France’s Military Structure – Louis XIV

France’s suffering in the Thirty Years’ War had been more financial than otherwise, since the war was not fought on its soil. Still, the superior performance of professionals had been proven and, after a bit of its own civil war, the government began taking serious measures to upgrade the military. This began at roughly the same time a new monarch came to the throne, Louis XIV. He had the assistance of two able administrators who completely reworked the nature of France’s military structure. In 1668 Michel le Tellier was appointed to the post of secretary of state for military affairs; he was aided and ultimately succeeded in this position by his son, Francois Michel Tellier, better known as the Marquis de Louvois, who orchestrated the transformation of the army into a truly royal force, and became the first great civilian minister of war in any country. One of his major accomplishments (though not completely fulfilled) was to address the corruption among army officers. It was not uncommon to list more manpower in one’s unit than actually existed, in order to be provided with more money and supplies. Limited inspection visits made this easy, even though it could prove dangerous in wartime when one expected to field an army of a certain size when such numbers did not exist. Further, having responsible soldiers (rather than the traditional prison recruits) became a priority. Advancement became possible through merit and not just birth or purchase of a commission.

Up-to-strength units received the best possible training and supplies. In order to accomplish the second item, the ministry developed a system of supply magazines. Regular food on campaign meant no need to pillage, which both maintained positive civil relations and gave soldiers fewer opportunities to leave camp, something that usually resulted in unmilitary activities and behavior. What Gustavus had tried to implement, regular food and pay, became established and successful policy under the French regime, which did much to expand the army significantly as well as increase the number of talented officers through the merit system. Other countries had to follow suit or be completely at France’s mercy.

The infantry made up about one-fourth of the French army. Foot soldiers were organized by the turn of the century into battalions of thirteen companies of 40–50 men each, armed with matchlocks or flintlocks. The transition from the older, heavier, less dependable weapon had not completely taken place by 1700. Indeed, in the French army it almost did not take place at all. For some reason King Louis XIV disliked flintlocks, even for a time ordering they be abandoned, but luckily for him cooler heads convinced him otherwise. The flintlock offered an increased rate of fire, two to three shots per minute as opposed to two shots in three minutes with the matchlock. Without the need to worry about a long, burning fuse, soldiers needed less space to reload, so they could be lined up in tighter formations, increasing the firepower. There was another area in which the French had not advanced, and that was their rejection of the paper cartridge, carrying both powder and ball. Most other European armies had adopted the paper cartridge used by Gustavus. The French continued to deploy their men in five or six ranks, better for resisting attacks but not designed to put as much lead in the air as fewer ranks would have allowed.

Two new things appeared among the French infantry under Louis XIV at the end of the seventeenth century. One was the socket bayonet invented by the fortification-engineering genius Sebastian Vauban, which led to the death of the pike. Earlier attempts at using bayonets resulted in the plug type, which was stuck in the barrel and therefore prevented the weapon from firing. A ring bayonet merely slipped over the barrel and easily fell off. Vauban’s device slipped over a lug that held the bayonet in place once it was rotated. With the bayonet’s ability to provide the sharp points that charging horses did not want to encounter, the pikeman was removed from the field by 1700. Thus, everyone on the line now had a musket, increasing firepower even more. The second was the introduction of the grenadiers, who along with their standard weaponry of flintlock, bayonet, sword, and hatchet carried 12–15 grenades. These were hollow iron shells filled with gunpowder, which had first appeared in the Middle Ages. In 1667 four men from each infantry company were trained in throwing grenades and termed “grenadiers”; four years later one company of grenadiers was assigned to each battalion. Physically large and strong, they became an elite soldiery designated for difficult assignments.

French cavalry was divided into three classes. Louis XIV’s time witnessed the introduction of cavalerie légère or light cavalry, which used to be the heavy cavalry. It was renamed because the new cavalrymen did not wear heavy armor as previously. In 1690 came the introduction of modern light cavalry, the hussars. The third class was the dragoons, or mounted infantry. Each carried a musket, pistol, saber, and shovel. The shovel meant that he could entrench himself just like regular infantry, but with his horse he could also be used in long-distance service such as transport escort. Regular cavalry were equipped with a sword with a three-foot straight blade, two flintlock pistols carried in saddle holsters, and a shorter musket called a carbine. Just as the grenadiers became elite infantry, Louis’s army introduced elite cavalrymen in the form of carabiniers who were given rifled carbines. In October 1690 they were formed into their own company. In late 1693 these companies were grouped into a new unit called Royal Carabiniers, 100 companies strong—a sort of elite reserve cavalry division.

In spite of the return of power tactics with the cavalry of Gustavus Adolphus’s Swedes, the French retained many of the older practices. The French cavalry was not used for shock, as Gustavus had used his, but as mobile musketeers. Just as in the older cavalry, they attacked in the caracole, using pistols or carbines. The main difference was that the horsemen now fired in volleys of three ranks, expanding their firepower somewhat. The French tended to mass their cavalry on the wings with the infantry arrayed in the center. Nothing special is indicated in the early seventeenth-century sources about French artillery, an interesting omission, since artillery became one of the French specialties by the middle of the eighteenth century.

As for French generals, the great ones by this time had passed on. Marshal Count Turenne was the class of his era and certainly Marlborough was glad to have served under his command and picked up some lessons. His immediate predecessor (and rival during the French civil wars) was Louis de Bourbon, the Prince de Condé, also known as “The Great Condé.” Both had risen to high command near the end of the Thirty Years War and had also fought in the various conflicts with the Dutch. The master of siege warfare, both offensive and defensive, was Sebastian Vauban, but he was far more an engineer and master of siegecraft than a combat commander. Still, Louis’s army was not without some talent, although his generals tend to be overshadowed by Marlborough and Eugene. Some, like the dukes of Tallard, Villeroi, and Bourgogne were political appointees with little to recommend them, but some, the duc de Villars and duc de Vendôme in particular, had real talent.

marquis de Louvois, (1641–1691)

Né François Le Tellier. Successor to his father, Michel Le Tellier, as principal military and strategic adviser to Louis XIV. He was the main transformer of the French Army into an instrument of royal authority and foreign policy. In part, he accomplished this by helping his father and Louis establish the Régiment du Roi in 1663 as a model for all French infantry regiments. He also founded the Royal-Artillerie in 1673 as a professional and concentrated artillery arm. These reforms had influence on military developments far beyond France

Following a pattern set by his father, with whom he understudied from 1662 to 1670, Louvois lobbied hard for bullying wars as the main basis of French foreign policy. He did so not least as a means of creating opportunities to concentrate more power and wealth in his own hands. He was centrally involved in reorganization of the French Army away from private regiments and mercenaries to a more professional officer corps and to regular units raised from the king’s subjects. He exercised such strict control over officers, however, that tactical and operational mediocrity was often the result. In logistics he found a calling, notably fully developing the magazine system left in rudimentary form by his father. Among Louvois’ more important innovations was to introduce portable ovens to bake bread during halt days while a French army was on the move. At the onset of the Dutch War (1672-1678), Louvois accumulated in forward magazines enough grain to provide the advancing armies with 200,000 rations per day for up to six months-an unheard of achievement in European warfare since the fall of Rome. This effort is widely regarded by historians as his finest. It ensured Louis XIV early military success that would not be replicated in later, longer wars fought without Louvois at his side. For this material accomplishment, regardless of Louvois’ many and deep moral flaws, he is properly regarded by historians as the first great civilian “minister of war.”

Louis XIV drilled himself as a form of childhood play, and continued to play at war as a man, and then as king. He believed that discipline, rather than bloody mayhem, was what won battles and insisted on constant drill, at least twice per week, even for garrison units. His regiments drilled through the winter and during the rare summers when they were not in the field. Early in his reign, Michel Le Tellier and Louvois helped Louis found a special regiment, the Régiment du Roi (1663), to model and demonstrate proper drill to the rest of the French Army. This regiment, and then all French drill, was overseen from 1667 by inspectors-general.

One of Louvois’ most crucial reforms was to institute musketry drill, upon discovering that many French infantrymen, especially peasant conscripts, went into battle not knowing how to load or discharge their main weapon. The French emphasis on drill thereafter grew so fierce that the intendant responsible for drill in the French Army, Colonel Jean Martinet, original colonel of the Régiment du Roi, became so infamous for fussy, even merciless insistence on the smallest detail of uniform discipline and drill that his name entered the universal military lexicon as a pejorative for inflexible drill instructors.

As for his moral failings, they were many and great. For instance, during Turenne’s march through the Palatinate in 1674, Louvois demanded that the harshest methods be used against German villagers who resisted by any means, or who refused to pay contributions. During the War of the Reunions (1683-1684), he again displayed a penchant for personal cruelty and brutality in punishing villagers. He once ordered fully 20 villages be bombarded and burned in retaliation for the loss of two French barns. Although he was patron to Vauban, the two disagreed about whether to use bombardment as an alternative to siege warfare. John A. Lynn, the leading modern historian of the French Army, maintains that Louvois took a savage approach to war and that, for him, bombardment of towns with mortars during the 1680s “became something of a blood lust.” Nor did his none-too-gentle master in Versailles voice any objection. In 1688 Louvois began to raise new provincial militia to supplement the regular regiments. These were gainfully employed when Louis started the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) that fall. Louvois planned the 1688-1689 devastation of the Palatinate (1688-1689) on a map, reveling yet again in the destruction of German towns and cities, and even individual chateaux. His death on July 16, 1691, removed from inner policy circles a baleful and brutish influence on Louis XIV, a monarch who needed little encouragement to indulge his own vices and a pronounced preference for war over diplomacy.

Stalin in the Russian Civil War

On May 17, 1919, Stalin arrived in Petrograd with full powers to organize the defenses of the region against attack by General N. N. Yudenich’s army, which was advancing from the northwest. Remaining in Moscow, Lenin maintained control over the Revolutionary War Council and had direct contact with all the fronts. To Stalin in Petrograd, he sent a stream of telegrams, harrying, advising, demanding information. In a telegram on May 20, he expressed the hope “that the general mobilization of Petersburgers will result in offensive operations and not just sitting about in barracks.”

Lenin was disturbed by the speed of Yudenich’s advance. He mistrusted the commanders and the troops of the Red Army in the region. On May 27, he warned Stalin to assume treachery, and as an explanation of defeat or other failure, treachery was to become a phobia in the party. Stalin responded promptly. The Cheka was unleashed and soon claimed to have uncovered a conspiracy among employees of the Swiss, Italian, and Danish consulates. Stalin reported to Lenin that a counterrevolutionary plot in support of the Whites had been crushed and that the Cheka was investigating further. In a message to Lenin, dated June 4, 1919, he wrote: “I am sending you a document from the Swiss. It is evident from the document that not only the chief of staff of the Seventh Army works for the Whites . . . but also the entire staff of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic. . . . It is now up to the Central Committee to draw the necessary inferences. Will it have the courage to do it?”

Stalin himself did not escape criticism. An old Bolshevik hostile to the Tsaritsyn group, A. I. Okulov, who was the political member of the West Front Military Council, complained to the Central Committee that due to Stalin’s actions the Seventh Army was being detached from the West Front, which was under the command of D. N. Nadezhny, a former tsarist corps commander, and that it should be restored to his command. Lenin asked Stalin to comment. “My profound conviction,” he replied, “is: 1, Nadezhny is not a commander. He is incapable of commanding. He will end up by losing the Western Front; 2, workers like Okulov who incite the specialists against our kommissars, who are sufficiently discouraged anyway, are harmful, because they debilitate the vital core of our army.” Okulov was removed from his post.

