VIKING INVASIONS – IRELAND

Ireland had known no invaders since prehistoric times. The Vikings, who arrived quite suddenly at the end of the eighth century, sent shock waves through a society in which Christianity had been left to organize itself, exercise its influence, and cultivate its artistic treasures largely undisturbed for more than three centuries.

Marauding seafarers from Norway and Denmark brought ruin and confusion, but they also made a positive contribution to subsequent Irish history in founding the first towns. They tied the island to a continental empire of far-flung places where the Vikings raided and traded, launching both the first large-scale outside contacts and the beginnings of commercial life. In time, like their predecessors before them, they too conformed to Ireland’s demographic pattern in assimilating with the natives, becoming Christians, and adopting the Irish language and Irish customs. Initially an independent force sitting behind the defensive walls of their coastal and riverine settlements, they began trading with the interior and soon found themselves drawn into dynastic struggles, which marked the politics of this period just as they had politics for centuries before.

The Vikings brought a nautical technology and superior weaponry, which facilitated the ability to do battle across wider territories with more deadly means. Irish royal dynasties, fewer in number but richer in resources, fought to acquire whole kingdoms, and the first efforts to claim the title of high king by actually possessing the requisite geographical territory were made. Because the stakes were higher, the clashes grew more intense, and the bitterness engendered by those who found themselves on the losing end of the ceaseless dueling stung with more lasting effect. The enmity harbored by the king of Leinster, banished from Ireland in the summer of 1166, would lead to a train of events that carried consequences for the country unlike any other.

The Era of the Viking Wars

In 795 long low-slung ships, fitted with wide, decoratively patterned sails, appeared from off the ocean’s horizon and ran their pointed bows onto the rocky beach at Iona. Warriors wearing round or horned helmets, armed with heavy swords and iron spears, rushed into the monastic village and, in a frenzied fury, ransacked the settlement, carrying away slaves and booty, including altar shrines and vessels, their surfaces glittering with the gems with which they had been so painstakingly inlaid. In the same year, seafaring raiders burned the community at Rathlin and attacked those at Inishmurray and Inishbofin.

The Vikings were bands of warriors from Scandinavia who set sail from its shores with but one purpose in mind-to seize whatever plunder they could find. The ships they manned were the most technically advanced of their time, designed by skilled Nordic craftsmen to provide the maximum in mobility. Whatever the reasons that led the Vikings to set out on their quest for riches-and they remain obscure-raiding that had begun in the Baltic Sea spread outwards from there at the end of the eighth century. over time these men from the far North (Norsemen) ranged as far east as Moscow and Constantinople and as far west as the North American continent. In the 790s fleets attacked Ireland, Britain, and France simultaneously.

Pagan farmers and fishermen and, at home, many of them dexterous craftsmen, the Vikings were the penultimate pirates. led by their kings and nobles, they are said to have delighted in destruction for destruction’s sake. Wielding their terrifying signature weapon, the broad battleaxe, raiders returned to Iona in 802 and again in 806, this time murdering 68 of the monks. The great monasteries, the centers of wealth, were the targets of attacks again and again during the first 40 years of the ninth century. fear pervaded the atmosphere wherever they roamed, for the Vikings would appear suddenly without warning at any time, ready to wreak havoc without scruple.

By 823 they had completed the circumnavigation of the Irish coast, in 824 even sacking bleak Skellig Michael. Most of the raiders to Ireland came from the fjords of Norway, and during the first decades of the 800s they never tarried long, operating as small, quick-moving forces striking in hit-and-run attacks. The Irish fought back as best they could. Monks moved to inland areas. After the raid of 806 the abbot at Iona, Cellard, carrying with him the revered relics of Columbanus, traveled with his companions 20 miles inland from the Irish coast to Kells, where they founded a new monastery. Kings from Ulster to Munster battled the invaders when they could catch up with them.

In the end, however, the search for security proved elusive. Raids intensified in the 830s, and now roving bands began moving inland. In 836 the first Viking land raids on record occurred on lands of the southern Ui Néill, and much of Connacht was also devastated. The following year the course of invasions began to change character. A mighty fleet of 60 ships appeared on the river Boyne and another 60 on the Liffey. Norsemen pillaged churches, fortresses, and farms in the Liffey valley, and they sailed up the Shannon and the Erne as well, defeating the forces of the Irish kings wherever they went. Viking ships plied the Shannon lakes in the very heart of the country. They appeared to be unbeatable. In 841, at Linn Duachaill (present-day Annagassan, County lough) and at Dublin they set up defensive bases as footholds from which to mount invasions deep into the interior. At Dublin, the Vikings wintered for the first time in 841-42, building a stockade around their ships and thus laying the foundation of the city.

In the middle of the ninth century, Vikings from Denmark began to arrive, adding another element to the mayhem. The Vikings on the scene resented the interlopers and battled them in a fighting stew that included old and new combatants both native and foreign-Viking against Viking, Viking against Irish, and Irish against Irish.

No one anywhere was safe, but Irish kings kept up running battles against the invaders. They gradually began to achieve greater success, measured both by victories in battle and by a decline in the number of attacks. In 835 the Vikings were defeated at Derry, and in 845 Mael Sechnaill mac Maéle Runaid, king of Meath, captured and drowned the Viking leader, Turgeis. fleets were still arriving in 849-51, but by a decade later the great raids were over.

That the Irish had found it difficult to resist the invaders stemmed in part from their inability to unite to meet the common threat. The peak of the Viking incursions found the Ui Néill, based at Tara in Ulster, and the Eoganacht, at Cashel in Munster, clashing for the first time on a large scale. And the Scandinavians proved more than willing to join in the local strife. The Vikings very quickly-by the mid ninth century-assumed an active role in the local inter-dynastic warfare. The first Viking-Irish alliance is recorded in 842, and accounts speak increasingly of these pacts from 850 on.

Battles followed battles both within and between kingdoms, and the power of kings waxed and waned. The Ui Néill kings at Tara built up their power gradually in the second half of the ninth century, and the Vikings in Ulster were largely brought under control. The Vikings remained strongest at Dublin, where they frequently allied with surrounding rulers.

The close of the ninth century saw a slackening in Viking activity; however, the respite proved but a brief interlude. A second period of major incursions began in the second decade of the 10th century and lasted for 25 years. The storm to come gathered force in 914 when a great fleet of ships massed in Waterford harbor. In 915 they set out to attach Munster and, later, Leinster, yet again laying waste monasteries at Cork, Aghaboe, Lismore, and elsewhere. And once again, the Irish counterattacked. Niall glundub mac Aedo (d. 919), overking of the Ui Néill, chased the Viking raiders through Munster in 917 but failed to stop them, his allies from Leinster meeting heavy defeat. He himself fell victim two years later when he and many leading aristocrats of the Ui Néill were defeated and killed by the Vikings at the Battle of Dublin. Triumphant yet again, the Norsemen, secure in their base at Dublin, set about consolidating control of outlying settlements in limerick and Waterford. By about 950 the second great wave of raids was largely over.

What effect did the Viking invasions have on Irish society? Certainly considerable death and destruction occurred. Much cultural heritage disappeared, and the number of treasures that were irretrievably lost cannot be calculated.

Yet, while life was disrupted, it was not extinguished. The Vikings, in fact, also had a very positive impact. In founding settlements, they introduced commercial activity into a society hitherto based entirely on subsistence agriculture. once settled in Ireland, the Vikings did not become farmers and fishermen; rather, they became merchants and seamen. Unlike in Britain and France where they moved inland, those in Ireland contented themselves in remaining where they had landed. from their bases that hugged the coastline at Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and on the Shannon at limerick, they built up a system of seaborne commerce that linked Ireland with markets from Scandinavia to Spain.

Dublin retained its status as the most important Viking settlement, and the town grew swiftly in engaging in a far-flung trade that made it one of the richest in Viking Europe.

Dublin, together with York in Britain, became the most important of the westernmost trading posts. Trade became so significant that a cash-based economy was introduced in 953 when the first silver coins were minted. They continued to be issued until the arrival of the Normans. In introducing commercial life to the country, the Vikings set in motion the shift of the island’s political and social fulcrum from the central midlands to east coast urban centers, a move that has endured.

Expert traders and sailors, the Vikings introduced their advanced shipbuilding skills to Ireland. Busily plying the coastal waters, the warring wayfarers imprinted their presence on the island’s fringes. Not only settlements-Waterford, Wicklow, Strangford, and Dalkey-but also islands and bays-Blaskets, Smerwick, Salters, and Selskou-carry their names.

Although settlements might suffer repeated attacks throughout the upheavals of the ninth and 10th centuries, social life, while subject to disruptions, adhered to familiar patterns. Monastic communities rebuilt or moved to other locales. Irish kings were hard pressed by Viking incursions, and several small kingdoms near Norse settlements were overwhelmed, yet the strife that had for so long characterized native society never abated. Kings continued to war with kings.

The Norse invasions and their aftermath

The first appearance of the Norsemen on the Irish coast is recorded in 795. Thereafter the Norsemen made frequent plundering raids, sometimes far inland. In 838 they seized and fortified two ports, Annagassan and Dublin, and in the 840s they undertook a series of large-scale invasions in the north of the country. These invaders were driven out by Aed Finnliath, high king from 862 to 879, but meanwhile the Norse rulers of Dublin were reaching the zenith of their power. They took Waterford in 914 and Limerick in 920. Gradually, without quite abandoning piracy, the Vikings became traders in close association with the Irish, and their commercial towns became a new element in the life of the country. The decline of Norse power in the south began when they lost Limerick in 968 and was finally effected when the Scandinavian allies of the king of Dublin were defeated by High King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

Although the Battle of Clontarf removed the prospect of Norse domination, it brought a period of political unsettlement. High kings ruled in Ireland but almost always “with opposition,” meaning they were not acknowledged by a minority of provincial kings. The Viking invasions had, in fact, shown the strength and the weakness of the Irish position. The fact that power had been preserved at a local level in Ireland enabled a maximum of resistance to be made; and, although the invaders established maritime strongholds, they never achieved any domination comparable to their control of eastern England or northwestern France. After Clontarf they remained largely in control of Ireland’s commerce but came increasingly under the influence of neighbouring Irish kings.

Schweres Minenraumfahrzeug

Krupp Räumer S (Selbstrantrieb) Schweres Minenräumfahrzeug

In 1944, Krupp constructed the prototype of a super heavy mines destroyer. This monster of 130 tonnes was articulated in its center, and was suspended on 4 wheels out of steel of 2.7m covered with shoes. Each part of Räumer S was propelled by Maybach HL90. The vehicle was 15 m long and 4 m high. The track widths differed between the front and rear to encourage a wider sweep path.

This odd-looking vehicle was designed by Krupp with the apparent intent of exploding mines with its reinforced wheels. The wheels were heavily constructed to withstand the mine blast, the suspension robust

The Räumer S from Krupp was ordered by the Waffenamt at the same time and to meet the same specifications as the Alkett-Räumgeraet. Krupp was to complete a single experimental model in September 1942 following drawing AKIF 52142 dated 6 July 1942. The “S”, in the name stood for Selbstantrieb (self – propelled). Instead of the three-wheel design created by Alkett, Krupp had created a four-wheel design with each wheel independently driven. Dimensions and weight of the final design (110 metric tons) far exceeded the original specification.

