anglo-Saxon and Danish infantry settled in a strong position on top of the hill. Of these many were professionals as well armed as their enemies, but as the Tapestry shows there were many lesser folk, lacking anything except a spear.

William clearly intended that his archers should weaken the enemy by their fire, probably from about fifty yards, protected from enemy sally by the presence of heavily armed infantry who would then charge in to the assault making breaches which the cavalry could exploit. The strength of the Saxon position and the effectiveness of their weapons balked the Normans. The cavalry then joined in the mêlée until, on the left, the Bretons were repulsed and pursued by the English: William rallied his men by showing them that the rumour of his death was untrue and they fell upon the exposed English with great slaughter. It was perhaps a result of this near disaster that William resorted to feigned flight, twice drawing out substantial forces of his enemy who were then cut to pieces. This attrition was reinforced by direct assault on the English position, supported by volleys of arrows. In his description of this final stage of the battle, William of Poitiers makes it clear that the English continued to fight hard but were gradually surrounded, losses forcing the contraction of their line. However, it was probably the death of Harold and his brothers which led to the eventual flight.

The battle illustrates the skills of a late eleventh-century commander. The marshalling of resources speaks volumes for the duke’s ability to exploit the peasant surplus. Many of the soldiers in the Norman army were paid professionals from all over France, and there were similar people, English and Danish, in Harold’s force. William sought battle, but he had obviously planned to fortify his bases and to live off the country. He kept a close watch on his enemy who failed to surprise him. Unable to advance or retreat, Harold was himself caught, on the morning of the 14 October, by the speed with which the Normans advanced and deployed, but he managed to seize a strong position. The Norman order of battle was well designed, for the assault and the mobility which had given them the initiative was used with skill to erode the English strength. A feature of the battle was William’s control of his army. He led by example, an essential quality of a medieval commander, having three horses killed under him, while at the same time supervising his forces and encouraging them even at the very end when some English made a stand at the Malfosse. Harold’s failure to await reinforcements meant that he lacked archers and so exposed his men cruelly.

The decisive arm in the battle was, however, the Norman cavalry. It was not that they could charge home sweeping all before them, for clearly they could not. The Tapestry shows them not so much charging into the enemy as jabbing and hacking at them. The mass charge with the lances couched, which would be the feature of cavalry warfare later in the twelfth century, was not a feature of Hastings: in the Tapestry some figures carry their lances couched, but for the most part those with spears jab at their enemies overarm or underarm, or even throw them, while others hack with their swords. The question of when this style of ‘shock tactics’ was developed, with riders én masse in close order clamping their long and heavy lances under their arms, has been much debated. It is now generally accepted that the technique was only in its infancy in 1066, but views of when it became a widely accepted method vary from about 1100 to the 1140s. Inevitably much of the discussion has been based on medieval illustrations and their interpretation, a factor which has also complicated discussion of the size of horses. However, the illustrations used too often show individual warriors and discussions have focused on these portrayals. In fact mounted soldiers must quite often have tucked their lances under their arms; it was a natural and useful way of using the weapon, though others could be just as useful as the Bayeux Tapestry shows. What was novel was the employment of this technique by large numbers in disciplined units, a matter on which the illustrative material is not very helpful. It would appear to the present writer that the First Crusade represents a critical stage in the evolution of this technique, as will be indicated later. The Normans who fought at Hastings probably owed their cohesion and discipline, which enabled them to manoeuvre as in the feigned flights, to long practice in fighting alongside their neighbours grouped around the local lord. This was not the triumph of cavalry over infantry as portrayed by Oman, rather it was the triumph of a good commander who used all the means at his disposal to break down a courageous enemy. His campaign was methodical and his battle formation well adapted for its purpose. The archers weakened the enemy and were guarded by heavy foot who then moved to the assault followed up by cavalry. The resilience of Harold’s force blunted this plan but William was able to extemporise the feigned flights which weakened his enemy for the final bloody assault in which, amongst the English, it seemed as though the dead as they fell moved more than the living. It was not the shock value of the cavalry which triumphed, but their disciplined mobility and courage. Unbroken infantry was always highly dangerous to cavalry. At Bourgethéroulde in 1124 some of the rebels rejoiced when the English king’s household troops dismounted, but the experienced Amaury de Montfort took a more realistic view. ‘A mounted soldier who has dismounted with his men will not fly from the field – he will either die or conquer’. At Tinchebrai in 1106 Henry I of England (1099–1135) dismounted much of his force and it was these that halted Robert Curthose’s last charge. Indeed, the value of infantry in anchoring a line of defence was always recognised – Leo VI ‘the Wise’ (886–912) had suggested that infantry be posted behind cavalry in the line of battle so that the latter could withdraw behind them if things went badly, and King Baldwin of Jerusalem (1118–32) would use just this formation at Hab in 1119. An eleventh-century Spanish Muslim writer, Abu Bakr at-Turtusi suggested a rather more complex though not dissimilar tactical formation:

