Relearning Old Lessons – RAF in France 1940 – Dunkirk

Spitfire and Hurricane (behind).

Shown here is a Hudson Mk.I of an unidentified Sqd off Dunkirk during early June 1940 at the time of Operation Dynamo.

A German twin propelled Messerschmidt BF 110 bomber, nicknamed “Fliegender Haifisch” (Flying Shark), over the English Channel, in August of 1940.

As soon as the surrender was announced, British and German forces rushed to fill the vacuum created. A fierce battle was soon underway for the coastal town of Nieuport, the last defensible position to the east of Dunkirk. It was a crisis within a crisis. For the next two nights, Bomber Command focused all its efforts on direct support for the Dunkirk garrison. By the 30th, however, the Air Ministry considered the crisis to be over; it reassured the War Office that ‘in the event of a further critical situation arising in the land Battle’, all effort once more would return to tactical missions. On 30–31 May, more Hampdens were dispatched to attack oil refineries in Hamburg. It seemed the ongoing evacuation from Dunkirk was not crisis enough for the Air Staff.

While Portal deemed the crisis over, the British and French were grimly hanging on all along the perimeter defences. No. 2 Group was still fully committed to the Army’s cause, with sorties rising to nearly 100 on the 31st. That evening, the day bombers made one of their more telling contributions; an attack by six Fleet Air Arm Albacores and eighteen Blenheims dispersed German forces gathering for another attempt to break though the increasingly shaky British defences around Nieuport.45 Such timely interventions were still a matter of luck rather than judgement, but the bombers had to be operating in the right area before luck could even come into play. Ever fewer of the night bombers were in the right area. Wellington nocturnal sorties on German positions around the perimeter dropped from the forty-seven on the night of 28–29 May to just sixteen on the night of 2–3 June.

Fighter pilots were under clear instructions not to intervene on the ground. This was frustrating for some. It was obvious that their comrades were in enormous difficulty, and there seemed plenty of attractive targets. Air defence was quite rightly the priority, but there was no reason why they could not expend any unused ammunition on ground targets before heading for home.

Dowding could claim that he had too few fighters to waste any strafing the enemy. Park, whose No. 11 Group was solely responsible for protecting Dunkirk, would not dispute this—he had just sixteen of the available forty-five squadrons. Park was also only allowed his fair share of the Spitfire squadrons, even though his were the only fighters that could possibly encounter the Bf 109. The defences of the rest of the country would not be weakened by concentrating the Spitfires in the south-east.

On 26 May, Park used eleven single-seater squadrons over Dunkirk. Reinforcements from neighbouring Groups increased this to nineteen on the 28th, and it stayed at around that level until daylight evacuation ended. Dowding could claim that thirty-four of his squadrons were involved over Dunkirk at one time or another; this sounded impressive, but nine squadrons were only used on one day, and only one squadron, No. 17, was used on all eight days. It was not an all-out effort and it was certainly not sufficient to protect the beaches ‘from first light to darkness with continuous fighter patrols in strength’, let alone escort planes attacking German positions. Only around 250–300 sorties were flown over the beaches each day. To protect shipping crossing the Channel, a miscellaneous collection of Naval planes had to be used. While Hurricanes and Spitfires sat on airfields up and down the country, a motley collection of Hudsons, Rocs, Ansons, and Blenheim 1Fs were sent off in flights of three to patrol the sea-lanes. None of them would stand any chance if they encountered German fighters. Fortunately, the Luftwaffe would concentrate its efforts on Dunkirk.

In order to provide the continuous cover expected, Park had to use single-squadron patrols. On the 27th, the Luftwaffe launched a series of heavy attacks. Port facilities were so damaged that for a time, all troops had to be embarked from the beaches. The fighters, however, took a heavy toll. The vulnerable Ju 87 dive bombers managed to evade the high-flying RAF patrols, but twenty-four out of 225 medium bombers—over 10 per cent—were shot down. In response, the Luftwaffe stepped up its fighter cover48 and the lone RAF squadrons often found themselves hopelessly outnumbered.

Park had to start using multi-squadron formations to combat the stronger German escorts. Initially two squadrons were used, often with a higher Spitfire squadron covering a lower Hurricane squadron. Later, formations of up to four squadrons were used. Some squadrons also began copying the looser German formations, with fighters working together in pairs. Even with the larger formations, the RAF fighters were still outnumbered, and there now had to be long stretches during the day when there was no fighter cover at all.

This was not what Newall wanted. He made it very clear to Dowding that he had ‘to maintain continuous patrols in strength over Dunkirk and the beaches three miles east and west of it; to provide escorts for bomber sorties, and support the B.E.F’. Dowding insisted this was quite impossible. The air defences of Britain were at ‘cracking point’, and following these orders would lead to ‘a dangerous situation’. It was a difficult argument to sustain when there were no attacks on the UK. Newall was not persuaded, and he essentially told Dowding to do what he was told. However, if Newall wanted continuous cover in strength, he had to order Dowding to disregard temporarily the danger to the rest of the country and move more squadrons into the south-east. He chose not to, and Dowding essentially ignored the order to provide continuous cover.

Fortunately for the BEF, on the 28th, the morning of the 29th, and the 30th, Luftwaffe operations were severely hampered by poor weather. Luftwaffe bombing operations picked up during the afternoon of the 31st. The clear skies on 1 June meant that nearly 500 bombers, covered by over 500 fighters, were able to attack the port and transports. Fighter Command used fifteen squadrons and managed just 270 sorties. Even when the attacks coincided with RAF patrols, the fighters rarely broke through to the bombers. The RAF lost sixteen fighters, the Luftwaffe twelve, but only four bombers were lost, including just two of the 325 vulnerable Ju 87s.

Three British and one French destroyer were sunk, along with a dozen other craft. So heavy was the bombardment that the British were forced to abandon the evacuation by day. It was a victory for the Luftwaffe. On 2 and 3 June, the Luftwaffe continued to bomb the encircled troops. The total number of sorties flown by Fighter Command dropped to just 147 on the 2nd, while the Luftwaffe was still using 500 fighters to escort their bombers. Throughout the evacuation, the number of RAF fighter sorties on any one day never exceeded 300.

The evacuation was another chance to see if the Defiant could be used offensively. No. 264 Squadron flew missions over Dunkirk on the 27th, 28th, and 29th, and appeared to be doing well, claiming eleven victories. On 31 May, however, the squadron lost seven planes in a single engagement. As compensation, the gunners claimed an extraordinary thirty-seven enemy planes shot down. In a little more than a fortnight, the unit was credited with the destruction of no less than sixty-five enemy aircraft. With several gunners firing at the same plane and all claiming the victory, Defiant claims were inevitably more suspect than most; even so, the over-claiming was extraordinary. The claims for 31 May comfortably exceeded Luftwaffe losses on all fronts for the entire day. The battered squadron again had to be withdrawn to rest and reequip, but the claims the crews were making kept alive the dream that the turret fighter could be a success. It was just a question of finding a way to reduce losses.

Fighter Command squadrons had made an impact from the 23rd to the 27th, but on subsequent days the Luftwaffe reasserted itself. Even the Spitfire did not seem to be posing the problems it had a few days before, as German pilots became more familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the plane. Forty British fighters were lost on the three days between 31 May and 2 June, compared to seventeen German fighters and just fourteen bombers. Tactically, the Luftwaffe ended the battle on top.

Nevertheless, Göring had failed to deliver on his promise. Not even the all-conquering Luftwaffe could wipe out an army; even when it turned its attention to the ships, rather than the troops on the beaches, it could not destroy enough to prevent huge numbers escaping. The British were just as surprised. The number of soldiers rescued rose from under 8,000 on the 27th to nearly 50,000 on the 29th. From 30 May, the British agreed to take off an equal number of French troops, a belated but just reward for the crucial part they had played in holding the perimeter. By the end of the evacuation, 225,000 British and 100,000 French troops had been plucked from the beaches.

The Admiralty and War Office had good reason to celebrate, but the feeling of goodwill did not stretch to the RAF. From Ramsay and Gort at the top, right down to the humble private on the beach, there was fury at the scale of the RAF effort. Pilots unfortunate enough to be shot down over Dunkirk experienced the full wrath of the soldiers and sailors first-hand; some were denied access to the boats evacuating the troops. In Britain, it was considered unwise for anyone in Air Force blue to venture out alone. At what point exactly the Royal Air Force was rechristened the ‘Royal Absent Force’ is not clear, but post-Dunkirk that was the sentiment.

