‘Even a Small Invasion might go a Long Way’ I

A flame fougasse demonstration somewhere in Britain. A car is surrounded in flames and a huge cloud of smoke. circa 1940.

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H(U) – Tauchfahig (U-Panzer / Submersible Tank)

‘I hear from Lancaster in the flats who has just been to Wickham Market in Suffolk, that on Saturday night and again on Tuesday invasion was attempted. Not one Nazi returned. Their bodies are still being washed up along our shores. That is the end of all Nazis who seek to molest our freedom – death.

Diary entry on 14 September 1940 by London schoolboy, Colin Perry. By a curious irony it was a quarter of a century before, on 8 September 1915 that Zeppelins had made their first big raid on London.

On Saturday, 7th September after a bath and a quick change into a respectable uniform a small party of fighter pilots of 242 Squadron at Coltishall in Norfolk were soon jammed into an ancient car and bounced along the narrow, winding road which leads to Norwich. Some hours later they were still wedged together in the crowded, stuffy bar of the ‘Bell’ when a posse of Service police stalked in and announced that all RAF personnel were to report back to their airfields at once. At Coltishall Pilot Officer ‘Johnnie’ Johnson and his fellow pilots found that Alert No. 1, ‘invasion imminent and probable within twelve hours’, had been declared by the responsible authorities and the defences were to be brought to the highest state of readiness. The scene in the mess could only be described as one of some confusion. Elderly officers, mobilized for the duration, darted about in various directions. Their CO was not to be seen and the pilots tried to get a coherent explanation of the situation. They soon heard half a dozen different versions, the most popular of which was that the invasion was under way and some enemy landings were expected on the east coast. Perhaps the CO and the flight commanders were already at dispersal and Johnson left the ante-room to make a telephone call from the hall. As he hastened along the corridor he almost collided with a squadron leader who stumped towards him with an awkward gait. His vital eyes gave Johnson a swift scrutiny, at his pilot’s brevet and the one thin ring of a pilot officer.

‘I say, old boy, what’s all the flap about?’ he exclaimed, legs apart and putting a match to his pipe.

‘I don’t really know, sir,’ Johnson replied. ‘But there are reports of enemy landings.’

The squadron leader pushed open the swing doors and stalked into the noisy, confused atmosphere of the ante-room. Fascinated, Johnson followed in close line-astern because he thought he knew who this was. He took in the scene and then demanded, in a loud voice and in choice, fruity language, what all the panic was about. Half a dozen voices started to explain and eventually he had some idea of the form. As he listened, his eyes swept round the room, lingered for a moment on his pilots and established a private bond of fellowship between them.

There was a moment’s silence whilst he digested the news. ‘So the bastards are coming. Bloody good show! Think of all those juicy targets on those nice flat beaches. What shooting!’ And he made a rude sound with his lips which was meant to resemble a ripple of machine-gun fire. The effect was immediate and extraordinary. Officers went about their various tasks and the complicated machinery of the airfield began to function smoothly again.

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940. Pattern of condensation trails left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight.

Vera Shaw, a plotter at 11 Group Headquarters, Uxbridge, wrote: ‘Early duty. Lovely day dawning, though trouble expected. Around 0800, warning from Command of a big raid. It came! 250-plus aircraft approaching Dover. Plots came thick and fast. Soon table covered with raids. Noise indescribable – why must everyone shout so? Squadron board shows all squadrons in combat. By midmorning the King and Mr. Churchill appear in the Controller’s room. At one stage, Mr. Churchill asked if we had any more squadrons to call on. ‘No,’ said the Controller.’

At 1554 hours the first track plotter at Bentley Priory reached forward to place an initial raid counter on the table map. Showing twenty-plus over Pas de Calais, it was quickly followed by others of growing size, until Dowding realised that this was the largest raid he had yet faced. As the full situation was flashed to Group and sector controllers, fighters of all three southern Groups were frantically brought to state. The first coastal Observer Corps report of the enemy formation reached the Maidstone centre at 1616 hours and told of many hundreds of aircraft approaching the coast between Deal and the North Foreland. Half an hour before, Hermann Göring, ridiculously bedecked in pale blue and gold had stood on the cliffs near Calais and watched wave upon wave of his bombers and fighters set course for London. Göring had launched 348 bombers and 617 single-and twin-engine fighters in the greatest aerial armada yet seen in the first of German ‘reprisal’ attacks on the capital following raids by RAF Bomber Command on Berlin. Hitler had seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by diverting Luftflotten (Airfleet) 2 and 3 from their attacks on the RAF sector stations to attack London. He wanted retribution for the raids on Berlin and in the process changed the entire nature of the battle. The German Airfleet commanders, Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperrle and Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring were divided on how to defeat RAF Fighter Command. Against his wishes, Kesselring had been discharged from the army on 1st October 1933 and appointed head of the Department of Administration at the Reich Commissariat for Aviation (Reichskommissariat für die Luftfahrt), the forerunner of the Reich Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium), with the rank of Oberst (colonel). Kesselring had become Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe on 3rd June 1936 and he oversaw the expansion of the Luftwaffe, the acquisition of new aircraft types such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Ju 87 and the development of paratroops. Like many ex-Army officers, he tended to see air power in the tactical role, providing support to land operations. On 1st October 1938 he was promoted to General der Flieger (air general) and became commander of Luftflotte 1, based in Berlin. While Sperrle wanted to continue the attacks on the fighter stations Kesselring argued that it was a waste of time as RAF Fighter Command could simply withdraw out of range to the north of London. ‘We have no chance of destroying the English fighters on the ground’ he said. ‘We must force their last reserves of Spitfires and Hurricanes into combat in the air.’ To do so he needed to attack London. An OKW Directive on 16 August had already said as much: ‘On D-1 day the Luftwaffe is to make a strong attack on London, which should cause the population to flee from the city and block the roads.’

It did nothing of the kind. Peter Wood, who was living in Tulse Hill in south London and working in the City for a shipping company was playing football near Crystal Palace when he heard some unseasonal thunder. He looked up to see the sky full of German bombers – but the game went on. ‘Literally dozens of Germans, accompanied by smaller aircraft which I took to be fighters, were going over at about 500 feet. There didn’t seem to be any gunfire from our defending forces at all. Fortunately for us, they overflew us, because they were obviously heading for the docks, for what was, as we know now, the first bombing of the docklands at that time. We shrugged our shoulders and carried on to finish our game of football. After that the bombing of London increased in volume and the routine was to sleep in a reinforced cellar where my wife’s family lived in Tulse Hill and when the all-clear went in the morning, you just got up, washed and dressed and went to work.’

This vast aerial armada, the greatest yet seen, had assembled 88 miles away over the Pas de Calais and headed towards the Thames Estuary on a twenty mile front stepped up from 14,000 feet to 23,000 feet. The more than a mile and a half high formation covered an astonishing 800 square miles, a sight which must have sent shock waves throughout Fighter Command when the radars first picked up the mass formation. At 1617 hours Air Vice-Marshal Park ordered eleven RAF fighter squadrons into the air and six minutes later all remaining Spitfires and Hurricanes were brought to Readiness. By 1630 all twenty-one squadrons stationed within seventy miles of London were in the air or under take-off orders. Take-off orders were passed to the pilots by the sector controller by telephone or loudspeaker. Flight Lieutenant Denis Robinson of 152 Squadron at Warmwell recalled: ‘The worst time was just waiting. When the phone rang the orderly would shout ‘Squadron Scramble – Angels 15 [15,000 feet].’ In an instant we were running to our aircraft, grabbing the parachute off the wing, buckling it on as you scrambled into the cockpit. Then pull on the helmet already attached to radio and oxygen supply, whilst somehow starting the engine. It was a grass field without runways, so it’s a matter of getting into the wind, keeping a sharp look-out for other aircraft, full throttle and away we go.’ Further instructions followed over the aircraft radio after take-off.

The RAF pilots who were sent up to intercept became embroiled in melees and attacks that might begin and be pressed home at any height from 25,000 feet down to near the ground. One moment there could be as many as 140 separate fights going on at the same time, the next pilots were seemingly alone. It was a situation that must have frozen the blood of even the bravest of men, if they had time to dwell on it. The situation demanded the utmost alertness and once sighted, the RAF pilots opened fire at an average of 200 yards, closing sometimes to less than fifty yards. As the first four squadrons of RAF fighters attacked the southern flank of the huge formation it was soon apparent to Dowding and Park that the Luftwaffe was heading for London and not the precious Essex and Kentish fighter airfields. Breaking out of a layer of haze east of Sheppey, fighter pilots found themselves on the edge of a tidal wave of aircraft, towering above them rank upon rank, more than a mile and a half high and covering 800 square miles, all heading for the capital. The full force of the raid was destined to fall on the east end of the city and the docks at Rotherhithe, Limehouse and Millwall and the Surrey Docks and those hard by Tower Bridge. The vast gasworks at Beckton and the West Ham Power Station shook and erupted under the storm of explosive. Two hours later fires were raging for almost ten miles down the banks of the River Thames. By 17:45 hours the German formations had turned south and east for home, scattered and disordered but still largely intact.

From 2010 hours until 0430 hours on Sunday morning a second wave of bombers – 318 Heinkels and Dorniers, their bomb loads composed of a high proportion of incendiaries streamed in from the east, stoking the fires which now raged scarcely checked along nine miles of waterfront, turning the already blazing fires into a raging inferno. Fire crews struggled to subdue firestorms. The devastating attack left 306 killed and 1,337 seriously injured in the capital itself and a further 142 killed in the suburbs. Despite the spirited and strong resistance put up by the fighter squadrons, not least the Poles of 303 Squadron, many of the bombers had a clear run over the capital, which was heavily bombed. Nineteen Fighter Command pilots were lost from the 28 fighters shot down and 41 German aircraft were destroyed.

At the height of the raid and in the belief that the large scale air attack on the nation’s capital heralded the invasion, GHQ Command Home forces issued the invasion imminent alert, code word ‘Cromwell’ to all army units in southern and eastern areas. The warning signified that an invasion attempt was expected at any time within the next 48 hours. Army units from Division down to Battalion level recorded receipt of ‘Cromwell’ between 2100 to 2130 hours. Throughout the following hours all units took up positions ready for immediate action, essential telephone and telegraph lines were taken over and in coastal areas, harbour authorities stood by ready to immobilise dockside facilities on receipt of more definite orders. The Home Guard were called out in parts of southern and eastern England and in many cinemas feature films were interrupted by onscreen notices advising military personnel in the audience to return to their barracks. Corporal Bunty Walmsley, a locally recruited WAAF who worked in the Operations Room at Stratton Strawless Hall on the Norwich to Aylsham road not far from RAF Coltishall on a six on-twelve off shift pattern in three watches, recalled that she with other members of her watch were suddenly roused from their beds and told to immediately assemble outside to be addressed by the WAAF Commanding Officer. Garbed in various forms of night attire, they all staggered outside looking the worse for wear. The next moment their Commanding Officer appeared, dressed in full uniform and, to their amazement, proceeded to inform them that the Germans had invaded the south coast and that further landings were likely. She went on to say that if Coltishall should be involved, she expected each one of them to defend the station by any means possible. Bunty’s only weapon was a poker allocated to her billet! In the morning, they were all due to report for their watch at 0800 hours. On meeting up with some of the RAF section of her watch, the WAAFs discovered that none of them had been disturbed and were equally unaware of an invasion.

242 Squadron had spent another frustrating day at readiness at Coltishall waiting for 11 Group’s call. To them 7th September must have seemed like another opportunity missed as the squadron spent most of the day kicking its heels as reports filtered through of waves of German bombers attacking London. Finally, at 0445 hours, Operations rang and Bader and his pilots, straining at the leash, at last got the order to scramble. Once airborne ‘Woody’ Woodhall the sector controller at Duxford calmly told Bader that there was some ‘trade’ heading in over the coast. Wing Commander Alfred Basil ‘Woody’ Woodhall was a South African who in 1914 had been a lance corporal in the Witwatersrand Rifles before joining the Royal Marines. During the early 1920s, he had flown biplane torpedo bombers before transferring to the RAF in 1929. When war came, Woodhall had a desk job at the Air Ministry and he was posted to Duxford on 12 March 1940 as senior controller. When the sector controller directed his fighters to intercept a hostile raid a simple code was used between them: ‘Scramble’, take-off; ‘Angels (ten)’, height (10,000 feet); ‘Orbit’, circle (a given point); ‘Vector’ (one-eight-zero), steer (course of 180 degrees); ‘Buster’, full throttle; ‘Tally-ho!’, enemy sighted; ‘Pancake’, land. The South African asked Bader to ‘Orbit North Weald. Angels ten’ and added, ‘If they come your way you can go for them.’

Bader climbed to ‘Angels 15’. Nearing North Weald Woodhall called Bader again. ‘Hallo, Douglas. Seventy-plus crossing the Thames east of London, heading north.’ In the distance Bader saw black dots staining the sky. They were not aircraft. They were anti-aircraft bursts. This could mean only one thing. Over the radio Willie McKnight called out, ‘Bandits. 10 o’clock.’ Bader recalled, ‘We had been greatly looking forward to our first formation of 36 fighters going into action together, but we were unlucky. We were alerted late and were underneath the bombers and their fighter escorts when we met fifteen miles north of the Thames.’ All Bader could do was attack the formation of about seventy Dorniers of KG 76 and Bf 110s of ZG 2 heading for North Weald as best they could while eight Spitfires of 19 Squadron tried to hold off assaults from the Bf 109s flying high cover. When the claims were totted up they totalled eleven enemy aircraft and two probables; all for the loss of two Hurricanes and one pilot killed. On landing Bader rang the Operations Room in a fury to be told that they had been sent off as soon as 11 Group had called for them from Duxford. This was one of the recurring problems during this heavy last period of the battle. Next morning, 242 Squadron flew to Duxford where Bader and his pilots again spent a frustrating day waiting in vain to be summoned by 11 Group as the German bombers returned to bomb London.

When the belief that the large scale air attack on London heralded a German invasion, GHQ Command Home forces issued the invasion imminent alert, code word ‘Cromwell’ to all army units in southern and eastern areas. The warning signified that an invasion attempt was expected at any time within the next 48 hours. The war diary of the 2nd Liverpool Scots for Sunday, 8th September, records: ‘10:20 hours Code word ‘Cromwell’ called off, just another jittery flap. In some parts of the country they even rang the church bells.’ The ringing of church bells was the signal for an airborne invasion, causing several instances of mild panic. Very quickly the alarm was relayed to other counties and, before it could be countermanded, in various places actions began to be taken. In Lincolnshire, possibly owing to faulty communications, the local defence forces believed that the signal had been given because an unidentified boat had been seen off the coast and a motor-cycle dispatch rider raced from church to church in the city of Lincoln. While the bells of five of the churches began to ring out across Lincolnshire, warning the outlying villages that the Germans were coming, two Royal Engineer officers arrived at Lincoln railway station, reported to Mr L. J. Stephens, the District Superintendent and told him that the Germans had landed and therefore they had brought along explosives with which to destroy his railway yard. Stephens, a cautious man, insisted on telephoning the London and North Eastern Railway’s Southern Area Central Control. He found out the true situation and so Lincoln’s railway station was saved. But before the ‘Cromwell’ order was countermanded, several small bridges in Lincolnshire were destroyed by zealous sapper officers.

Although the invasion imminent warning should have remained operative for two days, it was called off by 1000 hours on the Sunday morning and virtually all units had been stood down. The diary of the 5th Battalion Kings Regiment at Felixstowe reported that all troops had ‘stood-to’ until 0915 and that there had been ‘no activity during the night’. The following entry also notes that officers met later in the morning to, ‘discuss [the] previous nights happenings.’ Army units along the east coast generally reported a quiet night, at least quieter than the previous Saturday night. Though the invasion alert was a false alarm, curious rumours of a real invasion attempt were already spreading through the eastern counties. The 165th Infantry Brigade received a letter from Divisional command saying that ‘the troops must be persuaded to think that the invasion threat is not over’. This directive was passed to all the Brigade’s subordinate Battalions, including the men of the 2nd Battalion Liverpool Scottish at Shingle Street. Why senior army officers were insistent that the ordinary soldiers defending the Suffolk coast needed to be told that the threat of invasion was not over (or needed reminding that it still existed) is difficult to understand especially given what happened later that same evening. And curiously, just weeks later these denials were being contradicted by Air Ministry bulletins suggesting an invasion attempt had been broken up by the RAF sometime during September. It was also reported that the RAF had bombed a large scale enemy invasion practice causing huge losses and it was claimed that the bodies of German soldiers had been washed up on shores from France to Norway – but there was no official mention of any on English beaches, at least not at first.

‘Even a Small Invasion might go a Long Way’ II

The British built 18,000 pillboxes to repel a German assault. This one is disguised as a garage.

The press had been quick to play down the events of 7 September and douse any speculation that may have existed amongst the civil population that an invasion was imminent, following massive air raids on east London. On Monday, 9th September, the Daily Mail gave front page coverage to an explanation of the weekend’s events beneath the heading: ‘3 MORE INVASION SCARES’. The Daily Herald and several other national dailies also carried similar reports. Readers were assured that the authorities were making urgent inquiries into the ringing ‘by mistake’ of church bells in several areas of Britain. According to the reports the invasion alarm had been sounded from Hampshire to the Northeast of England and also in parts of Scotland. It was stated that the Home Guard had been called out in parts of southern and eastern England and off duty military personnel had been ordered back to their barracks. The Daily Herald also reported that on the Sunday morning, the residents of Basingstoke had milk delivered to their doorsteps by Home Guard milkmen still in their uniforms and carrying rifles. The ‘false alarm’ stories would continue to appear over the following two days but they were quickly displaced from the front pages of the newspapers by official warnings of ‘imminent invasion’. The situation appeared to be so grave that the prime minister made a personnel radio broadcast to the nation, during which, referring to the invasion preparations across the Channel, he said: ‘We cannot tell when they will try to come. We cannot be sure in fact they will try at all, but no one should blind himself to the fact that a heavy, full-scale invasion of this island is being prepared with all of the usual German thoroughness and method and that it may be launched at any time now upon England, upon Scotland, upon Ireland or upon all three. If this invasion is going to be tried at all it does not seem that it can be long delayed … Therefore we must regard the next week or so as a very important week in our history.’ Churchill’s detailed delivery went on to condemn the Luftwaffe’s attacks on London and other cities and praise their defenders. He also reassured the nation that: ‘Our fleets are powerful and numerous, our air force is conscious of its proved superiority, our shores are well fortified and strongly manned… we have a larger and far better equipped army than we have ever had before and a ‘million and a half men of the Home Guard, just as much soldiers of the regular army in status as the Grenadier Guards.’ But in reality the prime minister’s words masked the true facts; Britain’s shores were not particularly well fortified or manned and the Home Guard was poorly armed. Nevertheless, the essence of his stirring and defiant speech was reported in the press beneath a variety of headlines, always accompanied by ominous warnings.

