German Army on the Somme

The Allied offensives of 1915 had been time-limited: two or three weeks at the most, with the final stages increasingly episodic, broken-backed. On the Somme “the enemy just kept coming at us, day and night,” with a “grim obstinance” as certain as the turning of the earth, and about as easily stopped. The French had always been formidable in the attack. The British were improving significantly. As battalion and brigade commanders learned their craft the hard way, their infantry was taking more ground and capturing more positions, albeit still at costs high enough and with fiascoes sufficiently frequent that the summer of 1916 is commemorated rather than celebrated in regimental histories. The decreased frontages and the limited objectives increasingly characterizing British planning after July 1 enabled an increased concentration of guns, the crews and commanders of which were also learning from experience.

German casualties increased exponentially. A single battalion lost 700 men in four days “under the violent fire of enemy heavy artillery.” Casualties of three and four hundred per battalion in a single tour were common; after two weeks in the line, the 16th Bavarian Infantry was down to fewer than 600 men, a fifth of its authorized strength. When the battle was at its height, two weeks was about the maximum time a German division could remain in the line before being “bled out” (ausgeblutet): no longer fit for combat. Even small-scale reliefs were risky, costly, and often random; a regimental sector might be held by three battalions from different units, entirely unknown to each other. Communications were not so much disrupted as suspended. Even deeply buried telephone cables were severed; dispatching messengers amounted to a death sentence for no purpose. The Allies increasingly dominated the entire “battle space.” Their artillery and aircraft were reaching well into the German rear consistently and effectively, disrupting resupply and reliefs, punishing local and sector reserves. Regiments pulled out of the line had minimal opportunities to rest, reorganize, and retrain before being recommitted. Fresh divisions—and these grew fewer as the summer progressed—were worn down materially and morally by the weight of Allied firepower even before being committed to combat.

Sustained Allied fire superiority made fixed trench systems increasingly vulnerable. It also made anything like a flexible defense of forward positions through temporary withdrawals an unacceptably high-risk option. Especially as losses were replaced by recycled wounded and inexperienced replacements, flexibility made demands the ordinary infantrymen could not predictably meet. On the other hand, disrupted organizations, ruptured communications, and the consistent Allied artillery superiority randomized counterattacks, reducing them to small scales, battalion levels or less, and making determination a substitute for both shock and sophistication. The British had a platoon-level technical advantage as well: the Lewis gun, a light machine gun that gave even outnumbered men in improvised defenses a useful plus in firepower and morale. Thiepval Ridge and High Wood, Longueval and Pozières, and a dozen other sites of memory and mourning were brutal mutual killing zones. A German officer spoke for them all when he described Delville Wood: “a wasteland of shattered trees, charred and burning stumps, craters thick with mud and blood, and corpses, corpses, corpses piled everywhere … Worst of all was the lowing of the wounded. It sounded like a cattle ring at the spring fair.”

On the Somme there was another common denominator: the Germans were increasingly failing to recover lost ground. Max von Gallwitz summarized the reasons: the defending units were exhausted; the counterattacking ones lacked relevant knowledge and training. Results in the French sector, though more or less lost to Anglophone history, were similar. In the process the innovators addressed two general institutional problems not originated on the Somme, but exacerbated there. Both reflected the Somme’s fundamental nature as a battle the German Army was visibly and viscerally losing. Verdun might be a meatgrinder, a butcher shop, a mill that ground death. But it was an offensive. The Germans set the agenda; the French responded. The Somme was exactly opposite. The Allies were the attackers. They kept on attacking. And from the beginning of the preliminary barrages, it was increasingly and unpleasantly clear from front-line shell holes to army headquarters that the Germans were on the permanent short end of a “materiel battle” (Materialschlacht) unprecedented in the history of war. No matter what resources could be scraped up and thrown in to balance the odds, the Allies seemed able to meet the rise and raise the stakes almost effortlessly. When on July 30 Max von Gallwitz issued an order of the day stating that the next assault “must be smashed before the wall of German men,” he was making an unmistakable point that blood must be matched against steel. The past six months made the probable results impossible to ignore. They also encouraged the questioning of military and national cultures of competence at levels and on scales no less impossible to overlook.

The relationship between soldiers and states has an elementary and significant contractual element. The state is expected to provide those who fight its battles a fighting chance—the best one it can. When that contract is perceived as broken, the “employees” may seek its renegotiation. The French Army would do this in spectacular public fashion in 1917. The Germans on the Somme were arguably a year ahead, using a different method: what the workers in Scotland’s factories and shipyards called “ca’canny,” or going slow. German intelligence calculated the Allies had thirty-four divisions in the Somme sector. The Germans had at best a round dozen. They faced odds—as long as no one checked official figures too closely—of almost two to one in infantry, one and a half to one in artillery, two to one in aircraft.

And on September 15 the Allies raised the stakes again. “The enemy…” recorded a staff officer, “employed new engines of war, as cruel as effective.” Reactions to the tanks varied widely, but of the more than 1,600 casualties taken by the regiment that bore the weight of the attack, almost half were listed as missing—and most of those were prisoners. This was an unheard-of ratio in an army priding itself on its fighting spirit. Was it also a portent? A division of the Prussian Guard, the Second Reich’s institutional elite, when ordered back to the Somme for a second tour in August, had its command declare the men were unfit for combat because of the nonstop British artillery. By early September an increasing number of regimental histories speak of having reached the limits of endurance under the never-ending flail of the Allied guns: “Today’s fire was the worst ever … The enemy artillery was firing brilliantly, directed from the air of course. German aircraft were nowhere to be seen.” This was death uncontrollable and unavoidable. These were men rendered helpless and out of control by the enemy’s technical dominance. In November a British battalion commander described the Germans as “very different Huns to fight than the Delville Wood lot. Boys … and oldish men. One of his soldiers, escorting prisoners to the rear, discovered that the original seven had become eight: “when he saw us coming along he [just] fell in.” Nor is it any disrespect to the battalion involved to describe it as “warriors for the working day,” as opposed to shock troops like the 29th or 51st divisions. What had happened in a matter of a few months? And what—if anything—was the remedy?

It is a trope, almost a cliché, that the German Army on the Somme suffered an irreparable loss of its best officers and men. The career professionals, the high-spirited volunteers, the shrewd reservists who had survived the earlier bloodlettings vanished into the mire of the Somme, never to be replaced. To a degree this narrative reflects a dominant aspect of German regimental histories: a tendency to construct their stories on a framework of inspiring leadership.

There were men at the front who saw the war as an opportunity to be reborn and remade in Nietzsche’s concept of the “overman” who might be killed but could not be conquered. These were few and far between. The men immortalized in unit histories are better understood as those who met situations while others followed or watched. This is a common, arguably a universal, pattern in mass armies on Western lines: citizen-based, where the ideal is the soldier rather than the warrior, where discipline trumps initiative, and where the average man in the ranks, in Kipling’s words, “wants to finish his little bit/and wants to go home to his tea.” In that structure leadership tends to be from the front and personal. Casualties tend to be heaviest among junior officers and NCOs. And when the agents, the actors, the visible ones, are lost—a near-inevitable reality, especially in the circumstances of 1916—they tend in any narrative to acquire mythical qualities. German accounts from the Somme for the summer of 1916 in particular tend towards a necrology of the irreplaceable. Thus an undistinguished and indistinguishable regiment of the line commemorates a captain “whose personality and powers of leadership were incomparable, a man apart in the way he rallied his men around him … He is not dead. He lives on in the ranks of his 2nd Battalion.”66

The prospect for relying less on individual example-setters than on the cooperative, integrated small group as showcased by the Rohr Battalion was still in experimental stages. It was questionable in any case whether the appropriate training and tactics could be generally applied in an ordinary rifle company, as opposed to an elite of volunteers and picked men. Prussian and German practice since the days of Frederick the Great emphasized a high general average in the ranks and among the units. The previous year had, as previously mentioned, been focused on improving those averages.

Taken together, Verdun and the Somme drove home the same point. German material inferiority was the crucial factor on the Western Front, unlikely to be altered in Germany’s favor by continuing the same policies and practices. The most direct and immediate prospects for a balance shift were specific and operational: overhauling structures, doctrines, and tactics so as not merely to take account of the new way of war, but to move ahead of the curve. Robert Foley describes a process of “horizontal innovation.” Its transmission system was based on the reports submitted by units from battalions to army groups. These were not narratives, but analytical, lessons-learned documents describing enemy methods and approaches, critiquing what worked and what did not in countering them. In the war’s early years they had been ad hoc, informally circulated. On the Somme they became a key intellectual force multiplier in a military learning culture that historically emphasized flexibility, independence, and sharing information and ideas.

In particular, German staff officers were not mere subordinate advisors. Nor were they responsible only for a specific function: intelligence, operations, logistics. They shared responsibility for making and implementing decisions. They were a small group, homogeneous in backgrounds and attitudes. Though not precisely a band of brothers, they were accustomed to working with, and getting along with, each other. Prior to 1914, unlike far-flung Russia, distracted Austria-Hungary, and imperial France, they had had a single dominant mission: preparing for and winning a specific kind of war. Within their limits they could and did develop and introduce specifics: how to fight and, in particular, how to fight on the Somme in the summer of 1916.

The Germans reacted incrementally, like a clever boxer being driven towards the ropes. They restructured an overstretched command structure, giving Lossberg and Below the sector south of the Somme with a new First Army headquarters and assigning the quieter zone north of the river to the Second Army under Max von Gallwitz, bringing his own trouble-shooter’s reputation from the Eastern Front and Verdun. Gallwitz also donned a second helmet as army group commander, responsible for coordinating operations in the Somme theater. Corps were reconfigured on the now-standard model of being responsible for sectors, with divisions rotated to meet needs and resources. On the tactical level, Lossberg responded to the disruptions of communications caused by Allied artillery and ravaged terrain by decentralization and simplification. Battalion commanders were given complete control over their sectors. Their decisions were final while the immediate fighting lasted. They commanded all reinforcements regardless of seniority. Division commanders played the same role two steps higher, exercising full authority in their sectors, over reinforcements and over almost all their supporting artillery. The latter, a sharp difference from the French and British norm of centralizing artillery command at higher levels, accepted some sacrifice of massed fire support in favor of prompt response to changing situations.

