Confederation of the Rhine (1806-1813)


The Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund) was a conglomeration of German states organized by Napoleon, who hoped that Germany would develop into a unified state with a central government and administration modeling the political institutions of France. The opportunity for such a grandiose plan emerged after the decisive defeat of Austria during the War of the Third Coalition in 1805, when Napoleon sought to dismantle the thousand-year- old Holy Roman Empire and replace it with a new German political entity that could serve as a buffer against Prussia and Austria, a market for French goods, and a source of military manpower for the Napoleonic empire.

The origins of the Confederation of the Rhine may be traced to the gradual French encroachment into Germany that began with the campaigns conducted by the Revolutionary armies on the Rhine in the 1790s. By 1795 France had full control of the west bank of the Rhine and later compensated various princes for their lost territory according to the decisions reached in the Imperial Recess of 1802-1803. When the Peace of Amiens failed and war on the Continent resumed in May 1803, the French renewed their territorial designs in the region by invading and rapidly occupying the British patrimony of Hanover in north Germany. As war loomed between France and Austria, Napoleon sought allies from among the larger German states, some of which had territory to gain and greater autonomy to acquire by siding against the Habsburgs. Bavaria was the first to throw in its lot with France, signing a treaty of alliance on 23 September 1805, followed by Baden and Württemberg on 1 and 8 October, respectively. In the aftermath of the Battle of Austerlitz (2 December), the Imperial Reichstag was abolished (20 January 1806), enabling Napoleon to create the first of a new set of minor German states to be ruled by members of his family. On 15 March he established the Grand Duchy of Berg, placing his brother-in-law, Marshal Murat, at its head.

The Confederation of the Rhine came into formal being on 17 July 1806 according to the Treaty of Paris, with Karl Theodor von Dalberg as Prince-Primate (Fürstenprimas) and with Napoleon maintaining supervisory control in his capacity of “protector” (Protektor). The original sixteen south- and west-German states of the Confederation consisted of Bavaria, Württemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Baden, Berg, and eleven other smaller states, all of which, according to the Rheinbund’s constitution, formally withdrew from the Holy Roman Empire, which drew its last breath on 6 August when Francis II foreswore the Habsburgs’ ancient imperial dignity and proclaimed himself Francis I, Emperor of Austria in its place. As an inducement to membership in the new Confederation-which, however, was effectively coerced-Napoleon offered an extension of territory and elevation in rank. Thus, he raised the electors of Bavaria (Maximilian Joseph) and of the Grand Duchy of Württemberg (Frederick II) to the status of kings on 1 January 1806, made the electors of Baden (Charles Frederick and Hesse-Darmstadt) grand dukes on 13 August, and offered similar titles to other minor potentates. The Grand Duchy of Würzburg joined on 23 September.

If Austria’s dominance in Germany had all but vanished as a result of Austerlitz, the same may be said to have applied to Prussia after its twin defeats at Jena and Auerstädt on 14 October 1806. Hohenzollern influence, even in north Germany, had never existed on a par with Habsburg influence in south Germany; now the utter defeat of Prussian forces in the autumn of 1806 extinguished its pretensions to occupy Hanover or exercise any vestige of leadership over its other, lesser German neighbors. Napoleon did not wait long before capitalizing on his recent military triumphs: On 11 December, by the Treaty of Posen between France and the Electorate of Saxony (Prussia’s erstwhile ally), the latter was converted into a kingdom-enlarged with territory taken from Prussia-with Frederick Augustus III assuming the throne as King Frederick Augustus I. Four days later five small duchies joined the Rheinbund, including Saxe-Weimar, Saxe-Gotha, and Saxe-Coburg. On 11 April 1807 another twelve minor states followed, including Anhalt-Dessau and Waldeck.

The second of the two historic treaties concluded at Tilsit (the first between France and Russia on 7 July; the second between France and Prussia on 9 July), forced Frederick William III of Prussia to recognize the sovereignty of the Confederation, which with Saxony now represented a third major German political entity, deliberately intended to exclude Austria and Prussia. Tilsit paved the way for further admissions to the Rheinbund: The new Kingdom of Westphalia, with Jérome Bonaparte on the throne, was created in December 1807 out of Prussian lands and territory seized from its former allies, Hesse-Cassel, Brunswick, southern Hanover, and other minor states, while Mecklenburg and several other petty principalities also joined as a result of Tilsit. In 1808, after the admission of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and the Duchy of Oldenburg, the Confederation reached its greatest territorial extent, totaling thirty-nine states.

However high-minded Napoleon may have been with respect to the political future of the Rheinbund, in reality it never properly developed the way the Emperor had envisioned. The diet was convoked in 1806 but never assembled, and the Rheinbund became little more than a set of French satellite states serving as a recruiting ground for soldiers, largely owing to the determination of each ruler- whether king, prince, or duke-to preserve his respective independence. Indeed, so long as each state furnished the contingents required by the various treaties concluded between member states and France, Napoleon was largely content not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Confederation. On the other hand, when he did decree the cessation of all commerce with Britain as part of his Continental System, Napoleon met opposition from German merchants and encountered widespread public discontent. Indeed, trade with the enemy via North Sea German ports became so widespread that on 13 December 1810 France annexed the entire area along the German North Sea coast, including the Duchy of Arenberg, the Princedom of Salm- Kryburg, and the Duchy of Oldenburg. Napoleon’s voracious appetite for troops-initially fixed at 63,000-also caused resentment, though not on any serious scale until the Russian campaign. The ever-increasing demands on the Rheinbund to furnish contingents for the imperial French armies resulted in thousands of men serving in Spain between 1808 and 1813, in the campaign against Austria in 1809, in Russia in 1812 (in which perhaps a third-200,000 men-of the Grande Armée consisted of Rheinbund troops), and finally in the campaign in Germany in 1813.