The tactics we use and which seem the most efficacious against our enemy are these. The infantry with their antelope [hide] shields, lances and iron-tipped javelins are placed, kneeling in ranks. Their lances rest obliquely on their shoulders, the shaft touching the ground behind them, the point directed towards the enemy. Each one kneels on his left knee with his shield in the air. Behind the infantry are the picked archers who, with their arrows, can pierce coats of mail. Behind the archers are the cavalry. When the Christians charge, the infantry remains in position, kneeling as before. As soon as the enemy comes into range, the archers let loose a hail of arrows while the infantry throw their javelins and receive the charge on the points of their lances. Then infantry and archers open their ranks to right and left and through the gaps they create, the cavalry rushes the enemy and inflicts upon him what Allah wills.

In recognising the limitations of cavalry and the value of infantry we need to bear in mind that the horses used at Hastings were comparatively small animals. Recent research suggests that in the late eleventh century a horse of twelve hands was quite large, and one of fourteen or more exceptional. To put this into perspective, a Shetland is ten hands, a twelve-hand horse would now be classified as a pony, and fourteen a small hunter. These estimates are based on examining the representations of horses in the Bayeux Tapestry, particularly in relation to their riders. In the Tapestry all the horsemen arc riding ‘long’, that is with their legs at almost full-stretch and feet in stirrups fully extended, a configuration which gives stability. In all cases the rider’s legs project well below the body of the horse, suggesting a small animal. It is possible that this is an artistic convention but the story of Richard, son of Asclctin of Aversa, who liked to ride horses so small that his feet almost touched the ground is well-known. Moreover, similar representations are known in quite different contexts; an eleventh-century Spanish marble relief and the early twelfth-century Commentaries of Beatus (BM Add 11695) arc examples and many more could be cited. It is interesting that in the Aquileia mural of a crusader with spear couched pursuing and killing a Saracen, no difference in the size of horses is suggested, and this seems to be generally true of early twelfth-century pictures. William’s knights charging uphill against steady infantry must have needed good nerves and it is doubtful if they were aware of the ‘shock’ effect which later writers would ascribe to them. What happened along the crest of that hill where Battle Abbey now stands must have resembled the sixteenth-century ‘push at pike’, not the charge of some Hollywood Light Brigade. William exploited his good luck and, decisively, used the mobility of his cavalry with great skill. But the fact that cavalry was decisive does not mean that it was totally dominant, as later experience mentioned here shows. William was certainly careful to bring plenty of foot-soldiers with him. Battle was always chancy – William was able to rally his men against one early moment of panic which could have destroyed him. Once this crisis was over he held the initiative and could plan his attacks and he did so to great effect. Hastings was a decisive battle largely because the killing of Harold and his brothers, together with a large number of thegns whose deaths came on top of the butchery at Fulford and Stamford, deprived the Anglo-Saxon realm of much of its leadership. Harold himself paid the price for his folly in engaging too soon. Even so, the battle did not deliver the whole realm to William. He would soon be crowned, but it was only by terrible devastation in the north and covering the land with a network of castles that he was able to secure his hold. This process of conquest was greatly facilitated by the lack of castles in England. The English learned – Hereward built a castle at Ely in 1071 – but by then it was too late and William’s long war of attrition, which followed Hastings, was on the brink of success.