Historically, corps and regiments had been the German Army’s most important headquarters. Now they were becoming essentially transmitting agencies, responsible for forwarding reinforcements and supplies. This role reversal was correspondingly revolutionary, regarding significant attitude adjustments and serving as a useful litmus test for the flexibility increasingly demanded of senior officers in 1916. Reducing for practical purposes the chain of command to two links, each in full control of its sphere, also addressed a practical problem of implementing counterattacks. These were increasingly configured on two levels. The counterthrust (Gegenstoss) was the battalion commander’s province: an immediate, improvised exploitation of the structural confusion and emotional letdown that accompanied even the most successful attack. The counterattack (Gegenangriff), methodically prepared and systematically supported, was usually a divisional matter.

The new approach was codified in two manuals. Conduct of the Defensive Battle, issued on December 1, 1916, described a zone defense. The outpost zone might be as wide as 3,000 yards in open terrain or as narrow as a few hundred in broken ground. The battle zone was defined by a main line of resistance and a second line 1,500 to 2,500 yards to the rear, both as far as possible concealed from enemy artillery observers and in full view of their own. The normal deployment in a regimental sector of a front-line division was one battalion in each of these zones, with a rear battle zone, as far as three or four miles back, occupied by the third battalion as a reserve. Specifics were outlined in Generalizations on Position Construction, issued in January 1917. Overmatched sentries and outposts could fall back on a network of resistance centers, dugouts and shell holes held by a half-dozen men, and regroup for a counterattack. Should enemy strength and shelling make that impossible, the defenders could again fall back and then mount an improvised counterattack (Gegenstoss), supported by regimental reserves. Entire Eingreif divisions (whose mission was mounting immediate counterattacks against enemy breakthroughs against the Stellungsdivisionen—line-holding divisions) could be committed as well and if necessary stage a formal counterattack (Gegenangriff) with up to several days of comprehensive preparation.

Initiative, mobility, flexibility, counterattacks on an unpredictable schedule and an increasing scale—these were the keys to achieving the ultimate objective of restoring the original position. The battle was still to be fought for the front line, but no longer in it. And the ultimate option now involved a command decision. Was the restoration worth the price in casualties? The question could no longer be overlooked, either at the front or at home.

Lossberg’s innovations were sufficiently effective even when applied ad hoc that one of his junior officers nicknamed him “defense lion”—and even as a captain Erich von Manstein was not easily impressed. But an even more comprehensive example of horizontal innovation was developing at the other end of the German military spectrum, where Lossberg had a counterpart and counterpoint. Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen was a general staff officer assigned before the war to monitor aviation developments who became an enthusiast. In March 1915 he was named commander of the army’s field air forces, and since then had advocated enthusiastically for an independent air arm, on a par with the army and navy. Coming from a lowly major the initiative was quickly sidetracked, but Thomsen made his mark nevertheless on the men and organizations of his embryonic service. The year 1916 brought a spectrum of new challenges as the Allied air forces grew numerically stronger and operationally superior in the areas of observation, reconnaissance, and bombardment. Thomsen’s response was to concentrate the fighters. There were not many Eindekkers that spring—only ninety or so, distributed by twos and threes among the army cooperation squadrons. Initially they were grouped into ad hoc detachments. One of these became Jagdstaffel (Fighter Squadron) 2, under the command of Oswald Bölcke. Bölcke’s reputation as a tactician was already high enough that he had been tasked with codifying a set of guidelines for air-to-air combat. He proved no less able to impart these Dicta Bölcke to the men of his squadron. Bölcke was a supporter of concentrating fighter power. Most of his pilots were accustomed to lone-wolf tactics. But most of those who survived the summer of 1916 were able to see the advantages of cooperation in the face of superior numbers and superior aircraft.

The Jagdstaffeln, in contrast to their Allied opponents, did little escort work. They were conceived as an instrument of air superiority, to counter the observation planes so important to Allied artillery. At Verdun they managed to hold their own. But the demands of the Somme, where the odds were as high as four to one and the Allies dominated the air for two and a half months, stretched the new organization to its limits. As more and more fighters were sent north, by the end of October in the Verdun sector a half-dozen or so German aircraft were facing French formations of up to forty-five planes. The Germans responded institutionally at army levels by giving the aircraft and the ground defenses a common command and a common telephone network. Operationally, the practice of reacting defensively to Allied incursions gave way to an emphasis on carrying the fight across the front—a doctrine easier formulated than implemented, at least initially, given the odds.

Front-line squadrons benefitted as well from an improved training program. Nurtured and galvanized by Lieth-Thomsen, it also gained from 1915’s overhauling of the ground forces’ training programs. During 1916 it developed to a point where most pilots had sixty-five hours of cockpit time before being sent to the front and to a further one-month course in current combat tactics, taught by men fresh from tours at the front. That kind of instruction gave fledglings something more than an actuarial chance in their first crucial days and weeks on operations. And beginning in autumn 1916 they began gaining a technical advantage as well. For a year German designers, manufacturers, staff officers, and combat flyers had been developing and evaluating not merely a replacement for the Eindecker, but a successor. The Albatros D I was the archetype of future Great War fighters. A single-seat biplane with two forward-firing machine guns, fast and maneuverable, it entered squadron service in September and contributed heavily to stabilizing the air battle at Verdun and on the Somme.

What integrated and synergized these improvements and innovations was institutionalization. Thomsen, like Lossow, was a mere lieutenant-colonel. But for over a year his observations, recommendations, and urgings had proved too prescient to ignore. In October 1916 the Air Service—henceforth the words merit capitalization—was assigned control of all aspects of military aviation: production, training, administration, ground defense, communications—even weather research. The Air Service remained under the High Command, but each field army had an Air Service commander and the army’s air assets reported to him.

For such a relationship to function effectively, fog and friction must be kept to a minimum. The Air Service benefitted from arguably the best commander/chef team Germany fielded during the war. Ernst von Höppner had begun in the cavalry, served on the general staff since 1902, and since 1914 had been both an army chief of staff and a division commander. He knew the system, had the seniority to make it work, and was an enthusiastic advocate of military aviation. His chief of staff, not surprisingly, was Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen. In a relatively small service where everyone had started the war as a junior officer, it was easier to introduce and implement change and to react promptly to new situations. Air officers with field armies systematically submitted reports and recommendations. The Air Service, like its ground counterpart, also solicited reports from the front, and captains and lieutenants were more likely to be listened to than their counterparts in the infantry and artillery. Beginning in 1917, a series of manuals and instructions provided a clear structure of principles and doctrines.

The institutional result of all this was to enable the German Air Service to maximize its increasingly inferior material resources and hold the aerial ring until the war’s final weeks. The first effects would become apparent in the early weeks of 1917 during the Battle of Arras. That, however, left Verdun and the Somme still to be fought out in 1916. Verdun might have slacked off in its final weeks, with fighting becoming as routine as anything ever became at Verdun. The Somme was a different matter. At Verdun, the battle of attrition had been essentially a German initiative. If one emphasized lines on a map and overlooked strategic intentions and casualty lists, in terms of ground gained Verdun might even be claimed a victory. The Somme was an essentially different matter. On the Somme, attrition had been forced on the Germans. The lines on the maps had moved in one direction: backwards.

By the end of September the German Army on the Somme was showing fundamental strain. The artillery fired five million shells during the month. But guns were wearing out and fire control was becoming erratic. Casualties in the same month were close to 135,000—most of them, as usual, in the infantry but with a disturbingly high number of surrenders. In October and November the British were less successful in the center, but on both flanks the Allies pushed forward in the face of worsening weather, despite—and sometimes because of—depending heavily on divisions making their second or third appearance. German divisions rotated back had less time for rest. Their replacements were fewer, too often too old or too young. The mediatizing innovations on the ground and in the air were still in their preliminary stages. As Robert Foley states, horizontal innovations can improve methods—but at best they do so incrementally, as a blood transfusion rather than a cardiac stimulant.

Thiepval, as much a symbol to the Germans as Douaumont had been to the French, finally went under on September 27. Württembergers of the 180th Infantry had held the position on July 1. At the finish they held it still, as close to the last man as made no difference. But six weeks later, on November 13, the British 51st Division overran Beaumont Hamel, Hawthorn Ridge, and Y Ravine, also icons of the first day on the Somme, taking 2,000 prisoners including a whole battalion caught by surprise. In six days of fighting the British accounted for a total of over 7,000 prisoners. The First Army command blamed the defenders’ lack of alertness and awareness from divisional headquarters down to the rifle companies; the divisions holding the sector were relieved twice in less than a week.

An unacknowledged subtext of these and similar reports submitted as the year waned was that an improvised army led by amateurs was taking the measure of the world’s most professional and self-confident, not to say arrogant, competitor. A trope for German soldiers in the final weeks on the Somme might be the dead man seen with a prayer book in one hand and the other in a bag of grenades. On the other hand, there were lucky ones, like the messenger lance corporal of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment who on October 7, his third day at the front, was hit in the leg and spent the next two months in hospital with a million-mark wound. At the other end of the power spectrum, in December the German government called for peace negotiations. It may have been a trial balloon or a diplomatic feint. It was also a recognition that the balance of war might be shifting in the Allies’ favor—one corpse at a time.


Akkadian Military

Rear: Akkadian archer wielding a composite bow, from the time of Naram-Sin. Front: Babylonian foot-soldier from the time of Hammurabi. Ancient Warfare Magazine 2.5 by Karwansaray Publishing. Artwork by Johnny Shumate

If gods had transcendent powers, kings had armies, which they normally accompanied to the field in person. An important development in the Akkadian period was that Mesopotamian warfare was now waged much farther from the home base, whereas earlier hostilities were mostly between neighboring city-states. When Sargon listed his achievements in Enlil’s courtyard at Nippur, he singled out four: conquest, reform of administration, promotion of international trade, and the maintenance of a large, standing army. He alone, of all Mesopotamian rulers before or after him, states that he sustained 5400 fighting men every day in his service, so there was something new and important about this and the logistical support that made it possible. In the surviving art and commemorative inscriptions of the dynasty, military subjects prevail, though administrative documents dealing with military matters are rare or difficult to identify.