As described in the draft manual dated 1 July 1944: The Räumer is a device that can clear roads and fields of mines without especially endangering the crew. The two heavy sections of the vehicle caused all mines to explode which were set to detonate b pressure. The forces created by the explosions had to be withstood by the high-strength wheels. Because mine detonation will cause the wheels to jump half a meter and then fall into mine holes up to 90 centimeters deep, the vehicle is well sprung, has large-diameter wheels, and the wheels are independently driven To achieve cross-country mobility, the Räumer consists of two articulated halves, fastened together at the steering linkage. The halves can independently tip up to 22 degrees to the right or left (a total of 44 degrees against each other). Two Maybach HL 90 P 20-K engines, each developing a peak of 350 metric horsepower at 4000 rpm, provide the power needed to drive the Räumer S at maximum road speeds of 25 km/hr. Mine clearing is to be done at speeds of 4 to 8 km/hr. The Räumer has two driver stations and can be driven selectively in either direction. Four seats cushioned with springs and hydraulic shock absorbers were located in each driving compartment for the crew of eight, including the two drivers. On 4 June 1943. Wa Pruef 5 was shown the components that had been completed by Krupp including the wheels, frames for the superstructure the steering linkage, and the armor box for the engine and driver compartments. Krupp was to complete partial assembly at Essen in three weeks and then due to bombing raids on Essen, the Räumer was to be transferred to another location to complete the outfitting of the interior On 10 August 1944, Wa Pruef 5 was again shown the partially completed Räumer S, this time at Hillersleben, and ensured by Krupp that it would be completed in September. On 20 October 1944 Krupp reported that the Räumer S hadn’t been completed by 15 September due to unidentified problems. Krupp stated that assembly at Hillersleben should be completed in early November 1944 and trials conducted at Kummersdorf. At the end of the war the Räumer S was found by American troops still at Hillersleben.

The prototype of Räumer S was captured at the end of the war by the U.S. Army.

The Räumer S was captured in Hillersleben 1945. It was divided into two parts and moved to a U.S. Depot near Paris. Then it was lost…

Alkett Minenräumsfahrzeug

This fighting vehicle was created by a joint effort of three German firms: “Krupp”, “Allkett” and “Daimler-Benz”. The label on the turning mechanism has the date – IX/41. Therefore, it is possible to assume that the whole project was assembled no earlier than the end of 1941.

The first mention of this large sized mineroller was found in a Russian paper about “some interesting German experimental samples of arms and vehicles”. This paper was written in the summer 1946. Unfortunately, it has not been established where this machine was discovered. Photos of the vehicle indicate that the mineroller was discovered complete and serviceable.

In 1947, the mineroller was delivered to Kubinka’s Poligon and was subjected to survey, measurement, weighing and movement tests. But the tests for actual minesweeping of mine fields were not carried out at that time because some mechanisms of the vehicle worked unreliably during the tests.

In the test report it is written: “from a design stand point the mineroller is not modern and does not represent any interest”. In another document about this mineroller it was written: “large weight, low specific power, the small speed of the vehicle and weak support of the machine of this large sizes makes it easily destroyed with artillery fire”. Upon termination of tests the mineroller (or “räumenpanzer”) has occupied a place in the Kubinka’s Poligon collection, and lately has been seen in our tour of the Kubinka’s Museum.

The design of this mineroller is unusual. Its appearance reminds one of a strongly reinforced German heavy gun carriage on which instead of a gun-barrel has been mounted an armoured cabin containing the engine and fighting turret. Similarly to other monster, but on four wheels and known under the name “Räumer – S”, Kubinka’s exhibit represents the special preserved machine, intended only for minesweeping of mine fields.

The body of this mineroller has four sections: driving, fighting, transmission and engine compartments. In the driver’s area (in the forward part of the body of the machine) are placed the controls and instrument panels. The fighting compartment is placed in the central part of the body was topped by a rotating turret from the PzKpfw I tank. The turret, armed with two co-axial MG 34 machine guns, was intended for defence of the machine from an enemy’s infantry. On our examined sample one machine gun was absent. The transmission section was placed under the fighting compartment and on either side of it. The transmission containes mechanisms to transfer the torque from the engine to turning the wheels, accumulators and part of the drive mechanism. The engine compartment, located in the rear of the body, contains the engine with power supply systems and cooling system, the main friction clutch and part of the drive mechanism.

The body is constructed of welding rolled armoured sheets of low hardness, from 20 up to 40 mm thick. The bottom of the body has a special design to counteract an explosive wave. The bottom is made of double thickness armor and is amplified (strengthened) by cross bracing. All mechanisms of the power unit installation and the transmissions are mounted on demountable internal supports of 20 mm thickness. In a forward part of the hull, on its roof, is installed and bolted on a superstructure made by welding armoured sheets of 10-35 mm thickness. On the roof of the superstructure a turret of the PzKpfw I tank is mounted.

The transfer of the drive torque from the engine to the drive sprokets is made by the following connections: the engine, main friction clutch, drive shaft, gearbox, main and intermediate transfer cases, final drive gear, and drive sprocket.

Turning the machine required turning a small steering wheel, located in the rear part of the body. Control of the turn is mechanical with the selection of drive shafts from the power drive. The drive controls included a steering wheel, system of propeller shafts, reducer of selection of power, worm-gears and chains.

The driver of the machine turned a steering wheel and through the propelled shaft, applied the appropriate friction clutch of a reducer to select the gear. After the worm-gear began to rotate chains were pulled by the steering wheel to the right or left as typical.

To slow the mineroller were brakes, mounted on an outside surface spinning wheel. The brake shoes of 75mm width had a covering of “Ferrodo”. The control of the brakes came directly from lever steering controls and emergency braking pedals.

The main peculiarity of this mineroller is the use of special caterpillar tracks with shoe pads attached to the driving wheels. Structurally they were similar to block pads used on the wheels of German heavy field guns of the First World war. However, the durability of these pads was much amplified (strengthened). Past experiments have shown that explosions from antitank mines under a loaded vehicle with these pads only produces minor damage to the connecting links.

The British High Command at Passchendaele I

On 12 October 1917 the following event took place about three miles from Passchendaele Ridge in Belgium: A soldier who had been slightly wounded in the fighting earlier that day left the line to find the nearest casualty clearing station. In the gloom, he deviated from the wooden duckboard path which snaked its way through the mire. Later he was discovered stuck fast in a shell hole. He was only a few yards from where he had started some hours before. Men were called up. Ropes and spades were brought forward. Repeated efforts were made to dig or pull him out. At one moment there were sixteen men working on this task. When his battalion was relieved the following night he was still stuck fast. His fate is unknown. But the probability that he drowned in the mud is very high.

What we will investigate is:

  1. why men were sent to fight in such conditions?
  2. did this have to be so?
  3. who was responsible for this state of affairs?

The Passchendaele campaign had been designed with the same aim as all the other allied offensives that had taken place since 1914, namely, to drive the German invaders from the soil of France and Belgium in a single operation. The French tried this twice and the British once in 1915. The British tried mightily in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. The French and British tried again in the spring of 1917. These offensives had one thing in common-they all failed and in some cases failed catastrophically.

Why did all these offensives come to nothing? Were all the generals who conducted them suffused with stupidity, or were there other factors? Stupidity was not absent. However, in this war another factor was crucial-there had been a remarkable shift between the power of defence versus the power of attack. It was now relatively easy to defend a piece of ground already won and very expensive to wrest it from those who defended it.

This needs further expansion. From the end of 1914 through 1915, 1916 and 1917, each side had dug a series of increasingly sophisticated trench systems that offered significant protection to the troops who sheltered there. Only a direct hit from a heavy artillery shell could cause death or injury. Moreover from 1915 both sides hit on the expedient of placing ever larger rolls of barbed wire in front of their trenches-formidable obstacles to any would be attacker.

What this meant for those soldiers who were making an attack was dire. They `went over the top’ leaving the safety of their trench for No Man’s Land armed only with a bolt action rifle-with bayonet attached-and, early in the war if they were unlucky, a primitive hand grenade.

In contrast the defenders would be concealed in their trench, behind their belts of barbed wire. At various intervals along their trench would be machine-guns which fired 600 rounds per minute and which were pre-aimed at gaps deliberately left in the wire. In addition-for some miles behind the front-masses of enemy artillery would have calibrated their guns on No Man’s Land-the very area that the hapless attackers were attempting to traverse. Thus was established what we can call the fire power imbalance. It was to plague attacking armies for most of the war. The attackers could not bring to bear on the defenders sufficient fire power-either to cave in their trenches-or to kill and incapacitate enough trench dwellers to allow an attack to progress.

The only possible way of redressing this fire power imbalance lay in the utilisation of huge amounts artillery by the attackers. And until 1917 there were a number of obstacles to doing this.

First, the artillery bombardment had to be huge to be effective. Yet in the first year of the war, no army-German, French or British-had sufficient guns to destroy trench systems. They were particularly lacking in the heavier calibres. (This had come about because all armies had expected to fight a war of movement on Napoleonic lines: none had foreseen the growth of defensive trenches.)

Second, there was the problem that on most occasions when the artillery fired at a target, they missed. There were a number of factors involved here. One was that that no gun could deliver all the shells it fired to exactly the same spot. Instead the shells fell in quite a large area-the so-called 100% zone of the gun. And the targets that the artillery would be trying to hit-in most cases trenches or guns-were very small. In the case of the hostile guns they were also out of direct sight of the attacking artillery. So the percentage of hits was very low-you might expect to hit a trench three or four times for every 100 shells fired under ideal conditions. The percentage of hits on distant guns would be even lower than that.

In an actual battle, of course, conditions-especially of weather-were often far from ideal and could change quite rapidly. And as the battle progressed, the gun barrels became increasingly worn and their accuracy lessened.

In 1915 and for most of 1916 these factors effecting artillery accuracy were only partially recognised. So a typical battle would commence with an enormous bombardment during which the artillery would aim to destroy all the enemy trenches and take out most of the hostile artillery. The soldiers would then `go over the top’ only to find that neither of these things had happened; that enemy machine-guns and shells were coming at them in such numbers as to stop any attack in its tracks. The most famous, or infamous example of this situation happened on the first day of the battle of the Somme. The enemy artillery and trenches were virtually untouched by the allied preliminary bombardment. As a result the attacking British suffered 20,000 dead and 37,000 wounded in one day. Many of these casualties actually occurred behind the British front line as the un-subdued hostile guns lobbed shells in the area they knew the attacking infantry must pass through to deploy for an attack.

Gradually, however, new artillery techniques were being developed and applied by the British. During 1916 it was discovered that if a curtain of light artillery shells was fired in front of the advancing infantry-and if that curtain was of sufficient depth to fall on the enemy front line as well-then the enemy trench dwellers would generally not risk manning their machine-guns during the barrage. The attacking soldiers advancing just behind the barrage could then jump the enemy in the trench. The curtain of shells was called a `creeping barrage’ and was the surest method of infantry protection discovered in the First World War.

At the same time another technique called sound-ranging was being developed to assist the artillery firing at distant enemy guns. It was found that when an enemy gun fired, microphones placed across the front could detect the noise and trace-with some accuracy-the source of the sound back to its origin.

The artillery regiments also improved their approaches to correcting the guns for different types of weather and varying amounts of wear. So that taken together, there was by 1917 a reasonable chance that their shells would find the target and sufficient enemy guns destroyed or neutralised to allow an attack to get forward.

There remained, however, conditions in which these techniques would not work.

If the ground was boggy it was soon discovered that the troops could not keep up with the creeping barrage. For maximum protection of the infantry this had to be fired at a pre-determined rate-it would advance say at two or three minutes per 100 yards. But in a bog the men would `lose’ the barrage and become vulnerable to machine-gun and rifle fire from the enemy front line.

Weather also interfered with the reliability of the sound detecting microphones. Worse, it meant that aircraft could not check on the accuracy of the firing, either by taking photographs or reporting back to the guns by radio. So in bad weather the artillery’s `eye in the sky’ would be blinded.

There was another limitation. The guns could only fire so far. If the advance attempted was much beyond 3000 yards men would lose the protection of the creeping barrage. And at about the same time they would arrive within the range of enemy artillery and reserve divisions which were usually kept well back. The result in this case could well be a slaughter of Somme proportions.