Many Confederation states adopted the Civil Code and other Napoleonic reforms, Hesse-Darmstadt and Anhalt being particularly enthusiastic in this regard. On 15 November 1807 a constitution on the Napoleonic model was promulgated for the nascent Kingdom of Westphalia, abolishing serfdom and establishing equality before the law, equal principles of taxation, and religious freedom. A similar legal framework was introduced in Bavaria on 1 May 1808. Serfdom effectively ended in Bavaria from September of that year, and in the Grand Duchy of Berg, in December. Yet, on the whole, the political and social institutions of the various states did not model themselves on their French counterparts, and thus no uniformity existed within the various German states that would have facilitated their eventual absorption into the French Empire as Napoleon had had in mind. The Napoleonic Code was not widely embraced, and moreover no attempt was made to impose it. What influence the French did exercise in fact proved largely counterproductive, for it fueled a slowly emerging German nationalism that-manifesting itself in a particularly virulent fashion in Prussia-would find expression in 1813 as open opposition to Napoleonic rule.

Following Napoleon’s disastrous campaign in Russia, Bavaria was the first of the Confederation states to join the anti-French coalition. By the Treaty of Ried, concluded on 8 October 1813, Bavaria joined the Sixth Coalition, and within a week, at the decisive Battle of Leipzig, the Saxon and Württemberg troops defected to the Allies. The French were swept from Germany, Saxony was occupied and administered first by the Prussians and then by the Russians, and the Confederation was formally dissolved on 4 November. On the fifteenth at Frankfurt, Austria, Prussia, and Russia established a common policy toward the former members of the Confederation, which guaranteed their sovereignty pending the decision of a future postwar conference. This did not apply to states newly created by Napoleon that had not changed sides; as such, on 21 November 1813 Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel, and Hanover were restored as independent states out of the former Kingdom of Westphalia. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna confirmed the survival of many former members of the Rheinbund, albeit in many cases with altered frontiers (particularly Saxony, which was forced to cede a large amount of territory to Prussia), and placed them together in a loose association of states known as the German Confederation.

By establishing the Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon had unwittingly placed Germany on the road to eventual unification in 1871, for by the end of its existence the Rheinbund consisted of a mere thirty-nine states, in sharp contrast to the approximately 300 duchies, ecclesiastical cities, electorates, principalities, and duchies that had existed less than a decade before. In this respect alone the brief lifespan of the Confederation of the Rhine may be seen as an important period in the development of modern Germany.

References and further reading Broers, Michael. 1996. Europe under Napoleon, 1799-1815. London: Arnold. Connelly, Owen. 1966. Napoleon’s Satellite Kingdoms. New York: Free Press. Gill, John H. 1998. “Vermin, Scorpions and Mosquitoes: The Rheinbund in the Peninsula.” In The Peninsular War: Aspects of the Struggle for the Iberian Peninsula, ed. Ian Fletcher. Staplehurst, UK: Spellmount. Partridge, Richard, and Michael Oliver. 2002. Napoleonic Army Handbook: The French Army and Her Allies. Vol. 2. London: Constable and Robinson. Pivka, Otto von. 1979. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 3, Saxony. London: Osprey.

—.1980. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 4, Bavaria. London: Osprey.

—.1991. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 2, Nassau and Oldenburg. London: Osprey.

—.1992a. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 1, Westfalia and Kleve-Berg. London: Osprey.

—.1992b. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 5, Hesse. London: Osprey.

Ilya Muromets – 1914 Giant

The massive Ilya Muromets was the world’s first four-engine bomber-and a good one at that. In three years it dropped 2,200 tons of bombs on German positions, losing only one plane in combat.

In 1913 the Russo-Baltic Wagon Works constructed the world’s first four-engine aircraft under the direction of Igor Sikorsky. Dubbed the Russki Vitiaz (Russian Knight), it was also the first to mount a fully enclosed cabin. This giant craft safely completed 54 flights before being destroyed in a ground accident. In 1914 Sikorsky followed up his success by devising the first-ever four-engine bomber and christened it Ilya Muromets after a legendary medieval knight. The new machine possessed straight, unstaggered, four-bay wings with ailerons only on the upper. The fuselage was long and thin, with a completely enclosed cabin housing a crew of five. On February 12, 1914, with Sikorsky himself at the controls, the Ilya Muromets reached an altitude of 6,560 feet and loitered five hours while carrying 16 passengers and a dog! This performance, unmatched anywhere in the world, aroused the military’s interest, and it bought 10 copies as the Model IM.

The aircraft had a wingspan of nearly 100 feet and weighed more than 10,000 pounds. The most advanced model had a range of 5 hours and a ceiling of more than 9,000 feet. It carried a bombload of 1,000-1,500 pounds and was equipped with up to seven machine guns. Four 150 horsepower Sunbeam V-8 engines allowed the bomber to cruise at 75-85 mph. The rear fuselage possessed sleeping compartments for a crew of five, a washroom, a small table, and openings for mechanics to climb out onto the wings to service the engines during flight. More than 75 Ilya Murometses were deployed against the Central Powers along the Eastern Front from 1915 to 1918. These aircraft conducted more than 400 bombing raids against targets in Germany and the Baltic nations. During the war, only one bomber was lost to enemy action. In February 1918, many Ilya Murometses were destroyed by the Russians to prevent capture by advancing German forces.