The armed forces consisted of several corps: archers, spearmen, and axe bearers, for distant, close, and hand-to-hand fighting respectively. Since spearmen could carry only one lance, to be thrown or thrust at close quarters, it seems likely that they also bore an axe or other hand weapon. They were backed up by soldiers bearing only axes. On his Victory Stele, Naram-Sin carries a bow, lance, and axe to symbolize the three main weapon types in his arsenal, but his men are armed more in keeping with reality. Immediately behind him march a spearman carrying an axe and two soldiers carrying a different type of axe and two standards. Next is an archer with an axe in one hand, then two men armed with what may be a throw-stick or a sling, carrying either short and long darts or a container of sling bullets. The soldiers at the head of columns are bearded, as was characteristic of the Akkadian elite; the men behind them appear to be clean-shaven.

The artist was at pains to differentiate the weapons. The Akkadian lances shown are of two types, one slightly longer than a man’s height and sometimes fitted with a knob at the butt end, the other shorter. The axes also vary: Naram-Sin’s has a narrow blade, an indented socket, and a point at the opposite end from the blade; the leading soldiers’ axes have blades more than twice as large as the king’s, set into a curved handle; other soldiers carry straight-handled axes. These distinctions perhaps represent specific contingents of the Akkadian army. The arms of the Lullubi foes are comparable, so the Akkadians were not shown as having superior weapons, unless the prominence of Naram-Sin’s bow is meant to suggest that Akkadian archery was superior. A general of archers appears among the Akkadian worthies for whom Manishtusu purchased land, and an entire team of arrow makers was maintained at Susa. The Akkadian soldiers have no body protection beyond their helmets, although in earlier depictions of soldiers they are shown wearing a heavy sash crossed over the chests. Their helmets are of two types, rounded and pointed. The former may be felt or leather, the latter copper.

The basic assault tactic may have been a triple shock: an initial barrage of arrows, darts, or sling bullets shot from a distance, then a charge of spearmen, who, once they had used their lances, wielded axes at close quarters, and finally a wave of reinforcements bearing axes. There is no evidence for the cumbersome battle wagons depicted in Sumerian art, although two and four-wheeled vehicles are known from Akkadian texts and from clay models. If in fact the Akkadian military did not rely on battle vehicles, this may account for the speed and mobility of the armed forces and their readiness to traverse rugged terrain, where no Sumerian army had ever gone. Enheduanna visualized an Akkadian assault in much the same terms:

I will aim a quivered shaft,

I will pour forth sling stones in a stream,

I will put some polish to my spear,

I will hold my shield and throw-stick ready.

Provisioning a field force of thousands in arid or mountainous territory presented a logistical challenge that the Akkadians met in two ways. First, they prepared for a campaign by acquiring detailed knowledge of the objective and its sources of water, as evidenced by a fragmentary itinerary carved on a stone monument, giving the precise marching distances between water-courses in the Khabur region. Second, they assembled adequate weaponry and food supplies, the latter in preference to foraging en route. Few records exist for this or tell where the arms were warehoused.26 A group of documents from Umma may record the provisioning of an Akkadian military force with large quantities of bread and beer, so Mesopotamian cities near troops on campaign may have been obliged to sustain them. At Girsu, 60 royal soldiers and a detachment of the “select” were issued five liters of fish and one liter of salt a month for three months, no doubt in addition to a basic food ration.

In the Umma records are a general (shakkanakkum), colonel or major (nubanda), captain (ugula), booty officer(?), the son of a governor in Syria (in training?), equerry, royal commissioner, door attendant, recruiter, courier, cupbearer, minister, quartermaster(?), šaperum with his clerk, quartermaster of garments(?), physician, porters, constable, an officer in charge of putting identification marks on (captured?) goods(? šaper ZAG.ŠUŠ), an ass herder, and an assortment of foreigners.

The Akkadian army was also accompanied by scribes, who kept the supply records (“scribe of the cupbearer”), counted the casualties, noted the names of high-ranking enemies, and perhaps sketched exotic landscapes, weaponry, military attire, and people for later commemorative purposes. A diviner consulted the gods for ongoing prognoses of tactical success or failure.

The king was supreme commander, the general the top field officer. Defeated kings and field commanders were recorded in victory inscriptions and depicted in reliefs. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, for instance, shows the enemy king in the top row, begging for mercy. Immediately below is probably his general of spearmen. Like the defeated king, he wears a special uniform, but carries a broken spear. Below him, the general of axe bearers also pleads for mercy, here from an advancing bowman.

The next command rank was the nu-banda, Akkadian laputtum, the officer in command of a battalion, likely of 600 men. At the town of Mugdan, near Kish, 90 iku of land (about 30 hectares), were set aside for a military force of unspecified size, commanded by a nu-banda. The leader of a smaller unit, such as a 60-man company or platoon, was the ugula, Akkadian waklum. The only reference to military organization is a comment by Sargon that he called up the nine “contingents” of Agade, implying that the military maintained muster lists of able-bodied men in the community who could be summoned to duty on short notice.

In the aftermath of a battle, it appears that defeated troops were stripped and executed or mutilated and enslaved. Beginning with the reign of Rimush, inscriptions specify how many enemies were killed in battle or captured. A relief, perhaps from the time of Rimush, shows the execution of unarmed, naked men begging for mercy. The enemy slain in battle were interred under a burial mound as a victory monument and a warning to the future. The Akkadian dead may have been included as well, or buried separately.36 Akkadian losses were never mentioned. A later poem about an Akkadian campaign refers to statues erected in honor of fallen warriors.

The king’s eyes and ears

If the divine warrior Shamash saw everything in the world, and all-wise Ea heard everything that was said, Akkadian kings needed the eyes and ears of others. Throughout the far-flung empire, a cadre of people loyal to the king watched over his political, economic, and strategic interests and reported on them regularly. Trusted officials traveled the realm to be shown resources, records, and livestock. When boats bound for the capital were loaded, for example, their cargoes were sometimes checked and sealed by a royal official who was not part of the local administrative hierarchy but an Akkadian notable. On one occasion a substantial stockpile of grain, silver, flour, and oil on an estate near Kish was shown to a royal inspector named GAL.ZU-sharrusin, who was likely an Akkadian notable. A royal inspector was also posted at the Akkadian center in Susa.

So important was inspection that it was sometimes carried out by a member of the royal family. Nabi-Ulmash, a son of Naram-Sin and governor of Tutub, made an inspection, as noted on a tablet from that city. An Akkadian seal may show a review of troops by a male kinsman of Manishtusu, labeled the “king’s brother,” although many other interpretations of this image have been offered. He is presumably the bearded figure in the center, with his hair dressed in the royal manner. Behind him stands the scribe Kalaki, owner of the seal, wearing a tasseled garment, while troops march by, eyes right and left. A chair-bearer accompanies the dignitaries.

There is no evidence for precisely how the king was kept informed, since no political or diplomatic archives exist from the Akkadian period comparable to the documents from Ebla. Naram-Sin states that he undertook a campaign after he heard of enemy activity, and he mentions that this enemy sent messages to “the lords of the Upper Lands,” but there is no indication as to how he learned of these matters. Letters were surely exchanged between courts, as known from the Ebla archives, but no Akkadian royal letter has survived or was copied into the later school curriculum. There are, however, later fabrications, some of humorous intent, such as a putative letter of Sargon, in which he summons an absurd array of court officials, but no soldiers, to accompany him on a campaign.

The sole extant letter addressed to a person at the highest level of authority is administrative, rather than political, in nature. Written in Sumerian, it concerns control of two parcels of land. evidently in dispute between two governors. Since an unpublished text records that Naram-Sin himself mediated a boundary dispute between two cities, this letter may have been sent to Sharkalisharri. The surviving manuscript is the file copy kept at Lagash, where the letter originated.

[Say to my lord]: This is what Puzur-Mama, governor of Lagash said: Sulum and E-apin, since the time of Sargon, belonged to the territory of Lagash. Ur-Utu, when he served as governor of Ur for Naram-Sin, paid 2 minas of gold for them. Ur-e, governor of Lagash, took them back. The consequence is that Puzur-Mama should [].

Of interest is the matter-of-fact tone. Like others of the Akkadian period, this letter offers none of the flowery salutations characteristic of later royal correspondence or even the blessings normative for private letters from the early second millennium on. Akkadian official written communication was apparently supposed to be a concise, factual, third-person statement, with a respectful request for authority or action. In rare instances, a letter of petition shifts to a more intimate second person, to add a note of urgency:

Thus says Iddin-Erra to Mesag: He has a remainder of 32, 425 liters of barley, plus 100,800 liters of barley that Ishar-beli gave him, total: 133,225 liters of barley. My barley is that very remainder, it is my barley he has. See here, my people are dying of hunger while even Gutians are receiving grain rations! My lord knows this. May he quickly do what is right. [So], my lord, do take (this matter) in hand!

But it may be that in oral communication artistry was more valued and expected. To judge from later asides to the scribes who were to read correspondence aloud, a letter such as Puzur-Mama’s may have served as an aide-mémoire for a fuller, more oratorical presentation of the message, the tablet itself proof that the speaker represented the petitioner. Support for this view may be provided by later scribal exercises in writing letters or prayers of petition. These often open with elaborate, carefully written salutations appealing to the specific aspects of the addressee’s powers that the writer wishes to call upon, and close with expressions of hope and blessing. Therefore one may wonder if Puzur-Mama’s letter was in fact presented more eloquently in oral form, with the speaker standing in a prayerful stance and embellishing the spare language of his brief in accordance with court etiquette.

In fact, the ideal spokesman for the king is described in the hymn about Nippur as a man who knows the royal will without a word being said:

His sublime courier, …, who relays his commands,

The command already spoken in his heart

He knows from it directly, he heeds it well.

He takes out with him his comprehensive will,

He seeks his blessing in reverent prayer, in solemn duty.

Transmission of commands was the task of a network of inter-city messengers, called riders or couriers, who could expect to receive food and lodging from local authorities along the way. What credentials they offered besides the documents they carried is unknown. A tablet with a seal impression or just a name on it may have served as a kind of introduction or passport; such tablets have turned up in administrative archives. On the community level criers or heralds were used.

Iowa (1943)

The profile shows USS Missouri as it appeared in 1944–45. It was on board Missouri that the Japanese surrender was formally signed on 2 September 1945, ending World War II.

Lead-ship of the US Navy’s last and largest class of battleships, pennant number BB61, Iowa was planned and built as a ‘supership’, to have a combination of armament, speed and armour superior to the best of any other nation.