Soldiers on the front line are scarcely best-placed to be aware of all the facts. It was a very easy to draw the wrong conclusions when bombs were raining down and there was not a single RAF machine in sight. Nevertheless, some of the attempts to justify the apparent absence are scarcely convincing. Some fighters did have to fly at high altitudes, and they did have to try and intercept the bombers before they reached Dunkirk, but with limited endurance, patrolling too far inland was not a sensible tactic. The Spitfires were still under orders not to cross the coastline. The Air Ministry excuse that Dunkirk was beyond their air defence system again underlines how the Air Staff had allowed radar to become a crutch that Fighter Command believed it could not do without.

One of the particularly disappointing features of the RAF operation was the relatively few highly vulnerable Ju 87s shot down. Leaving aside the extraordinary claim of the Defiant squadron on the 29th (eighteen claimed destroyed when the Luftwaffe only lost two on all fronts) RAF pilots only claimed twenty destroyed during the entire evacuation. The actual Luftwaffe losses were just ten. With such strong escorts, the fighters attempting to tackle the bombers needed cover above them, but often even the lower fighter formations were flying too high to deal with the Stukas. Low-level fighter cover had been poor throughout the campaign. In tactical operations, the RAF had to be effective at all altitudes, which meant fighters operating at low as well as high altitudes.

The soldiers and sailors may not have had all the evidence, but they were essentially correct. There is no denying that the fighters that were used made a difference. As the Army had discovered in Norway, opposed bombing was far less effective than unopposed bombing. However, there were times when there were no fighters at all, and when they were present, there were not enough of them. Even if all the Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons available had been used, they could never have prevented bombs falling on Dunkirk. No doubt the soldiers and sailors would still have complained. Nevertheless, if the Air Staff and Dowding had so wished, Fighter Command could have done more.

The pilots were not entirely convinced by the orders they were following. Flying so high puzzled some when they could see the Stukas below. Bomber pilots were also troubled. Guy Gibson, flying Hampdens, described how the aircrews in his squadron agonised over the logic of striking at industrial targets inside Germany when the soldiers on the ground were quite clearly in need of more direct support. Such doubts were arising at a time when bomber crews still firmly believed their strategic operations were inflicting enormous damage on the German war machine.

Churchill tried to restore Fighter Command’s reputation by claiming that RAF fighters had achieved a victory within the defeat. Not many were persuaded. It was unfortunate that it was often the brave pilots who flew in this unnecessarily unequal battle that bore the brunt of the soldiers’ and sailors’ ire. It was the Air Staff and politicians, chief among them Churchill, who were responsible for misjudging the bomber threat and holding back too many fighters. They were the ones who deserved the criticism.

It was not just RAF commanders who were getting it wrong; Göring also had an exaggerated idea of what bombers could achieve. Air forces could not destroy armies. German victories had been achieved by the Panzers and Air Force working together. It seemed that air power worked best when it was supporting forces on the ground. The Luftwaffe could not win wars, or even battles, on its own; the failure to appreciate this would have fatal consequences for the German cause later that summer.

The 225,000 British troops rescued from Dunkirk provided Britain with a nucleus of trained, battle-hardened troops around which a new Army could be built. Nevertheless, even with the manpower resources of an empire, the British could never hope to muster an army that could single-handedly drive the Wehrmacht from the countries Germany had occupied. Britain still needed France. Even after the May debacle, the French Army was still far larger than Britain’s could possibly hope to be for some time to come.

The Dunkirk evacuation gave the French the briefest of breathing spaces to organise their defences along the Somme and Aisne. The thirty divisions the French Army had lost included their best-trained and best-equipped. Weygand realised that with the Luftwaffe ruling the skies, he could not fight a mobile battle. Instead, he created a defence in depth, with every village and hamlet turned into a strongpoint that would continue to resist even if surrounded; he hoped that these strongpoints would suck the momentum out of any new German assault. If the French could hang on, their defences could only get stronger. The 100,000 troops rescued at Dunkirk were on their way back to France. In the air, there were already signs of a revival. The Martin 167 (Maryland) bomber squadron flew its first mission on 22 May, followed by the Douglas DB7 (Boston) squadron on 31 May. At the beginning of June, the French had seventeen day bomber squadrons equipped with modern planes and eight fighter squadrons reequipped with the Dewoitine D.520. French troops would now get more support from their air force, and at least the Stuka and the tank would no longer be a surprise.

Churchill was determined to give the French all the help he could. The newly formed 1st Armoured Division was already on the way to France to join the sole remaining division of the BEF. Britain’s only two fully trained divisions would follow. In terms of land forces, Britain was literally committing everything. However, the fear of a German bomber offensive ensured air support was treated very differently. Given the importance of the battle that was about to open, the French saw no reason why every one of the 680 fighters they believed Fighter Command had should not be transferred to France. If that was expecting too much, half this force could be sent at the very least. Given that Fighter Command had scarcely put half its available strength over the British Army evacuating from Dunkirk, it was a request that was unlikely to cause much soul-searching in the Air Ministry, and none at all at Fighter Command Headquarters.

Barratt was more realistic about what reinforcements might arrive, but even his modest requirements were unwelcome in Air Ministry circles. Barratt now recognised how unbalanced his original force had been; it had far too few fighters for the number of bombers and reconnaissance planes. Losses had reduced his AASF to just six Battle squadrons, but even this reduced force needed more than the three fighter squadrons he had. Barratt’s message was simple; either recreate a more balanced force with a higher proportion of fighters, or pull back the entire force to the United Kingdom. The latter, he emphasised, was unthinkable. If fighter reinforcements were sent, they had to arrive before the Germans launched their offensive—not in the middle of a retreat.

The cabinet discussed the matter on 3 June. The debate generated some curiously cunning arguments from the Chief of Air Staff. Churchill noted that the number of RAF squadrons available to support the Allied armies in France was now substantially fewer than at the beginning of the campaign and wanted British air support for the French to match the scale, and indeed the risk, being taken with ground forces. Newall, however, insisted that Churchill was getting his figures wrong; the Prime Minister was including the AASF and the fighter squadrons attached to it. This was ‘an integral part of the Metropolitan Air Force, which had been located in France for operational convenience’, Newall explained. The bombers belonged to Bomber Command, and the fighter squadrons attached to it were there to protect the bombers, not France or the French Army. As a concession, he suggested that these squadrons should be allowed to stay in France and form the reinforcement Churchill was asking for. It was an argument that stretched credulity to its limits—the AASF Battles had been part of the tactical BAFF since January.

As for fighters, Newall and Dowding repeated the usual arguments about fighters achieving better results guided by radar over home territory. Dowding produced a graph showing that in the week following the German offensive, Hurricane squadrons in France were losing an average of twenty-five planes per day, while production was only four per day. If this loss rate had been allowed to continue, the entire RAF Hurricane force would already have ceased to exist.

Dowding’s attempt to portray Command on the brink of collapse relied on a rather creative use of the figures. It seems that he had spotted an old production programme that had anticipated only seventeen Hurricanes would be built in the four days following the 13 May bank holiday. Even before Churchill had appointed Lord Beaverbrook to pep up production, fighter output was exceeding these expectations. No less than forty had actually been built in the week in question, and in the week preceding the cabinet debate, ninety-two had rolled off the production lines. The loss figures Dowding was using were also misleading; he seems to have arrived at a figure of twenty-five per day by counting as ‘lost’ the fifty-odd Hurricanes still serving with the three AASF squadrons in France. The figure also included the 100 or so abandoned or deliberately destroyed when the Air Component fled France. Dowding could, of course, claim that it did not matter how the plane was lost—a loss was a loss—but it also seemed reasonable not to expect a panicky retreat from France to happen every week.

Dowding made much of the huge burden the ongoing air battles over Dunkirk involved. As he spoke, he melodramatically told the cabinet that the very last three squadrons were flying down to take part in the Dunkirk evacuation. This gave a rather misleading idea of the intensity of Fighter Command operations in defence of the evacuation. Squadrons were so under-strength, he insisted, the resources of eight squadrons had to be combined to form one ‘strong’ patrol. This was just a reference to the multi-squadron formations Park had started using over the beaches to combat the German escorts.

