Pavel Ivanovich Batov, (1897–1985)

Soviet Army general who served with the Bryansk Front and in the Battle of Kursk, among many other engagements. Born on June 1, 1897, in the village of Filisovo in the Rybinsk region of Yaroslavl Province, Russia, Pavel Batov entered the army in 1915 during World War I and fought on the Russo-German front. He won two St. George crosses and was wounded in combat in 1917. On his recovery, he was assigned to the noncommissioned officer (NCO) school in Petrograd, where he became a convert to Bolshevism.

Batov joined the Red Army in August 1918 and fought in the Russian Civil War. Between 1926 and 1927, he attended the Vystrel Officers’ School. On graduation, he took command of a battalion of the 1st Moscow Proletarian Rifle Division. He served with this division for nearly nine years, commanding its 3rd Rifle Regiment in 1933. In 1936 and 1937, he served as an adviser to the Republican side in the 1936–1939 Spanish Civil War and was twice wounded.

Promoted to brigade commander on his return to the Soviet Union in December 1937, Batov took command of the X Rifle Corps. In early 1938, he assumed command of the III Rifle Corps. At the same time, he served on a special commission to recommend the restructuring of Red Army mechanized and motorized forces. The commission’s report, approved in November 1939, unwisely recommended abolishing the army’s 4 tank corps and replacing them with 15 smaller motorized divisions.

Batov’s III Corps of four divisions participated in the September 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland and in the February–March 1940 phase of the Soviet invasion of Finland. His service in Finland earned him promotion to lieutenant general in June 1940, and soon thereafter, he was named deputy commander of the Transcaucas Military District. In June 1941, Batov was summoned to Moscow and given command of the IX Separate Rifle Corps in the Crimea. No sooner had he taken up his post then the Germans invaded the Soviet Union.

In October 1941, Batov became deputy commander of the Fifty-First Special Army. From January to February 1942, he commanded the Third Army of the Bryansk Front, and from February to October 1942, he was deputy front commander. He then headed the Fourth Tank Army, the redesignated Sixty-Fifth Army, in the Stalingrad area.

Pavel Ivanovich Batov, commanded the Soviet 65th Army through 1942-3, was assigned to this post as the battle for Stalingrad reached its peak. The evolution of 65th Army shows many of the reasons for the improvements in the Red Army as a whole. Originally raised as 28th Reserve Army in early 1942, it was prematurely committed to the disastrous attempt by Semyon Timoshenko to recapture Kharkov that spring. The German counter-attack that destroyed much of Timoshenko’s forces threw 28th Army back to the Don, where its staff was ordered to hand over their units to neighbouring armies and to start the formation of 4th Tank Army in the Volga valley. When Batov arrived to take command of this army, he was astonished to discover its current tank strength amounted to only four tanks; when he raised this with his superiors, the army was renamed 65th Army.

Unlike the opening months of the war, nearly all of the senior staff officers of Batov’s new army were veterans with experience of staff posts and hard combat behind them. The only exception was the commander of the communications section, Captain Borissov, but his skill in maintaining communications between army headquarters and its constituent divisions earned him high praise, and the constant fighting on the flanks of the great German bulge around Stalingrad ensured that even he too soon became a veteran. When the army was thrown into the great counter-attack that encircled the German 6th Army in Stalingrad, the staff officers were experts at cooperation and coordination.

Following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad in January 1943, Batov fought in the Battle of Kursk (July 5–13, 1943), the crossing of the Dnieper River, and the drive through Belorussia into East Pomerania and across the Oder River. Batov was popular with his men because he was one of the few senior officers who visited the front lines and conversed with the soldiers.

Promoted to colonel general in June 1944, Batov was in the Northern Group of Forces between 1944 and 1948 and was first deputy commanding general of Soviet forces in the occupation of East Germany. Promoted to army general in 1955, he commanded the Carpathian Military District from 1955 and 1958 and participated in suppressing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Batov commanded the Baltic Military District between 1958 and 1959 and the Southern Group of Forces in 1961 and 1962. He served as chief of staff of Warsaw Pact forces between 1962 and 1965. He then served as inspector general in the Soviet Ministry of Defense until his death in Moscow on April 19, 1985.


Bialer, Seweryn, ed. Stalin and His Generals: Soviet Military Memoirs of World War II. New York: Pegasus, 1969.

Glantz, David. “Pavel Ivanovich Batov.” In Stalin’s Generals, edited by Harold Shukman, 35–43. New York: Grove, 1993.

Battle of Fatshan Creek 1857

A Royal Navy force defeated a flotilla of Chinese war junks during the Battle of Fatshan Creek, before the Second Opium War.

Sir Henry Keppel, (1809-1904) British admiral. Born in Kensington on 14 June 1809, son of the Fourth Earl of Albemarle, Henry Keppel joined the Royal Navy in 1822. He was educated at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. He held a number of assignments, most of them in Asia and the Pacific. Keppel fought in the First Opium War against China (1839-1842). As commander of the HMS Dido in the mid-1840s he sailed to Singapore, Borneo, and other parts of East Asia, subduing local pirates. He was so revered in Singapore that its harbor was named for him. In the early 1850s Keppel again battled pirates in Borneo and Sumatra. He then fought in the Baltic and Black Seas in the war against Russia, 1853- 1856, especially around the Sevastopol in 1854. In 1856 Keppel returned to the Far East as commodore of the China Station. He commanded British forces in the Battle of Fatshan Creek, in which 70 Chinese junks were destroyed. During 1867- 1869 he commanded a seven-nation force that finally ended piracy in Chinese coastal waters and throughout most of East Asia and the Pacific.

A British force consisting of four gunboats and two hired steamers towed the flotilla’s boats 5km (3 miles) upstream, to where a large fleet of Chinese junks was moored on Fatshan Creek. The British commander, Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, took the fort on the southern bank with a detail of infantry, while Commodore Henry Keppel steamed ahead. The Chinese vessels stood their ground, moored across the stream. During a heated exchange, the gunboats grounded on mudbanks, but the ships’ boats were sent forward and boarded the junks before the Chinese could reload to repel the attack. Keppel ordered the junks burned, then continued upstream. The British boats grounded again 366m (1200ft) from another body of junks, forcing them to retreat and attack again when the tide was higher. Faced with further British attacks, the surviving Chinese vessels fled upriver towards the village of Fatshan.


In the midst of the domestic turmoil that accompanied the Taiping Rebellion, piracy increased dramatically; often, whether true or not, these pirates claimed political allegiance with the Taipings. In January 1856, the British instituted a scheduled north–south convoy system, sending a well-armed man-of-war with the British merchant ships. Chinese-owned ships registered in Hong Kong were also allowed to join the convoy and fly the British flag. By doing so, these Chinese-owned ships tacitly gained the same extraterritorial rights and protections from Manchu intervention as other British ships along the China coast. This decision soon led to conflict with Manchu authorities, who insisted that all Chinese-owned ships remain under the administrative authority of China.

On 8 October 1856, Guangzhou police boarded a Chinese-owned, but Hong Kong-registered, ship called the Arrow. This ship had a British captain but a Chinese crew. Hauling down the British flag, the police arrested twelve crew members. Immediately, Harry Parkes, the British Consul, demanded that Ye Mingchen, the Imperial Commissioner in Guangzhou, apologize for this “insult” to the flag. Commissioner Ye offered to release nine of the arrested sailors but refused to apologize, thereby disputing the British practice of registering Chinese ships and allowing them to fly British flags.

This incident gave Governor of Hong Kong, John Bowring a long-sought for opportunity to demand treaty revisions from China. After consulting with Admiral Michael Seymour, commander of the British fleet, it was decided to send Commodore George Elliot to Guangzhou with the Sybille, the Barracouta, and the Coromandel, and later the steam frigates Encounter and Sampson were added to this number. Under the threat of naval shelling, Commissioner Ye proved willing to return all twelve arrested sailors, but would not apologize for violating the British flag. The resulting British action has been described in detail by Gerald Graham:

Admiral Seymour proceeded to assault the four barrier forts, some five miles below the city. Carrying Royal Marines and the boats’ crews of the Calcutta, Winchester, and Bittern, the Sampson and the Barracouta, accompanied by the boats of the Sybille under Commodore Elliot, set out from Whampoa. Arriving at Blenheim Reach on 23 October, the two steam sloops, Sampson and Barracouta, ascended the Macao Passage in order to block the alternative backwater channel. Blenheim Fort capitulated quickly, as did Macao Fort, a well-sited bastion on an island in mid-river, mounting 86 guns. This later stronghold, Seymour prepared to hold and garrison.

By 25 October 1856, more than 150 Chinese cannon had been taken and spiked, while marines took control of the foreign factories and defended them successfully against a Chinese attack. Casualties during this three-day engagement were extremely light, with the British avoiding even a single death and the Chinese reportedly suffering only five troops injured.

With a strong military advantage on his side, Governor Bowring unexpectedly “upped the ante” by bringing in a new issue for discussion. Even though the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing gave British officials the right to enter Guangzhou’s city walls, this stipulation had never come into effect. Now, Bowring insisted that Commissioner Ye agree to allow British representatives free access both to the authorities and the city of Guangzhou. When Ye refused, the British breached the city wall on 28 October. On the following day, they entered and looted the Commissioner’s yamen. Although the British continued to solidify their position in the following days—sustaining one dead and a dozen injured—the Chinese Commissioner refused to back down.

China could not realistically hope to challenge the British fleet, but Commissioner Ye’s forces inside Guangzhou were estimated at 20,000 while the British had fewer than 1,000 marines and seamen. With this superiority of numbers, Ye felt confident that he could repel any attempt to take Guangzhou by force. The British retained their hold over the foreign factories along the Whampoa—at one point stationing about 300 troops in entrenchments dug in the factory gardens—but, by the end of January 1857, were forced to withdraw everywhere except for Macao Fort on Honam Island. The Chinese interpreted this retreat as a victory, and triumphal arches were raised throughout Guangzhou in Ye’s honor.

The war was far from over. During May and June 1857, the British succeeded in wiping out the majority of the Chinese Navy protecting Guangzhou; seventy to eighty Chinese war junks were captured and burned. This task was not an easy one, since the Chinese sailors had learned from their earlier mistakes and made great progress in maneuvering their fleet and concentrating their fire, and the British casualties numbered eighty-four killed or badly wounded. According to Admiral Seymour, the British victory was precarious, and during an engagement on 1 June 1857 the Chinese fleet “opened a new era in Chinese naval warfare” by showing greater judgment in disposing their fleet, as well as defending their ships with “skill, courage and effect.”