The US Congress authorised the building of six large, fast battleships in 1938, but preliminary design work had already been going on for three years. In the event only four were constructed, Iowa, Misssouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Work began at the New York Navy Yard on 27 June 1940, it was launched on 27 August 1942 and commissioned on 22 February 1943 – a remarkably short period for the first capital ship of a new design. Building cost was slightly over $100 million.

The four Iowa class ships differed from the preceding South Dakota class in significant ways. Armour protection was external and kept flush with the hull to reduce drag. The relation of beam to length was smaller – maximum width was governed by the requirement that the ship should fit the Panama Canal locks. Almost 9072 tonnes (10,000 tons) heavier than South Dakota, these were the fastest battleships the world had seen, with a speed of 33 knots, enabling all four to form a fast division.

Instead of independently mounted masts the foremast was attached to an upper level of the tower, and the aftermast was mounted on the aft funnel. Originally both were of pole form, but the aftermast, heightened in 1945, was replaced by a cantilevered tripod in 1948. In 1958 a pole mast was added to operate a derrick, following the removal of the aircraft crane.

Anti-aircraft defences

By the time Iowa entered service, the vulnerability of capital ships to air attack was very well known to the Allied forces. Consequently a massive battery of AA guns was fitted. A length 48.5m (159ft) greater than South Dakota allowed for more mountings, and the extra 8164 tonnes (9000 tons) provided a more substantial platform. In 1943 it carried 80 40mm (1.6in) Bofors guns and 49 20mm (0.79in) AA Oerlikon cannon mounted on both sides of the superstructure. Three reconnaissance floatplanes were carried, launched from two stern-mounted catapults. Also vital was the radar detection equipment. In 1943 SK and SRA aerials were fitted on the foremast and in 1945 type SK-2 was added, with type SC-2 on the aft mast. Further additions followed, with necessary alterations to the mast configurations.

Battleship Division 7

After training off Newfoundland from August to October 1943 in anticipation of an action against Tirpitz (which never happened), in November Iowa carried President Roosevelt across the Atlantic to Casablanca for the first Teheran conference with Churchill and Stalin. From 2 January 1944 it was in the Pacific, as flagship of Battleship Division 7, operating as escort to carrier groups and support for amphibious operations, seeing action at Guam, the Marshall Islands, in the Philippine Sea with Fast Carrier Task Force 58 and off Luzon and Formosa. In March it took some hits from Japanese coastal batteries on Mili Atoll, and a propeller shaft was damaged by Typhoon Cobra on 15 December. From 15 January to 19 March 1945 it underwent a refit at Hunters Point Yard, San Francisco, before returning to active service at Okinawa from April to June. During July and August its 406mm (16in) guns shelled positions on the Japanese mainland, and it arrived off Tokyo on 29 August,15 days after the Japanese ceased hostilities, to serve as Admiral Halsey’s flagship for the formal surrender on 2 September.

After 1945 there was much debate about the future role of the Iowa class ships. Their speed in particular kept them viable while many other battleships were mothballed or scrapped. All were fitted with modernised bridges and other modifications were made, primarily to accommodate new radar equipment. Iowa was flagship of the Fifth Fleet in 1945–46. From 24 March 1949 to 25 August 1951 it was put in reserve, then with the outbreak of the Korean War returned to action, relieving and supporting army units off the coast of Korea and shelling shore positions.

Nuclear capability

In October 1952 it underwent a refit at Norfolk Navy Yard, following which it remained on the eastern side with the Atlantic Fleet. In 1954 the four ships of the class formed Battleship Division 2. Iowa also served from January–April 1955 as flagship of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. As the Cold War with Soviet Russia intensified from the mid-1950s, Iowa and Wisconsin were equipped with shells carrying nuclear warheads with an explosive force equal to that of the Hiroshima atom bomb.

Decommissioned on 24 February 1958, it remained on reserve at Philadelphia until 1984, when President Reagan’s enlarged Navy policy restored it to service on 28 April. At this time the now-obsolete AA armament was removed and new weapons fitted, including four MK 141 quad cell launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, mounts for 32 BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles and four Phalanx CIWS Gatlings for anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence. Eight Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) replaced the spotting helicopters which themselves had replaced floatplanes. Iowa served in the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War of 1987, but its return to service was cut short by an explosion in No.2 turret on 19 April 1989, which killed 47 men. Finally decommissioned in 1990 and struck from the Naval Register in 1995, it was nominally reinstated between 1999 and 17 March 2006. It is now a museum ship at the Port of Los Angeles.



Length 270.4m (887ft 2in), Beam 33.5m (108ft 3in), Draught 11.5m (38ft), Displacement 47,173 tonnes (52,000 tons); 52,118 tonnes (57,450 tons) full load


8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 4 GE steam turbines developing 158,088kW (212,000hp), 4 screws


9 406mm (16in) guns in 3 turrets, 20 127mm (5in) guns, 60 40mm (1.6in) 4-barrelled AA guns


Belt 310mm (12.2in), Barbettes 440–287mm (17.3–11.3in), Turret faces 500mm (19.7in), Deck 152mm (6in)


3, replaced by helicopters (1949) and UAVs (1984)


23,960km (12,937nm) at 12 knots


33 knots



Kearsarge (1900)

Kearsarge in its original appearance. The two double turrets, fore and aft, turned as one. The secondary battery, amidships, is prominent.

Bearing an already-famous name, Kearsarge as a member of President Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Great White Fleet’ became one of the best-known of American warships. But it also had a valuable later incarnation.

The first Kearsarge, a screw sloop, sank the Confederate commerce raider Alabama in the American Civil War on 19 June 1864. The next, BB-5 on the Navy List, was laid down on 30 June 1896 at Newport News Shipbuilding Co., launched on 24 March 1898, and completed on 20 February 1900. It cost $1,849,380.

The freeboard was 0.9m (3ft) higher than Indiana, showing that some lessons were being learned, but its nominal coal capacity was still only 453 tonnes (500 tons). The side armour was thickened to 381mm (15in) and the armoured deck sloped downwards towards the ends from the top of the main belt.

A long central casemate carried seven 127mm (5in) American-built guns on each side: its 152mm (6in) ‘Harveyised’ steel armour was intended to resist 152mm (6in) enemy shells fired from 914m (1000yd). Splinter bulkheads of 50mm (2in) steel separated each gun compartment within the casemate.


Among the ship’s innovations was 102mm (4in) bow armour. Another was the mounting of a powerful secondary armament, consisting of four 203mm (8in) guns. Their turrets were placed directly on top of the 330mm (13in) main turrets. While it resolved the problem of where to put them, it meant that both turrets could not fire at the same time. The advantages were a shared barbette and hoisting trunk, and control of both turrets by a single officer. But the disadvantages included heavy weight on the main turret bearings and the likelihood of all forward guns being put out of action by one hit. Though light guns would often be placed on heavy turrets in the future, the experiment of double-deck heavy and semi-heavy guns was not to be repeated. There had been ‘a long, scientific and sometimes acrimonious discussion’ (according to a contemporary newspaper) debate in Navy circles about the placing, as well as of the respective merits and deficiencies of 305mm (12in) and 330mm (13in) guns. But the bigger gun had a punch that was estimated by the Bureau of Ordinance as 30 per cent more powerful (the weight of a shell rises at least the cube of the increase in calibre) and in tests the 330mm (13in) gun pierced 356mm (14in) armour at 1372m (1500yd) while the 305mm (12in) shells failed to break through. To many foreign observers, American battleships continued to be over-gunned for their size. Kearsarge presented a rather austere appearance, with the long blank sides of the casemate and two tall thin funnels between pole masts.


American naval tradition fondly remembered the heavily armed frigate, packing a big punch within a relatively small hull, but more up-to-date considerations weighed with the naval planners. Relations with Mexico and other American states were of more concern than global strategy in 1900, and it was to make operations in shallow waters off Mexico possible that Kearsarge’s draught was limited to 7.16m (23ft 6in); though fully loaded, including coal to its maximum capacity of 1442 tonnes (1590 tons), the ship would undoubtedly have exceeded that. The restriction of draught was ultimately lifted, but it contributed to the double-turret design, as an attempt to save overall weight even if it imposed a heavy strain on the hull at these points. It was not until the 18,143 tonne (20,000 tons) Delaware class, laid down in 1907 and completed in 1910, that the draught of a US Navy battleship exceeded 7.47m (24ft 6in).

Years of activity

Kearsarge (incidentally the only US battleship not to be named after a State of the Union) was deployed as flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron. In the summer of 1903 it served as flagship of a special squadron on a goodwill visit to European countries, including Great Britain and Germany. On 1 December it left New York for Guantanamo, Cuba, for the formal handover of the US base there. Further goodwill visits were to Spain and Greece in June–July 1904. USS Maine took over as Atlantic flagship on 31 March 1905 but Kearsarge remained with the fleet until joining the ‘Great White Fleet’ which showed the American flag (and America’s new naval strength) around the world between 16 December 1907 and 22 February 1909.

In September 1909 a long modernisation process was begun at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and Kearsarge was not back in commission until 23 June 1915, again with the Atlantic Fleet, landing marines at Veracruz, Mexico, during an operation between 28 September 1915 and 5 January 1916. On reserve from 4 February until April 1917, it then served as a training ship while also patrolling the east coast between Massachusetts and Florida.

New role

On 10 May 1920 Kearsarge was decommissioned and work began on converting it into a crane ship, its superstructure replaced by a giant 226-tonne (250 tons) revolving crane for dockyard work and salvage. ‘Blisters’ were built on to the hull to improve stability when lifting. In this capacity it raised the sunken submarine Squalus which had foundered off the New Hampshire coast on 23 May 1939. The name was transferred on 6 November 1941 to a new aircraft carrier, but as Crane Ship No. 1 it continued to serve after 1945, first at San Francisco, then at Boston, where it was finally struck on 22 June 1955, and sold for scrap on 9 August that year.