Even if no more fighters were sent to France, Dowding warned the cabinet, if the Luftwaffe turned its full weight on Britain, he could only guarantee to maintain air superiority for forty-eight hours. Churchill pointed out that the German Air Force was by all accounts suffering heavy losses too, but Dowding claimed the Luftwaffe’s vast numerical advantage meant that only a victory-loss ratio of 8:1 would do. British fighters in France had only managed 1.5:1. Even in the Dunkirk evacuation, Fighter Command had only managed 4:1.

As far as Dowding was concerned, the role of the Air Force was not to help win a battle, halt an enemy advance, or protect an evacuation. The only measure of success was the victory-loss ratio. For a force that was determined to fight its wars independently of what was happening on land or sea, it was an entirely logical way of measuring who was winning—indeed, arguably the only way. Victory-loss ratios are a useful way of assessing how an air force is faring, but it is not a measure of victory or defeat.

Hurricane losses had been serious—323 Hurricanes had been lost in May and only 226 delivered. Nevertheless, Dowding’s admission that Fighter Command had over 500 serviceable fighters seemed to the cabinet rather at odds with his gloomy prognosis. He countered by insisting that the real problem was pilots. Again, losses had been heavy, with over 200 killed, wounded, or captured since the beginning of the battle. Nevertheless, the pilot situation was still not a crisis. On 15 June, Fighter Command had over 1,000 pilots in front-line fighter squadrons, which was not ideal—each squadron was supposed to have twenty-two pilots, so there was a deficit. However, Dowding cleverly managed to make the deficit more striking by increasing the pilot strength of each squadron from twenty-two to twenty-six. At a stroke, this increased the deficit from 134 to 362 pilots.

Britain’s apparent difficulties were not going to look so serious to her struggling ally. As Churchill pointed out, Britain had ‘some 500 fighters of incomparable quality which we would be withholding at a moment when they would be making a supreme effort on land’. Nevertheless, he agreed that any military help Britain could provide in the immediate future was so limited that it would almost certainly make no material difference to the outcome of the battle in France. The morale-boosting impact of a British contribution would be enormous, but Britain should send the minimum to achieve this. France would either stop the Panzers with what she had left or be defeated, regardless of what Britain sent. The French were told the RAF fighter force would stay at just three squadrons because this was the maximum that could be maintained by existing production, which must have left the French wondering why British fighter production was so low.

Bomber support provoked an equally vigorous debate. Even the Minister of War, Eden, insisted that the French campaign had shown the pointlessness of attacking bridges and troops. The most useful contribution British bombers could make to French success on the battlefield would be to continue to attack oil targets in Germany. Eden was only being critical of Allied efforts at tactical bombing; no one was suggesting that German efforts had been pointless. Atlee supported Eden, but Churchill insisted that once land operations began, Bomber Command must turn its efforts to supporting the French and British Armies more directly. Once again, the bombers would only be committed when things started to go wrong. The Germans were massing equipment in the bridgeheads they had established over the Somme at Abbeville, Amiens, and Peronne, and it was these targets that Bomber Command should have been attacking, before the offensive began—not oil refineries in Germany.

One of the reasons Newall gave for not deploying more RAF squadrons in France rather summed up British priorities. The servicing units more reinforcements required would be needed for Operation Haddock, a plan that was to be put into effect as soon as Italy declared war (which was expected to happen very soon). RAF bombers using airfields in France would strike targets in Italy. As always, Churchill was anxious to go on the offensive, and he had managed to persuade Reynaud that bombing Italy was a good idea. A token raid against a possible future enemy can scarcely have seemed a high priority to the French as they prepared to meet an imminent German offensive.

While the French and Germans packed their front lines for the decisive battle, the Luftwaffe tried its hand at independent strategic bombing. On 3 June, the German Air Force launched 640 bombers against the French capital, ten times the number that had struck Rotterdam just three weeks earlier. It was not an indiscriminate terror raid—airfields and factories were the target—but it was hoped that the attack would weaken the French will to resist. Several factories were damaged and twenty French aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Two hundred civilians and fifty servicemen were killed. Even a nervous French government could take this level of intimidation in its stride.

On 5 June, the real battle began. The thrusts from the Amiens and Peronne bridgeheads posed a direct threat to Paris. This was where French defences were strongest and where the French Air Force made its greatest effort. The Abbeville front was closer to Britain and the French hoped the RAF could help cover this. The only British division in the front line was the 51st Highlanders, on the coast near Abbeville.

No reinforcements had arrived for the AASF. The three Hurricane squadrons mustered just eighteen serviceable planes. By this time, the AASF had retreated to the Le Mans region, 100 miles west of Paris. They were further from the front line than squadrons in Britain. On the first day of the offensive, the only air support from Britain was one escorted raid by Blenheims. The Highlanders were immediately under enormous pressure, and they appealed to London for fighter cover to fend off the continuous Stuka attacks. From the 6th, two squadrons from Fighter Command operated over the division, using Rouen to refuel. This was increased to four squadrons from the 7th. The three AASF Hurricane squadrons also finally got some reinforcements to bring them up to full strength. Blenheim support slowly increased, with thirty-six sorties on the 6th and fifty-four on the 7th. No. 2 Group then maintained this level for a week. Dowding and Park were again dismayed by the way their fighters had to be used to escort these raids; Park was still trying to persuade everyone that single-seaters were quite unsuitable, and he suggested that the Defiant would be more successful. It was a claim that was hardly borne out by the success of the German single-seater escorts over Dunkirk and the failure of the Defiant to deal with them. By night, Bomber Command gradually switched some of its effort from oil to the Abbeville front, but nearly 50 per cent of sorties flown were still against targets inside Germany. Once again, the effort in the tactical zone was belated and half-hearted.

French resistance on the ground was stubborn and German progress was initially slow. It briefly seemed that the French might have done enough to halt the German juggernaut. For three days, French bombers managed around 100 sorties a day against the German forces edging forward. French cannon-armed fighters were thrown into the ground-attack role. They were supported by Barratt’s Battles, now benefitting from fighter escorts, although the shortage of fighters meant many Battles had to operate by night.

While the French focused their efforts on the Peronne and Amiens front, Rommel, almost unnoticed, broke through just south of Abbeville. By the 7th, his Panzers were racing westwards, outflanking the French forces still holding the Germans further south. On the 9th, a second German offensive across the Aisne shattered the French resistance. The next day, Mussolini declared war on France. The military situation in France was now hopeless. The transfer of reinforcements to France was halted, and the evacuation of all remaining British personnel began. From 14 June, the remnants of the AASF began leaving for Britain. On their return, the fighters went back to Fighter Command and the AASF became No. 1 Group Bomber Command again. The BAFF, the RAF’s first Second World War tactical air force, had ceased to exist.

THE GWALIOR CAMPAIGN, 1843

Gwalior Campaign (1843) In 1843, the East India Company was concerned about the turbulence and intrigue surrounding the succession and rule of an adopted child-heir in Gwalior, the stability of that state, and the potential threat of the Gwalior military to the British. There was apprehension that the Maratha resistance against company rule could be renewed, and it was reported that the dissidents in Gwalior were secretly seeking support from the Sikhs and other princely states. After the British humiliations in Kabul and at the Khyber Pass during the First Afghan War, the company’s military reputation and credibility needed bolstering. The governor-general, Lord Ellenborough, attempted to discuss the situation with the Gwalior council of regency, but when he was rebuffed, company forces attacked Gwalior to suppress its military force.

Company armies were assembled at Agra, under the commander in chief, Lieutenant General (later Field Marshal Viscount) Sir Hugh Gough, and at Jhansi, commanded by Major General John Grey. The two forces, beginning their march on 17 December 1843, were to converge on Gwalior, Gough’s from the north and Grey’s from the south.

The Mahratta Army of Gwalior established strong defensive positions at Chonda on the Asun River. Due to the difficult terrain, Gough’s force was divided into three columns. He intended to turn the enemy’s left flank with his cavalry and infantry, threaten the enemy’s left flank , with the main attack being a frontal assault.

Reportedly with no scouts in advance, Gough’s force m arched out of its assembly area early on 29 December 1843 and arrived at the village of Maharajpore. The Mahrattas had established new positions at this advance location, and this forced Gough to change his plan. What appeared to have been a flat plain between the forces was in fact ground devoid of cover and full of ravines. Th is made it impossible for the infantry, cavalry, and artillery to coordinate their actions, and when Gough’s force came with in 1,500 yards of the village, the well-trained Mahratta artillery opened up a murderous fire. Gough’s response was simply, “On and at them!” (Featherstone 1992, p. 33).