Following the repulse of the White advance on Petrograd in June, Stalin was appointed to be the political member of the Military Council of the West Front, and a new commander replaced Nadezhny.

On the East Front, disagreements erupted between Vatsetis, the commander in chief, and S. S. Kamenev, the commander of the front. Trotsky supported Vatsetis, whom he had appointed, and he showed hostility toward Kamenev. On one occasion in Simbirsk, Trotsky, dressed in black leather uniform, like his personal escort, and armed with a pistol, burst into Kamenev’s office and excitedly threatened him. Later, at the instigation of Vatsetis, Trotsky summarily dismissed him.

Kamenev was liked and respected. The Military Council of the East Front formally protested to Lenin. Kamenev himself went to Moscow to put his case. On May 15, 1919, he was interviewed by Lenin, who was impressed and told him to return to his command. Lenin was usually careful and diplomatic in his dealings with his closest associates, and in overruling Trotsky publicly, he was expressing his strongest disapproval. He had been losing confidence in Trotsky’s judgment and was increasingly impatient of his bombastic behavior. He also had no high opinion of Vatsetis, who, like Trotsky, had antagonized military as well as political workers.

The climax came in July 1919. Kamenev had worked out a plan for a further advance eastward into Siberia. Vatsetis vetoed the plan. The East Front Military Council again protested to Lenin. Two meetings of the Central Committee considered the evidence and decided against Vatsetis. At a meeting on July 3, the committee reviewed and endorsed its decision. Trotsky in a fury, his pride affronted, declared that he would resign all his offices, but the committee rejected his resignation. It was decided further that Kamenev should be appointed commander in chief. Vatsetis was arrested, investigated for suspected treason, released, and subsequently given an appointment as a military instructor.

The Central Committee also reorganized the Revolutionary War Council, limiting its membership to six. Trotsky was included, but the other five members were not his supporters. He could no longer dominate the council and get his way. Deeply offended, Trotsky remained at the South Front for the rest of the summer. The Revolutionary War Council functioned directly under Lenin’s control, and more harmoniously.

Trotsky subsequently held Stalin responsible for this major reverse in his military standing. He maintained that Stalin’s antagonism toward Vatsetis was well known and that he had supported the East Front Military Council as a means of striking at Trotsky himself. It was a reflection of Trotsky’s egocentricity that he had to interpret Stalin’s actions in terms of hostility toward himself. In this conflict, however, Stalin’s views were those of Lenin and the other members of the Central Committee, and his overriding concern was the victory of the Red Army.

By the end of June 1919, A. Denikin controlled the whole of the Don region and his army continued its rapid advance. His forces had first spread across the Ukraine and south Russia and then they had pressed northward. In Moscow, Lenin became increasingly anxious about the defense of the city. Kamenev, the commander in chief, had prepared a plan, concentrating strong Red forces to make a flank attack from the east. A second plan, prepared earlier by Vatsetis, and which Trotsky subsequently claimed as his own work, proposed that the armies of the South Front strike due south against Denikin’s forces. The Central Committee had approved Kamenev’s plan.

The Red Army’s flank attack failed completely to halt the White advance. Disturbed by this failure, Kamenev reviewed his strategy and recommended that, while maintaining pressure on the enemy from the east, strong forces of reserves should be concentrated south of Moscow. The response of Lenin and the Central Committee was a striking expression of their confidence in Kamenev. He was told “not to consider himself bound by his former recommendations or by any previous decisions of the Central Committee” and that he had “full powers as a military specialist to take whatever measures he thought fit.”

On September 27, 1919, the Central Committee approved the plan to post strong reserves south of Moscow. It decided also to send Stalin to take charge of the South Front. This was a severe rebuff to Trotsky, who had been there during the months of disaster. For a short period, Stalin and Trotsky were both at the headquarters of the South Front, but apparently, they did not quarrel openly.

On October 11, 1919, Yudenich launched a surprise attack on Petrograd, and the Red Army began to fall back in disorder. Lenin considered that the city should be abandoned, for he would allow nothing to weaken the defenses of Moscow. On October 15, however, the Politburo sent Trotsky to take charge of the defenses of Petrograd. He rallied the troops and reorganized the defenses of the city, and Petrograd did not fall. Later he was to complain bitterly that in official records, Stalin had merged the first and second campaigns of Yudenich into one and “the famous defence of Petrograd is represented as Stalin’s handiwork.”

Soon after arriving at the South Front headquarters, Stalin reported to Lenin and set out the action he proposed. He criticized Kamenev for holding to his original strategy. He argued that they must “change this plan, already discredited in practice, replacing it with a major attack on Rostov from the Voronezh area by way of Kharkov and the Donets Basin.” He set out cogently his reasons and closed his report with the comment that “without this change in strategy, my work . . . will be senseless, criminal, and superfluous, giving me the right, indeed obliging me, to go off anywhere, even to the devil, but not to stay at the South Front.”

During the six months from October 1919 to March 1920, while Stalin was at the South Front headquarters and, as he boasted later, “without the presence of Comrade Trotsky,” the Red Army succeeded in crushing the White forces. Denikin had advanced headlong, exhausting his men, and leaving himself exposed to attack in the rear. His troops were driven from Orel on October 20, 1919, and from Voronezh four days later; the morale of his force collapsed. He himself lost the confidence of his officers and the support of his Cossack allies. Early in April 1920, after nominating General Peter Wrangel as his successor, he escaped into Turkey.

In the advance of the South Front’s armies against Denikin’s armies, Budënny played a conspicuous role. He was a swaggering cavalryman, brave and energetic, but limited in ability. He was tireless in pressing for the formation of a cavalry army under his command. Stalin welcomed the idea of massed Red Cavalry, but Trotsky at first opposed it. He mistrusted the Cossacks, who would be the main source of cavalrymen and who were more in sympathy with the White than the Red cause. With Stalin’s support, Budënny’s proposal was adopted, at least nominally. Trotsky changed his mind about massed cavalry and issued his proclamation “Proletarians to Horse!” Budënny and his Red Cavalry became one of the romantic legends of the Civil War.

By early January 1920, Budënny had led his cavalry to the shores of the Sea of Azov. The South Front was then divided into the Southwest Front, under Egorov’s command operating against the Whites in the Crimea, and the Southeast Front, commanded by V. I. Shorin and including Budënny’s Cavalry Army, which was renamed the Caucasian Front.

Shorin had been an officer in the tsarist army, but although nearly fifty years old at the time of the Revolution, he had never risen above the rank of captain. High command had come to him as to many others, because no one else was available in the revolutionary camp at the time. He was disliked by Budënny and Voroshilov, who schemed to have him dismissed. Stalin supported them, and was said by Budënny to have told Ordzhonikidze, recently appointed the political member of the Caucasian Front, that Shorin was to be dismissed “for adopting an attitude of mistrust and enmity toward the cavalry army.” M. N. Tukhachevsky, a former second lieutenant of the Semenovsky Guards Regiment, then in his twenties, who was later designated to succeed Shorin, was to find that Budënny and Voroshilov were unruly and undisciplined but to be handled with care because they had influential protection.

Early in February 1920, Budënny’s Red Cavalry suffered a severe defeat by the Cossacks. This reverse, indicating lack of discipline and poor leadership, disturbed Lenin. He at once sent a telegram to Stalin, signed by Trotsky, too, appointing him to the Caucasian Front to resolve whatever problems had led to the defeat. The telegram also directed him to make a journey to front headquarters to concert further action with Shorin and to transfer troops from the Southwest Front to his command.

Stalin was evidently tired and unwell. His reply was cantankerous. He stated that visits by individuals were in his view wholly unnecessary, adding that “I am not entirely well and ask the Central Committee not to insist on the journey.” He commented further that “Budënny and Ordzhonikidze consider. . . Shorin to be the reason for our failures.” He prevaricated over the transfer of troops to the Caucasian Front. When Lenin sent him instructions to effect the transfer without further delay, he replied crossly that it was a matter for the High Command to ensure the reinforcement of the front. Unlike the staff of the High Command, who were all in good health, he was ill and overburdened. Apparently, he felt that he had been in the south long enough and that he had completed his task there. Finally, on March 23, 1920, he returned to Moscow.

Stalin was allowed only a short respite. On May 26, 1920, he was ordered to join the Southwest Front. He was in Kharkov on the following day. The Red Army’s position in the south had become critical. Wrangel, who had succeeded Denikin, had restored morale and discipline among the White forces in the Crimea. He was building up the Volunteer Army to a strength of 20,000 men, supported by 10,000 Cossacks. His forces presented a severe challenge from the south.

At this time, the Poles attacked from the west, seizing Kiev and storming over the Dnieper. Their objective was to conquer Belorussia and western Ukraine, vast territories which they had lost to Moscow in the seventeenth century. The Poles were, however, wary of any alliance with the Whites, recognizing that they would hardly accept such a loss of territory to Russia’s traditional Polish enemy. The Poles were also on guard against the Soviet regime. Trotsky had publicly threatened to invade Poland as soon as the Whites had been defeated in the south.

Attacked in the south, where Wrangel made early gains, and in the west, the Red Army found itself under severe pressure. The Central Committee approved the High Command’s plan that the West Front, now commanded by Tukhachevsky, should attack in northern Belorussia to compel the Poles to move troops away from the Southwest Front. It meant giving priority to the expulsion of the Poles. Egorov, commanding the Southwest Front, and his officers disagreed with this strategy. It was for this reason that Stalin was hurriedly dispatched to his headquarters.

Within a few days of his arrival, Stalin had visited the Crimean Front and reported to Lenin. The situation gave rise to great anxiety. He had replaced the commander of the Thirteenth Army. He requested two divisions to reinforce the Southwest Front, for Egorov’s initial offensive against the Poles had failed. Lenin in his reply firmly reminded him to copy all communications on military matters to Trotsky, the kommissar for War. He also repeated the Central Committee decision that the Southwest Front should not yet embark on any offensive in the Crimea. Stalin at once protested against the refusal to send two further divisions and stressed the danger posed by Wrangel to the south. Lenin was not to be moved, however, and he confirmed the original plan.

Kamenev’s order on June 2, 1920, was that the Cavalry Army should attack the Polish positions and seek to outflank them south of Kiev. Egorov and Stalin apparently amended the line of attack in passing the order to Budënny. The effect of this change cannot be judged. The Red Cavalry attacked, forcing the Polish forces south of the Pripet Marshes to retreat hurriedly. To the north Tukhachevsky’s West Front opened its offensive early in July 1920, again compelling the Poles to fall back. By the end of the month, the Red Army had advanced across the frontier into northern Poland. A provisional Polish government was set up under the chairmanship of Dzerzhinsky. Tukhachevsky’s four armies were drawn up on the Vistula, and the capture of Warsaw seemed imminent.