The conquest of England is not isolated as an example of large scale and complex military effort in late eleventh century Europe. Only a few years later Robert Guiscard, the Norman conqueror of South Italy, launched a great expedition to capture the Eastern Roman Empire. This involved the raising of a fleet and a great army which was kept in the field for some four years from 1081–5. Guiscard had been seeking a Byzantine marriage for his family and when his efforts collapsed be took advantage of the internal weakness of the empire in the early years of Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118). It was an extraordinarily bold act, for Robert’s brother, Roger, would not complete the conquest of Sicily until 1091, while he himself had promised to aid Pope Gregory VII (1073–85) against Henry IV of Germany. In these circumstances the Byzantines were able to create diplomatic difficulties by subsidising Henry IV, inflaming hostility amongst the many Norman leaders who had resented the Hauteville domination, some of whom were actually employed as mercenaries by Alexius, and by playing upon Venetian concern about a Norman dominion on both sides of the Adriatic. This diplomatic background severely hampered the Norman campaign. War opened late in 1080 when Bohemond landed at Avlona with the vanguard of an army 15,000 strong whose core was a purely Norman force of 1,300 knights. By 17 June 1081, after seizing Corfu, Robert and Bohemond were before Dyrrachium, the western terminus of the Via Egnetia, the great road to Constantinople, held for Alexius by George Paleologus. A close siege was established around Dyrrachium with the construction of a great leather-covered siege-tower. Against it, Paleologus built a tower on the wall equipped with wooden beams to hold off the Norman attack, and as the two towers engaged, his troops sallied out and burned the siege-tower. In July 1081 the Venetians largely destroyed the Norman fleet, and Guiscard was now faced with a strong Greek army under Alexius which by 15 October was close to Dyrrachium. Guiscard’s situation was now extremely difficult, his communications were cut and an enemy force was in the field. Alexius debated whether to attack, or to establish a counter-blockade which would starve the Normans. There was much to commend either course of action. The problem with blockade was that it would take time and Alexius had problems elsewhere, and it was probably because of this that he advanced to battle on 18 October 1081. Guiscard burned the remnant of his fleet, forcing his troops to fight. He seems to have surprised Alexius by leaving his camp early in the morning, so that it was captured by the garrison of Dyrrachium and other forces sent by Alexius. As the Greek army deployed, the Varangian guard, numbering in its ranks many Anglo-Saxons, prepared for action. Then they charged, contrary to Alexius’s orders and though they pushed back the horse and infantry under the count of Bari, they were overextended and defeated by an infantry charge in the flank. Many of Alexius’s compound force, including the Turks and the large Slav force under their ruler Bodin, then fled making no effort to intervene as the Normans fell upon Alexius in the centre. Guiscard’s victory opened the way for the fall of Dyrrachium in February 1082 enabling the Normans to advance via Deabolis to Kastoria in the spring of 1082. At this point Guiscard was forced to return to Italy by revolt in his own lands, fanned by Byzantine money and by Henry IV’s assault on Rome which Alexius had encouraged, leaving Bohemond to conduct a campaign whose immediate purpose was probably to secure a firm base for further advance. Although a number of cities fell and Bohemond twice defeated Alexius’s efforts to relieve Joannina the Norman expedition was now in difficulties. Bohemond failed to seize Ochrida and Berroea, while the fort at Moglena fell to a Byzantine counterattack. Skopia, Pelagonia and Trikala, amongst others, fell, but the siege of Larissa was undertaken late in 1082 at a time when there had been desertions and treachery in the Norman force. These symptoms of exhaustion prepared the way for Alexius to challenge Bohemond in the open field. His earlier experience had not been good. Anna tells us that after the defeat at Dyrrachium Alexius had decided that: ‘the first charge of the Keltic cavalry was irresistible’. In his attempts to relieve the siege of Joannina he used strategies to counter this. In his first effort he strengthened his centre with wagons mounted with poles, whose presence was intended to break up enemy cavalry assault. However, Bohemond was forewarned and attacked on the flanks. It was not a decisive defeat and the emperor returned, this time protecting his centre with caltrops, iron barbs scattered on the ground – but Bohemond again attacked on the flank. At Larissa in the spring of 1083, however, Alexius lured much of Bohemond’s force away from his camp which the Byzantines captured, thus forcing the Normans to raise the siege, although the victory left the Norman army intact. Bohemond was now faced with retreat and a discontented army which had not been paid and this forced him to return to Italy, while Alexius mopped up his garrisons. In the summer of 1083 a Venetian fleet took Dyrrachium and with the fall of Kastoria to Greek forces in November it seemed that the campaign was over. In the autumn of 1084 Robert Guiscard raised another army and a fleet of 150 ships. He defeated the Venetian fleet before Corfu, which he again seized, but his army was decimated by illness on the mainland and it dissolved totally when he died in July 1085.