Gough’s three infantry and two cavalry brigades, totaling about 6,500 soldiers with 30 field guns, attacked the 17,000 Mahrattas. Amid the smoke, confusion, bad terrain, and fierce fighting, the British force was finally able to overcome its adversary. The British loss es totaled 797 all ranks killed, wounded, or missing. The Mahrattas suffered over 3,000 men killed and wounded and lost 56 guns. Gough admitted to underestimating his foe. The Battle of Maharajpore was a ‘soldiers victory’ won by the bayonet without the benefit of tactics, strategy or manoeuvring. Gough displayed no generalship whatsoever and gave but one order” (Featherstone 1973, p. 50).

On the same day, 29 December 1843, Grey’s force reached the village of Punniar, about 12 miles south of the Gwalior Fortress. A Mahratta force suddenly attacked Grey’s long bag- gage train. He sent half his horse artillery and a cavalry element to the rear of his column, and this saved the baggage.

In the afternoon, Grey’s force was threatened by 12,000 Mahrattas positioned on high hills to the east. Grey ordered the 3rd Foot and sappers and miners to conduct a frontal assault, while the 39th Native Infantry attacked the Mahratta left flank. The 3rd Foot’s determined assault was successful, and it drove the Mahrattas from their positions and captured 11 guns. At the same time, the 39th Native Infantry seized a hill that dominated the Mahratta position. After numerous volleys, the 39th rushed to the Mahratta positions and captured 2 guns, while the 2nd Brigade, which had been held in reserve by Grey, attacked and shattered the enemy right flank, capturing 11 more guns. The entire British force then advanced against the crumbling Mahratta defenses. The Mahrattas fled the field, abandoning their 16 remaining guns and more than 1,000 casualties. British total casualties at the Battle of Punniar were 217 all ranks and 11 horses.

These two decisive victories ended the short Gwalior campaign, and the Gwalior regency capitulated. Gough’s and Grey’s forces linked up at Gwalior a few days later, and on 31 December 1843 a treaty was signed that reduced the Mahratta Army, established a British resident in the capital, and provided for the British occupation of the Gwalior Fortress.

Edward Armitage (1817-96) The Battle of Meanee, 17 February 1843

The Passage of the River Chumbal by the British Indian Army’. . London, c.1850. Lithograph by Dickinson & Co. after Capt. Charles Becher Young. India. Military. Source: P801.

British Uniforms

The year following the conclusion of the Afghan War saw two further campaigns in India: the Conquest of Scinde and the very brief Gwalior Campaign against the Mahranas, sometimes known as ‘The 48 Hours War’. Sir Charles Napier conquered the Balucltis of Scinde with a force containing only one British infantry regiment, the 22nd, which distinguished itself at the Battles of Meanee and Hyderabad on 17 February and 24 March 1843 respectively. The regiment is shown at Meanee in a large painting exhibited in 1847 by Edward Armitage RA, reproduced herewith. Armitage was not primarily a battle painter but his military subjects are executed with precision, and for this painting he acquired material through the help of Napier’s brother, William. The 22nd’s officers are in uncovered forage caps and either frock coats or shells, while the men wear their dress coatees and locally-made blue-grey trousers. Their peaked forage caps, probably of the ‘pork-pic’ type, have white covers and curtains.

Paintings of Meanee and Hyderabad (sometimes called Dubba) were executed by GeorgeJones RA, advised by Napier’s officers. Napier preferred Jones’s rendering of the action to Armitage’s, but his style was less attentive to costume detail and his Meanee painting shows the 22nd in coatees but with winter trousers and white-covered shakos with curtains. However, his Hyderabad painting depicts similar dress to Armitage, so possibly the conflicting headdress and trousers resulted from misinterpretation of information he received. The latter painting also includes a troop of Bombay Horse Artillery in its full dress; its helmets had black manes and a brush on the front of the crest, whereas those of Bengal and Madras had red manes and no brush.

In Scinde Napier used 350 men of the 22nd as camel-mounted infantry in pairs for his expedition to the desert stronghold of Imamgarh.

Two battles, Punniar and Maharajpore, were fought on the same day-29 December 1843-in Gwalior. A lithograph after Capt. Young, Bengal Engineers, of troops crossing the River Chumbal before Punniar has a small figure, probably of the 9th Lancers, all in dark blue and white-covered lance-cap. At this date the 9th wore a wide waist belt, similar to the Heavy Cavalry’s, instead of the girdle. At least one officer of the 39th Foot fought at Maharajpore in a shell jacket, for the garment in which Ensign Bray was killed is preserved, together with his forage cap and colour belt, in the Dorset Military Museum. Tn the same museum is an unsigned watercolour entitled ‘European troops halting’. From the green-faced shells, the ’39’ marked on a pouch and a haversack, and from the fact that the 39th left India soon after Maharajpore, it must depict that regiment in the Gwalior Campaign. The style resembles the work of” an officer of Bengal Native Infantry, B. D. Grant, whose other drawings will be met later. All the forage caps have white covers, but while most must be of the ‘pork-pie’ type, two are of the former broad-crowned pattern. Their pale blue-grey trousers must be locally made. In addition to their cross belts, the men have haversacks and the narrow waist belt described earlier. They are armed with the new percussion musket and have a small black pouch, containing the caps for this weapon, attached to the waist belt to the right of the clasp.

The appearance of a complete British regiment in India at this period is shown in a panorama titled Line of March of one of H. M. Regiments in Guzerat, drawn in 1845 by Lt. Steevens, 28th Foot, which was employed on the periphery of the Scinde Campaign. This shows the regiment in shelljackets, bright blue trousers, and forage caps annotated by the artist: ‘The forage cap is covered with quilted cotton, with a curtain hanging down behind, as a protection from the sun’. The men are accoutered as described for the 39th but without waist belts.

Turkish Army AFVs I

Turkey has by and far one of the largest armies in the region, positioned as it is between Europe and the middle east it is also a key NATO member. Turkey had a long imperial history of military conquest though out North Africa and the Balkans in the cusp of the Ottoman empire, an empire that, by the late 1800s, was well and truly in decline and referred to as ” the sick man of Europe It was the key figure of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, and his fellow young Turks who had fought with distinction at Gallipoli and later in Turkish war of independence in 1920s that decided that Turkey needed to cast off the Sultan Abdul Hamid’s corrupt and authoritarian rule and replace it with a secular Republic which was established in 1923. It was this legacy that the Turkish military have tried to ensure, not always too smoothly. Turkey’s recent domestic history is one where the military dominated the civil government with more than 4 successful coups since the 1960s. In 1960 Prime minister Adnan Mender was removed from power and executed for treason, with the military effectively controlling politics till 1965. Widespread economic and civil unrest in 1971 saw the military once again step in to restore what they saw as law and order. Forcing the then prime minister Suleyman Demirel to resign , Turkey was to have 11 prime ministers in the 1970s. Clashes between right wing and left wing groups broke out on the streets in 1980 as further political turmoil ensued thousands of assassinations followed and the military again imposed martial law and dissolved the government. Chief of staff Kenan Evren became president with thousands of people arrested and dozens executed. The Islamic orientated Welfare Party and its political success in the mid-90s became a growing concern for the military and in 1997 during what is referred to as the postmodern coup they introduced various decrees targeting religious and conservative groups in Turkish society forcing the then Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign . In 1999 the now president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was jailed for reading an Islamic poem and banned from politics for a time, his Justice and development party however went from strength to strength as his appeal to Islamic conservatives and Turkish nationalist had major mainstream appeal. Erdogan became prime minister in 2003 going on to become the first directly elected president in 2014. In July 2016 a coup attempt by small groups of tank troops made it seem that Erdogan might end up like his various successors but scores of his supporters came out onto the streets and the coup was foiled. What followed was the arrest of 10,000 soldiers, 30,000 Judges and Gulenists and the firing of 160,000 people in various state institutions. Allowing Erdogan to break the power of the army in Turkish politics it seems for once and for all – perhaps? Only time shall tell Erdogan’s somewhat erratic approach to foreign policy and the Kurds have seen mixed results for the military. In 20 15 he declared that the long running truce with the PKK was over and instructed the military to launch attacks against Kurds in Turkey and Syria in retaliation for a series of car bombings in Turkey at a time when Kurds were desperately fighting ISIS As early as 2013 various Turkish border cities had become staging points and logistic hubs for militants on their way to join ISIS, with wounded militants getting treatment in Turki hospitals and the wide spread sale of ISIS oil through Turkish front companies, this passive support for such a group led to bewilderment among Western allies. As of 2017 the Turkish military launched Operation Euphrates Shield to secure a large area of Syrian territory between Afrin and Manjib In early fighting with ISIS and then the YPG the Turkish military lost a number of Leopard 2s, M60A3s and Israeli updated Sabras. This operation was followed up by oddly named Operation Olive branch in 2018, when Turkish armour and troops were backed up former Jihadists took the YPG controlled city of Afrin, a group who were working with coalition forces fighting ISIS. Erdogan seems determined to create a Sunni buffer zone in Northern Syria as a means of blocking Kurdish consolidation in the region. On the ground it seems that Turkish Leopards and Sabra will be patrolling for many years to come if their intervention in Cyprus in 1974 is anything to go by.