During spring 1857, the Palmerston government appointed James Bruce, the eighth Earl of Elgin, to be H.M.’s High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary to China. His task was to lead a naval and military expedition to the mouth of the Bei He River near Beijing to demand reparations for past injuries, diplomatic representation in Beijing, and treaty revisions that would grant Britain greater access to China’s river trade. Action was delayed by mutiny in India, but the arrival of the Sans Pareil, the newest screw-operated battleship, allowed Admiral Seymour to blockade Guangzhou on 3 August 1857.

The French joined the advance on Guangzhou, and by early December 1857 thirty ships and more than 5,000 troops had been assembled. Elgin issued a final ultimatum on 12 December to Ye, who refused it. Beginning on 15 December 1857, British troops took Honam Point while the British ships Nimrod, Hornet, Bittern, Actaeon, and Acorn moved within shelling range of Guangzhou. Shelling commenced on 28 December, and on the following day the combined British and French forces scaled Guangzhou’s southeastern walls. The British casualties numbered ninety-six and the French thirty-four.

Finally in full control of Guangzhou, the next goal was to find and capture Commissioner Ye. Although the best thing would have been to move into the “hinterland to carry on the campaign,” Qing law stated that “any official who lost his city should lose his head.” Unable to flee, Commissioner Ye was captured on 5 January 1858. With Ye’s subsequent removal on the Inflexible for a life of imprisonment in a British-owned villa outside Calcutta, the remaining Chinese troops in Guangzhou were soon disarmed.

With Guangzhou safely in British and French hands, the next goal became Beijing. This Franco-British “Northern Expedition” was delayed until mid- April 1858, when Elgin sailed aboard the Furious northward to the Bei He. During the next eleven weeks the expedition remained inactive while negotiations with Beijing were attempted; during this delay, the size of the British forces increased gradually as they were joined by stragglers. By 20 May 1858, all was in order, and at 10:00 a.m.—following Beijing’s decision to ignore an order to surrender—the siege of the forts at Dagu began. Opposition was light, and after an hour-and-a-half the fighting was over. British casualties were five killed, seventeen wounded, while the unexpected explosion of a Chinese magazine killed six and wounded sixty-one Frenchmen. With the taking of the Dagu forts, the riverine path to Beijing was now open; foreign ships docked for the first time at Tianjin on 26 May 1858.

Rather than fighting this foreign force, the Manchu Emperor quickly relented and sent Imperial Commissioners to Tianjin. On 26 June 1858, the fifty-six-article Treaty of Tianjin was signed with Great Britain. At almost the same time a separate treaty was signed with France, and several non-belligerents— Russia and the United States—gained similar advantages in their own bilateral treaties. By means of the Treaty of Tianjin, Britain received a more than £1 million indemnity for its losses in Guangzhou, tariff revisions, and the opening of five new treaty ports, including along the Yangzi River as far inland as Hankou. Most importantly, Beijing was now open to a British representative who would be treated as an equal by the Chinese officials. However, Elgin later agreed to modify this clause by stationing the British residence outside Beijing proper. This change gave “face” to Beijing and helped prop up the Qing Dynasty’s embattled “Mandate of Heaven” in its domestic quarrel with the Taipings.

Air Battle over Lys

During the Battle of the Lys, the German ground support tactics were further refined. All was overshadowed by the death of Richthofen, however.

Ten squadrons from I Brigade, five of them corps observation units, plus two from V Brigade augmented the efforts of Freeman’s wing and III Brigade. Major-General John Maitland Salmond shortly lost communication with all but one of his brigades, and the battle now devolved onto the squadron commanders and pilots, who flew so low and in such numbers over the threatened portion of the front that the danger of collision was almost constant. SE 5’s, Camels, Dolphins, even lumbering RE 8’s and ‘Ack W’s’ were in action continuously through the daylight hours. By the early dawn of March 26, 37 of the 60 RFC squadrons on the Western Front were flying support for Third Army to the west of Bapaume. This crisis was effectively at an end by the afternoon of the 26th, but a new threat arose as the Germans redirected the weight of Michael back to Fifth Army front towards Roye and Montdidier. This thrust in turn became the centre of gravity of the air effort on the 27th, although low-level air attacks were continued on Third Army front through the day. RFC losses were extremely severe, with 13 aircraft missing and 26 shot down or wrecked. Jagdgeschwader 1, patrolling the skies over Albert, shot down 13 British aircraft with- out loss. The Schlachtstaffeln of Second Army also were active during the day, attacking Vaux, Vaire, Morcourt and Bouzincourt. However, they had suffered considerable losses from British ground fire since March 21, losing five aircraft on the 26th, and by now the pace of the German advance had placed their airfields German advance had placed their airfields I far from the action. The attitude of the senior German staffs toward their flying forces appeared to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Communications were intermittent, few definite orders were sent out and even those attacks ordered were poorly coordinated with the ground action. By contrast, the RFC daily became more active, and, although its losses were heavy, it secured command of the air from the Germans and kept it.

The Michael offensive as such effectively came to an end with the German assault on Arras on March 28. The weary, horribly dangerous routine of low-level attacks continued throughout the day, at a cost to the RFC of 17 aircraft missing and 35 wrecked; seven German aircraft were shot down. The attack was a complete failure, and following this severe rebuff, Ludendorff realised his chance of breaking through on the Somme had gone. The air fighting slowly lost its intensity and the huge concentration of aircraft put together for Michael now began to be dispersed.

One further event on the Somme front must be recorded, the death on April 21 of Manfred von Richthofen. Although remembered as the foremost air fighter of the First World War, he was even more valuable to the Germans as an inspiration to the Luftstreitkrafte and the people and as a tactical leader of large fighter units. The manner of his death will never be fully settled. Conflicting claims were made by several Lewis gunners of an Australian machine gun battery and by Captain A. R. Brown of No 209 Squadron. The latter claim obviously was more acceptable to the RAF (the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were combined into the Royal Air Force on April 1; the former was preferred by the army and, incidentally, the Germans. The preponderance of evidence carefully compiled in recent years suggests that Richthofen in fact was killed by ground fire. Almost alone among the famous pilots of the First World War his name is still widely familiar more than half a century later.

The German preparations for the Georgette attack on the Lys were quite similar to those for Michael. Local air superiority for the period of the initial assault and breakthrough was assured by a heavy concentration of aircraft. Fourth and Sixth Armies had 25 Jagdstaffeln, 17 Schlachtstaffeln, 28 Fliegerabteilungen, and two Bombengeschwader, totalling 492 aircraft. Thirty-eight RAF squadrons of I, II and IX Brigades opposed these units, 17 of which were single-seat fighters, four day- bombing, three two-seater reconnaissance, two night-bombing and 12 corps observation. It is a measure of the extent to which Michael strained the Luftstreitkrafte ‘s resources that many of the Staffeln assigned to Georgette were borrowed from the armies actively engaged on the Somme.

Grounded by fog

The air fighting in April was uncannily like that of the previous month. Even the first day was almost an exact replica of March 21. The thick fog that on the morning of April 9 shielded the shattering assault on the Portuguese 2nd Division also effectively kept both sides from flying until the early afternoon. After 1400 hours the Camels of 203 and 210 Squadrons and No 40 Squadron’s SE 5’s carried out intermittent bombing and strafing attacks against the Germans. Air opposition was light, both sides concentrating on low- level work. As in March, hasty evacuation of many British airfields was made necessary by the speed of the German advance, and the commanding officer of No 208 Squadron, unable to fly his aircraft out in the fog, burned 18 Camels in the middle of his airfield and evacuated the squadron’s personnel by motor transport.

The next day the battle spread to cover most of the region between Ypres and Bethune. Once again fog kept the aircraft on the ground until the afternoon, when both the RFC and the Germans were out in force. On First Army’s front, Nos 203, 4 Australian, 210, 19, 40 and 18 Squadrons carried out extensive attacks against German infantry advancing in front of Merville, while the SE 5’s of No 1 carried almost the entire burden for Second Army. Losses, which on the previous day had been only one British and four German aircraft, now began to mount, as a result of machine gun fire from the ground for the most part; four RAF aircraft and seven German were shot down on April 10. The same weather and air combat patterns were repeated on the 11th, with the losses on both sides (five British, four German) also about the same as previously. However, this was the last day on which the Germans were able to use their Schlachtstajfeln and low-flying fighters to assist the advance of their infantry. As had been the case in the Michael offensive, the rapid pace of the ground battle apparently bewildered staffs grown slow-thinking in almost four years of siege warfare, and hitherto unaccustomed to thinking in terms of close co-ordination between ground and air. The German squadrons found themselves miles behind the front, seemingly forgotten. Communications with higher headquarters were poor and orders, when they came, bore little relation to current needs of the battlefield. The infantrymen, who then (and have ever since) regarded aviators as light-hearted swaggerers, understand- ably perceived the failure of their own staffs as the failure of the air force.

The critical day for Georgette came on April 12. For the first time since the offensive began, the morning dawned fine and clear and the RAF began a maximum effort to help stem the German rush to- ward Hazebrouck. One hundred and thirty- seven aircraft from I Brigade attacked German troops and transport around the important junction of Merville between 0600 and 1900 hours. They were joined by the tireless No 1 Squadron and two day-bomber squadrons of II Brigade. Air fighting was continuous and German aircraft were encountered at all altitudes; ten British aircraft were shot down during the day for the loss of five German. Perhaps the climax was an attack at 1305 hours by Nos 210 and 40 Squadrons on German balloons near Merville, five of which were shot down. Four days after the German attack started, the RAF was in disputed but firm control of the air. So weak was the effect of air control in those days, though, that the Germans took no notice of the fact. Although the 12th was the last day of heavy air activity along the Lys, the German ground advance continued until the 18th. Then it too was held, just short of Hazebrouck.

But the last had not yet been heard of Georgette. The main thrust gradually shifted from Sixth Army to Fourth Army and this organisation built up a strong concentration of aircraft for the assault on Kemmel Hill. Fourteen Jagdstaffeln under the tactical command of Oberleutnant Bruno Loerzer, Kommandeur of Jagdgeschwader III, were to provide air, cover over the battlefield, while four Schlachtgeschwader and three Jagdstaffeln were assigned to direct support of the three attacking corps. Twelve Fliegerabteilungen handled artillery spotting and reconnaissance for the attacking army.

