Diagram of German M19 5cm automatic mortar as sited in the Channel Islands and at points on the Atlantic Wall.
Rheinmettall-Borsig produced ten studies into developing a complete system for an automatic mortar before making a final choice which would become the M19 5cm Maschinengranatwerfer. The operational role of the system was to provide firepower to cover areas of ‘dead ground’ which could not otherwise be observed. This was usually an area on the coastline with steep cliffs, but that was not exclusive. Apart from firing the 5cm calibre mortar bomb, the weapon used in the M19 system was completely different to the standard GrW36 used by the infantry. Using standard dismountable mortars in such a defensive role would have only been a short-term solution and they would have needed to be removed periodically for service. Emplacing a weapon mounted in a specially-produced turret or cupola would provide a permanent position, ready to provide all-round 360-degree traverse and able to come into action at a moment’s notice to cover all points of approach to the defensive site. Initially, these automatic mortars were intended for installation in the Westwall and the Eastwall, a defensive system also known as the Oder-Warthe-Bogen Line. This was built between 1938 and 1940 on the border between Germany and Poland. It covered a length of around 20 miles and included around 100 main defensive emplacements. After the successful campaigns in 1939 and 1940, it was decided not to install the weapons in these locations and instead they would be sited at intervals along the Atlantic Wall, which included several being built on the Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney.
The M19 installation on the island of Jersey was built at Corbière Point at the western end of the island, which was turned into a strongpoint to defend the headland. From here its high rate of fire could be useful in engaging targets at close quarters and overlap with the firepower of machine guns and two 10.5cm field guns also sited at the point. The neighbouring island of Guernsey had four M19 automatic mortar installations, including one located at Hommet, overlooking Vazon Bay on the north-west coast, where its firepower could be integrated with that of machine guns, at least three pieces of artillery with 10.5cm calibre and a 4.7cm gun of Czechoslovakian origin. On Alderney there were two M19 strongpoints with other similar installations built along the much-vaunted Atlantic Wall, including three in Norway, nine in Holland, one in Belgium, twenty-two along the French coast and twenty along the Danish coastline, with four more planned but not built. For such a small weapon it absorbed a huge amount of resources in manpower to build the emplacement, with tons of concrete and steel in its construction. The sites of the M19 automatic mortars were out of all proportion compared to those built for heavier weaponry in defensive positions. The M19 mortar could fire HE bombs at a rate of between sixty and 120 rounds per minute, although the higher rate of fire was rarely used in order to minimise stresses and prevent the weapon from overheating. The crew could engage targets at ranges between 54 and 820 yards, which was closer than artillery could achieve, and together with support fire from other weapons such as machine gun, any infantry attack would have been met with fierce opposition. Indeed, one M19 position on the Eastwall held out for forty-eight hours when attacked by troops of the Red Army in early 1945.
The M19 weapons were mounted in steel cupolas which had an internal diameter of 6ft 6in to accommodate the three-man crew during firing. Initially, there were two main designs of cupola, the 34P8 and the 49P8, but it was a third type, the 424PO1, which became the most widely used with armour protection 250mm thick. The cupolas were mounted on specially-prepared bunkers designated ‘135’, with concrete protection up to 11.5ft thick, and the ‘633’, which was the most common design and the type used in the Channel Islands. The M19 bunkers were divided into several rooms including the firing room and had accommodation for up to sixteen men. Each bunker had its own independent generator to provide power to traverse the firing platform and cupola, but in the event of a power failure the weapon and cupola could be elevated and traversed by means of hand-operated wheels. The ammunition storage room had racks for thirty-four trays, each pre-loaded with six bombs, giving a total of 204 bombs ready to fire. Ammunition boxes containing ten bombs each to reload the spent trays were stored in this room, and it was the task of the crew members to reload these. In total an M19 bunker could have ammunition reserves of up to 3,944 bombs stored in readiness for use. These bunkers were equipped with field telephones and optical sight units such as the Panzer-Rundblick-Zielfernrohr, an armoured periscope with a magnification of × 5. Because it was an indirect fire weapon, the M19 had to be directed on to its targets and integrate its fire by overlapping with neighbouring weaponry.
The firing platform on which the mortar was mounted could be elevated when firing and lowered when not in use. The loaded ammunition trays were fed up to the platform by means of an elevator where the loader removed them and fed the trays into the left-hand side of the weapon’s breech. As it fired, a mechanism moved the tray along to feed the next bomb into the weapon, and the process continued until the empty tray emerged on the right-hand side of the weapon, where a handler removed them and placed them in the descending elevator section. These were removed by another member of the crew and taken to the ammunition room, where they were reloaded ready for reuse. The M19 could fire the standard types of Wurfgranate 36 bombs, which these were fitted with colour-coded graduated propellant charges to be used according to the range required. The red charge was for use at ranges from 22 to 220 yards and the green charge was for ranges from 220 to 680 yards. There were training bombs which had no filling and could not be fired, which were really for familiarising crews with handling procedures of the weapon. There were two training systems developed to teach crews how to operate the M19; the first was the Sonderanhangar 101 mounted on a trailer and the other was the Ubungsturm, which replicated the complete cupola layout.
Preparing the weapon to fire, the operator lifted the barrel clear of the breech by means of a cam and lever mechanism which allowed a bomb on the loading tray to be aligned with the chamber. As the barrel was lowered over the bomb, the firing pin in the breech was activated to initiate the propellant charge. The recoil forces on firing unlocked the barrel a fraction of a second later and the cam mechanism lifted the barrel clear of the breech, and another bomb was loaded ready to fire as the tray was fed through.
As the Allied campaign to liberate Europe continued in the second half of 1944, the Germans had to rethink their defensive strategy. From September 1944 they renewed construction work on the Westwall to improve defences and began to install M19 systems at certain locations. The actual numbers of M19 systems built and turrets installed varies according to sources. Some, for example, state that perhaps seventy-three such installations were built in the Atlantic Wall. These did not cause the Allies any unnecessary problems and those along the Westwall were largely ineffective, while those in the Channel Islands never fired a shot in anger. In summary, it was indeed a great deal of effort for such a small weapon which did not play a decisive role in stopping or even slowing down the Allied advance.
Early in September 1813, at the request of Major General James Wilkinson, Secretary of War John Armstrong ordered Major General Wade Hampton to march his division of the U.S. Army at Burlington, Vermont (on the right wing of the Ninth Military District), into Canada via the Richelieu River and attack the British post at Isle-aux-Noix. Although he doubted his ability to achieve this goal, Hampton moved his 4,000-man division to Plattsburgh, New York, beginning early on 19 September and, with the support of Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s squadron, landed at Champlain, New York, late that evening and marched to the border. The next day, he advanced into LC, but the skirmish at Odelltown (20 September) and reports of his scouts convinced him that it was impractical to force his way down the Richelieu route. Instead, he marched back into New York and then about 70 miles westward to the village of Four Corners, New York, on the upper Chateauguay River. The division was harassed by native parties, and Hampton deployed part of his force to deflect this problem and to create a distraction near the Richelieu that resulted in raids conducted by Colonel Isaac Clark.
Weeks passed during which Hampton waited at Four Corners for instructions regarding his coordination with Wilkinson’s campaign on the St. Lawrence (October–November 1813). He learned that a British force was forming on the lower Chateauguay and, on Armstrong’s advice, headed downriver to investigate on 16 October.
On 21 October, Hampton broke camp. His division now consisted of Colonel Robert Purdy’s First Brigade (Fourth and Thirty-third U.S. Regiments of Infantry and units of 12-month volunteers from Maine and New Hampshire), Brigadier General George Izard’s Second Brigade (Tenth, Eleventh merged with the Twenty-ninth, Thirtieth merged with the Thirty-first U.S. Regiments of Infantry, and a handful of New York Militia), 150 Second U.S. Regiment of Light Dragoons, and 200 of the Third Regiment of Artillery and the Regiment of Light Artillery. It rained hard during the next days as the column proceeded slowly, its path barred by trees felled by the British.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Salaberry had been charged with defending the lower Chateauguay. After a failed preemptive raid on Hampton’s camp at Four Corners on 1 October, de Salaberry fortified a location about 25 miles from the mouth of the river. This consisted of four sets of breastworks in a wooded area on the western bank of the river—the first at a ford, the others further upstream. At the edge of the woods beyond the fourth breastwork, de Salaberry erected an abatis overlooking a wide cultivated field and about seven miles of unforested terrain.
De Salaberry commanded about 400 men, most of them French Canadian (70 Canadian Fencibles, 110 Canadian Voltigeurs, 130 Select Embodied Militia, 75 sedentary LC Militia, and 20 Abenaki and Nipissing warriors). In his rear, Lieutenant Colonel George Macdonell had about 1,370 men, most of them militia.
Hampton decided to attack de Salaberry before his position could be further strengthened; he did this despite having just been advised by Armstrong to build winter quarters and without having any further instructions about Wilkinson’s movement. Late on 25 October, Hampton sent Purdy with 2,300 men (his brigade and light infantry from the other units) to the east side of the Chateauguay to capture the ford. The next morning, he sent Izard to attack de Salaberry with the remaining force but not the artillery.