Turkish Army AFVs II

Turkey has by and far one of the largest armies in the region, positioned as it is between Europe and the middle east it is also a key NATO member. Turkey had a long imperial history of military conquest though out North Africa and the Balkans in the cusp of the Ottoman empire, an empire that, by the late 1800s, was well and truly in decline and referred to as ” the sick man of Europe It was the key figure of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, and his fellow young Turks who had fought with distinction at Gallipoli and later in Turkish war of independence in 1920s that decided that Turkey needed to cast off the Sultan Abdul Hamid’s corrupt and authoritarian rule and replace it with a secular Republic which was established in 1923. It was this legacy that the Turkish military have tried to ensure, not always too smoothly. Turkey’s recent domestic history is one where the military dominated the civil government with more than 4 successful coups since the 1960s. In 1960 Prime minister Adnan Mender was removed from power and executed for treason, with the military effectively controlling politics till 1965. Widespread economic and civil unrest in 1971 saw the military once again step in to restore what they saw as law and order. Forcing the then prime minister Suleyman Demirel to resign , Turkey was to have 11 prime ministers in the 1970s. Clashes between right wing and left wing groups broke out on the streets in 1980 as further political turmoil ensued thousands of assassinations followed and the military again imposed martial law and dissolved the government. Chief of staff Kenan Evren became president with thousands of people arrested and dozens executed. The Islamic orientated Welfare Party and its political success in the mid-90s became a growing concern for the military and in 1997 during what is referred to as the postmodern coup they introduced various decrees targeting religious and conservative groups in Turkish society forcing the then Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign . In 1999 the now president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was jailed for reading an Islamic poem and banned from politics for a time, his Justice and development party however went from strength to strength as his appeal to Islamic conservatives and Turkish nationalist had major mainstream appeal. Erdogan became prime minister in 2003 going on to become the first directly elected president in 2014. In July 2016 a coup attempt by small groups of tank troops made it seem that Erdogan might end up like his various successors but scores of his supporters came out onto the streets and the coup was foiled. What followed was the arrest of 10,000 soldiers, 30,000 Judges and Gulenists and the firing of 160,000 people in various state institutions. Allowing Erdogan to break the power of the army in Turkish politics it seems for once and for all – perhaps? Only time shall tell Erdogan’s somewhat erratic approach to foreign policy and the Kurds have seen mixed results for the military. In 20 15 he declared that the long running truce with the PKK was over and instructed the military to launch attacks against Kurds in Turkey and Syria in retaliation for a series of car bombings in Turkey at a time when Kurds were desperately fighting ISIS As early as 2013 various Turkish border cities had become staging points and logistic hubs for militants on their way to join ISIS, with wounded militants getting treatment in Turki hospitals and the wide spread sale of ISIS oil through Turkish front companies, this passive support for such a group led to bewilderment among Western allies. As of 2017 the Turkish military launched Operation Euphrates Shield to secure a large area of Syrian territory between Afrin and Manjib In early fighting with ISIS and then the YPG the Turkish military lost a number of Leopard 2s, M60A3s and Israeli updated Sabras. This operation was followed up by oddly named Operation Olive branch in 2018, when Turkish armour and troops were backed up former Jihadists took the YPG controlled city of Afrin, a group who were working with coalition forces fighting ISIS. Erdogan seems determined to create a Sunni buffer zone in Northern Syria as a means of blocking Kurdish consolidation in the region. On the ground it seems that Turkish Leopards and Sabra will be patrolling for many years to come if their intervention in Cyprus in 1974 is anything to go by.

The Battle of Ravenna

Battle was joined on 11 April, Easter Sunday – from that very day, it was seen as an epic encounter. The Spanish and papal army took up a position south of Ravenna on the right bank of the river Ronco; the high embankments of the river were broad enough for large numbers of horse or foot to pass along them easily. Starting at right angles to the river, they dug a long, curving trench, leaving a gap at the river end. Their artillery was positioned at that end of the trench. The other units were drawn up in file, not to defend the line of the trench; the men-at-arms were nearest the river, the infantry in the centre and the light horse on the right wing. Pedro Navarro, who commanded the infantry, had placed in front of them about 50 light carts with projecting blades, protected by arquebuses. The French crossed the river near the city by a bridge de Foix had had built; d’Alegre was left with the rearguard to protect this. They took up position along the trench, the men-at-arms nearest the riverbank, with artillery placed before them, separate units of German, French and Italian infantry side by side, and to the left the light horse and archers.

The Spanish and papal troops were outnumbered and they knew it: they had about 20,000 men, while the French had 30,000 or more. 102 Cardona had put 1,500 men under Marcantonio Colonna into Ravenna, and much of the papal army was not there, because the Duke of Urbino refused to be under the orders of the viceroy. Alfonso d’Este with 100 men-at-arms and 200 light horse was with the French. More significantly, he had brought his renowned artillery, giving the French perhaps twice as many artillery pieces as the League. Besides the guns positioned opposite the Spanish artillery, a couple of pieces were placed on the other side of the river, and d’Este with his artillery at the far end of the French line.

The battle began with an artillery exchange, unprecedented in its length – over two hours – and its ferocity. The Spanish guns were aimed at the infantry, causing significant casualties; the League’s infantry were instructed by Navarro to move to a place where they could lie flat and evade the French and Ferrarese artillery. But there was no escape for their cavalry, who were caught in the crossfire. Eventually, the Spanish heavy cavalry were driven to leave their defensive position and attack the French men-at-arms. As they were trying to silence the Ferrarese guns, the Spanish light horse under the marchese di Pescara were attacked by the French light horse.

In the engagement between the French and Spanish men-at-arms, the Spanish were less disciplined and coordinated. D’Alegre and his rearguard joined the fight and turned the scales against the Spanish. Their rearguard under Alonso Carvajal broke and fled the field; Cardona left with them. Meanwhile the French infantry crossed the trench to attack the League’s infantry, taking heavy casualties from the arquebuses as they tried to break through the barrier of the carts. The Gascons were put to flight along the riverbank. As the Spanish infantry units and the landsknechts of the French army were locked in fierce combat, the French cavalry, having overcome the Spanish, were able to come to the aid of their foot. Fabrizio Colonna rallied what men-at-arms he could to defend the League infantry, but could not prevent their defeat. Although 3,000 Spanish infantry were able to retire in good order along the river bank, the rest were killed, captured or dispersed.

By mid-afternoon the hard-fought battle was over. Contemporaries, appalled at the scale of the slaughter, considered it to be the bloodiest fought on Italian soil for centuries. It was estimated that upwards of 10,000 men were killed; some put the total as high as 20,000. There were disagreements about which army had suffered the greater mortality. It was probably the League, whose losses may have been three times those of the French. In one significant respect, the French losses were greater – among the commanders. While the Spanish lost some experienced and valued captains, the more prominent were captured rather than killed, including Pedro Navarro, Fabrizio Colonna and Ferrante Francesco d’Avalos, marchese di Pescara; the papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, was also taken prisoner after the battle. French losses among their commanders and nobles were heavy. Among the fallen were Gaston de Foix, apparently killed by Spanish infantry, Yves d’Alegre and his son, Soffrey Alleman, seigneur de Mollart, the captain of the Gascon infantry, and Philip of Fribourg and Jacob Empser, captains of the landsknechts.

