Operational History Me 210

Messerschmitt Me 210A-1

Deliveries to frontline units started in April 1942, and the plane proved to be even less popular with pilots. Production was stopped at the end of the month, by which time only 90 had been delivered. Another 320 partially completed models were placed in storage. In its place, the Bf 110 was put back into production. Although the Bf 110 was now equipped with the newer DB 605B engines and greater firepower, it was still an outdated design.

The Me 210 never quite acquitted itself as a sound fighting platform and total production yielded only 258 flyable aircraft. Thought was already being given to an altogether different version, the Me 310, but only one prototype of this design was completed with a first flight had on September 11th, 1943. Armament was to remain the same as in the Me 210 but engines were switched to the DB 603A series inline. However, the aircraft showed little improvement over the Me 210 which led to yet another follow-up design in the “Me 410” (detailed elsewhere on this site). The Me 410 was adopted by the Luftwaffe and saw serial production figures reach 1,189 units before the end – the problems encountered in the Me 210 nearly all solved in the newer offering.

For its time in the war, the Me 210 had a disastrous run as a frontline fighter. Deliveries began in April of 1942 but practical use showcased the design’s many inherent flaws to the point that manufacture of the product was halted before May – forcing the now-outclassed Bf 110 to keep its place in the Axis inventory for a time longer. The Me 210C saved the line some with its new engine fit and airframe modifications but this stock only numbered a few hundred in Luftwaffe service – as many as 108 being received.

The Luftwaffe started receiving their Hungarian-built planes in April 1943, and the Hungarians in 1944; when they entered service they were more than satisfied with them. Production ended in March 1944, when the factory switched over to produce the Bf 109G. By that time, a total of 267 Me 210C had been built, 108 of which had been given to the Luftwaffe. They operated mostly in Tunisia and Sardinia, and were quickly replaced by the Me 410.

Me 210

While this work went ahead, many modifications were made to the dozens of Me 210s that were available. Existing A-1 and A-2 aircraft were fitted with the new rear fuselage and slats and issued to 16./KG 6 and later to III/ZG 1, the latter unit also receiving many A-1s and A-2s which Messerschmitt received permission to complete in late 1942. These saw action in Sicily, Tunisia and Sardinia. Following tests with an A-0 fitted. with DB 605B engines, the Me 210C was put into production at Duna (Danube) aircraft works for both the Luftwaffe and Hungarian air force, using DB 605B engines made by Manfred Weiss. Meanwhile there were schemes to replace the MG 131 barbettes, which were troublesome, one featuring twin 20-mm MG 151 cannon fixed to Messerschmitt Me210/Me410 Museum fire to the rear and aimed by the pilot via a tall aft-facing periscopic sight. A few Me 210B reconnaissance aircraft were built, and Blohm und Voss fitted seven A-1s as tandem dual trainers (the back-seater, of course, facing forward).


    Luftwaffe operated 90 German-built Me 210A and 108 Hungarian-built Me 210 Ca-1.

        Eprobungsgruppe(A) 210 (first testing unit)

        Versuchstaffel 210

        3./SKG 210

        16./KG 6

        1.,2.(F)/Aufkl.Gr.122 (Me/DAF 210C-1 user)

        FAGr 122

        Stab/AG 22

        II.,III.,7.,8.,9./ZG 1 ‘Wespe’ (Me/DAF 210C-2 [Ca-1] user)

        10./ZG 26 (Me/DAF 210C-2 [Ca-1] user)

        I.,II./NJG 1

        NJG 101


As is customary in the Luftwaffe to test a new type of fighter plane, a Erprobungsstaffel 210 is set up in Lechfeld in May 1942. It is renamed 16./KG 6 and moved to Soesterberg (Netherlands) on 31 August, still under orders of the Oberleutnant Walter Maurer, this time to evaluate the new machine under operational conditions. Her initial staffing is 9 devices. His beginnings are not placed under the best auspices because this Staffel loses two planes, descended by Typhoon above Yorkshire on 6 September, including that of her Kapitän, taken prisoner this one is replaced by the Oberleutnant Walter Lardy. Two other aircraft are lost (of which one to the enemy) in the course of the following week!

With only 5 machines left, the Staffel is grounded until 20 September, when it is transferred to Beauvais-Tillé under the name of 11./ZG 1. Its existence is ephemeral, since, after a crossing to Chinisia (Sicily) to be engaged beyond Tunisia, it was dissolved at the end of November 1942 to form Erprobungsstaffel 410; in the meantime, she lost her Staka, Oberleutnant Friedrich Plank, who was reported missing south of Tunis on 29 November. On October 2, 1941, the 3./SKG 10 left the Eastern Front for Landsberg am Lech (Bavaria) to be processed on Me 210 A-0. At the end of the month, she went back to Tchaikovka in order to participate in the operation “Taifun aimed at the capture of Moscow. It is the only squadron of I./SKG 10 to have received Me 210; gathered in Lechfeld (Bavaria) on January 4, 1942, this Gruppe is fully refitted in Bf 110 under the new name of I./ZG 1 Hauptmann’s IlI./ZG 1 Wilhelm Hobein hits his first 17 Me 210 in October 1942 in Trapani (Sicily); two months later, this Gruppe is fully equipped with this new device. In June 1943, he began to collect Me 410. The loss of 7 machines to the enemy since Castel Veltrano sounds the death knell of Me 210 in this unit; it disappears from its inventory at the end of July 1943. 10./ZG 26 (Oberleutnant Peter Habicht) settled in Foggia (Sicily) with an allocation of Me 210 on 29 October 1942; in February 1943, it is folded on Lechfeld to be transformed on Me 410. The 2. (F) / 122, unit of recognition placed under the orders of Oberleutnant Dirk Lütjens, receives 4 Me 210 A-1 in December 1942, to which will be added another 10 before this type is removed from circulation in June 1943 in favor of Me 410. Used over Tunisia since Trapani, they will lose four of their aircraft in combat and five in of various accidents. On the other hand, contrary to what is generally accepted, we found no trace of Me 210 at StablAufklärungsgruppe 122.

Other Me 210 A-1s will be assigned to front-line units, including those planned to be converted to Me 410, but none will participate in war missions.


    Royal Hungarian Air Force operated 179 Hungarian-built Me 210 Ca-1. The type was relatively successful against Russian planes and last Me 210s were destroyed by their crew at Parndorf (Hungarian: Pándorfalu) after the fall of Hungary March 1945 due to the lack of fuel and spare parts.

        1° and 2° RKI Század “Villám” (Evaluation wing), RKI (Hungarian Aviation Institute)

        5/1.Légi Század “Bagoly” (NF Sqn)

        102.Gyorsbombázó, 102/1.Század “Tigris”

        102.Gyorsbombázó, 102/2.Század “Sas”

        102.Gyorsbombázó, 102/3.Század “Villám”

The production and development of the Me 210 multirole aircraft in Hungary

During the development of the reconnaissance variant, the original long-range-reconnaissance factory designs were changed, and on many parts of the plane they made simplifications. With changing the plane’s design, there were an opportunity to place more cameras on the plane. Under the plane’s nose they built an observation tub and the bomb chamber was removed. This tub contained 5 high performance observation cameras and the observation officer. At the long-range-reconnaissance variants – to increase the plane’s range – a spare fuel tank got place. The short-range reconnaissance variants had only two copies, the first one’s flight was in 1943. October 1st, the second one was ready by December. The long range-reconnaissance variants had three copies. Further development was cancelled due to the factory relocation. (After all, in 1944.May 30th, by the decision of the Hungarian-German production workgroup, the complete Me 210 production was considered as finished. In the future, the factories only polished and finished existing main parts, and they built planes only from existing parts until November. However, this had an influence of further developments.)

A night-fighter variant was also built. The 16 night-fighter variants didn’t have radar, but they had the German BAKE blindlanding equipment and the 5/1 Night-fighter wing had these planes. In night-fighter role it was a great advantage, that the Me 210 had an excellent cockpit view in every direction. However, the planes correct flying and the big surface loading wasn’t an easy task at night or in bad weather. There was an attempt to build a Hungarian made radar – on the model of the FUG. X radar – called Turul, however, we know very little about it. (Turul is the name of the Hungarian’s Holy Bird.)

The General Staff insisted on the Turul radar system which was capable of fulfilling night-fighter role tasks. The Philips firm was entrusted to produce the EC-103 tube equipped radar. The only one copy – prototype – that could be built into the plane – Me 210 night-fighter – the RKI (Planes’ Testing Institute) built in and flew a test flight with it in Várpalota. In The Me 210 related radar technics development the decreased radio electronic detection to the enemy was reassuring. By experimental purposes they made an equipment with an oscillator that can be tuned, which equipment’s wavelength was variable, making harder to detect to the enemy.

It’s worth to say some words about the Hungarian Me 210 unique signs. Due to economic reasons the country – Hungary – couldn’t afford to produce different engines than in the plane producing specifications. Fortunately, the Me 210 Ca-1’s and the Bf 109 G’s engine is the same DB 605 engine. The Hungarian made Me 210 Ca-1’s engine’s build design was the same as the German one, which didn’t had a career due to the Me 410. So, the main difference int he German and Hungarian variants was the differing engine’s built-in methods.

The DB 605 engines produced 1075 HP at 2300 RPM, and produced 1475 HP at 2800 RPM. This performance could be higher with MW-50 injection reaching 1650 HP for two minutes. The engines mortice stroke was 154×160 mm, and the mortice capacity was 35,7 litres, geometric compression rate was 7,5:1, weight was 725 kilograms. Both cylinder heads had a camshaft, with two intake and two exhaust on each cylinders. The valves were controlled by swipes. The valve shafts were filled with natrium to be more heatproof against high exhaust gas temperature. The cylinders were equipped with shaded spark plugs. The injection system was the Bosch system, with 270 kg/cm2 injection pressure. This engine with automatic pressure-management and centrifugal high-altitude compressor could operate up to 5700 metres without performance drop. The compressor’s one stage centrifugal system RPM change was done by an automatic, barometric, dual hydraulic switch, that modifies the transmission between 7,5 and 10,2 according to engine loading, RPM, oil temperature and current flying altitude. The charger pressure was 1,42 atmosphere at landing and for cruising speed. The crankcase was cast from a single unit, its material was aluminum. The pistons materials were forged light metal. However, the WM (Weiss Manfréd) DB 605 engines had the same problems as the gliders. They always had difficulties and slippage during the productions. According to the international agreement, the first engines must have been ready until 1942 August, however, the engines were ready only in October. The Hungarian engineers suggested six implementations during the production of the engine, which all six implementations were accepted by Germany.

Together with the production difficulties, due to the engine’s novelty there were also aerodynamic issues. The plane had serious problems with length stability problems and to solve this according to German designs the Hungarian variants fuselage was lengthened. This change was beneficial during at take offs as well. The Me 109, especially it’s G and K variant commonly known tended to brake out during somebody opened out the throttle. Due to the common engine and airscrew this problem appeared at the first German „short fuselage”  Me 210, which was a problem thanks to the relatively high weighed airscrew, furthermore the airscrews’ unfavourable placement according to the airscrews’ rotating flat’s hub. By lengthening the fuselage, the vertical stabilizer was placed further than the airscrews’ rotating flat’s line, which was beneficial not only in aerodynamics, but in using the rudder to prevent the brake out. However, lengthening the fuselage caused hub issues, to solve this engineers used slightly swept wings (four degrees back ). Despite the developments, the Me 210 still remained a plane that needed big patience. The trouble-free adaptation and accident free training needed different standards. Only those people could be trained to Me 210s who had Ju-87 grade card, had twin engine aircraft grade card, furthermore, had dive bomber and blind flying grade cards. The cautiousness of the institutes’ pilots was understandable, because the Me 210’s landing and takeoff attributes were unknown in the Hungarian Royal Airforce. They had to learn how to use the flaps, a sudden application of flaps could cause an immediate stall and spin, so after the plane took off the minimum height where they were allowed to raise the flaps was 150 metres.

The variant had a complex armor protection, which contained altogether 27 smaller-bigger 5 mm armor plates in majority. The engine hood’s pectoral had armor, the oil tank’s forward looking part had armor, the oil cooler upper and lower parts and the tubes to the oil cooler had armor, the cockpit’s nose part had armor, the pilot seat furthermore the places behind the pilot and the observation officer, and some other important instruments also had armor. There was an armored windscreen in front of the pilot. The fuel tanks were self-sealing. Thanks to the two engines and the extensive armor, the plane had the sufficient survivability for military tasks. On the Hungarian variants together with lengthening the fuselage, the lack of bottom armor improved the flying characteristics, with less weight.

Evaluating the Hungarian Me 210 development program

The Hungarian Royal Airforce fought until the end of World War II with the Me 210.  With different tasks and missions, the air force achieved 13 aerial victories. They flew their last sortie in 1945. May 20th. The remaining planes were burnt up in the Austria (Oesterreich) Pandorf. With the burnt-up planes not only a historical era, but an industrial era was ended as well. At the same time, the results that was achieved during the production of the Me 210 are still significant. Altogether 1 copy in 1942, 57  copy in 1943, 214 copy in 1944, until 1944. November 15, 272 copies were built – 110 for Germany and 160 for Hungary. The Hungarian variants had numbers from Z.001 to Z 160. In 1944 November-December Hungary gave 19 Me 210 Ca-1 fast bombes to Luftflotte 4. Altogether, 174 Me 210s were in Hungarian service. The number of DB 605 engines were produced in 1942 were 10, in 1943 about 550, until the end of 1944 November 650, altogether nearly 1200 DB 605 engines were built. The German Me 210 had 385 copies, meanwhile the Me 410 had 1030 copies.