Yet another limitation was imposed by the enemy. In an endeavour to counter the new tactics, the Germans had begun in 1916 and early 1917, to construct defences of much greater complexity. The British would now be confronted, not by one or two defensive lines, but by entire defensive zones, consisting not just of trench lines but containing concreted machine-gun posts and pillboxes. The latter kept a garrison of about 40 men safe from the light shells of the creeping barrage. At Third Ypres there were hundreds of them. The limitations meant two things:

  1. that attacks should not be mounted in bad weather; and
  2. that attacks should have limited objectives.

There were, however, some disturbing signs that General Headquarters were not taking these limitations seriously. At the Somme in October, after the general implementation of the creeping barrage, Haig attempted to drive his troops forward in such foul weather conditions that men could not keep pace with the barrage. Nor in conditions of low cloud and rain, could the new counter-battery techniques be applied.

Moreover, on the Somme in 1916 and Arras in 1917, Haig consistently set distant objectives for his troops. As a consequence there were many occasions-1 July only being the most notorious-where his artillery was spread too thinly and often failed to destroy even the front line enemy defences. The inevitable result was heavy casualties for little gain.

There were exceptions to these disasters. On the Somme on 14 April and 25 September and at Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917, modest gains were made at modest cost. The reason for these successes was plain. On each occasion the weather was good and an enormous amount of artillery shells had fallen on a limited expanse of enemy defences. Had the High Command cast a critical eye over these successes they might have identified the limited `bite-and-hold’ offensive as the one tactical method offering success.

Admittedly, this was a very cautious way of making war. But it was practical, and in mid-1917 there were factors that warranted extreme caution in the handling of the British Army.

The main factor was the state of Britain’s allies. From January 1917, Russia had rapidly descended into revolution. The final straw was the Kerensky offensive conducted by the Provisional Government following the fall of the Czar. It started on 18 June and ended on 1 July, during which time the Russian forces suffered 400,000 casualties. This gave a great boost to the Bolsheviks. It was only a matter of time before Russia left the war.

With the French the situation was hardly of this order but there was cause for great concern. The Nivelle offensive in April, which the commander had promised would deliver a great victory, resulted in mutiny. French divisions would hold the line and participate in limited offensives but nothing more. The days when the French Army could be regarded as a strike force were over.

What of the other Allies? The Italians had been shattered by the Austro-Hungarians in May in 1916 on the Trentino. Italian losses amounted to 400,000 men, an alarming number of whom were prisoners. Nothing more could be expected from that quarter. What of the Great Democracy which had finally been provoked into the war in 1917? Pershing had landed in France but no great American army accompanied him and none could be expected until the spring of 1918.

What all this meant was that the BEF in 1917 was the last allied army standing. There was every reason to treat it with extreme care. Its demise might mean the demise of the allied cause before American intervention amounted to much. In short, there was every reason to avoid the blood-letting of 1916 and early 1917; every reason to avoid the all-out offensive.

None of this deterred Haig from bringing forth a scheme for the 1917 campaign with similar cosmic ambitions to his earlier efforts. This time he would attack out of the salient around the ruined city of Ypres, advance 50 or so miles to the Belgian coast, cut the German railway system, and again, if the Germans did not immediately surrender, he would have at least forced a major retreat on them and loosened their hold on much of Belgium.

Such a plan was fraught with danger for his troops. For if Haig was to obtain the spectacular results forecast, his advance would need to be swift-or the Germans would bring up reinforcements to block it. And to obtain a swift advance he needed in a series of rapid blows to overcome the entire German defensive zone in front of Ypres. This zone was 10,000 yards deep and to overcome it speedily Haig had to spread the fire of his guns across as much of it as possible. It is true that Haig had at his disposal guns in unprecedented numbers-1400 field and 750 heavy guns. But he was attempting an unprecedented task-the capture a defensive zone 10,000 yards in depth on a front of attack of 13,000 yards. The great danger was that in attempting to destroy all the German defences in this area he had to spread his artillery so thin that he risked destroying none.

Yet the decision to put this plan into operation was not Haig’s to make. Britain was a liberal democracy. Ultimate power lay with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. And David Lloyd George had been fulminating against the ambitious and futile offensives conducted on the Western Front for some time. Indeed regarding Haig’s 1917 plan he commented to the Cabinet Secretary:

The extent of the advance required in order to secure tangible results (Ostend and Zeebrugge) was too great in his opinion to justify the great losses which must be involved, losses which he thinks will jeopardise our chance next year & cause great depression.

What then was Lloyd George proposing as an alternative? As it happened he did not favour the limited offensive. Indeed he would speak with much derisin about Plumer’s `successes’ later in the year. He had become prime minister on the promise of the `knock out blow’ against Germany. He was in that sense at one with Haig. It was just that he wanted that blow delivered away from the Western Front by an army that was not British. Incredibly, in the light of recent events, he elected the Italian Army to deliver it. This was pure fantasy. The Italian command had neither the will nor the means of assuming the main burden of the war.

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The British High Command at Passchendaele II

So, however reluctantly, Lloyd George acquiesced in the Flanders campaign. But he insisted that only Haig’s first step be approved; any subsequent operations must be referred back to the War Cabinet in London.

The Third Battle of Ypres commenced on 31 July 1917. It immediately became clear that yet another attempt to overwhelm an entire German defensive system had failed. In attempting to go so far in the first instance Haig and his Army Commander Gough had overreached themselves. The artillery resources, although unprecedented, had proved inadequate. Most of the defences on the right-on the crucial high ground of the Gheluvelt Plateau-which gave the defenders such excellent views of the battlefield, were missed or inadequately bombarded. On the left some British assault divisions did capture some ground-the advance reached as far as 3000 yards into the German defences. But this advance hardly amounted to a breakthrough of the German defensive zone. And the whole effort cost them 27,000 casualties, about 25% of the force that attacked.

And the first day of the campaign was relatively benign in view of what followed in August. On the night of 31 July light rain began to fall. By the next day it had become a deluge. During August there were 15 days out of the 31 when it rained-a total of 123 mm for the month. The battlefield became a swamp. And the British had actually aided and abetted the forces of nature. If their enormous bombardment of 4.3 million shells had not destroyed the German army, it had certainly destroyed the drainage system in this low-lying area of Flanders. Now the rain had nowhere to go, so the entire battlefield became a huge inland sea.

What this meant for the soldiers is described by Sergeant McKay, a member of a field ambulance:

Bringing down the wounded from the front line today. Conditions terrible. The ground between the [rear] and where the infantry are is simply a quagmire, and shell holes filled with water. Every place is in full view of the enemy who are on the ridge. There is neither the appearance of a road or a path and it requires six men to every stretcher, two of those being constantly employed helping the others out of the holes; the mud in some cases is up to our waists. A couple of journeys . and the strongest men are ready to collapse.

Everything that Haig should have learned since taking over command of the British army in December 1915 should have revealed to him that military operations in these conditions were impossible. The artillery was blinded. The men could not follow the `creeping barrage’. Airplanes could not fly (or see anything when they did). Logic and experience cried out to halt the battle.

The battle was not halted. Haig, as ever, saw German morale on the brink of collapse. Of the morale of his own troops, wading through the mire, he was silent. They would cope. Indeed they did. But in the whole of August they gained just 1200 yards on the left of their front where it did not matter and none whatsoever on the right where it did. The cost: 50,000 casualties.

What of Lloyd George and his promise (or threat) to review the operation after the first step? Nothing came of it. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Robertson) tried on many occasions to draw the attention of the war Cabinet to the meagre progress made by Haig. The civilians would not attend. Only the prospect of operations in far-flung theatres-Italy or Palestine-excited them. Haig’s operations would continue without civilian scrutiny, or as it appeared, even interest.

Eventually it was Haig who called a halt. Indeed, he had to act or he would have had no army with which to conduct operations. He sidelined General Gough who had presided over the August debacle. General Plumer was brought in to see if he could gain any ground across the high ground of the Gheluvelt Plateau. Plumer thought he could but demanded three weeks to prepare his attack.

Plumer also insisted on fresh troops to replace the shattered British divisions. He got them in the shape of two new corps-the 5th British Corps and I Anzac Corps. Australian (and later New Zealand) troops had entered the 3rd Ypres campaign. We now arrive at the successful phase of the campaign, the moment when method was brought to bear on the planning process. This phase lasted from 20 September to 4 October. In three battles, Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde, Plumer captured the high ground that had defied the efforts of the troops in the August bog. A number of factors contributed to his success:

  1. Weather conditions were good. The artillery could therefore be used to maximum advantage. Air spotters could now signal back the accuracy of fire. The dry weather also meant that the sound detecting microphones could be used.
  2. Plumer ensured that the ferocity of the artillery barrage would be maximised by:

         (a) reducing the front over which he attacked. So while on the first day of battle that front was 13,000     yards, Plumer did not attack over more than 5000 yards. Thus the concentration of his artillery fire was more than doubled.

        (b) Plumer also refused to advance a greater distance than his guns could support. His three steps across the Plateau were each not much more than 1500 yards in depth. This factor quadrupled the artillery concentration, so in combination with point (a) Plumer threw eight-fold the amount of shells into the area he was attacking than had been done on the first day.

  1. Plumer ensured that the gains he made would be protected by placing a standing barrage-often to a depth of 3000 yards-in front of the position reached by his forward troops. Any reserve divisions that the Germans had held back would have to pass through this wall of fire before they reached the new British positions. Enemy formations which attempted this feat found that their units were shattered by the barrage of shells before they came within hailing distance of the new line. On the other side the British, Australian and New Zealand troops, were on many occasions not even aware that a counter-attack was being mounted because no Germans got close enough to fire on them.

But as Broodseinde drew to a close so did the unprecedented spell of dry weather. On 4 October, rain started to fall. It did not cease in the days that followed. This turned the devastated, drainage-deprived battlefield into a lake. An observer commented:

Seldom has the supply of ammunition, food and water to guns in action presented greater difficulties. The journey by pack animals, the only possible form of transport, from the wagon lines to the guns, instead of taking the normal hour, might require anything from six to sixteen hours. If animals slipped off the planks into the quagmires alongside, they often sank out of sight. On arrival shells had to be cleaned of the slime coating before they could be used.

Under these conditions artillery accuracy-or even bringing forward an adequate supply of shells-was out of the question. Without sufficient shells an appropriate creeping barrage was impossible, even supposing the troops could have kept pace with it as they waded through the morass. After three successes this was surely the time for Haig and Plumer to call off the battle.

The battle was not called off. Haig declared that his aim was now not the capture of the Belgian coast but merely the reduced one of capturing the Passchendaele Ridge. But that was still four miles away. In the prevailing conditions an announcement to capture the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon would have been just as sensible.

And what action was taken by Britain’s civilian `high command’ while the third disastrous phase of the campaign was being played out? As it happened, no action at all. In early October Lloyd George actually warned his Cabinet colleagues that the impending operations would fail and that in three weeks’ time he would remind them of that prophecy. In one sense this statement amounted to the most decisive of actions, for it sanctioned the continuation of the battle. This, it must be emphasised, need not have been the case. Haig might have had many faults but he was a good constitutionalist. One word from the politicians to stop the campaign and it would have ceased. The fact that no such instruction eventuated, despite the Cabinet’s view that operations would fail, represents perhaps the ultimate madness of the Flanders campaign.

So, with no civilian restraint and no military logic, the battle resumed on 9 October. The soldiers attempted to struggle forward in the mire in what became known as the Battle of Poelcappelle. They gained not an inch of mud.

Undeterred, Haig determined to try again on the 12th. The II Anzac Corps were gathered for the new attempt.

Back in London the chief of Military Intelligence at the War Office, General McDonagh, tried to advise Haig that his efforts would be futile. Their information was that German morale was holding up. Haig dismissed this assessment. He claimed that the chief of War Office Intelligence was a Roman Catholic. His sources concerning the Germans therefore reached him from `tainted’ (i. e. Catholic) sources. Self-deception could go no further. Neither could the troops but Haig -despite the best efforts of the Vatican disinformation Service to warn him-insisted the attack stood a good chance. So on 12 October 1917 the action known to history as the First Battle of Passchendaele would go ahead.

