Siege of Delhi 1857 Part I

In 1857 the city of Delhi was largely confined within its 8km (5 miles) of medieval walls, forming a semi – circle on the west bank of the River Jumna. Some triangular bastions and general repairs had been carried out when the British first took over the city in 1804, but otherwise no attempt had been made to modernize the defences. Nevertheless the walls were some 7.3m (24ft) high and massively constructed, so that breaching them was difficult, even with ample heavy artillery and abundant ammunition. As was usual in Indian fortresses, the gates were formidable enough in themselves. The only real weak point was assumed (wrongly) to be the suburb of Kishangunj lying outside the Kabul Gate. The siege was eventually ended after an artillery bombardment breached the wall near the Kashmire Gate and the city was taken by regular infantry assault.

Major-General Sir Archdale Wilson

Major-General Sir Archdale Wilson’s thoughts now returned to his chief objective: the capture of Delhi. But even after the arrival of the siege-train* on 4 September he was loath to order an assault. By 6 September reinforcements had increased the number of effectives to more than 11,000 men† (though 2,200 of them were the Maharaja of Jammu’s troops and of doubtful quality); a further 3,000 men were in hospital and the number was rising daily. Wilson had been told by Sir John Lawrence that he could expect no more troops and that an assault was imperative. ‘Every day disaffection and mutiny spread,’‡ wrote Lawrence on 29 August. ‘Every day adds to the danger of the European Princes taking part against us.’ Wilson knew that the number of sick was steadily rising. Yet still he procrastinated. Fred Roberts, then on Nicholson’s staff, wrote later:

* Thirty-two howitzers and heavy mortars and more than a hundred bullock-carts of ammunition.

† But only 3,317 were European troops: 580 artillery, 443 cavalry and 2,294 infantry. The infantry regiments were shadows of their former selves, the strongest numbering 409 effectives. The 52nd, which had arrived 600 strong, had already dwindled to 242 fit for duty.

‡ Particularly in the Punjab. There had already been an attempted conspiracy of Muslim tribes in the Murree Hills and an insurrection in Gogaira; moreover, many Sikhs were unconvinced about the durability of British rule and were refusing to enlist. Late August also saw three mutinies by disarmed corps in the Punjab: the 10th Light Cavalry at Ferozepore, the 51st Native Infantry at Peshawar, and the 62nd and 69th Native Infantry at Multan.

Everyone felt that the time had come for the assault to be made, and Wilson’s hesitation caused considerable anxiety. For some unaccountable reason he kept hoping that assistance would come from the South. I say unaccountable because we all knew: —

That Cawnpore had fallen into the enemy’s hands.

That Henry Lawrence was dead and that Lucknow was still being besieged.

That Havelock had written on the 25th July that he had found it impossible to force his way through to Lucknow and had been obliged to fall back upon Cawnpore.

That all the British troops and residents at Agra were shut up in the fort.

In the early days at Delhi we had hoped that troops would arrive from England in time to help us, but by September it was clear that this was impossible . . . There was no place to retreat to and on the slightest sign of our giving in the Punjab would have risen — in more places than one disturbances had already broken out.

When Wilson first took over the command he did very well — far better than either of his two predecessors. We artillerymen especially were proud of having an officer of our own regiment at the head of the Delhi Field Force. But six weeks of responsibility told heavily upon him. The strain was tremendous, and there is no doubt he was quite broken down by the beginning of September.

Wilson confirmed as much in a letter to his wife of 5 September: ‘We are busy preparing for the final struggle, and my work is almost more than I can carry through. I get so exhausted and my head so confused that I at times almost despair. It is made worse by my not sleeping well at night.’ The consequences of a failed assault were clearly uppermost in his mind; at the same time the pressure on him to act was becoming irresistible. No one was more voluble in this respect than his chief engineer, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Baird-Smith, who ‘fully appreciated the tremendous risks which an assault involved’, but who felt ‘they were less than those of delay’. Baird-Smith was strongly supported by his executive engineer, Lieutenant Alex Taylor, and most of the senior officers on the Ridge, including Nicholson, Chamberlain, Daly and Norman, the acting adjutant-general. At last Wilson bowed to the pressure and agreed to let the engineers prepare a plan of attack. But his objections continued. Baird-Smith recalled: ‘I believe his mind to have been a little off its usual balance all the time we were at work, and he was literally more difficult to deal with than the enemy. It was only by constantly reminding him that if he interfered with my plans, I would throw the whole responsibility for the consequences on him, that I could get on at all.’