“The type’s original quick bomber variant had a total of 1000kg bombload.

In theory, it could carry the German produced HE (SC 1000), HE-frag (PC 1000) or multiple-charge (SB 1000) bomb variants. These 1t bombs were available on the Royal Hungarian Army’s depots. The most commonly used bomb was however the 250 kg HE-frag bomb, but sometimes they used 500kg cluster bombs too.

The actual development started in 3 ways: in short term, they wanted to develop a heavy fighter, a photo-reconnaissance and a night fighter variant. The most advance of these was reached with the heavy fighter variant. In this case, the pressure on the developers was high, because the allied air superiority started to be threatening, and there was a burning need for a fighter that can deal with bombers. The original theory was that the fighter needs to be able to engage the bombers outside of their gunners’ effective range. To achieve that, the advanced Hungarian variant of the Me-210 was armed with unguided rockets. These blocks were modified from the 15cm Nebelwerfer 6-rocket blocks (used by the Royal Hungarian Army as well), to have 3 rockets per block, one block per wing. However, these rocket blocks caused high drag, so in this case, they needed to be jettisonable in case of an aerial fight. This modification was finished in March 1944. To further increase the firepower, with the help of the engineers of the Military Technology Institute, a 40mm autocannon was built in to the bomb chamber. The weapon was attached to the attachment points in the bomb chamber, the loading was the duty of the radio operator (gunner). To lead off the recoil, the cannon’s second attachment point was on the main frame beam. According to calculations, the cannon was able to open fire at 1000-1200m range., and a few direct hits should destroy a 4-engine bomber. The 40mm variant of the plane was ready in 1944 June, shooting range tests were done by August. However, because the factory moved out from the country, mass production was never started. The 40mm cannon armed Me-210 was handed over to the RHAF (Royal Hungarian Air Force) in 1944. October 5th.

The reconnaissance variant was developed from the original German long range recon variant, where the engineers simplified a lot of things. With the modification of the blueprints, they were able to equip more cameras. An observation chamber was made in the nose of the plane, and the bomb chamber was removed. The observation chamber gave place to 5 high performance cameras and the observing officer. In the long range recon variant, an extra fuel tank was built into the back part of the bomb chamber.

A night fighter variant was built as well. The 16 Me-210s were built without a radar, but they had the German BAKE blind landing equipment.

There was a proposal to equip the type with the Hungarian produced “Turul” radar (based on the German FUG X radar). 1 prototype of the Me-210 Ca-1s was equipped with the radar, and a test flight was done with it by the Flight Test Institute at Várpalota. From the radio technology addicted to the Me-210, the most advanced one was a plane equipped with a variable frequency oscillator to possibly jam the enemy radars used for spotting.

The Hungarian produced Me-210 variants were powered by the stronger DB605B engines  instead of the original DB601F engines, which gave 80 more HP per engine, and the Hungarian Me-210s got the 3 feather VDM propeller unit of the Bf-109 Gs, which were also produced in Hungary. The WM DB605 engine at 2300 RPM provided 1075 HP, at 2800 RPM provided 1475 HP, with MW50 methanol-water injection, it could provide 1650 HP for a short amount of time. ATA was 1,42 atmosphere at take off and emergency power.

The original Me-210 blueprints were altered to solve the tail resonance problem, a longer tail section was equipped, and to match the change of the centre of mass, the wings were swept back by 4°.

The type had a complex armor layout with 27 separate armor plates, most of them 5mm thick.”

Me 210 Ca-1 specification:

    Maximum speed on height:               560      km/h  on 5000 metres

    Rate of climb:                                      20     minutes to 6500 metres

    Twin DB 605 engines

    Take off speed:                                 270     km/h

    wingspan:                                           16,4   metres

    height:                                                  3,4   metres

    length                                                 12,96 metres

    structural weight:                   5400-6400      kgs

    maximum take-off weight       8200-9400      kgs

    maximum useful load ability             1600      kgs

    maximum bombload                        1000      kgs        ( with maximum fuel load )

    wing area                                           36,2    m2

    sevice ceiling                                10500      m

    range                                     1600-2000      m


        2x 20mm MG 151 cannons

        2x 7,92mm MG 17

        6 unguided rockets under wings – 3-3 under each wing

        40mmL/60 Bofors anti-air cannon – on some late variants

        2x 13,2mm backward firing MG131 cannons controlled by a gunner via remote control

The Principate Roman Army I

The gradual changes in the nature of the Roman army between the time of Tiberius and 235 certainly affected both Roman society and the empire’s internal power-struggles. Did they also affect Rome’s strength at the periphery? The really big changes were three, though they had all started well before Tiberius’ accession. The first was the regular organization of ‘auxiliary’ troops into quasi-permanent units in which they would normally serve for twenty-five years before being made Roman citizens on discharge, a system set up by Augustus and refined by his successors. As in centuries past, such troops often outnumbered the legionaries, and their effectiveness was of profound importance.

That leads, secondly, to the matter of recruitment. In the era of the civil wars of 49 to 31 bc, and under Augustus, provincials had entered the legions in large numbers. Recruits came from Roman-colonial or Romanized communities, but also from others: thus an inscription of the early Principate (ILS 2483) shows that almost all the soldiers in the two legions stationed in Egypt had been recruited in non-citizen communities in the eastern provinces (their lingua franca was Greek). All over the empire, the more Romanized provinces provided more and more of the legionaries, while Italians – who made up the bulk of the better-paid praetorian guard – provided fewer and fewer. The authorities were now quite willing in practice to recruit non-citizens, giving them citizenship when they were sworn in. This ‘provincialization’ probably reflected some Roman/Italian reluctance to serve (Italy was too prosperous) but also some intention on the emperors’ part to bring provincials into the mainstream. From Hadrian’s reign on, the normal pattern (though not in Britain) was to recruit legionaries in the provinces where they were needed, but from relatively Romanized/Hellenized elements (and legionaries were more likely than ‘auxiliaries’ to be literate). This was by and large a well-organized and disciplined force; and fighting spirit was probably not lacking either, at least down to Trajan’s time – when battle-commanders chose to entrust the initial impact of the fighting to ‘auxiliary’ units and keep the legionaries in reserve, a procedure that is first attested in a major battle at Idastaviso in Germany in AD 16 (Tacitus, Annals 2.16.3), there could be a variety of tactical reasons.

‘Auxiliary’ recruitment was quite different: the government concentrated on fringe areas such as Iberian Galicia and Thrace, simply supplying officers from the core area of the empire; such units were commonly posted away from their home areas, Britons for example in Upper Germany, while the auxilia in Britain itself might, for example, be Batavian or Syrian. Eventually, but unfortunately we do not know when, Rome also began to employ soldiers who are unlikely to have felt themselves to be Roman subjects: Marcus sent 5,500 cavalry of the Transdanubian Iazyges, whom he had just subdued, to serve in Britain (Dio 71.16). There were Goths garrisoning Arabia in 208, and Goths later took part in Valerian’s war against the Persians. This was probably an increasing trend, but it is hard to tell how much the armies of, say, Constantine and Licinius were really dependent on Goths or Arabs, whom they are known to have made use of.

The other military change of potentially great importance in the period prior to 235 was not so much that many units in the Roman army became ‘sedentary’ from generation to generation, becoming deeply involved in essentially administrative duties, but that many Roman soldiers never experienced battle. This army had never been invincible, but its deplorable failure to protect the Danube frontier in 170–1 suggests significant changes for the worse. Enemy forces reached northern Italy for the first time in some 270 years, while others, as already mentioned, raided as far south as Attica. Our sources on all this are poor, but it may be conjectured that a shortage of officers and soldiers seasoned by warfare had a great deal to do with Rome’s failure, and this in turn was the indirect result of conscious policy. In other respects, the Romans were normally at an advantage: throughout this period they were superior to their opponents in important areas such as artillery and engineering (‘the soldiers are always practising bridge-building’, Dio 71.3).

Temporary causes admittedly contributed, and the Danube line still had a long future. Marcus Aurelius, as we have seen, had had to raise two new legions about 165 to replace the three which his co-ruler Verus had taken from the Rhine and Danube to the east in order to fight the Parthians. Shortly thereafter, the Roman military in the north suffered seriously from the Great Pestilence, as recent studies have demonstrated. Marcus himself had had no military or even provincial experience before 168 – and it showed. Imperial coin-types furthermore had often exaggerated the emperors’ military achievements, and there was a risky deception involved when coin-types absurdly declared in 172–4 ‘Germania subacta’ – ‘Germany has been vanquished’.

Few historians have really tried to evaluate the Severan army, and the evidence is slippery. Even republican armies sometimes mutinied, and there were whole rhetorical topoi about undisciplined soldiery. But an army stationed in Mesopotamia that was mutinous enough to assassinate the provincial governor (about 227, Dio 80.4.2) was a very negative symptom (and see below on the year 235).

We have quite a lot of information about how the Roman army changed between Severan times and Constantine, but assessing its ability to do its job is nonetheless difficult. On the one hand it never, unlike the republican army, won battles it might well have lost, on the other it never, unlike the late-antique Roman army, lost battles that it ought to have won. We have little option but to judge it by its results, though these may be mainly attributable not to its own qualities but to those of its generals, or its logistics, or its enemies, or to any combination of these factors. Recent accounts of Rome’s military performance in this 100-year period are unsatisfactory, but our sources are admittedly tenuous to a degree, whether it is for the defeat at Abrittus in 251 or the battle nine years later in which, or after which, the Persians captured the emperor Valerian (some Roman sources naturally preferred to claim that he was captured by trickery).

Tiberius already knew that it was worth keeping two legions in Dalmatia partly in order to back up the legions on the Danube (Tacitus, Annals 4.5). Later Roman emperors eventually concluded that the long-standing dispositions of the Roman army, with the great majority of the soldiers stationed on or near the frontiers, were ill adapted to resisting major invasions that might come from different directions. It had always been necessary to balance the needs of the Danube frontier and the Euphrates frontier, but both became more dangerous in late-Severan times. Once Rome surrendered the initiative, the distances involved presented an almost insoluble problem: it took something over two months, for example, for troops to travel from Rome to Cologne. The best that could be done was to create a reserve army that could be sent wherever it was needed without weakening some vital garrison. It appears to have been Gallienus who created a central cavalry force (cf. Zosimus, New History 1.40, Cedrenus, i, p. 454 Bekker). The development of these comitatenses, as they came to be called, is impossible to follow in any detail, but Constantine apparently expanded their role (Zosimus 2.21.1 may refer to such troops), while also centralizing the command structure of the army by means of an overall infantry commander (the magister peditum) and a parallel cavalry commander (the magister equitum). Nonetheless it remained difficult to counter any large invasion once it had passed the northern or eastern frontiers. An enterprising governor might raise a local militia (populares: AÉ 1993 no. 1231b shows us a governor of Raetia doing this in 260), but they would be largely untrained and untried.

The reliefs on the Arch of Constantine distinguish between his Roman and his ‘barbarian’ troops, which raises again the complex question of whether Rome was now relying too much on troops who were merely mercenaries. According to the emperor Julian (Caesars 329a), Constantine ‘practically paid tribute’ to the barbarians, and modern accounts suppose that he and his rival Licinius made Rome significantly more reliant on German and other non-Roman troops than any previous ruler; but the ill effects do not yet seem to be visible.

The strength of the Roman Empire’s numerous and various neighbours to the north, east, and south can only be judged, once again, by the results, their aims likewise. From Tiberius’ time to Trajan’s, those who kept their freedom from Rome and their territorial integrity were doing well; this applies mainly to the Romans’ failure to advance far beyond the Rhine and to hold on to Mesopotamia. The incursions of the 160s–70s and of the 240s–60s showed a great deal of vigour. The invaders’ goal was often plunder, including human beings, which the Roman Empire offered in abundance. Dio (71.16) asserts that the Iazyges had taken far more than ‘ten myriads’ of prisoners in Roman territory – a five- rather than a six-digit number, one might think. (Some of the third-century booty has been recovered from the bed of the Rhine, rafts having apparently sunk). Not even Sasanian Persia, the most powerful external enemy Rome faced in this period, showed any determination to hold on to any Roman province, and in fact it had no reliable means of protecting its own core area against Roman forces that were always relatively near. But northern peoples had already in the second century extracted territorial concessions of a sort, obtaining lands within the Roman frontier. This practice went back to Julio-Claudian times. Initially the advantages to Rome probably outweighed the disadvantages; whether that continued to hold true in and after Marcus Aurelius’ time we shall consider in a moment. It certainly looks like a major surrender to strong outside pres- sure. Purchasing the docility of outside enemies by means of payments, unless it was a short-lived tactical expedient, was likewise a recognition of real enemy strength: this started with Domitian, but involved Trajan, Hadrian, and many later emperors. Yet from a Roman point of view, this was by no means an irrational policy, within limits.