Length 114.4m (375ft 4in), Beam 22.02m (72ft 3in), Draught (as designed) 7.16m (23ft 6in), Displacement 10,469 tonnes (11,540 tons)


2 vertical triple expansion engines, 7457kW (10,000hp), 2 screws


4 330mm (13in) guns, 4 203mm (8in) guns, 4 152mm (6in) guns, 20 6-pounder and 8 1-pounder guns, 4 457mm (18in) torpedo tubes


Main belt 419–127mm (16.5–5in), Barbettes 381–318mm (15–12.5in), Main turrets 432-381mm (17–15in), Upper 279–15mm (11–6in), Conning tower 254mm (10in)


5556km (3000nm) at 10 knots


16 knots



France and England Clash in Canada

Battle of Quebec 13th September 1759 in the French and Indian War or the Seven Years War

France and England (after 1707, Great Britain) fought four major wars in North America either alone or in conjunction with allies. The first was the war of the League of Augsburg (also known as King William’s War), which broke out in 1689 and ended with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. The next was the War of the Spanish Succession, waged between 1702 and 1713, followed by the War of the Austrian Succession (1744–48). The final conflict was the Seven Years’ War (known in the United States as the French and Indian War), which started in North America in 1754 and ended with the withdrawal of France from virtually all of the continent in 1763. For almost the entire time between the mid-1600s and 1763, a vicious war of raids, ambushes, no quarter and no prisoners, was fought along the border between New France and the English colonies. Throughout that time, a few companies of French regular soldiers, the New France militia, and the Compagnies franches de la Marine (as well as New France’s aboriginal allies) constituted the French fighting force in America.

What Britain would call the Seven Years’ War began deep in the North American interior in the late spring of 1754, when a small expedition of Virginia militia, led by George Washington, ventured west across the Allegheny Mountains. They were determined to expunge the French presence in the Ohio River Valley as a prelude to both settlement and land speculation. Beginning in the 1680s, French explorers had mapped out a great Y-shaped empire in the interior. In the northeast, Quebec stood as the major entrepôt and military guardian of French interests in America. In the far south, at the mouth of the Mississippi, Louisiana and the post of New Orleans, on Lake Pontchartrain, gave France internal access to the Gulf of Mexico. To the far northwest, Fort Rouge (later Winnipeg) put French traders on the doorstep to the fur-rich lands of Saskatchewan, bypassing the English posts on Hudson Bay. On the southeast coast of Cape Breton, the fortified seaport of Louisbourg, with its massive stone fort built after the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession, stood guard over the sea approaches to Quebec. New Englanders saw Louisbourg as a mortal threat to their trade and their lives and chafed for opportunities to crush it. And at virtually all the junctions of the great river roads that linked this vast empire in the continental interior stood French forts. They were mostly crudely built and manned by but a handful of regulars or marines. Their major source of strength was not their walls or their soldiers, but the strong ties they had established over decades with the powerful Indian nations who ruled the land from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Plains.

George Washington intended to begin unravelling this network of furs, trade, and Indian alliances at a point he thought vulnerable, virtually at its centre. However, his expedition was a disaster, and the French quickly sent him and his irregulars packing, back across the mountains. Washington and other American colonists had had enough of French border raids, French rule over the interior water-ways, French sway over the Indians, and the French threat posed by Louisbourg. They were determined to launch a new foray, this time with considerable support from Britain. Colonial entreaties to London were answered when the British sent General Edward Braddock and a contingent of regular troops to try again to attack the French in the Ohio Valley in the summer of 1755. Braddock led an expedition to take Fort Duquesne, at the forks of the Ohio, but he was killed and his contingent routed. The French then responded to the reinforcement of British troops in North America with reinforcements of their own regular troops from overseas.

In May 1755, four battalions of French regulars arrived at Quebec and two at Louisbourg. These troops were the first formal regiments of the French army to arrive in Canada since the departure of the Carignan-Salières. Over the next three years (war between Britain and France on the European continent officially broke out in 1756) six more regiments arrived, along with Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, Marquis de Montcalm, a professional soldier with long experience in European positional warfare, with its well-drilled infantry, formal approaches to the battlefield, and lines of soldiers engaging in mass volleys of fire. Montcalm and the regulars were sent not so much to bolster the marines and militia of New France, but to take over the war effort. As thousands of redcoats debarked along the Atlantic seaboard and hundreds of Royal Navy warships arrived in Atlantic waters, France was getting the unmistakable message that this fourth war for the continent could well be the last.

The twelve battalions of troupes de terre from the Régiments La Reine, Guyenne, Béarn, Languedoc, Bourgogne, Artois, Royal Roussillon, La Sarre, Berry, Cambis, and Volontaires-Étrangers were the equal of any similar contingent of European regular soldiers of that era. The rank and file were a collection of young adventurers, former serfs, and the dregs of French ports and cities, as well as a handful of the newly emerging middle class, who saw the army as a potential ladder of upward mobility. The officer corps were a mixed bag. Some were young men from noble families whose commissions were largely purchased and whose military skills were minimal. Others had received formal military training and their rank was based on ability and accomplishment. The troops included no cavalry contingent, some artillery, but mostly heavy infantry, armed with swords and muskets fitted with bayonets, who carried heavy packs of hardtack, beer, ammunition, and powder while in the line of march. They were subject to harsh discipline. They drilled, trained, marched, and manoeuvred with but a single objective—to stand shoulder to shoulder at distances as close as 50 metres to the enemy’s line and fire mass volleys of lead balls at the men opposite. The nature of the principal weaponry of the day—the long-barrelled musket, made even longer by the bayonet—dictated this tactic. This single-shot flintlock firearm could not be easily reloaded from a prone position, or fired accurately. Besides, accuracy was a moot point so close to the enemy. It wasn’t a case of hit or miss but rather of standing in place in the face of withering volleys, firing, reloading, and firing again, without breaking. In such a fashion a line of infantry could shoot thousands of rounds right at the enemy several times in a minute.

The British gained the initial strategic successes on the Atlantic seaboard. British troops captured Fort Beauséjour, in Acadia, in June 1755 and Louisbourg in July 1758. In the latter campaign they mustered 27,000 men, both regulars and colonial militia, and 157 ships to fight 7,500 French soldiers, sailors, and marines. With the fort surrounded and British artillery able to bombard the position virtually at will from surrounding heights, the outcome was inevitable: the French were chased from the Maritimes. But French forces more than held their own in the first years of fighting in the forests and among the lakes and rivers of the interior. In August 1757 they captured Fort Ontario at Oswego, New York, and secured control of Lake Ontario. A year later they besieged and captured Fort William Henry on Lake George, New York, giving them virtual domination over the route from the Hudson River Valley to the St. Lawrence. Although the militia and France’s Indian allies greatly aided in the campaign, the brunt of the fighting was done by the French regulars. As late as 1758 Montcalm was pleased with their successes and reported that their discipline was excellent.

But 1758 was also the nadir of French success in the war. Despite their short internal lines of communication, along the great rivers from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi to the Missouri, and the staunchness and fighting quality of their aboriginal allies, the French were in a precarious position. The Royal Navy ruled the Atlantic and the approaches to Louisiana, Louisbourg, and Quebec. The entire population of New France numbered barely sixty thousand, while the British colonies were already over a million. Even under the best of circumstances the French could never conquer the British in North America, whereas it was entirely feasible that the opposite might happen. Finally, Britain—strongly supported by its colonists—had had enough of the French sitting astride their potential routes of expansion into the west, terrorizing their frontiers, and threatening their trade on the east coast. The British poured tens of thousands of regular troops across the Atlantic, while the colonies raised tens of thousands more. By 1759 an estimated fifty thousand troops carried the British colours in the field, an extraordinary number for North America. No matter how well the French fought, no matter how good they were, superior numbers created a strategic advantage all its own.

In 1758 British forces captured and destroyed Fort Frontenac, near present-day Kingston. France’s aboriginal allies in the Ohio country decided to make a separate peace with the obviously superior British army, forcing the French to abandon Fort Duquesne. With the interior cleared and Louisbourg gone, the British launched three major attacks on the heartland of New France—the area between Montreal and Quebec—in 1759. One army captured Fort Niagara, another drove up the Lake Champlain–Richelieu River route toward the St. Lawrence, and the third besieged Quebec City. Although both the morale and the fighting ability of the French-Canadian militia and the marines remained high, the state of the French regiments had deteriorated markedly. There were constant arguments between Montcalm and the colony’s Canadian-born governor Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, Marquis de Vaudreuil, who was nominally in charge of all military forces in the colony. Vaudreuil had little patience for or knowledge of the apparently stiff European style of warfare, and he and Montcalm rarely agreed on either strategic objectives or tactical preferences. Because of British control of the seas, few reinforcements reached the French regiments, and the constant fighting and movement through the hilly and often cold and rainy forests of eastern Canada and northern New York and New England wore them down. Discipline began to deteriorate; desertion increased; performance under fire declined.

By the spring of 1759, Montcalm’s hold was precarious. He could muster only some five battalions of regulars in defence of Quebec itself—2,900 troops—together with about 8,000 militia from Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Quebec, 600 garrison troops, and a number of his aboriginal allies. But because of serious disagreements between Montcalm and Vaudreuil, the French neglected to build blocking positions downriver of Quebec to forestall the Royal Navy besieging the town or landing troops.

On June 26, 1759, a British fleet of 168 ships under Admiral Charles Saunders anchored off the south shore of the island of Orléans and began debarking 8,500 troops under the command of General James Wolfe. The French did not directly contest the landings; in fact, Vaudreuil, who as governor was in overall command of the garrison, withdrew his troops from the entire south shore of the river. The British set up artillery on the south shore of the narrows, directly opposite Quebec, and began to bombard the town and the citadel. They also established major encampments at Point Lévis and on the eastern bank of the Montmorency River. The French manned the citadel and entrenchments along the north shore of the river from the tidal flats off the mouth of the St. Charles River, east of Quebec, to the western bank of the Montmorency River. On July 31, Wolfe tried to cross the Montmorency in an effort to roll back the French left flank to the flats below the citadel, but the attack was beaten back with heavy losses.

As the summer waned, Montcalm and Wolfe weighed their prospects. Montcalm’s position was even more precarious than it had been when Wolfe and Saunders arrived, a result of the surrenders of Forts Niagara, Carillon, and Saint-Frédéric (at the northern end of Lake Champlain) at the end of July. Even so, he knew that if he could hold out until October, the British would have to withdraw their fleet before the onset of winter and the freezing over of the St. Lawrence. Wolfe was well aware that he did not have unlimited time to bring the siege to a successful conclusion, but he was unsure how to get at the French positions. Finally, he and his officers decided on an indirect approach—to put men and ships upriver of Quebec, cross the river at a point to be determined, and threaten to cut Montcalm’s supply lines to Montreal from the French rear. That could force the French to come out and fight.