On Wednesday, 11th September, the same day that the military authorities formally requisitioned Shingle Street, the front page of the New York Sun carried the headline: ‘Churchill Warns That Hitler Is Assembling Craft and Troops for Invasion of England’. It further stated that ‘the next week may be the most critical in England’s history.’ Another, shorter report, suggested that the Germans had already attempted a landing on the English coast. On Thursday, 12th September it was cloudy in the Channel and there were only small raids in the south of England and even a reduced effort by the German raiders at night when the main force raided the capital. Several provincial newspapers in the UK reported details of what was claimed to be a failed attempt by German forces to land in England. The story upon which their reports were based had originated in the USA, having appeared in the previous day’s edition of the New York Sun, beneath the headline: ‘French Report Hitler has tried Invasion Already.’ The Sun’s report was supposedly based upon information received from ‘French residents and independent sources’, claiming that an attempt by Nazi forces to land in England had ‘failed disastrously.’ It was stated that the invasion force had set out from the French port of St. Malo with the intention of landing on the west coast of England. The newspaper added that the French informants had been ‘reticent about details’ but believed the story had already been reported in the British press [sic]. The very few British newspapers that reported the story on the following day simply gave the basic details and echoed the Sun’s assertion that the failed attempt had been ‘nothing short of suicide.’ The News Chronicle reported that German ships were ‘Massing from Hamburg to Brest’, while the Daily Telegraph warned: ‘Next week likely to be most fateful.’ The following day’s edition of the Telegraph went as far as quoting reports from Berlin, stating that ‘Invasion Day is Monday.’

On Friday, 13th September Mr. Richard Brown, an Air Raid Warden in Ipswich had heard rumours among work colleagues and recorded them in his diary. ‘New York now has rumours that Jerry corpses are being washed up on the Yarmouth beaches in quantities.’ His comments are curious; the story that had appeared in the New York Sun had not mentioned bodies, or Yarmouth. Neither had the very few British newspapers that repeated the story – they would not have been allowed to. On the following Monday, beneath the heading ‘Too Busy Tongues’, the editor of the Leicester Mercury commented: ‘Despite warnings and exhortations, it seems the spate of rumours flows more strongly than ever.’

Within days the Leicester MP and Assistant Post-Master General, Captain Charles Waterhouse, told the audience at a public meeting that: ‘there was no foundation for a rumour that an attempt had been made by the Germans to invade this country.’ More stories of a German invasion attempt appeared in several provincial newspapers. Once again the stories originated from America, claiming that a small scale invasion attempt had failed having been: ‘beaten off with heavy losses.’ These new stories mirrored the already established and still spreading rumour. The report that appeared in the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph was typical, intimating that the invaders had been annihilated and it ended with the words: ‘no German remains alive to tell.’ Whatever its origins, the content of the rumour and the rapidity with which it had spread, are indeed extraordinary, given that this was a time when spreading this type of rumour would lead to a charge of causing ‘Alarm and Despondency’. An offence that if proven would incur severe penalties under Defence Regulations. However, the fear of punishment seems to have had little effect on the spread of the invasion rumour and the stories continued to circulate on the ‘grapevine’ through the remainder of September. In the meantime the press reports also continued, some claiming that a Nazi invasion armada had been ‘scattered and destroyed’ by a combination of Channel gales and RAF raids.

Over the weekend of 14/15th September the Operational Record Books of many RAF squadrons reported that aircraft were grounded due to bad weather in the Channel but, bombed dress rehearsal or otherwise, could a number of bodies, no matter how many, float en masse all the way across the English Channel or the North Sea, some ending up on Suffolk beaches? During the Dunkirk evacuation there had been substantial loss of life when the Luftwaffe bombed boats and ships as they rescued the BEF from the beaches. On 28 May when the destroyer HMS Wakeful was torpedoed and sunk by a E-boat only one of the 640 allied troops and 25 of Wakeful’s crew survived. Nineteen crew and 275 troops were killed when the minesweeper HMS Skipjack was bombed by Stukas off La Panne beach on 1st June. It has been estimated that around 2,000 troops had lost their lives before Operation ‘Dynamo’ came to a close on 4 June. And yet there appears to be no contemporary reports of British or French bodies being swept across the Channel to the shores of Kent and Sussex. Coastguards gave the considered opinion that it is theoretically possible for a body to float all the way across the North Sea, but unlikely based on the mechanics of the east coast tides. If a body was washed ashore on the east coast it had in all probability gone into the sea relatively close to the shore. Furthermore, if the body went into the sea when the tide was going out it would be washed down the coast and if it went in to the sea when the tide was coming in, it would be washed up the coast. Records relating to bodies washed ashore along the east coast during WWII appear to support the coastguard’s expert opinion:

‘The body of German airman Eric Kotulla, a crewmember of a Dornier shot down off Brancaster on 21 August, drifted 25miles down the Norfolk coast before being washed ashore at West Runton on 2 September. Although it is possible that the bodies of German soldiers may have floated across the Channel or North Sea, it is also possible that they could have gone into the sea much closer to the shore and were then dispersed along the coast to be washed ashore elsewhere days or even weeks later.

On Saturday, 14th September several British newspapers printed short extracts from a story that had appeared in the same day’s edition of the New York Times. In the American report, Dr. Charles Bove, the former head of the American Hospital in Paris, just returned to the US from France, claimed that: ‘Germany has already tried to invade England and has failed at high cost.’ He backed up his claims by stating that he had seen the bodies of German soldiers floating in the Channel following a failed invasion attempt: ‘There were hundreds in the water off Cherbourg.’ The New York Times also quoted British military sources as saying: ‘there has been absolutely no attempt at invasion in any shape size or form.’ But, even as these brief reports appeared in the British press, rumours that a German invasion attempt had actually taken place were already in widespread circulation. And in the word-of-mouth stories spreading throughout the eastern counties of England, the attempt had been destroyed and the bodies of German soldiers had been washed up on east coast beaches. In one version of the rumour, an enemy invasion fleet had set out but had been destroyed by the RAF before it reached British shores. Another maintained that a small enemy force had landed but had been immediately ‘overcome’ and annihilated. There were also accompanying tales of mysterious night time convoys of lorries and ambulances going to and from beaches.

Due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to establish air supremacy, Hitler chaired a meeting with the OKW staff on 14 September at his headquarters. Hitler concluded that air superiority had not yet been established and ‘promised to review the situation on 17 September for possible landings on 27 September or 8 October.’Hitler even asked ‘Should we call it off altogether?’ General Hans Jeschonnek, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, begged for a last chance to defeat the RAF and for permission to launch attacks on civilian residential areas to cause mass panic. Hitler refused the latter, perhaps unaware of how much damage had already been done to civilian targets. He reserved for himself the power to unleash the terror weapon. Instead political will was to be broken by destroying the material infrastructure, the weapons industry and stocks of fuel and food. Göring was in France directing the decisive battle, so Erhard Milch deputized for him. Milch, now with the rank of general, commanded Luftflotte 5 during the Norwegian campaign. Following the defeat of France, Milch was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall and given the title Air Inspector General. As such, Milch was in charge of aircraft production. Milch had been amazed by the wreckage at Dunkirk and fearing that Germany ‘had no time to waste’ on 5 June had formulated a daring scheme to invade Britain immediately with paratroopers spearheading a landing in southern England under cover of heavy bombing. The paratroopers were to seize two airfields which would be used to bring in fleets of Ju 52s carrying ammunition and weapons. Once a bridgehead had been established, ten infantry divisions could then he transported across the Channel to finish off Britain’s weakened forces. Milch had put the plan to Göring but he told him that ‘it could not be done.’ Göring however, changed his mind and the following day visited Hitler in Brûly-de-Peche, the Belgian village where Hitler based himself during the final stages of the French campaign and outlined Milch’s scheme, which the Reichsmarschall claimed ‘was a blueprint for victory’. But the Führer was unconvinced.

In London on Sunday, 15th September Raymond Lee the United States Military Attaché wrote: ‘This is the date after which I believe Hitler’s chances will rapidly dwindle. The weather holds good in a miraculous manner but there are faint premonitory puffs of wind from the South- West and a chill in the air. Dispatches received through Switzerland say that there are the beginnings of a press campaign in Germany breaking the news to the people that England is to be subdued by blockade and bombing. If this is true, Hitler is on the downgrade. I can’t for the life of me puzzle out what the Germans are up to. They have great air power and yet are dissipating it in fruitless and aimless attacks all over England. They must have an exaggerated idea of the damage they are doing and the effects of their raids on public morale… Just as I finish writing this, the heavy guns commence giving tongue and the little Irish maid comes in to turn down the bed. She went over to Victoria to see the plane which crashed there and is very pleased because she saw the dead German crew extracted from the wreckage.

The large scale attack on London on 15 September failed to break the back of Fighter Command. Squadron Leader Walter Myers Churchill DSO DFC Commanding 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron recalled: ‘The day dawned bright and clear at Croydon. It never seemed to do anything else during those exciting weeks of August and September. But to us it was just another day. We weren’t interested in Hitler’s entry into London; most of us were wondering whether we should have time to finish breakfast before the first blitz started.’ The first big attack came in the morning at 1100 hours. A wave of about 100 German aircraft was spotted heading over the Kent coast towards London followed by a second wave of about 150 aircraft. Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons were sent to meet them and many German planes were reported to have turned away without dropping any bombs. At about 1400 hours another wave of about 150 German aircraft crossed the coast near Dover – again followed by a second wave of 100 aircraft. They appeared to be heading for targets in south London and railways in London and Kent. Fighter patrols were again ready to meet the enemy and only seventy or so enemy planes reached central London where there were a series of dogfights. The attacks continued with smaller raids on Portland and Southampton. Again the enemy aircraft were successfully driven off by the RAF fighters. As darkness fell, the raids continued on London inflicting major damage on targets in the south of the city.

At 2000 hours on Sunday night, Winston Churchill, who had returned to 10 Downing Street, was awoken. He received bad news from the Navy. In the Atlantic sinking of shipping had been bad, but his Secretary informed him that all had been redeemed in the day’s air battle. He was told that the RAF had downed 183 enemy aircraft for less than forty aircraft lost. (The true figure was 56 German aircraft shot down for the loss of 26 RAF fighters but thirteen pilots were saved). By the time that most people had either emerged from their Anderson shelters or had risen after another rather uncomfortable night’s sleep, the daily newspapers were busy informing them of the events of the previous day. The Daily Telegraph stated that ‘Of the 350 to 400 enemy planes launched in two waves against the capital and south-east England, 175, or nearly 50 per cent were shot down according to returns… The Germans loss yesterday was their highest since 15 August, when 180 were shot down. On 18 August they lost 153. In personnel their loss yesterday was over 500 airmen against twenty RAF pilots.’ The Daily Herald told a similar story, but added that AA gunfire had brought down four of the 175 German aircraft. On the subject of the RAF victory, they went on to say that in both of the raids, the gallant pilots and squadrons of the RAF harassed the bombers so much that those that were not shot down, were harried and chased right back to the Channel. The Germans had encountered their most gruelling reception so far.

As a British flying boat arrived in New York delivering news of a ‘record bag’ of 185 enemy aircraft the German Embassy tried in vain to correct the total but they were ignored and the New York Times ran several excited stories calling for a military alliance with Britain and her Commonwealth. Belatedly the Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter announced that attacks on London had caused considerable damage. It claimed the Luftwaffe destroyed 79 RAF aircraft for 43 losses. Actual RAF losses amounted to 29 fighters.

Göring called a conference to inform the Luftwaffe that the German fighters had failed. He informed his Luftflotten commanders that, ‘The British air force is far from finished, their fighters proved that yesterday. Their bombers are continually attacking our barge installations and although we must admit they have achieved some form of success, but I will only say and repeat what I have said before and that is our orders to attempt full scale attacks on London, instead of the destruction of their air force will not achieve the success we need, it will only act as our demise.’ The Luftwaffe’s losses had been brushed aside by the Reichsmarschall who still maintained that RAF Fighter Command would be annihilated ‘in four or five days’ but ordered a resumption of attacks on Fighter Command and the factories supplying it. German Intelligence however, had failed to appreciate that on the morning of Monday, 16th September no less than 160 new Hurricanes and Spitfires were available as replacements with upward of 400 aircraft available elsewhere for delivery within one week.

If Göring was disappointed, Hitler was furious. London was supposed to have been flattened and in flames and the people supposed to have been bombed almost into submission. Göring ordered the air fleets to begin a new phase of the battle. Hitler hoped this might result in ‘eight million going mad’ (referring to the population of London), which would ‘cause a catastrophe’ for the British. In those circumstances, Hitler said, ‘even a small invasion might go a long way’.

We can only speculate what this ‘small invasion’ or possibly as many as three invasions might have been.


Nikolai Yudenich

Estonian artillery in war against the Landeswehr

The most northerly parts of the tsar’s empire that faced the Baltic Sea, Finland and Estonia, had longstanding ethnic, linguistic and cultural links. Like Latvia to the south, Estonia was home to Estonians, Russians who had settled in the area, and ethnic Germans – in the main, wealthy landowners, some of whom were descendants of settlers who had moved into the region during the time of the Teutonic and Livonian Knights. These German families had historically been staunch supporters of the tsars, in return for which they were granted considerable privileges, but during the 19th century there was a steady increase in Estonian nationalist feeling. Tsar Nicholas’ deliberate policy of Russification caused great resentment, leading to uprisings during the 1905 Revolution, followed by repression when Russian authority was restored.

Following the February Revolution and the fall of the tsar, Estonian leaders demanded greater independence. After some hesitation – due as much to the chaos in Petrograd as to any unwillingness to reduce the degree of control over Estonia – the Russian authorities gave permission in April 1917 for the creation of the Autonomous Governate of Estonia, followed three months later by an elected National Council, or Maapäev, led by Konstantin Päts. The degree of independence that would be granted to this new body remained the subject of disagreement, but just a few days before the October Revolution, the Estonian Bolsheviks under Jaan Anvelt seized power in Tallinn. The Bolshevik movement was not strong in Estonia and Anvelt struggled to establish any authority; in any case, his time in office proved to be short-lived, as German troops advanced almost unopposed into Estonia on the northern flank of Hoffmann’s offensive following the collapse of the Brest-Litovsk talks, and together with other Bolsheviks he fled to Russia. On 24 February, the Maapäev issued a declaration of Estonian independence, assuring full rights to all minorities and ending with a national rallying cry:


You stand on the threshold of a future full of hope in which you shall be free and independent in determining and directing your destiny! Begin building a home of your own, ruled by law and order, in order to be a worthy member of the family of civilised nations! Sons and daughters of our homeland, unite as one in the sacred task of building our homeland! The sweat and blood shed by our ancestors for this country demand this from us; our forthcoming generations oblige us to do this.

For Estonia, it was a unique moment: the nation had never known independence before. On this occasion, it proved to be very short-lived. German troops arrived in Tallinn two days later and refused to recognise the declaration. The Maapäev was forced to go into hiding.

The Estonians had started to organise a national army, but the Germans rapidly declared this illegal and arrested several leading Estonian figures, including Päts, who was imprisoned first in Estonia, and ultimately in Grodno in Poland. Despite this, Estonian independence was recognised by the Entente Powers, and, with the tide turning against Germany on the Western Front, many in Estonia looked forward to the future with real hope. The Germans had their own plans for Estonia and tried to create a new political entity combining Estonia with much of Latvia under the control of the Baltic Germans, who were encouraged to declare the creation of the Baltischer Staat or Baltic State, with its capital in Riga. The first head of this new state was to be Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg, but the Baltic State would be an autonomous part of the German Empire. Until Adolf Friedrich could take up office, a regency council of ten – four Baltic Germans, three Latvians, and three Estonians – ran the government in Riga under the close watch of Ober Ost.

Only Germany recognised the status of the new Baltic administration, and as it became increasingly clear in Berlin that the war would end unfavourably, attempts were made to try to create a government that would be acceptable both to the Estonians and the rest of the world. In October, Prince Max von Bayern sent a telegram to Ober Ost with instructions to set up a civilian administration; the intention was to create a series of such governments in the territories overseen by Ober Ost, starting in the Baltic region, but time ran out before the policy could even begin. After the end of hostilities in the west, Konstantin Päts was released from captivity and recognised by the new German government as the head of the Estonian government.

As German authority collapsed, Päts struggled to create the institutions that would be vital for the survival of an independent Estonia. In particular, he needed to create an army that could protect the nation from a variety of forces. Ever since the establishment of the Maapäev, a paramilitary Omakaitse (‘Citizen’s Defence Organisation’) had existed, with Ernst Põdder, a former officer in the Russian Army, as its commander. During the German occupation, the Omakaitse was forced to operate clandestinely, but with political control back in the hands of the Estonians, the force was now organised to deal with the multitude of threats that the fledgling nation faced.

There were several military powers operating within Estonia. By far the largest was the German Army, which was in the process of withdrawing and returning home in keeping with the terms of the Armistice. As morale in the army collapsed, many soldiers didn’t wait for orders and simply drifted away from their formations, attempting to make their way home, but most continued to obey orders. Päts tried in vain to persuade the Germans to hand over weaponry to the Omakaitse, but in the main, the Germans either took their weapons home with them or destroyed them. Fortunately for the Estonians, help was at hand. The newly independent Finland to the north, whose people had a long history of links with the Estonians, provided both weapons and ammunition, though in limited amounts.

In addition to the Germans, there were large numbers of anti-Bolshevik Russian troops in Estonia. These formations had largely been raised from released Russian prisoners of war and anti-Bolshevik Russians who first gathered in Pskov where their officers squabbled ineffectively amongst themselves over questions of precedence. From there, they were forced to flee to Estonia, where General Alexander Pavlovich Rodzianko – the nephew of the former chair of the Duma – managed to organise them into something resembling a military formation that now became known as the White Russian Northern Corps. Whilst Rodzianko remained its commander, the corps was subordinated to General Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich, who had commanded the Russian Caucasus Army during the First World War. In some respects, his appearance was deceptive; contemporaries described him ‘physically slack and entirely lacking in those inspiring qualities which a political and military leader of his standing should possess’. Despite this, he achieved considerable successes against the Turks during the war, but after the fall of the tsar he was dismissed from his post for insubordination and returned to Petrograd. He was involved in the attempt by Kornilov to oust the Kerensky government in August 1918 and fled to Finland when Kornilov and his associates were arrested. In Finland, Yudenich joined the ‘Russian Committee’, an organisation set up to oppose the Bolsheviks, and was appointed commander of all White Russian forces in the northwest. Like many Russian generals of the tsarist era, he was bound by the prejudices with which he had grown up, and he refused to accept the reality of independent Finland. Rather than try to build an alliance with the strongly anti-Bolshevik Finns, he preferred to relocate to Estonia, where he created the Northern Corps. Whilst this force would be prepared to fight against any Bolshevik intervention, the presence of so many foreign soldiers was nonetheless not entirely welcome to the Estonians.