Fundamental changes had taken place by the time the conglomeration of Germans known as the Alamanni (‘All Men’), who are first attested in a Roman source in 213, inflicted quite serious harm in 232–3. This was nothing less perhaps than the birth of a new national formation. What made a difference here was probably in the end quite simple: such a new grouping, like the Franks from about 260, could put larger forces into the field than any single German people. But the tetrarchs and Constantine could always, it seems, defeat the northern peoples on the battlefield.

Imperial Roman High Command

The aspirations of soldiers who wished to enter into the militiae equestres highlight the often strange and convoluted path to advancement in the Roman army and administration. The usual pattern of promotion from the ranks of the army (via the primipilate and the Rome tribunates) bypassed the equestrian officer commands in the militiae and instead led to the procuratorial career. The opportunities for a former soldier to be placed in direct command of troops at a more senior level included the posts of praefectus classis, praesidial procurator, or the prefectures of the vigiles and praetorian guard. However, there are few indications that the Roman administration actively preferred former soldiers for these posts, and many a primipilaris is later found in financial procuratorships. The senior legionary and provincial commands were restricted to senators; experienced primipilares, as middle-aged men, were not normally suitable for entrance into the senate. This meant that there was no coherent career path from soldier to general in the principate. The promotion of former soldiers into the militiae equestres represented one challenge to this system, but it was not enough in and of itself to prompt the overhaul of the military career structure. This only happened gradually over the course of the late second and third centuries AD.

The emperors traditionally invested military authority in their senatorial legates, both the governors of consular and praetorian provinces, as well as any senators appointed to ad hoc supra-provincial commands, as in the case of Cn. Domitius Corbulo or C. Avidius Cassius. Important campaigns requiring significant forces, such as Trajan’s Dacian and Parthian Wars, saw the emperor and his senatorial generals assume primary command of the legions. Equestrian officers, usually in the militiae equestres, were placed in control of auxiliary troops or smaller detachments. For example, in the Parthian War of Lucius Verus, M. Valerius Lollianus, prefect of the ala II Flavia Agrippiana, was appointed praepositus of vexillations of auxiliary units in Syria. During this campaign Lollianus answered to the senior senatorial commanders: the governor of Cappadocia, M. Statius Priscus Licinius Italicus, and M. Claudius Fronto, who was legatus Augusti in charge of an expeditionary army of legions and auxiliaries. The majority of Marcus Aurelius’ senior commanders during his German wars, which occupied most of the 170s, were likewise senatorial generals. The praetorian prefects, who commanded the cohortes praetoriae and the imperial horse guard (equites singulares Augusti), were the exception to this roster of senatorial commanders. The praetorian prefect was occasionally entrusted with more senior authority, as when Domitian gave Cornelius Fuscus control over the conduct of his First Dacian War after the senatorial governor of Moesia, Oppius Sabinus, was killed in battle. Marcus Aurelius likewise invested his prefect Taruttienus Paternus with command of an expeditionary force at the beginning of his Second German War in AD 177. These shortterm appointments did not in and of themselves bring about a change in senatorial military authority.

There was a clear military hierarchy for senators: they could serve as military tribunes, then as legionary legates, then govern a two- or three legion province. There was no such well-defined path for equites, and no opportunity for talented equestrians to lead large expeditionary forces at a high rank. This meant that ad hoc solutions had to be devised, as happened in the 160s-170s AD during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. M. Valerius Maximianus, who began his career in the militiae equestres, was placed in charge of cavalry units sent to the eastern provinces to assist in suppressing the revolt of Avidius Cassius. Since he had advanced beyond the militiae, Maximianus’ higher standing was recognised by giving him the status of centenarius, the equivalent of a procurator. The same type of promotion was employed for his contemporary, L. Iulius Vehilius Gallus Iulianus, who had also advanced beyond the militia quarta. Iulianus was granted the exceptional title of `procurator Augusti and praepositus of vexillations’, as a way of recognising his seniority in several campaigns during this period. These commissions at procuratorial rank represented an attempt to create an equestrian equivalent to the senatorial legionary legate. The only alternative would have been to promote these equestrians into the senate at the rank of expraetor. This did eventually occur in the case of M. Valerius Maximianus and two of his Antonine contemporaries, P. Helvius Pertinax and M. Macrinius Avitus Catonius Vindex. But Iulianus remained an eques, eventually ascending to the praetorian prefecture under Commodus.

It must be emphasised that these promotions did not represent any attempt to advance hardened soldiers from the ranks to senior commands. Maximianus was from the curial class of Poetovio in Pannonia, while Vindex was the son of the praetorian prefect M. Macrinius Vindex. Pertinax was the son of a freedman, but had obtained equestrian rank and a commission in the militiae thanks to prominent senatorial patrons. The origins of Iulianus are unknown, but he certainly began his career in the militiae. There was only one seasoned solider on Marcus Aurelius’ staff: the praetorian prefect M. Bassaeus Rufus, who was from a poor and humble background, and had risen via the primipilate and a procuratorial career. The wars of Marcus Aurelius therefore introduced some important innovations, which highlighted notable problems with the developing equestrian cursus. The second century AD had witnessed the consolidation of the equestrian aristocracy of service, men who were prepared to serve the state domi militiaeque in the same manner as senators. Yet there was no clear way for these men to assume high military commands as equites, resulting in the creation of ad hoc procuratorial appointments.

The reign of Septimius Severus witnessed important developments for the Roman military establishment, and the place of the equestrian order within it. Severus created three new legions, the I, II and III Parthica, each of which was placed under the command of an equestrian praefectus legionis, not a senatorial legate. The first and third Parthian legions were stationed in the new province of Mesopotamia, which was entrusted to an equestrian prefect on the model of the province of Egypt. The commanders of the legions therefore had to be equites in order to avoid having a senator answer to an equestrian governor. This had been the practice of Augustus when he installed the legio XXII Deiotariana and the legio III Cyrenaica in Egypt under equestrian prefects. The same command structure was maintained in the legio II Traiana, which was the sole legion stationed in Egypt in the Severan age. The third new legion founded by Severus, the legio II Parthica, was quartered at Albanum just outside Rome, and thus became the first legion to be permanently stationed in Italy. One prefect of the II Parthica, T. Licinius Hierocles, is recorded with the exceptional title of praefectus vice legati (`the prefect acting in place of the legate’), though this was probably only a formality, since no senatorial legates are on record.

The career paths for the officers of the Parthian legions followed the pattern of the legions stationed in Egypt. Their tribunates were integrated into the militiae equestres, with some tribunes of the Parthian legions going on to procuratorial careers in the usual manner. The traditional route to the prefecture of the legio II Traiana in Egypt was via the primipilate and the Rome tribunates. The command of this legion ranked as a ducenarian procuratorship by the Antonine period, and the same status was given to the prefects of the new legiones Parthicae. The first prefect of a Parthian legion, C. Iulius Pacatianus, was promoted from the militiae equestres, but thereafter the commands appear to have been given to primipilares, following the Egyptian precedent. This suggests that Septimius Severus was following traditional status hierarchies when establishing his new Parthian legions. There was certainly no move to replace senatorial legates with equestrian prefects elsewhere in the empire. This had been attempted by Sex. Tigidius Perennis, Commodus’ praetorian prefect, after the British legions acclaimed the senatorial legionary legate Priscus as emperor. When Perennis tried to place equestrians in command of the legions, this punitive measure provoked a military revolt that eventually led to his downfall. Severus was not about to repeat this mistake, and therefore his new legions fitted with existing equestrian paradigms and career paths.

The Principate Roman Army II

The foundation of the Parthian legions did, however, lead to changes in the expeditionary forces, particularly their overall command structure. The legio II Parthica was designed to accompany the emperor on campaign, a role it performed during Septimius Severus’ two Parthian wars and his British expedition. The question of whether the legion came under the direct command of the praefectus praetorio is a vexed one. In Cassius Dio’s Roman History the character Maecenas advises Octavian that the praetorian prefect should control all the forces stationed in Italy, a statement that could be taken refer to the situation in Dio’s own lifetime. As an official imperial comes during Severus’ Parthian campaigns, the prefect Fulvius Plautianus certainly joined the emperor in the east, but he is not mentioned in any specifically military capacity, in contrast with the abundant evidence for Severus’ senatorial generals leading troops in battle. It seems likely, therefore, that the authority of the praetorian prefect over the legio II Parthica evolved gradually. During Caracalla’s campaign against the Parthians his expeditionary force was composed of the legio II Parthica, the cohortes praetoriae, and the equites singulares Augusti, as well as vexillations of legions based on the German, Danubian and Syrian frontiers, totalling some 80-90,000 soldiers. This is what scholars call a `field army’, a modern term of convenience used to describe a large force composed of vexillations from a range of legions and auxiliary forces, which accompanied emperors or their leading generals on campaigns. Apart from the legio II Parthica, the only other legion that may have participated in Caracalla’s campaign as a complete unit was the legio II Adiutrix of Pannonia. This meant that the legio II Parthica was effectively the central core of the force and – although no ancient source explicitly attests this – the logical commander of the field army would be the praetorian prefect. Both of Caracalla’s prefects, M. Opellius Macrinus and M. Oclatinius Adventus, are known to have accompanied him to the east. This necessitated the appointment of a substitute prefect in Rome to handle the judicial responsibilities of the position.

The legio II Parthica later formed the core of the forces marshalled by Severus Alexander and Gordian III for their eastern campaigns against the revived Persian empire. Indeed, it is during Gordian III’s reign that the connection between the legion and the praetorian prefect is shown clearly for the first time. Both the emperor’s praetorian prefects, C. Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus and C. Iulius Priscus, formed part of the retinue that left Rome for the Persian front in AD 242. In the same year, Valerius Valens, praefectus vigilum, is attested in Rome `acting in place of the praetorian prefect’ (vice praef(ecti) praet(orio) agentis). In this capacity he oversaw the discharge of the veteran soldiers of the legio II Parthica. These men had originally enlisted in AD 216, and had been left behind in Rome rather than journeying to the east. The prefects on campaign with their emperor became enormously powerful individuals: C. Iulius Philippus, who succeeded Timesitheus, was able to arrange the downfall of Gordian III in the east, and returned to Rome as emperor. Successianus, an equestrian commander on the Black Sea in the 250s, was summoned by Valerian to serve as his praetorian prefect in the east, where he commanded the field army against the Persians. The composition of Valerian’s army is strikingly demonstrated by the account of the Roman forces in the account of the Persian king Shapur, known as the Res Gestae divi Saporis. This includes the detail that the praetorian prefect was captured by the Persians in AD 260 alongside the emperor and members of the senate. The employment of the legio II Parthica as a permanent core of the emperor’s own field army enhanced and consolidated the position of the praetorian prefect as a senior military commander in addition to the senatorial generals.

The rise of the field armies attached to the emperor and the praetorian prefect sometimes offered new opportunities to soldiers of other ranks. In the previous section we observed the marked correspondence between soldiers who served in the praetorian guard, the equites singulares, and the legio II Parthica, and those who obtained advancement into the militiae equestres or the promotion of their sons to equestrian rank. Proximity to the emperor and his senior staff on campaign evidently had its advantages. The same phenomenon can be observed in the careers of prefects of the legio II Parthica, which, since it accompanied Caracalla to the east, was intimately bound up with the political machinations of the years AD 217-18. In this period the empire passed from Caracalla to his prefect Macrinus and then to the boy emperor Elagabalus, with the crucial battles all happening in Syria. The commanders of the legio II Parthica included Aelius Triccianus, who had begun his career as a rank-and-file soldier in Pannonia and ostiarius (`door-keeper’) to the governor. Other ostiarii are attested as being promoted to centurion, so it is likely that Triccianus himself became a centurion and primus pilus, a career path attested for comparable equestrian legionary prefects. This was a spectacular career, but not unprecedented or improper. The same can be said for P. Valerius Comazon, who served as a soldier in Thrace early in his career, before rising to become praefectus of the legio II Parthica. Again, there is nothing truly exceptional in and of itself about soldiers who ascended to the Rome tribunates or camp prefecture via the primipilate. But the command of the legio II Parthica offered connections to the imperial court, and the favour of Macrinus and Elagabalus, respectively, enabled Aelius Triccianus and Valerius Comazon to enter the ranks of the senate. Their promotion earned the ire of the senatorial historian Cassius Dio, who disliked the progression of soldiers into the amplissimus ordo. Dio did not resent the advancement of equestrians per se, but the elevation of soldiers who were able to enter the equestrian order and then into the curia. Triccianus and Comazon were quite different from M. Valerius Maximianus, who originated from the curial classes of Pannonia. Such opportunities would only become more common as emperors spent more time on campaign with their field armies.