Lenin was carried away by the vision of the Red Army in Warsaw and of a communist Poland giving its full support to the revolutionary movement. He felt acutely the isolation of Russia, which with all its internal problems was bearing the socialist banner alone. This vision was shared by many within the party and gave rise to a wave of enthusiasm, as members rallied to the cry “Onwards to Warsaw!” But there were realists, Stalin foremost among them, who saw the dangers of this policy. In June 1920, he wrote that “the rear of the Polish forces is homogeneous and nationally united. Its dominant mood is ‘the feeling for their native land.’ . . . The class conflicts have not reached the strength needed to break through the sense of national unity.” It was a clear warning against accepting Lenin’s facile belief that the Polish proletariat was ready for revolution.

The Politburo had, however, decided on its policy of conquering Poland in spite of the opposition expressed by Stalin and others. Stalin had hurriedly rejoined the Southwest Front which covered the southern part of the Polish lines and was at the same time on guard against Wrangel in the south. The Politburo now decided to form a special front against Wrangel under Stalin’s direction. A major part of the forces of the Southwest Front would be transferred to Tukhachevsky’s Western Front for the advance on Warsaw, and the remaining forces would form Stalin’s special front. Angered by these instructions from the Politburo, Stalin replied churlishly that the Politburo should not be concerning itself with such details. Lenin was taken aback and asked for an explanation of his opposition. In his reply, Stalin set out the organizational difficulties which the instructions entailed. Lenin was impressed by his appreciation of the situation and allowed the Southwest Front to retain its previous commitments; only three of its armies were to be transferred to the Western Front.

The basic problem was that Tukhachevsky’s Western Front was separated by more than 300 miles of the Pripet Marshes from the Southwest Front. Communications and the prompt transfer of forces over such distances were further complicated by the absence of a strong central command. Trotsky and the Supreme War Council were ignored. Kamenev, the commander in chief, issued directives but could not enforce them. The Politburo and, in particular, Lenin, acting independently, tried to resolve conflicts, but could not be sure that their instructions would be observed. Moreover, Lenin’s instructions conflicted on occasions with plans of the commander in chief. Thus Kamenev confirmed that Tukhachevsky should outflank Warsaw from the north and west and take the city by August 12, 1920. This left the large Lublin gap unprotected between the Russian forces and the Pripet Marshes. At this time, Wrangel was moving with some success, posing a threat that alarmed Lenin. On August 11, he instructed Stalin to break off operations against the Poles at Lvov and to embark on an immediate offensive to destroy Wrangel’s army and seize the Crimea. On the same day, Kamenev ordered the Southwest Front to send “as large a force as possible toward Lublin to assist Tukhachevsky’s left flank.”

At this time, it was believed that the Red Army had already won the battle for Warsaw. Stalin and Egorov were planning to send their cavalry not to Lublin, but to the Crimea, and they ignored Kamenev’s instructions. On August 13, Kamenev sent orders that both the Twelfth and First Cavalry armies would be transferred to the command of the Western Front on the following day. Egorov felt he had to comply. But Stalin refused to sign the order and sent a telegram angrily reproaching the commander in chief for trying to destroy the Southwest Front.

Tukhachevsky’s advance had been progressing slowly. But on August 16, the Poles counterattacked, concentrating on the Lublin gap, and within a few days, they had shattered the West Front. On August 19, the Politburo, including Stalin, met in Moscow, still unaware that the Poles were on the point of routing Tukhachevsky’s armies. The Politburo, “having heard the military reports of Comrades Trotsky and Stalin,” decided that the main concentration of forces should now be directed to the recovery of the Crimea.

Responsibility for the disaster was angrily debated then and later. Lenin abstained from blaming anyone, but it is clear that he himself and all the participants bore part of the blame. Lenin had been carried away by hopes of a Polish revolution and seriously miscalculated the strength of Polish resistance. Kamenev and Tukhachevsky must bear the military responsibility since they neglected to ensure protection of their flanks before advancing. Moreover, even if Stalin and Egorov had responded promptly to orders to transfer troops from their front to fill the Lublin gap, it is doubtful whether such troops could have arrived in time and in fighting condition to have withstood the Polish onslaught.

Stalin’s concern to maintain the strength of the Southwest Front was understandable. It was facing the Polish forces at Lvov, Wrangel’s army to the south, and the possibility of Romanian intervention. All were serious threats, which were causing Lenin and the Politburo anxiety, and the wisdom of detaching any of its armies to reinforce the Western Front was questionable. Rightly or wrongly, however, Stalin was undoubtedly guilty of insubordination, as on other occasions in the Civil War when he was sure that he was right. But there was also an inevitability in the defeat of the Red Army. The troops were near exhaustion. They had fought heroically on Russian soil. Now they encountered the Poles, who were defending their capital and homeland against their traditional Russian enemy, and they fought with desperate bravery.

By the close of 1920, the Civil War had ended. Wrangel, his volunteer army greatly outnumbered by the Red forces in the south, suffered a disastrous defeat. His army disintegrated, as had Kolchak’s army in Siberia some months earlier. But the Whites had been doomed to failure from the start.

Lenin and his government had been able to raise the Red Army to a strength of more than 5 million men and to ensure the supply of basic munitions. There had been failures of organization, conflicts between commanders and kommissars, and frequent confusion among the headquarters of the fronts, the High Command, and the party Central Committee in Moscow. The new Soviet leaders and the Red Army were able to rise above these obstacles, and united and fired by revolutionary zeal, they triumphed.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to penetrate the endemic confusion of the Red Army’s operations in this period and the miasma of suspicions, vicious antagonisms, and conflicting claims – many of them made later – in order to evaluate the contribution of the individual Soviet leaders to the triumph. Lenin had been in command throughout the war. He had closely followed each operation and had sent out orders, usually in the name of the Central Committee, but they were his orders. He had handled troublesome personalities, especially Stalin and Trotsky, with tact and firmness. All had accepted his supreme leadership. It was, indeed, during the years after the Revolution, and particularly during the Civil War, that he revealed greatness as a leader.

Trotsky’s prestige had greatly diminished by the end of the war. The failure of his negotiations with the Germans and the forced acceptance of the disastrous terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had damaged his reputation. He had resigned as kommissar for Foreign Affairs and become kommissar for War. In the early months of the Civil War, he had blazed across the sky like a comet. He had laid the foundations of the Red Army. A small vibrant figure in black leather uniform, he was gallant and ludicrous at the same time. At every opportunity, he harangued the troops. He was a fine orator, and very conscious of this talent. Often, as in Sviyazhsk in August 1918, his dramatic words and presence raised the morale of disheartened men, just as his ruthless punishments restored discipline. But he greatly overrated the power of his theatrical performances. Budënny wrote that to ordinary, often illiterate, soldiers he could be a strange figure with his waving arms and spate of words, most of which they did not understand. At times, his exhortations stirred them to anger. Moreover, as Lenin came to recognize, he was readily carried away by his own words, losing touch with the realities of the situation. He was also unsound in his appointments to positions of command. His stubborn support for Vatsetis had been an example. At the start of the war, Trotsky had exercised wide independent authority; by the time of the Polish War, he was to be found in Moscow and directly under Lenin’s control.

Increasingly, Lenin had come to rely on Stalin, who was in most things the antithesis of Trotsky. He rarely addressed the troops or meetings of any kind, but when he did, he spoke in simple terms. He was the realist, who coldly assessed men and situations, and was usually sound in his conclusions. He remained calm and self-possessed. He was difficult only in his antagonisms toward certain people and when his advice was rejected. While demanding that others obey orders, he himself did not hesitate on occasions to be insubordinate, for he readily set his judgment above that of others. But he learned, too, that in war, a supreme commander, exercising unquestioned authority, was essential to victory. He never forgot this lesson.

In November 1919, Trotsky and Stalin were awarded the new Order of the Red Banner. The award to Stalin was “for his services in the defense of Petrograd and for his self-sacrificing work at the South Front.” The two awards were an indication that at the time, Lenin and the Central Committee considered both men equally valuable.

In later years, when seeking every pretext to denigrate Stalin, Trotsky wrote contemptuously of his role in the Civil War. It is clear, however, from contemporary sources, including Trotsky’s papers, that he had then rated Stalin high as a military organizer. In times of crisis when party interests and the revolutionary cause transcended personal rivalries, he turned to him. During the Polish War, for example, when anxious about an attack by Wrangel from the Crimea, Trotsky recommended that “Comrade Stalin should be charged with forming a new military council with Egorov or Frunze as commander by agreement between the Commander-in-Chief and Comrade Stalin.” On other occasions, he made or supported similar proposals to send Stalin to resolve crucial problems at the fronts. Like Lenin and other members of the Central Committee, he had come to value Stalin’s abilities.

Stalin emerged from the Civil War and the Polish War with a greatly enhanced reputation. He had made mistakes but so, too, had others. To the people generally, he was still not well known. He was rarely in the public eye and, unlike Trotsky, he did not court publicity. Within the party, he was known as the quiet and incisive man of action, a leader of decision and authority. In the immense task facing the government, of reorganizing the country after the years of war and revolution, he was clearly a man who would bear special responsibilities.

The experience of the Civil War made a profound impact on Stalin. It broadened his knowledge of himself and his abilities. For the first time, he had responsibility on a vast scale, and he found that he could carry it and, indeed, was stimulated by it. But this self-knowledge came in conditions of complete brutalization. He had witnessed the bread war when villages and whole towns were wiped out in the struggle to ensure grain deliveries to the north. He had been schooled in the principle that the party’s purposes must be pursued, no matter what the cost in human lives. Now he had seen people massacred in thousands in the struggle for the survival of the party and its government. The experience implanted more deeply in him that inhumanity which was to mark his exercise of power.

Nicopolis 25 September 1396 Part I

The end of resistance to the Ottomans in Albania, northern Serbia and Bulgaria was to provoke energetic, though belated, action in the west. The Turks were in fact halted by Mongol armies from the east, not by the Christians from the west, but the ‘Crusade of Nicopolis’ of 1396 is an event of sufficient significance to justify a brief excursus on the history of crusading thought in the century after the disappearance of Christian rule in Syria. Throughout this period there was much discussion concerning the methods to be used to regain the territory now lost to Christianity. The ideas of the Catalan Ramon Llull (1232–1315/16) are of interest for their originality, though they had no practical effect. Llull had plans for military reconquest, but his most novel recommendation proposed the foundation of chairs of oriental languages in western universities. Muslims were to be converted by what might now be called ‘brain-washing’. Special linguist-preachers should ‘hold disputations with prisoners to convert them to the Holy Catholic faith’, and they should read certain books which prove that Mahomet was not a true prophet.

Afterwards the ruler-commander [under whom the military religious orders were to be unified] should release these captives. He should pay them their travelling expenses with a fair and friendly expression on his face, and send them off to the Saracen kings and other rulers … so that they should make clear to them (the rulers) what we believe concerning the most holy Trinity … and this will be a way of converting the Infidels and of spreading our most holy faith.

The most fundamental of the many disadvantages of this scheme was that the Christians very rarely succeeded in taking Muslim prisoners.

In the early fourteenth century the Byzantines lost western Anatolia to the Turks, of whom the most successful were the Ottomans who established themselves opposite Constantinople. This blocked further expansion until 1354, when involvement in the Byzantine civil wars allowed the Ottomans to establish a bridgehead at Gallipoli. This became their base for the conquest and settlement of Thrace, completed with their victory in 1371 over the Serbs at the battle of the Maritsa. Turkish expansion has been attributed to the ghazi-ethos, i.e. the Turks were warriors for the faith bent on extending the frontiers of Islam. They were also pastoralists seeking new lands for their flocks. They fed on the weakness of their opponents. In 1387 Thessalonica, the second city of the Byzantine Empire, voluntarily submitted to the Ottomans. In 1389 the Serbs were defeated at Kossovo and became their tributaries. In 1393 the Ottomans entered Trnovo and annexed Bulgaria. They were also taking over the Turkish emirates in Anatolia, including in 1397 Karaman.