As the fighting on the Western Front drew to a close, a Bolshevik intervention in the Baltic region grew ever more likely. Lenin had never intended to be bound by the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the collapse of Germany effectively made the treaty meaningless. The Red Army, successor to the Russian Army of the tsars, was now a far more powerful force than it had been when Hoffmann brushed it aside in early 1918, though it remained very limited in terms of logistic and other support. The disorganised, untrained Red Guards had undergone at least a degree of formal training, and the incorporation of large numbers of soldiers from the Imperial Russian Army further improved the overall level of practical knowledge and ability in the front line. Nevertheless, whilst it could probably fight and win short campaigns, sustained operations still posed huge challenges for the Red Army.

With the dissolution of Ober Ost and the departure of German troops, there was an opportunity for Russia to regain some of its lost territories. From the point of view of the Russians, this was essential. Prior to the First World War, the Russian capital had been safe from foreign invasion, but the loss of Finland and the Baltic States suddenly created a substantial threat. From Narva in northeast Estonia to Petrograd was a mere 81 miles (130km), and the presence of Yudenich’s troops was therefore a significant threat to the Bolsheviks, particularly as the White forces in the Caucasus, Siberia and Ukraine had already drawn the attention of much of the Red Army. Even though the capital was now Moscow, the loss of such a major city would be a huge – possibly irrecoverable – blow to the prestige of any Russian government.

Lenin, Trotsky and other leading Bolsheviks had every reason to feel beleaguered. White Russian forces were threatening from the east and south, while the western fringe of the Russian Empire had been torn away by the Germans. Throughout 1917, British, French and American ships had brought a steady stream of war materiel to Archangelsk in the north, but the growing disruption of the Russian railways after the February Revolution resulted in large stockpiles building up around the port. When Goltz and the Baltic Division were landed in Finland, there were concerns that the Germans might be able to capture the stockpiles in northern Russia; rather more realistically, the Western Powers had no intention of allowing the stockpiles of modern armaments to fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks, who had made no secret of their intention to export their revolution to the rest of the world. There had been widespread agreement that the troops of the Czechoslovak Legion should be enabled to reach Western Europe, but now that they were embroiled in the Russian Civil War, the presence of western troops in Archangelsk might provide an opportunity for concerted action to overthrow the Bolsheviks. To that end, a mixed force of British, Australian, French, American, and even Serbian and Polish troops was dispatched to Archangelsk. Many of the British contingent were marines who had little experience of war; some were very young, and others were former prisoners of war who had recently been released by the Germans. In some cases, they were denied home leave and were dispatched to northern Russia at short notice, resulting in widespread morale problems. Once there, they found themselves slowly drawn into combat against the Bolsheviks. They succeeded in advancing about 100 miles (160km) south along the railway line leading to the Russian interior before a decision was made to pull back to a tighter perimeter and ultimately to evacuate the expedition entirely; after suffering losses in an attack on a Russian village, one British company of marines mutinied and refused to attack again. Several men were court-martialled and condemned to death, but after intervention by British politicians the sentences were not carried out.

The opportunity to strike a potentially decisive blow against one of these hostile powers encircling Russia was therefore most attractive to the Bolsheviks. Although this has been described as the Soviet Westward Offensive, and according to one source was given the codename ‘Target Vistula’, it seems that there was no central planned offensive.434 Rather, a series of uncoordinated movements occurred in the same region, with little if any overall coordination. However, the animosity of the Soviet leadership towards the Baltic States certainly played a part in the development of events. Lenin told his staff:

Cross the frontier somewhere, even if only to the depth of a kilometre, and hang 100-1000 of their civil servants and rich people.

As with so many wars, the geography of the region dictated the course of the campaigns. The border between Estonia and Russia is dominated by Lake Peipus, with the result that land routes for combat operations are either north or south of the lake. To the north, the confrontation would be across the River Narva, with the city of Narva itself forming part of the battlefield. This area offered the most direct route for a Russian advance towards the Estonian capital, Tallinn (previously known to both the Russians and Germans as Reval), but the northern flank of any such operation would be exposed unless the sea was controlled by the Russian Navy. Consequently, naval operations would play a major role in the fighting. To the south of Lake Peipus, any Russian advance to the Baltic coast, roughly along the border between Latvia and Estonia, could conceivably come under pressure from either flank. As a result of these geographic constraints the conflict in the northern part of the Baltic region, which became known as the Estonian War of Independence, saw repeated thrusts by either side north of Lake Peipus, and although the same territory changed hands on several occasions to the south of the lake, the fighting tended to follow the same pattern: a Bolshevik advance, and an Estonian counterattack against its flanks.

The most northerly Soviet formation involved in the offensive was the Seventh Red Army under the command of the Latvian Jukums Vācietis, who attacked towards Narva with 6th Red Rifle Division. The experienced core of the old Russian Army was gone; many of its troops, sick of the war, had returned to their homes and had no desire to take part in further fighting, and few officers of the old army were regarded as acceptable by the Bolsheviks. The division was made up of volunteers, many of them from the Narva region, with just a sprinkling of veterans. Opposing them were elements of the Estonian Defence League and the German Infantry Regiment 405, originally part of 203rd Infantry Division and the only organised German formation left in northeast Estonia. After a brief battle on 28 November 1918, in which the Soviet armoured cruiser Oleg and two destroyers supported the main attack, the Germans and Estonians retreated from Narva, leaving the city in Russian hands. A few days later, the 6th Red Rifle Division pushed on towards Tallinn, and though the newly created units of the Estonian Army, ill-equipped and poorly trained, were dispatched to the front as they became available, the Russians seized Rakvere on 15 December and Koeru ten days later, finally reaching a point only 21 miles (34km) from the Estonian capital by the end of the year.

At the same time, a second Soviet advance developed from south of Lake Peipus. The Soviet 2nd Novgorod Division began to attack westward on 25 November, and made good progress in the face of weak resistance by the White Russian Northern Corps. The 49th Red Latvian Rifle Regiment, part of the 2nd Novgorod Division, took Tartu on 24 December, leaving more than half of Estonia in Russian hands by 1919, but this success was to mark the high-water mark of the Russian advance. Heavy snow, poor roads, and a chaotic supply situation made the prospect of further gains very unlikely without major reinforcements.

In the areas occupied by the Bolsheviks, there was widespread repression of anyone suspected as being a nationalist. In addition, the Bolshevik policy of targeting the ‘bourgeois classes’ resulted in a variety of individuals, from clergy to teachers, being arrested and shot. It has been estimated that over 500 people lost their lives as a result; not a huge number in the context of the deaths in the First World War, but sufficient to encourage a growth in partisan activity, which further disrupted Russian supply lines.

The reduction of territory controlled by the Estonian nationalists worked in favour of the defenders, who now contended with much shorter supply lines. Colonel Johan Laidoner, who like most Baltic officers of his generation had served in the tsar’s armies, had commanded the Estonian Army’s first formations, hastily grouped together into an infantry division, and on 23 December was appointed commander of the entire army. He used the lull in fighting to good effect, creating a second infantry division and the staff of a third. In addition, the country’s German community raised a Baltic Battalion of volunteers, a welcome boost both in military and symbolic terms: Estonia’s Baltic Germans were explicitly supporting the Estonian government, rather than seeking to secure control themselves, as the Germans had originally intended. Almost immediately, the Baltic Battalion was deployed in the front facing towards Narva. The dockyards and railway works of Tallinn improvised a variety of armoured cars for the Estonian Army, which despite their limited mobility – they were badly underpowered and became bogged down in even slightly soft ground – proved to be effective weapons, not least because of the fear with which they were regarded by many in the Red Army. Whilst the old Russian Army had possessed large numbers of armoured cars – mainly supplied by Britain and France – and Bolshevik units elsewhere, even in Latvia, still operated many of these vehicles, they were conspicuously absent from Red Army units in the far north.

Help for Estonia also arrived from the west. Even as the war in the west came to an end, British officials were discussing how to further the cause of anti-Bolshevik forces. Lord Balfour, the British foreign secretary, wrote a memorandum in November, concluding:

For us no alternative is open at present than to use such troops as we possess to the best advantage; where we have no troops, to supply arms and money; and in the case of the Baltic provinces, to protect, as far as we can, the nascent nationalities with our fleet.

As the Red Army pressed into Estonia, a delegation arrived in London to seek support. British diplomats responded that it would not be possible to send troops, but warships and armaments might be available, leading immediately to objections from the navy; the Baltic area was heavily mined and it was unwise to dispatch warships before the mines had been cleared. Nevertheless, the political necessity to intervene in the Baltic overruled purely naval concerns and on 22 November, after escorting the German High Seas Fleet into British waters where it was to be interned, the light cruiser HMS Cardiff and four other cruisers of the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron set off for the Baltic, accompanied by nine destroyers and seven minesweepers, under the collective command of Rear-Admiral Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair. The orders issued to him were a masterpiece of vagueness: he was to proceed to Libau (now Liepāja) and thence to Tallinn, ‘to show the British flag and support British policy as circumstances dictate’. He took with him a substantial store of weapons and ammunition and was to advise the governments of both Estonia and Latvia that they had to be responsible for their own defence. In the event of interference by Bolshevik warships, he would be able to call on the support of British battleships, which would soon deploy to Copenhagen.

Problems in obtaining sufficient fuel supplies – the minesweepers of Alexander-Sinclair’s force were coal-fired – led to the warships proceeding beyond Denmark without the minesweeper force. Late at night on 5 December, as they sailed past the Estonian island archipelago that had been the scene of fighting in 1917, the warships found themselves in a previously unsuspected German minefield. HMS Cassandra struck a mine and rapidly sank; all but 11 of her crew were rescued. Two accompanying sloops were also lost to mines. A second cruiser, HMS Calypso, had been damaged after striking a submerged wreck, and two destroyers sustained light damage when they collided with each other; the rescued crew of Cassandra was placed aboard these three ships, which returned to Britain.

The somewhat diminished British force arrived in Tallinn on 7 December, where it received an enthusiastic welcome. With Russian forces close to his capital, the increasingly desperate Päts suggested that Estonia should become a British protectorate and that Britain should immediately deploy troops in the Baltic region. This was clearly contrary to the intentions of the British, who nevertheless reassured Päts that guns and ammunition were en route (they were being carried by the minesweepers, which were still awaiting coal in Copenhagen). Unwilling to allow the Bolsheviks a free hand, Alexander-Sinclair decided to interpret his instructions as loosely as possible and on 13 December dispatched two cruisers and five destroyers east along the coastline to a point near Narva, where they brought the coastal road under shellfire and destroyed a vital bridge, further disrupting the supply lines of the Seventh Red Army. A few days later, the British ships helped land a force of Estonians on the coast to operate in the rear of the Bolshevik troops. At about the same time, as if to confirm the upswing in the fortunes of Estonia, the first of 2,000 Finnish volunteers began to disembark from ships in Tallinn.

The Russian naval authorities suspected the presence of British warships from interception of wireless traffic but were uncertain of their strength. The fleet in Kronstadt was in poor shape following the October Revolution, and attempts to carry out a reconnaissance of Tallinn by submarine were unsuccessful, with repeated mechanical problems; as will be seen, this was a recurrent issue. Many ships had been poorly maintained during the First World War, and spare parts for the vessels – most of which had been built outside Russia – were hard to obtain. Even when they were available, the Bolsheviks often lacked skilled engineers to carry out repairs.

After the British bombardment that disrupted supply lines between Narva and the front line, Vācietis asked for naval support for his Seventh Army. On 24 December, a task force consisting of the battleship Andrei Pervozvanni, the cruiser Oleg and three destroyers was assembled under the command of Fyodor Fyodorovich Raskolnikov, the commissar of the Baltic Fleet, with orders to carry out an armed reconnaissance and to destroy the British warships – but only if the balance of power was strongly in favour of the Russian force. It is likely that this group of vessels represented a very large proportion of all the warships in Kronstadt that were seaworthy. A plan was drawn up for the destroyers Spartak and Avtroil to penetrate into Tallinn harbour, where, in addition to looking for British warships, they would shell two small islands to determine whether any defensive batteries had been positioned there. Should they encounter British forces, they were to withdraw towards the island of Gogland, where Oleg would be waiting; if a further withdrawal were required, the three ships would pull back towards Kronstadt, in order to bring the pursuing British ships within range of Andrei Pervozvanni and her 12-inch guns.

Raskolnikov had played an important part in the Kronstadt Mutiny of 1917, and had held a variety of posts since the October Revolution. He arrived in Kronstadt on 25 December to discover that the destroyer Avtroil had developed mechanical problems. Rather than delay the operation, he decided to proceed with only Spartak. As Spartak set off, Raskolnikov received a signal that the destroyer Azard, which had been patrolling the area and therefore might have been available to him as a replacement for the Avtroil, was unable to accompany the mission due to a shortage of coal. Towards dusk, Spartak encountered the Russian submarine Pantera, which was returning from a reconnaissance of Tallinn. The submarine reported no sign of any smoke rising from ships in the Estonian port, but a later account suggested that, like other Soviet submarines, the Pantera probably didn’t enter the port at all due to major mechanical problems and was forced to make its observations from some distance. Spartak and Oleg dropped anchor and spent the night near Gogland. The following morning, they waited in vain for Avtroil to join them, and when they received a signal informing Raskolnikov that the destroyer’s mechanical problems showed no sign of resolution, the commissar decided to press on with just Spartak; Oleg would wait near Gogland to provide support should the destroyer make a hasty withdrawal.

Alexander-Sinclair’s force had undergone further changes. As will be described later, the situation in Latvia required urgent intervention and he dispatched two of his cruisers and half his destroyers to Liepāja; the return of Calypso and the much-delayed arrival of the minesweepers was therefore greatly welcomed, not least by the Estonians who took possession of the 5,000 rifles and other weapons that had been brought to equip their army. The crews of the British warships had been invited to a civic reception on 26 December and the enthusiasm of the sailors was probably considerably enhanced by the promise of a dance after the dinner, for which women would be ‘hired’. While preparations for the event were under way, there was the sound of distant naval gunfire. Reports arrived swiftly that a Russian vessel had been spotted in Tallinn Bay, attempting to bombard coastal positions. The British personnel hastily returned to their ships and began to prepare for action. As smoke began to rise from the funnels of the two British cruisers and four destroyers, Raskolnikov ordered Spartak to reverse its course in order to draw the British onto the guns of Oleg.

Raskolnikov’s plan had always been ambitious: his destroyer was nearly 90 miles (145km) from Gogland, and even at maximum speed it would take nearly three hours to reach the Oleg. Although the British cruisers had a similar maximum speed to the Spartak, the accompanying destroyers were faster, and any mishap aboard the Soviet destroyer – mechanical problems, or damage from British shellfire – might prove fatal. Like Avtroil, Spartak was not in perfect condition and almost inevitably developed engine problems as she attempted a sustained period of maximum speed. As the British destroyers closed in, Spartak’s bow gun tried to fire on the pursuing vessels. To do this, the turret had to be traversed until it was pointing back past the bridge, and when the gun was fired, its blast demolished Spartak’s charthouse and damaged both her bridge and helm. Shortly after, the destroyer ran aground on the Kuradimuna sandbank. Attempts to scuttle the destroyer failed when the seacocks jammed, and British sailors from the destroyer HMS Wakeful came aboard to seize the ship. Raskolnikov attempted to hide in the hold under several sacks of potatoes, but was taken prisoner together with the rest of the crew.

One of the officers aboard HMS Caradoc later wrote an account describing the state of Spartak and her crew:

The crew themselves, very dirty and in a dreadfully dirty ship, appeared pleased at being captured. Many of them had articles of various sorts, such as cameras and furs, obviously looted from shops and houses, which they sold to our crew at ridiculous prices, some even offering the things gratis, possibly fearing to be caught by Russians with them in their possession. Much valuable information was found in the ship; also an amusing signal which had been dispatched: ‘All is lost. I am chased by English’.

Raskolnikov’s despairing signal was not the only piece of intelligence gained with the capture of Spartak. There was also a message from Trotsky instructing Raskolnikov that the British warships must be destroyed and confirming the plan to lure them onto the guns of Oleg. The two British cruisers promptly set sail in order to locate and destroy the Russian cruiser. To their disappointment, they found the coast of Gogland deserted and returned to Tallinn. On their outward voyage, they had spotted a ship, presumed to be another Russian destroyer, cautiously sailing west, and had decided not to engage it, but now they signalled the British destroyers in Tallinn to put to sea with the intention of trying to capture the Russian ship. Raskolnikov, who was still being held aboard Wakeful, described what transpired:

Then, from above our heads, there was a sudden, deafening sound of gunfire, and after it that soft noise made by the compression of the recoil-absorber which always follows the firing of a gun. There could be no doubt about it: the shot had been fired from the destroyer in which we were held captive. We eagerly rushed to the portholes, but we were so far down in the hold that the field of vision from any of these portholes was small. We could not see anything except the other British destroyers which were sailing near us. The firing ceased as suddenly as it had started. The engine also suddenly stopped. There was a strange silence. The destroyer Wakeful had come to a halt. We were taken up to the top deck for exercise. A sad spectacle met our eyes. Right next to us lay the destroyer Avtroil, with her topmast awry. She had just been taken by the British, but the red flag still flew over her. The British squadron had come round her from behind and, cutting her off from Kronstadt, had driven her westward, into the open sea. The British commander had ordered us to be let out for exercise at the very moment when Avtroil surrendered, so as to wound our revolutionary self-esteem and mock this defeat suffered by the Red Navy.

The two captured destroyers were handed over to the Estonians, who renamed them and put them to use in their new navy. With the exception of Raskolnikov and Avtroil’s commissar, the crews were also handed over; despite British protests, about 40 were later executed.

Raskolnikov and his fellow commissar were eventually exchanged for 18 British personnel being held prisoner by the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately for Raskolnikov, a grim fate awaited him. He served as Soviet ambassador to Estonia, Denmark and Bulgaria, but in 1937 was recalled to Moscow. He delayed his return until the following year, but then learned that he had been dismissed. Fearing that he would be a victim of Stalin’s purges, he published an open letter to Stalin in which he acknowledged that he had been a friend of Trotsky, and went on to denounce the purges. Shortly after, he died in Nice, either as the result of an unexplained fall from a window, or possibly from poisoning.