In addition to the creation of the Parthian legions and the growing importance of the field army, the first half of the third century AD witnessed equites appointed to ad hoc procuratorial military commands. We have already noted this phenomenon in the wars of Marcus Aurelius, when M. Valerius Maximianus and L. Iulius Vehilius Gallus Iulianus commanded army detachments with the rank of a procurator, as a way of compensating for the lack of any defined military pathway for equestrians after the militiae. In the reign of Severus Alexander, P. Sallustius Sempronius Victor was granted the ius gladii with a special commission to clear the sea of pirates, a command that was probably associated with his existing procuratorship in Bithynia and Pontus. This creation of new military commands within the procuratorial hierarchy can also be seen vividly in the case of Ae[l]ius Fir[mus]. Following a series of financial procuratorships in Pontus and Bithynia and Hispania Citerior (high-ranking posts in and of themselves), Fir[mus] was placed in charge of vexillations of the praetorian fleet, detachments of a legio I (possibly Parthica or Adiutrix), and another group of vexillations, in the Parthian War of Gordian III. In this capacity he ranked as an army commander and procurator at the ducenarian level, without actually holding a standing military post (such as fleet prefect, praesidial procurator or praetorian prefect). The adaptability of the equestrian careers to meet the new demands is demonstrated by the case of a certain Ulpius [-].227After series of administrative procuratorial positions, Ulpius was praepositus of the legio VII Gemina. Since this legion was normally stationed in northern Spain, Ulpius probably commanded vexillations of the legion in a war conducted in the reign of Philip. He then returned to the usual procuratorial cursus, serving as sub- praefectus annonae in Rome.

Some equestrians were given special appointments as dux with responsibility for a specific province or series of provinces. This can be observed in Egypt, where generals with the title of dux or commander appear in the 230s-240s. The archaic Greek word σρατηλάτης is rarely used in the imperial period before the third century AD; the only exception is inscribed account of the career of the Trajanic senator and general C. Iulius Quadratus Bassus at Ephesus. But it makes a reappearance in the third century AD to describe senior equestrian military commanders. The first Egyptian example is M. Aurelius Zeno Ianuarius, who replaced the prefect in some, or probably all, of his functions in AD 231. His military responsibilities should be connected with the beginning of Severus Alexander’s Persian War. The second dux/σρατηλάτης mis attested ten years later, in AD 241/2, which is precisely when war broke out between Romans and Persians again under Gordian III. This time, the dux was Cn. Domitius Philippus, the praefectus vigilum, who appears to have been sent directly to Egypt while retaining his post as commander of the vigiles. In both cases the new military command was an ad hoc addition to their usual equestrian cursus. The final example occurs in the 250s, when M. Cornelius Octavianus, vir perfectissimus, is attested as `general across Africa, Numidia and Mauretania’ (duci per Africam  Numidiam Mauretaniamque), with a commission to campaign against the Bavares. This substantial command was in succession to his appointment as governor of Mauretania Caesariensis. Octavianus then departed to become prefect of the fleet at Misenum, working his way to a senior post in the equestrian procuratorial cursus. All these cases show the essential adaptability of the imperial system, which allowed third-century emperors to appoint equestrians to senior military commands when it suited them. This may have been because an equestrian was the person the emperor trusted most in the circumstances; for example, Cn. Domitius Philippus, as praefectus vigilum, was one of the most senior officials in the empire. This represents the same pragmatic approach we saw in the appointment of equestrians as acting governors. On a practical level, it did not matter whether an army commander was an eques Romanus or a senator, because the military tasks that he was capable of performing, and was entrusted with by the emperor, were essentially the same. The new ad hoc army commands gave members of the equestris nobilitas further opportunities to serve the state domi militiaeque alongside the senatorial service elite.

At the same time, it is necessary to point out that these changes did not lead to senators being ousted from military commands prior to the reign of Gallienus. Rich epigraphic evidence, combined with the testimony of Dio and Herodian, preserves a long list of Septimius Severus’ senatorial generals. P. Cornelius Anullinus, L. Fabius Cilo, L. Marius Maximus, Ti. Claudius Candidus and L. Virius Lupus commanded Severus’ troops as duces or praepositi in one, or both, of his civil wars against Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus. Candidus also participated in the emperor’s Parthian campaigns, alongside Ti. Claudius Claudianus, T. Sextius Lateranus, Claudius Gallus, Iulius Laetus and a certain Probus. These senators were rewarded with a range of honours, from consulships and governorships to wealth and property (the sole exception was Laetus, who was executed for being too popular with the troops). In the face of such overwhelming testimony, it proves difficult to marshal support for the still-popular scholarly argument that Severus prioritised equestrian officers over senators. Equestrian commanders continued to participate in campaigns as subordinates to the senatorial generals, as we see in the case of L. Valerius Valerianus, who commanded the cavalry at the Battle of Issus under the authority of the consular legate, P. Cornelius Anullinus.

The same pattern can be found in Severus Alexander’s Persian War of AD 231-3. Herodian’s History, our major historical account of this conflict, is notoriously deficient in prosopographical detail. Yet senators are attested in inscriptions, as in the case of the senior consular comes, T. Clodius Aurelius Saturninus, who accompanied Alexander to the east. The senator L. Rutilius Pudens Crispinus, praetorian governor of Syria Phoenice and legate of the legio III Gallica, also served as a commander of vexillations during this conflict. But we only know about Crispinus’ command from an inscription from Palmyra, which recounts the assistance rendered by the local dignitary Iulius Aurelius Zenobius to Alexander, Crispinus and the Roman forces. The inscribed account of Crispinus’ career from Rome merely states that he was legatus Augusti pro praetore of Syria Phoenice. It is probable that senatorial governors, such as D. Simonius Proculus Iulianus, consular legate of Syria Coele, continued to play important roles in eastern conflicts under Gordian III. Indeed, the evidence for equestrian procurators acting vice praesidis in Syria Coele, discussed above, suggests that the procurator assumed judicial responsibilities while the consular governor was preoccupied with warfare. This indicates that senatorial governors continued to play a major part in military campaigns, even if it was not specifically noted in inscriptions recording their cursus.

This argument is supported by the literary sources that show senators assuming military commands through to the middle decades of the third century AD. We can observe this in particular in the Danubian and Balkan region, which was a near-continuous conflict zone. Tullius Menophilus fought against the Goths as legatus Augusti pro praetore of Moesia Inferior in the reign of Gordian III. During the incursion of the Goths under Cniva in AD 250/1, the Moesian governor C. Vibius Trebonianus Gallus successfully defended the town of Nova. In AD 253 M. Aemilius Aemilianus, governor of one of the Moesian provinces, pursued the fight against the Goths, before being acclaimed emperor. Senators also continued to receive special commands, as in the case of C. Messius Quintus Decius Valerinus and P. Licinius Valerianus, both future emperors, who were placed in charge of expeditionary forces by the emperors Philip and Aemilius Aemilianus, respectively. In Numidia, the governor C. Macrinius Decianus conducted a major campaign against several barbarian tribes in the middle of the 250s. In fact, if we examine the backgrounds of the generals who claimed the purple up to and including the reign of Gallienus, the majority of them were actually senators, a fact obscured by the common use of the term `soldier emperor’ for rulers of this period. Decius, one of the few known senators from Pannonia, successfully allied himself with an Etruscan senatorial family when he married the eminently suitable Herennia Cupressenia Etruscilla. His successor, Trebonianus Gallus, was of remarkably similar background to Etruscilla, coming from Perusia in central Italy. The emperor Valerian likewise had close links with the Italian senatorial aristocracy, marrying into the family of the Egnatii. Some of the more ephemeral emperors deserve notice too, such as Ti. Claudius Marinus Pacatianus, the descendant of a Severan senatorial governor, who rebelled in the reign of Philip. P. Cassius Regalianus, who was probably consular legate of Pannonia Superior when he began an insurrection against Gallienus in 260, was himself descended from a Severan suffect consul. These men were not soldiers promoted from the ranks, but senatorial generals who used their positions to make a play for the imperial purple.

The Roman military hierarchy in the first half of the third century AD was therefore characterised by a mixture of continuity and change. The creation of the legio II Parthica, and the necessity for the emperor and his praetorian prefects to campaign on a regular basis, meant that emperor was in close contact with members of the expeditionary forces. Officers in the field army could receive imperial favour and embark on spectacular careers, like Aelius Triccianus or Valerius Comazon, or even Iulius Philippus, the praetorian prefect who snatched the purple from Gordian III while in the east. It is no coincidence that many of the soldiers’ sons attested with equestrian rank belonged to the praetorian guard, the equites singulares and the legio II Parthica. At the same time, the imperial state tried to create senior army roles for promising equites in a manner analogous to senatorial legates by instituting ad hoc procuratorial commands (as seen in the case of Valerius Maximianus and Vehilius Gallus Iulianus). This gave members of the equestris nobilitas, the equestrian aristocracy of service, access to army officer commands beyond the militiae equestres. It should be noted that for the most part these men were not lowborn ingénues from the ranks, but members of the municipal aristocracy who served the res publica in a comparable manner to senators, as their predecessors had before them. It is also imperative to point out the endurance of tradition within the high command. Senatorial legates and generals still commanded armies in the emperor’s foreign wars on the Rhine, Danube and Euphrates frontiers. Their military authority continued to make them viable and desirable candidates for the purple in the first half of the third century AD. There was as yet no attempt to undermine the positions of senatorial tribunes or legionary legates. It was the dramatic developments in the 250s-260s that provided the catalyst to set the empire on a radically different path.

The Russian Navy during the Eighteenth Century


The provenance of this draught is conundrum: on the one hand it is decidedly English in style, calligraphy and even ink colours, but on the other, it is annotated with information that could only have come from Russian sources – the launching draughts of water are quoted in Russian units and a note describes the lower green line as ‘Light Draught of water with 2000 poods of Ballast (a pood is 36 lbs English)’. The ship was in British waters with Admiral Crown’s squadron in 1812–1814 and may have had the lines taken off then, or this may have been copied from a Russian original and annotated in English. A noteworthy feature of the structure is the system of substantial diagonal braces in the hull; this is not the full trussed frame as developed by Seppings, but a less effective fore-runner, and when considered alongside the numerous top-riders may suggest the ship was lightly framed. This reinforcing may have been required by the ship’s heavy armament of twenty-six short 36pdrs, twenty-eight short 24pdrs and fourteen guns on the upperworks (a mix of long 8pdrs and 24pdr carronades). The ‘lightweight’ guns were supposedly inspired by Swedish models, but there were many other experiments around this time with weapons mid-way between carronades and traditional long guns, like the proposals of Sadler, Gover and Congreve in Britain.


This is actually a Russian draught whose provenance is unknown, although it may be associated with Samuel Bentham, who was well-connected in Russia, having served there before the war – indeed, Bentham was in Russia from 1805 to 1807 trying to arrange for the construction of British ships on the White Sea. Built at St Petersburg and launched in 1808, Venera was a big ship, measuring 162ft 6in between perpendiculars, with a 42ft beam, and a calculation on the draught puts her displacement at 1693 tons (although the conventional figure for burthen would be less). The absence of barricading on the forecastle looks backwards, but the hull form, with its rising floors and wall sides, is more reminiscent of the 1820s and ’30s than the first decade of the century. The armament was originally thirty 24pdrs and eighteen 6pdrs, but in 1810 she was converted to a flush two-decker and two 24pdrs and all the 6pdrs were replaced by twenty-eight 24pdr carronades, giving the ship a one-calibre weapons-fit and anticipating the ‘double-banked frigate’ of the post-war decades.

The ‘edinorog’ was a uniquely Russian artillery piece, designed to fire either solid shot or an explosive round. This is a 1780 Model gun of ‘1/2-pood’ calibre – roughly equivalent to a British 24pdr when firing round shot (the explosive shell weighed less at about 20 pounds). On line of battle ships, it was usual to mount one per deck on each broadside, alongside the solid-shot guns of the nearest calibre. This very limited employment suggest that their advantages were more theoretical than real – they are known to have suffered from massive recoil, and the dangers of handling explosives aboard wooden ships deterred other navies from pursuing similar experiments, so their use in the Russian service may well have been limited.

The Russian navy was no better understood in the West during the eighteenth century than its Soviet successor was in the twentieth. Distance, the Cyrillic alphabet, and a Tsarist penchant for secrecy conspired to keep information to a minimum, yet the Russian navy in 1790 was a major force: at about 142,000 tons the Baltic fleet alone was larger than all Dutch naval forces combined, while a further 40,000 tons in the Black Sea was approximately the same size as the Swedish navy. Depending on the precise date chosen, together they constituted the world’s third or fourth largest navy. In 1798 the Baltic fleet’s official establishment comprised nine 100-gun ships, twenty-seven 74s, nine 66s, nine 44s, one 40 and nine 32s; for the Black Sea in 1797 it was three 100s, nine 74s, three 66s, six 50s and four 3 6s. These figures, however, were aspirations – the first 100-guns ships for Black Sea were not launched until 1801–2 – but they do indicate the magnitude of the Russian navy.

It was also a successful force, having won significant victories over Sweden in 1788–90 and the Ottoman Empire in 1787–92. Although Peter the Great is regarded as the father of Russian seapower, it was Catherine II (1762–96) who was responsible for the development of a European-standard battlefleet that was employed with so much strategic impact. This period also saw much technical improvement, with considerable effort expended keeping up with British, and to a lesser extent French, naval technology. A decline in numbers set in during the reign of Alexander I after 1801 and thereafter the navy did not recover its relative position until the mid-1820s.