At 0600 hours on April 25 the assault on Kemmel Hill marked the first large scale use of tactical aircraft from the out- set of an offensive battle. The attacking German divisions were preceded by 16 Schlachtstaffeln flying in a long sawtooth formation that swept over No-Man’s Land like a mowing machine. These 96 aircraft fired over 60,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition and dropped 700 bombs; they then split up into units of two or three aircraft which proceeded independently, attacking targets of opportunity behind the British and French lines. Loerzer’s fighter Staffeln maintained absolute control over the battlefield, shooting down four British aircraft for no losses of their own. Indeed only one Fourth Army aircraft was lost during the entire day.

Foreigners in British Army and Navy During Napoleonic Wars

Waterloo was largely won by Prussians, Hanoverians, Saxons, Dutch and Belgians. Although the British prefer not to dwell on it, these nations supplied around three-quarters of the 120,000 soldiers who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Of the 26 infantry brigades in Wellington’s army of 70,000, only nine were British; of the 12 cavalry brigades, only 7 were British. Half the 29 batteries of guns were Hanoverian, Dutch or Belgian. None of these included the 53,000 Prussians who turned up eventually for the battle and swung it Wellington’s way when the French were pushing for a late victory.

Foreigners in British army.

Great Britain recruited more and more foreigners to fill their ranks. In 1813 the foreigners consisted 21% of soldiers in the army. Many of the foreigners were excellent troops. For example the splendid King’s German Legion, or the Portuguese. When Napoleon returned to France in 1815 the British government asked Portugal to send several regiments to serve with Wellington in Belgium. In 1803 Napoleon overran Hanover and the Hanoverian army surrendered at Artlenburg. The Hanoverians had difficulties with accepting this situation and many slipped away to Great Britain. In the end of 1804 they formed the “King’s German Legion”.

All British land forces in 1813.

Brits (79 %) . . . . . Foreigners (21 %)

In 1813 the British army suffered 24,455 casualties of which approx. 20,000 were British and 4,500 were foreigners.

In 1815 at Waterloo the British commander Wellington had an army that was a mixture of Germans (the largest contingent), Dutch, Belgians and British (many were Irishmen).

In the two greatest British victories, Waterloo and Salamanca, the percentage of foreigners in Wellington’s army was very high, well above the ratio (21 %) for the entire army. (see below)

Wellington’s army at Salamanca, Spain 1812.

Brits (27,000) . . . . . . . . . Foreigners (26,000), very numerous Portuguese

Wellington’s army at Waterloo, 1815.

Brits (24,000) . . . . . . . . . Foreigners (43,600)

Number of infantry battalions by nationality (Wellington’s army at Waterloo):
– 50 % German (8 KGL, 8 1/2 Nassau, 8 Brunswick, 17 Hanoverian)
– 30 % British (25 1/2 battalions)
– 20 % Dutch and Belgian (17 battalions)

Cavalry by nationality (Wellington’s army at Waterloo):
– 48.5 % British (6.475 cavalrymen)
– 28.5 % German (3.810 cavalrymen, KGL, Brunswick, Hanoverian)
– 23 % Dutch and Belgian (3.060 cavalrymen)

Composition and character of British infantry regiments.

and others
42nd Foot Regiment
“Black Watch” Highlanders
4 %
87 %
9 %
0 %
Ist,IInd Btn./88th Foot Regiment
“Connaught Rangers”
Ist,IInd Btn./52nd Foot Regiment
“Oxfordshire” – Light Infantry
part of the famous Light Division
65 %
2.5 %
31 %

Foreigners in British navy.

In the Royal Navy also served many foreigners but far less than in the army. For example the flagship “Victory” consisted of – 441 Englishmen and
– 64 Scots
– 63 Irishmen
– 18 Welshmen
– 22 Americans
– 7 Dutch
– 6 Swedes
– 4 Italians
– 4 Maltese
– 3 Frenchmen, volunteers
– 3 Norwegians
– 3 Germans
– 2 Swiss
– 2 Portuguese
– 2 Danes
– 2 Indians
– 1 Russian
– 1 from Africa
– 9 from the West Indies

Crew of admiral Nelson’s flagship “Victory”, 1805.

Brits (586 English, Scots, Welsh, Irish) . .Foreigners (71 or 74)

The Hanoverian Army at Waterloo

“I christen you Dreadnought!”

The bottle of Australian wine failed to break against the battleship’s mighty stem — that in later years was to slice in two one of Germany’s most destructive U-boats — and King Edward VII had to swing the bottle with its garland of flowers a second time. The glass scattered, the wine streamed down the steel plates, and the King, in bicorne hat and full-dress uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, took up the chisel and mallet made from a fragment of timber from Nelson’s Victory, and severed the last securing cord with one strike. The dogshores were released, and at once, with mighty and steadily increasing momentum, the battleship slipped toward the water that was to embrace its hull for the next sixteen years.

Among the distinguished gathering in the enclosed red-and-white-draped platform was Rear-Admiral Carl Coerper, representing the King’s brother-in-law, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Details of this epochal and revolutionary vessel were already known to his Admiralty, and work on existing German battleships had been halted as a result. The vast crowds outside the Royal Box, who had streamed in from Portsmouth or had arrived from London that morning in special trains, witnessed the event from the dockyard quays and from a multitude of vessels offshore. There was everywhere a consciousness of the importance of the occasion, which had in no way been diminished by Court mourning for the late King of Denmark, which forbade the use of all but the most important flags and bunting and restricted the ceremonials; nor by the overcast, dour weather that hung like some chill threat over the sky all day. 

The Dreadnought’s period of freedom was brief. One moment she lay helpless in Portsmouth harbour waters, a 520-foot empty hulk of steel with her cradleways like scattered afterbirth about her; the next she was being hustled by little paddle tugs toward her fitting-out basin, accompanied by packed light craft of all kinds carrying casual sightseers — “a vast multitude of onlookers,” The Times described them — and many parties of schoolboys, dispatched on a Saturday afternoon to witness this new evidence of their nation’s might.

The Dreadnought’s launching was unquestionably the most important naval event leading up to the First World War. The effects on naval opinion and architecture everywhere of this ship’s appearance were incalculable but fundamental. Never before or since has the construction of one man-of-war had such an effect on service opinion, domestic politics, and international relations. H.M.S. Dreadnought, at her time the largest, fastest, and most powerful battleship, by a wide margin, provided not only the generic name for all her imitators, from Japan to Brazil, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the United States of America, but also presaged a new era in capital-ship design, and naval strategy and tactics. She was the initiator of an age of fearful naval competition. But her influence went far beyond the narrow boundaries of naval architecture and maritime theory and conflict. The Dreadnought was the manifestation in Krupp steel armour plate and Parsons’ turbines and twelve-inch ordnance of the nations’ need to vaunt their power, and their riches, and to instil fear in those who might seek to intimidate, deprive, or deter. She and her successors that sped down the slipways of the world’s shipyards at an ever-increasing tempo from 1907 were the massive representatives of the struggle between the old colonial powers, intent on holding what they had, and the new colonial powers, equally determined to grasp their share of new lands and new markets. She was the first of the jargon-weighted weapons, the Edwardian ultimate deterrent, created in a simpler age and in a form that allowed arithmetical competition denied to a later era of bacteriology and nuclear fission. Dreadnoughts could be counted, watched, and photographed, and the arms races that culminated in the half-time respite agreed on in Washington in 1921 were spectacles the whole world could observe and argue over.

We are not concerned with the morality of the Dreadnought. Her purpose was always ugly and wicked, and she was, like any weapon of violence, a symptom of man’s baser characteristics. But no one can deny the imposing grandeur of the ironclad battleship, which achieved a new scale of grace and splendour with H.M.S. Dreadnought and reached its ultimate, and appropriate, zenith and finale in the Missouri, Vanguard, Tirpitz, and Yamato thirty-five years later. Throughout its brief life the Dreadnought has had more zealous enthusiasts and devotees than any other single weapon. Its detractors were often almost as numerous and were highly vocal. The Dreadnoughts’ theoretical contests were as frequent as their own combats were brief and rare.

The Dreadnought capital ship (a term that embraces both battleships and their swifter cousins the battle cruisers) first fired her guns in anger in 1914, and for the last time off Korea in 1953. The first of her kind was commissioned in December, 1906; fifty-eight years later, as this is written, the future of the surviving United States and French battleships still remains unsolved. The intervening years have been filled with controversy and rancour, praise and condemnation, all of which have played their part in influencing the shape of the vessel. Keen visionaries saw the Dreadnought herself as obsolete before that chill winter day in 1906. Pacifists, and then air and torpedo advocates, endeavoured to prune back her growth and numbers. After engaging with her own kind for a mere hour or two, and doing negligible damage with her mighty guns in the First World War, she again became the subject for hot debate and exhaustive test; was intermittently internationally banned or restricted in size and gunpower; rose again in general esteem when war again became inevitable; and remained a proud and expensive symbol, with more of her kind still being built, even after fleets of Dreadnoughts had been crippled by new carriers of explosive destruction.

That she has survived in the world’s armouries for so long is evidence of the Dreadnought’s power to inflame men’s imaginations, and to overwhelm by her ever-increasing size and ever more massive guns any suggestion that her supremacy has expired.


H.M.S. Dreadnought herself, the vessel that set the pattern for all her 177 successors, was the inevitable product of the period in which she was designed and built. She came into existence by a combination of circumstances. For some twenty-five years, since sail had finally been discarded by naval architects, the chief principles governing battleship design had remained unaltered. A main armament of two or four heavily protected big guns, supported by a mixed battery of guns of a smaller calibre, was mounted in a hull carrying great sheets of protective hardened steel, and driven through the water by reciprocating steam engines at speeds from about 12 to 18 knots. The displacement of these battleships — the earlier term “ironclad” was being discarded — was from 10,000 to 17,000 tons. There were wide variations in the arrangements of the guns, which in many cases remained muzzle-loaders; in the siting, thickness, and quality of armour plate; and in the operating range and seagoing qualities. But by the turn of the century the general principles of design of the world’s battleships had set into a tradition of conservatism in marked contrast with the rapid progress in many other fields of design and engineering. One reason for this was the long peace. Almost a hundred years had passed since there had been a major naval war. There had been no fleet actions to arouse speculations and controversies and disturb the nations’ admiralties and navy departments. Radical theories were nowhere encouraged during the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition, naval opinion by tradition is cautious and suspicious of innovation; and governments that were prepared to invest a few thousands in, say, a Maxim gun were not disposed in the comparatively tranquil international scene to upset the status quo and risk hundreds of thousands on a revolutionary battleship. (If a failure, heads would roll; if a success, all existing battle fleets would be rendered useless.)