Estonian Infantry

With some 13,000 men ready for action, the Estonian Army began a counteroffensive in January 1919. British ships were now in firm control of the sea, and on 4 January the two light cruisers, accompanied by the destroyer Wakeful, subjected several Russian positions near Narva to a heavy bombardment. A detachment of Finnish and Estonian troops was landed in the rear of the 6th Red Rifle Division at Kunda late on 10 January; the following day, Rakvere was retaken, and the Estonians advanced steadily towards Narva. A further seaborne operation was carried out on 18 January at Udria, and this contingent moved swiftly into the northern part of Narva. The rest of the city was liberated the following day. Leon Trotsky, who was personally directing the defence of the city, narrowly escaped being captured.

With the northern part of the country free of Soviet forces, attention turned south. Several armoured trains had been created to provide the Estonian Army with much-needed fire support. Mounting a variety of weapons, ranging from machine-guns to 6-inch artillery, the trains were a potent asset, though of course their deployment was dictated by the rail network. Another of the new formations raised during the winter was the Tartumaa Partisan Battalion, created by Lieutenant Julius Kuperjanov; the battalion’s young, energetic personnel rapidly gained a reputation for aggression and daring, and the unit liberated the town of Tartu on 14 January, attacking from aboard armoured trains that broke through the Bolshevik lines and entered the town before Estonian infantry disembarked. From here, it was possible to plan an attack to retake Valga, which was astride the only rail link to Riga and the south. The main approach to Valga from the north ran past Paju Manor, and this now became the focus of fierce fighting. Estonian partisans seized the manor on 30 January, but were swiftly driven back by a battalion of Red Latvian Rifles.

The Estonians found themselves at a disadvantage. Retreating Russian units had destroyed the railway bridge at Sangaste, a little to the north, preventing the Estonians from deploying their armoured train. By contrast, the Latvian Rifles had fire support from their own armoured train, in addition to several armoured cars. Undaunted, Kuperjanov led his battalion in an attack on the manor on 31 January across open ground. Along with many of his men, he was cut down by the withering fire of the defenders, but towards the end of the day a body of Finnish volunteers, in a battalion named the ‘Sons of the North’, arrived as reinforcements. The combined body of Finns and Estonians penetrated into the grounds of the manor, clearing it of Bolshevik defenders in bitter fighting. The following day, the Latvian Rifles withdrew from the area, allowing the Estonians to take Valga without further fighting.

With the railway line from Latvia now in Estonian hands, it became increasingly difficult for the Soviet forces in central Estonia to coordinate their movements, and they were forced to withdraw east. By the end of February 1919, all Estonian territory had been liberated by the nationalist forces. In addition, the Estonians captured 35 field guns, several dismounted naval guns, and thousands of small arms, together with copious stocks of ammunition. The need to rebuild Bolshevik positions in the north forced the Russians to divert troops from Latvia, where they had been enjoying considerable success. The Estonians now drew up a mutual defence agreement with the Latvian government, and began to prepare for an attack against Bolshevik forces in northeast Latvia.

Meanwhile, in the north the battered Seventh Red Army had received substantial reinforcements, and launched a major assault on Narva on 18 February. The Estonian 1st Division, reinforced by the White Russian Northern Corps, successfully beat off the attacks that continued until late April, though the city suffered considerable damage from artillery fire. To the south, a renewed Soviet attack overran southeast Estonia in the first half of March and a gap began to open between the Estonian 1st and 2nd Divisions. To counter this, the Estonian Army deployed its new 3rd Division in the gap and launched a counterattack, recapturing Petseri at the end of the month. Confused fighting in the marshy area continued for several weeks before the Estonians were able to secure their positions, with support from more new military formations: Latvians who had fled to Estonia were formed into a new brigade, and a further 7,000 anti-Bolshevik Russians and Ingrians (from Ingermanland, the region of Russia immediately to the east of Estonia) served alongside the existing Estonian and Finnish units. Throughout this phase of the fighting, the Estonians were able to make efficient use of their limited forces as a consequence of well-organised logistical support. By contrast, the Red Army’s supply system was chaotic, and its medical services almost non-existent.

The Estonians had fought off two invasions, and it appeared that the Bolsheviks were interested in peace negotiations. The Hungarian Communists offered themselves as mediators, but Estonia came under pressure from its western supporters, particularly the British, who threatened to withdraw their support; there was still hope that Estonia might be used as a base for an attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks, and this would clearly be impossible if Estonia and Russia were to agree terms for peace. After a period of preparation, the Estonians and their allies decided to launch an attack of their own. Estonian accounts describe the operation that followed as an attempt to push the Bolsheviks as far as possible from Estonian territory, but the major role played by White Russian forces suggests that there was at least a hope that such an attack towards Petrograd might destabilise the Soviet regime and perhaps give a non-Bolshevik party a chance of seizing power.

On 13 May, Yudenich ordered Rodzianko to commence an operation named ‘White Sword’. His 3,000-strong corps attacked at Narva, surprising and overwhelming the 6th Red Rifle Division. Supported by naval units off the coast, the White Russians advanced swiftly and, in anticipation of their arrival, the garrison of the Krasnaya Gorka fortress mutinied. This was a devastating development for the Bolsheviks, as the presence of White Russian forces in this fortress – on the Baltic coast, perhaps two thirds of the way from the Estonian frontier to Petrograd – would effectively make it impossible to defend Petrograd. Despite being aware of the mutiny, the Estonian authorities took several days to pass the information to Rodzianko and Yudenich; instead, they encouraged the Ingrian detachment within their forces to try to reach the area, perhaps preferring that the lands to their east should come under the control of the friendly Ingrians rather than the White Russians. The Ingrian force proved too weak to reach the mutineers, and eventually the Estonians informed Rodzianko, nearly two days after the mutiny had commenced.

Before either the White Russians or the Royal Navy warships operating in the Gulf of Finland could come to the aid of the mutineers, Josef Stalin – who had been given the task of defending the Russian capital – intervened. Born Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in his native Georgia, he was educated at first for the priesthood but became an atheist and was involved in revoutionary groups before he had finished his studies. He was an early adherent of Lenin and proved adept at organising Bolshevik groups in the early years of the 20th century, resorting to criminal means to secure funds and showing the first signs of the ruthlessness that was to become his hallmark. Like Trotsky, he was arrested and exiled to Siberia, but travelled to Petrograd after the February Revolution, supporting Kerensky at first but then playing a leading role in the work of the Bolshevik Central Committee during the October Revolution. He was appointed People’s Commissar for Nationalities’ Affairs but like many leading Bolsheviks was required to take command of the formations of the fledgling Red Army against White Russian forces; he soon became known for his uncompromising policies towards White Russian officers, ordering the execution of many, as well as taking draconian measures against Bolshevik deserters and peasants who showed any reluctance to support the Bolsheviks.

Outside Petrograd, Stalin acted with characteristic resolution and force. Two of the large warships in Kronstadt were ordered to commence a bombardment of the fortress, while a force of naval volunteers assembled as an infantry formation to storm the position. After two days of rebellion, even as Rodzianko, finally aware of developments, was ordering his troops to try to reach the mutineers, the ruins of Krasnaya Gorka were back in Bolshevik hands. In another characteristic act, Stalin ordered the execution of nearly 70 Russian naval officers from the Kronstadt base, on the basis that they had been planning a similar revolt. Although Stalin claimed to have documentary evidence of this, including proof that the British had financed the planned mutiny, no such document was ever produced.

A second Estonian offensive took place south of Lake Peipus, and a combined Estonian and White Russian force known as the Petseri Battle Group crossed into Russia and seized Pskov on 25 May. Almost immediately, the White Russians appeared to lose interest in fighting against the Red Army, turning their attention against those that they regarded as Bolshevik sympathisers and supporters. Given the prejudices of the region at that time, it was almost inevitable that all Jews were automatically regarded as being in this group, and there was widespread looting, murder and imprisonment. From Pskov, the Estonians pushed on to the Velikaya River, but it became increasingly clear to the Estonians that their advance was unsustainable, not least due to the growing resentment of the local population towards the behaviour of Rodzianko’s troops. The Estonians removed the White Russians from their own line of command, and the Northern Corps reorganised itself into the Northwestern Army. The Bolsheviks counterattacked on 19 June with the reorganised 6th Division, reinforced by the 2nd Division, and rapidly eliminated most of the gains made by the Northern Corps.

Meanwhile, Alexander-Sinclair had been relieved by Admiral Sir Walter Cowan and the British 1st Light Cruiser Squadron. Whilst Cowan’s warships were able to control the Estonian coastline, the presence of Russian warships in Kronstadt continued to pose at least a theoretical threat. Fortunately for Cowan, he found himself working alongside a British naval officer, Augustus Agar, who was operating coastal motor boats on behalf of the British Foreign Office, attempting to maintain links with British spies inside Russia. One of them, codenamed ST-25, was the last important agent still on Bolshevik soil, but arranging a rendezvous to collect him seemed almost impossible. Frustrated in his attempts, Agar contacted Cowan and offered to use his motor boats to attack the Russian battleships that had been used to bombard Krasnaya Gorka. There was an exchange of signals with London, as a result of which Cowan was advised that the motor boats were to be used for intelligence purposes only, unless specially directed by an officer of flag rank. Cowan was determined to get his ships into action, and decided to stretch his orders to the limit; he advised Agar that he could not specifically order the motor boats to attack the Russian battleships, but if they did Agar could count on Cowan’s support.

On 17 June, Agar set off with two boats. One turned back after developing mechanical problems and news arrived that the Russian battleships had withdrawn and been replaced by the cruiser Oleg, which had been part of Raskolnikov’s disastrous foray against Tallinn, but Agar pressed on undaunted and made his approach to Kronstadt during the short hours of the summer night. After a fierce exchange of fire with Soviet destroyers, he approached the Tolbukin lighthouse where he was forced to run his boat aground on a breakwater to make repairs. Still under constant fire, he and his men patched up the boat, and then launched a torpedo at Oleg before turning and running for the Finnish coast. The 7,000-ton cruiser, which had fought in the Russian Navy’s battle with the Japanese fleet at Tsushima in 1905, was struck by the torpedo and sank. Agar and his crew made good their escape in the resultant confusion, still under fire. For this mission, he was awarded the Victoria Cross and promoted to lieutenant commander.

Agar wasn’t finished. Cowan wished to eliminate any further threat from the battleships of the Russian Baltic Fleet and planned a new raid on Kronstadt. This operation was codenamed ‘RK’ in honour of Cowan’s friend Admiral Roger Keyes, who led the raid on Zeebrugge in April 1918. On 18 August, Agar led a group of seven small boats towards Kronstadt. On this occasion, he stayed outside the port while the other six boats, led by Commander Claude Dobson, made an attack at night, while British aircraft carried out an air raid to distract the defenders. Cowan’s destroyers and cruisers waited a short distance away, ready to intervene if the Russian warships attempted to pursue Agar’s force.

The attack achieved complete surprise; the small flotilla passed the silent Russian guardship at the entrance to the harbour and made their attack, and the first that the Russians knew of the presence of the British was an explosion as a torpedo struck the submarine depot ship Pamiat Azova, which swiftly sank. Lieutenant Gordon Steele was aboard a boat commanded by Lieutenant Archibald Dayrell-Reed, with orders to attack the battleship Andrei Pervozvanni:

As Dayrell-Reed’s boat entered the harbour, fire was opened on us, first from the direction of the dry dock and afterwards from both sides. We headed for the corner where our objectives, the battleships, were berthed. Almost simultaneously we received bursts of fire from the batteries and splashes appeared on both sides. Instinctively I ducked as the bullets whistled past. I turned round and was about to remark to Dayrell-Reed, ‘Where are you heading?’ as we were making straight for a hospital ship, when I noticed that his head was resting on the wooden conning tower top in front of him. He had been shot through the head. Despite his considerable weight, I was able to lower him into the cockpit. At the same time I put the wheel hard over and righted the boat on her proper course. We were now quite close to Andrei Pervozvanni. Throttling back as far as possible, I fired both torpedoes at her, after which I stopped one engine to help the boat turn quickly. As I did this we saw two columns of water rise up from the side of Petropavlovsk [the second Russian battleship] and heard two crashes. I knew they must be Dobson’s torpedoes which had found their target. Then there was another terrific explosion nearby. We received a great shock and a douche of water. I realised that the cause of it was one of our torpedoes exploding on the side of the battleship [Andrei Pervozvanni]. We were so close to her that a shower of picric acid from the warhead of our torpedo was thrown over the stern of the boat, staining us a yellow colour which we had some difficulty in removing afterwards. [Missing] a lighter by a few feet [we] followed Dobson out of the basin. I had just time to take another look back and see the result of our second torpedo. A high column of flame from the battleship lit up the whole basin. We passed the guardship at anchor again. Morley [the mechanic aboard the boat] gave her a burst of machine-gun fire as a parting present and afterwards went to see what he could do for Reed.

Three of the British boats were sunk by Russian gunfire, with the loss of 15 crew killed, including Dayrell-Reed, and nine captured from the sinking boats; the Russian account states that the guardship actually spotted the boats as they penetrated the harbour, but chose not to fire for fear of hitting friendly vessels beyond the boats. This does not of course explain why the guardship failed to raise the alarm. For their part in this action, both Dobson and Steele were awarded the Victoria Cross.

Agar had intended to use the attack as cover for another attempt to reach agent ST-25, but was unable to do so. The agent’s real name was Paul Dukes, and he had worked for many years as a concert pianist in the Petrograd Conservatoire, gathering intelligence and helping White Russians to escape to Finland. It was a remarkable achievement for a man without any training before he was sent to Russia – he was merely told to establish contact with the agents of his predecessor, the naval officer Francis Crombie, who had been killed by the Cheka, the Soviet secret police. Without knowing even the names of these agents, he succeeded in re-establishing and even building on the network. He wore many disguises and adopted a variety of aliases, infiltrating the Russian communist party, the Comintern (the international organisation dedicated to worldwide revolution) and even the Cheka – he had a forged document that stated that he was a member of the Cheka, allowing him to pass most checkpoints without question. For a while, he adopted the role of a poor Russian, growing his beard and hair, but when he heard that the Cheka were seeking him he shaved and smartened his appearance, taking pride that many of his acquaintances no longer recognised him. Not long after, he was aboard a tram, disguised as a Russian soldier, when he saw a known Cheka and realised he had been spotted by a known informer:

I did not wait to make sure … Passing the Tsarskoselsky station I jumped off the car while it was still in motion, stooped beneath its side till it passed, and boarded another in the opposite direction. At the station I jumped off, entered the building and sat amongst the massed herds … till dusk.

Under his guise as an ordinary Russian, he was conscripted into the Red Army. His observations of the causes of the failure of the various White forces are interesting:

The complete absence of an acceptable programme alternative to Bolshevism, the audibly whispered threats of landlords that in the event of a White victory the land seized by the peasants would be restored to its former rulers, and the lamentable failure to understand that in the anti-Bolshevist war politics and not military strategy must play the dominant role, were the chief causes of the White defeats. This theory is borne out by all the various White adventures … the course of each being, broadly speaking, the same. First the Whites advanced triumphantly, and until the character of their regime was realised they were hailed as deliverers from the Red yoke. The Red soldiers deserted to them in hordes and the Red command was thrown into consternation … Then came a halt, due to incipient disaffection amongst the civil population in the rear. Requisitioning, mobilisation, internecine strife, and corruption amongst officials, differing but little from the regime of the Reds, rapidly alienated the sympathies of the peasantry, who revolted against the Whites as they had against the Reds, and the position of the White armies was made untenable. The first sign of yielding at the front was the signal for a complete reversal of fortune.

Taking advantage of his army unit being dispatched to the front line in September, Duke managed to persuade his commanding officer – who was a tsarist – to allow him to travel to Russian-occupied Latvia with two other soldiers rather than the rest of the regiment. When they reached Latvia, they jumped from their train and disappeared into the forest, joining thousands of other ‘Greens’ – soldiers who chose to be neither Red nor White, but avoided both factions by hiding in the forests. With secret documents concealed about his person, copied onto sheets of toilet paper, Duke finally reached safety.

Meanwhile, the Russians were making progress against the White Russian and Estonian forces in and around Pskov, and on 10 August the Bolsheviks tentatively offered to recognise Estonian independence in return for a voluntary evacuation of Russian territory by the Estonian forces. This was, of course a welcome development for Estonia, but both the White Russians and the British opposed such a development. The British military attaché in Tallinn, Brigadier Frank Marsh, summoned both Estonian and White Russian officials to the British Embassy in an attempt to push through an agreement that would satisfy British support of both an independent Estonia and the White Russians. He informed the Russians that it was imperative that they formed a Northwest Russian government; this would then have to recognise Estonian independence – unless they did so, the Western Powers would no longer support them. Yudenich had little choice but to agree. However, it appeared that Marsh – and his superior, General Sir Hubert Gough, head of the Western Powers’ military mission to the Baltic – had greatly exceeded their authority in forcing such a recognition of Estonia; Kolchak was still refusing any such recognition, and many officials in London were furious about the developments in Tallinn. Meanwhile, Russian troops recaptured Pskov on 8 September.

Politicians from all three Baltic States met in Tallinn on 14 September, where they agreed that they would negotiate for a collective peace with Russia. Formal talks with the Estonian government began on 16 September in Pskov, but were broken off after two days. Part of the reason for this was that the Baltic States had attended a conference in Riga on 26 August, where they met representatives of the Entente Powers. Here, they were urged to support a planned attack by General Yudenich; clearly, supporting such an attack would not be possible if they were actively negotiating a peace settlement. But, given what had been agreed in Riga, it seems odd that there was any point in meeting the Bolsheviks in Pskov. Perhaps it was intended to mislead the Russians; perhaps it was an indication of different factions within the Baltic States pursuing different agendas.

On 10 October, Yudenich launched his Northwestern Army in an attack towards Petrograd. He had spent the months since his previous attack increasing the size of his force; it now numbered over 18,000, with artillery support and two armoured trains. His force even included six British tanks, crewed by British volunteers. The forces opposing him were numerically greater, but were severely handicapped by poor supplies and chaotic organisation. He had tried to secure Finnish support for the attack, but although Mannerheim was in favour, the Finnish president, Kaarlo Ståhlberg, refused permission. Admiral Kolchak, who was nominally the leader of the White Russian cause, had previously refused to recognise Finnish independence from Russia, and Yudenich’s somewhat belated assurances that he would ensure recognition of Finland were in vain.