For much of the struggle with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, Russia was Britain’s ally. Elements of the Baltic fleet co-operated with Duncan in the blockade of Dutch ports, and made a major contribution of fifteen sail of the line to the Helder expedition in 1799. Catherine had experienced some success in attracting British officers into the Russian fleet, but its general state of efficiency did not impress the Royal Navy nor the officials of the Dockyards who had to refit and maintain the Russian ships. They were regarded as poorly built of inferior timber, and a list of the Baltic Fleet in 1805 gives an average age of ten years for thirty-two ships of the line.

In 1798 the Russians deployed some of the Black Sea fleet to the Mediterranean, where a squadron under Vice-Admiral Ushakov occupied the Ionian Islands and after a long siege captured Corfu. The force was withdrawn in 1800, but a more significant development was the formation of a Mediterranean fleet by the dispatch of a squadron from Cronstadt, a long voyage by Russian standards, to join elements from the Black Sea at Corfu. Commanded by Vice-Admiral Seniavin, who had served six years in the Royal Navy, this fleet of ten sail of the line was active against both the French in the Adriatic and later the Turks, where it successfully blockaded the Dardanelles and won a crushing victory over the Ottoman fleet at Lemnos on 19 June 1807.

The events leading up to the Tilsit agreement between Napoleon and the Tsar rapidly turned the Russian fleet from ally via neutral to enemy in a matter of weeks. Having given up Corfu to the French, the Russians were forced to leave the Mediterranean, but in the face of a hostile British fleet took shelter in the Tagus, where they were promptly blockaded. Eventually, in September 1808 Seniavin agreed to the internment of his fleet in Britain and the repatriation of its crews. Eventually, eight two-deckers and two frigates were turned over. While laid up they gradually deteriorated and only two ships returned to Russia in 1813.

In the 1790s the Baltic fleet could boast eight 100-gun three-deckers of the Chesma class (supposedly inspired by, or even copied from, Slade’s Victory), but they were poorly constructed and by 1801 none was fit for active service. A huge 130-gun ship, the Blagodat, was launched in 1800, again modelled on a famous western prototype, in this case the Spanish Santisíma Trinidad. Armament was usually 3 6pdrs on the lower deck with 18s and 8s respectively on the higher gundecks, and 6pdrs on the upperworks. Contrasting with this investment in concentrated firepower, the majority of the Russian battlefleet was made up of small two-deckers in the 66-gun class, which were built in large numbers down to 1797. Even with 24pdr main batteries, they proved perfectly adequate against their usual opponent, the Swedes (which was equally true for the Black Sea fleet and the Turks). The 74-gun ship came late to the Russian navy, the first pair being launched in 1772, and although they carried 30pdrs on the lower deck they were still relatively small ships, comparing in size with the British ‘Common Class’. By 1800 the Baltic fleet’s two-deckers comprised twenty 74s and twenty-four 66s.

A unique feature of Russian naval weaponry was the edinorog, a large calibre lighweight gun capable of firing a wide range of ammunition including explosive shells. Generally known by the French term licorne (‘unicorn’), they usually filled a pair of ports on the two lower gun-decks of battleships (and two pairs on 100-gun ships), but they were regarded as a dangerous and doubtful asset by other navies. Eventually the Russian navy came to agree and the gun establishment of 1805 abolished them. It also introduced a homogeneous armament for all two-deckers of new lightweight-pattern 36pdrs and 24s, and added the first carronades (24pdrs) to the upperworks.

The Black Sea fleet was a recent venture, established in 1770, but growing from seven ships of the line in 1790 to thirteen in 1800. Although an equivalent of a First Rate was not laid down until 1799, the average size of its ships tended to be greater than those of the Baltic fleet, where navigational conditions and the restricted dimensions of the opposing Swedish warships constrained growth. The Black Sea squadron, in fact, introduced both the two-decker 80 and the 24pdr-armed big frigate to Russian service – in the latter case, what were termed ‘battle frigates’ stood in the battle line when required. The first was launched in 1785 and thus pre-dated the better-known 24pdr frigates of either the French or US navies. However, even this was later than the Swedish Bellona class designed by af Chapman, although these usually cruised with 18pdrs and were designed to ship light 24pdrs only when war threatened so that they could reinforce the outnumbered Swedish battlefleet. As counters to these vessels, Russia’s Baltic fleet built five 24pdr frigates in the 1790s, and more after 1801, thus becoming one of the first major sponsors of the type – and as potential oceanic commerce-raiders, as much a concern to the Royal Navy after 1815 as US big frigates. This was in marked contrast to Russia’s earlier conservatism in cruiser design, being slow to adopt the frigate-form (in either 12pdr or 18pdr calibres), and persevering with small two-deckers until the late 1780s. Not having the same requirement as the Atlantic navies for long-distance, all-weather cruisers, the advantages of a high battery freeboard combined with a low topside height were less compelling. Nevertheless, the Baltic fleet built nine 18pdr frigates before 1800, when they were eclipsed in construction programmes by the 24pdr type.

Although the Russian navy list included sloops, brigs and many of the small craft familiar from other navies, these did not exist in very large numbers. Russia had little ocean-going commerce to protect, and fleet scouting and support duties usually fell to small frigate-like vessels. However, in both the Baltic and the Black Sea it invested heavily in specialist types for inshore warfare, usually craft that could be rowed – including traditional ‘Mediterranean’ galleys – and amphibious warfare vessels. These were not as ingenious as the special types devised by AF Chapman for the Swedish archipelago fleet, but were equally effective in their chosen environment. A significant contributor to this requirement was a force of large sea-going bomb vessels, making both Russian main fleets the only force outside the Royal Navy to employ such vessels on a regular basis. Four survived in the Baltic into the 1790s and two more were built in 1808; in the Black Sea fleet two were in service up to 1795, and another was built in 1806.


Invisible Enemy by Ivan Berryman.

Perhaps among the bravest of those serving within the Regia Marina in WW2, the crews of the Italian SLCs (Siluro a Lavita Corsa, or Slow-Running Torpedoes) carried out some of the most daring submarine raids of the war. At 23ft in length and with a maximum speed of just 4 knots, the Maiali (or Pigs, as they were known, due to their lack of maneuverability) frequently delivered their 300kg warheads direct to their targets with devastating results, as when three Italian SLCs sank the British battleships HMS Valiant and HMS Queen Elizabeth as well as a tanker in Alexandria Harbour on 19th December 1941. Here an SLC has cut its way through the torpedo netting, just one of the many hazards encountered on these highly dangerous covert operations.
Assault from the Deep by Ivan Berryman. (PC)

Sitting menacingly at a depth of 15 metres below the surface, just 2 km outside the heavily defended harbour of Alexandria, the Italian submarine Scire is shown releasing her three manned torpedoes, or Maiali, at the outset of their daring raid in which the British battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant and a tanker, were severely damaged on 3rd December 1941. All six crew members of the three Maiali survived the mission, but all were captured and taken prisoner. Luigi Durand de la Penne and Emilio Bianchi can be seen moving away aboard 221, whilst Vincenzo Martellotta and Mario Marino (222) carry out systems checks. Antonio Marceglia and Spartaco Schergat, on 223, are heading away at the top of the picture.

The first of the manned torpedoes was the Siluro Lenta Corsa (SLC), `slow speed torpedo’, nicknamed the maiale or `hog’, first developed by Tesei and Toschi in 1935-36. By summer 1939 about 11 of these were available, but it was not until July 1940 that the new generation entered production. These were designated Series 100, and followed in 1941 by the improved Series 200. They were based on the standard 533mm torpedo with suitable adaptations: the double propellers were replaced by a single larger one in an enclosed structure to prevent snagging on nets, and seats for two crewmen and superstructures housing controls were added. The SLC weighed from 1.3 to 1.4 tons, and measured between 6.7 and 7.3m (22-24ft). The 1.6hp electric motor gave a speed of 2-3 knots, to a depth of between 15m and a theoretical maximum of 30m (49-98ft). Once they reached their target the two crewmen had to detach the 1.8m (5.9ft) explosive warhead; this contained a charge of between 230kg and 260kg (507lb-573lb), or, in the last model, two 125kg (275lb) charges. By September 1943 some 50 examples had been built; by then they were largely outdated in comparison with the British `Chariots’ and the new Italian Siluro San Bartolomeo (SSB) – though only three prototypes of this greatly improved model had been built by the time of the Italian surrender.

HMS Queen Elizabeth in Alexandria harbour.

On 19 December in 1941, limpet mines placed by Italian divers sink the HMS Valiant (1914) and HMS Queen Elizabeth (1913) in Alexandria harbour.

Developed in 1918, by two divers of the Italian Navy-Raffaele Paolucci and Raffaele Rossetti, they rode a primitive manned torpedo into the Austro-Hungarian Naval base at Pola, and sank the Austrian battleship Virbus Unitis and a freighter. Sans breathing gear, they rode in with there heads above water. Both men were discovered and captured, but not before their success.

As a result of this first attempt, the First Fleet Assault Vehicles were formed in 1939, by Major Teseo Tesei & Elios Toschi of the Italian Royal Navy. In 1940, Commander Moccagatta of the IRN, reorganized this group, into the Tenth Light Flotilla of Assault Vehicles aka X-MAS. It constructed manned torpedoes and trained navy frogmen. The IRN X-MAS group attempted an attack on Valletta Harbor in July of 1941, which was a complete disaster and which resulted in the death of Major Tesei.

A better design, was the Italian Human Torpedoes, called Maiale-meaning “Pig,” as it was slow to steer. Three feet high and 23 feet long, it was electrically powered by a 2 hp electric motor. It had a crew of two, which rode atop the device and had a max. speed of 4 knots. It carried a detachable 300 kg warhead.

During the war Italian Special Forces unit Decima MAS (10th Flotilla, aka X-MAS) pioneered various diving and submersible technologies and used them to devastating effect against the Allies. The main underwater vehicle was the SLC (Siluro a Lunga Corsa which means long running torpedo’, and not the common mistake of ‘Siluro a Lenta Corsa’ which means slow running torpedo, and is incorrect). This was described as a ‘human torpedo’ and popularly known as the ‘maiale’ (pig). Two frogmen sat astride a torpedo body with a massive mine carried on the nose. They would creep into an enemy port and attach the mine to the target using clamps. Suspended between the bilge keels, the mine was large enough to sink a capital ship. The SLC was used on several successful attacks on Allied shipping in the Mediterranean including the disabling of two battleships. The effectiveness of these tactics led the British to copy the design, developing the Chariot. Following the SLC, Decima MAS developed the more advanced SSB (Siluro San Bartolomeo) with the crew sitting inside the craft. The SSB never saw combat because it arrived too late, but was the model which influenced the post-war development of SDVs. Pucciarini was himself an SSB pilot.

The Raid on Alexandria was carried out on 19 December 1941 by Italian Navy divers, members of the Decima Flottiglia MAS, who attacked and disabled two Royal Navy battleships in the harbour of Alexandria, Egypt, using manned torpedoes.

On 3 December, the submarine Scirè of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) left the naval base of La Spezia carrying three manned torpedoes, called maiali (pigs) by the Italians. At the island of Leros in the Aegean Sea, the submarine secretly picked up six crewmen for them: Luigi Durand de la Penne and Emilio Bianchi (maiale nº 221), Vincenzo Martellotta and Mario Marino (maiale nº 222), and Antonio Marceglia and Spartaco Schergat (maiale nº 223).

On 19 December, Scirè—at a depth of 15 m (49 ft)—released the manned torpedoes 1.3 mi (1.1 nmi; 2.1 km) from Alexandria commercial harbour and they entered the naval base when the British opened their defenses to let three of their destroyers pass. There were many difficulties for de la Penne and his crewmate Emilio Bianchi. First, the engine of the torpedo stopped and the two frogmen had to manually push it; then Bianchi had to surface due to problems with the oxygen provider, so that de la Penne had to push the Maiale alone to where HMS Valiant lay. There he successfully placed the limpet mine, just under the hull of the battleship. However, as they both had to surface, and as Bianchi was hurt, they were discovered and captured.

Questioned, both of them kept silent, and they were confined in a compartment aboard Valiant, under the sea level, and coincidentally just over the place where the mine had been placed. Fifteen minutes before the explosion, de la Penne asked to meet with Valiant’s captain Charles Morgan and then told him of the imminent explosion but refused to give further information, so that he was returned to the compartment. Fortunately for the Italians, when the mine exploded just before them, neither he nor Bianchi was severely injured by the blast, while de la Penne only received a minor injury to the head by a ship chain.

Meanwhile, Marceglia and Schergat had attached their device five feet beneath the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth ‘s keel as scheduled. They successfully left the harbour area at 4:30 am and slipped through Alexandria posing as French sailors. They were captured two days later at Rosetta by the Egyptian police while awaiting rescue by the Scirè and handed over to the British. Martellota and Marino searched in vain for an aircraft carrier purportedly moored at Alexandria, but after sometime, they decided to attack a large tanker, the 7554 gross register ton Norwegian Sagona. Marino fixed the mine under the tanker’s stern at 2:55 am. Both drivers managed to land unmolested but were eventually arrested at an Egyptian checkpoint.