Long before the first blueprints of H.M.S. Dreadnought were drawn up, the more perceptive naval architects recognized that the ships being laid down to their designs were inefficient and likely soon to be made obsolete in any case. A step toward the next stage of development must eventually have been taken; and it was certain to include fundamental changes. It was taken in the early years of the new century because the temper of the times was conditioning the nations once again toward the likelihood of giant conflicts. For years the seeds of the Dreadnought had remained dormant; they began to flourish and grow roots in the hothouse of international anxiety.


The clearest practical expression of the Dreadnought principle emanated from the Italian engineer Vittorio Cuniberti, who was born in Turin in 1854 and died, before the first Dreadnought combat, at Rome on December 19, 1913. With his master Benedetto Brin, whose great work was done in the 1870’s, Cuniberti was in the line of masterly Italian naval architects that continued down to Umberto Pugliese, designer of the last class of Italian battleships. Ever since the Renaissance, the Italian engineering mind has always had a special capacity for viewing a project with a fresh and practical artistry. The Italian talent for stripping down to bare essentials the elements of compromise, which is the heart of all creative design, has never been surpassed; and it was desperately needed to break clear from the archaic form of warship architecture that had lingered on for a quarter of a century. At the age of twenty-three, Cuniberti was a fully qualified civil engineer in the Italian Navy’s Engineer Corps. His first work was in the field of propulsion, and he became one of the earliest pioneers of the oil-burning marine engine and the naphthalene-propelled torpedo. His work on the automobile torpedo, itself an Austrian invention, made him more aware than most of his contemporaries of the new underwater threat, and in the early 1890’s he carried out much close study on the underwater protection of warships. During these years in the corps of engineers, the concept of new designs of all classes of fighting ships had much exercised his mind, and he had developed strong views on their requirements. His opportunity came at last when he was entrusted with the overall design of a new class of Italian battleship.

The pure Cuniberti principle was manifested for the first time in the Vittorio Emamiele class of four light battleships, the first of which was laid down in 1901, and which became the most praised and most controversial warships of their time. Their two 40-caliber 12-inch guns were supported on either beam by no fewer than twelve 8-inch weapons, all on a displacement of under 13,000 tons. By the use of electric power for the guns and their ammunition hoists, by a special girder construction of the hull with ultralight scantlings, by the use of asbestos in place of much of the traditional woodwork (which was also a great fire risk), and by numerous other innovations, Cuniberti kept the weight down to a minimum without a reduction in strength or rigidity, gave his ships a speed, at 21 knots, at least 4 knots better than foreign battleships. The Vittorio Emamiele influence was widespread. “There can be no question,” wrote Fred T. Jane, “but that for a power unable to maintain a large fleet, ships of the Vittorio Emamiele type represent the best possible value for the money to be expended.”

The same 1903 issue of Fighting Ships contained more portentous information than this: and the author was Cuniberti himself. The article was called “An Ideal Battleship for the British Fleet”; and it was to have a momentous effect on the shape of the world’s navies. This was not the first time Cuniberti had expressed his views on the evolution of the battleship. As long before as May-June, 1900, in an article in Marine Rundschau, entitled “The New Type of Armoured Ship,” he called for a moderate-sized, swift vessel with “the greatest possible armament” and protected with a minimum of six inches of armour plate. On this occasion, Cuniberti laid special emphasis on the importance of speed. It appears likely that at this time his ideas had not sufficiently crystallized to allow him to be more specific; it also seems likely, according to Jane himself,[1] that he reached his final conclusions only after exhaustive discussion with a British engineer and friend resident in Italy, Charles de Grave Sells.

The next clear indication of the direction in which his mind was working appeared in a series of articles Cuniberti contributed, now as Chief Constructor of the Italian Navy, to the Rivista Maritima, the official organ of the Ministry of Marine, during 1902. He was manifestly wrong when he spoke of “the propelling power” of the warship probably being “more nearly at the apex of the curve of progress than the artillery”; the reverse turned out to be the case. He showed a great deal more percipience in his belief that the 12-inch gun “is now the least calibre of big guns”; and reached the very heart of the matter when for the first time he came out with the startling prophecy that in future the artillery of the battleship “will consist of from 12 to 16 guns of this same size, bringing with it the well understood advantages of one size of ammunition, which is absolutely necessary … Again Cuniberti returned to the paramount importance of speed, referring to Sir William White’s latest King Edward VII class of battleship as “those monsters with short legs … It cannot be too much insisted upon,” he concluded, “that fast ships are an absolute necessity of the day, and slow ships, however powerful they may be, have everything to lose in the future development of strategic warfare due to the employment of scouts and wireless telegraphy, for, like Offenbach’s gens-d’armes, Ils arriveront toujours trop tard!” 

Cuniberti offered the fruit of his years of study to his own government sometime after these articles were published, but they were refused. “This design,” according to Jane,[2] “was altogether too ambitious for the Italian Navy; but permission was given for him to publish the general idea, subject to official revision.” It was therefore offered to the editor of Fighting Ships for the 1903 edition by Charles dc Grave Sells, who was also a friend of Jane.

Stripped down to its fundamentals — and omitting some romantic analogies with personal close combat to which this great designer was prone — Cuniberti’s “ideal battleship” was to possess numerous 12-inch guns “so as to be able to get in at least one fatal shot on the enemy’s [armour] belt at the water-line before she has a chance of getting a similar fortunate stroke at us from one of the four large pieces now usually carried as the main armament.” Its protective armour was also to be twelve inches thick, in order to resist all but the heaviest of the enemy’s high-explosive shells. An abundant supply of ammunition was called for; but, above all, Cuniberti laid stress on the need for “a very high speed — superior to that of any existing battleship afloat.

“We thus have outlined for us the main features of our absolutely supreme vessel — with medium calibres abolished — so effectually protected as to be able to disregard entirely all the subsidiary armament of an enemy, and armed only with twelve pieces of 12-inch … Without wasting ammunition, secure in her exuberant protection, with her twelve guns ready, she would swiftly descend on her adversary and pour in a terrible converging fire at the belt. Having disposed of her first antagonist, she would at once proceed to attack another, and, almost untouched, to despatch yet another …”

The appearance of this article in the famous annual had a profound effect on naval thinking everywhere. A number of the most influential men connected with the British Admiralty, to whom it had of course been specifically directed, treated it with scepticism or derision. Almost every officer over the age of forty-five had served under masts and yards in the junior ranks. To them, the elimination of all secondary armament smacked of profanity. Sir William White, the Director of Naval Construction (D.N.C.), was outraged. Jane himself considered it a Wellsian fantasy. Little interest was attached to it by the French Ministry of Marine. But among the younger, more intelligent, and more farsighted officers, both in Britain and abroad, the impact of Cuniberti’s theories was immense. It was not, after all, as if he were a fanciful theorist or romanticist. He was a Chief Constructor with a number of notable designs behind him.

The Navy Departments in Washington and Tokyo responded most favourably to Cuniberti’s conception. This was not surprising, for the American and Japanese navies had less to lose by the premature obsolescence of their battleships than those navies possessing large fleets, and a spirit of eagerness to embrace new ideas was more prevalent there than anywhere else. An “ideal battleship” for the Royal Navy could also well be the most suitable type both for the United States and Japanese fleets, fresh from their glories in the Spanish and Chinese wars; and conscious of new threats from Europe and the Far East.


The vagaries of chance, the pressures of conservative and radical opinion, the ebb and flow of the tides of militancy, the actuality of war, and above all the influence of one provocative and domineering personality, all played their part in the design and building of the first all-big-gun battleship, and in the revolution in naval philosophy and the massive arms race this brought about. These factors also combined to decide that the first of these vessels to be commissioned should be British, a nation that, it could be argued (and was, hotly), had most to lose and least to gain by the building of a superbattleship.

It now appears clear that Cuniberti’s early Italian articles had little general influence, but caused a number of radical naval minds to break into new lines of thought on the shape of the battleship of the future. Cuniberti confirmed doubts and stimulated controversy. Not until his processes of thought had become more closely defined and more widely disseminated in the 1903 edition of Fighting Ships could theoretical hostilities begin on a serious scale. A few months later the Russo-Japanese War broke out, and theories were at last put to the test of combat in the waters of the Far East. Japanese torpedo boats attacked the Russian fleet outside Port Arthur on the night of February 8, 1904, and other units covered the first army landings on Korean soil. At first neither side showed great enthusiasm for committing its battle fleet to combat, but on August 10, 1904, an action took place that to acute observers appeared to bear out Cuniberti’s theories, made known to the world less than a year earlier. The general belief at the time was that combat between opposing battle fleets would open at ranges of about 5,000 yards, and practice firing was normally carried out at ranges of around 3,000 yards. To the astonishment of a British naval observer in one of the Japanese battleships, the Tsarevitch and Retvizan opened fire with their 40-caliber 12-inch guns at a range of little less than 19,000 yards, and at once caused near misses on the Mikasa and Asashi. With the closing of the range to 13,000 yards, Togo’s flagship was struck forward close to the waterline by a 12-inch shell, causing damage that could have been crippling or even fatal if the seas had been rougher. Later in the course of this leisurely and intermittent engagement, and still at long range, the Russian flagship Tsarevitch was in its turn struck twice in quick succession by Japanese heavy shells. These two hits decided the battle in a dramatic and decisive manner. The first killed the Russian commander in chief, Admiral Witthoft, and his fleet navigator, and severely wounded his chief of staff and flag captain. 

The second exploded against the conning tower and killed and wounded everyone inside, including the steersman, whose corpse fell over the wheel and jammed the rudder hard to starboard, bringing total confusion to the Russian line.