At first, the attack of the Northwestern Army enjoyed considerable success. The Bolshevik forces were now under the command of Trotsky, Stalin having returned to Moscow. The contrast between the leadership of the two sides could not be greater; Trotsky, the great orator of the revolution, inspired his fellow citizens to take up arms for the defence of the Russian capital, while Yudenich and Rodzianko squabbled about who should command the army in the field. From the moment they crossed the frontier, White Russian soldiers began to desert, even when they were advancing and winning battles. Some joined the Reds, but most were simply taking advantage of being on Russian territory to try to make their way to their homes. Kingisepp fell on 12 October, and, the following day, 1,600 Estonian troops came ashore near the fortress of Krasnaya Gorka. Despite fire support from Estonian and British warships, the attempt to capture the fortress failed, though fighting continued until the end of the month before the Estonians withdrew. On 20 October, the leading elements of Yudenich’s force reached and captured Pavlovsk and Tsarskoe Selo, on the southern outskirts of Petrograd.

At approximately the same time, the White Russian forces under Denikin in southern Russia were making good progress and it seemed as if the Bolsheviks might be overthrown. Yudenich was aware of the fragility of his army and the numbers of desertions it was suffering and was anxious to reach Petrograd as soon as possible; however, he was also aware that if he were to reach and capture the Russian capital, he would then inherit a huge problem. The city was close to starvation, and whoever controlled it would be responsible for finding sufficient food supplies to prevent a mass uprising. Hoping that the British and others would be able and willing to come to his aid, he ordered his troops to press on as rapidly as they could. Even Lenin began to consider abandoning Petrograd, but Trotsky had no intention of allowing any such thing. He insisted that the cradle of the revolution could be turned into a fortress, in which every house would be a strongpoint and the White forces would be bled to death. Critically, the rush by Yudenich’s troops to reach Petrograd included a division that had actually been ordered to march to the southeast of the city in order to cut the railway line from Moscow. With this vital supply route intact, the Bolsheviks were able to bring up substantial supplies. On 21 October, a Bolshevik counterattack recaptured the southern suburbs of Petrograd. The Fifteenth Red Army drove up from the southeast and attacked towards Volosovo, threatening the supply lines of the Northwest Army. Heavily outnumbered, Yudenich had no option but to withdraw towards Estonia. On 15 November, his troops retreated from Kingisepp, abandoning their last major possession inside Russia. As they fell back, they encountered villages and towns full of White Russian supporters, who had intended to follow them into Petrograd:

Every village, every house and every shelter of any sort were literally overflowing with miserable, hungry, freezing people. There was not a single sheltered corner where the retreating soldiers could warm themselves and rest. The fighting men therefore had to live without shelter during days and nights when the temperature was 10–18 degrees below zero.

Yudenich intended to withdraw to Estonia and regroup, but the Estonian government had no intention of allowing this. As the White Russians reached the border, most were disarmed. The official reason was that Estonia did not wish to allow such a large well-armed body of demoralised men to wander within Estonia; another explanation is that the Bolsheviks had offered to recognise Estonian independence in return for bringing the war to an end.

For Yudenich, this was the end of his attempts on behalf of the White Russian cause. He was placed under arrest by the Estonians but was released after pressure from Britain and France. He left the region and made his home in France, where he avoided involvement in White Russian circles. He died near Nice, in 1933. He left behind him the disarmed men of the Northwest Army who spent a terrible winter finding whatever shelter they could. Thousands died of starvation and disease; a few of their officers managed to travel to join White forces elsewhere, but for most it was enough to find a way out of their predicament. Many drifted back across the border into Russia and made their peace with the Bolsheviks, returning to the homes they had left many years before. Others made new homes in other parts of the world; few were allowed to settle in Estonia.

The Soviet forces that had pursued Yudenich’s retreating army now attacked towards Narva in an attempt to seize the city as a final bargaining chip in the peace negotiations. The Seventh Red Army made some initial gains, but was forced to halt at the end of November to regroup. Peace talks opened on 5 December in Tartu, and, hoping to exert leverage in these negotiations, the Bolsheviks renewed their attack on 7 December, with the Fifteenth Red Army joining the assault nine days later. After breaking through the Estonian lines, the Russians crossed the frozen River Narva south of the city, but the following day the reinforced Estonian 1st Division counterattacked, slowly driving the Bolsheviks back despite suffering heavy losses. In the peace negotiations, the Bolsheviks suddenly made a surprise demand for a strip on either side of the Narva to be kept free of fortifications; when the Estonians refused, they made a final attack on 28 December. By the end of the year, exhaustion and snow brought all combat operations to an end, and the Bolsheviks dropped their demand.

A ceasefire came into effect on 3 January 1920, and the Treaty of Tartu was signed on 2 February. The treaty specified the border between the two nations, with a strip of land to the east of Narva remaining in Estonian control, and allowed for movement of displaced Russians and Estonians to their homelands. It also included a renunciation of any Russian claim to Estonian territory and a transfer of gold from Russia to Estonia, representing Estonia’s share of the gold reserves of the Tsarist Russian Empire. For both sides, this treaty represented a significant landmark. For Estonia, it amounted to a ‘birth certificate’ for the nation, while for Lenin’s Russia, it was the first treaty agreed with a foreign power. Estonia had gained her independence, but at a substantial cost: military casualties in the war were estimated at over 3,500 dead and nearly 14,000 wounded. In addition, Narva had suffered substantial damage, with many civilians killed or wounded. Nevertheless, the nation could look forward to a new future.

A Year of Disasters


RED Territories controlled by Henry VI of England   

PURPLE Territories controlled by the Duke of Burgundy   

BLUE Territories controlled by Charles   

YELLOW Main battles   

RED Dots English raid of 1415   

BLUE DOTS Joan of Arc’s route to Reims in 1429

The coronation of Henry VI should have been a triumphant moment in the history of the English kingdom of France. Never before had the two crowns been united in one person, nor would they ever be again. Yet the whole episode was somehow shabby, rushed and unsatisfactory. Only six months earlier the English council had still anticipated that the ceremony would take place, as tradition demanded, in Reims. Instead, because Reims was still in Armagnac hands, Henry was crowned in Paris – not even at Saint-Denis, where Pepin the Short had been crowned by Pope Stephen II in 754 in the presence of the future Charlemagne, but in the cathedral of Notre Dame.

At almost every stage of the proceedings the English managed to cause offence to their French subjects. The bishop of Paris was aggrieved that Cardinal Beaufort usurped what he felt was rightfully his role within his own church by crowning the king and singing the mass. The canons were annoyed because the royal officials failed to give them their customary offering of the gilded cup used in the service. Officials from the municipality, university and parlement were offended because they were not treated with the dignity they expected at the coronation feast: worse still for Frenchmen, the English had cooked the food four days earlier and it was ‘shocking’. The traditional celebratory jousts were a small-scale affair and did not give rise to the usual distribution of largesse. The new king also failed to grant the customary release of prisoners and abolition of certain taxes. These were all petty quibbles, but they were symptomatic of a wider discontent. As the chronicler Monstrelet noted, everything concerning the coronation was carried out ‘more in accordance with the customs of England than of France’. The citizen of Paris concluded that it was ‘probably because we don’t understand what they say and they don’t understand us’ but there must have been many who felt that this lack of sensitivity to French concerns was simply the arrogance of an English conqueror.

The ‘Englishness’ of the coronation was underlined by the absence of most of the peers of France, in particular Philippe of Burgundy. In the preceding weeks the Parisian authorities had daily announced that his arrival was imminent ‘but all this was only to keep the people quiet’. His failure to put in an appearance was a major disappointment to the Parisians but more especially to the English. His alliance had made the English kingdom of France possible: his absence at what was literally its crowning moment was therefore a significant and very public political statement. Burgundy had always liked to keep his options open. Throughout the entire period of Henry’s residence in France he had never once met the young king in person, thereby avoiding the otherwise inevitable requirement that he should give his oath of allegiance with his hands between those of the king himself. It was one thing to make a king, but quite another to give his sacred vow of obedience to him.

But there was also a more worrying reason for Burgundy’s absence. Just three days before the coronation he had agreed a six-year general truce with Charles VII. Writing to inform Henry the day before he signed the treaty, so that, ‘because of this, you do not conceive any suspicion or imagine anything sinister against me’, he claimed that he had been forced into accepting the truce. And once again he laid the blame squarely at the feet of the English, who had failed to give him the money and assistance he needed to maintain the war and protect his lands. The future burden of defending the English kingdom would now rest entirely on the English themselves.

At this juncture a gesture of commitment from the English would have been politic and welcome to Henry’s French subjects, but no sooner had the new king arrived in Paris than he was whisked back to Rouen. He had spent just three weeks in the city, leaving the citizens with nothing to show for his visit but a bill for 2297l.t. (£133,992) for staging the formal entry. The unseemly haste with which he left Paris was matched only by the speed with which he then left Rouen. Pausing only to mark his coronation by confirming the foundation of a new university at Caen (thereby offending that of Paris), he departed from Rouen on 12 January 1432, arrived in Calais fourteen days later and by 9 February was back in England. He had spent only twenty-one months in his kingdom of France and he would never set foot on French soil again.

The coronation of the ten-year-old king was a natural and probably necessary reaction to that of Charles VII. As Bedford had argued, doing homage and taking the oath of loyalty to a consecrated king would bind Henry’s French subjects more closely to the English regime. The problem neither he nor anyone else had foreseen was that it also committed the English more fully to supporting what was now Henry’s divinely sanctioned right to the French crown. An uncrowned and unconsecrated king might, at some future date, have been able to renounce his claim in order to secure peace on advantageous terms but an anointed king had a sacred duty to uphold the crown God had bestowed upon him. The possibility of a diplomatic rather than a military solution to the future security and survival of the English kingdom of France had just become more difficult to achieve.5 The coronation, combined with the king’s first visit to his French capital, had offered a unique opportunity to whip up enthusiasm for the English regime which was completely thrown away. It is difficult to believe that Bedford would have acted so high-handedly or insensitively, but throughout the period of the king’s residence in France he had been sidelined. All real power had been in the hands of the great council and its president, Cardinal Beaufort, who not only ran the government but also bank-rolled it with his loans. And mistakes had been made.

One of the reasons military wages were so badly in arrears was that the treasury had been ordered to pay soldiers individually instead of through their captains, a policy which had to be reversed when Bedford resumed the regency because it was so impractical. Beaufort was also responsible for a huge increase in gifts of lands and captaincies to Englishmen, many of them his supporters who had come over on the coronation expedition: this caused resentment among long-serving English and Norman captains and, more seriously, created a problem for the future by putting the military infrastructure in the hands of those who would not reside permanently in France.

Beaufort had also quarrelled personally with Bedford, who on 12 October 1431 had been forced to accept, under protest, that in future he would hold the office of regent as a commission from the king and council, rather than as his birthright, a change which introduced the possibility that he could be dismissed from office. Beaufort was undoubtedly behind this restriction on the regent’s office, which was in line with the assertion of conciliar supremacy over Gloucester’s role as protector of England. His reasoning for doing so at this juncture was probably because he was thinking of remaining behind once Henry VI returned to England. Since his arrival in France in 1429 he had worked hard to create a new power base for himself there. As president of the council in France he had effectively controlled administrative and diplomatic affairs there, confining Bedford’s role to the military sphere. He therefore had little incentive to return to a marginalised position in England. If he wanted to retain his own powers in France he needed to limit those of Bedford once the latter resumed the regency on the king’s departure, hence the issuing of a formal commission for the office. Though Bedford was forced to accept this, because he needed his uncle’s money to shore up the war effort, he was not prepared to concede what was effectively a sharing of the regency. When the king left France Bedford made a small but significant change to his title: henceforth he would be ‘Governor and Regent’, emphasising the all-embracing nature of his appointment.

Beaufort had dominated the coronation, which perhaps explains why it was so badly handled as far as the Parisians were concerned. He may also have been responsible for the abrupt ending of the king’s residence in France because his own position in England was once again under serious attack. In November 1431 Gloucester, who was determined to prevent his uncle resuming public office in England, had brought a prosecution against him for becoming a cardinal without resigning his see of Winchester: if Beaufort did not appear in person to defend himself within two months, he was liable to forfeiture under the statute of praemunire. Returning with the king would obviously offer him some protection, which is why they set out for England together so soon after the coronation.

When they reached Calais, however, Beaufort’s courage deserted him. Pleading a summons from the new pope, he obtained permission to go to Rome but instead stayed in Calais to await the arrival of his gold and jewels, which he had ordered to be shipped over to him. He had done this in secret and in contravention of laws controlling the export of precious metal, so when Gloucester found out, he had the perfect excuse to confiscate it all. And as his treasury was the security for his loans, Beaufort was now not only penniless but powerless too.

Unable to resist going for the kill, Gloucester dismissed all Beaufort’s supporters in the English government and prepared to indict his uncle for treason. This proved to be a step too far for those who feared Gloucester’s despotic tendencies and parliament intervened once again to impose a settlement. Beaufort was fined £6000 (£3.15m), refundable within six years if he proved his innocence, and required to make a loan of a further £6000: in return all the charges against him were dropped and his treasury was restored. Nevertheless, his influence over the king and the council, which he had been rebuilding since 1429, was at an end. Excluded from political power in both England and France, he was forced to fall back on his diocesan duties, which must have been a novel and frustrating experience for him.

While Henry was being welcomed back to London with lavish pageantry and by cheering crowds, Rouen was in the grip of the most serious attempt ever made to take the city during English rule. Marshal Boussac had assembled a force of six hundred men-at-arms at Beauvais and hidden them in the woods near Rouen. On the night of 3 February 1432, 120 of them, under the command of Guillaume de Ricarville, were sent on foot to the castle, where they were secretly admitted by Pierre Audebeuf, a Swiss traitor in the garrison. The sleeping English were completely taken by surprise and fled as best they could: the captain of Rouen, the earl of Arundel, who was trapped inside the great tower, made a dramatic escape by having himself lowered over the walls in a basket. With most of the castle in his hands, Ricarville went back to Boussac to bring the rest of the men, as agreed, only to find that they refused to help him and set off back to Beauvais.

Abandoned and unable to defend the entire castle without reinforcements, Ricarville’s men retreated into the great tower with as many supplies as they could find. The English hastily called in reinforcements and weaponry, including one hundred gun-stones sent from Vernon; surrounding the tower, they began a bombardment that would last thirteen days and inflict such damage that it became indefensible, forcing Ricarville’s men to surrender. Geoffroi Thérage was said to have executed 105 of them in a single day, including Audebeuf, who, as a traitor, was beheaded and quartered: his limbs were then displayed on the town gates and his head on a lance.

That such a bold attempt was possible, and so nearly succeeded, in the heart of the English administration just weeks after the coronation was a remarkable indictment of the missed opportunity to encourage unity and loyalty presented by that occasion. It was also an indication that the Armagnacs regarded their general truce with Burgundy as an opportunity to exploit the weaknesses in the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. With the duke’s troops removed from the field, the military burden fell entirely on the English, though some Burgundians, including l’Isle-Adam and Jehan de Luxembourg, continued to serve in English pay. English garrison forces being stretched to the limit increased the potential for Armagnacs to take strongholds by surprise. And in this they were aided by the fact that the Armagnac-Burgundian truce had hugely raised the hopes of the civilian population that a full peace settlement would follow. In the circumstances it is not surprising that the attempted betrayal of Rouen was only the first of nearly a dozen recorded conspiracies in 1432.

The most spectacular and successful occurred early in the morning of 12 April 1432. Two merchants from Chartres, who had been captured by the Armagnacs and persuaded to change sides, brought a dozen carts laden with barrels from Orléans into their home town. The gates were opened for them because they were well known, had safe-conducts and allegedly brought salt, which was in short supply. Yet once most of the wagons were safely through the gates the ‘carters’ blocked the drawbridge by killing the horse in the shafts of the next wagon and a number of soldiers leapt out of the barrels in which they were hiding. They killed the guards at the gate and secured the gatehouse. The Bastard of Orléans, Raoul de Gaucourt and La Hire (who was back in the field having just escaped from his prison at Dourdon) were waiting a short way off with an army and, at the agreed signal, charged into the town. They met with little resistance because their collaborator (and, if Monstrelet is to be believed, the man who conceived the plan), a Dominican friar, had arranged to preach an important sermon at the farthest end of the town, so that all the citizens would be gathered there. The town was taken before most of the startled citizens were even aware that the enemy was inside their gates. The Burgundian bishop of Chartres was killed in the street trying to fight his way out and all those who had ‘governed for the English’ were beheaded the following day.

Another Dominican friar was the ringleader in a conspiracy to deliver Argentan to the neighbouring enemy garrison of Bonsmoulins. An unfortunate merchant, Guillaume du Val, was also arrested because he had made regular trips to Bonsmoulins to negotiate the ransom and release of a trading partner held prisoner there. His visits were entirely legitimate because he had obtained permission to make them from Henry VI’s lieutenant in Normandy. Nevertheless, under torture so severe that he lost the use of an arm and a leg, du Val revealed that the French had failed to persuade him to assist them in taking Argentan. He also confessed that he had recognised a man from the garrison at Bonsmoulins dining in disguise at the house of the Dominican. Implicated by his association with the traitors, as well as for not informing the authorities of his suspicious encounters, du Val was fortunate to escape with his life. It was only the fact that he had taken his place as a defender on the town walls when the alarm was eventually raised that secured him his pardon.

Friars were particularly active as spies and enemy agents because their itinerant life and religious habit allowed them to travel from place to place and across political boundaries without raising suspicion. Charles VII regularly employed them as messengers and spies. One, known by the code-name Samedi passé, was sent ‘many times’ to Calais and other places ‘to discover the enterprises of the English’; captured and tortured seven times, he spent twelve years in an English prison before he managed to escape, but was ultimately rewarded for his services by becoming a pensioner of the French crown. In Paris in September 1432, however, the unlikely traitors were the abbess of Saint-Anthoinedes-Champs and some of her nuns, who were arrested and taken into custody for plotting with the abbess’s nephew to kill the gatekeepers at the Porte Saint-Anthoine and betray the city to the enemy.

Not even Englishmen could always be trusted. At the beginning of June 1432 several Englishmen were executed at Pontoise for plotting with the citizens of the town to betray it to the Armagnacs. Later in the year Thomas Gernes and his companion were captured by the garrison at Domfront. For reasons which were not explained, but perhaps because they had settled on the land or had been captured and were unable to pay their ransoms, they had joined the enemy garrison at the castle of Gontier-sur-Orne. Before they were executed as ‘Englishmen, traitors, thieves, brigands, enemies and adversaries’ the two confessed that they had also committed a ‘certain treason . . . which, quite simply, without having had this confession, could not have been discovered’.