On the night of September 12/13, 1759, British troops from ships anchored in the river rowed stealthily, with muffled oarlocks, from midstream to the small cove of Anse-au-Foulon, at the foot of a cliff about 3 kilometres above Quebec. A small guard at the top of the cliff was quickly overcome, and for the next several hours the British troops quickly scaled the cliffs, dragging cannon, stores, and munitions with them. They then assembled on the Plains of Abraham and moved north, toward the road that connected Quebec with the small settlement of Sainte-Foy and, beyond it, to Trois-Rivières and Montreal. Not long after daybreak, the French spotted Wolfe’s advancing lines, 4,800 strong. They were taken completely by surprise. Montcalm did not learn of the British deployment until mid-morning. When he did, he raced from his headquarters at Beauport, about halfway between Quebec and the Montmorency River, and ordered his troops to muster opposite the British. Some 4,500 regulars and militia answered the call and, to the roll of drums, began to deploy in front of the walls of Quebec, facing the British.

Montcalm was not greatly outnumbered by Wolfe, but his troops were a mixed bag. History has recorded that he had about five battalions of regulars but gives little detail about their composition at this stage of the war. The well-trained regiments that had arrived with Montcalm four years earlier still existed in name and still flew their regimental banners, but by now many of the soldiers in their ranks were former militiamen or marines. They had not been trained in the severe firing discipline of the regimental troops; instead they instinctively sought cover in the rolling terrain, the tall grass, or the bushes on the battlefield as soon as the shooting started. As the lines approached each other, shots rang out from the flanks as French snipers and skirmishers fired at the redcoats, who came steadily on. The French line fired several volleys at the British but the British did not return fire. Instead, they continued to advance, seemingly oblivious to the gaps in their ranks that opened every time one of them fell dead or wounded.

Some of the French riflemen—those not trained in European-style warfare—threw themselves to the ground to reload. This increased the confusion in the French ranks. Were these men dead or wounded? Was it time to dive to the earth or even to run back to the citadel? Gaps opened in the French line, rendering their firing discipline much less effective than it might have been. When the two lines were at the astonishingly close distance of 12 metres or so, the British stopped, then opened a withering fire at the French, cutting the troops down like mown wheat. After a few volleys, the kilted Highland regiments drew their large claymore swords and charged the French. The French line broke and, with few exceptions, ran in panic back to Quebec and even past it, to Vaudreuil’s encampment. Both Wolfe and Montcalm were mortally wounded in the encounter. Vaudreuil then led the surviving French troops around the British and on to winter in Montreal. British forces entered Quebec six days later.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, as it is called, did not end the war in Canada. Over the winter the French regrouped and reorganized in Montreal, then marched on Quebec in late April 1760. The French commander, François-Gaston de Lévis, Duc de Lévis, led a combined force of 5,000 men against British commander James Murray’s 3,900 men at the Plains of Abraham. This time the French won the encounter and the British retreated to Quebec, where they were put under siege. Within weeks, however, the ice broke on the St. Lawrence and the British fleet reached Quebec first. Lévis broke camp and retreated to Montreal. The British, now reinforced, followed him, and other British columns advanced on Montreal from Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. On September 8, 1760, Vaudreuil surrendered New France to the British commander, General Jeffery Amherst. The surrender was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the Seven Years’ War on February 10, 1763. This ended the era of Canada’s French regiments, and the British regimental tradition in Canada was about to be born.

Operation Fork

The British heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk at Akureyri harbour, North Iceland, 17 October 1943. Photo taken from the flight deck of USS Ranger. Grumman Wildcats are on her deck.

Allied troops land under the watchful eyes of Icelandic civilians.

The landmass constituting the nation of Iceland has remained relatively untainted for centuries – largely barren and volcanic, with minimal development beyond a string of coastal towns and villages. In May 1940, the population of the country was a mere 120,000, most of whom relied on fishing as well as sheep ranching and exporting goods to Europe. Granted home rule in 1874, Iceland became a fully sovereign state on 1 December

1918 but remained in personal union with the King of Denmark. Denmark also represented Icelandic foreign and defence interests, however, when the German war- machine swept through Europe and occupied Denmark in April 1940, the Icelandic government had no choice but to suspend this arrangement. With no military force of her own, Iceland continued to remain neutral – but, within a month, the war would come to her shores by other means.

Strategic interest in occupying Iceland could arguably be dated back to the 1930s, with a sudden and noticeable influx of German presence on the island. In 1938, a number of German aviation experts arrived, offering free instruction in piloting gliders. This immediately raised British suspicions as it was considered that these `lessons’ could be a means of compiling maps and discovering suitable landing grounds. This paranoia amongst British Officials was further indulged when German anthropology teams arrived to survey the island, and Lufthansa attempted to establish a commercial air service. Meanwhile, U-boats began to visit Reykjavik while German-Icelandic trade increased rapidly.

As the war got into its stride, and the Battle of the Atlantic began to rage in not-too-distant-seas, both Allied and Axis forces started to look to Iceland and its strategic positioning once more. Having control over Iceland’s landmass would be a fantastic opportunity for both sides to establish air and naval bases across the country, and hopefully sway the ongoing Atlantic campaign in their favour. In the words of an unidentified German Naval Officer: “Whoever has Iceland controls the entrances into and exits from the Atlantic.”


On 28 April 1940, Winston Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, had initiated planning to establish a British presence on Iceland. With Denmark under Nazi occupation, the United Kingdom offered assistance to Iceland “as a belligerent and an ally,” but the Icelandic government were quick to decline and reaffirm their neutrality. Despite the set-back of being denied access to the country for military purposes, Britain still intended to land. The War Cabinet were quick to side with the Admiralty and the occupation of Iceland under the name “Operation Fork” began to take shape.

Planning was swift, with a force of around 800 British military personnel setting sail for Iceland on 8 May, commanded by Colonel Robert Sturges. The occupation force was built up from the 2nd Royal Marine Battalion of the 101st Royal Marine Brigade, and included three batteries of artillery and a small intelligence detachment. They were accompanied by two destroyers for the journey across the Atlantic and were due to enter Reykjavik Bay on the morning of 10 May. On that very same day, many hundreds of miles away, the Germans launched their `Blitzkreig’ assault in the west, thereby ensuring the relegation of what was happening in Iceland to a mere sideshow.

Ahead of the convoy, a single Walrus aircraft was dispatched to scout the waters leading up to the capital city looking for enemy submarine activity, but miscommunications had led to the aircraft circling Reykjavik, thus alerting residents and officials alike to the approaching British force. A large crowd of protesters and a 70-strong police force congregated at the harbour to greet their intrusive visitors with a cold reception as the British warships entered Reykjavik harbour. Meanwhile, the Icelandic government prepared warning statements to the encroaching fleet announcing their violation of Icelandic neutrality. Despite the obvious reluctance of the Icelanders for British forces to land, a 400-strong detachment of Royal Marines were met with no resistance.

The next step of the initial occupation plan required the securing of telecommunication facilities, radio stations and meteorological offices as well as arresting any German citizens lest they alert enemy forces as to the details of the British operation. The highest priority arrest was that of German consul Werner Gerlach, a fanatical member of the Nazi party, who, under orders of the highest level, had been tasked with winning Icelanders over to the German cause. For the likes of Werner Gerlach and others who shared his ideologies, Iceland was a Germanic paradise of “pure racial superiority”. He had been assigned to encourage the population of Iceland to join the Nazi pursuit of racial purity, but had instead been met with what he described as “a great disappointment.” His arrest and capture in the German consulate had been swift, although the circling Walrus aircraft had bought Dr. Gerlach enough time to burn vital documents before British forces had even landed.

While British forces secured the rest of Reykjavik, small detachments were sent to Hvalfjördur (a fjord), Sandskeid, Kaldadarnes and other pivotal landing areas where a potential German counter-offensive could occur. In the following weeks, defences would also be built in many of these locations as well as across the Northern coast of Iceland to deter German air raids. These defensive units scattered across the country would never see action, as the much-feared German invasion would fail to materialise. A German counter- offensive had been considered during the early stages of the British occupation called “Operation Ikarus,” although it was quickly dismissed. Despite Hitler’s anger over British control of Iceland, Operation Ikarus would be consigned to the drawing board after it was deemed impractical. With Iceland being in the middle of British-controlled waters, holding the country and supplying German forces would be troublesome and dangerous, while other events on show them all courtesies. Meanwhile, the United States of America, although not yet a contender in the war, recognised and accepted Britain’s move as a necessary step to forestall German invasion.

On 17 May, the initial British detachment was relieved by 147th Brigade (1/6th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment) of the 49th Division. With the relative success of Operation Fork, Colonel Sturges’ Marine battalion returned to the United Kingdom on 19 May and their relieving forces positioned strategically throughout the capital and across the entire island.

With the occupation now in full swing, Icelanders found themselves deeply divided in opinion over what effect the British presence would have on their homeland. Some believed that Iceland might have the opportunity to prosper under the military-control of Great Britain, and with the prospect of coming out of a severe financial depression. Meanwhile, others simply could not abide a totally unwanted and unexpected takeover. It is now largely considered that Britain brought infrastructure advances to Iceland with the building of roads and hospitals, as well as development of transportation and communication. Even today, however, the occupation is often still a topic of heated debate. Despite the ongoing clashes of opinion, marching columns of British troops and Union Jack flags flying in towns and cities soon became normal within the Icelandic community. The vast majority of the population were able to go about their everyday lives with only minor interference from their newly acquired guests. An agreement was struck between the two governments that no more than 2,200 countrymen would be hired to work for the occupation forces. The rest were required to continue their livelihoods of farming and fishing, so as to ensure the country’s stability.


Fears of a German invasion continued into June 1940, with the British Government requesting that Ottawa send reinforcements from Canada. The call was answered with the arrival of “Z Force,” under the command of Brigadier L. F. Page, on 16 June. The Canadian detachment consisted of a brigade-sized unit of HQ staff, as well as one Infantry battalion from the Royal Regiment of Canada. Two additional battalions for “Z Force”, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, arrived on 9 July. This brought the garrison of Iceland to the size of a composite division.

Canadian involvement in Iceland’s occupation would be short lived, and by the end of October, 1940, “Z Force” would begin its withdrawal from the country. Ottawa, preferring to concentrate forces in one locale with its own command, requested that her units be replaced by further British reinforcement. On 21 October, 1940, The 70th Brigade sailed from Britain to relieve the Canadian forces and arrived on 25 October with 10th Durham Light Infantry, 11th Durham Light Infantry and 1st Tyneside Scottish. In exchange, a large proportion of the Canadian “Z Force” was shipped out to the UK, with only the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa staying to over-winter in Iceland until April 1941.