The battle was doomed from the start. Few guns could be brought forward through the swamp to support the troops. Those guns that could fire sank into the slime after every shot they fired. They would then have to be dug out before they could fire again. When zero hour arrived so feeble was the creeping barrage that the troops could not even detect it. In some cases they mistook enemy artillery fire for their own. The Germans were now also using a new and deadly form of gas-mustard-with which many of the troops were deluged before they went over the top. A feeble barrage was actually fired. But its rate of advance of 100 yards in eight minutes was much too fast.

So without effective artillery protection the troops set off for the Passchendaele Ridge. They did not get far. Massed machine-guns cut them down in swathes. Some of the 9 Division literally became stuck in the mud and became sitting, or rather standing, ducks for the enemy machine-gunners. As for the New Zealanders, they could see the barbed wire-completely missed by the creeping barrage-glistening on the spur in front of them as they left their trenches. Those few troops who had not succumbed to machine-gun fire were forced back by this uncut wire. The Australians got a little further but then were also hit by concentrated machine-gun fire. At the level of the divisional command no one knew that these catastrophes were enveloping their troops. As one observer noted:

Communications [with the front] were worse than I have ever known them; [telephone wires were out and visual [signaling] was difficult. Pigeons could not fly against the wind, and the men with the [messenger] dogs became casualties. The dogs themselves got loose and started a battle of their own.

The sorry fiasco of this battle was surely one of the low points of the Third Ypres campaign. Thirteen thousand casualties (the equivalent of an entire division of infantry) had been suffered for no gains worth the mention.

But this was not the end of the story. The Canadian Corps replaced the Anzacs and struggled towards the Passchendaele Ridge for the next six weeks. Eventually they gained a toe-hold in the village but by that time (17 November) they too had suffered 13,000 casualties and were exhausted. In this phase men literally could not stand as they went into battle. We therefore have the awful spectacle of troops crawling into battle across No Man’s Land so that their weight would be more evenly distributed to prevent them sinking into the mud.

Let one final witness sum up the scene:

The conditions are awful beyond description, nothing we’ve had yet has come up to it, the whole trouble is the weather. Figure to yourself a desolate wilderness of water-filled shell craters, crater after crater, whose lips form narrow peninsulas along which one can at best pick but a slow and precarious way. Here a shattered tree trunk, there a `wrecked’ pill box sole remaining evidence that this was once a human and inhabited land. Dante would never have condemned lost souls to wander so terrible a purgatory. Here a shattered wagon, there a gun mired to the muzzle in mud which grips like glue, even the birds and rats have forsaken so unnatural spot. Mile after mile of the same unending dreariness, landmarks are gone, of whole villages barely a pile of bricks amongst the mud marks the site. You see it best under a leaden sky with a chill drizzle falling, each hour an eternity, each dragging step a nightmare. How weirdly it recalls some half-formed horror of childish nightmare.

In conclusion, what are we to make of the Third battle of Ypres? Let us concede immediately that the middle phase, under Plumer, represented an advance on any British tactics so far employed. The artillery tactics in particular reached new levels of sophistication that would be used to good effect in 1918. However, these methods could have been implemented at the very beginning of the campaign and broken off when conditions made them inappropriate. By acting as they did Haig and Gough (and inexplicably in the last phase, Plumer), risked the last army capable of sustained offensive action. And the conditions under which most of the battle was fought were so ghastly that the commanders had no right to expect that the British Army would emerge intact from it. Had the British Army mutinied in October 1917 it would have been no cause for wonder. That it did not do so owed nothing to its commanders. As it was, by conducting the campaign in the manner in which he did Haig ran the greatest of risks. When the Germans attacked in March 1918, the twelve or so divisions that might have stopped them in the Fifth Army area were not present. They had been consumed in a battle that cost 50,000 men for every mile gained. In the end the British, with help from the French, hung on. But this crisis was eminently preventable. And the men who could have prevented it were the men of the chimerical knock-out blow-Sir Douglas Haig and David Lloyd George.

Peoples of Roman North Africa

Mauri

The western region of North Africa was home to Berber-speaking groups whom the Greeks and later Romans identified as Mauri, or Moors. The term probably comes from a generic designation of Numidian tribes operating in the Atlas Mountains and West Africa in modern-day Morocco. The Romans took over the region and made it into the provinces of Mauretania Caesariensis, in the east in modern-day Algeria, and Mauretania Tingitana, in the west in modern-day Morocco. The region before had existed as a kingdom, with the legendary founder being King Atlas. They had ties with Carthage, and their first historically recorded king was Baga. Their king Bocchus was the father-in-law to Jugurtha, who would rebel against Rome and for over a decade (116-104 BCE) challenged Rome in Numidia (modern-day northern Algeria). During his rebellion he encouraged anti-Roman sentiment, leading to a massacre of Italians in the city of Cirta (Algeria). Rome’s conduct in the war was far from stellar, with charges of Roman commanders being bribed by Jugurtha. After his death the kingdom was calm for a half century. His rule showed many that local native power was strong and that Rome could be challenged, especially if using guerrilla warfare. During the chaos of the Roman civil war of 44-31 BCE, Mauretania became a client kingdom in 29, with Juba II of Numidia installed as its king by the Romans. Juba II was the son of Juba I, who had sided with Pompey and was defeated by Julius Caesar. Raised in Rome, Juba II became friends with Octavian (Augustus) and fought with him at Actium, where Octavian defeated Marc Antony in 31 BCE. Juba was rewarded with the kingdom of Mauretania probably in 29 BCE. He married Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra, Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt, and Marc Antony. Under their rule Mauretania flourished; they encouraged the arts, science, and agriculture, leading to extensive trade partners.

Their son Ptolemy coruled with his father from about 9 CE and then became king with Juba’s death in 23 CE. During Ptolemy’s reign with his father, in 17 CE the Berber tribes rebelled against him under the Numidian Tacfarinas and the Garamantes tribe. Juba and his son were not able to defeat them. Ptolemy was forced to call upon the Roman governor of Africa, and the rebellion finally ended in 24 but with considerable casualties. Ptolemy ruled in peace after this, and the kingdom prospered. In 40 CE Caligula invited him to Rome, where he was confirmed as king but then was assassinated on Caligula’s orders. Ptolemy’s household slave Aedemon was outraged and started a violent rebellion, which was not put down until 44 CE.

With Roman annexation, the region of Mauretania now promoted Rome. Local soldiers, notably cavalry, became known throughout the empire. The easternmost province, Mauretania Caesariensis, had its capital at Caesarea Mauretaniae in honor of Augustus. The city was rebuilt by Juba and Cleopatra and ultimately had a hippodrome, a basilica, an amphitheater, Greek temples, and numerous civic buildings. The city became the center for trade with the rest of the Roman world. It formed part of the frontier of the diocese of Africa in the late empire. In the west the other province was Mauretania Tingitana, with the Mulucha River as the boundary. The southern towns had defensive walls and ditches to protect them from marauders, and there was no continuous line of fortifications such as Hadrian’s Wall and the limes in Germany. The province was in the diocese of Spain in the late empire.

These western defenses were not able to prevent the raids by the local tribes of Mauri, which began during the reign of Nero, from crossing the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain. A century later under Commodus they again raided the region of Baetica. The raids during the third century required the tetrarch Maximian to lead an invasion through Spain, across into Tingitana, through the Atlas Mountains, and then through Caesariensis into Carthage. The descendants of the Berber tribes were called Moors during the early Christian period.

Desert Tribes

In the east, Rome faced desert marauders in Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and North Africa. Although occasionally disrupting provinces, these tribes never constituted a major threat to the empire because of their disconnected geographical regions. Their disruptions usually occurred in the agricultural regions, around watering holes. The major tribes that Rome faced were the Saracens and the Blemmyes.

In Arabia, the Saracens constantly raided the region east of the Jordan River. Ptolemy (100-170 CE) in his geography used the term to describe the region in the northern Sinai Peninsula as well as a tribal group living nearby in Arabia (Ptolemy et al. 1932, Book 5). The two being so close together probably had a common origin, one being the tribe, the other being the area they were originally inhabiting in the Roman Empire. Other authors also mention the Saracens as living in the mountains and enslaving people, which was probably a reference to their marauding behavior. Several ancient authors mention the Saracens in relation to the region around Arabia and the Sinai Peninsula. By the late third century they were noted for their military prowess and attacks on the Roman Empire (Retsö 2003, 505-506). They seem to have used heavy cavalry and were incorporated at times in the Roman military, although the term may have applied to the style of cavalry and not actual tribesmen. During the fourth century they were used by both Romans and Persians in their armies and may have been allies or, more likely, mercenaries. Although never presenting a serious threat to the empire, their rapid strikes forced Rome to place mobile and therefore more expensive troops in the region. Control of roads and oases thus dictated Rome’s defensive policy.

Known since the fourth century BCE, the Blemmyes lived in the south of Egypt in the region that Rome called Nubia and Kush. In the early empire Strabo, the geographer, described them as living in the Eastern Desert around Meroe and as peaceful people (Strabo and Roller 2014, 17.1). They apparently began to enlarge their sphere of influence during the third century CE, when Rome was weakened by internal strife. By 250 they were attacking Egypt, forcing Emperor Decius to personally strike against them and push them back. Zenobia, the queen of Palmyra, nominally an ally of Rome, in 272 used the Blemmyes to help her in her bid to become dominant in the east. Although they took the Thebais in Egypt, they were ultimately defeated in 279-280 when the Romans crushed them. Diocletian gave up southern Egyptian land to the allied nomadic tribes, the Nobatae, in order to create a buffer zone against the Blemmyes around the Nile at the first cataracts in 298. The Nobatae most likely also came from the Eastern Desert and probably were the traditional enemies of the Blemmyes. With the movement of the borders north, Diocletian created a secure defensible site while using the traditional warlike character of the tribes to maintain distractions and dissension among them outside of the empire’s territory.

When Rome conquered North Africa from Carthage and its successors, they attempted to control the coastal areas and rich agricultural lands in the interior near the foothills. The Romans attempted to incorporate the local population, especially the mountain tribes, the Berbers, into their society. Since Rome did not attempt to display a racial distinction, it was easy for the tribes to become assimilated. Outside of Africa to the south lay the nomadic tribes that interacted with Rome. One group Rome came into contact with was the Gaetuli, who fought for Jugurtha in North Africa (modern day Tunisia) in his struggle against Rome during 112-106 BCE, as related by Sallust. Although Sallust believed that all the tribes were one great nation, it is now known that they actually were separate tribes living in and south of the Atlas Mountains. Some of the tribes during the first century BCE were loyal to Marius, the Roman general who defeated Jugurtha in 106 BCE. In 3 CE the Gaetuli rebelled, possibly due to Roman attempts to stop their migration; this “war,” concluded in 6 CE, was followed by a general uprising in 17 CE by several tribes. Another group, the Garamantes, was a Berber tribe living in the Sahara in the Fezzan from 200 BCE to 200 CE. They continually raided Roman territory, and in 19 BCE Augustus sent his general Cornelius Balbus on an expedition, during which he captured 15 of their settlements; for his accomplishment he was granted a triumph, which was usually reserved for the imperial family.