Some of de Salaberry’s men were at the abatis and ready to skirmish in front of it and fired the first shots around 10:00 A.M. De Salaberry hurried there with elements of his force, bringing the total to about 300 defenders. Izard advanced across the field with the Tenth Infantry and engaged the British for 20 minutes, then fell back to restore his ammunition.
Meanwhile, Purdy, who had lost his way during the night, was only just approaching the ford. A company of LC Militia and one of Embodied Militia, sent to guard the eastern approach with some native warriors, fired on his leading companies, which fell back.
Only desultory fire occurred until about 2:00 P.M., when Izard moved forward again with his entire force and warmly engaged de Salaberry, pushing into the woods. Hampton had orders shouted across the river to Purdy to retreat, at which point the two French Canadian companies and warriors engaged Purdy’s men. His brigade dissolved into chaos (some of the officers even abandoned their companies) and scattered as it withdrew, although some returned the British fire well enough to force their retreat, too.
Macdonell arrived to occupy the breastworks behind de Salaberry’s position but was not needed, as Hampton decided around 3:00 P.M. that the attack had failed and ordered Izard and Purdy to retreat back to their camp; most of Purdy’s brigade spent another horrendous night in the woods before being able to recross the Chateauguay.
Hampton did not complete a list of casualties, though it was believed he lost 40 dead and at least as many wounded. The British had two killed, 16 wounded, and four taken captive. De Salaberry’s immediate superior, Major General Louis de Watteville, and Sir George Prevost arrived on the ground during the final stages of the action; the latter’s representation of his own part in the affair greatly offended de Salaberry.
There was no denying the importance of the victory, especially in light of how outnumbered the British were. Hampton demonstrated his limited battlefield acumen and then his lack of commitment to a coordinated effort with Wilkinson by marching back to Four Corners, where he informed Armstrong that his campaign was at an end on 1 November. A week later, his division headed for Plattsburgh.
CHARLES MICHEL D’ IRUMBERRY DE SALABERRY, (1778–1829)
Born in LC, Salaberry entered the British army as a volunteer in 1792 and two years later was commissioned an ensign in the 60th Regiment of Foot through the patronage of Prince Edward, fourth son of King George III (later the Duke of Kent and father of Queen Victoria). Salaberry showed courage and talent during a campaign in the West Indies, and the prince continued to guide his career. In 1806, as a captain, he joined the 5/60th Foot under then-Colonel Francis de Rottenburg, the expert in light infantry tactics who later referred to Salaberry as “my dear Gunpowder.” While on recruitment in England, he became involved in a brief but difficult controversy with then–Major General Sir George Prevost.
In 1810, Salaberry returned to Canada as de Rottenburg’s aide-de-camp. Breveted to major the next year, he proposed the formation of a light infantry corps of LC militia that became in the spring of 1812 the Canadian Voltigeurs. Another controversy involving Prevost developed, concerning the granting of a regular army commission as lieutenant colonel to Salaberry, and was not resolved until mid-1814, much to his annoyance.
In 1812, Salaberry and some of the Voltigeurs were posted along the LC border with New York and Vermont, where they saw action at the skirmish at Lacolle (20 November); Prevost did not mention him in a dispatch to the home government.
When the Right Division of the U.S. Army in the Ninth Military District under Major General Wade Hampton threatened to invade LC via the Richelieu River route, Salaberry reinforced his forward post at Odelltown (20 September 1813) and put up such a fight that Hampton withdrew and headed for the Chateauguay River in New York. In the subsequent battle on the Chateauguay (26 October), Salaberry demonstrated his expertise in defensive preparations, deployment, and battlefield steadiness, outnumbered though he was by Hampton’s army. Major General Louis de Watteville, Salaberry’s immediate superior, and Prevost arrived on the scene late in the action. Sir George later reported the affair in such a way as to downplay Salaberry’s role. Salaberry protested and threatened to resign, but Prevost offered him the lucrative assignment of inspecting field officer of the militia; privately, Prevost denigrated Salaberry’s role at Chateauguay and overall competence. Late in 1814, Salaberry sent his resignation to the Horse Guards, but Prince Edward intercepted it, and Salaberry remained in commission as a lieutenant colonel; he sat on the board at the court-martial of Major General Henry Procter at Montreal in December 1814.
Salaberry received a medal in 1816 in commemoration of his victory at Chateauguay and at the recommendation of Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond was made a CB in 1817. He ended his years as a successful landowner, involved in various civil affairs.
Campaign against the Parthians Mark Antony, 36 BC. Oppius Statianus (legate Mark Antony) guarding the Roman baggage and siege equipment,
To his core, Antonius was a soldier – and a proud one. It was said he believed that there would be no better death for him than that by battle. As governor general in the East he sought to settle an old score. He conceived a military campaign against Rome’s nemesis Parthia. It was motivated by a desire to restore national honour after Crassus’ humiliating defeat at Carrhae in 53 BCE by Orodes II, and the Parthian incursions led by the quisling Q. Labienus on behalf of King Pacorus I in 40 BCE. After two years Antonius had assembled an army of his own troops supplemented by men and materiel from client kings and allies. At the start of his campaign he had 60,000 Roman infantry, together with 10,000 Celtiberian cavalry, and 30,000 assorted soldiers counting alike horsemen and light-armed troops from allies. Yet he complained that he was still short of the troops he had been promised by Caesar in return for the ships he had provided for the Sicilan War against Sex. Pompeius. Antonius would have to bolster his numbers by calling on Rome’s sole ally in the region. North of the Parthian province of Mesopotamia lay the great state of Armenia ruled by Artavasdes II, son of Tigranes the Great. Artavasdes II had been an ally of the Romans, but when they were defeated at Carrhae, he was forced to switch sides. Seeing an opportunity to free himself of Parthian obligations, he now switched sides again, this time allying himself with Antonius. On the advice of Artavasdes II of Armenia, Antonius planned to invade Parthia from the north – not from the west – by invading the Parthian client kingdom to the east of Armenia called Media Atropatene. Bordering on the Caspian Sea, it was ruled by Artavasdes I – no relation to the Armenian – and the loyal ally of the Parthian king, Phraates IV. Antonius’ decision was fateful. His advance with thirteen legions reached Phraaspa, the strongly fortified capital of Media Atropatene. According to Plutarch, the siege engines, which required 300 wagons to transport them, as well as a giant battering ram he would need to capture walled cities, he decided to leave behind – according to Velleius Paterculus, he lost two legions and their siege equipment to the Parthians. There his campaign halted. Unable to take Phraaspa, Antonius now found himself exposed on the plain outside the city. The Parthians soon came to the aid of Artavsades holed up in his city. They attacked Antonius’ supply train and, when rations were cut, his own soldiers mutinied. His fair-weather ally, Artavasdes I of Armenia, deserted him. Undaunted, in October that year Antonius demanded that the Parthians return the eagle standards and the Roman prisoners they had taken. The Parthians refused and replied that they would only permit him to leave the region unmolested. Without leverage, Antonius could do no more than accept the terms and ordered his army to head back to Syria. Before departing, he received a tip-off that he should expect an ambush and to avoid it he decided to take a route over the mountains. He was pursued by the Parthians and through twenty-five brutally harsh days Antonius struggled to lead his men to safety – Livy says he covered 450km (300 miles) in just twenty-one days. After withering attacks he finally reached Antiocheia on the Orontes in Syria. The failed campaign had come at terrible cost: 20,000 of the infantry and 4,000 of the cavalry had perished, not all at the hands of the enemy, but more than half by disease. They had, indeed, marched twenty-seven days from Phraaspa, and had defeated the Parthians in eighteen battles, but their victories were not complete or lasting because the missions they had pursued were ineffectual and short-term in outlook.
The following year Octavia brought from Italy several cohorts of cavalry to Greece to assist her husband, but at Athens she was told to proceed no further and remain there. Octavia understood completely what was afoot, and despite the personal hurt it caused her, nevertheless wrote to Antonius asking which of the many things she had with her should she bring to him. Anticipating her husband’s needs she was bringing clothing for his soldiers, pack animals, money and gifts for the officers and his friends, and in addition, 2,000 hand-picked, fully equipped men of the Praetorian Cohorts. Antonius’ political and romantic interests, however, now lay in Alexandria. A key financial backer of his wars was Queen Kleopatra of Egypt. He had met her for the first time in 47 BCE when Iulius Caesar backed her claim and, after the Alexandrine War, put the then 22-year-old woman on the throne. Caesar was famously seduced by her sensual charms and sharp intellect and she bore him a son she named Caesarion. In 41 BCE Antonius had summoned the queen to be with him at Tarsus. ‘And when she arrived,’ writes Plutarch, ‘he made her a present of no slight or insignificant addition to her dominions, namely, Phoenicia, Coele Syria, Cyprus, and a large part of Cilicia; and still further, the balsam-producing part of Iudaea, and all that part of Arabia Nabataea which slopes toward the outer sea’. He joined her in Egypt later that year. The two eloped and a romance blossomed between the couple – and soon there were children. Despite being married to Caesar’s own sister Octavia, Antonius proceeded to marry Kleopatra in 36 BCE. His reason for doing so was to legitimize his children by the queen, the twins Alexander Helios and Kleopatra Selene; but it seemed to some observers that he was creating a new, rival empire to Rome’s, encompassing Egypt, Asia, Greece and the Near East.