For the French, the death of de Foix cast the greatest shadow over their victory. If his bravery had bordered on the foolhardy, in his brief period as commander of the army he had shown himself an inspiring leader, always in the thick of the action. Cardona, by contrast, seems to have left leadership to his subordinate commanders; he was widely blamed for their defeat. `In truth, he knows nothing of warfare’, was the verdict of Vich, Ferdinand’s ambassador in Rome, `and everyone complains that he never asks for advice or comes to a decision.’ Others have judged the outcome of the battle the result of the devastating effect of Alfonso d’Este’s deploy- ment of his artillery: `the true cause of the French victory’, according to Pieri. The French themselves were more critical of his role, for his guns had caused many casualties among them too, as he continued to fire once the troops were engaged.

The killing continued the following day, as the city of Ravenna, after an offer to capitulate had been made, was sacked by unrestrained Gascons and landsknechts who entered by a breach made in the walls by the earlier bombardment. Within a few days, nearly all the Romagna had surrendered to the French, only the fortresses holding out a little longer. This conquest was not due to any concerted effort by the French, for the weary troops were occupied in looking after their wounded and their booty from Ravenna. La Palisse, as the senior captain, had assumed command. He quarrelled with the Duke of Ferrara, who left the camp with his surviving men, some of the wounded and his prisoners, including Colonna and Pescara. News arrived that the English and Spanish had invaded France, that Maximilian had made a truce with Venice, and that the Swiss were again threatening Milan. Nevertheless, to save money, 4,600 infantry were dismissed.

La Palisse left for the Milanese on 20 April with over half the remaining troops. Cardinal Sanseverino, in his capacity of legate of Bologna for the schismatic council, and his brother Galeazzo, with 300 lances and 6,000 infantry, stayed to complete the conquest of the Romagna in the name of the council. When Louis’s orders – issued when he was unaware of the real state of affairs in Italy – arrived, they were for the army to press on to Rome. The army commanders decided the threat to Lombardy was more urgent.

The Campaigns of Gaston de Foix

Gaston of Foix, Duke of Nemours (1489-1512), army commander of King Louis XII of France in the first italian war. (19th century depiction).

Born in Mazeres, Ariege, Gaston de Foix, duke of Nemours, was the son of Jean de Foix and Marie d’Orléans, sister of LOUIS XII, and the grandson of Eleonor of Aragon, queen of Navarre. He was made a duke and peer in 1505, then assumed the title of king of Navarre. He was 23 when he took command of the army in Italy and revealed his martial talents. In the course of a lightninglike campaign, after having liberated Bologna, he took Brescia, but was killed during the Battle of Ravenna.

GIUSEPPE RAVA

Ravenna: Guns were to play a decisive role in the battle of Ravenna (1512). Gaston de Foix was in command of another French army (with German Landsknechts rather than Swiss) in Lombardy fighting an alliance of Spain, The Pope, and Venice. His cannon had breached the walls of Ravenna when a Spanish-led army came to its relief. Having got his troops in line, Gaston halted them and brought up his artillery, which bombarded the entrenched Spanish camp for two hours. In turn the Spanish guns fired on the German and French infantry, killing 2000 of them in this same period of time. (Fabrizio Colonna, when a prisoner after the battle, said that he had seen one cannonball knock over 33 men-at-arms.) When the French managed to bring more cannon into play, the Spanish cavalry left their camp and charged, only to be defeated by the French cavalry. The first French attack on the Spanish infantry was by 2000 crossbowmen, who met such a withering fire from arquebuses and swivel-guns mounted on carts, that they “melted away”. An attack by the landsknechts made little progress until the Spanish were taken in the flank by the victorious French cavalry. The battlefield saw almost unprecedented totals of both French (4000), and Spanish (9000) dead.

The Holy League Louis XII had ordered his troops to withdraw from the Veneto because of the new league of Julius, Ferdinand and Venice, proclaimed in Rome in early October.  It was called the Holy League, because it was supposed to be for the benefit of the papacy. Ferdinand, who had suggested the League and was to provide most of its military strength, had emphasized it should not be explicitly against any power, but he intended it as a restraint on Louis. According to him, Louis aimed to conquer all Italy. Julius was happy to agree to it, and the Venetians were pleased to be leaving their diplomatic isolation. Venetian obligations under the League were comparatively light: to contribute what troops they could, and their galleys; the pope was to provide 600 men-at-arms, under a commander supplied by Ferdinand. The king was to send 1,200 men-at-arms, 1,000 light horse and 10,000 Spanish infantry; the pope and Venice were to pay 40,000 ducats a month towards the cost of the Spanish troops. Ferdinand was keen to include Henry VIII of England in the confederation (which Henry ratified), and he also made a separate treaty with him in which they agreed to attack France in Aquitaine.

Louis had hoped to avoid becoming involved again in war against the pope, by the threat of a Church council: but the prospects for that were unpromising. Few clergy, even from France, were willing to be associated with it. Maximilian’s support was vacillating, Ferdinand was vehemently opposed and none of the Italian states were in favour either. Reluctant hosts, the Florentines under pressure from Louis had allowed the council to be held at Pisa, but would not compel their own clergy to attend it. Even before the council was formally opened on 5 November, its failure was apparent. The council quickly decided to transfer to Milan, but was no better attended there.

The French had a new commander, the king’s nephew, Gaston de Foix. Aged only twenty-two when he was appointed Louis’s lieutenant in Italy and governor of Milan in October 1511, de Foix had already taken part in several Italian campaigns. In what would turn out to be a brief career as commander of the army, de Foix would prove himself a remarkable military leader. On the king’s orders, he concentrated the bulk of the troops in the duchy at Parma, preparing to confront the Holy League. The papal troops in the Romagna, however, were biding their time until the Spanish army arrived from Naples.

The first test for de Foix would be dealing with an incursion by the Swiss. They began to muster on the northern Milanese border at the end of November. As he had to leave troops in Parma, Bologna and on the eastern borders of the duchy, de Foix had with him only 500 lances, 200 gentlemen and 200 mounted archers of the king’s household, and 2,000 infantry. Louis sent orders to raise 6,000 more infantry, and instructed de Foix not to attack the Swiss until they were on the plain, and then to fight them and force them to retire. By the time he sent these orders the Swiss were already on the move. De Foix and his captains had decided to adopt the strategy of the previous year: to stay close to them, avoiding battle, trying to hinder them from finding supplies.

By early December around 10,000 Swiss had gathered, and more were arriving; they chose Jacob Stapfer as their commander. Advancing towards Milan, they kept strict discipline and paid for their supplies. By 14 December they were in sight of the city, and they sent an appeal to the people, saying they came as liberators, not conquerors, in hopes the Milanese would rise against the French.  But the Milanese had agreed to provide 6,000 militia to help defend the city, and reinforcements were arriving from other parts of the duchy. The Swiss were not strong enough to lay siege to a city the size of Milan, and there was no sign of League troops arriving to support them. Negotiations began: the French were prepared to offer money, but the Swiss also demanded the cession of Locarno and Lugano, and unimpeded transit through the duchy, whenever they wanted, for Swiss soldiers going to fight for the pope – terms wholly unacceptable to the French. Then, unexpectedly, the camp broke up. Disorganized bands of Swiss made their way home, devastating the country in their path.

Fortunately for the French, they had not had to deal simultaneously with an attack by the League. The Spanish troops, under the command of the viceroy of Naples, Ramon de Cardona, did not arrive in the Romagna until December. There was a desultory campaign in the Romagna before in late January the pope finally got his wish for a siege of Bologna. But by a rapid forced march over about thirty miles in bitter weather, de Foix brought reinforcements into Bologna on 5 February, taking unawares the Spanish and papal troops encamped to the south of the city. When Cardona learned of their arrival, he lifted the siege and withdrew.

No sooner had de Foix accomplished the relief of Bologna, than he was informed that Brescia had fallen to the Venetians. At the head of 10,000 men raised in the Bresciano, the prominent Brescian noble, Luigi Avogadro entered the city during the night of 2/3 February, followed by Venetian troops. Revolts against the French broke out in the Bresciano, and in the city of Bergamo and its territory; French garrisons in Brescia and Bergamo took refuge in the cities’ fortresses. As it was feared that other areas would also rebel, Giangiacomo Trivulzio toured Lodi, Crema and Cremona with 2,000 infantry to secure them.