After World War I commenced in 1914, Sikorsky went on to construct roughly 80 more of the giant craft, which were pooled into an elite formation known as the Vozdushnykh Korablei (Flying Ships) Squadron. On February 15, 1915, they commenced a concerted, two-year bombardment campaign against targets along the eastern fringes of Germany and Austria. The Ilya Muromets carried particularly heavy loads for their day, with bombs weighing in excess of 920 pounds. This sounds even more impressive considering that ordnance dropped along the Western Front was usually hurled by hand! The mighty Russian giants were also well-built and heavily armed. In 422 sorties, only one was lost in combat, and only after downing three German fighters. Operations ceased after the Russian Revolution of 1917, with many bombers being destroyed on the ground. A handful of survivors served the Red Air Force as trainers until 1922.


Although Russia was not as industrially advanced as the other European powers, it would enter the First World War with the world’s first four-engine aircraft, the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets. After achieving success with a number of smaller aircraft, Igor Sikorsky joined the Russo-Baltic Railroad Car Factory (Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zaved or R-BVZ) in the spring of 1912 and began designing a massive aircraft, the Bol’shoi Bal’tisky (the Great Baltic), which had a wingspan of 88 ft and a length of 65 ft. Sikorsky had originally intended to use just two 100 hp Argus inline engines. Although he managed to take off on 2 March 1913, the Great Baltic proved to be underpowered. Undeterred, Sikorsky added two additional motors, which were installed in tandem with the first two, thereby providing both a tractor and pusher configuration. Beginning in May 1913, Sikorsky made several test flights in the Great Baltic, after which he reconfigured all of the engines to be on the leading edge of the lower wing for a tractor design. This proved far more successful, as indicated by a 2 August 1913 flight in which he carried eight people aloft for more than 2 hours.

Sikorsky’s next version, which served as the prototype of the wartime versions, was introduced in December 1913. It was similar to the Great Baltic, but it had a much larger fuselage that could accommodate up to sixteen passengers. By the spring of 1914, Sikorsky had developed the S-22B, dubbed the “Ilya Muromets” after a famous medieval Russian nobleman, it successfully completed a 1,600-mile round-trip flight between St. Petersburg and Kiev in June 1914.4 With the outbreak of the war, the S-22B and a sister aircraft were mobilized for service. An additional five were constructed by December 1914 and organized as the Eskadra Vozdushnykh Korablei (EVK) or Squadron of Flying Ships.

Because the first Ilya Muromets types had been designed primarily to carry passengers, once the war began Sikorsky started work on a slightly smaller version, the V-type, that could be used as a bomber. Introduced in spring 1915, the V-type Ilya Muromets had a wingspan of 97 ft 9 in. and a length of 57 ft 5 in. Because of Russia’s chronic shortage of engines, the R-BVZ was forced to rely upon a variety of engines for the V-type, including at least one that used different sets of engines; two 140 hp Argus and two 125 hp Argus inline engines. Of the thirty-two V-types produced, twenty-two were powered by four 150 hp Sunbeam inline motors, which provided a maximum speed of 68 mph. They had a loaded weight of 10,140 lbs, including a bomb load of approximately 1,100 lbs. Its crew of five to seven members were protected by free-firing machine guns. Three later versions were introduced during the war: the G-type and D-type introduced in 1916, and the E-type introduced in 1917. Of these, the E-type was the largest with a wingspan of 102 ft, a length of 61 ft 8 in., and a loaded weight of 15,500 lbs. Its four 220 hp Renault inline engines could produce a maximum speed of 80 mph. The E-type carried an eight-man crew, including two pilots, five gunners, and one mechanic. At least eight were constructed during 1917. The E-type went on to serve in the Red Air Force until 1924. The Sikorsky Ilya Muromets were sturdy, rugged aircraft.




Augustus II of Poland (1670-1733)


“Friedrich Augustus. Elector of Saxony (1694-1733); king of Poland (1697-1704; 1709-1733).” A member of the Wettin dynasty and an elector of the Holy Roman Empire (Saxony), Augustus was elected king of Poland in 1697, after deeming that Warsaw was worth a Mass, converting to Catholicism, and agreeing to permit extraordinary privileges to the szlachta, even beyond the broad powers the nobility already enjoyed. In time this deal fatally weakened the monarchy within Poland. In foreign policy, however, Augustus enjoyed an independence his Vasa predecessors never had. This was facilitated by his personal control of a separate Saxon Army of 26,000 excellent troops, along with a discrete diplomatic service and bureaucracy. Together, these resources permitted him to conduct diplomacy and even war without consulting the szlachta in Poland or the Sapiehas in Lithuania. In 1699 Augustus forged an aggressive alliance with Peter I of Russia and Fredrik IV of Denmark that aimed to take advantage of the immaturity and inexperience of the new Swedish king, Karl XII. He immediately besieged Riga, launching the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Like the other members of this rapacious anti-Swedish alliance, Augustus greatly underestimated Karl XII. He and they all paid a heavy price for that mistake: Augustus’ Polish territories were invaded by Swedish armies. He lost and fled Warsaw in early 1702. Augustus subsequently was soundly defeated and lost most of his army at Kliszow (July 8/19, 1702). After recruiting over the winter, he took to the field with a new but undertrained and poorly equipped force, only to be smashed again by the Swedes at Pultusk (April 10/21, 1703). Augustus was expelled from Poland in favor of Stanislaw I in 1704, when the “Warsaw Confederation” that opposed him was supported by armed Swedish intervention. Civil war ensued in Poland, in which Augustus had support from the “Sandomierz Confederacy” of anti-Stanislaw nobles. This drew Karl back into Poland, where he completely defeated Augustus and his Polish allies in two small but sharp battles. Early in the new year Augustus lost again at Fraustadt (February 2/13, 1706). That opened the door to a Swedish invasion of Saxony and the fall of Dresden and Leipzig. Their fall compelled Augustus to agree to the Treaty of Altranstädt (September 13/24, 1706), renouncing his claim to the Polish throne. What saved Augustus was no effort of his own but the disastrous decision by Karl to invade Russia, which resulted in decisive defeat of the Swedish army at Poltava (June 27/July 8, 1709). That catastrophe, along with Karl’s wasted years spent in Ottoman exile, permitted Augustus to reopen the Polish war with Stanislaw I. With help from Tsar Peter, Augustus was restored to the Polish throne in 1709. He held onto it through the remaining years of the Great Northern War and afterward, until his death in 1733.