In 17 CE, Tacfarinas led a general uprising of Gaetuli and Garamantes tribes against the Roman Third Augustan Legion. Tacfarinas was a Roman auxiliary commander who deserted and led his people, the Musulamii, a subgroup of the Gaetuli, against Rome during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. While the war was probably more of tribal incursions and raids, it lasted nearly a decade. What made the situation worse was that Tacfarinas gained support from the Mauri, who were rebelling against the Kingdom of Mauretania, clients of Rome. This increased Roman concerns, since now the whole region could be altered. While never able to take fortified Roman camps, Tacfarinas could rely on large numbers of desert tribesmen and continual raids. Finally, in 24 CE the governor Dolabella attacked and pursued Tacfarinas, knowing that only with his death could peace be restored. In a surprise morning attack, Tacfarinas was defeated and died charging the Roman troops. Finally, Septimius Severus was able to capture the Garamantes’s capital city, Gamara, and effectively end their power. The Garamantes were successful because of Rome’s desire not to incorporate large tracts of desert into their empire.

The native tribes occupying the deserts acted both as hostile marauders who gave Rome trouble and as buffer states between Rome and other organized groups that may have wanted to encroach upon Roman territory. The Roman Army often incorporated some of these tribes as auxiliaries. Rome often used these tribes to create divisions among other groups and powers, just as they in return did the same to Rome. Since the regions were not open to conquest and control, Rome attempted to show force when needed and control vital spots such as passes and watering holes. Although never a major problem, the tribes were often a nuisance.

Further Reading Richardson, John. 1996. The Romans in Spain. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Roller, Duane W. 2003. The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene: Royal Scholarship on Rome’s African Frontier. New York: Routledge. Law, R. C. C. 1967. “The Garamantes and Trans-Saharan Enterprise in Classical Times.” Journal of African History 8(2): 181-200. Ptolemy et al. 1932. Geography of Claudius Ptolemy. Translated by Edward Luther Stevenson. New York: New York Public Library. Retsö, Jan. 2003. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads. Oxford, UK: Routledge. Strabo and Duane W. Roller. 2014. The Geography of Strabo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

George Monck — 1608-1670 Part I

George Monck: a portrait in very typical seventeenth-century style with ceremonial armour and baton symbolising a general’s rank. The scene in the background recalls Monck’s prowess in siege warfare.

The hammering of carpenters could be distinctly heard above the cacophony of battle in the streets of Stirling. Lieutenant General George Monck went to inspect the work, eyeing the arcs of fire, conferring with his gunners, and chewing on a quid of tobacco so that he might ruminate well on the problem at hand.

It was 12 August 1651. Little more than a week had passed since Oliver Cromwell had begun his march back into England, delegating the command in Scotland to Monck. Cromwell had dealt a heavy blow to Parliament’s enemies in battle at Dunbar, but most of the land was still in open revolt. An unholy alliance of Scottish Presbyterians and Royalists declared themselves loyal to Charles II, the exiled monarch, and Stirling Castle was one of their strongest outposts.

The general was a stout, barrel-chested man. He spoke with the accent of his native Devon. His straightforward manner and reputation for doing exactly what he said he would do appealed to many, making him an early archetype for the British soldier. A kinsman gave the following testament of Monck:

he was a plain downright Englishman, a rough soldier bred in camps, unskill’d and detesting the servile arts practised in courts . . . he was not a man of what is commonly understood by quick parts: but if he was slow in considering, he was sure in acting: Solidity of judgement, indefatigable industry and intrepid courage were the qualities best adapted for the work he was performing.

Monck’s campaign might have been only a few days old, but he was determined to prosecute it with all due dispatch. He had been a professional soldier for twenty-five years and knew that fortresses had to be taken swiftly and without reverses, or his men’s fighting spirit could collapse: ‘the malice of a great army is broken, and the force of it spent in a great Siege’. For this reason, Monck eyed his wooden gun platforms with some satisfaction.

Inside Stirling’s walls, the governor, William Cunningham, was confident. There were 300 determined men under his command, a castle of great strength, 27 cannon, hundreds of barrels of powder and victuals for months. They had other, more symbolic, reasons to hold out, too: the regalia and records of the ancient kings of Scotland had been lodged in the fortress and, as every Scot knew, English arms had been humiliated before at Stirling. But Cunningham did not understand what Monck had in store for him.

So it was that when Monck sent a messenger forward, that afternoon of 12 August, to request the garrison’s surrender, he received a defiant reply from Cunningham. The governor told his attackers that he would hold out as long as he could.

That evening, four great guns and two mortars were brought onto their wooden platforms outside the castle. Parliament had hired the services of a Dutch master gunner, Joachim Hane, but Monck was an expert artillerist himself, having been given overall command of the Ordnance by Cromwell. Cunningham’s men studied the scene from the battlements as the great metal destroyers were hoisted onto their firing platforms with cranes, block and tackle. All of the principal players — Cunningham, Monck and Hane — knew that the English guns, though powerful, would take many days to batter breaches in Stirling’s thick walls. But those inside had no understanding of what the two great mortars could do. Although such weapons had been used in various continental sieges, there were few soldiers in Britain who had ever seen then in action.

Not long after daybreak on the 13th there was a terrific crump as the first mortar fired. Its shell took a quite different trajectory to the cannon balls of the four siege guns: the 1.75-pound metal sphere soared upwards at a steep angle, sailing high over the walls, before dropping and exploding. Hane noted the distances, performed his calculations and prepared a second shell.

As the great granado travelled up into the sky, the eagle-eyed might have spotted the burning fizz of its fuse. A skilful master gunner would trim its length with such fine judgement, matching the time of flight and burning speed of the igniter, that the powder inside would be detonated just above the targets’ heads, showering them with lumps of the shell’s iron casing. And that was precisely what happened. The second English shell plunged into the castle courtyard, exploding just a few feet above the ground, cutting down thirty men with its terrible blast.

Next day, after twenty-four mortar shells had been fired, Stirling’s garrison mutinied. The soldiers, Highlanders for the most part, had not seen modern warfare before and they were terror-struck. Just two days after his defiant refusal of terms, Cunningham had to surrender. The English general had cracked one of Scotland’s toughest fortresses without having to ask his army to storm it. One of his admirers wrote: ‘Monk shewed what was the difference between a Professor in the Art of War, well studied in all its rules, and a Fanatick Soldier that fights by inspiration.’

The wars that racked the British Isles from 1642 had certainly unleashed a startling array of fanatics — religious fervour infused Protestant dissenting sects, Royalist volunteers or Irish Catholic bands with murderous self-righteousness. It did not though provide most of them with the slightest clue about how to fight successfully. Monck had begun the Civil War as a Royalist general, but he had been captured, and the Parliamentarians had managed to turn him to their side by offers of cash and rank.

Thomas Fairfax, the general who brought organisation to the Parliamentary cause by creating the New Model Army in 1645, called Monck ‘a man worth the making’. The two officers, cast initially on opposite sides in the war, had learned their profession together, fighting in the Netherlands in the 1630s. It was there that Monck picked up many practical skills in such arcane matters as siege warfare. He was not only practiced in his profession but understood soldiers very well, earning the accolade in Ireland, scene of one of his early campaigns, of ‘the most beloved by the soldiers of any officer in the army’.

One week after reducing Stirling, Monck’s army was off again, marching on Dundee. He could not dawdle, aiming to crush his enemy before winter. Cromwell had confided a sizeable force to his lieutenant: four regiments of horse, one of dragoons and ten of infantry. The marching regiments of foot were the core of his army, but with each success Monck had to leave detachments, and men were cast about in order to prevent further insurrection. He knew from campaigns in Ireland the importance of retaining a powerful army under his own hand, without leaving too many soldiers on garrisons duty, and these considerations added urgency to his movements that August.

At this time, midway through the seventeenth century, the revolution in warfare brought about by gunpowder was still only half done. Each regiment that marched towards Dundee had to combine pikemen, often armoured with a helmet and breastplate, with other soldiers lugging great muskets. The firearms were inaccurate, difficult to load, and hardly usable at all in wet weather, when the slow-burning matches used to fire them might get drenched. For this reason, the pike-men, armed with 15-20-foot pikes, were there as a kind of insurance against mishaps, and to form a solid hedgehog in close combat against enemy horse or infantry.

Just as the pikemen fought in a way basically unchanged since the times of Alexander the Great, so too the horse were expected to charge into their enemies and run them through with cold metal. Only the dragoons, hybrid soldiers who rode between battles but often fought in them dismounted, using firearms, showed the advance of military science.

As to the human make-up of Monck’s Scottish army, they were a diverse bunch, a product of their recruitment in several waves. Some were long-term survivors of the Parliamentary army, who had come into it nine years earlier, at the very start of the war, from the trained bands, militia forces of volunteers, often from quite educated or skilled backgrounds. Many in this category had joined in their teens, and seen battle many times. As the war progressed, though, volunteers dried up, leading the belligerent armies to use the press, or compel men to serve. This initially dragged in various unwilling farm labourers, servants and the like, but constables in the shires soon took advantage of the chance to empty their prisons. The men were therefore often serving unwillingly and could only hope that pay promised to them (but rarely delivered) would eventually give them some reward for their dangerous service.

When he summoned Robert Lumsdaine, governor of Dundee’s fortress, on 26 August, Monck had many considerations on his mind. His siege train was moving very slowly, so he knew that he might not have at his disposal the same means that he had used at Stirling to bludgeon Dundee’s defenders. Furthermore, the men were impatient for plunder and their morale might prove brittle if some precipitate attempt on the works was beaten back. So, concerned as he must have been, it can be imagined that Monck was nettled when Lumsdaine replied cheekily that he would offer the English army one last chance to surrender and take safe passage out of Scotland.

Monck brought cannon from some nearby ships, but they were simply not powerful enough to reduce Dundee’s walls quickly. Time was slipping away; he needed a different approach.

His answer lay with a young boy who boasted that he could make his way in and out of the town at will. Monck employed him as a spy, and every day the urchin made a report to his new paymaster, often scampering over the works to the crack and whistle of musket balls fired at him by the defenders. Several more days elapsed, but when the siege guns finally arrived, Monck had what he needed to concert his plan. From his spy, he knew that the garrison were in the habit of getting blind drunk every night. He therefore resolved to attack in the morning, early enough to make the most of their collective hangover.

In the small hours of 1 September, the English army prepared its storming parties. Confusion reigned in such operations, so it was vital to be able to tell friend from foe. The usual procedure was to tie a strip of cloth around one arm. Monck’s was a little different: he got the men to pull out their shirt tails, over their backsides. This system was all very well for the stormers as long as they kept going forward, but if a man turned to flee, there was no telling what might happen to him. As the Parliamentarians primed their pistols and burnished their swords, the password ‘God With Us!’ was whispered among them.

When the storm went in, Monck hit the town from two sides at once and resistance lasted little more than half an hour. Governor Lumsdaine received payback for the ‘impertinent gallantry’ with which he had received Parliament’s summons and was put to the sword.

Dundee turned out to be packed with valuables, mostly the property of Lowland Royalists who had gone there for safety. For three days the English army sacked the place, stealing and boozing, before Monck could re-impose order.

In a campaign of just a few weeks Monck took several towns, captured enemy ringleaders and scattered resistance into the Highlands. He had successfully mopped up any organised remnants of the enemy army and, in doing so, made his reputation with Cromwell.

If Monck was a good general, his success in war did not match that of Cromwell. Yet it is Monck whose legacy was the greater for Britain and its army. This judgement might seem perverse, but while Cromwell had been the leading light in the execution of King Charles I, and the master of many battlefields, when he styled himself Lord Protector in December 1653 his journey reached a political dead end. Even Cromwell understood that in seeking to fill the void left by the beheaded Charles he could not crown himself king and be done with it. His problem was that he ran out of inspiration in his struggle to restore viable relations between Britain’s landowners, army and himself, as ruler. So the atmosphere became increasingly fraught, with extreme religious ideas flourishing, near mutinous regiments refusing to disband themselves and continuous unrest in the provinces. This period was characterised by many of those who lived through it as a ‘state of nature’.