The importance of the lessons of this first exchange of fire between modern battleships was recognized at once by the two belligerents, and there is evidence that both Russian and Japanese naval architects had decided before the end of 1904 that the 12-inch gun was the only weapon likely to prove decisive in future fleet actions, that the intermediate calibers uselessly absorbed space, weight, and personnel that could be better used for more big guns, and that the “splash” from the smaller shells only served to blanket the target and confuse spotting. There is no record that Russia went so far at this stage as to prepare plans for all-big-gun battleships, although later the Admiralty invited Cuniberti to design their first Dreadnought. But before the end of 1904, Japanese plans were complete for their own first all-big-gun ships, and it was later discovered, with considerable astonishment, that the first of these was actually laid down at the navy yard at Kure in March, 1905, some three months before Tsushima was fought, and long before the keel plate of the Dreadnought herself was laid at Portsmouth. Until 1905, only light craft had been built by the Japanese themselves, all their battleships having been constructed in foreign yards. The gun-power of this revolutionary battleship was even more remarkable. It followed almost exactly, in numbers and arrangement, the Cuniberti design, with 12-inch guns, in four pairs arranged in four double and four single turrets: with a total big-gun armament three times heavier than that of any existing battleship, and with a broadside 50 percent more powerful. Her speed of 20 knots was also at least two knots higher than that of the fastest battleship afloat. Only in her armour belt, of nine inches, did she fail to match up to Cuniberti’s ideal.

In fact the Japanese Aki was beset with all manner of constructional difficulties and hindrances, and was not completed until 1911, when the Dreadnought had become a commonplace among the great naval powers. Nor was she, finally, a pure Dreadnought type. Within three months of her being laid down, Japan was victorious, and close to bankruptcy. There was delay in delivery of her machinery from America, and only four 12-inch guns could finally be found for her. In place of the eight 12-inch in her beam turrets, the Japanese therefore substituted twelve 10-inch guns; giving the Aki a most formidable total armament, while lacking the fundamental ordnance uniformity which was the main strength and whole raison d’être of the Dreadnought type. With her half-sister Satsuma, she was officially listed as an anomalistic first-class battleship and semi-Dreadnought, and survived until after the First World War. But a year after her completion she was joined by the Karachi carrying the full quota of twelve 12-inch guns and with the 12-inch armoured belt as specified by Cuniberti, which confirmed the quality of the home-manufactured product and demonstrated Japan’s ambition to become a first-class naval power.

Cuniberti wrote in 1902:

Looking to America, one realises that chaos reigns in the designing department of the United States Navy, and hardly a month seems to pass without a new type being brought out, more and more loaded with guns; and if the Vermont is really to have the announced armament[3] — four pieces of 12-inch, eight of 8-inch, and twelve of 7-inch — one naturally wonders what special advantages they expect to gain by adopting the two different sizes of 8-inch and 7-inch; for from the point of view of general efficiency and rapid delivery of ammunition, it would appear much more advantageous to put them both into a crucible and draw forth twenty pieces all alike of 7½-inches.

Cuniberti’s strictures were rather severe. The position in Washington was not nearly as bad as this. Since the Civil War the responsibility for the design and construction of American warships had been the joint responsibility of three bureaus, the Bureau of Construction and Repair, the Bureau of Steam Engineering, and the Bureau of Equipment. This was not a happy working arrangement, and not until 1940, when the responsibility was unified under the Bureau of Ships, was satisfactory coordination achieved. In spite of this, from about 1885, when the United States Navy ceased to be a fundamentally coast-defence force equipped with ships appropriate to this function, many remarkably advanced features were built into American battleships, and during the Anglo-German Dreadnought race, they at least matched, and in many cases excelled, their European rivals. The renaissance in American naval philosophy occurred simultaneously with the British. Here there was no roaring evangelist to cut a way through the political and defence jungles. Nor could there be the same fiery sense of urgency caused by the threatened imminence of war. A new spirit of enterprise became evident in the United States Navy soon after the re-election of Theodore Roosevelt as President in 1901. Roosevelt was a real “navy” man, and under his influence the radical elements received warm encouragement. Lieutenant Commander William Sowden Sims brought about a complete revolution in United States naval gunnery, and from the outset was a powerful advocate of the all-big-gun battleship, with its advantage of uniform shell splash for long-range salvo spotting. He, and others with the same strong beliefs, warmly welcomed the exciting new plans for heavy ship construction that were rumoured to be under consideration in Washington in 1904. During the previous year the complement of naval constructors and assistant naval constructors was raised to seventy-five. The quality of personnel was also high. For some time their training had included courses in Europe, at Greenwich and at the École d’Application du Génie Maritime in Paris. In the same year a man of brilliant skill and foresight, Washington L. Capps, was appointed Chief Constructor.

The same sharply accelerating curve of progress in battleship design occurred in Washington and Tokyo simultaneously. Cuniberti provided the spark of inspiration, the battle of August 10th between the Japanese and Russian fleets provided the charge: an exchange of shots causing negligible damage to either combatant sounded the death knell of the slow, mixed-battery gun platform and heralded the glorious and last era of the ship of the line. Like the Japanese Aki, the United States Navy’s South Carolina and Michigan were projected at least six months before the first formal discussions were opened in London to decide on the design of the Dreadnought. The two Michigans began modestly enough. A mixed 12-inch and 10-inch battery was first considered, with twin turrets fore and aft and four single turrets arranged two on either beam. Then it was decided that all should be 12-inch, and for this reason she was technically a Dreadnought type. 

But the weight of her broadside was still no greater than that of numerous mixed-battery battleships in the world’s fleets, and was less than that of the preceding Kansas class. But this was soon rectified, and her final design showed the eight heavy guns arranged in four twin turrets, all on the centre line and with one pair superfiring over the other both fore and aft.

The plans for the two Michigans went before Congress and were approved early in 1905: they must therefore be regarded as the first all-big-gun Dreadnought-type battleships to be projected and approved, and later completed as planned. What is more, as we shall see, they were quite as controversial vessels as the Dreadnought herself, and in the arrangement of their main armament were far in advance of the British vessels whose generic name they were to carry through their life.

Siege of Troy: Homer’s Great Epic

The chief source on the siege of Troy is Homer’s great epic, the Iliad. Its 24 chapters treat the last year of the siege; however, it was composed two or three centuries after the siege. Modern archaeological excavations have revealed a series of strata that identify a number of different cities built on the site. The one associated with the siege is the seventh stratum (from the bottom). It bears traces of a fire, and according to Homer, a great fire ended the siege. Scientific experts agree that the fire in the seventh stratum occurred in 1184 BCE. Homer tells us that the siege of Troy by the Mycenaeans (the mainland Greeks) went on for 10 years, hence the starting date of 1194 BCE.

The siege was undoubtedly motivated by economics. Located at the southern entrance to the Hellespont (present-day Dardanelles), Troy controlled the important trade between East and West, that is, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Along this route flowed such commodities as grain, precious metals, and timber to construct ships. Troy was allied with a number of other neighboring city-states, and the Mycenaeans saw this as a threat to their position in the Mediterranean. Homer tells us that the cause of the conflict was the rape of Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, by Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy. Helen fled to Troy with Paris, possibly taking part of Menelaus’s treasure. Another account has the Trojans turning an official visit to Sparta into a raid of revenge for something done to them by the Greeks.

In any case, according to Homer the city-states of Greece were outraged and provided both contingents of troops and 1,200 ships, which then came under the command of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the brother of Menelaus. Homer tells us that on the Greek side the greatest heroes of the fighting were Achilles, king of the Myrmidons of Thessaly, and Ulysses, king of Ithaca. On the Trojan side there were Hector, son of Priam, and Aeneas, son of Venus and Anchises.

Following an unsuccessful effort to take Troy by assault, the Greeks settled in for a siege, which apparently was not complete. The Trojans were able to communicate by land to the interior most of the time. Homer indicates that the ships were brought up on land, where they were protected by entrenchments. Quarreling between Agamemnon and Achilles served to divide the Greeks, allowing Hector and the Trojans to attack and destroy a number of the beached Greek ships. Following the deaths of a number of prominent figures on each side (including Hector and Achilles), the Greeks found themselves in desperate straits. Both sides, however, were exhausted by the long siege.

At this point Ulysses came up with the ruse of an enormous wooden horse. Left on the field, it contained Ulysses and a number of other Greek warriors. The remaining Greeks boarded their ships and sailed away. The Trojans, believing that the Greeks had given up, thought that the trophy had religious significance and brought it inside the city. At night Ulysses and his warriors climbed down out of the horse, signaled to the fleet offshore, and opened the city gates. The Trojans were taken by surprise, and the city was burned.

Some have suggested that the alleged Trojan horse that ended the siege was instead a great movable siege tower of wood covered by horse hides for the protection of those working it, which the Greeks set against the western, and weakest, part of the great wall that protected the fortress. Others believe that the wooden horse refers to some type of battering ram or to the image of a horse painted on one of the gates of the city, which was opened by a Trojan traitor. In any case, as a consequence of their victory, the Greeks secured control of the important trade through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea.

The first assault

The first assault on Troy turned into a brutal and inconclusive clash which left both sides damaged and thoughtful.

Things began well enough for the Argives [the invading Greeks] when a night raid with blazing torches caused havoc among Priam’s fleet, seriously weakening his ability to guard against invasion. But the same raid had warned the Trojans of the imminence of attack and by the time Agamemnon’s ships approached the shore, a well-positioned army stood waiting to repel them.

To make matters worse, the Argive troops were troubled by rumours of a prophecy that the first man ashore was doomed to die. Even Achilles hesitated at the prow of his ship, reluctant to throw away his life with so little glory gained. Meanwhile the Trojans hurled rocks and stones at the crowded ships, keeping up an unnerving ululation that carried on the harsh wind blowing across the plain.

At last, stung by the insults coming from the enemy before him and from Agamemnon at his back, an old warrior called Iolaus who had once been charioteer to Heracles, gave a mighty shout and jumped into the surf. He was immediately surrounded and cut down on the strand before he could strike a single blow, but the man’s rash courage was to win him undying fame. He was given the title Protesilaus — ‘first to the fight’ — and buried with great honour that night on the Thracian shore of the Hellespont.

But now that the first life had been lost, other warriors began to jump from the ships. Achilles and Patroclus were among the leaders, with Phoenix and the Myrmidons behind them. Odysseus, however, held back a while, watching how the battle developed. He had counselled against launching a land attack until more had been done to stretch Priam’s resources, but Agamemnon had been so infuriated by the king’s insolent reply to his terms that he was determined to force the words back down his throat. Now the price of his impatience swiftly came clear as more and more men fell under the volley of arrows that met them as they stumbled towards the shore.

By sheer force of numbers, the Argives forced a landing, only to find themselves embroiled in a fierce and bloody struggle all along the strand. The strongest resistance came from a sector of the front where a Trojan hero called Cycnus hacked his way through the invaders as if he was invulnerable. When Achilles saw what was happening, he shouted for Patroclus to follow and fought his way across the uneven ground until he confronted the Trojan giant. Cycnus laughed in his face, gesturing for the youth to come at him if he dared. A moment later he was astonished by the speed and ferocity of Achilles’ attack. Even so, the fight was long and desperate, and might have gone either way had not Cycnus stumbled over a stone as he sought to avoid a sword thrust. He fell to the ground on his back, pulling Achilles down with him. Both men lost their weapons in the fall, but Cycnus was winded by the weight of his opponent’s armoured body. In a frenzy of violence, Achilles grabbed at the Trojan’s throat and strangled the man with his own helmet straps.