Byzantine Horse Transport.

The Norman war against Byzantium was a long affair. It was almost certainly prompted by the weakness of the empire at this juncture, but Guiscard had underestimated his own problems and the range of his enemies, whose various attacks sapped his army. It became a war of attrition in which both sides were desperately short of resources. After his defeat at Dyrrachium Alexius had to resort to seizure of church wealth to raise another army. Bohemond, left in charge by his father, prosecuted a skillful campaign. The Normans continued to be a strong fighting force, but their two victories over Alexius were inconclusive, as was his sole victory over them. In the end, shortages of money and men were more acute on the Norman side than on the Greek, but it was a close-run affair. It is remarkable that the Normans of South Italy could sustain such an effort at all in the circumstances. Certainly the campaign made Bohemond’s name as a soldier.

The campaigns of William the Conqueror and Robert Guiscard were, however, somewhat unusual for the ferocity with which they were fought and the readiness of both sides to resort to battle. When the Conqueror died in 1087 he divided his land between his sons. Robert Curthose held Normandy and William II ‘Rufus’ became king of England. The third son, Henry, was given money which he used to found a lordship in the Cotentin. These dispositions were soon challenged by the brothers, each of whom hoped to gain the whole inheritance of his father. When Rufus died in a hunting accident in 1099 the youngest brother, Henry, took up the challenge with ultimate success, for he seized the English throne and then Normandy with the victory of Tinchebrai in 1106. In nearly twenty years of war Tinchebrai was the only major battle. In the first stage of the conflict, Odo of Bayeux conspired with many of the nobility of England against the king, and Robert Curthose sent Robert of Bellême and Eustace of Boulogne who seized Pevensey and Rochester. However, he failed to raise an expedition to support them and the plot fizzled out. In the next phase, William, with his far greater resources, set about seducing the duke’s vassals and thereby securing castles as bases. It was in eastern Normandy north of the Seine that William concentrated his efforts from 1089 onwards, building a strong position. Robert’s counter-offensive was supported by King Philip of France who, however, allowed himself to be bought off by William. In November 1090, the English king was able to take advantage of factional struggles in Rouen and all but seized the city. It was not until 1091 that William came in person to the scene of this desultory fighting and raiding, which were brought to an end in February 1091 by a peace between the warring brothers. This gave William a strong position in Normandy, in part at the expense of Henry’s lands in the Cotentin and inaugurated a period of rapprochement during which the two brothers tried to impose order in Normandy. By 1093, however, the two brothers were again at war and the following year William led a strong army into Normandy. This time Robert waged quite a successful campaign against William and his allies, seizing important castles and threatening his long-established hold on eastern Normandy, until Philip of France was once again bought off with English bribes. It was probably in anticipation of this campaign that in 1093 William met Robert II of Flanders and concluded a treaty under which the count of Flanders undertook to supply mercenaries to the English king. In the end, the English campaign came to a halt when Robert Curthose took the cross. Abbot Jarento of St Bénigne, the papal legate, then negotiated an arrangement whereby Robert pawned the duchy to William for three years for the sum of 10,000 marks. This freed Robert Curthose to join the crusade and provided finances for him.