The threat from the Turks gave a new lease of life to the crusade which had lost its purpose after the fall of Acre in 1291. The Knights Hospitallers led the way. In 1308 they seized Rhodes from the Byzantines and used it as a base against Turkish piracy in the Aegean. Their success encouraged crusading activity which suited Venetian commercial interest and pandered to nostalgia for the glories of the crusade. There was a fashion for the creation of chivalric orders dedicated to the promotion of the crusade. The main success came with the crusade of 1344, which conquered Smyrna, handing it over to the Knights Hospitallers. The initiative thus wrested from the Turks in the Aegean, the focus of the crusade now became Cyprus, where Peter I was preparing a crusade against the Mamluks of Egypt. Alexandria was stormed in 1365, but any further progress was dampened by the Venetians who feared for their trade with Egypt.


During the period of internal wars in Hungary, relations between the kingdom and its neighbours changed profoundly and irreversibly. Ottoman expansion reached Hungary in 1389 and the kingdom was soon compelled to adopt a defensive policy to counter this threat. From this time until the catastrophe of Mohács, Hungary lived, almost without interruption, under the constant menace of Ottoman raids and invasions, which, besides straining her economic and military forces to the limit, also led to internal conflicts. Proud of their ancestors’ warlike traditions, the nobility found the necessity of a defensive policy unacceptable. They demanded the same offensive attitude towards the Ottoman empire as had for so long prevailed towards others. The failures that were bound to follow were invariably blamed on those who happened to be in power.

In early 1389, Lazarus, prince of Serbia, confirmed his allegiance to Sigismund, but he was killed in June at the battle of Kosovo, and his son Stephen Lazarević soon became an Ottoman vassal. In early 1390 Turkish troops devastated the region of Timişoara, in 1391 they did the same in Srem, and thereafter their incursions became regular occurrences. Sigismund took the threat seriously from the very first moment. As early as the autumn of 1389 he led an expedition to Serbia, taking Čestin and Borač by siege, and he repeated the action in 1390 and 1391. In 1392 he pushed forward as far as Ždrelo, but Sultan Bayezid, who arrived there in person, refused to give battle. In 1393 the barons led a campaign along the southern frontiers, and Sigismund was also there in August 1394. In early 1395 he mounted an expedition against Moldavia and forced its prince to submit, but this success proved only temporary and Moldavia soon shifted back under the influence of Poland. By this time Wallachia had passed temporarily under the suzerainty of the Ottomans, who raided Transylvania for the first time in 1394. Mircea cel Bătrîn, prince of Wallachia, who had hitherto opposed Hungary with Polish support, asked Sigismund for help in order to regain his land. On 7 March 1395, in Braşov, he agreed to be a vassal of Hungary. However, on 17 May the Hungarian army sent to Wallachia was defeated and its commander, Stephen Losonci, killed. In July Sigismund himself invaded the province, restored Mircea to his throne and recovered from the Ottomans the castle of Minor Nicopolis on the Danube.

These wars were exhausting and yielded only meagre results. Consequently, Sigismund decided to settle the Turkish problem once and for all. He set about organising a major enterprise with the ambitious aim of driving the Ottomans out of Europe. In 1395 his envoys made a tour of the courts of Europe and an embassy may also have been sent to the Mamluk sultan of Egypt. As a result of these efforts the Pope declared the planned expedition a crusade, and by the summer of 1396 an army of considerable size had assembled. Alongside the Hungarians and their Wallachian auxiliaries, the core of the army was made up of Frenchmen, with John of Nevers, heir to Burgundy, at their head, though knights also came from Germany, Bohemia, Italy and even England. In August the army, led by Sigismund, invaded Bulgaria along the Danube and laid siege to Nicopolis. Bayezid, leading the counter-attack in person, marched to relieve the beleaguered castle, and it was there that a European army faced the Ottomans for the first time. The battle, which for a long time was to determine the nature of Hungaro-Ottoman relations, took place on 25 September 1396. The crusader army was virtually destroyed, allegedly as a consequence of the ill-considered actions of the French knights. As for Hungarian casualties, several barons were killed, Palatine Jolsvai captured, and Sigismund himself barely escaped with his life, fleeing on a ship to Constantinople and returning by sea to Dalmatia in January 1397.

The last of the major crusading ventures was the outcome of the great Ottoman victory of 1389. Like the al-Mahdiya expedition, the Crusade of Nicopolis was made possible by the long lull in the Anglo-French war. In 1395 negotiations led to the formation of a league involving France, England, Hungary, Venice and Burgundy: Duke Philip the Bold was the principal promoter and his son John of Nevers (the future John the Fearless) commanded the Franco-Burgundian element. More than half of the very large Christian force involved were Hungarians. In the summer of 1396 this army advanced from Buda along the Danube and besieged Nicopolis. Sigismund of Hungary, experienced in warfare against the Ottomans, favoured cautious tactics, but the French could only think in terms of the headlong chivalric assault which had cost them so dear at Crécy and Poitiers. When Bayezid broke off the siege of Constantinople and came to the aid of Nicopolis the French at once launched an attack (25 September 1396). After winning ground in the early stages of the engagement, they were defeated with the loss of almost their entire force. The Ottomans then turned against the Hungarians, who had held aloof from the French battle, and they too were overcome. Most of the French prisoners were put to death, but Bayezid spared the nobles, who were later ransomed for a fee of 200,000 florins. Among these was John of Nevers, who reached home the following year.

The catastrophe of Nicopolis demonstrated that the Ottoman empire represented a power against which Hungary was unable to wage an offensive war, even with support from abroad. The hope that Ottoman attacks might be stopped through a single determined effort vanished. From this point on priority was given to defence rather than to offensive campaigns. The kingdom had to learn how to live with the constant menace of Turkish incursions.

The great military undertaking of 1396 had failed to halt the Turkish advance and Constantinople would almost certainly have fallen within a few years but for the defeat of Bayezid by Timur in 1402. Throughout the preceding century the western Christians had compared unfavourably with their opponents—whom they had consistently underrated—in every respect. Their tactics and discipline had been inferior and they had fought in unsuitable armour. Above all, their efforts had been spasmodic and had been frustrated by internal divisions and conflicting motives. As an old man, Philip of Mézières, the great crusading propagandist of the age, learned the news of the crushing defeat of his hopes at Nicopolis. In these last, sad years of his life he was accustomed to write of himself ruefully as a vieil abortif‘(an old failure).

Bayezid’s defeat and capture near Ankara in 1402 postponed Ottoman domination throughout south-eastern Europe for several decades. During this period both Venice and the kingdom of Hungary were sufficiently powerful to dispute what was left of the Eastern Empire with the Turks—though inevitably they were rivals and not allies. After the death of Sigismund (1437) Hungary lost much of its cohesion, and the eventual successor, Ladislas of Poland, had to struggle for control in Hungary as well as fighting the Turks in Serbia. The campaigns of 1442–4, which probably saved Constantinople from conquest by Murad II, were fought under the virtual leadership of John Hunyadi of Transylvania, a Wallachian noble who had come into prominence in the service of Hungary. Hunyadi was also involved in the attempt to exploit Murad’s absence in Asia during 1444, which culminated in the disastrous defeat of Varna, in which king Ladislas was killed. Surviving this battle, Hunyadi became regent in Hungary for Ladislas Posthumus, the grandson of Sigismund and heir to Ladislas III. Hunyadi in his turn became preoccupied with internal factional strife, and in the following years the main role in opposing the Ottomans was assumed by the Albanian George Castriot, later known as Scanderbeg (born c. 1405). Scanderbeg had been taken by the Turks in youth as a hostage and, as a Moslem, served them for many years before he fled to his native land and set up as the leader of resistance there in 1443.

Nicopolis 25 September 1396 Part II

The Crusade of Nicopolis in 1396 was disorganised and badly led: the result was a catastrophic defeat. However, it was the aftermath of the battle which produced the greatest impact in Europe. Jean de Froissart described in Book 4 of his Chronicle how, after the battle, the Sultan ordered the execution of many of his noble prisoners, harsh recompense for the slaughter of Ottoman prisoners by the French. A miniature in one edition of Froissart shows the bodies of the decapitated men beginning to pile up before the Sultan, who wished to make an example that his enemies would not forget. The watercolour in Loqman’s sixteenth-century Ottoman court history, like Froissart, shows the Turk as a fearsome enemy. By the time the Ottomans finally captured Constantinople in 1453, the image of their implacable cruelty had been formed and reinforced over almost three generations.

Whilst besieging Nicopolis, the crusader army became aware of Bayezid’s advance. It was Sigismund’s intention to deploy his unreliable vassals, the voivodes of Wallachia and Transylvania, in -front of his main body in order to force them to fight. But the French demanded the honour of the van and charged directly at Bayezid’s position. Behind a screen of Akinji light cavalry, and invisible to the westerners, lay a belt of sharpened wooden stakes, at chest height to the horses, full of Janissary archers. As the Turkish light cavalry melted away to the flanks, the crusaders lost their horses to both the arrows and the obstacles. Undeterred, they abandoned their mounts and attacked on foot, routing the unarmoured bowmen. Unfortunately, when they saw the crusaders’ horses galloping back across the plain, the Wallachians and Transylvanians made off. Meanwhile, the French arrived at the top of the hill, exhausted by their efforts, to find the cream of Bayezid’s heavy cavalry – the Spahis – awaiting them. Surrounded and overwhelmed, they surrendered en masse. Sigismund’s Hungarians arrived too late, and were themselves driven off by the flanking attack of Bayezid’s Christian Serbian vassals. The outcome epitomized the difference between Bayezid’s well-balanced defence in depth and a headstrong western charge. Numbers on both sides are difficult to assess, but there is no reason to believe that the Turks greatly exceeded the crusaders. They were Simply better disciplined and better led.

The Battle

This was the battle that ended the ill-fated crusade, largely financed by the Duke of Burgundy, that had been organised in response to appeals for aid against the Ottoman Turks from the future emperor Sigismund, king of Hungary. Contemporary chroniclers claim that the combined Hungarian and crusader forces comprised 50-62,000 Hungarians (26,000 of them mercenaries), 10,000 Wallachians under Mircea the Old, 16,000 Transylvanians, 10-14,000 Frenchmen and Burgundians, 6,000 Germans, 1,000 Englishmen and 12-13,000 Poles, Bohemians and Italians. These figures, however, are fantastically high and can probably be largely discounted; in reality they may have totalled only 12-16,000 men (Schiltberger, an eyewitness, says 16,000, while Froissart puts the French crusader cavalry at no more than 700 men). Similarly, although another eye-witness (the author of the ‘Religieux de Saint-Denis’) reported the opposing Ottoman forces, commanded by Sultan Bayezid, as comprising a vanguard of 24,000, main battle of 30,000 and rearguard and household troops of 40,000, the Turks perhaps really numbered no more than 15-20,000 men, two Ottoman sources actually putting their own strength at just 10,000 men. Whereas the Christian forces were almost entirely cavalry, those of the Turks included a substantial number of infantry.