In the end all the divers were made prisoners, but not before their mines exploded, severely damaging both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant, disabling them for nine months and six months respectively. The Sagona lost her stern section and the destroyer HMS Jervis, one of four alongside her refuelling, was badly damaged. Although the two capital ships sank only in a few feet of water and were eventually raised, they were out of action for over one year.

This represented a dramatic change of fortunes against the Allies from the strategic point of view during the next six months. The Italian fleet had temporarily wrested naval supremacy in the east-central Mediterranean from the Royal Navy.

Valiant was towed to Admiralty Floating Dock 5 on the 21st for temporary repairs and was under repair at Alexandria until April 1942 when she sailed to Durban. By August she was operating with Force B off Africa in exercises for the defence of East Africa and operations against Madagascar. Queen Elizabeth was in drydock at Alexandria for temporary repairs until late June when she sailed for the United States for refit and repairs, which ended the following June. The refit was completed in Britain. Jervis was repaired and operational again by the end of January.

Italian Naval Special Operations

Malbork Castle

Castle plan: A-upper castle, B-middle castle, C-low castle, 1-bridge, 2-gate and Bridge Towers, 3-outer defensive walls, 4-moat, 5-St Nicholas Gate, 6-Shoemaker Gate, 7-Sparrow Tower, 8-Wicket Gate, 9-nameless tower, 10-Toward Town Tower, 11-nameless tower, 12-Nad Piekarnią Tower, 13-Podstarościego Tower, 14-Vogts Tower, 15-Powder Tower, 16-hexagonal tower, 17-Szarysz Tower, 18-Clock Tower, 19-Kęsa Tower, 20-Maślankowa Tower, 21-St Lawrence Gate


On 18 July 1410, Heinrich von Plauen arrived in haste at Malbork Castle, located on a branch of the River Vistula, 25 miles from the Baltic Sea. This was the principal base of the Order of Teutonic Knights, and the administrative centre of the Baltic state these warrior monks had carved out while pursuing the conversion of the pagan tribes of north-east Europe. Word had reached von Plauen of a terrible battle in which the grand master of the Order and other leading knights had been slain. Acting leader, he had travelled as fast as he could, with the two thousand soldiers he had held back at his own castle of Schwetz, upriver to the south-west. He put the interest of the Order first, leaving Schwetz at the mercy of the invading Polish-Lithuanian army in a desperate bid to secure Malbork. At around the same time, the garrison at Malbork was further reinforced by nearly 1,500 survivors of the battle; a small complement of the force which had suffered such losses. These men were in a desperate state. All were weary and many displayed wounds sustained in the fighting three days earlier. They relayed blood-curdling accounts – which did nothing to cheer the already despondent garrison – of one of the largest and most murderous battles fought anywhere in medieval Europe.

In fields near the village of Tannenberg, among the streams of the Mazurian marshes, the Teutonic Knights had suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Polish king. Some 8,000 of their soldiers had been killed, another 14,000 taken captive, and hundreds of their most important members did not rise from the battlefield. If spirits were not low enough at Malbork, as news of the disaster travelled north with the bedraggled survivors, a wagon arrived at the castle gates. In it were the bodies of the Order’s highest-ranking officials, the men who had led the Teutonic Knights only days earlier on the fateful march east to cover the movements of the vast enemy army. Among them were Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen, Grand Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode, and Grand Treasurer Thomas von Merheim – wrapped in clean white sheets and dressed in purple robes in preparation for a dignified burial at Malbork.

The task now faced by von Plauen was a daunting one. For some time it had been clear that the huge invading army of the Polish-Lithuanian alliance was not interested in half measures. They sought nothing less than a comprehensive victory over the Teutonic Order. To achieve this, victory on the battlefield was only the first step. They knew they had to capture and destroy the heavily fortified castle at Malbork, the aim being the end of the state the Order had ruled for nearly two centuries along the shore of the Baltic Sea.

Such was the scale of the allied triumph at Tannenberg that their momentum seemed unstoppable. With Teutonic castles surrendering left and right to the forces of King Władysław II of Poland and Grand-Duke Vytautas of Lithuania – Olsztyn, Morag, Preussmarkt and Dzierzgoń among numerous others – many among the garrison at Malbork were resigned to defeat and ready to give up the castle without a fight. At this point, von Plauen took it upon himself to turn things around, to motivate the substantial garrison he now commanded to hold onto the great castle for the sake of the Teutonic Order he had vowed to defend.


The year 1099 saw the success of the First Crusade by European Christians to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim control. It established a precedent, and an ambition, which would persist for the next two hundred years – and a militant approach to conquering and converting the ‘heathen’ which would last longer than that.

Shortly after this initial Crusade, two religious orders formed which sought to protect the increasing number of pilgrims now flocking to the Holy Land. Known as the ‘Knights Hospitaller’ and the ‘Knights Templar’, they combined the aggressive fighting skills needed to provide military protection, with a spiritual and ascetic life becoming to those in holy orders. Then, at the point when they were losing their initial impetus, they were joined by a third organisation. In 1190, the Order of Teutonic Knights was created, not by clerics, but by the German merchants of Bremen and Lubeck.

Redirecting their focus from the Holy Land to the pagan lands of the Baltic, the Knights launched a ‘northern Crusade’. This would become an outlet for the zeal of Christian warriors now that the Levant – the hinterland of the eastern Mediterranean shore – seemed lost. This campaign received wide support in Christendom, and chimed with the ethos of the medieval German Church, which encompassed a militant element. The Holy Roman Emperor authorised the conquest of Prussia as part of the Empire’s policy against heathen nations. And the Pope issued a bill granting the Order rights of conquest over land won.

The Knights quickly overran the lower reaches of the River Vistula, building their first castles during the 1230s, of timber and earth banks. In a land of rivers, swamp and forest, a scanty supply of good building stone meant it was used only for foundations. Over the following decades they expanded their control along the Baltic coast. The Order’s close ties with German merchants ensured a steady stream of colonists who were attracted by privileges; the influx fostered an attitude to the non-German population which was increasingly ruthless. Towns were established and castles built, or rebuilt, from brick. The business of constant warfare and hospitality demanded a regular source of income so that the Knights became deeply involved in the economy of the lands they occupied, trading particularly in wheat, wool and amber. In 1283, the Order established its own state, which became the dominant political and economic force in the region.

Aggressive expansion motivated the Knights even when religious conversion was not a justification. During the fourteenth century, at their height, Pomerania to the west was targeted in a bid to link the Teutonic state with the German lands. In 1308 the important Baltic port of Gdańsk was captured. Then, to counter papal criticism by proving their crusading role was paramount, the Knights turned eastwards to the vast state of Lithuania, which covered much of present-day Russia from the Baltic to the Ukraine.

The harsh Baltic winters meant campaigns differed from those elsewhere in Europe. Cavalry had to ride in single file, through trenches cut deep in the snow. But in the dense forests of Lithuania, where most campaigning took place during the fourteenth century, winter was often preferred for raids because visibility was clearer after the deciduous leaves had fallen. Frozen rivers became ‘winter roads’, facilitating deep penetration into the pagan lands. Later in the year forest undergrowth hampered movement, while melt-water swelled the rivers, turning their banks to mud and taking a heavy toll on horses.

The Crusade lasted nearly a century, bringing bloodshed as well as much valuable booty for the knights. They overwhelmed the lands of pagan communities up to the River Dnieper and almost as far as Moscow, launching campaign after campaign deep into the dense forests of Lithuania. They were assisted by a steady flow of Crusaders from Western Europe. With Christendom defeated in the Holy Land, knights from France, Spain and England travelled east to support the work of the Teutonic Order. Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV, was present with three hundred men at the siege of Vilnius in 1390, and numerous other Englishmen had joined this northern Crusade during the fourteenth century. Visiting knights were entertained generously at a rapidly-growing network of over 120 castles, of which Malbork, having moved to the centre from the state’s western edge as its territory expanded, became the principal. They were distinguished from most medieval castles in Europe by two characteristics: they were as much monastic as military structures, and they were largely built not of stone but of red brick.

For all the Order’s attempts to claim a divine purpose, however, it was clear that evangelical objectives were no longer foremost. Territorial domination and economic control of the Baltic lands took precedence over the enforced conversion of pagans to Christianity – and, inevitably, the Knights’ policy of aggressive expansion had led to confrontation with Poland, their most powerful neighbour; a country which longed for access to the Baltic Sea.

Polish rulers, based in their capital at Kraków, became bitterly hostile to the expansionist Teutonic state, but their military campaigns against it were intermittent and unsuccessful. In 1386, however, the situation changed. The grand duke of Lithuania accepted the crown of Poland as Władysław II, having converted to Christianity himself and married that country’s queen. Together they united the two states of Poland and Lithuania against the common enemy sandwiched in between. At the same time, divisions grew within the Teutonic state between the monastic knights and the German settlers, creating an opportunity for its enemies. In 1410, an attempt would be made to halt the Order’s expansion once and for all.

Plan of middle and upper castle from the end of the 14th / beginning of the 15th century by A.Franaszak, K.Solak


For centuries conquest has been consolidated by military construction, and this was certainly the case in Teutonic Prussia, where a network of castles was created denser than anywhere else in Europe (each within a day’s march of another to ensure that relief was at hand). In the late thirteenth century – as Edward I built Conwy and other great castles to tighten his grip on Wales – at Malbork, work began to assert the authority of the Teutonic Knights over their expanding state.

Tracing its history, however, is difficult. Whereas there are royal records detailing the construction of the castles at Conwy and Harlech and the earlier English royal castle at Dover, no documents survive to illuminate the building of Malbork. Historians are forced to rely on architectural detailing in an effort to understand the construction phases of this vast castle. Nevertheless, much can be deduced.

When the first part of Malbork to be built – the ‘Upper’ castle – was begun in 1276, the region lay on the western extremity of Teutonic Prussia. Under the German commander Heinrich von Wilnowe, work began on a fortified religious settlement which could consolidate the rule of the Order in an area which had recently witnessed a failed uprising by the local population. Unlike many earlier castles of the Order, which depended on locally-available resources, this was not to be built from wood. Skilled craftsmen were brought from Germany – brick-makers and layers, glaziers, carpenters, blacksmiths – while basic labourers were commandeered locally. Brick walls were constructed on foundations of hard rock that rendered mining very difficult. At Malbork – on the banks of the River Nogat, flowing north-east from the Vistula into the Vistula Lagoon – the first 4 to 7 feet of walling was built on massive boulders taken from the bed of the adjacent river, in-filled with smaller stones.

The castle was finished by about 1300. Its first phase took the form of four wings with three storeys, high pitched roofs – steeply angled to cast off the snow – and built around a square cloistered courtyard. A fortified quadrangle of this sort constituted a recurring design among Teutonic castles. It encompassed a church, chapter house, dining hall, kitchen and dormitories. This combination of elements was not found together in Western Europe: a holy cloister within a formidable military enclosure, a monastery within a castle. The style was austere, in keeping with the Order’s code which eschewed frippery in favour of a hard life of prayer and military rigour. In their hall the brothers ate communally: simple fare, consumed in silence or in contemplation of a lesson read aloud, unless the presence of visiting Crusaders justified an exemption. Hospitality as well as worship and defensibility was at the core of the castle’s purpose.

An outer court accommodated support staff and services, protected by a moat and a curtain wall. The ground floor rooms, massively vaulted, were used for storage of food, drink, weapons and other materials, all necessary for the lifestyle of the knights. A prison was built conveniently adjacent to the guard room, perhaps intended for high-status prisoners. The kitchen vault was supported on a line of circular columns, with the principal hearth served by a flue that rose above the roofline of the castle. The serving areas were placed on one side, with a dumb-waiter on the other to transfer food to the second-floor dining hall with its seven windows and central columns supporting painted vaulting.

Of the four wings, two had dormitories on the first floor which slept some sixty people, while another twenty or so officials and dignitaries slept in smaller rooms in a third wing. From the mid-fourteenth century they were served by a detached lavatory tower, the dansk tower, linked to the castle by a first-floor corridor. This was originally built of wood and later rebuilt in brick on an arcaded support in the late nineteenth century. It was probably also intended as a final resort during a siege; towers with this dual function were a recurring feature in Teutonic castles. Another survives at Toruń, while the communal lavatory tower at Kwidzyn, with its arcaded corridor to the fortress, is another remarkable example.

On the fourth side of the courtyard lay the chapter house and the great church – always the most important structure for this monastic order, and especially so here, where it would become the Order’s primary church in Prussia. Its entrance is striking, with a line of five recessing columns and capitals and figured arches set in a vaulted bay. Richly painted, and decorated with glazed clay tiles of animals, this lavish portal illustrates the Last Judgement and has been known since at least the fourteenth century as the ‘Golden Gate’. The church is divided into two parts – the nave of the 1280s, and an apse extension of the early 1330s. Vaulting runs over both nave and apse (and also in the chapter house) dating from 1331–44: the earliest ribbed vault in the Baltic coastal region, influenced perhaps by the recent development of English chapter houses like York and Wells.