Unfazed by his military setback, Antonius raised a new army. Failing to find willing Italian-born citizen recruits, he changed the enrollment rules, offering citizenship to any male willing to serve in his ranks and succeeded in creating five new legions. Antonius was elected consul with L. Scribonius Libo for 34 BCE, resigning it on the same day. He headed north and re-invaded Armenia as revenge for what he saw as Artavasdes’ treachery. Under the pretence of marching to war against Parthia, he arrived at the Armenian capital Artaxata and deposed the king. The Armenians resisted and elected the king’s son Artaxes. Antonius refused to accept the choice of new regent, arrested him and installed Artaxias, his half-brother, under the control of Canidius Cassius’ and a large contingent of Roman troops. Elated by his success, Antonius headed back to Alexandria where he celebrated a triumphal parade. It was the first to be held outside Rome and was seen by many at home as both against the laws of Romans and of Jove. Artavasdes and his family were among the trophies exhibited in the lavish spectacle in which Antonius dressed as Dionysos, wearing an ivy wreath upon his head, a gaudy saffron robe of gold and clasping a thyrsus (the sacred wand of the god) while Kleopatra accompanied him in the guise of Isis.
Every Chasing the Great Mughal Ship – The Sea (1887)
Seeing great potential in the Indian fleet, Henry Every and five other pirate captains conspire to attack the convoy heading to Mocha and loot the treasure ship Ganj-i-Sawai. One by one, they pick off parts of the Indian fleet with ease until they reach the Ganj-i-Sawai and its escort, defeating and taking up to £600,000 in gold and silver – the biggest haul ever seized by pirates. Naturally, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb is not happy. He blames the British for their countrymen’s actions and holds the EIC personally responsible. Four of the company’s factories are attacked and taken by the emperor. So, to mollify the ruler, a £1,000 bounty is placed on Every’s head and he is made exempt from any possible royal pardon or amnesty.
English mutineer and pirate, last seen at New Providence in the Bahamas. Every—whose name has sometimes been erroneously rendered as ‘‘John Avery,’’ or even ‘‘Long Ben’’—was apparently born to John and Anne ‘‘Evarie’’ in the village of Newton Ferrers, a few miles southeast of Plymouth, England, in August 1659.
The details of his early career are unknown, until he enters the books of the 64-gun HMS Rupert as an experienced mid- shipman under Captain Francis Wheeler in March 1689. In all likelihood, Every must have taken part in the capture of a large French convoy off Brest that summer, the first year of the War of the League of Augsburg or King William’s War, and at the end of July was promoted as chief mate to Rupert’s sailing master. In June 1690, Every transferred to HMS Albemarle of 90 guns when Wheeler became its commander, doubtless seeing action in the disastrous Battle of Beachy Head two weeks later. In August of that same year, Every was discharged from the Royal Navy.
He next appears in 1693, as the mate aboard the heavily-armed private frigate Charles II, which was lying at Grave- send in anticipation of making a salving expedition to the West Indies. An Irish officer named Arthur O’Byrne, after long service in the Royal Spanish Navy, had secured permission from King Charles II of Spain to work wrecks in the Americas. O’Byrne then sought financial and technical support in Lon- don, as England and Spain were temporarily allied against France. The command of this flagship, named in honor of the Spanish monarch and flying his colors, was held by John Strong, who had served with Sir William Phips in a highly lucrative operation on the treasure-ship Concepcion on six years previously.
This latest expedition was also intended to attack French possessions and trade with Spanish-American ports, so was to sail well-armed. In addition to the flagship, there were the frigates James and Dove, as well as the pink Seventh Son. After lengthy delays, this flotilla put into the Spanish port of La Coruna early in 1694, only to remain at anchor for another three months. Strong died, and was succeeded as Flag-Captain by Charles Gibson, with Every as first mate. The English crews grew restless at being thus long unpaid, so that at nine o’clock on a Monday night, May 7, 1694, with Every acting as ringleader, they rose with their flag- ship and slipped past the harbor batteries. Next morning, he set Captain Gibson and some 16 loyal hands adrift in a boat, saying: ‘‘I am a man of fortune, and must seek my fortune.’’ Every then convened a meeting of the 85 mutineers left aboard Charles II, whom he persuaded to embark on a piratical cruise into the Indian Ocean (perhaps in emulation of the well-known exploit of the Rhode Island freebooter Thomas Tew, of that same year). The ship was renamed Fancy, and fell down the West African coast to round the Cape of Good Hope. After a year-and-a-half of adventures in the Far East, Every succeeded in boarding the enormous Mogul trader Ganj-i-sawai off Bombay on September 8, 1695, pillaging it of the immense sum of £200,000.
He and his men then sought a means of escaping with their ill-gotten booty, by returning into the Atlantic, and making for the West Indies. In late April 1696, the weather-beaten Fancy dropped anchor at Royal Island off Eleuthera, some 50 miles from New Providence (modern Nassau) in the Bahamas. Every sent a boat with four men to call on the corrupt local Governor, Nicholas Trott, ostensibly giving his name as ‘‘Henry Bridgeman’’ and alleging that his ship was an ‘‘interloper’’ or unlicensed slaver come from the Guinea Coast with ivory and slaves. Privately, this official was offered a bribe of £1,000 to allow the vessel into port and the pirates to disperse. He signaled his acceptance and Every quickly sailed Fancy into harbor, where he and the Governor furthermore struck a deal as to the disposal of the craft itself. Still maintaining the fiction that this was a legal transaction, Every made the ship over into the Governor’s safe-keeping, ‘‘to take care of her for use of the owners.’’ Once this deal was struck, Fancy was stripped of everything of value—46 guns, 100 barrels of powder, many small arms, 50 tons of ivory, sails, blocks, etc.—and allowed to drift ashore two days later, to be destroyed by the surf.
With this tell-tale piece of evidence obliterated, Every and the majority of his followers disappeared from the Bahamas aboard different passing ships, hoping to blend back into civilian life. He was one of the few rovers who ever fully succeeded in eluding justice, which may be why so many myths have attached themselves to his name, both during his lifetime and since. More typical, perhaps, was his crewman Joseph Morris, left behind on the Bahamas when he went mad after ‘‘losing all his jewels upon a wager.’’
Baer, Joel H., ‘‘‘Captain John Avery’ and the Anatomy of a Mutiny,’’ Eighteenth-Century Life 18 (February 1994), pp. 1#23.
Friedrich Mieth, an officer of great physical and moral courage, was born in Eberswalde, Brandenburg, about 30 miles northeast of Berlin, on June 4, 1888. He entered the army in 1906 as a Fahnenjunker in the 2nd Jaeger Battalion and was commissioned in the infantry in 1907. He served with distinction in World War I, where he fought on the Western Front, in Rumania, and with the Turkish Army. He performed well, became a company commander, and was wounded at least once. He remained in the army throughout the Weimar era, joined the General Staff, worked in the Defense Ministry, and was promoted to major in 1928. After Hitler came to power, the highly capable Mieth rose rapidly as the Wehrmacht expanded, being promoted to lieutenant colonel (1933), colonel (1935), and major general on April 1, 1938. In the meantime he commanded the 27th Infantry Regiment at Rostock, Pomerania (1936–1938) and served as chief of staff of Wehrkreis XII (1938–1939), which headquartered in Wiesbaden, Hesse. He was chief of staff of the 1st Army on the Western Front when World War II broke out.
Mieth was one of the first officers to clash with Hitler and the Nazis over the Einsatzgruppen (murder squads) and the SS and SD atrocities in Poland. In January 1940, Reinhard Heydrich, the brutal chief of the SD, set up a liquidation camp at Soldau, Poland, near the East Prussian border. When Mieth learned of this, he assembled the officers of the 1st Army and told them, “The SS has carried out mass executions without proper trials. The SS has besmirched the Wehrmacht’s honor.”
Prior to Mieth’s speech Hitler may have been unaware of Heydrich’s specific actions, but he certainly endorsed them in principle. In this clash between the army and the SS he quickly demonstrated which side he was on. Mieth was dismissed from his post on January 22 and sent into retirement. General Franz Halder, chief of the General Staff of the army and sometimes an anti-Hitler conspirator, rescued Mieth from professional oblivion three weeks later by naming him chief of the Operations Department (O Qu I) of OKH. This took a considerable amount of courage on Halder’s part. Remarkably, Mieth was promoted to lieutenant general on March 1, 1940—only five weeks after Hitler had sacked him.