Marching to the relief of besieged Nicopolis, Bayezid chose a defensive position on a rise, straddling the road to the city with his flanks protected by ravines. His first line comprised irregular horse (i. e. akinjis, 8,000 of them according to Froissart), behind which infantry archers were drawn up in 2 large companies behind a line of stakes that was 16 feet deep. Behind these were his feudal cavalry, and behind these again, on his flanks, were two reserves, that on the left of Serbs under Stephen Lazarevic, that on the right being composed of the troops of the Porte under Bayezid himself, ‘hidden in a certain copse to avoid detection’ according to Doukas, the Religieux confirming that Bayezid’s division was hidden behind a bill.

Sigismund’s sound proposal that his own light troops should open the attack, to soften up the Ottomans for the decisive charge of the Western European heavy cavalry, was met with hostility by the haughty French and Burgundian crusaders, who regarded it as an insult to be put in what they deemed the rearguard position. Consequently, claiming that Sigismund wanted only to rob them of ‘the honour of striking the first blow’, they spurred ahead of their allies and approached the Ottoman position totally unsupported. As they came within range the Turkish light cavalry opened fire with their bows, then wheeled left and right (though not without casualties) to reveal the stakes and infantry archers, who outflanked the crusaders on both sides. These too now opened fue, upon which the crusaders charged uphill against them, negotiating the stakes with considerable losses, and many of them either dismounted or unhorsed, until they finally reached the Ottoman infantry, of whom they allegedly killed 10,000.

However, while thus disordered (as Bayezid had planned), the crusaders were counter-attacked by the Ottoman feudal cavalry. These too they managed to break through after a hard struggle in which 5,000 more Turks are claimed to have died, only to then be finally overwhelmed by Bayezid’s 10-40,000 men, who came in on one end of their line. Most of the understandably biased Western chroniclers claim that Sigismund’s Hungarians had fled by this time, but the eye-witness Schiltberger reports that a second battle now took place as the Hungarian and crusader main battle – although abandoned by its left flank (the Wallachians) and right flank (the Transylvanians) as it became apparent, from the riderless crusader horses stampeding past, that Bayezid was the victor up ahead- advanced in the wake of the French and Burgundians, cutting down the reformed Ottoman infantry, 12,000 in number, as they came. The feudal cavalry too were being pushed back when suddenly Bayezid’s Serbian vassals emerged from ambush and overthrew Sigismund’s banner, upon which the Hungarians broke and fled, to be pursued in rout to their ships anchored on the Danube.

In a battle that had lasted only 3 hours contemporaries estimated that the Christians had lost 8-100,000 men, the reality undoubtedly lying somewhere in between; Schiltberger says they lost 10,000. The Turks also suffered severe losses (Western contemporaries exaggeratedly claimed 6-30 were killed for every Christian), figures ranging from 16-60,000. Enraged by his heavy casualties, the next morning Bayezid executed the majority of his prisoners (300 according to Froissart, 3,000 according to the Religieux and 10,000 according to Schiltberger), the survivors being given to his army as slaves, except for a small handful of the very highest rank who were eventually ransomed.

Naval Crusade

The so-called “crusade of Nicopolis” started as a Burgundian and Hungarian affair. The chronology, the events and the outcome of the expedition are well known. Less clear are the actions of the fleet. In February 1396 four Venetian galleys were already in partibus Romanie but the captain of the Gulf was instructed to avoid any clash with the Ottoman ships. In April the Venetians expressed their concern about the slow preparations of the crusade and their impression that the expedition seemed to rely only on Hungarian forces. Even in these circumstances the Venetians assured King Sigismund that the Venetian fleet would wait for Christian forces from July until the middle of August. Sigismund was asked to keep the Venetian commander informed about the progress of the crusade and especially if the expedition was cancelled.

The naval strength of the crusade of Nicopolis seems to have been composed exclusively of Venetian and Hospitaller knights’ ships. Nevertheless, there was no joint action or coordination between the two squadrons and it seems that each fleet followed its own plan. This situation was caused by older disputes between the Order and the Republic, but also by the fact that Venice recognised the authority of the Roman pontif, Boniface IX, while the Hospitallers were faithful to the Avignon pope, Benedict XIII.

The Venetians were unable to break through the Straits because of defensive measures undertaken by Bayezid I at Gallipoli. For this reason, the Venetian galleys may have stopped at Tenedos. As a matter of fact, Francisc Pall suggested that the episode regarding the Venetian ships’ entrance on the Danube was just a tale of the Venetian chroniclers who were eager to underline, on the one hand, the Republic’s attachment to the crusade and, on the other, the ingratitude of the King of Hungary who, in 1396, owed his salvation to the Venetian galleys. The Hospitallers’ fleet headed from Rhodes towards Smyrna, but from this point on, the itinerary is very hard to know. Jean Christian Poutiers assumed that the ships commanded by Philibert of Naillac might have entered the Black Sea and the Danube. Should this scenario prove correct, it might explain the way in which Sigismund of Luxemburg reached Constantinople after the defeat.

The results of the naval expedition from 1396 are far from being spectacular. The fleet could not make the junction with the land forces and was not able to stop the disaster of September 25, 1396. The sultan’s victory compelled Venice to take defensive measures not only for its own territories, but also in Constantinople, which was in a dire situation. After the success of Nicopolis, Bayezid I was willing to grant the Venetians peace “on sea”, but not also on land, where he claimed the Venetian possessions Argos, Nauplion, Atena, Durazzo and Scutari. Venice, in turn, wished to get an agreement for its possessions in the Peloponnese and Albania, but refused to accept peace on sea because of increasing activity by Turkish pirates. Given these conditions, the last years of the fourteenth century were very difficult for Venetian possessions in Romania.

Composition of crusader forces

From France, it was said about 2,000 knights and squires joined, and were accompanied by 6,000 archers and foot soldiers drawn from the best volunteer and mercenary companies. Totaling some 10,000 men. Next in importance were the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes, who were the standard bearers of Christianity in the Levant since the decline of Constantinople and Cyprus. Venice supplied a naval fleet for supporting action, while Hungarian envoys encouraged German princes of the Rhineland, Bavaria, Saxony and other parts of the empire to join. French heralds had proclaimed the crusade in Poland, Bohemia, Navarre and Spain, from which individuals came to join.

The Italian city-states were too much engaged in their customary violent rivalries to participate, and the widely reported and acclaimed English participation never actually occurred. The report of 1000 English knights comes from contemporary Antonio Fiorentino, and was taken as fact by historian Aziz S. Atiya and others following him. A thousand knights would have actually amounted to “four to six thousand men and at least twice as many horses”, counting foot-soldiers and other retainers. However, there are no records of financial arrangements being made in England to send a force abroad, nor of any royal preparation needed to organize and dispatch such a force. Reports of Henry of Bolingbroke or other “son of the Duke of Lancaster” leading an English contingent must be false since the presence of Henry and every other such son, as well as almost every other significant noble in the land, is recorded at the king’s wedding five months after the crusade’s departure. Atiya also thought that the invocation of St. George as a war cry at Nicopolis signified the presence of English soldiers, for whom George was a patron saint; but Froissart, who mentions this, claims that the cry was made by the French knight Philippe d’Eu. Furthermore, there was no collection of ransom money in England to pay for captives, as there was in every other country that had sent men to the battle. Sporadic mention in contemporary accounts of the presence of “English” may be attributed to Knights Hospitaller of the English tongue subgrouping, who joined their comrades for the crusade after leaving Rhodes (where the Hospitallers were based at the time) and sailing up the Danube. Possible reasons for the English absence include the increasing tension between the king and the Duke of Gloucester, which may have convinced the two that they had best keep their supporters close, and the antipathy caused by the long war between the English and French, resulting in the English refusing to consider putting themselves under a French-led crusade, regardless of the recently concluded peace.

Nevertheless, obviously inflated figures continue to be repeated. These include 6-8,000 Hungarians, ~ 10,000 French, English and Burgundian troops, ~ 10,000 Wallachians led by Mircea cel Batran (Mircea The elder) the prince of Wallachia, ~ 6,000 Germans and nearly 15,000 Dutch, Bohemian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Bulgarian, Scottish and Swiss troops on the land, with the naval support of Venice, Genoa and the Knights of St. John. These result in a figure of about 47,000 – 49,000 in total; possibly up to 120,000 or 130,000 according to numerous sources, including the 15th-century Ottoman historian Şükrullah who gives the figure of the Crusader army as 130,000 in his Behçetu’t-Tevârih.

Composition of Ottoman forces

Also estimated at about 20-25,000; but inflated figures continue to be repeated of up to 60,000 according to numerous sources including the 15th-century Ottoman historian Şükrullah, who gives the figure of the Ottoman army as 60,000 in his Behçetu’t-Tevârih; alternately described as roughly half of the Crusader army. The Ottoman force also included 1,500 Serbian heavy cavalry knights under the command of Prince Stefan Lazarević, who was Sultan Bayezid’s vassal since the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, as well as his brother-in-law after the Sultan married Stefan’s sister, Princess Olivera Despina, the daughter of Prince Lazar of Serbia (Stefan’s father) who had perished at Kosovo.

RAN (1985)


Ran is a Japanese-French war film/period tragedy directed, edited, and co-written by Akira Kurosawa, adapted from Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear and the legends surrounding daimyō Mōri Motonari. The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Sengoku-era warlord who abdicates for his three sons—with disastrous results.


Akira Kurosawa first conceived of the idea for the film that would become Ran (Japanese for “chaos” or “discord”) in the early 1970s, when he read about Mōri Motonari (1497–1571), a powerful daimyō in the Chūgoku region of Japan who is remembered as one of the greatest warlords of the Sengoku period (mid-16th century). Though a brilliant diplomat and strategist, Motonari is best known for an event that probably never happened: the “lesson of the three arrows,” a parable that Motonari illustrated by giving each of his three sons an arrow to break. He then gave them three arrows bundled together and pointed out that although one may be easily broken, three bundled together are impossible to break. Motonari actually had nine sons (two of whom died in childhood) but most prominent of them were the three sons the parable concerns: Mōri Takamoto (1523–1563), Kikkawa Motoharu (1530–1586), and Kobayakawa Takakage (1533–1597). Formulating a scenario that could generate real drama, Kurosawa imagined trouble among the three brothers rather than unity and reasonableness. As he later told an interviewer, “What might their story be like, I wondered, if the sons had not been so good? It was only after I was well into writing the script about these imaginary unfilial sons of the Mōri clan that the similarities to [Shakespeare’s 1606 tragedy, King] Lear occurred to me. Since the story is set in medieval Japan, the protagonist’s children had to be men; to divide a realm among daughters would have been unthinkable” (Grilli, 2008, p. 126). Kurosawa and two co-writers—Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide—had a draft of a screenplay completed by 1975, but Kurosawa would not be able to arrange financing for an expensive, large-scale epic set in medieval Japan for another seven years. In the meantime, he painted storyboards of every shot in Ran and made Dersu Uzala (1975) and Kagemusha (1980), the latter of which he described as a “dress rehearsal” for Ran. In 1982 Kurosawa finally secured funding for Ran from two sources: Japanese producer Masatoshi Hara (Herald Ace Productions) and French producer Serge Silberman (Greenwich Film Productions). After the box office success of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva (1981), Silberman was able to put up most of the money needed to back Ran, which ended up costing ¥2.4 billion (i.e., $12 million), the most expensive Japanese film produced up to that time. Kurosawa cast Tatsuya Nakadai (who played the dual lead roles in Kagemusha) as Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Sengoku-era warlord based on Mōri Motonari who decides to abdicate as ruler in favor of his three sons. Prior to production, several hundred elaborate costumes had to be created by hand, an arduous process that took two years to complete. Pre-production also involved extensive location scouting and set construction, for example, a castle destroyed in the middle of the movie had to be specially built on the slopes of Mount Fuji, only to be burned down.