The battle of Fraustadt (February 1706) was next to the battle of Narva the greatest Swedish victory in the Great Northern Wart. A Swedish army of 10 000 men commanded by Carl Gustaf Rehnsköld attacked and almost annihilated a two times larger Saxon-Russian army near Poland’s western border. The Swedish war effort in Poland was before the battle seemingly close to a complete collapse because the Swedish main army led by Charles XII had their hands full in the east. But thanks to Rehnsköld’s victory at Fraustadt and Charles XII’s encirclement of the Russian main army in Grodno the campaign instead ended in a complete Swedish triumph. Before the year was over would Saxony sue for peace and accept Stanislaw Leszczynski as Polish king. The Swedish army could thereafter direct all its effort on defeating the last remaining enemy, Russia.

The battle itself, which according to the Swedish calendar happened 3 February, but according the Gregorian calendar (used by the Saxons) 13 February and according to the Julian calendar (used by the Russians) 2 February, have often been called a Swedish variant of Hannibal’s pincer movement in the battle of Cannae 216 BC. But the battle was actually planned by Rehnsköld as a frontal attack in which the Swedish numerical inferiority would be countered by thrusting through the enemy line with cold steel weapons before the enemies superior fire power could make an impact. Circumstances in the battle resulted however in the cavalry wings moving around obstacles and attacking the Saxon’s flanks in classic Hannibal style. In any way the battle ended with a total victory for the Swedish army. Over 7 000 Saxons and Russians were killed and just as many were captured. The Swedes only lost 400 men.

“Sturmtiger” at Warsaw Uprising

A little known episode from the fighting during the Warsaw Uprising in August and September 1944, involved the operations carried out by 1000. Sturmtiger-Kompanie. A prototype of the Sturmtiger was sent to Warsaw and off-loaded at the station in Pruszków on August 15, 1944. This station was prepared for receiving and handling heavy vehicles like the Sturmtiger, the mortar “Karl” Gerät, and possibly railed artillery, and was equipped with two railway cranes with huge lifting capacity. Similar equipment was available at the station in Nasielsk where the Tiger-Battalions Schwere-Abteilung 505 and 507 were also sent, in order to then be deployed at the front outside Narwia. A second such vehicle was off-loaded on August 18. The status report from the 9th Army on August 20 (Krannhal’s op.cit. p. 378) confirms that 1000. Sturmtiger-Kompanie with two Sturmtigers was included among the units which fought in Warsaw. It was the first prototype-vehicle to arrive in Poland’s capital city, together with another such vehicle, sent out before being manufactured on a series production line, with an iron or light steel superstructure. Just such a vehicle had already been produced toward the end of 1943. This fact is confirmed by the army group Centre’s report 65004/7, with a notation written by Brigadier-General Guderian.

“To the Army Group, for the purpose of its being put to use in Warsaw: – on August 14, dispatched: one Tiger, with a 38 cm rocket firing ramp (test model), which is not suitable for use against anti-tank forces, as it is made of light steel.”

The heaviest assault guns of the Sturmtiger type were equipped with launch systems for firing 380mm calibre rockets; model Stu M RW 61, with a range of 3,600 – 4,600 metres. There were no Sturmtigers deployed along the first combat line, where these heavy vehicles weighing 65 tonnes risked falling into bomb craters, and moreover, where the use of their strong-points, or positive characteristics, was not suited to a destroyed city, with various areas often isolated by barricades. The Sturmtiger was stationed in the area around Ulica Sucha and Ulica 6 Sierpnia (now Ulica Nowowiejska), on Mokotów Field and possibly on Plac na Rozdrożu (Crossroad Square), as well.

It’s difficult to establish which targets they fired on because the heavy 380mm projectiles’ explosions have more than once been ascribed to bomb explosions resulting from railway gun shelling or, quite simply, to rocket projectiles of a different type, called Werfer – also known as “closets” or “choirs” by Warsaw’s inhabitants. At that time, the Sturmtiger was an entirely unknown entity, and the vehicles that were captured in 1945 came as a complete surprise to the allied troops.

At the end of August, a Sturmtiger, firing from the ghetto area or Kerceli Square, pounded, among other areas, Ulica Zakroczymska and the National Mint on Ulica Sanguszka in the Old Town. One other vehicle shelled resistance fighter positions in the suburb of Sadyba. On September 8-16, Sturmtigers fired on the area around Ulica Przemyslowa, Ulica Fabrycna and Ulica Naczna in Powisle. On September 8, Sturmtiger projectiles fell on insurgent positions at the Lazarus Hospital on Ulica Książęca. General von Vormann, commander of the 9th Army, made a memorably worded, harsh assessment of the Sturmtiger and its battle-fighting capabilities, “They have only factory personnel (von Vormann was referring to the first vehicle, delivered on August 15) who can’t shoot.”