Not long after assuming the title of Lord Protector, Cromwell drew up orders to send Monck — whose duties had taken him elsewhere for two years — back to Scotland. He packed up his trunks, leaving the post of ‘General at Sea’, an arrangement under which he had successfully commanded a naval squadron during a short-lived outbreak of Anglo-Dutch hostilities, and returning to Caledonia. In Monck’s absence, the rebels had become increasingly daring, and the Parliamentary army was suffering from poor morale and discipline.

Terms set out in the parchment presented to the Royalist officer turned Cromwellian trouble-shooter in April 1654 gave him enormous authority. Appointing Monck ‘Commander in Chief of the Army and forces in Scotland’, Cromwell gave him ‘full power to rule, govern and command against rebels and enemies of the public peace’. The attainment of this aim even entitled the new pro-consul to take measures to protect the ‘true religion’, Protestantism, gave him the ability to raise revenue through imposing new customs duties, and do everything necessary to keep his army in order. In short, Monck was a plenipotentiary who would take care of business north of the Tweed for a master with too many other demands on his time. Indeed, the job created for Monck gave him a situation that was in many respects more powerful and less complicated than that of the Lord Protector himself in London.

The English general and his wife even managed a modest form of court life in Edinburgh, and some of the gentry, at least, were willing to be patronised at their table. Monck’s wife, Ann, was eleven years his junior. They had met in 1644 while he was a Royalist prisoner in the Tower, before he decided to switch his services to the Parliamentary cause. She is described, a little unkindly, in some accounts as a washerwoman who ‘did’ for the inmates. Small, shrewish and of volatile temper, one account calls her ‘a lady of low origin, she having been formerly employed in one of the mercer’s shops in the Exchange in London . . . her former station shows itself in her manners and dress’. Another states, ‘Monk was more fearful of her than of an army. It is said she would even give him manual correction.’

Some suggest that Monck, through his long campaigning, knew little of the opposite sex, and that Ann was the only woman with whom he ever had, if the term is appropriate for an occasionally battered husband, a loving relationship. Reading between the lines, it is evident that some of Monck’s military adventures provided welcome relief from Ann. Even so, he certainly loved her and was able to stand up for himself in extremis.

But if Monck did not always rule his own roost, he managed to run Scotland as a benign dictator: he used flying columns of dragoons and infantry to hunt down rebels; established a substantial network of informers; tried to put the nation’s finances on a proper footing; kept his regiments in good military order; and checked some of the more radical preachers. However, the English Revolution made possible many new forms of religious worship, which gave the ruler of Scotland some insoluble problems. Cromwell believed strongly in this freedom, but Monck disliked many of the new groups, believing that the ideas flowing from various pulpits or meetings could allow extremists to foment social strife. He was concerned that firebrand preachers could subvert his soldiers and provoke conflict with Scottish Presbyterian ministers.

Monck could not completely suppress all these new sects — Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, Anabaptists and Fifth Monarchy Men — because the Protector decreed tolerance. Thus, the Presbyterians were annoyed that the nonconformists were allowed to operate at all, while the sectaries despised the general because he occasionally sought to restrain some of their wilder agitation.

Monck’s security operations made any overt displays of loyalty to the Stuarts impossible across most of the country. They also made Scotland, for perhaps the only time that century, a more lawful place than England. One contemporary (by no means friendly to Monck) paid this tribute to his administration there: ‘As he was feared by the nobility and hated by the clergy, so he was not unloved by the common people, who received more justice and less oppression from him than they had been accustomed to under their own lords.’

A little over one year after assuming his post, Monck decided that he had made sufficient progress in pacifying the country to begin reducing his garrison. This was an urgent necessity, since the cost of the army in Scotland was about double the revenue that the country itself could produce in various duties. But Britain’s military rulers had reached a point where they could not afford to pay off the men. In Scotland, during the summer of 1655, Monck calculated his regiments’ arrears at £80,000. They could not simply be sent packing, since they had campaigned for years in expectation of this money and would either mutiny or turn to crime if they did not receive it.

Monck applied the ingenuity that had served him so well at Stirling and Dundee to the disbandment problem. He encouraged soldiers to take jobs as mercenaries in Holland and France, or to emigrate to the colonies. He also cashiered some officers whom he believed had fallen under the spell of more radical sectaries. By these means, he managed a reduction of several regiments. Even so, the problem was only partially dealt with in Scotland, and even less so in England.

The ferment and ideological upheaval in 1650s Britain was such that it can easily be compared to France after 1789 or Iran after 1979. Fifth Monarchy Men and other millenarian sects were marching about, led by preachers who confidently asserted that Christ would make His second coming in England at any moment. Villagers fed up with being robbed by unpaid soldiers or set upon by thousands of ‘fanatick’ pilgrims formed armed groups, the Clubmen, who set upon any suspicious characters they met. Other factions, such as the Levellers and the Diggers, were advocating what we might now call a redistribution of wealth. The garrisons of what had once been a fine New Model Army could exert only a limited influence. In any case, many officers sympathised with the religious sectaries or Levellers, and the army was unhappy, owed huge amounts of money and refusing to disband itself. In short, it was holding the country to ransom.

George Monck — 1608-1670 Part II

Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Egerton of the King’s Troop of Horse Guards, a unit that returned with the exiled King Charles II in 1660 before joining his new army, c1672

The Coldstreamers march to London, 1660

During the five and a half years that Monck ruled Scotland, he tried to reconcile competing religious, military and budgetary demands. His solutions were subtly different from those in England. There was less religious tolerance in Scotland under the period of military rule, and certainly those members of the garrison who fell in with the Quakers or Fifth Monarchy Men often found themselves being dismissed from the army. Monck sought to maintain the military effectiveness of his regiments by curbing religious politics within their ranks, straining every sinew to pay them regularly and keeping them under command of trusted subordinates. All the while, he tried to protect himself against nasty political surprises by retaining a network of correspondents in London, his native Devon and the garrisons of Ireland and England — people of like mind, many of them professional soldiers.

At times, Monck tired of his burden and sought to resign, but Cromwell wouldn’t let him. The Lord Protector had become such an admirer that he even preferred to overlook the ways in which Monck had subverted his Puritan experiment. Some of those black-suited ideologues who did not like what they heard from Edinburgh tried to convince Cromwell that Monck’s heart remained true to the Stuarts and that the general was one of those who sought to restore Charles II to the throne.

Writing to Monck in August 1655, Cromwell referred to these rumours, going as far as to make a joke of them: ‘There be some that tell me that there is a certain cunning fellow in Scotland called George Monck who is said to lie in wait there to introduce Charles Stuart; I pray you must use your diligence to apprehend him and send him up to me.’

Why did Cromwell leave him in Scotland, at the head of one of the few effective garrisons left in the army? The Lord Protector knew his general well enough to realise that the sense of military honour that bound Monck to serve, after having agreed to take up the Scottish position, would be sufficient to prevent him betraying the Commonwealth’s trust. It was a sound judgement, and indeed was exactly the same one reached by a Royalist peer in considering whether Monck might be turned to the Stuart cause. The leading Stuart supporter put it thus: ‘The only ties that have hitherto kept [Monck] from grumbling have been the vanity of constancy to his professions, and his affection to Cromwell’s person.’ In this last comment the Royalist had realised something that the Lord Protector apparently had not. Monck respected Cromwell as a general and as a strong hand, holding the country back from even worse confusion and Puritan zealotry.

When Cromwell died, in September 1658, the country reached a crossroads. For a few months, his son Richard was able to rule, but challenges to his authority began appearing almost immediately. The ties between Oliver Cromwell and his generals had been dissolved. They began vying for power and, increasingly, Richard became a marginal figure. As Monck’s correspondents in London told him of each new twist and turn, he decided that he could not remain indifferent in the power struggle. He prepared to hurl himself out of Scotland, exploding with all the force of a political mortar bomb.

It was late in the evening of 8 December 1659 when Monck and his party arrived in Coldstream, a small village on the Scottish side of the Tweed. The ground was blanketed with snow, and stones in the stream that marked the English border were wreathed in ice. Several regiments of Monck’s Scottish army had already billeted themselves on the locals, having marched there on the general’s orders. At a time of night when the embers in Coldstream’s hearths would normally have been dying, smoke billowed into the crisp night from its chimneys, bearing witness to the many rough soldiers who had been packed into each home or barn.

One of Monck’s party recalled their arrival at 11 p.m.: ‘The honest Red-coats did bid us heartily welcome, but the Knaves had eat up all the Meat, and drank all the Drink of the Town . . . the General lodged, falling to his good Cheer, which was his chewing tobacco (which he used to commend so much).’ Monck and his people finally found beds for the night at a house just outside the village.

Monck’s days in Coldstream were the most fateful of his life. For it was there, gripped in the depths of the Scottish winter, that he had to decide whether to cross the Tweed, march to London and seize power. Ann appeared on a couple of occasions, but Monck packed her off the following morning. He did not want her there as he approached his moment of decision.

Fifteen months had passed since Oliver Cromwell’s death. His son Richard had inherited the title of Lord Protector but immediately it had become apparent that he did not have either the strength of character or the army following to wield supreme power. Certain warlords — veteran army commanders — soon decided to ignore Richard and took steps to dictate their terms to what remained of Parliament.

Cromwell’s side in the Civil War had, of course, fought in the name of Parliament, but by 1659 that assembly was a shadow of its former self. Its remaining members were those who had survived the 1648 purge of 231 Royalists and the following year’s abolition of the Lords. Monck signalled by letter his opposition to the actions of the military opportunists who now attempted to coerce the MPs. The principal among these warlords, Major General John Lambert, had marched north with a small army, ready to confront Monck if he sought to follow his words in support of Parliament with deeds. Lambert was a gifted cavalry commander who had campaigned on the same side as Monck and Cromwell in Scotland seven years previously. But now he coveted the title of Lord Protector and had garnered some support among Puritan officers.

The choice thus confronting Monck as he reviewed his regiments in Coldstream was whether to risk a further civil war involving years more bloodletting. He wrote to Lambert: ‘It is much upon my spiritt that this poore Commonwealth can never be happy if the army make itself a divided interest from the rest of the nation.’ But Monck was not just opposed to rule by military diktat. His belief that England would have to revert to its traditional form of government included a more explosive agenda: that only the Restoration of King Charles II could end the chaos in his country. He stood ready to usher in a new order, but his road to Westminster was full of dangers, which meant he could not state his aims plainly. Army and society had been shattered by seventeen years of strife. There were all manner of disparate sects and interests that disagreed about most things but still denounced the Stuart monarchy loudly and might unite against anyone proposing Restoration.

We are fortunate that some of the greatest English writers — John Milton, Samuel Pepys and Thomas Hobbes — lived through this crisis and recorded their views about what Monck did next. ‘If [Monck] had declared for the King or for a free Parliament,’ noted Hobbes, explaining the general’s subterfuge, ‘all the armies in England would have joined against him.’

Monck’s first priority during those days in Coldstream was therefore to assure himself of the loyalty of his own troops and that other garrisons in England and Ireland would acquiesce to his entering the political fray with his secret objectives. As he waited in the little border village, mud-spattered messengers on foaming horses arrived regularly, carrying dispatches from his correspondents across the country.

Monck had gone to the utmost care to cultivate these contacts during the preceding months, and to ensure that they went undiscovered by spies or gossips. Thomas Gumble, one of the general’s chaplains, recorded, ‘He had constantly Letters directed to Scotch Names at Edenbourgh, about Merchant affairs, and also other private business; and the whole Intelligence wrapt in certain words to be read in certain places . . . he had several Messengers that came as often as there was occasion, through by-ways, and not in the great Road.’

Others, too, arrived to see him: for example, a relative of Thomas Fairfax, the erstwhile commander of the Roundhead armies who, during Cromwell’s later years, had shut himself away in Yorkshire. During the Civil War, Fairfax had been Monck’s adversary and Lambert’s friend, but over time he had come to conclude that England’s best course back towards stability consisted of restoring the monarchy. Now he was ready to declare his support for Monck as soon as he crossed the Tweed, and to bring numerous influential northern gentlemen with him.