Akira Kurosawa was 75 years old when he directed Ran (June 1984–February 1985) and was nearly blind when the initial photography started. He required assistance in order to frame his shots, and his assistants used hundreds of his storyboard paintings as templates to construct and film scenes. Almost the entire film is done in long shot, with only a handful of close-ups. An enormous undertaking, Ran used some 1,400 extras, 1,400 suits of armor (designed by Kurosawa himself), and 200 horses, some of them imported from the United States. Over his long career, Kurosawa worked with the same crew of technicians and assistants. Toward the end of the shoot, Kurosawa lost two of his old stalwarts. In January 1985, Fumio Yamoguchi, the sound recordist on nearly all of Kurosawa’s films since 1949, and Ryu Kuze, action coordinator on many of them, died within a few days of each other. A month later (1 February 1985), Kurosawa’s wife of 39 years, Yôko Yaguchi, also died. Kurosawa halted filming for just one day to mourn before resuming work on the picture.

Plot Summary

[Act I] Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), a powerful warlord near the end of his life, decides to divide his kingdom among his three sons: Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu). The oldest son, Taro, is bequeathed the sought-after First Castle and is named commander of the Ichimonji clan. Jiro and Saburo are given the Second and Third Castles, respectively. Hidetora retains his title of Great Lord, and the two younger sons are expected to rally behind Taro. Saburo calls his father a fool, stating that he can’t expect loyalty from sons who grew up watching their father use the most cruel, heartless methods for power and domination. Hidetora is threatened by his son, but his servant, Tango (Masayuki Yui), defends Saburo. Hidetora responds by exiling both men. Nobuhiro Fujimaki (Hitoshi Ueki), a visiting warlord, sees Saburo’s fervor and forthrightness and asks him to wed his daughter. [Act II] After Hidetora divides his remaining lands between Jiro and Saburo, Taro’s wife, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), encourages Taro to gain control of the entire clan. Emboldened, Taro tells Hidetora to give up his title of Great Lord. Hidetora, now betrayed by two sons, runs to Jiro’s castle only to discover that Jiro plans to use him in his own scheme for power and influence. Unsure of where to go, Hidetora and his company depart from Jiro’s castle. Tango finds his father and informs Hidetora of Taro’s new decree: anyone who assists Hidetora will be sentenced to death. Hidetora flees to Saburo’s castle, which was left empty when Saburo went into exile. [Act III] Hidetora and his samurais are attacked by Taro’s and Jiro’s forces. In the ensuing battle, almost all of Hidetora’s men are killed and the Third Castle is set on fire. Hidetora, alone and losing his mind, leaves the castle as it is consumed by flames. During the siege on the castle, Taro is killed by a bullet from Jiro’s general, Shuri Kurogane’s (Hisashi Igawa) gun. Meanwhile, Hidetora wanders the wilderness and is found by Tango, who tries to assist him. The pair take shelter in a peasant’s home, but realize that the peasant is Tsurumaru (Mansai Nomura), the brother of Lady Sué (Yoshiko Miyazaki), Jiro’s wife. Tsurumaru was a victim of Hidetora’s regime: he was blinded and left for dead after Hidetora murdered his father and conquered their land. [Act IV] After Taro’s death, Jiro takes on the title of the Great Lord, moving into the First Castle and commanding the Ichimonji clan. Jiro returns to the castle to find Lady Kaede, unbothered by Taro’s death, waiting to blackmail Jiro into an affair. Lady Kaede uses her influence with Jiro to call for Lady Sué’s death. Jiro orders Kurogane to carry out the task, but he declines, stating that Kaede will be the ruin of both Jiro and the clan. Kurogane runs to tell Sué and Tsurumaru to leave. Meanwhile, two ronin are captured by Tango, who coerces them to reveal plans for assassinating Hidetora. Tango leaves to share the news with Saburo. Hidetora is overtaken by madness and runs off into a volcanic plain while Kyoami (Pîtâ) runs after him. Saburo and Jiro meet on the battlefield and agree on a truce, and Saburo becomes concerned by the report of his father’s onset of madness. While Saburo meets with Kyoami and takes 10 warriors along to rescue Hidetora, Jiro takes advantage of the situation and sends gunners to ambush his brother and father. Jiro also attacks Saburo’s army, which falls back into the woods as the soldiers go on the defensive. As the family is warring, a messenger shares news that Ayabe, a rival lord, is headed towards the First Castle. At the same time, Saburo locates Hidetora, and the father experiences a reprieve from his insanity and begins to heal his relationship with his son. However, in the midst of the reconciliation, one of Jiro’s snipers kills Saburo. Hidetora dies out of sadness. Fujimaki arrives with his troops to see Tango and Kyoami grieving. [Act V] In the meantime, Tsurumaru and Sué get to the ruined castle, but realize that they forgot a flute at Tsurumaru’s home, one that Sué had gifted to Tsurumaru at the time of his banishment. She goes back for the flute, but is discovered and murdered by one of Jiro’s assassins. Simultaneously, Ayabe’s army attacks the First Castle. When Kurogane hears that Lady Sué has been killed by Jiro’s assassin, he corners Kaede and pushes her for information. She comes clean about her plot to obliterate Hidetora and his clan to avenge the deaths of her family members. Kurogane decapitates Kaede for her treachery. As Ayabe’s army overtakes the First Castle, Jiro, Kurogane, and all of Jiro’s men are killed. Tsurumaru is left amidst the rubble, alone.


Ran had its world premiere in Tokyo on 25 May 1985. It was subsequently screened at a number of film festivals before going into staggered general release in about two dozen countries. Ran did not do very well at the box office, initially making only enough to break even. It did, however, receive Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design (which it won), among many other international nominations and awards. Reviews were, for the most part, adulatory. Vincent Canby wrote, “Though big in physical scope and of a beauty that suggests a kind of drunken, barbaric lyricism, Ran has the terrible logic and clarity of a morality tale seen in tight close-up, of a myth that, while being utterly specific and particular in its time and place, remains ageless, infinitely adaptable … Here is a film by a man whose art now stands outside time and fashion” (Canby, 1985). Roger Ebert called the film “visually magnificent” and said he realized on seeing it again in 2000 that “the action doesn’t center on the old man, but has a fearful energy of its own, through which he wanders. Kurosawa has not told the story of a great man whose sin of pride drives him mad, but the story of a man who has waged war all his life, hopes to impose peace in his old age and unleashes even greater turmoil” (Ebert, 2000). Decades after its release, most film critics and scholars view Ran as Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece.

Reel History Versus Real History

The story that Ran tells is, of course, entirely fictional. One can only judge its historical accuracy in terms of its depictions of medieval Japanese castles; the look, dress, and demeanor of the Ichimonji clan; the conduct in battle of the samurai; etc. On these counts, Ran has extraordinary verisimilitude.

The S-500 Prometheus

The S-500 Prometheus is touted as being capable of intercepting stealth warplanes.

Air defence missile battery: Image for illustration.

S-400 air defence system in Syria

Russian S-500 air defence system (ADS) the future development of the popular S-400 will enter serial production next year following its recent successful test in the “hot and dusty” conditions of Syria.

Dubbed “Prometheus” the S-500 is considered a major advancement of not only the S-400 but also other ADS in the World such as the US Patriot. Its stand-out feature is that it integrates the radar feeds of low and high level defence systems through a single command and control system; tracks, prioritizes and defeats simultaneous threats such as ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and drones.

Russian daily, Izvestia reported yesterday quoting MoD sources that the most important elements of the Russian S-500 have been tested in Syria in which certain problems were identified and quickly eliminated.

Citing the reasons for selecting Syria as a location for qualification trials of the S-500, an unnamed source told the Russian daily, “Syria is well suited for such trials – it is always hot there, a lot of dust. In addition, the radar has to work around the clock – the situation in the republic is turbulent and anti-aircraft gunners must constantly maintain a radar field.”

A possible reason for the Syrian test could be the availability of multiple “targets.” Aircraft and drones operated by Syrian, Israeli, US, Turkish and Iranian air forces not to mention drones by terrorist groups operate over the Syrian skies giving the Russians an opportunity to test the S-500 against multiple threats and varying scenarios.

The key differentiator of the S-500 “Prometheus” system over the S-400 is a combat control point (PBU) with an automatic control system (ACS). All information from the radars of not only the S-500, but also third-party radars, anti-aircraft systems and higher air defense command posts are assimilated into the PBU which then operates automatically to select and defeat the threat.

The S-500 includes a radar detection system (RLC), which is responsible for the long-distance search and identification of ballistic and aerodynamic targets.  In addition, a multi-functional “backlight” radar guides anti-aircraft missiles to low flying targets.

A long-range high-altitude radar detector has been developed which allows the command center to most accurately set the coordinates and flight path of ballistic and aerodynamic targets. This radar is capable of finding missiles, aircraft, helicopters and small drones at any altitude. This radar works both for the S-400 and S-500.

“The high-altitude radar and the PBU allow building reliable air defense without external sources of information,” an expert told Izvestia. “A high-altitude detector helps track targets in real-time. The PBU then distributes them between the air defense systems of a particular area.

Serial production of the S-500 will begin in the second half of 2020. Training of specialist officers for Prometheus began in 2017 at the Military Academy of the Military Space Defense in Tver. They are preparing combat crews for new anti-aircraft systems and systems.


As the chief designer of the Almaz-Antey Concern, Pavel Sozinov, noted, the air defense system is designed to intercept targets at unimaginable distances – several hundred kilometers from the Earth.

“Interception in the upper atmosphere is real. It is hundreds of kilometers from the Earth. It is a system that solves a whole range of tasks of both air defense and missile defense. Today we are testing the elements of the system with the maximum cost savings for testing,” Sozinov said in an interview.

Ahead of the planet

The promising complex was studied by the commercial director of the Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine, military expert Alexei Leonkov. On the radio of Sputnik, he noted that the S-500 is unique and universal.

“There are no analogues. Even the closest competitors – the Americans – have two separate complexes. This is the Patriot complex, which works to certain heights, and the THAAD missile defense complex, which works only for ballistic purposes. And we get a universal complex that can work and on-air targets at long ranges, and on high-altitude targets – at high altitudes, “said Alexei Leonkov.

Recall, recently in the USA they lamented that they do not have complexes capable of intercepting targets in the upper atmosphere.

Earlier, Pravda.Ru wrote about the timing of receipt of the S-500 in the arsenal of the Russian army.

The day is not far off when the first samples of the new brainchild of the Almaz-Antey concern, the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system, will enter the arsenal of the Russian army. At the same time, tests are ongoing of another modern S-350 Vityaz complex, which will replace the S-300PS air defense system.