De Foix’s response to the news was swift. He left Bologna on 8 February, and on 17 February reached Brescia, a journey shortened by three or four days by Francesco Gonzaga granting de Foix and his troops transit through his lands. On the way, they were joined by some landsknechts who had been in Verona. The Venetians in Brescia were surprised to see them, having no idea the French could have come from Bologna in that time. Most of the men from the Bresciano who had come with Avogadro had been sent home, and the Venetians had few soldiers there.

On the night of 18/19 February de Foix led about 500 dismounted men-at-arms and 6,000 infantry by a hidden path into the fortress of Brescia, leaving d’Alegre with 500 men-at-arms to guard the walls. An assault was launched on the city, spearheaded by the men-at-arms, who crouched down when the ranks of the arquebusiers behind them fired their volleys.  The desperate defence was aided by women throwing tiles, stones, and boiling water from the rooftops. Some stradiots fled the fighting through one of the city gates, only to run into d’Alegre’s men, who were able to enter the city and join in the slaughter. By evening, the defenders had been annihilated; several thousand corpses lay in the city’s streets.

A summons to surrender had been rejected by the Venetian authorities in Brescia, which meant the city was, by the laws of war, legitimately open to sack. De Foix gave his soldiers their reward, and for three days the people of Brescia suffered one of the most terrible sacks of the Italian Wars. The estimated value of the spoils was three to four million ducats, including the heavy ransoms imposed on individuals; 4,000 cartloads of goods were said to have been taken away. So enriched were many French soldiers by booty and ransoms from Brescia that they left for home. Some blamed the decline of French fortunes in Italy on this depletion of their army: `the capture of Brescia was the ruin of the French in Italy’.  The city of Brescia was also punished by heavy fines, the loss of its privileges and the exile of many citizens, as were Bergamo and other places that had rebelled, but they were spared a sack.

De Foix returned to Milan and then to Emilia. When Maximilian wanted to exploit the success of the French for his own ends and urged him to send troops against Padua and Treviso, de Foix replied that he could not do anything without orders from the king, that the first concern was the Spanish army, and that the Swiss might return. Louis’s response was much the same. He instructed de Foix to gather his army together, seek out the Spanish army and bring it to a decisive engagement. There was some sense of urgency behind this project for a resolution on this front, for Louis was mindful of the preparations being made for an English invasion of France.

Ferdinand, on the other hand, wanted Cardona to bide his time until preparations for attacks on the French in Lombardy by the Venetians and the Swiss, and in the south-west of France by the Spanish and English were complete. Such instructions suited Cardona, who was naturally cautious – too cautious, some of his captains felt. So as the French army approached, the Spanish and papal forces drew back. The French were having serious difficulty in finding victuals, and could not afford to wait. After some debate among the commanders, it was decided to try to force the issue by attacking Ravenna, too important a city to be abandoned to them. An assault on 9 April was unsuccessful, but it did bring Cardona to approach to defend the city. 

The Mitau Operation

On 23-25 November 1915 Stavka’s representatives in France met the Allies near Chantilly to coordinate plans for 1916 plans, and in December 1915 the Eleventh Corps on the Russian European Front launched a limited local offensive along the River Strypa. If the latter failed to break through enemy trenches and had no effect upon German planning, it was a sign that the Russian Army was far from destroyed. Nonetheless, on 8 February 1916 General von Falkenhayn opened the German campaign to destroy the French on the anvil of Verdun, while the Austrians now focused on routing the Italians in the Trentino.

By March 1916 the Russians were sufficiently recovered to respond to a French appeal with a major, two-pronged assault on the German entrenchments at Lake Naroch and Visjnevskoe, south of Dvinsk. In spite of a two-day bombardment, this 1915-style attack failed utterly. Whatever relief it gave the French at Verdun, the cost was perhaps 110,000 Russian casualties to 20,000 Germans, and it showed clearly that conditions on the Eastern Front paralleled fully the trench war in the West. Most generals now assumed that preliminary bombardments, followed by massive infantry assaults to produce breakthroughs to be exploited by cavalry, were the solution to the stalemate the Russians called “position warfare.” When these tactics failed, the generals again blamed shortages of munitions. So for a new offensive in the Vilnius area, the local command had demanded even more guns and shells. But these concentrations had precluded surprise at Naroch, and the bombardment on a very narrow front merely turned the battlefield into a muddy morass on which defensive firepower allowed even inferior forces of defenders to inflict stupendous losses upon the attackers.

Fortunately for the Russians, the generals gathered around Brusilov, now commanding the Southwestern Front, had pondered recent failures and developed new sets of operational and tactical approaches. These envisaged employing infantry assaults simultaneously at several different places with a minimum of artillery preparation. In fact, since Stavka was supporting the offensives in the north, when Brusilov proposed launching a secondary offensive, he was forced to achieve surprise by using only the forces in place for his planned strike toward the Carpathians. This was to take place along a 14-mile front at Lutsk, supported by attacks on smaller sectors at Tarnopol and Yazlovetsa, and a demonstration toward Lvov. Aerial photographs were used to brief his troops on opposing trench systems while secrecy was preserved by effective camouflage and building large underground bunkers, in which to hide the attackers. He also dispensed with the always visible cavalry, usually concentrated in masses behind the front, at the risk of not being able to support a breakthrough.

In the meantime the ltalians had appealed for help after the Austrians overran their positions in the Trentino. Consequendy, Brusilov launched his offensive 11 days early, on 22 May 1916. His armies struck along a 300-mile front in Galicia and Bukovina, with the important rail center at Kovel as their target. Because Stavka had withheld artillery support, Brusilov’s own guns fired only 250 rounds each in the first two days as compared to 600 rounds used daily on the Somme. Surprise was complete and the Austrian lines were ruptured, Lutsk recaptured, and the battle joined along the Strypa River (29 May-17 June). The Hapsburg forces were completely disorganized and demoralized, forcing the Germans once more to come to their aid. Making efficient use of the rail net, the Germans attacked the northern edge of the Lutsk salient. This stabilized the front, but not before Chernowitz fell to Brusilov’s Russians. Meanwhile, to the north, Stavka had attacked from Baranovichi. But like the simultaneous Battle of the Somme in France, this assault failed to break the opposing line, although the fighting lasted only 12 days. As for Brusilov, he now reverted to employing heavy bombardments and massive infantry attacks that failed to take the Kovno railhead. He declared his offensive ended on 31 July, though some heavy fighting continued thereafter, and his forces suffered 500,000 casualties in all. Yet his opponents had lost 1.5 million men and 582 guns.

Unfortunately Brusilov’s successes were quickly balanced by defeats elsewhere. After prolonged negotiations, Allied promises and Russia’s Galician victories persuaded the Rumanians to enter the war on 14 August 1916. Against Russian advice, they at once attacked Hungarian Transylvania, where Germans and Bulgarians under von Mackensen and von Falkenhayn quickly surrounded their forces at Hermannstadt. Having then captured the port of Constanza, the two German-Ied forces broke through the Carpathian passes into Wallachia and advanced upon Bucharest, which the Rumanians abandoned. As a result, Brusilov was soon forced to thin and extend his front some 300 miles to the southeast to open his own Rumanian front. The Rumanian retreat finally ended on the Sereth River in January 1917, but it left the Germans in control of Rumanian wheat and oil.

Despite this setback, the Allied meeting at Chantilly in November 1916 remained optimistic due to the German failure at Verdun and Brusilov’s success in the East. Although Alekseev was concerned over the Balkans, the Allies put that region in second place in their plans for victory in 1917. Nicholas II shared this view and Stavka began implementing the Chantilly plan for simultaneous offensives in France, Italy, and Russia.

To keep the Germans off balance, in late December Russia’s Northern Front struck silently through the fog to open the Mitau Operation, which recaptured and held Riga in a five-day battle. The Russian attack, carried out without preliminary bombardment on a 30- mile front, was reminiscent of tactics employed in the Brusilov Offensive (June 4- September 1, 1916). It caught the German defenders by surprise and pushed them back. The Russians took the towns of Mitau and Takkums, advancing up to 4 miles between the Aa and the Tirul Marsh. In the process, the Russians took upwards of 8,000 German prisoners and captured 36 guns. The Germans denied these figures, but the international media substantiated the Russian claims.