The surest method of preventing such betrayals was to offer peace, security and a plentiful supply of the necessities of life. None of these things was in Bedford’s gift. Even the elements conspired against him. The winter of 1431–2 had been exceptionally long and hard. In January the Seine froze to a depth of two feet all the way upriver from Paris to Corbeil, stopping all the watermills in the city; ships on their way from Rouen to the capital were unable to pass beyond Mantes, so their much-needed cargoes of perishable food rotted. Constant frost, hail and bitter cold throughout the spring destroyed the buds and flowers of fruit and nut trees, ruining the prospects for the autumn harvest. Heavy rains and floods in July were followed by scorching heat in August which burned the vines and made the corn crop fail, creating a shortage of bread but also prolonging the scarcity by ensuring that there would be no stocks of seed corn to plant the following year. Famine and disease always went hand in hand but it was young people and small children who fell victim to the epidemic sweeping through Paris.1

Bedford did what he could to alleviate the situation, concentrating his efforts on trying to prevent Armagnac raids, which disrupted trade and destroyed the countryside, by recapturing their bases. After retaking Louviers he had, at the request of the estates-general of Normandy, kept three hundred men-at-arms and nine hundred archers in the field under the command of lord Willoughby. His specific remit was to recover several fortresses on the Norman frontier within a twenty-mile radius of Sées, including Bonsmoulins and Saint-Cénéry, and substantial sums had been granted to support his campaign.

The reason for targeting these strongholds as a priority was that their captain was Ambroise de Loré, marshal of the duke of Alençon, and on 29 September 1431 he had led seven hundred men in a daring raid from Saint-Cénéry. They had managed to travel undetected for fifty-five miles through the heart of Normandy, the last ten of them with the aid of guides who led them through valleys and covert ways to the outskirts of Caen. Their objective was the annual Michaelmas fair which was always held in the open fields between the town and the abbey of Saint-Étienne.

Their attack came out of the blue. The terrified merchants and citizens abandoned their stalls and goods and fled back towards the town in such numbers that the gatekeepers were unable to open or close the gates for the press of the crowd. Soldiers from the garrison tried to make a sortie to rescue them, but were beaten back so decisively that the Armagnacs were almost within the walls themselves. Loré knew, however, that he did not have enough men to take the town and had the presence of mind to draw his troops back. He had achieved what he wanted, striking terror into the heart of Normandy and gaining a rich haul of merchandise, horses and prisoners. Many of those taken captive were wealthy merchants and citizens of Caen, who were brought back to Bonsmoulins to be held until ransomed: the demand for Guillaume du Val’s business partner alone was 2000 saluts (£160,417) in cash, two lengths of silver cloth and other, more minor items.

When news reached Loré that Willoughby had laid siege to Saint-Cénéry with a huge artillery train, he obtained permission from the duke of Alençon to attempt a relief operation, and set up camp fifteen miles away in two villages either side of the river Sarthe connected only by a single bridge. Getting wind of this, Matthew Gough led a detachment out from the besieging army under cover of night: at dawn he fell upon those in Vivoin, catching them by surprise and overwhelming them.

The cries of those being attacked attracted the attention of those lodged at Beaumont-le-Vicomte, who saw the English standards already flying around Vivoin. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Loré launched a counter-attack with the small force of bowmen available to him, to buy time for the soldiers on the other side of the river to cross over to join him. After several hours of indecisive fighting, during which the Armagnacs were constantly reinforced by those from Beaumont-le-Vicomte filing steadily over the bridge, they eventually carried the day.

The English fled, leaving Matthew Gough a prisoner in enemy hands. It was all the more frustrating that they had actually captured Loré himself, who had been badly wounded, only for him to be rescued before the day was out. Worse still, his men were so infuriated when they mistakenly thought he had been killed that they massacred all their English prisoners in an act of revenge which breached the laws of war. The next day Willoughby abandoned his siege of Saint-Cénéry, leaving behind several of the great guns and siege engines in his haste to withdraw without further losses.

Bedford, meanwhile, was equally unsuccessful. At the beginning of May he had begun his second attempt in two years to relieve Paris by taking Lagny-sur-Marne. Despite throwing several temporary bridges across the Marne and building a fortified encampment surrounded by ditches which was larger than Lagny itself, his troops made no headway. They had to endure floods and a heatwave so powerful that some of the men-at-arms died from heatstroke because they were encased in armour: Bedford himself was said to have collapsed with exhaustion. And long-promised reinforcements from England failed to arrive.

Early in August the Bastard of Orléans, Raoul de Gaucourt, Gilles de Rais and Roderigo de Villandrando brought a large army to the relief of Lagny garrison. While the rest drew up in battle formation and kept the English busy with diversionary skirmishes and attacks on their encampment, Gaucourt slipped into Lagny from the other side with reinforcements and desperately needed supplies. The rest of the Armagnac army then withdrew towards Paris, still in battle formation, forcing Bedford to choose between continuing his siege and pursuing them to prevent an attack on the capital. When Bedford sent a message offering to fight them in a pitched battle, he was told in no uncertain terms that ‘they had done what they came to do’ and there was therefore no need for battle. Without the twelve hundred reinforcements, who were only just embarking from England, Bedford did not have enough men both to maintain the siege and protect Paris. On 20 August 1432 he therefore reluctantly raised his siege and returned to the capital, much to the disgust of its citizens, who were too afraid of the resurgent Armagnacs to venture into the countryside for the grape harvest, so that a shortage of wine was added to the lengthening list of their miseries.

With the Lagny garrison free to continue raiding several times a week up to the gates of Paris and disrupting essential supplies of food and firewood into the capital, the Parisians would continue to suffer the consequences of Bedford’s failure for years to come. Their problems were compounded by the epidemic which continued to rage in the city and, on 13 November, claimed its most important victim. Anne, duchess of Bedford, was twenty-eight years old. Her marriage was childless but her quiet and unobtrusive diplomacy had done much to bolster relations between the two dukes personally and in the wider context of their supporters. ‘She was good and beautiful,’ the citizen of Paris lamented. ‘The Parisians loved her . . . and with her died most of the hope that Paris had, but this had to be endured.’ Her funeral exemplified the union of French and English customs which she and Bedford had promoted. Parisian priests led the processions wearing black stoles and carrying candles. Then, as her body was lowered into the grave, the English took over, singing most movingly, ‘in the fashion of their own country’, the polyphonic music for unaccompanied voices which had been pioneered in the royal chapel and become famous throughout northern Europe.

The severing of this link opened another small but significant crack in the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. The strains were beginning to tell. Burgundy’s announcement of his six-year truce with Charles VII in 1431 had raised popular hopes and expectations that a general peace might follow, especially as it was widely known that the new pope, Eugenius IV, was determined to broker an end to the conflict and had sent his envoy, Cardinal Albergati, to France to mediate a settlement. None of the parties involved had requested or even wanted this intervention but neither could they afford to offend the head of the universal church by refusing to cooperate with his initiative. Their unwillingness to engage in any meaningful way with the peace process doomed the talks to failure.

In November 1432 Albergati chaired a three-way conference at Auxerre between the English, Burgundians and Armagnacs. It soon became clear that nothing concrete could be achieved. All the arguments that would be rehearsed so many times over the coming years were trotted out on this occasion. The English had already decided as long ago as May 1431 that they could not commit Henry VI to a peace treaty while he was still legally a minor, but they were willing to accept a truce. The Armagnacs insisted that the French prisoners held in England since Agincourt should be a party to the proceedings: this was not unreasonable as the dukes of Orléans and Bourbon and the count of Eu were all Armagnac and no lasting peace could be made unless they were reconciled with the Burgundians. They refused, however, even to consider a peace unless Henry first surrendered his claim to the French throne, which was unacceptable to the English.

Philippe of Burgundy, who was in the happy position of being able to play the two sides off against each other, sought only the best possible deal for himself. What he wanted from the Armagnacs, apart from an apology and compensation for the murder of his father, was the cession to him of the county of Champagne. In the end all that could be agreed was that they should meet again in March 1433 and the Agincourt prisoners should be involved. When the commissioners returned to Paris the citizen noted in his journal that they had ‘done nothing except spend a great deal of money and waste their time’, a bitter but accurate description of the intransigence on all sides.

A miserable year for Bedford and the English kingdom of France ended with the unexpected rebellion of a Norman who had been an important supporter of the regime from the beginning of the conquest. Raoul Tesson, sire du Grippon, had submitted early to Henry V and in April 1422 had been rewarded with the gift of all the land and property confiscated from his brother, Jean, who had left Normandy for Armagnac territory and never returned. On 21 August 1429, in the crisis caused by the Pucelle’s victories, Tesson had been appointed captain of Saint-Lô, replacing the earl of Suffolk, who had been captured at Jargeau. It was a significant display of trust in him, for the town was strategically important and had recently been subjected to a number of raids by the garrison of Mont-Saint-Michel During Henry VI’s sojourn in Rouen Tesson had come to swear his oath of loyalty in person to the young king, and in June 1432 he had personally served at the siege of Lagny with a large contingent of twenty-one men-at-arms and sixty-three archers, almost half of whom he had had to find himself.

Six months later, however, Tesson was a ‘traitor and disobedient’. The earl of Arundel was forced to take most of his garrison from Rouen and race to Saint-Lô to resist and repel ‘by battle or otherwise’ the duke of Alençon’s army, which had entered Normandy to take the town by means of Tesson’s treachery. Perhaps as a result of Arundel’s diligence, the attempt to take Saint-Lô failed. Tesson withdrew with his family and household to Mont-Saint-Michel, where in 1433 they participated in a sea raid on Granville, the rocky peninsula at the northernmost point of the bay, capturing several English ships and bringing them back to the island. Tesson’s extensive possessions were confiscated and lands, worth an annual 875l.t. (£51,042), were granted in March 1433 to Richard Merbury, the English captain of Gisors.

Another long, hard winter, with frosts nearly every day until Easter and long periods when the Seine was again frozen, preventing the shipment of supplies into Paris, did nothing to raise spirits. ‘There was no bread eaten in Paris except such as used to be made for dogs’, the citizen complained, ‘and even that was so small that a man’s hand would cover a fourpenny loaf.’ In Calais the garrison became so desperate when the English government failed yet again to pay their wages that they mutinied: they seized the wool belonging to the merchants of the Staple, the company which held the monopoly on the export of English wool, and forcibly ejected Sir William Oldhall, Bedford’s deputy in the town.

For Bedford these setbacks were made worse by the knowledge that he could expect little or no aid from England, where Gloucester’s government was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The previous year had seen only one English expedition sent to France: led by lords Camoys and Hungerford, it had consisted of only twelve hundred men and its departure had been delayed until August because no money was available to pay its wages until Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort had settled their quarrel, reopening the stream of loans from Beaufort. Once again it had been too little too late, and as a consequence Lagnysur-Marne had been lost.

The situation had not improved over the winter and Bedford faced the prospect of beginning a new campaigning season without substantial support from either England or Burgundy. It was perhaps for this reason that he decided to align himself more closely with one family which had remained steadfastly loyal and supportive. Louis de Luxembourg, bishop of Thérouanne, was a former president of the chambre-des-comptes in Paris, a member of the Norman council and, since 1424, chancellor of France; his brother, Jehan de Luxembourg, count of Guise and Ligny, had consistently provided military support in the field and served in person regularly with the Anglo-Burgundian army. Their brother, Pierre, was count of Saint-Pol, in Artois, and it was his daughter, Jacquetta, that Louis de Luxembourg suggested Bedford should marry.

The marriage meant that Bedford could continue to rely on the military support of the house of Luxembourg but it also had political advantages. It strengthened ties with the Low Countries, where England had substantial trading and economic interests, and with the Emperor Sigismund, who was Jacquetta’s cousin. It also rejuvenated Bedford’s own territorial ambitions in Artois, which had been thwarted by the death of Anne of Burgundy and the birth of a legitimate son and heir to her brother. His new bride, who was just seventeen, ‘frisky, beautiful and gracious’, might provide the forty-three-year-old Bedford with a legitimate heir. (He already had two bastards from liaisons before he married Anne.) After all, Philippe of Burgundy had had two childless marriages yet his third wife, Isabella, was now expecting his second son. (Philippe allegedly managed the prodigious feat of fathering twenty-six bastards, though only one of his three legitimate sons survived infancy.)

The marriage was celebrated in Artois on 20 April 1433 at Louis de Luxembourg’s episcopal seat of Thérouanne. Whatever political advantages Bedford may have hoped to gain by it were nullified by the reaction of the duke of Burgundy. Philippe was offended by both the haste of the remarriage and the fact that the count of Saint-Pol had not sought his permission for it, as he was bound to do because the duke was his feudal overlord. It was a further affront to Burgundy’s dignity that the wedding had taken place within his own county of Artois, albeit in a royal enclave that was not subject to his jurisdiction.

Cardinal Beaufort, who had always enjoyed a good personal relationship with Burgundy, was so concerned about the situation and its potential to split the Anglo-Burgundian alliance that he organised a special meeting between the two dukes at Saint-Omer at the end of May. His object was to effect a reconciliation but he had not counted on the depth of personal pride and pique involved. Both dukes arrived in the town but neither would make the first move to accept the subservient role of visiting the other: Bedford claimed precedence as regent; Burgundy refused to cede it because Saint-Omer was in his territory. Nothing Beaufort could do or say would persuade them to put aside their differences and they left Saint-Omer without having met. It was, like the coronation, another opportunity lost, for they would never meet again.

The Thirty Years’ War in Italy

Relief of Genoa by the Marquis of Santa Cruz by Antonio de Pereda. Museo del Prado.
map of Italy in 1631

At the dawn of the seventeenth century, Spain’s position in Italy appeared impregnable, but appearances can be deceiving. The Italian princes used their small armies for short campaigns, such as Pope Clement VIII-who sent an expeditionary force against the Muslims in Hungary in 1595 and in 1601-2-or the Duchy of Modena, which waged war against the smaller Republic of Lucca in 1613.

Venice was the only independently powerful state in Italy. The intrinsic desire to remain independent of all influences often placed it at odds with Spain and the papacy. Venice’s senate compelled the papacy to seek senatorial approval for papal edicts issued in the republic. If the Senate disagreed with papal policy, it rejected decrees. This religious autonomy further exacerbated the rift between Rome and the republic.

In 1605 the disagreements between Venice and Rome finally reached a critical stage. Spain pledged Rome all possible military support, but failed to back its pledge with tangible forces. They feared possible French intervention, and thus a stalemate ensued. The diplomatic situation in Italy was complex, and thus in 1613 a confused and peculiar war was fought. Venice had difficulties with Dalmatian pirates, protected by the Austrian Habsburgs. A Venetian fleet attacked the pirates in their ports, and soon a maritime war expanded to the Italian mainland where Venetian troops attacked an Austrian army in Friuli. They fought on the same battlefields were, exactly three centuries later, Italians and Austrians would clash during World War I, on Carso and around the city of Gorizia. The Habsburg garrison was commanded by count Albrecht von Wallenstein, future general of Habsburg forces in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War.

The war at sea was known as the Uscock War, after the name of the Dalmatian pirates. The war against Austria was called the War of Gradisca, after the city attacked by Venetian forces. In the course of these wars Spain mobilized its forces in Milan to assist their Austrian Habsburg cousins. At the moment an expanded Habsburg-Venetian war appeared imminent, Duke Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy demanded the Duchy of Mantua for his house or, at least, the Marquisat of Monferrat. Spanish opposition to Savoyard expansion in April 1613 generated a war between the Italian duchy and Spain. Although the weight of forces favored Spain, the Spanish army from Milan was defeated and the duke resisted further Spanish threats. Surviving for the moment, Charles Emmanuel actively pursued a Venetian alliance. He sent an ambassador to Venice. Although the Senate welcomed the opportunity, it decided that this Spanish distraction served them better than an active war between Venice and Spain. They decided not to declare war against Spain but covertly cooperate with Savoy without an official alliance. Venice subsidized the Savoyard army; Charles Emmanuel sent troops to the Venetian army and with his war occupied Spanish resources in Italy.

The Neapolitan-that is to say Spanish-fleet appeared in the southern Adriatic, but the Venetian fleet was more than adequate to meet the challenge. The war stalemated, and soon the French became active in the Alps. The threat of French intervention compelled Philip III, king of Spain, to end the war before his territories in Italy were fully threatened by a French-Savoyard-Venetian alliance. In 1617, Madrid, Vienna, Turin, and Venice came to terms. Despite the conclusion of this Italian war, it was soon eclipsed by the greater European conflict looming on the horizon, the Thirty Years’ War.


The European conflict known as the Thirty Years’ War originated in 1618 as a result of an internal conflict between the king of Bohemia, Ferdinand II-Holy Roman Emperor and head of the Austrian Habsburgs-and the Protestant lords in Bohemia. They threw Ferdinand’s envoy and his assistants out of the castle window in Prague-the Defenestration of Prague-and then requested military support from the Evangelical Union in the Holy Roman Empire. Bohemia, a kingdom of the Austrian Habsburg realm, was one of the seven electoral territories in the Holy Roman Empire. The defiant Bohemian lords looked to the German Protestant princes in their rebellion against Ferdinand II, and offered Frederick, elector of the Palatinate, the crown of Bohemia.

The Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation was elected by prince electors. If the House of Habsburg lost the crown of Bohemia, it lost the electoral capability as well as the possibility of maintaining the imperial crown in its hands. At the onset of this struggle for Bohemia, the House of Habsburg moved quickly to deal with this crisis, although it found itself overwhelmed with additional rebellions in Austria, too. All of this provided an opportunity for Frederick, as the Protestant Evangelical Union had no standing army and no diplomatic support abroad. Venice gave diplomatic support, because an enemy of Austria was a friend of the republic. Sweden and Denmark did the same, but Venice was richer and closer to Austria and Bohemia than Denmark and Sweden, therefore its support was of major importance to Frederick.

The problem remained building an army. It is here that Charles Emmanuel of Savoy became a central player. In 1617 he raised in Germany and paid in advance for an army of five thousand professional soldiers under General Ernst von Mansfeld. Initially, he wanted to employ it against Spain in northern Italy. With the war in Italy interrupted and the Evangelical Union needing an army, he left his forces in Germany. The Union’s ambassadors agreed that in exchange for his army, they support his interest in the imperial crown. As a prince of the empire they could vote for him. Charles Emmanuel accepted the proposition and his army went to Prague. Frederick had now diplomatic support and an army. He refused any possible accommodation with the Habsburgs, and the Thirty Years’ War began. The Evangelical Union did not keep its word; nonetheless, both Savoy and Venice had successfully diverted the Habsburg menace from Italy.

The emperor, Ferdinand II, was strongly funded by the Catholic world. His Spanish cousin, Philip III, gave him 1 million florins una tantum, but this was a trifle compared to the funds raised in Italy. Pope Paul V pledged 20,000 florins per month for the duration of the conflict. Then he permitted the emperor to levy a war tax in Italy, which brought in 250,000 scudi per year. The twelve congregations of the Catholic Church sent a 100,000-scudi gift, and this meant that, after 1623, the pope gave the emperor more money than Spain did. Moreover, the duke of Tuscany gave financial support and maintained a cavalry regiment in Germany throughout the war.