This is described in a material published by the American publication The National Interest, observer Dave Majumdar, quoting the commander of the air defense forces of the Russian Air Force, Lieutenant General Viktor Gumenny: “We expect that the first samples of the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system will be delivered to the troops soon”.

The new complex, which will occupy the upper tier of the echeloned unified air defense system of Russia, will be able to fight targets at altitudes of about 200 kilometers. This means that the S-500 will be able to hit the approaching supersonic aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles of the enemy at a distance of 640 kilometers. The first regiment of new anti-aircraft missile systems will defend Moscow and the central part of Russia.

It is expected that the S-500 will be able to detect and simultaneously hit up to 10 warheads of ballistic missiles flying at speeds up to seven kilometers per second. In addition, this system is equipped with interceptor missiles with an active homing radar, which resembles the THAAD system (a missile defense system for mobile ground-based for high-altitude atmospheric interception of medium-range missiles), Lockheed Martin.

Like all modern Russian air defense systems, the S-500 must be highly mobile and have a whole network of radars providing interception and guidance at a target over long distances. It will use the 91N6A (M) combat control radar, a modified 96L6-CPU target radar and target radar, as well as new multi-mode 76T6 and 77T6 anti-missile radars, as reported by the Missile Threat publication of the George Marshall and Clermont Institutes.

Arado Ar 234 bomber/recce

In was decided in May of 1944 that the experienced Maj. Robert Kowalewski’s KG 76 would be the first Luftwaffe unit to receive the jet-powered Ar 234 bomber now starting to come out of the Arado factory. The only operation of the 234 in the summer of 1944 was as a high-performance camera carrying reconnaissance aircraft. Flying as Kommando Sperling the Staffel-sized unit demonstrated the dramatic capabilities of the B-series aircraft in several spectacular reconnaissance missions over the Allied invaders in August and later in the fall. After months of complete inability to gather aerial reconnaissance Kommando Sperling gave the Luftwaffe ability to scout Allied rear positions freely at will. The plane was a tremendous success.

But the III/KG 76 under Hptm. Dieter Lukesch would be the first unit to be equipped with the revolutionary bomber. Lukesch first flew the plane in July; it was love at first sight. It was very fast, easy to control and with the bubble glass nose possessed excellent visibility. On August 26th the first two bombers were delivered to the unit. Conversion training from their Ju-88A4s beginning almost immediately near Magdeburg. All the pilots chosen had extensive experience and Lukesch found that training went smoothly, although some had trouble with horizontal stability since the pilot was so far forward that there were no engines or wings to look at to help keep one’s bearings.

Helmut Rast was one of the chosen pilots. Rast had been a 19-year old student at Munich Technical School when the war broke out and soon became a flight instructor. However, he was bored with student flying and in 1943 obtained a transfer to the Luftwaffe’s major proving center at Rechlin as a test pilot. There he tested the very latest products of German genius, many of which were extremely dangerous in the test phase. But his personal favorite was the new Arado 234B the “Blitz” then in preparation for its assignment to the Luftwaffe as a reconnaissance aircraft. Rast found the jet a thing of beauty. The bubble-nosed bird handled smoothly and was exceptionally fast. Rast’s reputation flying the 234 rose quickly, being enlisted to conduct a mock combat with a Fw-190A, at the time one of the leading German piston powered aircraft. Rast’s 234 easily outpaced the Focke Wulf in level flight and was faster in climb and descent. One performance limitation was the 234’s turning radius which was very wide relative to the piston-powered fighter. But the major weakness was acceleration; the throttles of the Junkers Jumo 004Bs could not be changed rapidly during takeoff and landings. Vulnerable to attack, the low speed on approach or takeoff could not be changed quickly enough to execute defensive maneuver. Regardless, Rast’s superiors were greatly impressed by his mock combat. He was promoted to Unterfeldwebel and was eagerly assigned to the post of the first combat unit to use the 234, III Gruppe of KG 76. At Burg the pilots trained in earnest with their new craft.

There were problems with the bird, however, which had not really completed flight testing. “Hardly any aircraft arrived without defects,” and Lukesch remembered they “were caused by hasty completion and shortage of skilled labor at the factories.” Training continued throughout the fall, hampered by the slowly accumulating number of aircraft and a variety of accidents associated with the new type.

Two methods of aiming the 3,000 lb bomb load were developed. The first was to drop the bombs during a shallow dive with special periscope sight and a trajectory calculator; the second involved putting the jet on automatic pilot at high altitude and then using the Lotke 7K bombsight to release the bombs automatically after the target was centered in the crosshairs. This advanced technique had considerable safety advantages since high-speed, high-altitude flight could be maintained where the Ar 234 was nearly invulnerable to slower Allied fighters. However, Lukesch felt the method impractical since the Allies quickly learned to attempt attacks on the speedy jets from above with the faster piston types particularly the Tempests, and having one’s hands on the control and able to see behind the aircraft was vital to survive such assaults. Installation of the technically advanced autopilot also slowed the delivery of the aircraft to the unit and it was the end of October before III/KG 76 had 44 Ar 234s available.

Training conversion continued in earnest for the fledgling jet unit in November, although plagued by accidents. Some problems, such as getting used to the tricycle landing gear, were due to differences with the Ju-88, but a variety of troubles arose from the machines themselves. One unexpected problem was that the two Jumo 004 engines were too powerful for their own good and an unladen Ar 234 could easily approach the speed of sound where Chuck Yeager’s demon lived. A good example is the experience of Uffz. Ludwig Rieffel who was hurt when he mysteriously lost control of his Ar 234 near Burg on November 19th:

“The effects of nearing the sound barrier were virtually unknown to us at this time, the high speed of the aircraft sometimes surprising its victims. Rieffel was practicing a gliding attack when he experienced a reversal of the controls at Mach 1. He bailed out successfully, but the shock of the parachute opening at that speed ripped three of its sections from top to bottom. A freshly plowed field prevented him from being seriously injured. This happened later to Oblt. Heinkebut he was unable to escape from the aircraft which crashed into the ground in a vertical dive”

At the end of November KG 76 was reaching its operational strength with 68 Ar 234s on hand. On December 1st, the famous bomber ace and veteran of some 620 operational sorties, Maj. Hans-Georg Bätcher, took command of III/KG 76 to take the jet bombers into action. With so many bomber units now disbanded, Bätcher had the pick of the German bomber pilots. Pilots with the unit included Hptm. Diether Lukesch, holder of the Ritterkreuz with Oak Leaves and veteran of some 372 missions, as well as Hptm. Josef Regler, a veteran with 279 operational sorties under his belt. Unlike the fighter pilots, where the attrition and demand for pilots often meant low skill levels, the pilots with the Gruppe all had extensive flying experience.

Regardless of the minor danger posed by these small groups of German planes, the Allies had a phobia about them and kept their bases at Achmer, Hesepe and Rheine under constant surveillance. Only the profusion of 20mm flak around the bases and a standing guard of German piston-powered planes allowed the jets to get off the ground or land without being shot down during the vulnerable portion of their flight. Still the German bases harboring the jets received much unwelcome attention. A carpet-bombing raid on the Rheine base on November 13th killed many members of KG 51.

The Arado Ar 234 Blitz (Lightning) was the Luftwaffe’s second operational jet, the other being the Messerschmitt Me 262, and it was the first operational jet bomber and long-range, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Problems with engine development and landing gear configuration design, along with fuel and material shortages, delayed production until late in World War II, and too few became operational to change the war’s final outcome. Approximately 234 B and C variants were completed at Lönnewitz from December 1944 to early 1945.


Initial development began with Arado Flugzeugwerke engineers Walter Blume and Hans Rebeski submitting a technical proposal to the German Air Ministry. The proposal was accepted and a design team was established, led by T. Rüdiger Kosin. The aircraft was unlike any under development by the Allied Powers at the time and featured a slender fuselage, and high-wing design, with two Junkers Jumo 109-0004 turbojets housed in nacelles under the wings; these features gave it a maximum top speed of 456 miles per hour (735 kilometers per hour), outperforming any conventional radial or inline fighter. Another unusual design feature was the cockpit, which was located in the nose with a large glazed canopy affording the crew a wide viewing area. With a required combat range of some 1,300 miles (807 kilometers), the designers had to include internal tanks behind the cockpit.

The designers initially could not solve how to fit conventional landing gear due the Ar 234’s high-wing design. During takeoff, the early prototypes—Ar 234V-1 to V-5 (Ar 234A series)—employed a reusable tricycle trolley that was jettisoned upon becoming airborne, while landing skis fitted to the aft fuselage and wings were lowered for landing. The first prototype was completed and flight-tested in June 1943, followed by two more in September; the prototypes were initially ready by the end of 1941, but engine development and production became problematic, thus delaying testing and production by two years.

The Jumo 109-0004 powered both the Ar 234 and the Me 262; because the Me 262 took precedence, supplying the engines in adequate numbers was impossible. The powerplant also required a rebuild after only ten operational hours and was known for flameouts. Prototypes Ar 234V-6 to V-8 retained the carriage ski configuration but were powered by lower-thrust BMW 1009-003-A1 engines as an alternative to the -0004. Those three aircraft went into the development of the Ar 234C, in which fewer than half of the 14 produced were fitted with engines before the war ended.

A redesign requested by the Air Ministry consisted of enlarging the mid-fuselage, along with removal of a fuel tank to accommodate a tricycle landing gear, and installation of a recessed bomb bay in the fuselage and a periscopic optical sight above the cockpit for rearward viewing. The pilot-bombardier during a bomb run switched on the Patin PDS autopilot and then swung the control column away to use the Lotfe 7K bombsight. A maximum external and internal bomb load capacity of over 3,300 pounds (1,497 kilograms) reduced the maximum speed to 415 miles per hour (668 kilometers per hour). The three prototypes built in this fashion were designated Ar 234V-9 to V-11 (Ar 234B series) with the first test flight occurring in March 1944. Production units were designated Ar 234B.

Several of the trolley and ski prototypes and B-1 and B-2 airframes were modified as recon platforms, with the rear fuselage housing two to three vertical and oblique cameras: the Reihenbilder (Rb) 50/30, Rb 75/30, Rb 20/30 series. Two recon variants in development, consisting of the Ar 234C-1 and the two-man Ar 234D, were not completed.

Erich Sommer.


V-5 and V-7 prototypes, equipped with rocket-assisted takeoff (RATO) were sent to I./Versuchsverband Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe in July 1944 for operational evaluation. The first reconnaissance mission was conducted of the Allied landing areas in Normandy by Erich Summer, piloting the V-5 prototype on 2 August 1944. For this mission, two Rb50/30 cameras were mounted on the back of the fuselage, inclined at twelve degrees on either side of the aircraft, allowing photographs to be taken in a 10km band around the trajectory of the aircraft. On the same day, the plane was joined by the other prototype and between them they carried out other similar missions over the following three weeks. In September, the two planes were withdrawn from operations and replaced by the first Ar 234Bs. From October, this aircraft would perform its reconnaissance role, even flying over England in order to determine whether or not a new invasion was being prepared for the Netherland’s coast. It was only on 21 November that a training escort of P-51Bs saw the Luftwaffe’s jet aeroplane for the first time. Realising they’d been seen, the Arados were able to evade the Mustangs, thanks to their quicker speeds and ability to fly at greater altitude.