Col. David Glantz – Red Army before Warsaw 1944


SS-Obersturmführer Karl Nicolussi-Leck (Panther’s cupola), commander of 8./SS-Panzerregiment 5 of the Wiking Division, and a Sd.Kfz. 251/3 Ausf. D, during the battles east of Warsaw, August 1944. Between August 18-22, IV.SS-Panzer-Korps, comprising the Totenkopf and the Wiking Division, destroyed 98 Soviet tanks destroyed in the battles around Warsaw.


Soviet (1st Belorussian Front’s) Actions East of Warsaw in August-September 1944.

No Eastern Front action has generated more heated controversy then Soviet operations east of Warsaw in August and September 1944, at the time of the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis by the Polish Home Army. Western historians have routinely blamed the Soviets for deliberately failing to assist the Poles, and in essence, aiding and abetting destruction of the Polish rebels by the German Army for political reasons. Soviet historians have countered that every attempt was made to provide assistance but that operational considerations precluded such help. No complete single Soviet volume exists which recounts in detail these operations on the approaches to Warsaw. The historian is forced to reconstruct events by referring to a host of fragmentary sources. Ironically, German archival materials, in particular Second Army records and other materials (and probably the records of Ninth Army, captured by the Soviets and unavailable to Western historians), help to justify the Soviet argument.

Operational details about Soviet combat on the approaches to Warsaw can be reconstructed from fragmentary Soviet and German archival sources (see map 15). On 28 July 1994, Maj. Gen. A. I. Radzievsky’s 2d Tank Army, which had been turned north from the Magnuszew region to strike at Warsaw, with three corps abreast, engaged German 73d Infantry Division and the Hermann Goering Parachute Panzer Division 40 kilometers southeast of Warsaw. A race ensued between Radzievsky, who was seeking to seize the routes into Warsaw from the east, and the Germans, who were attempting to keep these routes open and maintain possession of Warsaw. The nearest Soviet forces within supporting range of Radzievsky were 47th Army and 11th Tank and 2d Guards Cavalry Corps, then fighting for possession of Seidlce, 50 kilometers to the east. On 29 July Radzievsky dispatched his 8th Guards and 3d Tank Corps northward in an attempt to swing northeast of Warsaw and turn the German defender’s left flank, while his 16th Tank Corps continued to fight on the southeastern approaches to the city’s suburbs.

Although 8th Guards Tank Corps successfully fought to within 20 kilometers east of the city, 3d Tank Corps ran into a series of successive panzer counterattacks orchestrated by Field Marshal W. Model, new commander of Army Group Center. Beginning on 30 July, the Hermann Goering and 19th Panzer Divisions struck the overextended and weakened tank corps north of Wolomin, 15 kilometers northeast of Warsaw. Although the corps withstood three days of counterattacks, on 2 and 3 August, 4th Panzer Division and SS Panzer Division Viking joined the fight. In three days of intense fighting, 3d Tank Corps was severely mauled, and 8th Guards Tank Corps was also severely pressed. By 5 August 47th Army forces had arrived in the region, and 2d Tank Army was withdrawn for rest and refitting. The three rifle corps of 47th Army were now stretched out along a front of 80 kilometers from south of Warsaw to Seidlce and were unable to renew the drive on Warsaw or to the Narew River. German communications lines eastward to Army Group Center, then fighting for its life north and west of Brest, had been damaged but not severed.

Meanwhile, on 1 August the Polish Home Army had launched an insurrection in the city. Although they seized large areas in downtown Warsaw, the insurgents failed to secure the four bridges over the Vistula and were unable to hold the eastern suburbs of the city (Praga). During the ensuing weeks, while the Warsaw uprising progressed and ultimately failed, the Soviets continued their drive against Army Group Center northeast of Warsaw. For whatever motive, 1st Belorussian Front focused on holding firmly to the Magnuszew bridgehead, which was subjected to heavy German counterattacks throughout mid-August, and on driving forward across the Bug River to seize crossings over the Narew River necessary to facilitate future offensive operations. Soviet 47th Army remained the only major force opposite Warsaw until 20 August, when it was joined by 1st Polish Army. Soviet forces finally broke out across the Bug River on 3 September, closed up to the Narew River the following day, and fought their way into bridgeheads across the Narew on 6 September. On 13 September lead elements of two Polish divisions assaulted across the Vistula River into Warsaw but made little progress and were evacuated back across the river on 23 September.

Political considerations and motivations aside, an objective consideration of combat in the region indicates that, prior to early September, German resistance was sufficient to halt any Soviet assistance to the Poles in Warsaw, were it intended. Thereafter, it would have required a major reorientation of military efforts from Magnuszew in the south or, more realistically, from the Bug and Narew River axis in the north in order to muster sufficient force to break into Warsaw. And once broken into, Warsaw would have been a costly city to clear of Germans and an unsuitable location from which to launch a new offensive.

This skeletal portrayal of events outside of Warsaw demonstrates that much more needs to be revealed and written about these operations. It is certain that additional German sources exist upon which to base an expanded account. It is equally certain that extensive documentation remains in Soviet archival holdings. Release and use of this information can help answer and lay to rest this burning historical controversy.

Potsdam Giants by Name!


The Potsdam Giants was the Prussian infantry regiment No 6, composed of taller-than-average soldiers. The regiment was founded in 1675 and dissolved in 1806 after the Prussian defeat against Napoleon. Throughout the reign of the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (1688–1740) the unit was known as the “Potsdamer Riesengarde” (“giant guard of Potsdam”) in German, but the Prussian population quickly nicknamed them the “Lange Kerls” (“Long guys”).