In his new job, Mieth was involved in planning and executing the Western campaign of 1940—especially the operations on the Upper Rhine. During the last phase of the Battle of Dunkirk he served as OKH liaison officer with the 18th Army in a successful effort to transfer its divisions to the south as rapidly as possible. Partially as a result of these efforts, elements of the 18th Army took Paris on June 14. Later Mieth helped coordinate the buildup of forces between Army Group A (von Rundstedt) and OKH for the final phase of the conquest of France and toured the 9th Army’s front as the representative of General Halder. He was named chief of staff of the Armistice Commission on June 25, 1940.
After France capitulated and Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of the United Kingdom, was cancelled, Friedrich Mieth apparently tired of his duties in Berlin and asked for a command. He took over the 112th Infantry Division near Mannheim on December 10, 1940, the day it was officially activated. Sent to Russia in July, the 112th fought at Bobruisk, Kiev, and Bryansk and suffered heavy losses during the retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1941–1942. It was occupying a relatively static sector of Army Group Center’s line when Stalingrad was encircled on November 23, 1942.
When the Rumanian armies collapsed, Hitler upgraded headquarters’ 11th Army to Headquarters, Army Group Don, and called upon the brilliant Field Marshal Erich von Manstein to stabilize the front and save 6th Army. Manstein hastily summoned Mieth and named him commander of security and rear-area troops for the new army group. Because of the rapid speed of the Soviet breakthroughs, however, Mieth’s real function was to organize ad hoc units and lead them into combat to help stem the Russian tide. On New Year’s Day 1943, for example, he was in the Zymlia sector, commanding four ad hoc combat groups, each of approximately regimental strength, plus the 336th Infantry Division and what was left of the 7th Luftwaffe Field Division. With these forces he was conducting a delaying action near the Don River. His hastily organized headquarters was already known as Korps Mieth.
From January to July 1943, Mieth fought in the battles along the Don, in the Donetz, and in the retreat to the Mius. During this period he had to maintain constant flexibility because his units were always changing, as the southern sector of the Eastern Front underwent crisis after crisis. On March 4, for example, Mieth controlled the 336th and 384th Infantry divisions and the 23rd Panzer Division. Five weeks later all these units had been transferred, and Mieth was directing the 3rd Mountain and the 304th and 335th Infantry divisions. Mieth, however, proved himself to be an excellent field commander, and on April 20, 1943 (Hitler’s birthday), he was promoted to general of infantry. His headquarters was recognized as a permanent formation on July 20, when it was upgraded to IV Corps—named after a unit destroyed at Stalingrad. In the meantime, it received its corps units, including the 404th Artillery Command (Arko 404), the 44th Signal Battalion, and the 404th Supply Troop.
Friedrich Mieth continued to distinguish himself on the Russian Front throughout 1943 and into 1944, earning his Knight’s Cross and Oak Leaves in the process. He did not make headlines in America or Britain, or even in Germany, for that matter. He was, rather, one of many solid, dependable, highly competent German generals, fighting very skillfully against heavy odds, for a cause in which he did not believe and for a leader and regime he did not love, but for a country he did love. Meanwhile, IV Corps was pushed inexorably back, across the Dnieper, out of the Nikopol Bridgehead, across the Nogay Steppe and over the Bug and Dnestr, all the way to Moldavia in the eastern Carpathians, where the Soviet spring offensive of 1944 was finally brought to a halt. Here, as part of Colonel General Johannes Friessner’s Army Group South Ukraine, it awaited the next, inevitable Soviet attack.
In the meantime, secret negotiations were taking place between representatives of the Soviet Union and the political enemies of Hitler’s ally, Rumanian dictator Ion Antonescu. On August 20, the anticipated Soviet offensive began with a massive artillery bombardment, followed by strong ground attacks. In all, the Soviets had 90 infantry divisions and six tank and mechanized corps, or more than 925,000 men. Friessner met them with 360,000 German soldiers (23 divisions, of which 21 were infantry) and 23 Rumanian divisions—all of which had lost the will to fight. Of the army group’s 392-mile front, 160 miles were held by unreliable Rumanian troops. Although the Germans held their positions, the Rumanian front broke in a number of places, and there were incidents of Rumanians disarming and arresting German liaison staffs and cutting German communications and even firing on German troops. Friessner was already retreating when the Soviets sprang the trap.
On the afternoon of August 23, Antonescu was deposed and arrested and Rumania defected from the Axis, and that night the king broadcast a message to the Rumanian people stating that Rumania would join the United Nations against their common enemy—Germany. Meanwhile, the Rumanian Army stopped fighting the Soviets, whose motorized columns surged unopposed into the German rear. They were already 40 miles behind IV Corps before Mieth learned what was going on in Bucharest. Two days later Rumania formally declared war on Germany.
Meanwhile, on the morning of August 24, Friessner made the difficult decision to save what little of his army group he could save (for the defense of Hungary) and abandon the rest. Those forces already cut off in Rumania would have to break out and escape on their own—if they could. These included virtually the entire 6th Army (resurrected since Stalingrad) and the IV Corps of the 8th Army.
On August 21, Mieth’s corps consisted of the German 370th, 79th, and 376th Infantry divisions and the 11th Rumanian Division. Outflanked by a major Red Army attack to the west, Mieth at once retreated to the south, parallel to the Pruth River, although he lost a number of heavy guns in the process. (It had rained, and his horses could not move them out of the heavy mud.) Mieth had already lost contact with the corps on both his flanks.
August 22 was a day of continuous fighting with Soviet vanguards, as IV Corps slowly fell back to the previously prepared Trajan position. The sky was cloudless and the heat oppressive. The rainwater had already evaporated, and dust choked the veteran foot soldiers, who nevertheless beat back every Soviet attack. By this point of the war, the Luftwaffe was long since a spent force even in the East. Soviet airplanes bombed and strafed all the roads more or less continuously. No one had seen a German fighter plane for a long time.
Despite these difficulties, Mieth managed to keep his corps together—except for the 11th Rumanian, which had been engaged but was still not conforming to his instructions. Mieth ordered Lieutenant General Friedrich-August Weinknecht, the commander of the 79th Infantry, to visit the Rumanian commander, to coordinate operations and bring the 11th back into the battle. While the two divisional commanders were talking, panic-stricken hordes of Rumanians—led by their officers—suddenly appeared and rushed by them, babbling something about being under tank attack even though not one vehicle could be heard. The Rumanian commander tried to halt the rout and even resorted to using his whip, but he could not perform a miracle. The next day he was forced to report that his division had dissolved.
Fourth Corps continued its withdrawal on August 23, under the remorseless sun and cloudless sky. Soviet mechanized and armored attacks against the rearguards were bolder now and beaten off with difficulty. No food had arrived for some time, and the troops ate their Iron Rations or lived on what little corn they could find in the poor Rumanian fields. The wounded, without medication or proper attention, were carried along in primitive farm carts and died like flies in the scorching heat. By August 24 the men were nearing exhaustion when Mieth learned from a radio interception that Soviet armor had overrun Husi, cutting IV Corps off to the south and destroying or dispersing the supply units in the process. Any possibility of help or resupply was now gone. Meanwhile, stragglers from two other crushed German infantry divisions joined Mieth’s columns in an effort to escape the impending disaster. On August 25 and 26, with strong Soviet forces to his front and rear, Friedrich Mieth launched a series of desperate attacks against Husi; however, due to the swampland that almost surrounded the town, the stiffness of the Soviet resistance, and the rapidly diminishing combat strength of his exhausted corps, he was unable to take the place and reopen the escape route to the south. He therefore ordered all carts burned and all unwanted horses shot.
General Mieth’s new plan was desperate, although definitely in line with the situation. He planned to change direction and march to the west. Fourth Corps would attack across the Berlad River, destroy all its remaining equipment, and break into small groups. These parties were then to head for German lines in the Carpathian Mountains, about 70 miles away—or at least Mieth hoped they were heading for German lines. He had had no contact with any higher or adjacent headquarters for days (although he must have assumed—correctly—that the latter had already been destroyed). In reality, Mieth had no way of knowing where either German or enemy forces were located.
The German assault group was supposed to form up for the attack on the night of August 27–28. It was to be spearheaded by the 79th Infantry Division and led by the four assault guns still left to the division, followed by its two combat engineer companies. The infantry by now was low in ammunition and too exhausted to be of much use. The foot soldiers who could still walk followed like zombies, in stupefied silence.
General Weinknecht tried to carry out the assault as scheduled, but it proved to be impossible. The combat organization of the 79th Infantry Division was breaking down, communications were gone, and the exhausted troops, many of whom had not eaten for days, simply could not be aroused in sufficient numbers. Delay followed delay until well after daybreak. Meanwhile, a hollow-eyed General Mieth showed up at the division command post, shaken and disheveled. He told how his headquarters had been overrun by Soviet troops a few hours before. With the Reds pressing heavily into his rear, Mieth was not happy that Weinknecht had not yet crossed the river, and the two exchanged harsh words, largely brought on by the physical and mental strain of the preceding nine days. In any event, the 79th Infantry, followed by other units and stragglers, crossed the river under artillery and mortar fire and overran the Soviet blocking positions on the morning of August 29. Friedrich Mieth himself was right up front with the engineers in close combat, and this is where he died. Due to conflicting reports, we do not know for sure whether he fell to a Soviet bullet or to a heart attack, but he certainly would have preferred the former.