Special Unit Sonderkommando (SdKdo) Götz operated four Ar 234B-1s near Rheine in Westphalia, Germany, and ran reconnaissance missions over Allied-held territory and the British Isles beginning in October 1944. SdKdo Hecht and Sperling were activated in November 1944 but deactivated and replaced by I./Fernaufklärungsgruppe (FAGr) in January 1945. SdKdo Summer operated three Ar 234B1s at Udine in northern Italy, while I./FAGr 123, based in Germany and Norway, and I./FAGr 33 flew missions over Germany and Denmark.

Arado Ar 234B-2 "Nachtigall"

This particular aircraft (WNr 140146) was flown by Hauptmann Kurt Bonow based in Oranienburg during March 1945. It seems that during the last weeks of the War he managed to engage some RAF Mosquito night fighters although he failed to down any of them. Some references mention that a cramped radar compartment in the aft fuselage section (that normally contained aerial cameras) hosted a radar operator to help to zero on enemy aircraft.

The Ar 234 was also flown by Kommando Bonow, an experiment night-fighter unit which operated until the end of the war under the control of Luftflotte Reich.

On 11 November 1944, a test command under Hauptmann Bisign was established. Production was ordered to begin again. On 23 February 1945, Hauptman Bising and his radar operator have an accident on takeoff. On 26, March 1945, Hauptman Kurt Bonow, from Kommando 288, take command of the unit that was to be re-designated Erprobungskommando Bonow, based in Oranienburg. Bonow flew Wrk.Nr. 140146 plane. In the winter 1944-45 a single-seat Ar 234 B-1 was also converted and tested for night fighter rôle operating with Bonow’s Kommando. This plane was also armed with a WB weapon holder holding two MG 151 20 mm guns. This plane was successful for its pilot, a Oberfeldwebel, because it shot down in several occasions R.A.F. four powered bombers.”

“It is also known from photographic records that the prototype V-15 (Wrk.Nr. 130015 PH+SY) -originally used to test a configuration of four BMW 003A-1engine engines- was converted to Ar 234B-2/N standards and re-powered with Jumo 109-004B-1. This plane was the mount of Kap. Bisping from EKD N 234 during the last months of the conflict. That plane kept its original day-time camouflage scheme in colors RLM 70/65.”

Josef Bisping Arado Ar 234B-2/N V15 WrkNr.140145 SM+FE flown with Hptm. ALbert Vogel for 3./Versuchsverband OKL, Oranienburg – Berlin 1945.

Arado Ar 234B-2/N WrkNr.140150, SM+FJ flown for Kommando Bonow, Oranienburg – Berlin 1945.

Kurt Bonow Arado Ar 234B-2/N V15 WrkNr.140146 SM+FF flown with Ofw. Marchetti for Kommando Bonow, Oranienburg – Berlin 1945.

Sonderkommando Bonow


        * Hptm Bisping, 11.44 – 13.2.45

        * Maj Kurt Bonow, 13.2.45 – 4.45

    Formed 11.44 in Oranienburg as Sonderkommando Bisping, with Ar 234B, as an experimental nightfighter unit. It is not known if the unit operated any aircraft before 2.45.

    On 13.2.45 redesignated Sonderkommando Bonow. Operated with at least 2 Ar 234B. Disbanded 4.45(?)

    The sonderkommando was also known as Erprobungskommando 234.

The only jet-night-fighter unit was 10/NJG 11 (Kdo Welter) with max.12 Me 262 B-2 in 4-5/ 45.

The Kdo Bonow had 3 (known) Ar 234 B-2 NF for trial in 3-4/ 45.

Sonderkommando Bonow (Sd Kdo. Bonow)

Raised from Sd Kdo. Bisping in March 1945 following the death of Hauptmann Josef Bisping.

Continued the operational testing of the Ar 234B as a nightfighter under the command of Hauptmann Kurt Bonow.(13.2.45 – 4.45)

Bonow was the commander and sole operational pilot of the unit which flew two converted Ar 234B-2s. These aircraft had nose mounted radar and a belly pack containing two MG151/20 cannon.

This unit was controlled by Luflotte Reich.

The sonderkommando was also known as Erprobungskommando 234

Sonderkommando Bisping (Sd Kdo. Bisping)

On 12.12.1944, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe organised the establishment of two jet nightfighter Kommandos at Oranienburg – Welter (Me 262) and Bisping (Ar 234). The intention was that Lt Kurt Welter’s command would be equipped with three Me 262s and that of Hptm. Joseph Bisping should also have an equal complement of Ar 234 nightfighters.

Raised as an experimental nightfighter unit in late 1944 using the Ar 234B, after Kurt Welter had tested both the Ar 234 and the Me 262 and recommended that the Ar 234 was not suitable for nightfighting.

IBetween the 11th and 17th of December 1944 two flights in Ar 234B-2/N 140145 took place to test onboard systems. This machine is not reported again until another flight of barely 15 minutes duration followed in the middle of January 1945.

Commanded by Hauptmann Josef Bisping until his death in a take-off accident on 13 Feb 1945.

Command of this experimental unit then passed to Kurt Bonow (see Kdo. Bonow)

Ar 234B-2/N (Wkr Nr 140 145) SM+FE   Taken on charge by Kdo Bisping at an unknown date, crashed 13 Feb 1945 (Hptm Bisping and Hptm Vogl). This crash was during a night take-off and the cause was later identified as a servicing error. (According to a statement made by Hptm. Bonow.)

In the bomber version of the Ar234 B-2 the periscope housed also a PV1B shallow-dive-attack sighting head. In 1945, during the last weeks of the war, a handful of Ar234 B “Blitz” modified bombers were operative for the night defense rôle in the Berlin area. It was the Arado 234 B-2/N Nachtigall (nightingale). On July 1944, Arado worked on the development of Ar234 as a two-seater night fighter. Arado received the order to produce 30 planes at first. The design placed a second crew radar operator in the rear fuselage. On 20 September 1944, at Warneuchen and Oranienburg, began the conversion of the first Ar234 B-2/N. It was reequipped with FuG216 Neptun V or FuG 218 radar system and aerials, and the WB 151 weapon holder, known as “Magirus Bombe, placed on the central bomb bay of the aeroplane holding two 20 mm MG151 with 200 r.p.g each. RLM stopped the reequipping to deliver the jet bomber version for the units of KG 76 which desperately needed reinforcements.

It is also known from photographic records that the prototype V-15 (Wrk.Nr. 130015 PH+SY) -originally used to test a configuration of four BMW 003A-1engine engines- was converted to Ar234B-2/N standards and re-powered with Jumo109-004B-1. This plane was the mount of Kap. Bisping from EKD N 234 during the last months of the conflict. That plane kept its original day-time camouflage scheme in colors RLM 70/65.

On 11 November 1944, a test command under Hauptmann Bisign was established. Production was ordered to begin again. On 23 February 1945, Hauptman Bising and his radar operator have an accident on takeoff. On 26, March 1945, Hauptman Kurt Bonow, from Kommando 288, take command of the unit that was to be re-designated Erprobungskommando Bonow, based in Oranienburg. Bonow flew Wrk.Nr. 140146 plane. In the winter 1944-45 a single-seat Ar234 B-1 was also converted and tested for night fighter operating with Bonow’s Kommando. This plane was also armed with a WB weapon holder holding two MG151 20 mm guns. This plane was successful for its pilot, a Oberfeldwebel, because it shot down in several occasions R.A.F. four powered bombers.

Further Projects based on the Ar234

Other projects parallel to the Nachtigall were the Ar234 C-3N and C-7, scheduled for mid-’45 as high performance fighters and night-fighters in many configurations armed with two extra forward-firing MG151 mounted in the nose.

The P-1 to P-5 series were to be develop for the series night fighter production. The P night fighter featured a better armament with a more aerodynamic weapon holder in the belly, two nose-mounted MG151 and Schräge Musik on the back. A Bremen radar plate would be mounted in the nose. P-series projects were powered by Hirth-Heinkel HeS 011 engines.

Werner Streib By the end of war 65 was his final score of victories. 

Ar 234C-3/N

Proposed two-seat night-fighter with two forward firing 20 mm MG 151/20 and two 30 mm MK 108 cannon, using FuG 218 Neptun V radar.

Ar 234C-7

Night fighter similar to C-3/N, but with crew side-by-side and enhanced FuG 245 Bremen 0 centimetric radar.

Ar 234P

Projected night fighter series.

Specifications (Arado Ar 234B-2 Blitz “Lightning”)

Type: Single Seat Reconnaissance Bomber

Design: Waiter Blume and Hans Rebeski

Manufacturer: Arado Flugzeugwerke GmbH

Powerplant: (B Series) Two 1,984 lbs (900 kW / 8.825 kN) thrust Junkers Jumo 109-004B-1/2/3 Orkan axial flow turbojet engines and provision for two 1,102 lbs (822 kW / 4.90 kN) Walter HWK 109-500 (R1-202b) RATO units with a 30 second burn duration. (C Series) Four 1,764 lbs (800 kg / 7.85 kN) thrust BMW 109-003A-1 turbojet engines in paired nacelles.

Performance: (B Series) Maximum speed (clean) 461 mph (742 km/h) at 19,685 ft (6000 m); service ceiling 32,820 ft (10000 m); climb to service ceiling in 12 minutes 48 seconds with a 1,102 lbs (500 kg) bomb load or 17 minutes 30 seconds with a 3,307 lbs (1500 kg) bomb load. (C Series) Maximum speed (clean) 531 mph (855 km/h) at 19,685 ft (6000 m); service ceiling 36,090 ft (11000 m).

Range: (B Series) Clean 1013 miles (1630 km) or 684 miles (1100 km) with 3,307 lbs (1500 kg) of bombs. (C Series) 765 miles (1230 km) with a 4,409 lbs (2000 kg) of bombs.

Weight: (B Series) Empty equipped 11,464 lbs (5200 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 21,715 lbs (9850 kg). (C Series) Empty equipped 11,464 lbs (5200 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 24,250 lbs (11000 kg).

Dimensions: Span 46 ft 3 1/2 in (14.11 m); length 41 ft 5 1/2 in (12.64 m); height 14 ft 1 1/4 in (4.30 m); wing area 284.18 sq ft (26.40 sq m).

Armament: (B-1) unarmed reconnaissance version. (B-2) Two fixed MG 151/20 20 mm cannon in rear fuselage, firing to rear and sighted by periscope and various combinations of bombs slung under fuselage and/or engine nacelles up to 3,307 lbs (1500 kg) using ETC 503 bomb racks. (C-3) Same as B Series but with the addition of two MG 151/20 20 mm cannon under the nose. (C-3/N) Two forward firing MG 151/20 20 mm cannon and two MK 108 30 mm cannon.

Variants: E.370 (initial design project), Ar 234V-1/2/3, V-9 (initial design prototypes), Ar 234B-0 (20 examples used for evaluation), Ar 234B-1 (reconnaissance), Ar 234B-2 (bomber), Ar 234C (four engine version), Ar 234C-1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8, Ar 234D, Ar 234D-1/2, Ar 234P, Ar 234P-1/2/3/4/5.

History: First flight (Ar 234V-1) 15 June 1943, (Ar 234V-9 with landing gear) March 1944, (Ar 234B-0 pre-production) 8 June 1944, operational delivery September 1944.

Operators: Germany.