Frederick William I from the house of Hohenzollern became King of Prussia in 1713.

Charles Darwin wrote that human beings, unlike livestock, had never been forcibly bred for select characteristics, ‘except in the well-known case of the Prussian grenadiers.’ To the amazement of fellow-rulers and trembling subjects alike, the Soldier-King (as Frederick was nicknamed) began to collect giant men as one would collect rare stamps. From all over Prussia he had his agents look for- and oftentimes kidnap- men suffering from gigantism. In striving to create his own personal soldier core of giants, the king instructed his subjects to immediately signal the authorities whenever they should become aware of exceptionally tall men in the vicinity. He also made clear to his political allies that they could keep their gifts of gold for themselves as long as they provided him now and then with fresh giants to fill up his stock. The strange and sinister request dripped down into every segment of Prussian society. Prussian teachers, eager to appease the morbid king, kept an eye out for tall children and promptly handed them over to him when they had the chance. Newborn babies, expected to grow unusually tall, were marked with a bright red scarf for identification purposes.

If someone was unfortunate enough to be over six feet tall and born in the Prussian sphere of influence (which was quite extensive at the time), he would sooner or later be noticed and assigned to the king’s private collection cabinet. Cautious parents, aware of the king’s eccentric cravings, made improvised shelters for their children to hide them from the ever watchful eyes of Frederick’s scouts- who feverishly roamed the land in search of specimens to satisfy his dark avocations. If the collection item-to-be happened to be well-to-do (or of noble descent himself) no expense was spared to acquire him- for the king reserved enormous amounts of cash just for the purchasing of giants. If one had the misfortune of being of modest means or descent, the conduct of the Prussian agents was altogether different: in this case they were given carte blanch to simply abduct the person in question, bring them before the Prussian king to be inspected, stamped with the royal seal and subsequently enslaved. It would sometimes occur that his agents were so eager in carrying out their assignment that their prey would not survive the brutal journey to the Prussian throne. This would always enrage the impatient king, and the agent in question could count on a swift reprimand for his negligence (usually on the unhappy end of a rifle). Some glitches aside, his collection grew steadily- and before long he managed to assemble his giants in a formidable ‘regiment’ which were regularly taken out on display when some befriended tyrant came to visit. But Frederick was not satisfied with merely collecting the giants to impress neighboring monarchs; Frederick took the whole thing to the next level.

Crossbreeding Giants

According to Washington Monthly author David Wallace-Wells, ‘King Frederick’s obsession was more than mere schoolyard eugenics.’ Indeed it was. Frederick was not the man for silly pet projects or idle pleasures. He was a Prussian king and that means thoroughness in absolutely every respect. With an ambition that would put Marie Stopes to shame, he gathered from all over Europe the most impressive ‘samples’ and selected each and every one of them personally before sending them to his sub-level experimentation chambers. The most notorious of these experiments was the stretching of his grenadiers on a specially constructed rack in an attempt to make them taller than they already were. Frederick would sometimes preside over these racking sessions himself while enjoying his lunch at the same time. However absurd and cruel this method, it revealed the king’s unwavering ambitions regarding all things inhumane. One of the first to venture into the world of methodical eugenics, king Frederick encountered the same difficulties as his future counterparts. When it became apparent that this method resulted in the death of the giants instead of gaining even an inch in length, he ended the practice lest he run out of giants. But putting a halt to this racking practice could not prevent the giants from dying in alarming numbers, for many of them sought refuge in suicide. As only a German blueblood could devise, the king forced his rapidly shrinking collection to interbreed with equally tall women so as to build a future army of giants, which would be the envy of Europe’s upper-class. Here he actually attempted to breed a ‘new man’, and it is said that the city of Potsdam, lair of the Hohenzollerns, was littered with unusually tall men at the end of the 18th century as a result. It is sad, this tale of the Potsdam giants. They fell victim to the elite’s bloodthirsty appetite and unwittingly became one of the first to be sacrificed on the altar of eugenics.



The Takedown of Tyre I



Tyre, in what is now Lebanon, was the holdout. It had a unique place as the largest and most important Phoenician port in the eastern Mediterranean, and as an important Persian naval base. Tyre had been a prominent city for centuries by the time that Alexander arrived. The Phoenician merchants from Tyre had been among the first people to send their trading ships throughout the Mediterranean. The city grew rich and powerful and was coveted by its neighbors. King Nebuchadnezzar II, known as “the Great,” who built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, had unsuccessfully besieged the city for 13 years in the sixth century BC. Eventually, the Tyrians threw in their lot with the Persians.

To secure their metropolis, the Tyrians built a new city on an island a half mile offshore from the old city on the mainland. This new Tyre was now an impregnable fortress surrounded by two miles of stone walls that were reportedly as high as 150 feet. The island had two ship harbors, the northern one named for Sidon, the southern one named for Egypt. Through these harbors, Tyre could be supplied from the sea, regardless of who controlled the adjacent mainland.

Alexander had hoped to avoid the necessity of a siege entirely. He was optimistic when his army was met on the coast road by ambassadors from Tyre, who told him, according to Arrian, that the city “had decided to do whatever he might command.”

Alexander said he would like to enter their city and offer a sacrifice to Heracles—known to the Tyrians as Melqart—at the temple that had been erected to him in the southern part of their island citystate. He explained that he was descended from Heracles, as were all of the kings of Macedonia. Their response was not what he expected. The Tyrians, then ruled by King Azemilcus, told him he was welcome at another temple of Heracles located on the mainland, but he could not enter the island.