Once across the Berlad, IV Corps broke up as planned. Later that day, Red Army radio traffic revealed that Mieth’s men had broken across the river in strength and that about 20,000 of them had pushed southwest of Husi. Almost all of these were run down and killed or captured by the Soviets or the Rumanians. Only one member of the 79th Infantry Division reached German lines in Hungary 12 days later. He was now 300 miles from Iasi, where the ordeal began. The detailed reports of the other divisions of the IV Corps are lacking, but they could not have done much better. In sum, Army Group South Ukraine lost all but five of its divisions in the Rumanian disaster. Three of these were west of the Soviet offensive when it began and were not engaged, and two (the 13th Panzer and 10th Panzer Grenadier) were mobile enough and acted quickly enough to escape. Some rear-area units, of course, were far enough behind the front to escape as well, and a few isolated bands of infantry made their way back to German lines weeks after the fighting began. Exact losses will never be known but could not have been much below 200,000 men. Most of these were never heard from again.
Model (scale approximately 1:48) based on the Seal of Dover in use in 1284. The Seals of the Cinque Ports are almost the only contemporary information available. The ships of the 11th and 12th centuries differed little from Viking longships. As more reliance came to be placed on sail power the vessels were built with increased beam and depth to carry the larger sail. During the 13th century, fore and aftercastles were added to these ships for fighting purposes. This ship was about 75 ft in length and 25 ft wide. The Cinque Ports are first mentioned in an English Royal Charter of 1155. They were five ports (Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Hastings) which, in return for certain privileges, guaranteed to provide the Crown with ships in times of national strife or crisis.
It has long been an axiom that, as an island, Britain’s best defence was to attack the enemy at sea and for many centuries the warships and sailors from the Cinque Ports of Sussex formed part of England’s coastal defence.
The Cinque Ports were a maritime confederacy whose privileges and duties were legally defined by a Royal Charter of 1278. In return for the defence of the coast against sea-borne incursions and the provision of fifty-seven armed ships and crews for fifteen days each year for the Royal fleet, the confederation was granted certain rights and privileges. These included exemption from many taxes, the rights of wreckage (an important, if irregular, source of income) and Honours at Court. If the ships were required for longer than the fifteen days the king had to pay for their services.
The original five ports were Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich with Winchelsea and Rye as attached members of Hastings. The full title of the confederation was the Cinque Ports and Two Ancient Towns. At various times throughout the Middle Ages other towns and ports, from as far as Brightlingsea in Essex to Seaford in Sussex (and including Pevensey and Bulverhythe), were affiliated with the confederation, forming one of the most important naval forces in England. At the height of its power and influence the confederation numbered no less than forty-two towns and villages.
The ports had been active as a confederation long before their position was legally established. It is known that the Cinque Ports’ fleet sailed up the eastern coast in support of King Harold’s march to York to face Hardrada’s Vikings in 1066. Unfortunately for Harold these vessels were still in the north when William sailed from Normandy and the Conqueror found the coast undefended. Ironically it was the loss of Normandy by King John in 1204 which thrust the south coast and the Cinque Ports into the front line defence of England.
Their first recorded large-scale battle occurred early in 1213 when the Cinque Ports’ fleet attacked Dieppe and destroyed French ships which had been assembling in the Seine estuary in preparation for an attack upon England. In May of the same year the Cinque Ports’ ships formed part of an English naval force which defeated the French at the Battle of Damme where, it was claimed, the Portsmen captured 200 enemy vessels.
In 1216 Rye and Winchelsea opened their gates to the Dauphin of France in his unsuccessful bid to wrest the English throne from the hated King John. The French also occupied Chichester Castle. The following year the Castle was recaptured and the Cinque Ports’ fleet, having been bribed to change sides, defeated the French navy in a battle off Sandwich. So that Chichester Castle could never be used again by the French it was pulled down in 1225.
In 1242 the Cinque Ports were granted permission to ravage the French coast but it was during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453) that the men and the ships of the Cinque Ports were most frequently in action. This conflict was a continuation of the confusion that arose after William the Conqueror divided his Anglo-Norman empire between his sons. From that moment on, the leading men in England and France were locked in seemingly endless disputes over the rights to property on both sides of the Channel. Often this took the form of legal debate but sometimes the arguments were decided by the force of arms. So when Phillip VI seized Gascony in 1337 the English king – Edward III – went to war to regain his Gascon possessions and to assert his own claim to the throne of France.
The first battle of the Hundred Years War was at sea. Edward, with a massive fleet of ships, including a large contingent from the Cinque Ports, achieved a great victory off Sluys. French losses were claimed to have reached 25,000 men. The significance of this victory, and of another success by the Cinque Ports’ fleet at the Battle of Les Espagnols-sur-Mer off Winchelsea in 1350, was that Edward’s army was able to cross the Channel and most of the fighting of the Hundred Years War took place in France.
Inevitably the French fleet felt obliged to retaliate and the Sussex coast, particularly the Cinque Ports, came under attack. Winchelsea was first assaulted in 1337 when around a hundred houses were burnt to the ground. Rye suffered a similar raid in 1339 when fifty of its houses were destroyed.
Twenty years later, on Sunday 15 March 1359, some 3,000 Frenchmen landed whilst the townspeople were in Winchelsea’s Church of St Giles celebrating Mass. The French broke into the church killing and raping. Forty of the inhabitants were murdered before help came. In the ensuing conflict some 400 English were drowned in the harbour. When the French sailed away they took with them thirteen well-laden ships.4
Exactly one year later, on 15 March 1360, Rye and Winchelsea suffered another raid, with both ports and the surrounding countryside being ravaged and burnt. A retaliatory raid was made by the Cinque Ports’ fleet a few months later.
The largest French raid came in the summer of 1377. Rye was overrun by a considerable force of possibly 4,000 men in 120 ships led by Admiral Jean de Vienne. At the sight of such a large force the inhabitants fled. All the wooden buildings in the town were burnt. Rye’s small castle, the Badding’s Tower, which had been built in the time of Henry III, proved incapable of defending the town against such attacks and it was clear that Rye would have to be properly fortified. With the help of Royal grants a stone wall was subsequently erected around the town with impressive strong-points in the form of the Land Gate and the Strand Gate. Baddings Tower was sold to a private individual, John de Ypres, in 1430 and has been known as the Ypres Tower ever since.
The French raiders then moved against Winchelsea. But the Abbot of Battle, having learnt of the French incursion, armed his men and sent them to help man the town’s defences. The raiders were driven off. Winchelsea’s defences were formed when the new town was built on its present site at the end of the thirteenth century. The walls were partly wood and earth, with stone only being used at key locations. The whole of the eastern side was surrounded by a wide ditch.
Undeterred by their repulse at Winchelsea, the French continued along the coast, ransacking Hastings and destroying its churches. Hastings was no longer the major port in the region. Hastings heads the list of the Cinque Ports and at its height in the twelfth century it contributed twenty ships to the king’s fleet. By the early thirteenth century Hastings’ contribution to the confederation was no more than half-a-dozen vessels. Hastings Castle had also declined in importance and as early as 1339 the town and the castle had been ransacked by one of the first raids of the Hundred Years War.
The French attackers continued westwards and, sighting a gap in the cliffs, de Vienne decided to make landfall – they had arrived at Rottingdean. The ships anchored or ran aground and the French troops advanced inland, only to be met by a volley of arrows from the locals. Though outnumbered, the archers were able to delay the French long enough to allow their women and children to escape. One man was sent by horse to alert the people of Lewes.
Meanwhile the rest of the French force made its way ashore. They looted the houses and set fire to the church of St Margaret. As de Vienne prepared to extend his raid further inland one of his scouts reported that an English force of some 500 men was approaching. The French admiral planned an ambush.
The English force was led by John de Caroloco, the Prior of the St Pancras Priory at Lewes. The Prior had no idea that the French were ashore in such large numbers and when he saw the small advance force on the edge of the village, he led the English into the attack. De Vienne, however, had stationed the majority of his troops on the wooded slopes of Beacon Hill, from which vantage point they could watch the English rushing into their trap.
The small French body turned and ran back to the beach, luring the English with them. At a pre-arranged signal, de Vienne unleashed his men who charged down upon the rear of the unsuspecting English. A handful of the English managed to cut their way through the French ranks but Prior de Caroloco was captured and around 100 men were killed.
Having beaten the local militia, de Vienne was now free to plunder the local area and it is possible that the French got as far as Lewes only to find the gates closed and the walls manned. After five days the French took to their ships again, eventually returning to France. It is said that John de Caroloco was taken back to France and ransomed. It has been said that he was released after a ransom of 300 marks had been handed over.