But on 9 January 1917 the Germans counterattacked and in time recovered most of the lost ground. Nevertheless, by the month’s end the 12th Army had stopped the Germans and held before Riga. German counterattacks from ceased by the end of the month. The Mitau Operation, the last offensive of the tsar’s Stavka, demonstrated that Brusilov’s methods had spread throughout the Imperial Army, that it was still capable of defeating both Austrians and Germans, and that it could cooperate in the Allies’ planned offensives.

Attack “without a shot”: Mitevska operation

Russia’s Nuclear Arsenal

RS-28 (Satan 2)

Russia’s nuclear arsenal has been progressively modernized. According to the IISS:

The Strategic Rocket Force (RVSN) continues to progressively rearm, with a number of regiments continuing to receive new Yars missiles and launchers in 2016. Meanwhile, tests of the heavy Sarmat liquid fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) have been postponed several times due to technical difficulties, and these are now expected to resume towards the end of 2017. Ejection tests of the rail-mobile Barguzin ICBM were first carried out in November 2016, but the future of the system has yet to be decided.

Russia has announced that the new RS-28 ballistic missile, commissioned in 2011, will come into service in 2018 as planned. Russia also plans to deploy the RS-28 (Satan 2) ICBM by 2021 as a replacement for the RS-36, which is being phased out in the 2020s.

The armed forces also continue to undergo process modernization, which was begun by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in 2008. Partially because of this modernization, U. S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development Elbridge Colby stated in January 2018 that the U. S. military advantage over Russia is eroding. Russia has invested heavily in military modernization over the past decade and projects that 70 percent of its military equipment will have been modernized by 2020. In March 2017, Russia announced life-extension programs for its Akula-class and Oscar II-class nuclear-powered submarines, which operate in both the Northern and Pacific Fleets. However, problems remain:

The naval shipbuilding industry has suffered from years of neglect and under investment; while the Ukraine crisis and the imposition of sanctions is starting to have an effect. The refurbishment of existing naval vessels is progressing, albeit at a slower, and more expensive, pace than originally envisaged. Although several new frigates, corvettes and submarines have already entered service, delivery of new vessels is behind schedule.

Following years of delays, the commissioning of the Admiral Gorshkov stealth guided missile frigate was delayed until the end of summer 2018. The second Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate, the Admiral Kasatonov, began sea trials in 2018; however, according to some analysts, tight budgets and an inability to procure parts from Ukrainian industry (importantly, gas turbine engines) make it difficult for Russia to build the three additional Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates as planned. In April, Russia announced that its only air- craft carrier would be out of service until 2021 for modernization and repair. Russia plans to procure eight Lider-class guided missile destroyers for its Northern and Pacific fleets, but procurement has faced consistent delay, and construction will not begin until 2025 at the earliest.

Russia’s naval modernization continues to prioritize submarines, including upgrades to its diesel electric Kilo-class subs. According to one analyst: [R]einvigorating submarine construction has been one of the visible accomplishments of the Russian Navy’s moderniza- tion program for 2011-2020. Russia has built three new SSBNs of the Borei class (Project 955) and recently launched the second SSGN in the Yasen class (Project 885M)-an upgraded version of the well- known Severodvinsk-and it intends to build five more Borei-class SSBNs by 2021 and another four or five SSGNs of the Yasen class by 2023.

Russia also has expressed ambitions to produce a fifth-generation stealth nuclear-powered submarine by 2030 and to arm it with Zircon hypersonic missiles, which have a reported speed of from Mach 5 to Mach 6. Transport remains a nagging problem, and Russia’s Defense Minister has stressed the paucity of transport vessels. In 2017, Russia reportedly needed to purchase civilian cargo vessels and use icebreakers to transport troops and equipment to Syria at the beginning of major operations in support of the Assad regime. Although budget shortfalls have hampered modernization efforts overall, analysts believe that Russia will continue to focus on developing high-end systems such as the S-500 surface-to-air missile system and Su-57 fighter and the T-14 Armata main battle tank. In May, it was reported that Russian testing of the S-500 system struck a target 299 miles away. If true, this is the longest surface-to-air missile test ever conducted, and the S-500’s range could have significant implications for European security when the missile becomes operational.

Russian Strategic Nuclear Threat.

Russia possesses the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons among the nuclear powers (when short-range nuclear weapons are included). It is one of the few nations with the capability to destroy many targets in the U. S. homeland and in U. S.-allied nations and to threaten and prevent free access to the commons by other nations. Russia has both intercontinental-range and short-range ballistic missiles and a varied nuclear weapons arsenal that can be delivered by sea, land, and air. It also is investing significant resources in modernizing its arsenal and maintaining the skills of its workforce, and nuclear triad modernization will remain a top priority under the new State Armaments Program. However, an aging nuclear workforce could hamper modernization: “[A]lthough Russia’s strategic-defence enterprises appear to have preserved some of their expertise, problems remain, for ex- ample, in transferring the necessary skill sets and experience to the younger generation of engineers.”

Russia is currently relying on its nuclear arsenal to ensure its invincibility against any enemy, intimidate European powers, and deter counters to its predatory behavior in its “near abroad,” primarily in Ukraine but also concerning the Baltic States. This arsenal serves as a protective umbrella under which Russia can modernize its conventional forces at a deliberate pace. While its nuclear deterrent protects it from a large-scale attack, Russia also needs a modern and flexible military to fight local wars such as those against Georgia in 2008 and the ongoing war against Ukraine that began in 2014. Under Russian military doctrine, the use of nuclear weapons in conventional local and regional wars is seen as de-escalatory because it would cause an enemy to concede defeat. In May 2017, for example, a Russian parliamentarian threatened that nuclear weapons might be used if the U. S. or NATO were to move to retake Crimea or defend eastern Ukraine.

General Scaparrotti discussed the risks presented by Russia’s possible use of tactical nu- clear weapons in his March 23, 2017, EUCOM posture statement: “Most concerning. is Moscow’s substantial inventory of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the EUCOM AOR [Area of Responsibility] and its troubling doctrine that calls on the potential use of these weapons to escalate its way out of a failing conflict.”

Particularly worrisome are Moscow’s plans for rail-based nuclear-armed missiles, which are very difficult to detect. The missiles are scheduled to begin testing in 2019 and to be- come operational in 2020. Russia reportedly plans to deploy five regiments with a total of 30 railroad ICBMs: six missiles per regiment. The Defense Ministry states that the new armed forces structure is being created with the goal of increased flexibility, mobility, and readiness for combat in limited-scale conflicts. Strategic Rocket Forces are the first line of defense (and offense) against Russia’s great-power counterparts.

Russia has two strategies for nuclear deterrence. The first is based on a threat of massive launch-on-warning and retaliatory strikes to deter a nuclear attack; the second is based on a threat of limited demonstration and “de-escalation” nuclear strikes to deter or terminate a large-scale conventional war. Russia’s reliance on nuclear weapons is based partly on their small cost relative to conventional weapons, especially in terms of their effect, and on Russia’s inability to attract sufficient numbers of high-quality servicemembers. Thus, Russia sees its nuclear weapons as a way to offset the lower quantity and quality of its convention- al forces.

Moscow has repeatedly threatened U. S. allies in Europe with nuclear deployments and even preemptive nuclear strikes. The Russians justify their aggressive behavior by pointing to deployments of U. S. missile defense systems in Europe even though these systems are not scaled or postured to mitigate Russia’s advantage in ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons to any significant degree.

Russia continues to violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which bans the testing, production, and possession of intermediate-range missiles. In early 2017, Russia fully deployed the SSC-X-8 Cruise Missile in violation of the INF treaty. One battalion with the cruise missile remains at a missile test site in southern Russia, and another battalion with the missile deployed to an operational base in December 2016. U. S. officials acknowledge that the banned cruise missiles are no longer in the testing phase and now consider them to be fully operational. In March 2017, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman and U. S. Air Force General Paul Selva testified that Russia’s cruise missile deployment “violates the spirit and intent of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty” and “presents a risk to most of our facilities in Europe.” In December 2017, the U. S. announced new diplomatic, military, and economic measures “intended to induce the Russian Federation to return to compliance and to deny it any military advantage should it persist in its violation.”

Summary: The sizable Russian nuclear arsenal remains the only threat to the existence of the U. S. homeland emanating from Europe and Eurasia. While the potential for use of this arsenal remains low, the fact that Russia continues to threaten Europe with nuclear attack demonstrates that it will continue to play a central strategic role in shaping both Moscow’s military and political thinking and its level of aggressive behavior beyond its borders.