When he stood up, gasping and exultant from the kill, it was to feel Patroclus pulling at his arm. All around him, as a trumpet sounded from Agamemnon’s flagship, he saw the Argive warriors retreating from the shore.

Many recriminations followed the failure of that first attack, but the heavy losses he had taken persuaded Agamemnon that Odysseus had been right to insist that Troy would fall only after a long campaign of attrition. So the war entered a new, sullen phase of sporadic violence that dragged on for a year, and then another, until it became clear that, if Troy ever fell, it would not be until all the long years of the snake had passed.

The Independent State of Croatia

Soldiers of the Black Legion at Koševo, Sarajevo.

The Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was created from the territory of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. After the attempt failed to get the popular peasant leader Vladko Maček to take over the reins of government under German protection, the SS-Standartenführer Edmund Veesenmayer put the fascist Ustasha movement in power. By this time he had already arranged the annexation of Austria and the independence of Slovakia. Ante Pavelić returned to Zagreb from his years-long exile to become Poglavnik (leader) with dictatorial authority. Croatia was organized as a leader state (Führerstaat) without any separation of powers, and the persecution of oppositional forces was legalized with the enactment of the Law for the Protection of the People and the State on 17 April 1941. The Ustasha government invoked the idea of a “people’s community” (Volksgemeinschaft), which it defined as “Aryan” like the German model. Also in April, Pavelić zealously enacted the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. The pillars of support for his reign of violence were the militias, army, secret police, special courts, and more than twenty concentration camps.

Croatia’s long-sought sovereignty soon proved to be a chimera. Both Hitler and Mussolini treated the country as an occupied region and drew a demarcation line through its territory. Berlin used its immense diplomatic corps and the Plenipotentiary German General to exert great political influence on racial, economic, and military policy. In the Roman Protocols, Pavelić also had to surrender a wide strip of Dalmatian coastline and the Bay of Kotor to Italy on 18 May 1941, thus turning the decades-old collective nightmare of the Croats into reality.

In the wake of the German-Italian occupation, the Ustasha movement saw a historically unique opportunity to implement its original agenda, the creation of an ethnically homogeneous Greater Croatia. For decades, it had been preaching for the resurrection of medieval Croatia covering its “entire ethnic and historic territory.” The 6.3 million population of the Independent State of Croatia was extremely heterogeneous. Only a bare majority of 3.3 million were Croats. The rest of the populace was made up of about two million Serbs, 700,000 Muslims, and 150,000 ethnic Germans and other minorities. The Croat fascists now launched a systematic campaign against their alleged archenemy, the Orthodox Christian population. Hundreds of thousands were disenfranchised, dispossessed, driven out, herded into internment camps, or murdered in vicious attacks. The centralist government of Greater Croatia also did not permit Muslims to hold any special status, even though a number of them sympathized with the Ustasha government. The government struck all references to “Bosnia-Herzegovina” from official language and declared the Muslims to be “Croats of Islamic Faith.” For this reason, the profascist Committee of National Rescue, based in Sarajevo, petitioned Hitler in November 1942 to bestow autonomy on Bosnia-Herzegovina under direct patronage of the Third Reich. Berlin turned down the request promptly.

Support for the new regime remained sparse. Neither in domestic nor foreign policy did the government exercise full sovereignty. Approval came from the right wing of the Peasants’ Party, from parts of the Catholic Church, and from nationalist-thinking intellectuals and students, who celebrated the “resurrection” of Croatia and indulged in a missionary and chauvinist sense of purpose. Yet it only took a couple of months following the assumption of power before the already rather heterogeneous base of support for the Ustasha movement began to crack apart.9 Very few people identified unconditionally with the ideology and aims of the Croatian leadership, and whoever cooperated with it often acted out of pure opportunism. It “appears to prove little that houses in the villages hang flags and that a relatively large number of people participate” in Sunday rallies, warned a German informant in mid-1941. He sensed that the prevailing “indifference of broad segments of the population” could change “into active resistance.”

In mid-February 1942, the plenipotentiary German general in Agram, Edmund von Glaise Horstenau, reported: “Hatred against it [Ustasha] is hard to beat anymore. Representatives of the movement make themselves unpopular time and again through their arrogance, despotism, greediness, and corruption. Furthermore, misdeeds, theft, and murder continue unabated. No week goes by in which some ‘cleansing action’ is not carried out in which entire villages including women and children bite the dust.” In early February 1943, German supreme commander of the southeast Alexander Löhr complained: “Government and bureaucracy have lost all support through mismanagement and the Ustasha course, not only among the Pravoslavs [the Serbs], but also among their own Croat population.”

“Ethnic Cleansing”

As this first Yugoslavia perished, so too did the ideology of an integrated South Slavic state. In its place arose separate ethnic and sometimes even racist concepts of identity that resorted to the idea of the cultural nation—a community linked by origin, history, language, and religion. In all parts of the country, nationalists implemented ruthless policies of assimilation, resettlement, and in some cases annihilation in order to remove those population groups they deemed undesirable. Since the early nineteenth century and certainly after the two Balkan Wars in 1912/1913, ethnically heterogeneous regions were “cleansed” of minority populations when empires broke apart or institutions failed, as was now occurring in occupied Yugoslavia. Creating ethnically exclusive nation states also aimed at destroying potential opponents—a typical motive also in later “ethnic cleansing.” Millions of people now discovered that their fate was dependent solely on the purely accidental ascription of the “right” or the “wrong” nationality.

The Croat Ustasha government was driven by a complex mélange of anti-Serb sentiments and fascist ideology, old cravings for revenge and new enemy images, coupled with specific military, economic, and political interests.18 Their overriding obsession was to drive the Serbs out of the regions northwest of the Drina and Sava rivers, those regions that the Turks had conquered in the fifteenth century. Only as a result of missionary work and religious conversion as well as the colonization policy of the Habsburgs in the eighteenth century had Serb settlements of any importance emerged in Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The objective of the Croat fascists was to restore the original ethnic state as they presumed it had existed in the period prior to the Ottoman conquest.

The Ustasha regime did not have a strong following, charismatic leadership, or any other form of legitimacy to govern. Against this background, their radical anti-Serb sentiment became their “raison d’être and ceterum censeo,” as one of their protagonists, Slavko Kvaternik, wrote. There were three reasons for this. First, the strong Serb presence contradicted their utopia of a homogeneous Greater Croatian nation state. Second, revenge needed to be taken for the years of Serb hegemony, which was to be prevented from ever occurring again. Third, the elimination of the “eternal enemy” helped the Croat fascists justify their own rule and implement it locally. In a speech he gave on 2 May 1941, Minister Milovan Žanić declared: “This must be the land of the Croats, and no one else. No means exists that we, the Ustasha, will not use to make this land truly Croatian and to cleanse it of Serbs, who have long threatened us for centuries.”

In order to homogenize the Greater Croatian state, the authorities implemented ruthless policies of assimilation, displacement, and annihilation. They banned Serb organizations and the Cyrillic alphabet and “cleaned up” the Croatian language. Immediately after assuming power, they started mass expulsions. The first to be deported were the Serb colonists, who had received land in the course of the agrarian reform in 1919 that they now had to give up without any compensation. They were forced to leave for Serbia. The next ordered to leave were politically active individuals and clergy. Police woke up these people in the middle of the night, took away their house keys and valuables, and put them on a train headed for Serbia. Out of fear of reprisals, thousands of people then fled the country by foot and empty-handed, without cash or provisions. By the end of September 1941, nearly 120,000 Serbs had left the country, and a year later the number had risen to 200,000.

Besides discrimination and segregation, Serbs were the victim also of physical annihilation. The larger massacres of Serbs since April 1941 are documented as having taken place in Bosnian Krajina, in Bihać, Cazin, Bosanska Krupa, Prijedor, Sanski Most, and Ključ, then also in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example in Zvornik, Višegrad, Bijeljina, Sarajevo, Foča, and Goražde. It was quite obvious that the aim was to create homogeneous Croat areas in the regions bordering Serbia and Montenegro. From up to 330,000 Serbs killed in the four years of the war, 217,000 fell victim to the systematic persecution during killing sprees in villages, cities, and throughout the countryside, as well as in prisons and camps.

The events of 1941 in western and central Bosnia illustrate the way in which the spiral of violence and counterviolence began. Following the Ustasha movement’s seizure of power, measures to disenfranchise and persecute Serbs were implemented in rapid succession: on 17 April, a ban of the Cyrillic alphabet; 23 April, the expulsion of all those born in Serbia and Montenegro; 25 April, the annulment of mixed marriages; 4 May, hostage taking and the first killing sprees, plundering, and terror. The fear of further attacks prompted Serbs to organize local militias. On 7 May near Sanski Most, a group of about 1,000 peasants armed with hayforks and shovels drove off a troop of Croatian and German soldiers. In reprisal, the Wehrmacht advanced with heavy artillery, shelled the nest of resistance to smithereens, and shot numerous hostages. On 27 May, Serbs and Jews were prohibited from using public transportation and baths. On 5 June came the order to gather all those fit for work in camps, and on 10 and 11 June the order to deport entire families on a massive scale to Serbia. The growing resistance at the local level, inspired by Tito’s beacon of hope regarding the people’s liberation, is what finally broke the dam: on 23 July, all remaining Serbs were required to be registered, and thousands were brutally murdered with axes, knives, clubs, and other archaic methods of killing.

Under Ustasha rule, the extreme right—similar to what occurred in Spain—entered an unholy alliance with Catholicism. Serbs and Croats spoke the same dialects, so that religion was the only remaining objective marker of distinction and paramount ethnic identification. Therefore, the representatives of the Orthodox Church, meaning the bishops, metropolitans, monks, and priests, were subject to particular fury. The Ustasha forces had hundreds of churches deliberately destroyed, monasteries plundered and sacked to their foundations, and church property expropriated. The Serbian Orthodox religion was renamed “Greek Eastern.” Approximately 250,000 Orthodox were forced to convert to Catholicism. In order to cut the spiritual, emotional, and nationalist ties to Serbia, the Croatian government established a new, state-supervised Croatian Orthodox Church in April 1942; however, with little success.