Ecclesiastical establishments of the Middle Ages played an important part in local defence, especially as places of refuge. The great gatehouses of places like Battle Abbey and Michelham Priory, as well as the moats dug around churches, such as that at West Tarring, were genuine defensive structures.
In retaliation for the raid of 1377 the men of Rye and Winchelsea attacked the French coast the following year. They captured all the wealthy people that could be held to ransom and they recovered the church bells of the two towns which had been taken by the French the previous year.
The French attacked the Sussex coast again in 1380. Led by Admiral Jean de Vienne, the Cinque Ports of Rye, Winchelsea and Hastings were once more the main targets of the raiders. The final French raid of the Hundred Years War was against Rye in 1448.
The repeated French attacks prompted a number of important landowners living close to the coast to build castles.
Amongst those was Bishop William Rede who sought a license to crenellate his house at Amberley after the raid of 1377. Though Amberley is more than six miles from the sea, it is less than a mile from the Arun which French ships could easily navigate. With curtain walls reaching forty feet in height the castle was protected by a moat along its southern face and the extensive marsh land of the Wild Brooks to the north and west. Its most impressive feature was its twin-towered gatehouse, built with a drawbridge and portcullis. Amberley Castle was attacked only once, in 1643 during the Civil War, when it was captured without a struggle by the Parliamentarians.
Around the same time that Amberley Castle was being fortified, Roger de Ashburnham also received permission to strengthen his manor house at Scotney. Until the nineteenth-century boundary changes Scotney was in Sussex, but is now in Kent. A few years later, on 21 October 1385, Sir Edward Dalngrigge received a licence to crenellate his property at Bodiam. Like Amberley, Bodiam Castle is near to one of Sussex’s major rivers. In this instance the Castle overlooks the River Rother, close to an ancient harbour which had been in use since Roman times.
Bodiam, one of the most picturesque castles in England, was built within a huge rectangular moat, some eight feet deep, which measures 542 feet by 340 feet. Rising to forty-one feet above the level of the water, the short curtain walls are flanked by four circular drum towers at each corner of this virtually square building. Midway along each of the southern, eastern and western walls is a rectangular tower and the northern wall boasts an impressive gatehouse. The towers stand twenty feet higher than the walls. Bodiam is classified as a courtyard castle which means that the internal buildings are set around a central courtyard.
The towers of the gatehouse flank the entrance which was built with three portcullises and a drawbridge which led to a barbican gate. A second drawbridge led to a small octagonal island which was reached by a bridge from the western side of the moat. It is also known that the castle was armed with a 15-inch “bombard”, one of the earliest types of artillery piece, as one of these guns was found in the moat. This weapon is now on display in the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich.
With such defences, the castle would have been virtually unassailable, yet the only occasion that it was attacked – during the Civil War – it appears to have been given up without a fight. Bodiam was also besieged in 1483 but nothing is known about the event.
Herstmonceux Castle was built in the penultimate decade of the Hundred Years War by Roger de Fiennes who made his fortune fighting, and plundering, the French. Though the castle is not near a navigable river it does command the exposed Pevensey Levels. Despite its impressive double-parapeted gatehouse and water-filled moat, Herstmonceux is considered to be more a fortified manor house than a true castle.
During this period of unrest Pevensey Castle was garrisoned with around twenty or thirty men, usually consisting of ten men-at-arms, twenty bowmen and a watchman. However, in 1372 the Castle passed into the hands of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and he refused to defend the Castle against the French raids. His failure to provide troops to garrison the Castle during the 1377 raid (claiming that if the Castle was damaged he could afford to re-build it!) made the Duke an unpopular figure. During the Peasant’s Revolt four years later the locals had their revenge and a mob broke into the Castle and burnt the court rolls used for assessing the Poll Tax. A similar attack was made at this time upon Lewes Castle.
In 1394 John of Gaunt went to Ireland and he entrusted the Constableship of Pevensey Castle to Sir John Pelham. When, five years later, John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, clashed with Richard II, Pelham remained loyal to the Gaunt family and Pevensey Castle found itself under siege for the final time in its history. On this occasion the Castle, held by Pelham’s wife Joan, was not taken and after Bolingbroke was crowned Henry IV, Pelham received the Castle and Honour of Pevensey as his reward.
With the ending of the Hundred Years War, the military importance of the Cinque Ports faded. Their decline was due in part to the growth of the Royal Navy but also to the silting up of the harbours. Only Dover, with aid from the state, has managed to keep its harbour open. The Cinque Ports were called to defend the realm just one more time when England faced its severest test since 1066. This time, though, it was not from France that the would-be invaders came, but from Spain.
Religion, which has so often whipped up the storm of international conflict, was the wind behind the sails of the magnificent armada of war ships that departed Spain in 1588 intent upon the subjugation of liberal England. Catholic Spain, then the most powerful nation in Europe, numbered the Netherlands (present-day Belgium and Holland) amongst its possessions. The growing Protestant movement in the Low Countries worried the severely orthodox Spanish monarch, Philip II, and he decided to end the advance of the heretics and enforce strict Catholicism upon his wayward Dutch and Flemish subjects.
A strong force of mercenaries from Spain’s Italian provinces, led by the Duke of Alva, was despatched to the Netherlands in the summer of 1567. Alva arrested the province’s leading figures and instigated a reign of inquisitorial terror against the defenceless Protestants. Many fled the Inquisition by crossing the North Sea. The Low Countries had long been England’s commercial inlet into Europe and the Flemish weavers and Dutch merchants received a friendly welcome from their old trading partners in Protestant England.
Tension between England and Spain was heightened the following year with the capture of an English fleet of ships in the Caribbean by the Spaniards, and by the retention of the cargo from a Spanish convoy that had sought shelter in the ports along the south coast. That cargo was gold bullion which had been destined to pay the troops occupying the Netherlands. Firstly Spain and then England responded by placing embargoes on each other’s trade with the Low Countries.
Relationships between the two countries deteriorated even further when Mary Queen of Scots attempted to seize the English throne with the assistance of the Spaniards. Mary’s Catholic supporters captured Hartlepool to allow Alva’s men a secure disembarkation but the Spaniards lacked the naval strength to ensure a safe crossing of the North Sea and the rebellion was quickly quashed.
By contrast, northern Europe continued to experience great civil unrest amidst Reformation and Counter-Reformation. It was, therefore, in England’s settled shires that industry could flourish in peace.
In Sussex the Wealden forests glowed with the fires of the gun foundries. Firstly for the ships of the Royal Navy and then for the forts and castles of the shores, the cannon of Sussex armed the nation – and none too soon. For the dare-devil actions of English privateers on the Spanish Main and open support for the Dutch rebels had enraged Philip and he would tolerate England’s interference no longer.
The Spanish Armada encounter of 1588 was undoubtedly an important and fascinating battle. However, even today it is frequently surrounded by common myths and confusions that date back to Victorian Era days. The battle itself was followed by 16 years of land and naval war between England and Spain in which the Spanish were mostly successful and renewed their control over the high seas, a basic fact that many texts and popular accounts often fail entirely to mention. Spain retooled its navy and shipped three times as much silver in the 1590s as before. The Spanish invasion force, moreover, was never referred to (by Philip or anyone else in Spain) as the “Invincible Armada”; medical resources on the Spanish coast were mobilized with surprising rapidity and effectiveness to tend to sick and wounded returning sailors in 1588, suggesting that the Spaniards very much were prepared for the potential failure of the Spanish Armada and run-ins with rough weather. These are just a few of the common myths and muddles about the Spanish Armada battle; a list of the “Top 10” myths is compiled and tackled HERE.
Philip planned to crush England with overwhelming force. An armada of transport vessels and warships, led by Medina Sidonia, would sail into the Channel and drive the Royal Navy from its home waters. At the same time the army in the Netherlands, now under the command of the Duke of Parma, would cross the North Sea on flat-bottomed barges taken from the waterways of Flanders.
Elizabeth, and her advisers, were well aware of Philip’s preparations and whilst all effort was to be concentrated upon stopping the Spaniards at sea, consideration was also given to the defence of the coast.
Firstly, a chain of fire beacons was established along the entire southern and eastern coastlines. They were formed in pairs. Lighting one beacon was to indicate a small raid which might be repelled by local men; lighting both beacons meant that a full-scale attack was imminent.
In Sussex these were located at: West Wittering, Bracklesham, Selsey, Sidlesham, The Trundle, Pagham, Felpham, Littlehampton, East Preston, Kingston, Ferring, Goring, Worthing (Heene Mill), East Worthing, Lancing, Aldrington, Brighton, Rottingdean, Seaford (Bishopstone), Wilmington, Willingdon, Beachy Head, Cross-in-Hand, Burwash, Cooden Down and Fairlight.
From the coast the alarm could be passed all the way to London with beacons on Highdown Hill, Chanctonbury Ring, Ditchling Beacon, Firle Beacon and Crowborough Beacon transmitting signals to the North Downs and from there to the capital. The maintenance of the beacons, which were pitch-filled iron baskets on top of wooden poles, was the responsibility of the community and five householders were to oversee each pair. These householders had to ensure that at least two of them were home at all times and no one living on or near the coast was allowed to move home without permission. The beacon system was supplemented by a relay of post-horses which were held in readiness along the coast.