With this, the die was cast. Tyre must be taken. Thus began an epic siege that took place over the spring and summer of 332.

In a speech possibly transcribed by Aristobulus or Callisthenes, and passed down by Arrian, Alexander told his officers of his strategic view of the eastern Mediterranean, explaining why Tyre was so important:

“I see that an expedition to Egypt will not be safe for us, so long as the Persians retain the sovereignty of the sea; nor is it a safe course, both for other reasons, and especially looking at the state of matters in Greece, for us to pursue Darius, leaving in our rear the city of Tyre itself in doubtful allegiance. . . . I am apprehensive lest while we advance with our forces toward Babylon and in pursuit of Darius, the Persians should again conquer the maritime districts, and transfer the war into Greece with a larger army.”

The conventional wisdom held that Tyre could be assaulted only from the sea, and its huge, solid walls would protect it from that. Besieging Tyre presented a dilemma, given that the Tyrian fleet and the allied Persian fleet under Autophradates had naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean, while Alexander had deliberately undercut his own navy.

According to folklore, readily retold by Arrian as fact, the solution came to Alexander in a dream. He dreamed that Heracles took him by the right hand and led him up into the city, walking on dry land. Though the dream needed little in the way of interpretation, it was declared to be a good sign by Aristander, the seer who had once told Philip II that his son within the womb of Olympias would be as bold as a lion. Alexander had relied on his prognostications more than ever after he correctly predicted the victory at Granicus.

If Tyre was separated from dry land by a half mile of water, he would just take the dry land to the city. Alexander decided to solve the problem at hand by turning Tyre from an island into the tip of a peninsula by building a causeway to it from the mainland.

The portion of the channel closest to the shore was a gently sloping tidal plain. There was an abundance of rock and other construction material nearby, so getting started on this project would be relatively easy. Closer to the island fortress city, however, the channel was 18 feet deep, so it would be more challenging. A difficult task under any circumstances, building a causeway here beneath hostile walls was a serious problem for work crews with Tyrian archers raining projectiles down upon them.

However, morale inside the walls was shaky as well. The Tyrians too, had a dream. They dreamed that Apollo told them he was, as Plutarch paraphrases it, “going away to Alexander, since he was displeased at what was going on in the city.”

The project began with wooden pilings being driven into the mud with a roadway constructed on top. The work proceeded rapidly at first, but as the Macedonians got into the channel, the crews came under fire from Tyrian warships. To stave off this harassment, Alexander had two tall siege towers constructed at the end of the causeway from which his troops could return fire against the ships. Their elevated position meant that the men in the towers could see farther, and their projectiles had greater range, than they would from near sea level.

The Tyrians struck back using a transport barge as an incendiary device. They piled it high with wood scraps and other flammable material, including pitch and brimstone. To its masts they fitted long double yardarms, attaching caldrons containing additional flammable material. They towed the barge near the causeway towers using triremes, setting it on fire as it neared the towers at the end of the causeway. The yardarms were long enough to cantilever over the causeway and strike the towers, which were soon engulfed in flames.

Attempts by Alexander’s personnel to fight the fires were met by archers aboard the triremes. The Tyrians also landed troops on the causeway who burned catapults and other equipment before withdrawing. After a stroke of engineering brilliance in his causeway idea, Alexander had been halted rather ignominiously.

However, it was merely round one. Alexander promptly ordered the causeway to be widened and new towers to be built. Meanwhile, he decided to acquire additional warships of his own, having realized that defeating Tyre would require sea power after all.

The Takedown of Tyre II


Expanding his navy was actually easier for Alexander than might have been expected. Because most of his recent conquests and alliances had involved maritime powers, his new friends were willing to contribute to his fleet-building efforts. According to Arrian, Cyprus sent 120 warships to Alexander, while both Sidon and Rhodes contributed some triremes, and “about 80 Phoenician ships joined him.”

Both Gerostratus and Enylus, the kings respectively of Aradus and Byblos, “ascertaining that their cities were in the possession of Alexander, deserted Autophradates and the fleet under his command, and came to Alexander with their naval force.”

Alexander also personally joined the naval attack on Tyre, sailing with the fleet as it embarked from Sidon. His own position was at the right wing of the armada, farthest from the coast. His initial strategy had been to lure the Tyrians into a battle in the open sea.

The Tyrians had been looking forward to such a fight on the basis of Alexander’s perceived naval inferiority, but when they observed Alexander’s fleet most remained in port rather than accepting the challenge. Alexander’s flotilla managed to sink three vessels, but aside from that they were at a stalemate.

Alexander for once had the superior numbers in a naval battle, but he could not lure out his enemy. If a fight took place, it would have to be in the tight confines of one of the island’s two harbors. It was like Issus, only on water—and at Issus, it was Darius who was in too tight a space to make full use of his superior numbers.

Alexander decided to blockade Tyre and wait. He assigned the Cypriot triremes to block the northern Tyrian port and dispatched the Phoenician fleet to block the southern port.

He then turned back to his land strategy, ordering the rapid construction of catapults and siege engines, including battering rams and protected towers for the transfer of troops. These were placed on ships for the final assault against Tyre’s fortifications. The Tyrians countered by building towers of their own in order to be higher than the Greco- Macedonian besiegers. It became a battle of fiery projectiles launched from higher and higher elevations.