By July 1941, over 25,000 British troops were stationed in Iceland with the construction of naval facilities, coastal guns, AA batteries and the presence of anti-submarine trawlers now making the country a defensive stronghold against potential attack. With foreign troops now marginally integrated into Icelandic society, both the native population and the British Military Officials strongly discouraged fraternisation between local women and soldiers. Many of the women who chose to be courted by Allied soldiers were often labelled as “prostitutes”, or else were accused of “betraying the homeland.” A large proportion of these liaisons occurred during the very early stages of occupation, with many women either eloping with their respective soldiers or bearing their children. In 1941 alone, it was recorded that a total of 255 children had been born of British or Allied soldiers stationed in Iceland. These children were called `astandsbörn’ (or, `children of the situation.’)

Winston Churchill reviewing the US 6th Marine Regiment, 16 August 1941.


As Iceland endured the occupation, the United States of America had begun to play a more active part of the war. On 10 April 1941, the USS Niblack had engaged a German U-boat off the coast of Iceland when it attacked nearby Allied merchant vessels. These would become the first shots the US Armed Forces would fire during the course of the Second World War. Despite this further intervention in the ongoing U-boat campaign, the United States still identified itself as a neutral country. Growing more and more concerned about the prospect of entering the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had begun to devise a plan to further aid the Allied cause. On 28 May 1941, the US President held a meeting with British Ambassador Lord Halifax to discuss the possibility of America taking over the responsibility for Iceland. Churchill, anxious to draw the Americans into the war against the Axis, accepted the offer without hesitation. Now, all that remained was to ship US troops to Iceland for “overseas duty” and relieve the British garrison. Before American soldiers could land, however, the Roosevelt administration required a specific invitation from the Icelandic government as both nations were presently neutral at the time. This was received on 1 July 1941, with the 6th Marine Regiment of California setting sail from Newfoundland, Canada, the next day. Along with a heavy escort of US battleships and cruisers, the American military detachment arrived in Reykjavik harbour on 7 July 1941.

After more than a year of British servicemen walking the streets of Reykjavik, it seemed that, for most of them, their time on the island had drawn to a close. The British departure was expected to begin promptly, with only 146th Brigade and assorted support and administrative forces remaining to represent the UK on the island. While the American garrison established itself across the country, the vast majority of British forces begun to gather their equipment for their final departure. For many of the local population, this only meant the replacement of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes, with very little else changing in the way they conducted their lives. Although they had not been originally welcomed with open arms, some of those British soldiers might be missed – especially those who had married into Icelandic families. For them, this meant saying goodbye to loved ones who would eventually go on to fight in mainland Europe – uncertain of when, or if, they would ever return.


Due to delays caused by American logistical problems and supply difficulties, the British 70th Brigade would remain in Iceland until December 1941. Meanwhile, the majority of the detachment stayed until April of the following year when 147th Brigade and HQ elements of 49th division were both withdrawn. Now a belligerent in the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States were wholeheartedly prepared and equipped to take on full military responsibility for Iceland for the remaining duration of the war. By the summer of 1943, the last British Army troops were gone; leaving only small detachments of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force present on the island, alongside ever-growing numbers of American servicemen. Although their influence was minimal, Britain continued to keep Royal Navy units stationed in Iceland right up until the last year of the war. Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force detachment remained in place until March 1947 – despite initial agreements to remove any remaining occupation forces from the country at the end of the war. With their eventual return to the UK, the British occupation of Iceland was officially over, although since the initial cold reception it was true to say that the stance of the Icelanders to their occupiers had thawed somewhat across those seven years.

There can be little doubt that occupation and the denial of Iceland as an Axis base was important in the Allied conduct of hostilities. However, Operation Fork, important as it was, is a relatively forgotten and overlooked chapter of the Second World War.

Establishing of the Caliphate and the Ridda Wars

The Ridda Wars, 632–633

However, soon after the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad came to realise that bringing Islam to his neighbours was not going to be so bloodless. Perhaps only a fortnight after capturing Mecca, the Muslim army was on the move again to face an alliance of the tribes of Hawazin and Thaqif. These Bedouin were reported to have planned an attack on Medina before Muhammad had moved against Mecca but when the forces met at the Battle of Hunayn in early February, despite being ambushed in a valley, the Muslims scored a decisive victory. A follow-up victory at Autas left the remains of the alliance to retreat to the city of Ta’if. Despite the failure of the subsequent Muslim siege, the threat of a second siege led the inhabitants to surrender and accept Islam. A further expedition north towards Tabouk with a force of perhaps 30,000 men, supposedly in response to rumours of an impending Roman invasion, seems to have brought many of the restless tribes in the north into line. Indeed, the increasing military strength of Muhammad and his followers seems to have been enough to coerce large parts of Arabia to accept the political and military predominance of Medina.

However, despite this continued success, it was clear that age was catching up with the Prophet and his next pilgrimage to Mecca in early 632 was to be his last. The address he gave during this visit is perhaps one of the most poignant as he urged Muslims not tonight amongst themselves or seek revenge for past arguments. He also professed that he would fight until all men should confess that `there is no god but God’, which would be incorporated as one of the two major tents of the Islamic creed – the shahadah. To be recognised as a Muslim, an individual must accept the unique, indivisible nature of God and that Muhammad was God’s Prophet through an honest profession of the shahadah.

There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.

In the early days of June 632 Muhammad fell ill with a fever and died in the house of his wife Aisha at Medina on 8 June. As his strength failed, it is reported that the Prophet wished to dictate a letter, expressing his wishes for the future of the Muslim community. However, Umar b. al-Khattab is said to have told Muhammad that his writings in the Qur’an were enough for Islam. While there is some controversy regarding Umar’s motives for dissuading Muhammad from dictating what may have essentially been a last will and testament, there is no less truth in his pronouncement. The Qur’an and the message it transmits encapsulates the real legacy of Muhammad’s mission. He may have borrowed doctrines, practices and beliefs from Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeanism and the indigenous traditions of Arabia but this was and is no cause for concern amongst Muslims, for Muhammad never claimed to be revealing a new truth; merely that he was the last in a long line of divinely inspired prophets that included Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus, who all preached the same monotheistic religion. Part of Islam’s mass appeal was that it incorporated `words and images already known and under- stood’; however, such familiarity did not lessen the impact of Muhammad’s teachings. In the cultural hotpot of seventh-century Arabia, Islam was some- thing new; something that was able to cut through the many different and at times conflicting belief systems and establish itself as the predominant force. This was Muhammad’s greatest achievement.

However, Muhammad’s legacy did not involve the inception of a new religion alone. In spreading his revelations, he had become an increasingly powerful temporal leader as well. Therefore, due to his combined civilian, military and religious authority, the death of the Prophet brought not only great sadness but also great confusion. Who was to succeed him as leader of the burgeoning Muslim state? There were three distinct groupings amongst the followers of Muhammad – those recently converted from amongst the leading families of Mecca; those of Medina who had embraced Muhammad and his `Umma; and those who had made the Hijra with him. A conclave of these leading members of the community chose Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s earliest followers, to be the first caliph. While there was no thought that Muhammad could be succeeded as the revealer of divine wisdom, the early caliphs maintained an aura of religious authority as well as a growing political power that saw them as something of a mixture between Pope and emperor.

However, the choice of Abu Bakr was not universally accepted as some thought that Muhammad had designated his cousin and son-in-law, Ali b. Abi Talib, as his successor. This dispute between the supporters of Ali and the majority who accepted Abu Bakr would bubble under the surface and emerge again at the deaths of each of the first four successors of Muhammad – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali himself. This dispute gradually evolved into something more divisive than who would lead the Muslim community as a dogmatic schism emerged between those who believed that the caliph should be chosen or elected by the `Umma and those who believed that the descendants of Ali were the rightful heirs to the Prophet; a schism that still remains today between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

However, for the time being, Ali seems to have given tacit acceptance of Abu Bakr’s election for the good of the Muslim community. It is possible that such Alid pragmatism was encouraged by the growing unrest across Arabia. It seems that many Arab tribes felt that the alliances they had struck with Muhammad ended with his demise. This forced Abu Bakr into immediate military action. A second expedition to the outer reaches of the Roman Empire deployed by Muhammad under the command of Usama b. Zayd seems to have forced several apostate tribes to re-embrace Islam rather than face a Roman force. However, in the absence of this army, many other apostate tribes took the opportunity to advance on Medina but Abu Bakr managed to raise a scratch force that thwarted these rebels long enough for Usama to return.

Abu Bakr and his generals now embarked upon a calculated series of campaigns to force religious and political unity across Arabia, which were to become known as the Ridda Wars or the Wars of Apostasy. These campaigns were to be the first real attempt of the Muslim `Umma to extend its direct influence beyond the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula and they were to prove spectacularly successful. Khalid b. al-Walid led the main Muslim army into the heart of central Arabia, where two self-proclaimed prophets, Musaylima and Tulayha, were gathering support. By the end of September 632, after two successive victories at Buzakha and Ghamrah, Tulayha had been subdued and a further month of campaigning saw the remainder of central Arabia brought under control. Khalid then marched further east to confront Musaylima, who had already defeated the two Muslim corps already sent against him. The remains of these defeated corps, along with further reinforcements from Medina, joined Khalid in early December, who then moved to Yamamah. The resultant battle was a bloody exchange but ended in another decisive victory for Khalid and the death of Musaylima.

Khalid was not the only Muslim general to wage a successful campaign against the apostate. The Battle of Dibba in late November saw the rebelling Azd tribe defeated in Oman by Ikrimah. The same forces then intervened in Mahrah, encouraging one apostate group to re-embrace Islam before using the added manpower to defeat a larger group. A night attack on the apostate forces gathered at Hajr and a secondary victory on the coast of the Persian Gulf brought Bahrain to heel by the end of January 633. Forces loyal to the caliph in Yemen under Fairoz the Persian, a companion of Muhammad who had already dealt with one rebellion during the Prophet’s final months, were able to defeat a second round of apostate rebels late in 632. The last region to revolt was Hadhramaut, not doing so until January 633, and the military power of the rebel Kindah tribe was enough to force a stalemate with local Muslim loyalists. However, the timing of the revolt proved its undoing for the Kindah were quickly surrounded by the arrival of the corps of Muhair and Ikrimah operating in the Yemen and Mahrah respectively. Their swift capture of the rebel strongholds of Zafar and Nujair brought an end to the Ridda Wars barely six months after they began.