Secondly, batteries were to be built or restored and armed with cannon, especially along the flat, open beaches between Brighton and Selsey. Brighton, a frequent target of raids from the sea, already possessed a gun garden and blockhouse. Situated on what was once a low cliff between the present-day Black Lion Street and Ship Street, the gun garden fronted the sea with the circular blockhouse standing to a height of eighteen feet placed behind it. Initially sixteen guns were housed in the garden and blockhouse but by the time of the Armada this had been reduced to just six. Trenches already existed at Whitehawk Hill and others were planned for Saltdean.
Further to the east, Newhaven, East Blatchington and Cuckmere Haven were to be provided with more substantial earthworks and Birling Gap was to be “rammed up”. Alfriston, Eastbourne and Hastings were all to receive defensive works or ordnance. A two-gun battery was formed inside the outer bailey of Pevensey Castle, and Camber Castle was kept in good condition and was well-armed. At Rye, still an important port, the Gun Garden was furnished with artillery as was the Land Gate and the Strand Gate.
At Shoreham a small defensive work for three guns was raised on the east bank estuary of the Adur. Further west, at Littlehampton (then still known as Arundel Haven) it is possible that a fort was erected on the east bank of the Arun to house four medium-calibre cannon. At Kingston (near East Preston), Goring, Worthing and Lancing defensive trenches were dug but they do not appear to have been armed with artillery.
Pagham Harbour was particularly well defended with a battery at, or near, East Beach (East Norton) to accommodate three guns, with another three pieces mounted on the eastern arm of the harbour entrance. The height of the former Norman ringwork at Church Norton overlooking the southern edge of the harbour was raised and used as a lookout post.
Responsibility for the defence of the coast from Kent to Dorset was placed in the hands of “Black” Sir John Norris with the defence of Sussex delegated to Lord Howard of Effingham – the Lord Admiral of England – who held the title of Lord Lieutenant of Sussex and Surrey. He was assisted by the Queen’s cousin Lord Buckhurst.
Lewes, situated in the middle of the county, was selected as the military headquarters and Buckhurst moved into the town. The house where he stayed still stands and is now “Shelley’s Hotel” in the High Street. The county’s reserve artillery and munitions store was also at Lewes.
It was intended that the Spanish landing would be met only by local forces with the main English armies concentrated further inland. It has been estimated that in the south and south-west the shoreline would have been held by some 21,000 local militia, armed with whatever weapons they might possess. The Elizabethan militia was intended to be a formation of all able-bodied males between the ages of sixteen to sixty. These men had to be prepared to turn out in the defence of their shire at an hour’s warning. In each district a number of men were given military training.
These “trained bands” were well-armed and were the backbone of the local defence force. In Sussex there were supposed to have been 2,000 trained men. Of these, 800 were to have carried firearms and the remainder equipped with halberds or pikes. The bow was still considered a weapon of war though its place on the battlefield was being usurped by the matchlock musket.
To protect the south-east and the Thames estuary two small armies, one of 12,000 men and the other of 6,000 men, were to be stationed at Tilbury and Sandwich respectively. Away from these coasts a force of some 27,000 to 34,000 men from the trained bands of the counties would be assembled and another army, 36,000 strong, would be held in reserve to protect the Queen.
This last body would be composed of men from the court, from the City of London and the Home Counties. Sussex was expected to find 260 horse and 4,000 foot of which 2,500 were sent to join the main army in the interior. Against these numbers Philip sent 130 ships with 30,000 men who would join forces with the Duke of Parma’s 30,000 troops waiting on the Flemish coast.
The Sussex militia were first assembled in the summer of 1586 when fifty ships were sighted off Brighton. Lord Buckhurst responded immediately by bringing together 1,600 men between Brighton and Rottingdean. They camped out on the edge of the Downs that night and they were joined by more men the next day. It proved to be a false alarm as did a similar scare the following summer when horsemen were placed along the coast after reports that an invasion fleet was approaching through the Channel.
With the prospect of invasion becoming increasingly likely Buckhurst was ordered by the Privy Council to round up all “recusants”. A recusant is someone who refuses to attend their parish church which effectively meant, and was intended to mean, all Roman Catholics. They were to be placed in the care of the clergy or other people of rank, but if this was not possible the Catholics were to be jailed.
From the outset the Armada ran into difficulties. Storms delayed its departure and further bad weather struck the great fleet before it had even left Spanish waters. Eventually, on the morning of 19 July 1588, the Armada passed the Lizard to head up the Channel. The warning beacons were lit: “Swift to East and swift to West the ghastly war-flame spread,” a contemporary poem ran. “High on St. Michael’s Mount it shone: it shone on Beachy Head.”
The English fleet put to sea and the following night slipped round the Armada to place itself windward of the Spanish vessels. Though outnumbered, the English could now control the coming battle. Amongst Lord Howard’s ships was a vessel from Rye. The 60-ton vessel William was hired from a French privateer and was manned by fifty-eight sailors captained by William Coxson. Four cannon from Rye were added to whatever armament the ship already carried.
Another ship, the Ann Bonaventure of 70 tons and a crew of forty-nine, was supplied jointly by Hastings and Winchelsea. A third ship from Sussex was provided by Lord Howard with the cost being shared by all six rapes of the county. Hundreds of other sailors were recruited from the Sussex ports to fight with the navy, leaving some parts of the coast dangerously short of defenders.
For the next five days the two fleets fought periodically. The Armada moved in a crescent, or concave, formation, covering a distance of seven miles, with the largest ships at the tips of the crescent. It is often assumed that the battle in the Channel was conducted by an overwhelmingly large number of big Spanish galleons against a weaker force of small, but more manoeuvrable, English warships. The reality was far more complicated.
The disparity in numbers was not very great, with the combined fleets of Howard and Sir Francis Drake producing a total of only twenty to thirty less vessels than the Spaniards. In general the tonnage of the ships of the two nations was also roughly the same but the English vessels were of a far more modern design and carried a heavier weight of cannon.
The success of the Spanish land armies meant that the military predominated over the navy to such an extent that their ships were manned by three soldiers to every sailor. In the English ships there were three sailors to every soldier. The English ships did not dare approach too close to the Spanish vessels packed with soldiers for fear of being boarded but their guns, which far out-distanced the Spanish cannon, could inflict little damage upon the stout hulls of the Armada from long range.
On the 25th the Armada passed Selsey Bill and Buckhurst was ordered to see that the militia was mustered and posted at the chosen places along the coast and at important points of communication throughout the county. But by the 26th, the Spaniards had reached Beachy Head and it seemed unlikely that the great fleet would attempt a landfall in Sussex.
With day after day of running battles the English fleet soon became desperately short of powder and shot. Buckhurst was ordered to furnish Lord Howard with as much ammunition and food as the ships required. Gunpowder from the Lewes arsenal was sent down the Ouse to Newhaven and then shipped out to Howard’s supply vessels. Hastings, assisted by Pevensey, Winchelsea and Seaford, also helped to keep the fleet supplied.
On the 27th, the Armada sailed past Rye and, four days later, Buckhurst allowed the militia to stand down.
In the fighting the Spaniards lost just three ships, but these were amongst their most important galleons and their loss seriously affected the morale of the fleet. By the 28th, the Armada, damaged but still largely intact, was approaching Dover where the rest of the Royal Navy, under Seymour, was guarding the Strait, waiting for this very moment.
The Armada, its numerical advantage now lost, anchored in the Calais Roads to await news from the Duke of Parma. Despite ample notice of the Armada’s approach, the Duke’s troops were not ready to embark and Parma declared that it would be two more weeks before his men could join the invasion fleet. Medina Sidonia knew that he could not remain at anchor for such a period of time with the English fleet able to attack the stationary Spanish vessels at will. With the Spanish ships packed close together under the Calais defences they presented an ideal target for fireships.
This was a common naval tactic and a highly effective one. At midnight on 7 August, eight fireships sailed into Calais. Although the Spaniards had been expecting just such an attack, they cut their anchors and put out to sea in utter confusion.
The following day the English fleet attacked the broken and disorganised Armada at the Battle of Gravelines. It was the final battle of the campaign. With little possibility of reaching Parma’s men at Dunkirk, and with his ships damaged and his men discouraged, Medina Sidonia turned for the north to round Scotland and return through the North Atlantic to Spain. Of the 130 or so ships that set sail from Corunna in July almost half were lost.
Almost 100 years after the defeat of the great Armada, the “Glorious” Revolution of 1688, which put a Dutch Protestant monarch (William of Orange) on the English throne, led to further trouble with Catholic Europe. On 30 June 1690, a powerful French fleet of seventy-eight men-of-war plus twenty-two fireships, met a combined Anglo-Dutch force off Beachy Head.