Eventually feeling the pressure of the naval blockade, the Tyrians made an attempt to break out of the northern port using a force of seven triremes, three quadriremes and three quinqueremes. The ships moved silently so as not to alert the Cypriot blockade ships, but it would not have been necessary. The Cypriots were asleep at the tiller. Indeed, each ship was manned by a mere skeleton crew, with most hands having been quartered ashore. Catching the Cypriot fleet off guard, the Tyrians managed to sink or damage a number of vessels.

Roused from his tent—all of this happened in the heat of the summer afternoon as the officers were resting—Alexander ordered all available ships in the port on the mainland side of the channel to put to sea to prevent any additional Tyrian ships from reaching open seas. Alexander boarded a ship himself, intending as usual to lead from the front.

Despite calls from Tyrian lookouts that Alexander’s ships were pulling out from their moorings, ships continued to leave the port. Alexander’s fleet rallied, ramming and sinking a number of vessels, and capturing others.


Assault on Tyre

Finally, Alexander developed a tactical plan that called for a complex amphibious landing under fire that would be considered ambitious even by a modern combat force. In the northern part of the island, where the causeway had been built, Tyre’s walls were the most formidable and best defended, so Alexander moved to execute an unanticipated flanking maneuver by hitting a less well defended point in the southern end.

The attack would entail breaching the wall above sea level from the sea using siege engines aboard ships, and then using a portable bridge to push troops through this breach. Indeed, attacking a vertical wall above sea level is always much more difficult than putting troops across a sea-level beach using landing craft. With Tyrian defenses pierced, Alexander’s fleet would attack the two Tyrian ports simultaneously.

When his first attempt to execute the plan was quickly repulsed, Alexander withdrew, postponing a renewed attempt until a patch of stormy weather had blown through. On the third day following, the seas were quieter and Alexander resumed the assault.

After seven months, the siege finally reached its climax on the last day of the month of Hekatombaion, the same month that Alexander celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday (July 20, 332 BC). Plutarch tells that after consulting some omens, Aristander had declared confidently “that the city would certainly be captured during that month.” Because it was the last day of the month, and Tyre had held out for 200 days already, Aristander’s words “produced laughter and jesting.”

Arrian says that Alexander “led the ships containing the military engines up to the city. In the first place he shook down a large piece of the wall; and when the breach appeared to be sufficiently wide, he ordered the vessels conveying the military engines to retire, and brought up two others, which carried the bridges, which he intended to throw upon the breach in the wall. The shield bearing guards occupied one of these vessels, which he had put under the command of Admetus; and the other was occupied by the regiment of Coenus, called the foot Companions.”

When the siege engines pulled back, Alexander sent in triremes with archers and catapults to get as close as possible, even if it meant running aground, to support the infantry assault.

Again leading from the front, Alexander himself headed the assault force that went ashore. Admetus’s contingent was the first over the wall, but he was killed in action, struck by a spear. Alexander then led the Companion infantry in securing a section of wall and several towers. With Greco-Macedonian troops taking and holding a rapidly expanding beachhead, the defensive advantages of the fortified city began to evaporate.

Unfortunately for the Tyrians, their royal palace was in the southern part of the city, and it was one of the first major objectives to fall to Alexander’s invading troops. King Azemilcus, his senior bureaucrats and a delegation of Carthaginian dignitaries, who had been trapped in Tyre when Alexander’s fleet sealed the ports, were there but escaped to take refuge in the temple to Heracles. Ironically, this was the same temple at which Alexander had originally asked to be allowed to worship.

At the same time, Alexander’s fleet forced its way into the two harbors. Phoenician ships entered the southern harbor, the Port of Egypt, and the Cypriot ships breached the entrance to Tyre’s northern harbor, the Port of Sidon. Here at the Port of Sidon, the larger of the two anchorages, troops were able to get ashore inside the harbor. The defenders fell back to defensive positions at the Agenoreum, a temple to the mythical King Agenor, but were quickly routed. Alexander now had beachheads on either end of Tyre and the Tyrian defenders in a pincer.

Within a matter of hours, after a bloody siege of seven months, troops from both landings linked up in the northern part of the city. All of the defenses that had been erected on the causeway side were for naught.

According to Diodorus, immediately after his victory Alexander ordered the causeway broadened to an average width of nearly 200 feet and made permanent, using material from the damaged city walls as fill.

The causeway is still there, although it if you visited it, you would not notice it. Over the past 2,300 years, wave action and drifting sand have caused it to grow into a broad isthmus about a quarter of a mile wide. The part of Tyre that was an island in 332 BC has been connected to the mainland ever since Alexander’s day.

Alexander gave no quarter to those he captured, killing them on the spot or eventually selling them into slavery. According to Arrian, the defenders suffered about 8,000 killed or executed and 30,000 made slaves, while the Greco-Macedonian force lost 400 killed in action during the entire siege. Curtius reports 6,000 Tyrian troops killed inside the city walls, and 2,000 executed in the aftermath. While these numbers were probably stretched in favor of Alexander, many later scholars, including Botsford and Robinson, repeat them. There is no way of knowing for sure.

In any case, Alexander walked into the Temple of Heracles around sundown that day to make his long-postponed sacrifice. It was the afternoon of the last day of Hekatombaion. Of all those who had laughed at Aristander for his outlandish prediction, none were laughing now.

Alexander spared King Azemilcus and gave amnesty to all those hiding in the temple when it was captured. The sight of his city’s resounding defeat, and of Alexander standing in the temple that he had once asked to visit peacefully, was probably punishment enough for the king.

After the Battle of Issus and the siege of Tyre, Persia was no longer a Mediterranean superpower. Having had the heart ripped out of his army, and the bases ripped away from his navy, Darius would be unable to challenge Alexander significantly again until his army was deep inside the interior of the Persian Empire.