Even today, the role of the Catholic Church and its leader, Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, is highly controversial. Nationalist-oriented clergy sympathized or even cooperated with the Ustasha regime, because they lauded the Croat nation and fought the communists. Stepinac was probably not a committed fascist, but he was certainly also not a decisive opponent of the new regime. In honor of the Independent State of Croatia, he had a Te Deum read in all churches in early May 1941 and had himself appointed to the post of head military vicar in Croatia. The state was the fulfilment of a “centuries-old and ardently desired dream”; it was “no longer the tongue … but the blood” that was speaking, he announced in a circular memorandum in April 1941.25 The Vatican, which was informed about what was happening in Croatia, withheld its criticism. The Catholic press praised the Ustasha, and far more than a few clerics welcomed and supported the policy of forced conversion to Catholicism. One of them was Frater Vlado Bilobrk from Metković, who said in a sermon: “Everyone must convert to the Catholic faith because no other religion has a justified existence and no one will remain alive who has not accepted the Catholic faith.”

Just as the Ustasha regime propagated an ethnically “pure” Greater Croatia, the Serb Chetniks boasted about Greater Serbia. Draža Mihailović relied on Stevan Moljević’s memorandum of June 1941 titled “Homogeneous Serbia,” which he claimed included northern Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dalmatia, and large sections of Croatia. Had this absurd plan been implemented, more than four million people would have been resettled and expelled. With the political program they presented in September 1941, the Chetniks announced preparations in the “Serb countries” to ensure “that only the Serb population remains in them.” To do this it would be necessary “to have an eye particularly on the rapid and radical cleansing of the cities … [and] to develop a plan to cleanse and deport the rural population.” Moreover, it was also time “to solve the question of the Muslims as much as possible in this phase.” Mihailović was even clearer about what he meant on 20 December 1941: he issued the directive “to cleanse [the national territory] of all national minorities and anational elements.” Muslims and Croats were also to be removed from Sandžak, Bosnia, and Croatia (up to the Karlovac-Knin-Šibenik line).

“Ethnic cleansing” was also undertaken by the Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Albanians, and Bulgarians for the purpose of better incorporating annexed territory. The most extensive plans were drawn up by Hitler, who intended to transform all of Europe along racial lines. In a speech given in the Reichstag on 6 October 1939, he had announced the “ethnic consolidation” (völkische Flurbereinigung) of East and Southeast Europe; as the Reich commissar responsible for “German Nationhood,” Heinrich Himmler had designed a comprehensive European “master settlement plan” (Gesamtsiedlungsplanung). The Balkan countries were also to provide several pieces to the overall mosaic of the “Greater Germanic Reich” that was to be created by systematically murdering Jews and gypsies, “Germanizing” annexed territory, and resettling millions of ethnic Germans.

Much like the Poles living under the General Government in the German zone of occupation, the Slovenes in the annexed regions of Lower Styria, southern Carinthia, and Upper Carniola were viewed “basically as enemies of the state.” The entire population was racially profiled and “Germanized.” More than 220,000 Slovenes, primarily representatives of the clergy, intelligentsia, and economic elite, were to be “deported” and their property confiscated. Slovene organizations, press, and schools were forbidden. As early as 1941, authorities deported about 40,000 men and women to Croatia and Serbia, and another 33,000 were taken to camps as part of the campaign to “re-Germanize” the area. Ethnic Germans were then “appointed” to their farms. Within the framework of the “master settlement plan” for all of Europe designed in May and June of 1942, the SS sent another 43,000 ethnic Germans from Bosnia, Syrmia, and Slavonia into the Reich, put them through the official “sluicing” procedure (Durchschleusung), and later resettled them in Poland and Galicia.

In Trieste, Gorizia, and Istria—those areas that Italy had acquired in 1920—a strict policy of assimilation had existed already before the war. Mussolini considered the Slavic population to be an “inferior, barbaric race” that should be cast out of the region. Slovene and Croat personal names and city names were Italianized, while libraries, press publications, and societies were closed. It was forbidden to speak “Slavic” on the street. In the 1920s and 1930s, fascist authorities had already developed plans for the “ethnic cleansing” (bonifica nazionale) of the border regions. They now put these plans into practice “with great rigor,” in part by organizing mass deportations. Authorities interned 30,000 men, women, and children under inhumane conditions in concentration camps, such as those in Gonars and on the island of Rab. Ownership of their homes and landholdings was then transferred to the families of Italian soldiers. In occupied Dalmatia and in Montenegro, the Italian army played a rather ambivalent role in that, on the one hand, it furthered the Italianità, while on the other, it offered protection at the same time to thousands of Serbs escaping Ustasha units running amok and in some cases even took military steps to put the Croat militias in their place.

The southern regions of the former Yugoslavia also witnessed “ethnic cleansing.” In Italian-controlled Kosovo and in western Macedonia, Albanians drove out the indigenous Serbs and Montenegrins, burned down their houses, and destroyed historically important churches and monasteries. After King Vittorio Emmanuele decreed the annexation of these areas to Albania, of which he had also been king since 1939, a policy of Albaniazation and colonization was methodically carried out. For its part, eastern Macedonia was subject to a radical policy of Bulgarianization. More than 110,000 Serbs were forced to leave the country, and their property was confiscated. Bulgarian authorities closed schools and libraries, and destroyed cultural facilities, archives, cemeteries, and churches. Everything Serbian and Macedonian had to disappear, be it names, language, or national symbols; repression and despotism prevailed.

Conrad II (ca. 990-June 4,1039)

Conrad II, 12th-century stained glass depiction, Strasbourg Cathedral

The first monarch of the new royal dynasty of the Salians, Conrad (Konrad) II was born circa 990 to Heinrich, son of Duke Otto of Carinthia and grandson of Duke Conrad of Lotharingia (d. 955). After his fathers death, he was raised by his grandfather and uncle Conrad until he was taken into the episcopal household of Bishop Burchard of Worms (1000—d. 1025), supposedly because of ill-treatment at the hands of his relatives. In 1016, he married Gisela (d. 1043), daughter of Hermann II of Bavaria, thereby allying himself with one of the noblest families in the Reich (empire). The future king Henry III was born to the couple one year later in 1017.

When King Henry II died childless early in 1024, the nobility of the Reich was presented with the opportunity to elect a new monarch and ruling house. The royal election, recounted in unusual detail by the royal biographer and chaplain Wipo, was held at Kamba on the Rhine on September 4, 1024. Chosen over his rival and cousin Conrad the Younger (d. 1039), Conrad II was consecrated and crowned king by Archbishop Aribo of Mainz on September 8.

Once crowned king, Conrad had to make his kingship, his royal presentia, felt throughout his realm by establishing the personal bonds with local ecclesiastics, monasteries, and nobles that were the true guarantees of his kingship’s power and stability. Furthermore, he had to gain the support of the Saxons and the members of the Lotharingian nobility who had not consented to his election. Therefore, following the tradition of his Ottonian predecessors, he devoted the next fifteen months to a royal iter (journey) that enabled him to meet and negotiate with nobles from Lotharingia to Saxony as well as those in Alemannia, Bavaria, Franconia, and Swabia.

In February 1026, Conrad assembled an army of thousands of armored knights for an expedition into Italy, including troops commanded by both Archbishop Aribo of Mainz and Archbishop Pilgrim of Cologne. Conrad’s army marched south, besieging Pavia, but the city walls blocked the attackers.

Conrad II, circa 990 – 4.6.1039, Holy Roman Emperor 26.3.1027 – 4.6.1039, full length, crowned by archbishop Aribo of Mainz and archbishop Pilgrim of Cologne, miniature, 1st half 11th century,

With his rule thus consolidated by late 1025, Conrad embarked upon an expedition to Italy that lasted from the spring of 1026 until early summer of 1027. There he reestablished his authority over such rebellious cities of northern Italy as Pavia and Ravenna and broke down the opposition to royal rule within the Italian nobility through a combination of diplomacy and military might. Crowned Roman emperor by Pope John XIX (1024—1032) on Easter (March 26) of 1027 with King Cnut of England and Denmark and King Rudolf III of Burgundy in attendance, Conrad then headed south into Apulia, where he reestablished nominal German sovereignty over the Lombard princes and attempted to secure the frontier with Byzantine southern Italy.

Back in Germany, Conrad pondered the future of the dynasty, At Regensburg in June of 1027, he elevated his son Henry as duke of Bavaria and, on Easter of 1028, had him crowned king at Aachen with the consent of the princes of the Reich. The death in 1033 of King Rudolf III enabled the Salian monarch to expand his hegemony by incorporating the kingdom of Burgundy into the Reich. Around 1034, after his earlier bid for a marriage alliance with Byzantium had failed, Conrad turned to Denmark for a bride for his son; Henry III married King Cnut’s (1017–1035) daughter Kunigunde in 1036. With the deaths of the reigning dukes of Swabia and Carinthia in 1038 and 1039 respectively, Conrad invested Henry III with those duchies, thereby giving him a unique position of power in the three southernmost duchies of the German Reich.

Despite the extent of his power, Conrad II faced several internal rebellions and significant foreign challenges during his reign. Just two years after Conrad’s election, a group of conspirators led by his rival Conrad the Younger rebelled during the king ‘s first expedition to Italy. After an initial show of loyalty, the king’s stepson Duke Ernst II of Swabia later joined this rebellion; he persisted in his opposition to Conrad, despite brief returns to grace and appointments to office, until he was killed in August of 1030.

In 1036 Conrad journeyed again to Lombardy to settle widespread disputes between subvassals and their lay and ecclesiastical overlords over the security of the subvassals’ legal status and rights. After overcoming the resistance of the Italian episcopate and their attempt to introduce Count Odo of Champagne (995–1037) as king, Conrad finally settled the dispute in favor of the subvassals with his decree Constitutio de feudis of 1037, which represented a major departure from the earlier, proepiscopal policies of his Ottonian predecessors.

On his eastern frontiers, Conrad responded to the repeated political challenges posed by Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary through a combination of military might, alliances with neighboring princes, territorial exchanges, and diplomacy, designed essentially to maintain the status quo rather than expand German hegemony.