Thousands of Italians took part in the war, many of whom served as highranking officers in the imperial army. Famed soldiers such as Collalto, Galasso, Piccolomini, and Raimondo Montecuccoli fought under imperial and Spanish colors. Italian troops formed a significant part of the army that defeated Frederick and the Evangelical army at White Mountain in 1618; 14,000 were later led by the duke of Feria from Italy to Bavaria, as well as 16,000 led by the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand (later Ferdinand III), who fought and won at Nördlingen in 1634. The greater part of Habsburg forces and finances were drawn from Italy.

The Spanish Road and the Struggle for Its Control: 1619-1640

Soon after the war began, Spain moved its troops north along the Spanish Road. It was impossible to prevent their movement in Italy, but it was possible to cut the Spanish Road in Switzerland, in the Valtelline. The Grisons were the masters of that Catholic and Italian-speaking valley, and they were Protestant. The advent of the Thirty Years’ War in Bohemia therefore affected Switzerland, too. A long and complicated war, the First Valtelline War began in 1620, when the local Catholics massacred all the Protestants living in the valley and, supported by the Spaniards, destroyed Protestant Swiss reinforcements coming from the north. The French, directed by Cardinal Richelieu, tried to cut the Spanish Road but repeatedly failed. Richelieu’s objective was to weaken the Habsburgs in Italy and Germany by supporting the local autonomies against Spain and Austria. He anticipated that this would compel Madrid and Vienna to use their military resources and their capital in Switzerland and Italy, to keep the Spanish Road opened, reducing their forces in Germany.

This policy of distracting the Habsburgs from their dynastic ambitions was drafted by King Henry IV and, after his assassination, it was continued and successfully exploited by his son’s minister Cardinal de Richelieu. From the early days of seventeenth century, the primary objective of French foreign policy was to supplant Habsburg power in Italy and Germany; failing that, to keep the Habsburgs weak in both regions. When in 1623 the major French effort to cut the Spanish Road in the Valtelline failed, France approached Savoy for an alliance. Richelieu’s intention was to conquer Genoa in order to cut the Spanish Road at its landing point in Liguria. In 1625, Charles Emmanuel of Savoy led a victorious campaign against Genoa, but as he anticipated consolidating his hold on the republic, French disorganization and Spanish intervention stopped him. Piedmontese troops were forced to leave Liguria and Spanish troops invaded Piedmont, thereby securing the the Spanish Road. In 1626 the Spanish army surrounded the key Piedmontese city of Verrua. The siege was long, terribly hard, and expensive. The Spaniards failed to take the city and decided to negotiate an end to the war. In any case, France failed again to cut the Spanish Road, and soon Spanish troops continued their march to Germany to support Catholic and Habsburg causes. The Protestants were defeated in Bohemia and in western and central Germany. Imperial troops defeated a Danish army under Christian IV and reached the borders of Jutland when the death of the duke of Mantua altered the course of the conflict.

Mantua was small, rich, and possessed major strategic importance in northern Italy. If the Spanish Road was cut, imperial troops could move from Germany to Italy only along a second, less protected, and less comfortable route. Venice owned the land in northern Italy from Switzerland to Adriatic coast, between Austrian and Spanish territories. Imperial troops could pass through the mountains separating the Trentino from Lombardy, then reach Lake Garda and sail down the Mincio river. Although the route passed through Venetian territory, the Venetians would allow them to sail down the river under condition of not landing on Venetian territory. Mantua was the terminal at the end of the journey. The master of the city controlled the only other imperial route through Italy.

In 1628, when duke Vincenzo Gonzaga died, his closest heir was the duke of Gonzaga-Nevers, descended from a branch of the family established in France. When the Spaniards realized that a French noble was the legal heir of Mantua and master of their second most important strategic city, they immediately threw their support behind the second Gonzaga branch, that of the former dukes of Ferrara. Venice and Paris declared their armies prepared to back Charles of GonzagaNevers. Ferdinand II then ordered his troops to Italy. The return of the imperial armies from Germany to Italy was a long-standing nightmare of the Church. Pope Urban VIII concentrated an army on his northern border, the bank of the Po river in front of Mantua, to prevent the introduction of imperial troops any farther south.

Cardinal de Richelieu saw Mantua as a new opportunity. A French-born duke in Mantua could cut the Habsburg’s strategic nerve. Mantua was far from the French frontier, and Richelieu’s army needed a secure passage through the Alps and a supply base in northern Italy. Lombardy was Spanish, but Mantua owned Monferrat, which was in Piedmont. If France could obtain free passage across the Alps with permission of Savoy, it could establish a horizontal strategic line running from the Alps through Casale-the capital of Monferrat-to Mantua, cutting both the Spanish Road, very close to Casale, and the Mantua route. The objective was so vital to French grand strategy that Richelieu personally led the French army into the Piedmont.

Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy was allied to Spain at this time, having been betrayed by the Evangelical Union and courted by Madrid. Richelieu tried to bargain, but the duke was clever. He negotiated with the cardinal while assembling his army. At the same time the new duke of Mantua raised an army; and both Venetian and imperial troops marched to Mantua. Gradually, more than 100,000 men from Savoy, Venice, Spain, the Papal States, Mantua, France, Naples, and the empire concentrated on the Padana Plain. It was the biggest concentration of troops ever seen during the Thirty Years’ War; and it occurred in Italy instead of in Germany.

In 1629, after the Danish phase of the Thirty Years’ War and prior to Swedish intervention, the turning point was reached in Italy. As C. V. Wedgwood remarked: “Insignificant in itself, the Mantuan crisis was the turning point of the Thirty Years’ War, for it precipitated the final division of the Catholic Church against itself, alienated the pope from the Habsburg dynasty, and made morally possible the calling of Protestant allies by Catholic powers to redress the balance.” Habsburg generals Ambrogio Spinola and Rambaldo di Collalto-both Italians- coordinated their efforts and, on July 18, 1630, Mantua fell and was pillaged by the imperials. Richelieu had captured Pinerolo, at the foot of the Piedmontese Alps, by this time, and the French and Mantuan garrison of Casale successfully kept the Spanish at bay. When this short and bloody war ended in 1630, the Treaty of Regensburg recognized the French presence in Italy and their possession of a passage across the Alps. The Spanish Road could now be cut from Casale; and the city-fortress could be supported by the French garrison at Pinerolo; and Pinerolo could be supplied from France thanks to the passage across the Alps. Richelieu had achieved a remarkable strategic success.

All was quiet on the Italian front for the following five years. Germany became the major operational theater once more; and Spain focused its attention and troops there. Long columns of soldiers under Spanish colors marched along the Spanish Road from Italy to Germany to fight and die on Dutch and German battlefields. The Spanish raised an enormous amount of money in Italy.

Their troops sailed from Italy to South America after 1624, when the Dutch attacked Brazil. Spain absorbed Portugal and its colonies until the 1640s, and found them susceptible to Dutch raids after 1621, when the twelve-year truce ended. The first Italian troops reached Saõ Joaõ da Bahia in 1625 and fought successfully against the Dutch. In 1635 the Neapolitan nobleman Giovan Vincenzo Sanfelice was appointed supreme commander of the Spanish troops in Brazil, and in 1638 he defeated Dutch troops attacking Bahia under John Maurice of Nassau.

The entire conflict in Europe changed in 1635 when France entered the war, backing the Protestants. Richelieu opened the Italian front with an alliance between France, Savoy, Mantua and Parma against Spain. Then a French army reentered the Valtelline to cut the Spanish Road. Spanish troops from Milan ejected the French; and Richelieu moved his army to Piedmont, while the duke of Modena joined Spain. After two years, a new peace was signed over the Valtelline, but the war continued in Piedmont until 1640. Piedmont, however, was racked by civil war between the duchess-sister of Louis XIII of France and mother of the young Duke Charles Emmanuel II-and princes Maurice and Thomas of Savoy who, as the brothers of the late Duke Victor Amadeus I, wanted the regency until their nephew could receive the crown.

France supported Duchess Christine and Spain backed the princes. After a three-year war, France and the duchess prevailed. The French retained their positions in Piedmont and menaced the Spanish Road once again. Richelieu followed up this change of fortune with another indirect attempt to weaken Spanish control of Italy. A local war exploded in central Italy in 1640. The so-called Castro War, after the name of a little fief some sixty miles north of Rome, involved a coalition composed of Venice, Parma, Modena and Tuscany in a conflict against the pope. The clash had no impact on the war in Germany, but it diverted men and resources and forced Spain to retain troops in Italy. All the Italian states involved recalled their best men serving abroad. Among them was Raimondo Montecuccoli, appointed commander of the Modenese troops who conducted an impressive campaign against papal troops around Bologna.

This bloody war, with casualties on both sides exceeding 14,000 men in twenty-three months, ended in 1644, with no significant changes to the political situation in Italy.

Cardinal Mazarin, successor to Richelieu, decided to act directly against Spain. In 1646 a 10,000-man French expeditionary force landed in the Presidii to cut the maritime portion of the Spanish Road. Operations went on slowly, but in 1647, Naples, the financial and military center of Spanish power in Italy revolted against the Spanish viceroy. The root cause of the revolt was the excessive taxation by the Spanish to sustain their war in the Netherlands and Germany. When in July 1647 a new tax was levied on fruits and vegetables, the people revolted. No less than 115,000 people took arms against the viceroy, who escaped to Naples’ main castle. The Spanish garrison was unable to stop the riots, and in October the revolution expanded throughout southern Italy. Madrid dispatched all available galleys and troops to Naples. No less than 40 galleys and vessels and more than 3,000 cannons, including those in the fortresses, were employed. The expedition failed; and Naples fell to the rebellion. The Royal Neapolitan Republic-as the revolutionary government named itself-requested assistance from France. A French fleet arrived before the city on December 24, 1647, and fought a naval battle against the Spanish while the French duke of Guiche was proclaimed chief of the Royal Neapolitan Republic.

Spain increased troops and ships in the area. At the same time the Spanish promised money and honors to all who would help them, as well as a general pardon to the city and its inhabitants. In spring 1648 the money succeeded where the weapons had failed; and the duke of Guiche was captured by Spanish forces.

The Peace of Westphalia ended the war in Europe, but the Thirty Years’ War left unresolved problems and new animosities. France attained its strategic goals. Germany and Italy remained divided into small weak states. According to the treaty, France could intervene in German affairs to defend Protestant rights. German princes could seek French protection when in conflict with the emperor. France used this power for diplomatic and military purposes into the eighteenth century.

The situation in Italy differed because the Treaties of Westphalia did not address the situation in the peninsula. France, however, retained control of the Alpine passes and the fortress of Pinerolo. This gave them a direct control over the Piedmont and the effective means to cut the Spanish Road and the Spanish logistical system.

Royal Navy on the Hudson

Former governor William Tryon and other Tory leaders confirmed the island’s loyalty when they met with General Howe aboard the Greyhound immediately after he arrived.

Tryon painted a picture of extensive Loyalist support throughout the region. He predicted that the king’s faithful would supply Howe with whatever he needed, particularly men. “I have the satisfaction to inform your Lordship,” Howe wrote to Germain, “that there is great reason to expect a numerous body of inhabitants to join the army from the provinces of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, who in this time of universal apprehension only wait for opportunities to give proofs of their loyalty and zeal for government.”

Tryon urged Howe to attack Washington immediately. The governor was already doing all he could to organize clandestine resistance in the city and surrounding counties. Working with prominent Loyalists like Oliver De Lancey, Tryon was planning an uprising within the city to coordinate with Howe’s invasion. He even hoped to capture or assassinate General Washington. One of Tryon’s men, Thomas Hickey (posing as a British deserter), succeeded in joining Washington’s bodyguards and was about to capture or kill him when he was discovered on June 20. Hickey was tried and hanged eight days later in front of a crowd of soldiers and irate New Yorkers.

Washington moved fast to counter Tryon’s efforts. He urged the New York Provincial Convention (the patriot governing body) to remove from Manhattan “all persons of known disaffection and enmity to the cause of America.” The convention responded forcefully, rounding up prominent Tories, including former mayor David Matthews, and imprisoning them in Litchfield, Connecticut, and other places. Oliver De Lancey narrowly escaped capture by jumping into a rowboat in the dead of night and pulling for the battleship Asia, conveniently anchored in the Upper Bay on high alert.

The aggressive Tryon was not discouraged; he continued calling for immediate action, arguing that the rebels would offer little resistance. Howe’s splendid army mesmerized him and warmed his heart. He had been hoping for a stupendous display of British power ever since he lost control of the city and province the previous year. By the fall of 1775 his political power had deteriorated to the point where he almost landed in jail. On October 19 an aide warned him that Congress had ordered his arrest. Tryon reacted quickly, fleeing in the middle of the night with his family to the packet Halifax and then to the larger British transport Duchess of Gordon.

The 64-gun Asia, under Captain George Vandeput, and the 44-gun Phoenix (Hyde Parker Jr.) protected Tryon. The Asia had been in New York since May 26, 1775, and the Phoenix since the middle of December. Vice Admiral Samuel Graves had dispatched the Asia from Boston in response to an urgent request from then royal lieutenant governor Cadwallader Colden, who desperately needed protection from New York’s rebels. Growing in numbers and confidence, inspired by victories at Lexington and Concord and at Fort Ticonderoga, the patriots were in effective control of the city.

The Asia’s guns had a calming effect. Captain Vandeput worked out a modus vivendi with the rebels. Fearing the battleship’s guns, they supplied him with provisions and even allowed him to peacefully evacuate the tiny contingent of redcoats left in Fort George, at the southern tip of Manhattan. Vandeput wanted to put a stop to the garrison’s growing number of desertions.

When Washington arrived in the city in April he put a quick stop to trafficking with the warships, but they remained in the harbor, a constant threat, and a reminder of how weak the patriots were on the water. Vandeput had no trouble obtaining supplies from the surrounding countryside, where he was quietly supplying arms to Loyalists engaged in a vicious civil war for control of their counties.

On July 12, 1776, only hours before Lord Howe’s grand entrance into New York Harbor, Admiral Shuldham, who had no idea when Howe would arrive, ordered two of his best captains to make a run up the Hudson to Haverstraw Bay, thirty-five miles north of Manhattan, to test rebel defenses along the way. Shuldham wasn’t anxious to do it. He didn’t like risking men-of-war and their crews in this way. They could not be replaced and would be needed shortly in the invasion that was about to take place, but General Howe was insisting. Since control of the Hudson was such a vital part of the king’s overall strategy, he wanted some idea of how strong the defenses were as soon as possible.

A run to Haverstraw Bay seemed a good way to find out. Five miles long and three and a half wide, the bay, near present-day Croton Point Park, was the widest part of the Hudson. Howe thought warships could anchor there, reasonably safe from attacks by land or water. He wanted to block the movement of supplies and men from the northern colonies to Washington in Manhattan, and prepare the way for an amphibious assault on the Highlands. He never anticipated that he would also be demonstrating why gaining command of the Hudson, never mind the entire corridor to Canada, was illusory.

Ever since Washington had arrived in New York in April he had been working on the Hudson’s defenses, lining the New Jersey and New York shores with fortified batteries, and erecting two forts facing each other across the river—Fort Constitution (later renamed Fort Lee in honor of the general) and Fort Washington. Large obstructions were sunk between the two forts to slow any vessel attempting to run by so that gunners could get a good shot at them.

Colonel Rufus Putnam, acting chief engineer of the Continental army, was in charge of constructing the forts and placing obstructions in the river. He built Fort Washington on Manhattan’s highest point, a rocky, 230-foot-high cliff north and west of Harlem Heights, and placed Fort Constitution opposite it on the New Jersey side, 3,300 feet from Jeffrey’s Hook, a tiny point of land jutting out into the river below Fort Washington. By the first week in July, Colonel Putnam had Fort Washington up and running, and he had begun Fort Constitution, but neither the fort nor the obstructions were far advanced when Shuldham tested them.

At 3:00 p.m. on the twelfth, the 44-gun Phoenix (Captain Hyde Parker Jr.), the 20-gun Rose (Captain James Wallace), and three tenders, Tryal, Shuldham, and Charlotta, pulled their hooks, left their anchorage off Staten Island, and raced north toward the Hudson with a favorable southerly wind and a strong incoming tidal current. Their sudden movement created panic in the city. People assumed that this was the start of a major assault. Their hysteria subsided only when it became clear that just two warships and their tenders were on the move. When they sped by, batteries on Red Hook, Governors Island, Paulus Hook, and the city peppered them. Smoke and the smell of gunpowder filled the air, but the warships kept moving.

As they swept upriver, returning fire as they went, they soon approached Fort Washington, and raced by it with no problem. The fort’s fire cut them up some, but not enough to even slow them down. Total casualties aboard from all the cannonading were three men wounded. The American gunners suffered far more. Several inexperienced artillerists were killed or wounded when their cannon burst due to insufficient swabbing.

As the men-of-war sailed beyond Fort Washington, batteries on the woody heights of Westchester County fired on them for eleven miles with no effect. Nothing stopped their progress upriver. Eventually they anchored in Tappan Bay and then moved farther north to Haverstraw Bay with no opposition.

When Washington heard that men-of-war had broken through his defenses as if they were cobwebs, he became determined to improve them. He told his brother John Augustine that the ships exhibited “proof of what I had long religiously believed; and that is, that a vessel, with a brisk wind and strong tide, cannot, unless by a chance shot, be stopped by a battery, unless you can place some obstruction in the water to impede her motion within reach of her guns…. They now, with their three tenders … lie up … Hudson’s River, about forty miles above this place, and have totally cut off all communication, by water, between this city and Albany, and between this army and ours upon the lakes…. Their ships … are … safely moored in a broad part of the river, out of reach of shot from either shore.”

Preventing passage of enemy ships upriver was a high priority for Washington. No one believed more firmly in the importance of denying Britain control of the Hudson than he did. Time and again, he described the river as “of infinite importance.” “Almost all our surplus of flour and no inconsiderable part of our meat are drawn from the states westward of Hudson’s River,” he explained. “This renders a secure communication across that river indispensably necessary…. The enemy, being masters of that navigation, would interrupt this essential intercourse between the states.”

Washington never doubted that if left unchecked, the British would dominate the Hudson and cut off New England from the rest of the country. He held this view while demonstrating, over and over, that they had not done so as yet, by continuously crossing with troops and supplies. In fact, throughout the long war, he and his subordinates were never prevented from crossing, and only on rare occasions were they even inconvenienced.

In order for the British to actually command the river, the political support of the countryside was essential, and if they had had that, there would have been no need for a revolution in the first place. Lack of political support along important stretches of the Hudson meant that warships would be subject to guerrilla-style attacks, as would the guard boats they would be forced to run alongside their big ships, not just to protect against the patriots but to impede desertion.