This unification of Arabia under the leadership of the Caliphate at Medina was a great political and military success for Abu Bakr. However, perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated to those who still doubted the power of Islam that the followers of the Prophet were not only extremely devout but had also stumbled across a series of gifted political and military leaders. It might be expected that after such a military undertaking Abu Bakr would have stood down his forces and spent time consolidating Muslim control of Arabia. However, the thought never seems to have entered his mind for, before the blood spilt at Yamamah had time to run cold, Khalid and his army had been earmarked for a much grander expedition. To the north, there were still Arabs who had yet to submit to the Will of Allah and, beyond them, the princes, kings and emperors who had so readily dismissed Muhammad’s offer of salvation through Islam were about to receive an up-close display of the power of that message.

The Muslim Army

Due to the largely accepted idea that `the Arab conquests were made possible by the opponents’ weaknesses rather than by the power of the nascent Muslim armies’, pre-conquest Arab forces have received very limited attention. How such forces were brought together, organised and led have yet to be studied in any real detail. The main reason for this is the state of the source material. Unsurprisingly, aside from their deployments as scouts within their own armies, the Romans and Persians are silent about the military organisation of the Muslims, while the Arab accounts present their own problems. Their religious nature often attributes victory to the convictions of those involved and their submission to the Will of God rather than military organisation, skill and bravery. Events can be distorted to further an agenda or by the employing of literary topoi to bolster an otherwise unknown part of the narrative. Later Islamic sources also tended to portray their predecessors in anachronistic terms, projecting the social, political and military organisation of their periods back onto that of early Islam, imposing `a false sense of organisation and method on military manoeuvres, which were, in reality, much more chaotic’. Such an abundance of potential problems makes any attempt to reconstruct any aspect of the early Muslim military fraught with danger and undermines any chances of firm conclusions.

The earliest Muslim military actions would have been a combination of caravan looting and raids against neighbouring Bedouin tribes to bolster resources, seek vengeance, discourage potential enemies, claim strategic points or enforce religious conversion. Such raids reflected the enemies that the fledgling Muslim army faced and how rare true pitched battle was in Arab warfare. They also `contributed a great deal to the Muslim community in terms of wealth, experience and the achievement of political and strategic goals.’ How- ever, as the enemies of Islam grew in size and stature such an unstructured army would not have been successful, forcing Muhammad and his advisers to improvise and incorporate a more structured approach to administration and organisation.

Perhaps the most immediate change brought about by the rise of Islam came in the realm of army leadership. Aside from tribal leaders, who owed their status to their ancestry and personal success, pre-Muslim Arab war parties had little in the way of a command structure. Under Islam, ultimate military authority, itself something of a novelty across much of the Arabian Peninsula, lay with Muhammad and his caliphal successors; however, as campaigns became further removed from Medina, it became necessary to appoint individuals to military command. In choosing men of certain tribes for certain commands, the Prophet and his caliphal successors demonstrated an under- standing of tribal politics while the appointments of men like Khalid and Amr, later converts to Islam, showed that Muhammad was willing to promote military talent ahead of standing within the Muslim community. It should also be pointed out that the repeated instances of rapid communication and dictation of military movements attributed to the caliphs in Medina should be treated with scepticism. Some major redeployments may have been ordered by the caliphs but the majority of decisions will have been taken on the ground by those men the caliph had entrusted to achieve the strategic objectives of the campaign.

The leadership of skilled individuals such as Khalid may have encouraged the emergence of a more structured military beyond its tribal make-up. The Muslim army does seem to have used similar formations to late antique Roman and Persian armies with right and left wings and a centre. Advance guards, vanguards and rearguards are also mentioned. An even more organised structure is recorded at the Battle of Qadisiyyah, where the Muslim commander, Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas, had divided his force into sub-groups of ten. However, it is likely that such subdivisions were superimposed on the past by later writers for, even with this interposing of a religio-political hierarchy and the appearance of numerous independent corps during the Ridda Wars, there was little sign of what would be described as a regular, even semi-permanent army.

As with other antique forces, the early Islamic army was largely divided into cavalry and infantry. However, a tentative warning must be sounded regarding the blurring of the two as cavalrymen would often fight dismounted and infantry could be transported on horse or camel. The vast majority of Arab horse of the early period was light cavalry used as raiders and skirmishers or as lancers, rather than horse archers or heavy cavalry such as the cataphracts of the Roman and Persian armies. It is also worth noting that horses were not abundant in Arabia; a fact that might explain why Arab cavalry relied more on mobility and skirmishing to avoid costly casualties both in terms of men and horses. It might also partly explain why it was infantry that bore the brunt of the fighting in Arab warfare. The core of the Muslim infantry was made up of swordsmen who carried a straight, hilted blade – the sayf – that was used for thrusting and slashing. They also made use of iron-tipped spears and javelins. Another sizeable part of the Muslim infantry used the archery skills that hunting with a bow honed. The Arab bow seems to have been a smaller variant than its Persian counterpart but it is possible that the more rapid fire offered by the smaller bow allowed Muslim archers to more effectively shield their infantry and cavalry.

Little physical material remains of early Muslim defensive equipment, and that which does survive is difficult to date or source. Muslim sources rarely speak of military equipment unless the articles themselves were famous, such as the swords, shields, bows and lances of Muhammad, and it is likely that most Muslim soldiers will have fought without the full military panoply. Instances of Arab chainmail armour do survive, although how widespread its use was in the Muslim army before the conquests is difficult to gauge. Mail was expensive to buy or make, meaning that perhaps only the richest Arab soldiers or those who had served in the Roman or Persian armies will have had such armour. Helmets may have been less prevalent before the conquests with a hood of mail called a coif being used instead to protect the head. Shields were carried by both cavalry and infantry and, while they are not well described in the sources, the few surviving descriptions suggest that the normal Arab shield was wooden or leather made into a `small disk, certainly less than a metre in diameter’.

A less significant section of the Muslim army was that given over to siege engines. Most Arab settlements had some kind of fortifications but few were prepared for a prolonged siege so the Muslims will have had little experience of siege warfare. Siege equipment such as the swing-beam manjaniq, similar to the trebuchet of Europe, is seen in later Muslim armies; however, the extent to which such machines were used by the Arabs of the 630s is difficult to say. A manjaniq was deployed during the siege of Ta’if in 630, although its lack of success against modest defences is telling, which may explain why such machines were more likely to be used as anti-personnel weapons rather than against fortifications. There is also no evidence for the torsion-based predecessors of such machines, which further suggests that Arab siege craft was largely basic. However, while it is easy to downplay the siege abilities of tribal societies such as the Arabs and the Avars, they proved themselves to be quick learners and highly adaptive to such situations. The Arabs in particular seem to have quickly realised that `victory often depended on preliminary political success rather than sheer military power’. With this realisation, Muhammad, his successors and their commanders proved themselves adept at separating a settlement from its allies through negotiation or blockade and then offering `protection and toleration in return for a fixed tribute’. Through such a combination, even the most major of cities – Damascus, Ctesiphon, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria – would prove to be within the grasp of Muslim forces.

With the advent of Islam’s temporal power, a vague outline of a recruiting process begins to emerge. Volunteers or prescribed tribes gathered at Medina or at a predetermined site, were formed into an army and then sent into the field. Most of the muqatila – `fighting men’ – who served in the Arab armies were of Bedouin origin, which is unsurprising given that raiding, fighting and familiarity with riding, spears, swords and archery were integral parts of their daily lives. However, the rapid expansion of the Muslim community brought with it a wider spectrum of potential soldier. There is some evidence that the Muslims equipped some of their more settled or poorer members to fight. Alliances with Jewish, Christian and other non-Muslim tribes played major roles in the military survival and successes of Muhammad and his `Umma in its earliest years. Clients and slaves were also present in Muslim armies with the likelihood being that not all of them were Arabic in origin. Defection also added to the military strength of the Muslim armies while at the same time undermining its opponents.

The recorded sizes of Muslim armies are often hard to accept due to their seemingly formulaic nature. They are usually portrayed as being particularly small in number throughout their earliest history, such as raiding parties featuring forces numbering less than 100. However, the rapidity with which Muhammad was able to field armies of up to and beyond 10,000 might be cause for some suspicion – 300 at Badr; 700 at Uhud; 3,000 at Mu’ta, 10,000 at Mecca and 12,000 at Hunayn. During the attacks on Roman and Persian territory, the Muslim armies are also regarded as being on the small side with perhaps as few as 6,000 fighting at Qadisiyyah and the garrisons in southern Mesopotamia perhaps only numbering up to 4,000.

This seeming paucity of Arab soldiers must also be tempered by the exaggerated reporting of the armies of their Roman and Persian foes. The Great Powers probably maintained a numerical superiority over the Muslims but it was almost certainly not as overwhelming as the suggestions of the Muslim sources, which at times attempt to put armies in the order of hundreds of thousands in the field. Many of the proposed numbers for Muslim armies need to be viewed from a contemporary perspective. The previous two centuries or more had seen a marked decline in the size of armies deployed by the Romans and Persians; so much so that Mauricius considered an army of 5,000-15,000 to be well proportioned and 15,000-20,000 to be large. The fact that the Muslims may have been able to field a force of anything between 20,000 and 40,000 at Yarmuk suggests that the numerical gradient they faced was not as severe as is usually thought.

However, in spite of some advances compared to the pre-Islamic period, the early Muslim military remained simplistic. Aside from perhaps the greater desert mobility that camels provided, they were at a technological disadvantage to their Roman and Persian adversaries and, while perhaps not overly serious, they were at a numerical disadvantage too. Organisationally, even after the successes of the Ridda Wars, the Muslim army was still closer to a tribal war party than it was to the professional forces that the Romans could field. They were not paid nor provided any benefits and their enrolling in the army was not recorded in any way. However, these men were fuelled by the prospect of booty, encouraged by the martial bonds of their tribe and buoyed by the morale offered to them by their religion, and, once they were brought together under the Muslim banner and led in battle by a cadre of skillful practitioners of war, they were to prove an increasingly irresistible force. And in the 630s, the Great Powers were about to find out how devastating such a force could be.