The remodelled church became the growing organisation’s spiritual centre – surmounted now by a slender bell tower. Outside stood the patroness of the Order: a 26-foot stucco relief of the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus, richly-coloured and clad in elaborate Venetian mosaic work. Marienburg, as Malbork was then known, means ‘the fortress of Mary’, and the life of the warrior monks was organised around the festivals associated with the Virgin. In the early fourteenth century the grand master commanded every member to recite a Salve Regina or an Ave Maria every hour of the day, while other Teutonic castles – Marienwerder, Frauenburg – also invoked her protection. Below the apse is the ground floor chapel of St Anne which was set aside for the tombs of the grand masters. Thirteen were buried here from 1341 – including Ulrich von Jungingen, slain on the fields near Tannenberg.

The continued expansion of the Teutonic state meant that what was initially an outpost relatively near the border had quickly moved towards the heartland. In 1308, less than a decade after Malbork’s first incarnation was completed, the Knights conquered the port city of Gdańsk and the adjacent region of Pomerania. They massacred many of the local inhabitants and imported large numbers of German settlers. Shortly after this, the headquarters of the Teutonic Order was moved from Elblag (Elbing to German-speakers) 15 miles south to the more secure town of Malbork. A year later this shift was confirmed when the grand master of the Order also transferred his base to Malbork from Venice – the latter location, convenient when shipping men to the Holy Land had been the Knights’ primary purpose, was less useful now that the Baltic was their principal theatre.

This move by the head of the Teutonic Order was accompanied by a rise in the number of knights visiting Malbork en route to or from attacks against the Order’s enemies. Further expansion was required if the castle was to provide enough accommodation of suitable quality for these visitors. From 1310, the Upper Castle was extended by a Middle Castle, with an imposing gatehouse and three wings surrounding a much larger courtyard. This was major work that would continue into the second half of the fourteenth century. The new building included a sequence of rooms for visiting knights and honoured guests, and a great hall for their meals and entertainment. A new outer castle was also developed to the east, with stables, barns, granaries, a bakery, foundry and workshops, spread across a vast courtyard. This covered almost the same area as the town of Malbork on the other side of the Upper Castle. At the same time a permanent bridge, flanked by towers, was built across the river.

The new Knights’ Hall could hold some four hundred guests, and was one of the great secular apartments of medieval Europe – its fine painted walls lit by large windows and crowned by a complex vaulted roof. Leading up a stair from the hall, as in any great medieval residence, were the private apartments of the lord, in this case the grand master. Developed in three stages as the Teutonic Order grew in importance during the fourteenth century, from a relatively modest lodging it became one of medieval Europe’s outstanding palaces – no less so for being set within a highly defensive complex. This is particularly apparent from the riverside, where an elaborate frontage rises through four storeys to a wall-walk crowned by a high pitched roof. It is decorated with arcading, traceried windows, six-sided turrets and panelled battlements in stone and brick, a stark contrast to the military façades of the Upper Castle and the relative simplicity of the Knights’ Hall nearby. Having the grand master’s private palace here in the Middle rather than the Upper Castle, meant he could more easily entertain his guests and preserve, in the Upper Castle, a serenity in keeping with its quasi-monastic function.

From the high end of the Knights’ Hall a stair opens into an ante-chamber, leading onto the richly decorated reception room, the Master’s private chapel, and then his bedchamber. Late in the fourteenth century, this suite was enhanced by a lavish new wing, built facing the river to provide further reception rooms and two additional dining rooms or refectories. Used in summer and winter respectively, the latter were used primarily as audience chambers for receiving envoys and honoured guests. The Summer Refectory used expensive stone brought from Sweden, with a single pillar supporting the ribs of a complex radiating vault that rests on corbels between the large windows. The Winter Refectory had heating vents in the floor and a lower ceiling, but was similarly vaulted from a central granite column. Its walls were painted with wreaths of flowers, and figurative or heraldic motifs. This new building was one of the architectural glories of medieval Europe, at odds with the wholly military character of the earlier castle, and it marks the zenith of the Order’s power and authority.

Beneath the grand master’s private residence additional rooms were created in which the administrative functions of the Order were carried out – a fundamental concern now that Malbork had become the Knights’ primary seat – and a chancellery responsible for the financial well-being of the Order was located in offices below the two dining rooms.

By the early fifteenth century Malbork stood much as it is seen today, with the walled and gated town adding further protection to the castle. Developed over more than a century, Malbork was now among the largest fortresses in the world – covering more than twice the area of the town that protects its western flank. The various stages of building had produced not one castle but three, within a single gigantic enclosure – a fitting seat of power for the ambitious Teutonic state.

For all its emphasis on devotion and splendour, the builders never lost sight of the fact that this was a castle for knights who were not native to the region and who were always under threat from the surrounding population and from external invasion. These men relied on networks of such castles as bases from which to shelter, and mount sorties to quell unrest. From the time that it became the Order’s primary seat of power, Malbork, in particular, needed to be thoroughly secure.

Approached from outside it is obvious that this was a defensive fortress as well as a palace. The entrance to the castle from the town was joined by a second from across the river. This bridge has since gone, but the two pyramid-capped gate-towers which commanded this approach from the mid-fourteenth century still stand. All three castles – High, Middle and Outer – were surrounded by moats. The entire fortress was ringed with concentric walls capable of being isolated and defended independently. Most of the corners were protected by square or rectangular towers, some high enough to serve as watch-towers or defensive posts. All gates and passages were protected by drawbridges, portcullises, iron-clad doors, shooting galleries and machicolations (see Machicolations box). By the second half of the fourteenth century the castle was among the most impregnable in Europe, and as such was the obvious target for any army that wished to strike at the heart of the Teutonic state. But it was not long before it would face the greatest threat in its history.

In the mid-summer of 1410 the knights assembled a substantial army in the Outer Castle, in readiness to defend the Order, according to their oaths. The combined armies of Poland and Lithuania had crossed its borders seeking a decisive confrontation. It was a daunting prospect, but confidence remained high: the Knights had known few permanent setbacks during the previous century and a half, and were instilled with the conviction that – with God’s and the Virgin’s help – their righteous cause would triumph.

The knights left Malbork on horseback, attired in their traditional uniform – a white mantle, emblazoned with a black cross, over body armour of iron or steel, with plates covering the front and back, which in turn covered a chain-mail hauberk extending over the body, arms and legs. By their sides they bore swords which, from the early fourteenth century, had been enhanced with an extended grip and double-edged blade to help overcome the increasing weight and robustness of armour. As they rode they unfurled banners which they believed were God’s as well as their own. They went now to face a man who, though born a pagan, had fervently embraced the same Christian God. The strength that each side derived from their faith would only add to the brutality of the confrontation.

Cornelius Cruys

Cornelius Cruys (14 June 1655 – 14 June 1727) was a Norwegian–Dutch admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy, and the first commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet.

When in the Netherlands, Peter the Great dined often with Giles Schey the leading Dutch admiral of the day, a pupil of de Ruyter’s, and tried to persuade the Admiral to come to Russia to supervise construction of the Russian fleet and to take command when it put to sea. He offered Schey all the titles he might want, a pension of 24,000 florins, more for his wife and children in case they preferred to remain behind in Holland, and promised to make the arrangements himself with William. Schey declined, which did not in any way diminish Peter’s respect for him, and proposed another admiral to Peter as a man capable of supervising and commanding a navy. This was Cornelius Cruys, born in Norway of Dutch parents. With the rank of rear admiral, he was Chief Inspector of Naval Stores and Equipment of the Dutch Admiralty at Amsterdam, and in this capacity had already been advising the Russians in their purchases of naval equipment. He was exactly the kind of man Peter wanted, but, like Schey, Cruys showed little enthusiasm for Peter’s offer. Only the united efforts of Schey, Witsen and other prominent persons who understood that Cruys in Russia would have a powerful influence on Russian trade persuaded the reluctant Admiral to accept.

More important, the Russian Great Embassy had recruited 640 Dutchmen, among them Rear Admiral Cruys and other naval officers (eventually, Cruys persuaded 200 Dutch naval officers to come to Russia), seamen, engineers, technicians, shipwrights, physicians and other specialists. To carry them and the equipment purchased back to Russia, ten ships had been chartered.

In 1698 at Voronezh, in the shipyards sprawling along the banks of the broad and shallow river, Peter found the carpenters sawing and hammering, and he found many problems. There were shortages and great wastage of both men and materials. In haste to comply with the Tsar’s commands, the shipwrights were using unseasoned timber, which would rot quickly in the water. On arriving from Holland, Vice Admiral Cruys inspected the vessels and ordered many hauled out to be rebuilt and strengthened. The foreign shipwrights, each following his own designs without guidance or control from above, quarreled frequently. The Dutch shipwrights, commanded by Peter’s orders from London to work only under the supervision of others, were sullen and sluggish. The Russian artisans were in no better mood. Summoned by decree to Voronezh to learn shipbuilding, they understood that if they showed aptitude, they would be sent to the West to perfect their skills. Accordingly, many preferred to do just enough work to get by, hoping somehow to be allowed to return home.

By spring, the fleet was ready. Eighty-six ships of all sizes, including eighteen sea-going men-of-war carrying from thirty-six to forty-six guns were in the water, in addition, 500 barges had been built for carrying men, provisions, ammunition and powder. On May 7, 1699, this fleet left Voronezh and the villagers along the Don saw a remarkable sight: a fleet of full-rigged ships sailing past them down the river. Admiral Golovin was in nominal command, with Vice Admiral Cruys in actual command of the fleet. Peter took the role of captain of the forty-four-gun frigate Apostle Peter.

In 1706, Peter himself, sailing far out in the gulf, sighted a Swedish squadron headed in his direction and returned immediately to report the news by agreed-on cannon signals to Vice Admiral Cruys, the Dutch officer in command of the Russian fleet. Cruys, however, refused to believe the Tsar’s report and was convinced only when he saw the Swedish ships with his own eyes. Some time after that, Peter touched on the episode with ironic humor. Cruys, reporting on naval matters, complained to Peter of the general ignorance and insubordination of his fleet officers, saying “His Majesty, with his skill, knows the importance of perfect ‘subordination.'” Peter responded warmly, “The Vice Admiral [Cruys] is himself to blame for the want of skill of the naval officers as he himself engaged nearly all of them. … As concerns my skill, this compliment is not on a very firm footing. Not long ago, when I went to sea and saw the enemy’s ships from my yacht and signaled according to custom the number of ships, it was thought only to be amusement or the salute for a toast, and even when I myself came on board to the Vice Admiral, he was unwilling to believe until his sailors had seen them from the masthead. I must therefore beg him either to omit my name from the list of those whom he judges skillful, or in future cease from such raillery.”

In the spring of 1710, Peter plucked the military fruits of Poltava. Russian armies, unopposed by any Swedish army in the field, swept irresistibly through Sweden’s Baltic Provinces. While Sheremetev with 30,000 men beseiged Riga to the south, Peter sent General-Admiral Fedor Apraxin, newly made a Count and a Privy Councilor, with 18,000 men to besiege Vyborg in the north. This town at the head of the Karelian Isthmus, seventy-five miles northwest of St. Petersburg, was an important fortress and an assembly point for Swedish offensive threats against St. Petersburg. A Russian attempt on Vyborg from the land side in 1706 had failed, but now there was something new in Peter’s favor. His growing Baltic fleet, consisting of frigates and numerous galleys, the latter craft propelled by a combination of sails and oars and ideally suited for maneuvering in the rocky waters of the Finnish coast, was available both to transport men and supplies and to keep Swedish naval squadrons at bay. As soon as the Neva was clear of ice, in April, Russian ships sailed from Kronstadt with Vice Admiral Cruys in command and Peter, in his new rank as rear admiral, as Cruys’ deputy. The ships made their way through the ice floes in the Gulf of Finland and arrived off Vyborg to find Apraxin’s besieging army cold and hungry. The fleet brought provisions and reinforcements, raising Apraxin’s strength to 23,000. Peter, after studying the siege plans and instructing Apraxin to take the town no matter what the cost, returned to St. Petersburg in a small vessel, narrowly escaping capture by a Swedish warship.

Cruys performed well in Russia and came be regarded as the architect of the Russian Navy. After his return to Russia the Tsar put his Azov Flotilla under the command of Admiral Fyodor Alexeyevich Golovin, a Russian nobleman who was the successor of the Swiss Franz Lefort. Golovin was assisted by Vice-Admiral Cruys and Rear-Admiral Jan van Rees. Cruys became the first “Russian” mayor of Taganrog from 1698 to 1702.

In 1711, he made the first maps of Azov Sea and Don River. He was commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet from 1705, and masterminded the construction of Kronstadt fortress, which was essential in the Great Northern War against Sweden and many years later against the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Cruys worked for the tsar for more than 25 years and reached the highest Russian naval rank of admiral in 1721. He died at Saint Petersburg in 1727.