These secret preparations were so effective that Monck wrong-footed many of those who now sought power but who had written him off as a dull plodder. Hobbes wrote, ‘they thought not of him; his gallantry had been shown on remote stages . . . [but] after General Monk [sic] had signified by letter his dislike of the proceedings of Lambert and his fellows, they were much surprised, and began to think him more considerable than they had done; but it was too late’.

By Christmas Day 1659, Monck’s conspiracy was nearing fruition. He knew that many in London were desperate for deliverance from religious extremists relying on armed force, and that others in the army would either support him or at least stand aside and watch. But what about the loyalty of his own troops?

A little over two months before, on 19th October, the issue of allegiance had reached a tense crisis in Edinburgh. Monck had been forced to use loyal soldiers to face down those of his own and another regiment who had fallen under the spell of officers sympathetic to Lambert. Addressing the troops during this stand-off, with musketeers blowing on their smouldering matches, ready to give fire at any moment, Monck appealed direct to the rank and file, bellowing out in his Devon accent a promise that he would guarantee them their back pay. The men began cheering for their general; when shots rang out, mercifully they came in the form of a salute for Monck. With the threat of bloodshed averted, Monck had to dismiss the lieutenant colonel of his own regiment and six of its ten company commanders; all had shown themselves loyal to Lambert and the other army plotters in London.

With this crisis behind him, and the army readied in Coldstream, Monck’s careful management of his soldiery during the previous four years paid dividends. Those in the ranks knew that ‘honest George Monck’ had seen to it that they were paid more often than the men of other garrisons and now they also had that promise of the remainder of their due. Occasional fighting against Highland rebels meant the regiments had retained their spirit. His popularity in this small force was such that when Monck rode among his men, he would often hear them shout that he should make himself Lord Protector in Richard Cromwell’s stead.

On 1 January 1660, Monck’s first brigade marched across the bridge at Coldstream. His destiny was sealed. Thomas Gumble, his chaplain, recorded breathlessly that setting out on New Year’s Day was ‘a good omen to begin a New World in England’.

The Scottish army marching south consisted of four regiments of horse and six of foot. They were divided into two brigades, the second of which, accompanied by Monck himself, crossed the Tweed on 2 January. The total strength of this force was fewer than 6,000 men, and they were soon known as the Coldstreamers. Gumble compared them to the Nobles of Israel, ‘because they offered themselves willingly among the people, and jeoparded their lives unto death in the high places of the field’.

Ten days after their departure, when the Coldstreamers marched into York, the immediate prospect of bloodshed had receded somewhat. Yorkshire had risen in support of Monck, and Lambert’s army melted away. Various worthies who presumed to speak for Parliament now began frantic negotiations with Monck, realising at last that he had become England’s kingmaker. Associations around the country began sending petitions to York, where the general paused for five days while considering his next step.

Fairfax was one of the first to come and see Monck, and urged him to declare for Charles II. But he was disappointed when the Coldstreamers’ leader gave him no clear answer. There were different proposals flying about that fell short of this dramatic step and were therefore worthy of consideration. Many of the arguments centred on whether some sort of national equilibrium could be restored if the MPs purged, or ‘secluded’, in 1648 — at least those who had survived — could be recalled to the Commons. Those opposed to this measure knew it would lead inexorably to the return of a Stuart king.

Monck did not gratify Fairfax, or the others who wanted him to spell out his position in York. Instead he resumed his march towards London. Some regarded this as indecision and funk. A contemporary and rival damned Monck as ‘instrumental in bringing things to pass which he had neither wisdom to forsee nor courage to attempt nor understanding to continue’.

Admirers, though, regard the general’s refusal to declare his aims during the Coldstreamers’ march as a masterful tactic to prevent his enemies coalescing. It is clear that Monck wanted Restoration, but that he did not dare articulate it until he could see for himself the situation in London and know that he could rely on the support of all the main garrisons. In cloaking his intentions, the general was ready not just to be evasive but to resort to downright lies. Monck wrote to one of the old Roundheads in London: ‘Believe me, Sir, for I speak it in the presence of God, it is the desire of my soul, and shall (the Lord assisting) be witnessed by the actions of my life, that these nations be so settled in a free state, without a king, a single person, or House of Peers, that they may be governed by their representatives in Parliament successively.’

On 3 February the Coldstreamers reached Highgate. Monck reviewed the regiments and addressed them as they gazed south from the hill at London’s northern extreme to the smoky metropolis below. Once the order to march was given, the regiments filed down the hill, their many flags dancing in the winter wind. The musketeers lugged matchlocks on their shoulders, the pikemen tramped along, carrying their long, awkward weapons with practised ease.

Down Gray’s Inn Lane the long columns of soldiers went, the townspeople stopping and staring. One of the Coldstreamers recorded, ‘the Scotch forces did not find the usual welcome of the people, as they did in other places; only they were gazed upon, and that was all their entertainment. Which the Soldiers observing, wished themselves among their Friends in the North.’

To Londoners, the Coldstreamers looked quite different to the well-fed garrison troops they were used to. One account stated, ‘Their Scotch horse were thin and out of case with long and hard Marching; and the men as rough and weather beaten, having marched in a severe Winter about three hundred Miles in length, and through deep and continued Snows; so that all their Way they had scarce seen their native Country.’ They proceeded to Westminster, where Monck went in search of the Speaker of the Commons. Londoners gradually understood what the arrival of this new army meant.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary on 6 February, ‘I stood upon the steps and saw Monk go by, he making observances to the judges as he went along.’ The next day, he saw some of Monck’s men manhandling some Quakers, evidently having taken their commander’s dislike of the religious sects to heart, and noted disapprovingly, ‘indeed the soldiers did use them very roughly and were to blame’. A few days later, once a letter by Monck in favour of restoring the secluded Members of Parliament had become public, Pepys raced to the Guildhall in the City and found a very different scene:

the Hall was full of people expecting Monk and the Lord Mayor to come thither, and all very joyfull. Met Monk coming out of the chamber . . . but such a shout I never heard in all my life, crying out ‘God Bless Your Excellence’ . . . I saw many people give the soldiers drink and money, and all along the street cried, ‘God Bless them!’ and extraordinary good words.

Monck’s position had at last become clear. The MPs purged in 1648 were those who had refused to go along with the trial and execution of Charles I. Bringing them back into the House would create a majority in favour of Restoration. People in the City, in particular, longed for it, and the explosion of joy witnessed by Pepys can be seen in that light. However, not everyone agreed to this step, and those who thought Monck’s request a betrayal of everything gained in the Civil War met urgently at Westminster, and agreed to elect a completely new House of Commons.

It is a measure of how far Monck had thought ahead and prepared the ground through his secret correspondence and messengers that on 21 February, when his opponents were about to dissolve the House and declare a new election, one of his staff appeared at the Commons with seventy-three of the Members purged a dozen years before. Resuming their seats, and to the consternation of the Puritan zealots, these Members immediately changed the balance of the House. There could be no thought of casting out these returning gentlemen, because the other MPs knew that the force of Monck’s army stood behind them. The Restoration of Charles II became inevitable.

Three months later, on 25 May, a large crowd of dignitaries assembled on the quay at Dover. It was approaching 1 p.m. and the assembled party watched as a ship of the line approached. The warship had, until three days before, been called Naseby, after one of Parliament’s great victories. In view of its mission that day, it had been tactfully renamed the Royal Charles. The Mayor of Dover and his retinue fussed about, standing under the ornate canopy they had erected for the occasion. A large Bible, with golden clasps, sat on a lectern, awaiting presentation to His Majesty.

George Monck — 1608-1670 Part III

Coronation procession (detail) April 23, 1661. Charles II at left, followed by Monck, who is “Leading a Horse of Estate.”

One guest, though, upstaged all the others. Monck had been summoned urgently to Dover after a letter arrived from Charles II saying that he would not land unless he was sure the general was there to meet him.

As the statuesque figure of the King — over six feet tall, with flowing locks and courtly robes — came ashore, cannon boomed out a salute from the castle. ‘The General received him with becoming duty’, recorded Gumble, who was standing just behind Monck, ‘but his Majesty embraced him with an affection so absolute and vehement, as higher could not have been expressed by a Prince to a subject. He embraced and kissed him.’ Pepys, who had been aboard the Royal Charles, sharing the King’s breakfast of ‘pease, pork and boiled beef’, noted that after the embraces ‘the shouting and joy expressed by all is beyond imagination’.

They made an incongruous couple, the King and Monck, with Charles towering over the stocky general as they walked to a waiting carriage. But the two of them symbolised the importance of the moment: the rough soldier whose strong hand rescued England from anarchy deferring to the manicured sovereign who would restore the mystery of kingship and the missing element of hierarchy required for Parliament and state to function.

During the years when Royalist agents had tried to win Monck over to their cause, vast sums had been offered secretly by way of reward. When Charles II returned, Monck wasted little time in collecting his due — both financial and by extending a personal web of patronage. He was quickly created Duke of Albemarle, made Lord General, or Commander-in-Chief, of the Army, and laden with other honours.

In his correspondence with Charles prior to their meeting in Dover that May, Monck had set only one precondition for how the King should rule. Making himself the soldiers’ champion, Monck had insisted that the army’s arrears of pay be settled as a prelude to its disbandment. This involved demobilising 18 regiments of foot, 15 of horse and dozens of garrison parties scattered about the land, totalling around 50,000 men. Parliament and sovereign had to agree a huge programme of taxation in order to buy off the soldiers, preventing the emergence of another Lambert (the general himself languished in the Tower) who might seize power. Under the new assessments, £70,000 extra per month for eighteen months was to be raised to pay off all of those regiments.

Although plans were set in train for the complete disbandment of what had once been Fairfax’s New Model Army, it may be surmised that both Monck and the King thought some soldiers might be required to act as police, maintaining internal security. There were plans to keep a few troops of cavalry to protect the people of London against thieves and the mob. Also, the future of a regiment of Royal Guards, who had accompanied Charles on his return from the Low Countries, remained uncertain.

Matters were brought to a head in January 1661, when a crowd of several hundred Fifth Monarchy Men marched to Kenwood on Highgate Hill and declared a sort of divinely inspired insurrection. Monck quickly scattered the zealots with his forces. Much of the old Parliamentary army had already been paid off, but one or two regiments, critically Monck’s own — the core of his Coldstreamers — were still under arms.

On the 14th of the same month, Monck’s regiment of foot and his troop of horse marched to Tower Hill. At about 10 a.m., a carriage appeared, bearing commissioners appointed by Parliament to oversee the disbandment of the army. As they got out, the troops formed a circle around them. Colonel King, one of the commissioners, addressed the men, an eyewitness recording:

That God had highly honoured them in the eyes and hearts of the King and kingdom; yea, and made them renowned throughout the world and to all posterity, in stirring them up to be eminently instrumental in the happy Restoration of his Majesty to his royal throne, the Parliament to their privileges, and our whole kingdoms to their antient laws, liberties, and government, without any battle or bloodshed: for which signal services his Majesty and the whole kingdom returned them not only their verbal but real thanks.

The troops were invited to lay down their pikes and muskets. No sooner had they done so than they took a new oath to serve the King as ‘an extraordinary Guard to his Royal Person’, marched forward, picked up the weapons discarded minutes before, and began shouting, ‘God save King Charles the Second!’ Some men threw their hats in the air, others primed their muskets and began a feu de joie.