Despite the fact that the allied fleet numbered just fifty-six vessels, it was the Dutch and British ships which attacked first. The battle raged all day until the wind dropped late in the afternoon. During the night the allied fleet – commanded by Lord Torrington – decided to retire.
The French gave pursuit the next day and one English ship, Anne, was driven onto the shore at Winchelsea where it was attacked by French fire-ships. The fleet escaped eastwards but allied losses amounted to eight ships and hundreds of men. The Battle of Beachy Head was, without question, a defeat for the Royal Navy and Lord Torrington was duly sent to the Tower and court-martialled.
The latter had methodically reduced the three strongholds of Münden, Northeim and Goöttingen held by the Protestant forces between Lower Saxony and Hessen-Kassel. Münden was stormed in early July, losing between two- and four-fifths of its 2,500 inhabitants who were massacred as Liga troops plundered the town. Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly then brought in Harz miners to dig under the defensive ditch at Göttingen to drain the water from it. A relief force under the Rheingraf (Raugrave) Salm-Kyrburg was ambushed and scattered at Rössing on 27 July. Göttingen capitulated on 11 August 1626, having resisted for seven weeks. Danish King Christian IV hastened south to save his last garrison at Northeim, but failed to stop Johann von Aldringen joining Tilly with 4,300 Imperialists. The king retired north through Seesen on 25 August, intending to escape to Wolfenbüttel. His decision depressed Danish morale and revived Tilly’s flagging spirits. The Liga army harried the Danish retreat, cutting off parties left to delay its pursuit. King Christian faced the same dilemma as his namesake had at Höchst and Stadtlohn of whether to jettison his valuable baggage. He chose not to, and the wagons soon jammed the Wolfenbüttel road where it crossed thick woods north-east of Lutter-am-Barenberge. Christian was forced to deploy early on Thursday 27 August, hoping a more substantial rearguard action would dislodge the pursuit. Tilly had no intention of giving up and sought a decisive battle.
Both armies numbered about 20,000, though the Danes had a few more cannon. Their position lay in a cleared valley surrounded by forest. The recent hot weather had dried the Neile stream on the Danish right, though the Hummecke stream to their front and left appears still to have been wet. Tilly brought up his heavy guns, protected by musketeers, to bombard the Danes while the rest of his army came up around noon. His men ate lunch while the Danes waited uneasily in the rain. Johann Jakob, Count of Bronckhorst and Anholt opened the main action early in the afternoon by crossing the Hummecke and attacking the Danish left. Christian had gone ahead to disentangle the baggage train, without making it clear who commanded in his absence. Landgrave Moritz’s younger son, Philipp, made an unauthorized counter-attack in an attempt to silence the bombardment. Meanwhile, detachments sent earlier by Tilly worked their way through the woods to turn both Danish flanks. The Danes wavered around 4 p.m., enabling Tilly’s centre to cross the stream and capture their artillery. The Danish royal escort successfully charged to cover the retreat of the second and third lines, but the first was unable to disengage and had to surrender. Christian lost up to 3,000 dead, including Philipp of Hessen-Kassel, General Fuchs and other senior officers. Another 2,000 deserted, while 2,500 were captured along with all the artillery and much of the baggage, including two wagons loaded with gold. Tilly lost around 700 killed and wounded.
Christian blamed Duke Friedrich Ulrich who had withdrawn the Wolfenbüttel contingent four days earlier. The Danes burned 24 villages around Wolfenbüttel and plundered their way across Lüneburg as they retreated to Verden. The Guelphs negotiated the bloodless evacuation of Hanover and other towns, and assisted the imperial blockade of the Danes still holding Wolfenbüttel itself. The victory boosted Tilly’s prestige and enabled his beloved nephew Werner to marry the daughter of the wealthy Karl Liechtenstein. The Liga army swiftly overran the archbishopric of Bremen and sent a detachment into Brandenburg to encourage Georg Wilhelm to recognize Maximilian as an elector. However, Tilly’s troops were entering an area already eaten out by the Danes. Christian offered 6 talers to every deserter who rejoined his army and most of the 2,100 prisoners pressed into the Liga ranks promptly left. Weak and exhausted, Tilly’s troops could not deliver the knock-out blow. Conditions deteriorated over the winter, and the Bavarian Schönburg cavalry regiment took to highway robbery to sustain itself.
Mansfeld’s Last Campaign
Lutter prevented Christian sending aid to Count Ernst von Mansfeld who was now cut off in Upper Hungary. It is likely that Wallenstein deliberately delayed his pursuit until Mansfeld had gone too far to turn back. His gamble paid off, as Mansfeld was stuck in the Tatra mountains waiting for Bethlen, who was typically late. Despite the numerous exiles with his army, the Bohemian and Moravian peasants refused to follow the Upper Austrian example and remained loyal to the emperor. Those of Upper Hungary hid their harvest before Mansfeld and Johann Ernst of Weimar arrived. Mansfeld lost faith that Bethlen would appear and decided to cut his losses and dash across Bohemia to Upper Austria where the rising was still under way. Johann Ernst, though, still trusted Bethlen and thought Mansfeld’s plan too risky.
Wallenstein crossed Silesia in the second half of August and marched past his opponents to the Military Frontier where the Turks were harassing the forts. This show of force was sufficient to deter the pasha of Buda from helping Bethlen, who agreed a truce with the emperor on 11 November. Hardship, disease and desertion had reduced Mansfeld’s and Johann Ernst’s forces to 5,400. Having quarrelled with the duke, Mansfeld set out with a small escort intending to cross the mountains and escape to Venice. Though only 46, he was crippled by asthma, heart trouble, typhus and the advanced stages of tuberculosis. Insisting on standing up, he allegedly met his end fully armed when death caught him in a village near Sarajevo on 14 December. Johann Ernst died of plague just two weeks later.
Bethlen had waited until the harvest was in before advancing to meet Mansfeld with 12,000 cavalry and a similar number of Turkish auxiliaries. The latter had already left by the time Mansfeld reached Upper Hungary and Bethlen’s operations ran parallel with his talks with Ferdinand’s representatives. The truce was confirmed as the Peace of Pressburg on 20 December that accepted revisions to the Treaty of Nikolsburg in Ferdinand’s favour. The pasha of Buda had already suspended operations, and renewed the 1606 truce at Zsön in September 1627.
Bethlen remained untrustworthy; he offered his light cavalry to Gustavus Adolphus for his war against Poland, but died on 15 November 1629 before agreement could be reached. His erstwhile lieutenant, György Rákóczi, staged a coup in September 1630, displacing Bethlen’s widow Katharina who was negotiating to accept Habsburg overlordship. Transylvania was plunged into internal strife from which Rákóczi emerged triumphant in 1636 thanks to his closer ties to the sultan and the local Calvinist clergy.54
Many felt that Wallenstein should have defeated Bethlen rather than negotiate with him. Wallenstein defended himself against his critics at the Bruck conference in November 1626 and his extended visit to Vienna the following April, securing a free hand for the coming campaign. His success prompted Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg to declare for the emperor. The elector had gone east to Prussia, taking only Schwarzenberg with him. Free from his Calvinist councillors in Berlin, he signed an alliance in May 1627. Winterfeld, the Brandenburg envoy who had worked indefatigably from 1624 to 1626 to forge a Protestant alliance, was arrested three months later on trumped-up charges of treason. The alliance allowed an imperial corps under Arnim across Brandenburg to Frankfurt on the Oder to trap the remnants of Mansfeld’s army holding out in the Silesian fortresses.
These had come under the command of Joachim von Mitzlaff, a Pomeranian in Danish service, who managed to rebuild the army to 13,400 and organize an effective base in the Upper Silesian mountains around Troppau and Jägerndorf. Wallenstein concentrated 40,000 men at Neisse in June 1627. As his fortresses surrendered one by one, Mitzlaff headed north with 4,000 cavalry hoping to dodge past Arnim. Wallenstein sent Merode and Colonel Pechmann after him, who caught and destroyed his detachment on 3 August. Mitzlaff escaped, but numerous Bohemian exiles were captured, including Wallenstein’s cousin Christoph whom he imprisoned. Wallenstein then marched north-west across Brandenburg towards Lauenburg, despatching Arnim northwards into Mecklenburg.
The mounting reverses encouraged Christian IV to resume negotiations. Ferdinand was known to be planning a conference to confirm the decisions of the Regensburg princes’ congress of 1623 as the basis for a general peace. He knew that the Palatinate and its Stuart backers would have to be included and accordingly welcomed an initiative from Württemberg and Lorraine to host talks at Colmar in Alsace in July 1627. Christian urged Frederick V to accept the emperor’s terms, since this would enable him to make peace without losing face. Frederick at last gave real ground, offering to renounce Bohemia, accept Maximilian as an elector, provided the title reverted to the Palatinate on his death, and to submit to imperial authority by proxy to avoid personal humiliation. Agreement was close since Ferdinand would probably have dropped his demand for reparations if Frederick had swallowed his pride and submitted in person. This was too much to ask, however, and the talks collapsed on 18 July.