Crusader Sieges of Vilnius

Lithuanian Grand-Duke Jagiełło’s brothers wanted heavier cannons to oppose the Teutonic Knights’ new weapons, but since gun carriages did not exist yet the heavy weapons could only be transported by water. Because the Teutonic Knights controlled the lower reaches of the Nemunas River, the only route from Poland to Lithuania was from the Vistula up the Bug River to the Narew, then up that river’s tributaries until close to streams that led down to the Nemunas at Gardinas. Cannon could be dragged over a short portage, or perhaps even transported the entire way over the many bodies of water in the Masurian Lake district. Not unexpectedly, the Teutonic Knights sought to block this route by building forts in the wilderness north of the Narew. This presented some complications, because that land belonged to the Masovian dukes, but it did hinder Jagiełło’s efforts to send assistance to his brothers. The wilderness had been unoccupied since the withdrawal of the Sudovians to the east, and empty of all humans other than raiding parties from Prussia, Lithuania, and Masovia. But technically it was still Masovian.

Meanwhile the war had become even more brutal than before. The Teutonic Knights decapitated any Poles captured in the Lithuanian forts – they accused them of apostasy and aiding pagans – and the crusader raids into Samogitia met so little resistance that they were little more than manhunts. In reprisal the Samogitians occasionally sacrificed prisoners to their gods, burning knights alive, tied to their mounts in full armour over a giant pyre, or shooting them full of arrows while bound to a sacred tree. Even so, the war was not continuous. Despite the desperate nature of the fighting, there were truces and sudden changes in alliances; and nothing disturbed the universal love of hunting, for which special truces were arranged.

Although Vytautas was a crusader ally, as he saw his ancestral lands being destroyed he began to look for an alternative means of returning to power in Vilnius. Intellectually, he understood that it was most logical to join forces with his cousin, but Vytautas was a passionate man, not always ruled by his mind. Besides, he had not forgotten Jagiełło’s past treacheries and, well-aware of assassination plots, he surrounded himself with Tatar bodyguards. Consequently Vytautas was an emotional pendulum, swinging from one side to the other, forced to seek help from someone, but not liking any of the available allies. The Teutonic Knights took a cynical but philosophical view of this, as one chronicler stated: ‘Pagans rarely do what is right, as the broken treaties of Vytautas and his relatives prove’.

Still, when he considered the situation rationally Vytautas saw his present alliance with the Teutonic Order as a losing strategy. Victory under such circumstances would make him an impoverished ruler, hated by his own people and dependent upon the goodwill of the grand master. He may have sent a message to Jagiełło, somehow evading the order’s efforts to watch over his every move; if so, it was undoubtedly vague, the kind which would do no harm if discovered. Or perhaps Jagiełło merely sensed that the time was ripe to make his cousin a proposal. All that is known for certain is that in early August 1392 Jagiełło sent Bishop Henryk of Płock to Prussia as his emissary. This rather unpriestly Piast prince-bishop was related by marriage to the king’s sister, Alexandra of Masovia. Henryk used the opportunity provided by confession to inform Vytautas of his master’s propositions. Vytautas, under the pretext of allowing his wife to make a visit home, told Anna to negotiate with Jagiełło; he also managed to secure the release of many hostages who had been kept in honourable captivity in scattered fortresses. Then he gave his sister in marriage to Bishop Henryk and dismissed the English crusaders who had just arrived to join another invasion of Lithuania. He thus eliminated from the game the most dangerous bowmen in Europe, warriors who had been so effective in recent battles with Jagiełło’s subjects.

Vytautas plotted his betrayal carefully, arranging for the Samogitian warriors stationed in the crusader castles entrusted to him to kill or capture the Germans in the garrisons. After this had succeeded, he sent Lithuanian armies on widely separated fronts into Prussia and Livonia and overwhelmed what forces the Teutonic Knights still had in Samogitia. Vytautas’ return to Lithuania was greeted with wild enthusiasm. Every Samogitian appreciated his courage and cunning, contrasted his genial personality with Jagiełło’s vengeful brothers, and understood that the series of military disasters was likely now at an end; and the highlanders were happy to see the reign of foreigners – Poles – at an end.

It was a year before Grand Master Wallenrode was able to take his revenge. In January of 1393 he struck at Gardinas, employing Dutch and French knights. This threatened to cut the major communication route between Masovia and Vilnius, effectively isolating Lithuania. Vytautas and Jagiełło appealed to the papal legate to arrange for peace talks, which did in fact take place in Thorn in the summer. After ten days, however, Wallenrode became ill and left the conference. A short while later he died.

The new grand master, Conrad von Jungingen, was a decisive leader of far-reaching plans and far-reaching vision. Regional peace could be achieved, he believed, by a decisive victory in Vilnius, the one location that Vytautas and Jagiełło had to defend with all their might.

Already collecting in Prussia in the waning days of 1393 was a great army of French and German crusaders, among whom was a body of Burgundian archers (perhaps English mercenaries) whose concentrated firepower had the potential to savage the pagans quite as badly as they had mauled French armies in recent years. The crusaders began their march up the Nemunas in January 1394, relying on the thick ice to serve as a highway into the Lithuanian heartland. Vytautas attempted to halt the crusader march early on, but he barely escaped death under the first barrage of his enemies’ missile weapons, and his army was badly routed. The Lithuanian stand turned into a hurried retreat before the 400 advancing crusader knights and their thousands of sergeants and infantry.

Vytautas received a reinforcement from Poland, a strong contingent of knights, to join the 15,000 mounted warriors under his command, but their numbers were insufficient to stop the advance of the now much-feared archers into the heart of his country. The crusaders passed through forests, swamps, and open fields, evading ambushes, to reach Vilnius, where Vytautas was joined by his Rus’ian troops. The grand prince fought a desperate engagement, giving and taking heavy losses until his Rus’ian wing fled and was followed by one Lithuanian unit after the other. At last, he, too, had to retreat, and again he barely escaped the field alive. While Vytautas sought to rally his scattered and demoralised forces at a safe distance, the Teutonic Knights settled down to besiege his capital, a place they knew well from 1390. They made new plans to celebrate the conversion of the Lithuanians, this time assured by their arms that the baptismal ceremony would take place properly – a true conversion, not the ambiguous promises of Jagiełło and Vytautas, whose Christian names were used only in formal documents. What further proof, the crusaders asked, did anyone need that their allegiance to Rome was very thin?

On the eighth day of the siege the Livonian master arrived to reinforce the crusader host. He was welcomed heartily, for now the crusaders could surround the entire city, contain the sorties from the fortress, and make a determined assault on the wall at its weakest point. The Livonian forces were sent to the river front, where they built two bridges, then rode across the river to plunder the countryside. In this foraging they lost fifty men (only three of them German and only one a knight, indicating that a large native contingent was present) while killing and capturing ‘innumerable’ Lithuanians. Nevertheless, the siege did not go well. After another week of fighting, the firing posts that the engineers had built for the archers, the siege towers, and the bridges were destroyed by an inferno that the garrison set during a sortie. Nevertheless, the crusaders had some successes – their artillery had brought down a stone tower and set fire to various wooden fortifications. Soon afterward, however, the Lithuanians set a tower in the crusader camp ablaze, which not only caused extensive casualties among the French but destroyed most of the supplies, so that the crusaders would be unable to remain at Vilnius as long as planned. The grand master allowed the war of engineers to continue four more days, but it was obvious that the Lithuanians could destroy new siege works almost as fast as the crusaders could build them. An assault would require more time to prepare than the army could be kept fed by its remaining supplies. Also, Vytautas had been regrouping his scattered forces. Scouts were reporting that he would soon be coming to relieve the city. This meant that the crusaders would have to fight on two fronts – an unattractive prospect.

The leaders of the crusader armies met, discussed their situation, and reluctantly agreed to abandon the siege. The grand master sent the Livonian forces home first, then moved west himself, harassed by Lithuanians cutting down trees across the road, fortifying the river crossings, and laying ambushes in the woods. The Prussian force alternately negotiated and fought its way along the route away from Vilnius, then abruptly changed direction and marched through Samogitia, thereby avoiding Vytautas’ army and the obstacles he had erected.

The expedition had been one of the most memorable enterprises of the medieval era – the siege of an enemy capital with knights and military specialists drawn from all of Europe – and a chivalric exploit worthy of any land; but the capture of the greatest city in Lithuania was beyond the ability of the crusaders. The war continued, with the Teutonic Order striking up the Nemunas River and ravaging the Samogitian settlements; they were far from attempting another invasion of the highlands, farther yet from Jagiełło’s capital. The Lithuanians remained on the defensive, biding their time. They had no reason to risk everything on a pitched battle, no reason to carry the war back into Prussia. Not yet, at least.


By the end of 1393 Vytautas was master of Lithuania. He had driven all Jagiełło’s brothers from the land, and when his forces won a major battle in 1394, crushing the Volhynian, Galician, and Moldavian dukes, Jagiełło completely abandoned his brothers to their fate: Kaributas went into exile in Cracow; the Moldavian ruler also fled to Cracow, where he was imprisoned; Skirgaila died in Kiev in 1396, probably poisoned; and Svidrigailo fought for the Teutonic Order briefly before achieving a reconciliation. The former bishop, Henryk, died, unmourned, of poison.

Jagiełło retained the title of supreme prince, and Vytautas was satisfied with the lesser title of great prince until his very last days. But as time passed, so real authority passed into the hands of Vytautas.

Meanwhile the crusader raids into Lithuania continued. Not only were the Prussian forces constantly in Samogitia, but so too was the black and white banner of the Livonian master – a black centre stripe horizontally flanked by white, with contrasting triangular tails fluttering behind. The last raid into Samogitia came in the winter of 1398, when the crusaders took 700 prisoners and 650 horses, and killed many people; they had surprised the defenders by entering the country during changeable weather, a gamble that had rarely proven worth the risk before, but paid high returns when successful. Vytautas did not retaliate. He was campaigning in southern Rus’, longing for an end to the troublesome northern war that was hindering his chances for success on the steppe. Only his promise to Jagiełło stood in the way of making peace. Of course, promises were not serious obstacles to Vytautas.

Vytautas had an excuse to refuse obedience to Polish orders soon afterward, when Jadwiga (who – not Jagiełło – was legally rex of Poland) demanded a tax from the Lithuanians, a tax that Vytautas’ boyars had no desire to pay. The royal demand was not unreasonable. Vytautas had depended on Polish aid to defend Samogitia, and Polish nobles and clergy were asking why they had to bear all the costs, while the Lithuanians paid nothing. The Poles probably reasoned that Vytautas had no choice, and that no matter how much he protested, in the end he would make his subjects pay.

This presumed reasoning underestimated Vytautas. The grand prince was not fixated on Samogitia. Instead, he was studying the situation on the steppe. In the process of driving Jagiełło’s brothers from their lands in southern Rus’, Vytautas had confirmed suspicions that the Tatar hold on the region had weakened. Moreover, his popularity among his people would be seriously undermined if he appeared to be a mere Polish puppet.

Vytautas understood that if he did not pay the tax he would have to sue for peace with at least one enemy. Better the Teutonic Order than the Tatars, he reasoned, for it was against the weakened Tatars that he saw the best prospects of territorial expansion. In contrast to the potential conquest of the steppe, he could at best fight a defensive war against the Teutonic Knights. Peace with the grand master, of course, could be had only at a price – Samogitia. Fortunately for Vytautas, Jagiełło was caught up in the dream of driving the Tatars from the steppe too, removing them forever as a threat to his Polish and Lithuanian frontiers; and his Polish subjects, who had lived for generations in fear of the Tatars, agreed. It helped that Jadwiga knew the grand master personally and liked him; she had always wanted peace with Prussia and had encouraged the many inconclusive meetings with the grand master’s representatives in the past. Now it appeared that there was the likelihood of a breakthrough in the negotiation process.

Peace talks with the Teutonic Order culminated in September 1398 in the Treaty of Sallinwerder, which surrendered Samogitia to the Germans. Vytautas and Jagiełło led their armies to Kaunas, where the last pagans of Samogitia surrendered to the Teutonic Order. The Samogitians growled, but they understood that they could not fight without the grand prince of Lithuania and the prince-consort of Poland. Besides, they had been under crusader control before, and it had not lasted.

The next year, in the summer of 1399, a great army of Lithuanians, Rus’ians, Tatars, Poles, and Teutonic Knights rode out onto the steppe to challenge Timur’s domination there. The result was another military disaster.  Had Vytautas been successful, the history of the Teutonic Order would have taken a new and more exotic turn than anyone had previously imagined. But even defeat on the steppe did not mean a return to the old ways. In the years to come some Teutonic Knights would accompany Vytautas against Rus’ian foes as far away as Moscow, and others would board ships to destroy a pirate stronghold on the island of Gotland.

It appeared that the crusade was at an end. The Teutonic Order had achieved its goal, the Christianisation of most pagans and the conquest of the rest. The Teutonic Knights still welcomed a handful of crusaders to assist in garrisoning their castles in Samogitia, but the crusade was essentially over by 1400

Interestingly, the greatest complaints against the Teutonic Order came from those churchmen who were unhappy that the grand master was not forcing his new subjects to undergo baptism immediately. Conrad von Jungingen was instead pursuing a policy of economic development, and creating from the many petty Lithuanian boyars a smaller, dependable ruling class. He assumed, probably correctly, that in the course of time, this would result in the voluntary conversion of these stubborn woodsmen.

Vytautas believed that too. He secretly encouraged the Samogitians to hold out. He would soon be coming to free them again.