With this ceremony, the modern British Army was born. It was formed from troops that had previously been enemies — a pattern applied by the British themselves in nation-building missions hundreds of years later from Sierra Leone to Iraq. Monck’s men and a further regiment of Parliamentary cavalry (Colonel Unton Crook’s horse) were combined with some Royalist battalions brought by Charles from the Netherlands and, a few months later, with some newly raised troops. The precedence of these different regiments was considered too delicate an issue to be tackled in Monck’s lifetime, but Charles’s returnees were later designated the 1st Foot Guards and Monck’s old regiment the 2nd, or Coldstream, Guards. Even today their rivalry lives on, the Coldstreamers adopting the motto ‘Second to None’. Monck’s troop of horse and two of the King’s household were combined into the Lifeguards; Crook’s old Ironside regiment became the Royal Horse Guards, or the Blues.

These arrangements were in place for only a few months before the King’s acquisition, through marriage, of a colonial possession (Tangier in modern Morocco) required a garrison to be raised. Within a couple of years, the army, which had fallen as low as 3,000 men, was restored to a strength of around 8,500.

Fairfax’s New Model, it is true, was the first British professional military force, in the sense that its men were not paid off after each campaign and were properly trained. Ultimately, though, the New Model or Parliamentary army came to represent a sectarian instrument of military rule. It was infiltrated by various extreme religious groups, eventually fracturing along lines of loyalty to different commanders. It was for this reason that Fairfax’s army, or its remnant, was almost entirely disbanded in 1660-2. Monck’s men (and indeed Charles’s Guards regiment) were the nucleus of a modern standing army not just because their regiments have served continuously since February 1661 but because they represented the unification of what had been the Civil War factions. Even so, their constitutional status remained unclear for many years.

Until the 1689 Mutiny Act, which set out a code of military discipline, the notion of a regular army was not to be found in any statutory form. In the meantime, the Guards were paid with budgetary sleight of hand, as part of the King’s household. It was to take centuries for British soldiers to stop thinking of themselves as servants of the Crown. Indeed, some still do.

Such was the novelty of a standing army that there were no quarters or barracks for them. The men of the new Guards regiments had to be billeted, as the Parliamentary troops had been, in various places where paid lodgings might be found. An order in Monck’s regiment mentions ‘inns, victualling-houses, taverns, and alehouses’, where the men were meant to provide for their stay, food and boozing from their daily pay. This was set at ten pence a day for privates while actually guarding the King; eight pence under other circumstances. The Coldstream Guards for many years were thus scattered about, living in pubs and inns in an area of London that now comprises Clerkenwell, Aldgate, Islington and Holborn — a thoroughly agreeable existence, one imagines, for men who had recently spent years fighting Highlanders in Scotland.

Since the arrangements for raising and paying troops during the 1660s and 1670s were not subject to specific Parliamentary consent, many in the Commons frequently voiced opposition to the notion of a standing army, regarding it as an instrument that might be used by a king to rule by force. The Royalists, meanwhile, had seen in the experience of Cromwell and his generals a lesson that religious extremists should not be allowed to run the country in a similarly arbitrary way. Each side saw in the other’s pronouncements a desire to gain control of a powerful standing army as an instrument of internal repression.

Monck had believed in the need for regular military forces for many years. He and Fairfax seemed to have drawn common lessons from their campaigns in the Netherlands in the 1630s. Each had tried to apply these ideas during the Civil War, with Fairfax succeeding and Monck seeing his suggestions for such a force ignored by Charles I. Under Charles II, Monck finally found himself as lord general of a professional army. He believed that one of the principal hedges against such an army being used as an instrument of tyranny was that it should be commanded by a strong, independent figure, i.e. himself. And while, as Duke of Albemarle, he played the part of courtier to Charles II with alacrity, it is evident that the Civil War had left Monck with the belief that no monarch or royal house could regard their position as a right to be upheld, regardless of conduct. Monck’s treatise Observations upon Military and Political Affairs contained the sentence, ‘You ought not to perpetuate any Government, neither to families nor yet for life.’ This might fit easily with his earlier refusal to go along with Cromwell’s plans to pass power to his son, but it was a bombshell coming from the man who had restored the Stuart monarchy.

Charles II was evidently shrewd enough to recognise in Monck the kind of independence of spirit that required careful handling. He not only larded the Duke with honours and money, but used Monck as a trouble-shooter during the Great Plague, after the Fire of London and, reverting to his position as naval commander, during renewed naval hostilities with the Dutch. This second tour as an admiral was not a success for Monck, however, for he was defeated in battle by the Dutch fleet, a stain on his reputation in later life.

The final period of his service brought Monck into frequent contact with Samuel Pepys, one of the clerks running the navy. Pepys certainly paints a less than flattering picture of Monck in this period, recording at one point, ‘he is grown a drunken sot’. Others were scathing about abuses of patronage by Monck and his wife, with one noting, ‘both of them asked and sold all that was in their reach, nothing being denied them for some time’. Pepys also considered Monck rather dim. At the same time, though, he was perceptive enough to recognise both his popularity and his standing with the King. When Monck returned from fighting the Dutch in October 1667, he received a vote of thanks from Parliament in spite of the defeat. A perplexed Pepys wrote, ‘I know not how, the blockhead Albemarle [i.e. Monck] hath strange luck to be loved, though he be (and every man must know it) the heaviest man in the world, but stout and honest to his country.’

On 2 January 1670, Monck died while sitting in a chair at home. The King immediately ordered that he be embalmed by royal physicians, prior to lying in state at Somerset House. The obsequies observed at this time dictated a lengthy period on display, allowing worthies the opportunity to travel to London from various parts of the country. The dead general was thus exhibited for weeks, suitably prepared by the doctors so that his remains did not visibly deteriorate or prove too offensive to the mourners’ nostrils.

The character left to posterity by most of those contemporaries who wrote about him was of ‘honest George Monck’. He was the archetype of the reliable soldier who eschewed courtly sophistication and spoke about things as he found them. Even someone like Pepys, whose patron was a rival of Monck’s for the King’s favour, had to concede these traits.

It would be fatal to conclude from this, though, that Pepys was right when he called Monck a ‘blockhead’, since there is much evidence to the contrary. It is Monck’s seizure of power in 1660 — the key drama of his life — that shows what a calculating and ruthless man he could be when he thought that the interests of England and, obviously, his own family demanded it. Monck’s plain, thickset appearance, his refusal to use flowery language and even his West Country accent may all have caused people to underestimate his intelligence.

When Thomas Hobbes published Behemoth, or the Long Parliament in 1671, the tract in which he tried to digest the experience of that national madness that was the Civil War and find its deeper meaning, he chose to place the march from Coldstream at the very end of his story. Behemoth concludes with the words, ‘You have told me little of the General till now in the end: but truly, I think the bringing of his little army entire out of Scotland up to London, was the greatest stratagem that is extant in history.’

In giving this powerful testimony to the significance of Monck’s coup, Hobbes played the same trick on his readers as the general had played on his rivals — of writing him off, allowing him to remain on ‘remote stages’ until the moment of his own choosing. In describing the march as the ‘greatest stratagem’, Hobbes also acknowledged that Monck had cloaked his real intentions, sometimes wrong-footing his rivals with lies.

There can be no doubt, though, that the general acted with cunning and calculation in 1660: he maintained a network of secret contacts in order to gain the most timely intelligence of what his rivals were doing; he neutralised his army rivals; once in London, he marshalled sufficient secluded Members of the Commons to produce at the key moment in Parliament as his coup moved towards its unstated climax, Restoration.

The quality of his thinking is also shown in the book Observations upon Military and Political Affairs, ostensibly written by him in 1644-5, while a prisoner in the Tower, but evidently amended later in life and finally published in 1671, after his death. In formulating general principles about the conduct of war, Observations showed an intellectual ambition to which the vast majority of British officers through the ages would never have aspired. It would be overstating it to say that Monck’s treatise made him an English Machiavelli or Clausewitz, but it was not a lack of merit that ensured Monck’s book circulated little in the decades after his death. Rather, it seems that a British officer corps that would rank among the poorest read in Europe (the French were the unquestioned champions of military theory) was not much interested in the reflections of a man who had done so much to shape the country.

Monck’s book combined much of what was to become standard in such works — advice about the concentration of force or qualities of decisive generalship — with some fresh ideas that seem part of our modern age, such as the vital importance of intelligence gathering in order to wage successful war. His reflections on relations between generals and their political masters are of greatest interest, though. In his advice that ‘you ought not to perpetuate any Government’, Monck showed that the relationship between England and the Monarch had been permanently altered by the Civil War, and that the Restoration was not simply handing the country back to the Stuarts to do with it what they liked. Indeed, the overthrow of James II just a few years later would underline Monck’s conviction that no king had a God-given right to continue his rule, regardless of his behaviour.

As for success in war, Monck stated that it needed underlying economic strength as well as military professionalism: ‘I account a Rich Publick Treasure, providently provided before-hand, and a people well trained in Martial Affairs, to be two of the only Pillars (next under God) that will preserve a Kingdom or State from ruine and danger.’ Monck argued for moderation in waging war: ‘It is an excellent property of a good and wise Prince to use War, as he doth Physick, carefully, unwillingly, and seasonably.’ As for the role of generals in launching conflict or defining its aims, he believed, ‘It is a dangerous thing for a General to make himself chief in pursuading a Prince, or State to any weighty and important resolution, so that the counsel thereof be wholly imputed to him, which belongs to many.’

In these last two points Monck did much to define the British Army and its style of generalship for the next two hundred years. First, any blatant adventurism was to be eschewed. Second, responsibility for going to war must always be seen by the wider public as the decision of a government rather than its generals.

In an age of modern liberal democracy, many regard the armed forces as ‘apolitical’. But there should be no doubt about it, Britain’s post-Civil War settlement was made possible by a military coup in 1660. Furthermore, in the two centuries that followed Monck’s action, the army that he founded would often find itself up to its neck in politics. The knack for aspiring ‘political generals’, as Monck had shown, was to intervene in civilian counsels only occasionally, and to be very careful about cloaking their intentions. In foreign wars, senior officers were bound to have strong views about the feasibility or righteousness of military plans, but they needed to use wisdom and guile to bend civilian opponents to their way of thinking.

Monck’s coup, though, was such an unarguably political act that his historical reputation became the subject of partisan dispute. Tories would see him as a man loyal to his rightful sovereign who rescued England from the madness of its ‘state of nature’ following the execution of Charles I. Their ideological opponents — later known as Whig historians — tended to see Monck as a cynical adventurer who changed sides too many times, betrayed Cromwell and ultimately sold out the Commonwealth in order to enrich his family.

As to the significance of his actions, though, there is less dispute. Monck had other options, after all: he might have consolidated his personal power and made himself Protector, as some urged him to do; conversely, he could have allowed the election of a new Parliament, without the return of Charles II, thereby producing a true republic. Instead, he took the key step in the creation of a constitutional monarchy, and founded a professional army.

The procession from Somerset House to Westminster Abbey on 30 April 1670 was a splendid one, paid for by the King. Atop the coffin was an effigy of the Lord General, Duke of Albemarle, dressed in armour. As the carriage carrying it made its way up the Strand, it was watched by two regiments of City Militia, who were lining the route. The 1st Foot Guards followed on; then Monck’s old regiment, the Coldstreamers. Behind this military parade came Monck’s son and the other mourners. Ann had died a fortnight after her husband, but, with no lying in state necessary for her, had beaten him to their vault in Westminster Abbey. While some contemporaries liked to look down on her for her lowly origins, her death testified to the depth of her love for the general, and, as one modern biographer has noted, ‘No breath of scandal was to hurt either of them at the bawdy court of the restored Stuart king.’

Circumstances had cast Monck not as the victor of epic battles but in the role of kingmaker. This gave him a more significant legacy than the greatest master of the battlefield of his own age, Oliver Cromwell. Even so, the army that Monck had founded was, at the time he left it, a small enterprise: several thousand men who figured little in the calculations of European statesmen. The task of getting the wider world to sit up and take notice of this new power would eventually fall to a tall young ensign who walked behind the general’s coffin on that day in April 1670. His name was John Churchill.