Rebel fireships would be a constant problem, as would row galleys and other small vessels darting out from tiny creeks, inlets, harbors, and rivers—places ships of the Royal Navy could not reach, even with their smaller vessels. Going after patriot guerrillas in unfamiliar creeks using ship’s boats and galleys would be asking for trouble. Transports bringing food and other vital supplies to sustain the warships would be subject to attack as well. Food and water, not to mention liquor, would be impossible to obtain from a hostile countryside.

In spite of the gloomy report to his brother, Washington did not sit idly by; he attacked. With help from the New York Provincial Convention, he rushed to complete Fort Constitution and the obstructions in the river. He was counting on the obstructions to slow down the Phoenix and the Rose on their return downriver, as well as handicap any other men-of-war or transports attempting trips upriver. While General Mercer worked on Fort Constitution, Colonel Putnam sank more old ship hulks and chevaux-de-frise between the forts. Washington had high hopes for the chevaux-de-frise—huge, sharp, wooden stakes with iron tips. Putnam built them in Brooklyn and floated them over to the Hudson.

While Washington was making these preparations, he was also trying to figure out what the Phoenix and the Rose were up to. They might be carrying weapons to Loyalists for an attack on the Highland forts, Montgomery and Clinton, which were incomplete and weakly manned. They might also intend to destroy the two Continental frigates being built at Poughkeepsie, the Montgomery and the Congress. They would certainly be making detailed charts of the river, and laying down guides to navigation up to the Highlands and beyond for a future amphibious thrust to Albany.

Whatever they were doing, Washington was determined to give them plenty of trouble. He urged the New York Convention to improve the incomplete Highland forts, and he placed his troops at Fort Washington on Manhattan and at Kings Bridge on alert. He also sent an urgent message to Brigadier General George Clinton in New Windsor. Clinton had just returned from Philadelphia for the vote on the Declaration of Independence. In addition to being a member of Congress, he was a brigadier general of militia and a leader in Ulster and Orange counties—both staunchly patriot.

Washington told Clinton to be prepared for an “insurrection of your own Tories,” aided by the warships and their tenders. He urged him to seek aid from Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull if he had to.

The politically astute Clinton was a step ahead of Washington. He already knew about the warships and was busy gathering as large a force as possible to counter them. And he was watching for Loyalists in his counties cooperating with them. He even had men guarding against a possible Indian attack.

Clinton’s brother, Colonel James Clinton, had sounded alarm guns the minute he heard about the warships. He also put Forts Montgomery and Clinton on alert. They were located just north of Bear Mountain on the west side of the Hudson on either side of Popolopen Creek.

The whole countryside had swung into action. Hundreds of militiamen turned out. General Clinton assigned one regiment to Fort Constitution, another to Fort Montgomery, and a third to Newburgh, just north of the Highlands. Every other regiment was placed on high alert. General Clinton urged boat owners on the west side of the Hudson to be ready to move troops, and those on the east side to form a barrier of boats, stretching across the Hudson at Fort Constitution. If necessary, he planned to set the boats on fire to stop the warships from sailing north through the winding, fifteen-mile-long Highland passage running between Peekskill and Newburgh. Clinton gave orders to destroy any boat liable to fall into British hands. He also ordered the carpenters building the Continental frigates at Poughkeepsie to make fire rafts out of vessels seized from Tories and stored at Esopus and Kingston.

The fast response of New York’s yeomanry acted as a tonic for Washington, who had been dealing for weeks with citizens of a much different political stripe. It was nice to see that the revolution had plenty of adherents in the counties up north. It demonstrated better than anything else that attempting to control the Hudson without the political support of the countryside was a hopeless endeavor.

William Smith, the prominent Tory lawyer, could not understand why the warships did not have plenty of marines on board to harass the patriots, as if they could possibly do anything other than get themselves and their Loyalist allies slaughtered. Smith had no idea how many men General Clinton had at his command.

The enemy frigates kept in touch with Lord Howe’s fleet anchored off the east side of Staten Island by sending a whaleboat with a petty officer and six men running downriver. Shore batteries fired on them and sometimes hit them but did not stop them. Food and supplies were another matter. New York patriots made it impossible for the warships to get them from the countryside. One of the first things Captain Hyde Parker Jr. did was dispatch a squad from the Phoenix to take cattle from nearby fields, but the patriots were ready and drove them off. The cattle were then moved inland beyond the reach of the ships.

In their clumsy attempts to seize food and other provisions, the British created more enemies. On July 16, Captain Wallace sent men from the Rose to raid the farm of Jacob Halstead, a half-blind farmer whose land ran down to the water. Wallace’s men burned Halstead’s meager barn and house and stole his few pigs. News of the incident soon spread, creating a strong backlash. Vicious attacks were typical of Wallace, who had the same mind-set as Lords Sandwich and Germain. He had been harassing Rhode Island for months before moving to New York. His behavior was applauded in London, as he knew it would be.

Washington wanted to attack the warships, but his resources were pathetically few. The Continental navy, which might have played an important part in protecting the Hudson, was nowhere to be found. Even though a decisive battle that might determine the outcome of the war was about to be fought in places where naval support was critical, no ships of the American navy were taking part. Washington certainly needed them, and so did Benedict Arnold and Generals Schuyler and Gates on Lake Champlain.

The absence of the patriot navy was the fault of the amateur warriors in Congress who established the Continental navy in the fall of 1775. They created the wrong kind. They opted for building a poor, indeed laughable (if it hadn’t been so serious), imitation of the Royal Navy, when they could have looked to the fleet of row galleys that Benjamin Franklin and his colleagues built in the summer of 1775 to defend Philadelphia and the Delaware River. Franklin’s galleys were far from the glamorous frigates Congress found so appealing. The galleys were fifty feet long and eighteen feet wide, with flat bottoms, and carried a single cannon of between twelve and thirty-two pounds in the prow. Powered by twenty oars and two lateen sails, they were ideal for maneuvering in shallow river waters, strong currents, and bad weather. A flotilla of these boats could be a formidable force against His Majesty’s frigates on the Hudson and in the East River, Hell Gate, and Spuyten Duyvil Creek, as well as on Lake Champlain.

The Congress had no interest in this type of craft, however. Members wanted to build frigates and sail of the line. They put their money and energy into constructing a small squadron of frigates that could do very little against the Royal Navy. If Continental frigates had been available in New York, Admiral Howe would easily have captured them and used them against the patriots.

Not only did Congress build the wrong type of fleet, it appointed the wrong individual to lead it—Esek Hopkins, of Providence, Rhode Island. When he was appointed, in December 1775, Congress expected him to be Washington’s naval counterpart. Members envisioned him working closely with Washington, especially in the defense of New York. Instead, Hopkins, who was soon censured by Congress, remained idle in Providence the entire time Washington was fighting to defend Manhattan. Even if Hopkins had been a seagoing Washington, however, he still would not have been of much use. He would not have had the right type of warships.

The Continental navy had a number of outstanding fighters, among them John Paul Jones, John Barry, John Manley, Lambert Wickes, Nicholas Biddle, Joshua Barney, Samuel Tucker, Hoysted Hacker, Silas Talbot, Seth Harding, and Charles Alexander. They could have been of signal importance in defending New York, but they were employed elsewhere on inconsequential missions like commerce raiding, which hundreds of privateers were doing far more effectively.

The burden of fighting on the water around New York fell to an army lieutenant colonel, Benjamin Tupper. He had impressed Washington the previous year with his guerrilla-style attacks in Boston Harbor. Tupper’s activity in Boston, small though it was, actually rattled Vice Admiral Samuel Graves. Graves knew that if Tupper had been given sufficient resources he would have threatened the largest British warships anchored in the harbor. Unfortunately, Congress did not appreciate Tupper or even seem to know about him. But Washington did. He liked Tupper’s aggressive small boat tactics and appointed him head of his small naval force in New York.

Washington also employed David Bushnell’s submarine against Lord Howe’s flagship Eagle, but the attempt failed. Had it succeeded, which it almost did, Congress might have paid some attention and rethought the composition of the navy. But since it failed, its possibilities were ignored. Bushnell was a gifted Connecticut inventor from Saybrook. He had constructed a single-man submarine that actually worked and caught the attention of Benjamin Franklin, who was racking his brain in 1775 trying to figure out how to defend the Delaware River. Franklin recommended Bushnell to Washington, who saw him in Boston and was impressed. He would have used the submarine then, but it was too late in the season.

Bushnell brought his invention to New York, and on September 6, 1776, Washington allowed him to try it out. The Turtle, as it was called because of its peculiar shape, performed well that day and got close enough submerged to almost plant an underwater bomb, which Bushnell had also invented, on the Eagle’s hull. At the last minute it struck metal and would not attach, ruining the attempt. Bushnell came very close, however. He made a second attempt on a frigate, but for a variety of reasons that did not work either, and the whole project was given up.

Colonel Tupper, meanwhile, used the few resources at his command to courageously attack the Phoenix, the Rose, and their three tenders. He had only five small row galleys with a single cannon in their prows. His flagship, Washington, had a 32-pounder; the rest had similar armament. With only five guns Tupper could not possibly do much harm to the big warships. Nonetheless, on August 2 he bravely tried, running close enough to inflict minor damage, shooting for a remarkable hour and a half before being forced to retreat.

He tried again on August 16 with six row galleys and had the same results. He roughed up the warships but did not actually threaten them. Tupper also attacked the frigates and their tenders with fireships, but again, the attacks were on too small a scale to have a great effect. They did succeed in burning the tender Charlotta on August 16. A six-pound cannon, three smaller ones, and ten swivels were salvaged from her charred remains.

Tupper’s effort was a heroic but futile gesture. At the same time, it was instructive. If he had had a large fleet of galleys and far more fireships, which he might have had if Congress had allotted its resources differently, he would have been a real problem for the British.

Three days before the Howes launched their long-awaited attack on New York, the Phoenix and the Rose returned with their surviving tenders to Staten Island—recalled to participate in the invasion of Long Island. After the last of the fireship attacks, on the seventeenth they moved down to Tappan Bay. On the eighteenth, in the dead of night, they pulled their anchors and, taking advantage of wind and tide, sped downriver, bracing for underwater obstacles and concentrated fire from Forts Constitution and Washington.

The wind was blowing hard and a heavy rain falling. When they came to the line of river obstructions, they breezed through them once more. Cannon in the two big forts and near the city fired away without effect. By ten o’clock in the morning the warships and their tenders dropped their hooks off Staten Island, having sustained little damage. The Rose had two wounded and the Phoenix none. It was a complete defeat for Washington’s river defense, although he refused to recognize it.

Washington explained what had happened to Governor Trumbull of Connecticut. “On the night of the 16th, two of our fire vessels attempted to burn the ships of war up the river…. The only damage the enemy sustained was the destruction of one tender. It is agreed on all hands, that our people … behaved with great resolution and intrepidity. One of the captains, Thomas, it is to be feared, perished in the attempt or in making his escape by swimming, as he has not been heard of…. Though this enterprise did not succeed to our wishes, I incline to think it alarmed the enemy greatly.”

Although the Phoenix and the Rose made a mockery of Washington’s river defense, they did not prove that the British could control the river. The continuous attacks on them in Haverstraw Bay and the Tappan Zee showed that control of the Hudson wasn’t possible when rebels dominated an aroused countryside. Admiral Shuldham reported to the Admiralty that the expedition had actually been “fruitless.”

On October 9, the heavy frigates Phoenix and Roebuck, the sloop of war Tartar, and three tenders raced up the Hudson from Bloomingdale toward Forts Washington and Lee and the enhanced river obstructions. The ships were well barricaded on their sides against small-arms fire. Captain Hyde Parker Jr. led the way in the Phoenix, remaining close to the east side of the river, its deepest part.

The forts were alerted and ready, firing as the men-of-war sped by, damaging sails, rigging, masts, spars, and ship’s boats while killing nine and wounding eighteen. Several shots pierced the ships’ hulls, but nothing stopped them. They continued north, attacking Colonel Tupper’s small fleet of row galleys and other vessels in Spuyten Duyvil Creek, capturing some, and sinking others. Tupper’s men beached their boats when they could and ran. When they could not, they leaped overboard and swam for shore. After the one-sided melee was over, the men-of-war settled in Tappan Bay for repairs and to bury their dead. Hyde Parker Jr. had once again demonstrated the inadequacy of the river defenses, and also the Howes’ ability to easily land troops in Washington’s rear.

Although Washington’s defenses inflicted more damage this time, they failed in the main task of blocking the river. Nonetheless, Washington continued to have confidence in the forts and obstructions and kept adding to them.

Three days later, with all possible opposition on the water removed, General Howe began his long-delayed push to induce Washington to evacuate Manhattan. Nearly thirty critical days had elapsed since the landing at Kip’s Bay, and winter was fast approaching. It looked as if the king’s objective of crushing the American rebels in a single season was now completely beyond reach. Howe had already written to Germain on September 25 telling him that achieving victory by the end of the year was impossible. “I have not the slightest prospect of finishing the contest this campaign,” he wrote, “nor until the rebels see preparations in the spring that may preclude all thoughts of further resistance.”

Although Howe’s armada had been extraordinarily large, it had not been enough, in his opinion. He needed another season and more troops. He also needed ten more sail of the line, so that, among other things, he would have enough seamen to conduct amphibious operations. He was having great difficulty with the number he had. The promised help from Loyalists never materialized.


The Army’s New Mach 5 Missile Hits Targets at 1,000 Miles in 20 Minutes

A throttleable motor and off-road operability make the hypersonic OpFires system the ideal counter to the medium-range threat.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is set to begin building the first OpFires intermediate-range missile.

OpFires will allow the U.S. Army to strike time-sensitive targets up to 1,000 miles away.

The missile’s development is possible because of the end of the INF Treaty on nuclear weapons.

The ground-launched weapon only exists because Russia violated a missile treaty.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is preparing to build a working copy of the new OpFires hypersonic missile. OpFires, destined for the U.S. Army, will give the service the ability to strike targets with a fleeting window of opportunity, covering the weapon’s 1,000-mile range in 20 minutes.

OpFires recently passed a preliminary design review that resulted in a “comprehensive design and test plan,” according to a DARPA statement. The R&D shop will now advance the program to “full-scale missile fabrication, assembly, and flight testing from a launch vehicle.” Flight testing is scheduled to begin in 2022.

Once OpFires is proven to work, DARPA will hand off the whole program to the Army to make the next move.

The Army envisions OpFires as a so-called boost glide weapon system. The OpFires hypersonic glide vehicle sits atop a large, truck-mounted missile. When launched, the missile accelerates to hypersonic speeds, carrying the glide vehicle to very high altitudes, but remaining within Earth’s atmosphere. Instead of entering low-Earth orbit like a ballistic missile warhead, the OpFires glide vehicle levels off and then glides down onto targets at hypersonic speeds.

It’s not clear how fast OpFires will eventually go, but at Mach 5, a glide vehicle travels at 3,836 miles per hour—fast enough to go the full 1,000 miles in less than 20 minutes. The Russian Avangard boost glide weapon, for example, travels at Mach 20 using an ICBM booster.

OpFires envisioned by DARPA attacking air defense missile sites.

According to DARPA, OpFires could be used to penetrate existing air defenses unprepared to engage hypersonic weapons. It could, for example, “kick in the door” for crewed aircraft, smashing air defense systems in their path as they fly on to bomb a critical target. The Army could also use OpFires to attack the targets themselves.

Lockheed Martin envisions mounting OpFires to a heavy truck chassis and transporting it on a C-130 Hercules transport. That could result in the ability for OpFires to conduct “raids,” flying into remote airstrips near the edge of the battle area, firing off its missiles, and then quickly departing. Today, that mission is practiced by HIMARS rocket crews, but OpFires would allow the Army to shoot much farther into the enemy’s interior.

OpFires is technically an intermediate-range weapon, and until recently, it would have been banned under the 1987 Treaty on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF), which outlawed medium- and intermediate-range missiles.

In early 2020, Lockheed Martin began work on Operational Fires (OpFires) weapon system integration under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract. OpFires is an innovative ground-launched system that enables a hypersonic boost glide missile system to penetrate modern enemy air defenses and rapidly engage time-sensitive targets.

Hypersonic missiles typically go one speed: as fast as they can. OpFires features a unique throttleable booster rocket motor that can vary its thrust to deliver payloads across the medium-range spectrum without energy bleed maneuvers. Less time in the air enhances survivability and mission success.

OpFires is designed with the soldier in mind. For the user, it operates off-road, supports rapid loading and reloading and can shoot and scoot within minutes. And it travels light.

“OpFires goes where the warfighter goes,” said Tactical Missiles Advanced Programs Director Steven Botwinik. “It’s transportable by C-130 and deploys without an entourage of unique support systems like cranes, radars and cooling and heating systems.”

For the maintainer, it offers flexibility. Lockheed Martin is integrating OpFires with existing logistics vehicle fleets. The self-contained OpFires system is designed to integrate with the Palletized Load System, enabling them to transform into an OpFires launcher within minutes—and back again—with no specialized tools or vehicle re-configuration.

OpFires engineers are designing OpFires with affordability in mind by reusing proven precision fires subsystems. For example, they are adapting proven High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) electronics and precision fires subsystems for interoperability with U.S. Army Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System infrastructure.

“In the short term, this commonality approach speeds development while reducing development cost and risk,” Botwinik said. “Over the long term it delivers substantial cost savings because all vested programs benefit when one of them upgrades a shared subsystem.”

Lockheed Martin and its government and industry partners are on track to begin integrated flight testing in late 2021.

The U.S. left the treaty in 2019 after it determined Russia violated the terms with the deployment of the 9M729 Iskander K cruise missile. Both countries are now free to build the previously banned types of missiles.


Unlike programs in China and Russia, most U. S. hypersonic weapons are to be conventionally armed. As a result, U. S. hypersonic weapons will likely require greater accuracy and will be more technically challenging to develop than nuclear-armed Chinese and Russian systems. Indeed, according to one expert, “a nuclear-armed glider would be effective if it were 10 or even 100 times less accurate [than a conventionally-armed glider]” due to nuclear blast effects. According to open-source reporting, the United States has a number of major offensive hypersonic weapons and hypersonic technology programs in development, including the following:

  • U.S. Navy—Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS);
  • U.S. Army—Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW);
  • U.S. Air Force—AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW, pronounced “arrow”);
  • DARPA—Tactical Boost Glide (TBG);
  • DARPA—Operational Fires (OpFires); and
  • DARPA—Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC, pronounced “hawk”).

These programs are intended to produce operational prototypes, as there are currently no programs of record for hypersonic weapons. Accordingly, funding for U.S. hypersonic weapons programs is found in the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation accounts, rather than in Procurement.