Perhaps the most debated aspect today of Conrad’s kingship is his ecclesiastical policy. Earlier scholarship stressed the secularity of Conrad II’s reign and the king’s calculated development and exploitation of the Reichskirche (imperial church) to achieve secular political aims. More recent studies, however, while not ignoring Conrad’s political and economic reliance on ecclesiastical and monastic structures, have offered a more balanced assessment that highlights Conrad’s personal association with leading monastic reformers of his time, including Odilo of Cluny, William of Dijon, and Poppo of Stablo; his efforts to further their reforms; his swift change in policy after a unique case of simony reported by Wipo; and his support of reformers such as Bruno of Egisheim, the future Pope Leo IX. Finally, they argue that, although Conrad undoubtedly saw himself as the head of the imperial Church, this position of leadership remained, in his mind, a religious as well as a secular office, an attitude certainly manifested by his son Henry III.

Dying on June 4, 1039, Conrad II was laid to rest by Empress Gisela and King Henry III in the cathedral of Speyer.


Boshof, Egon. Die Salier, 3rd ed. Stuttgart and Berlin: Kohlhammer, 1995, pp. 33–91.

Die Urkunden Conrads II., ed. Harry Bresslau and P. Kehr. Munich: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 1909; rpt. 1980.

Hoffmann, Hartmut. Monchskönig und “rex idiota”. Studien zur Kirchenpolitik Heinrichs II. und Conrads II. Hannover: Hahn, 1995.

Morrison, K.F. “The Deeds of Conrad II.” In Imperial Lives and Letters of the Eleventh Century, ed. Theodor E.Mommsen and Karl F.Morrison. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962.

Trillmich, Werner. Kaiser Conrad II. und seine Zeit, ed. Otto Bardong. Bonn: Europa Union Verlag, 1991.

Wipo. Gesta Chuonradi, ed. Harry Bresslau. Hannover: Hahn, 1878; rpt. 1993.


“Empire” (Reich) is a term used throughout the German Middle Ages to refer to various political constellations. To the inner circle at Charlemagne’s court in 800, his adoption of the title “emperor” gave expression to the fact that he was more than just the king of the Franks, or king of the Lombards; with the exception of Anglo-Saxon England and Christian Spain, every Christian area of the Latin West was subject to him, and many non-Christian areas to the east recognized his suzerainty. There was to some large degree a correspondence between his realm and Latin Christendom.

Very quickly, however, the relationship between theory and practice changed. With the Treaty of Verdun (843), the idea of an ecumenical empire gave way to a more limited one. Lothar I received the title of emperor along with the Middle Kingdom, but when his lands were subdivided in 855, the imperial title went to his son Louis II as ruler of Italy. In short, the significance of the imperial title contracted almost to the point of meaninglessness.

In theory, however, the imperial title implied a claim to the disputed lands of the Middle Kingdom, and by the early tenth century it was a hotly contested prize. The winner in this go-around was the German king Otto I, who, in 962, assumed the imperial title, signifying the union of Germany, Italy, and Lorraine. His concept of empire, and the realities as well, looked back to Lothar I far more than to Charlemagne for its model. For the next three centuries, the term Reich had reference to this area, in which Germany exercised hegemony over the other two regions. Maintaining some substance for the theory required considerable effort, however, and from time to time German rulers ignored the imperial dimensions of their office, focusing on matters north of the Alps.

Otto I and Otto II both appeared as plain imperator augustus (noble emperor), but Otto III’s chancery used the more pretentious imperator Romanorum (emperor of the Roman Empire). Though the Capetian kings of France were anxious to live on good terms with the empire, they were never prepared to admit to being imperial vassals. When Emperor Henry II and King Robert the Pious met on the banks of the Meuse in August 1023, they did so as equals; similarly, when Henry III and the French King Henry I met at Ivois in 1056, they did so on terms of equality. Henry III saw his imperial role not so much in territorial terms as in his obligation to purify and reinvigorate the papacy, the other universal head of the respublica Christiana (Christian republic). He did, however, object to the use of the title Hispaniae imperator (Hispanic emperor), which the Spanish king, Ferdinand the Great of Castile, had adopted after a great victory over the Moors.

German emperors often sought legitimization of their title and claims by marrying into the Byzantine imperial family. Otto II was the only one to do so, though appropriate spouses had been sought for both Otto III and Henry III. The securing of the hand of Isabella/Yolande of Brienne, heiress to the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, by Frederick II of Staufen in 1223, gave a similar boost to the pretentions of the leader of the Christian world.

The accession of Frederick Barbarossa in 1152 brought a change in his attitude toward Italy, over what had prevailed for some time. In correspondence with the Byzantine emperor of Constantinople, he declared that the kings of Europe were constantly sending ambassadors to his court, to show their respect and obedience, and to offer oaths of loyalty and hostages. His chancery spoke disdainfully of the kinglets, or reguli (little kings), in at least one instance meaning thereby the kings of France, England, and Denmark who were reges provinciales (provincial kings). John of Salisbury waxed indignant over the implications of such claims for the king of France, but in the historian Rahewin’s continuation of the Gesta Friderici (The Deeds of Frederick), we find a letter of Henry II of England that (although disputed) is made to say to Barbarossa: “We offer you our kingdom and all the lands under our dominion, we hand them over to your power, so that you may dispose of them as seems good to you, and so that your imperial will may be accomplished in all things.” According to the English chronicler Hovedon, England’s independence was compromised beyond that expressed in Henry’s letter when Richard I, “by the advice of his mother Eleanor stripped himself of the kingdom of England and delivered it over to the emperor as lord of the world,” a reference to the enforced homage of Richard to Barbarossa’s son Henry VI in 1193.

Frederick Barbarossa found his plans for a reinvigorated empire challenged not only by the rising power of the Italian cities but by the theocratic pretensions of Pope Hadrian IV. To counter papal claims that the emperor held the empire as a “benefice conferred by the pope,” Frederick declared that he held his kingdom and his empire from God alone. To buttress this argument, his chancery began to use the adjective sacrum (holy) or sanctissimum (most holy) in connection with the empire in 1157, contrasting it with sacra ecclesia (Holy Church). Several years later, Frederick secured the canonization of Charlemagne, who, in effect, became the patron saint of the empire; the beatification of Charles the Great symbolized the rebirth of the empire yet again under Frederick’s rule.

Henry VI of Hohenstaufen’s accession in 1190, and his abortive attempt to effect a union of the kingdom of Sicily with the empire, marked a decided departure from earlier imperial policy. Henry’s son, Frederick II, in turn abandoned Germany in large measure, though there were still those who promoted the twelfth-century Staufen notion of the universal empire. At the Fourth Lateran (Papal) Council in 1215, Archbishop Siegfried II of Mainz, as arch-chancellor of the empire, objected to the announcement by Pope Innocent III that King John of England had surrendered his realm to the papacy and received it back as a fief during his efforts at reconciliation with Rome; the archbishop’s protest that the empire exercised suzerainty over the regnum Angliae (rule of Anglia) was rejected.

Meanwhile, in 1202 Innocent III in the decretal Per Venerabilem had declared that the king of France was emperor within his own realm, “cum rex superiorem in temporalibus minime recognoscat”—he recognized no temporal superior. The epithet Augustus given to Philip II by his biographer and retained by history is a sharp reflection of his attitude to the imperial daydreams, and the collapse of the Hohenstaufen after 1250 placed the question of empire in the forefront of European politics. Pierre Dubois and John of Jandun maintained that the French king was the natural successor to the imperial dignity of the Hohenstaufen, and in fact the integrity of the western boundary of the empire began to erode toward the end of the century. Rudolf of Hapsburg was less interested in perpetuating the imperial ideas than in establishing an hereditary monarchy. It was during his reign that the lands of the bishopric of Toul west of the Meuse fell into French hands (1291), while in 1297 the French established control over the entire bishopric of Metz. But even in the fourteenth century there were still political theorists in France who recognized a certain validity to the emperor’s claims of universal overlordship.

From 962 onward the rulers of Germany were, either actually or potentially, emperors. Only Otto II was consecrated emperor in his father’s lifetime, and even then he had been king for some years before his imperial coronation. Otto III and Henry II did not become emperor until 996 and 1014, respectively, in each case more than a decade after they had succeeded to the throne. Conrad II was crowned in Rome in 1027 after a gap of only three years; his son Henry III waited seven years before crossing the Alps and receiving imperial coronation in 1046. Elected in 1212 and crowned at Aachen in 1215, Frederick II did not receive imperial consecration until November 1220. In short, the imperial crown could not simply be assumed; it had to be received from the pope at Rome.

This factor helps explain the frequent bitter struggles that went on between certain German monarchs and the papacy. Many German rulers made do with the title rex Romanorum, indicating that although they had been duly elected king, they had not yet received imperial coronation. Only in the fourteenth century did the German electors challenge this practice, and by then the imperial dignity was much less preoccupied with Italy than with Central Europe. Meeting at Rhens on the Rhine in July 1338, the German estates declared that the imperial dignity was held directly of God, and that a king elected by the majority was the legitimate ruler, entitled from the day of his election to exercise his functions without papal consent or confirmation. This was reaffirmed in the Golden Bull that Charles IV published in 1356.

The concept of the Holy Roman Empire—the full term appears first in 1254—lasted in one form or another until 1806, but a second empire was created in 1870–1871, to be followed by a third Reich in the early twentieth century. As a symbol of overlordship, the term emperor was also taken over by Napoléon in 1804, whose imperial coronation at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was clearly influenced by that of Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800, at Rome.


Barraclough, Geoffrey. The Medieval Empire: Idea and Reality. London: G.Phillip, 1950, rpt. 1964.

Bryce, James. The Holy Roman Empire. New York: Macmillan, 1903, rpt. 1961.

Ficker, Julius. Deutsches Königthum und Kaiserthum. Innsbruck: Wagner, 1862.

Fichtenau, Heinrich. The Carolingian Empire, trans. Peter Munz. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.

Koch, Walter. Die Reichskanzlei in den Jahren 1167 bis 1174. Publicationen der historischen Kommission der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, Phil.hist. Klasse, Denkschriften, 115. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademien der Wissenschaften, 1973.

Leyser, Karl. Medieval Germany and Its Neighbors, 900–1250. London: Hambledon, 1982.

Michael, Wolfgang. Die Formen des unmittelbaren Verkehrs zwischen den deutschen Kaisern und souveränen Fürsten vornehmlich in X., XI. und XII. Jahrhundert. Hamburg: Voß, 1888.

Schramm, Percy Ernst. Kaiser, Rom und Renovatio. 2 vols.; rpt. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1962.

Struve, Tilman. “Kaisertum und Romgedanke in salischer Zeit.” Deutsches Archiv 44 (1988): 424–454.