The question of an assault finally came to a head at a council of war in Wilson’s tent on 7 September. Fred Roberts recalled:

I was sitting in [Nicholson’s] tent before he set out to attend the council. He had been talking to me in confidential terms . . . and ended by telling me of his intention to take a very unusual step should the council fail to arrive at any fixed determination regarding the assault. ‘Delhi must be taken,’ he said, ‘and it is absolutely essential that this should be done at once; and if Wilson hesitates longer, I intend to propose at today’s meeting that he should be superseded.’ I was greatly startled, and ventured to remark that, as Chamberlain was hors de combat from his wound, Wilson’s removal would leave him, Nicholson, the senior officer with the force. He smiled as he answered: ‘I have not overlooked that fact. I shall make it perfectly clear that, under the circumstances, I could not possibly accept the command myself, and I shall propose that it be given to Campbell of the 52nd; I am prepared to serve under him for the time being, so no one can ever accuse me of being influenced by personal motives’.

As it happened, Nicholson’s resolve to overthrow his commander was not put to the test because, at the council of war, Wilson bowed to the inevitable. He accepted Baird-Smith’s plan of assault in its entirety, but with the proviso that the chief engineer would take the blame if it failed. In a letter to Sir John Lawrence, an elated Nicholson could not hide his contempt for Wilson: ‘I have seen lots of useless generals in my day; but such an ignorant, croaking obstructive as he is, I have hitherto never met with . . .’ The purport of his last message in reply to the Engineers ran thus: ‘I disagree with the Engineers entirely. I foresee great, if not insuperable difficulties in the plan they propose. But as I have no other plan myself, I yield to the urgent remonstrances of the chief engineer.’

The engineers’ plan was to build batteries close enough to the city walls for the new siege guns to be effective. The site chosen was the area between Ludlow Castle, the commissioner’s residence that the rebels had left unoccupied, and the Kashmir and Water Bastions at the north of the city. A ravine here, running east to west, offered the sappers a modicum of cover as they worked. The intention was first to establish a heavy battery on the western side of the ravine to suppress the fire from the Mori and Kashmir Bastions. Then three siege batteries could be constructed in front of Ludlow Castle, the closest only 180 yards from the walls. These would make the breaches. It is unclear who was chiefly responsible for the plan: Baird-Smith has generally been given the credit because he was the senior engineer; but Taylor was the one who, with Nicholson, undertook the hazardous task of reconnoitring the sites and who personally supervised their construction.

Work began on the first battery, known as No. 1, during the night of 7 September. By sunrise its four 24-pounders, five 18-pounders and one 18-inch mortar were ready to open fire. The adjutant of the 75th Foot recalled:

The Moree proceeded to administer its usual dose to the piquets, but the smoke had scarcely spurted from its embrasures when the leafy screen was torn from our battery and we could see the iron hail strike the wall, sending up clouds of dust and bringing the masonry down into the ditch. It must have been an astonisher to the fellows in the bastion, but they quickly recovered from their surprise and turning the guns on the battery commenced a regular duel with it; our fellows continued to fire salvos, that is, all the guns fired together like an infantry volley, and the effect of such a weight of metal striking the walls at once soon became apparent, for the Moree began to look like a large heap of earth, and gun after gun was disabled in the front of it till at length not one was fit for service.

That evening, Ludlow Castle was occupied and work began on No. 2 Battery, just 500 yards from the Kashmir Bastion. The rebels had assumed that the focal point of any British attack would be against the Kabul and Lahore Gates on the west side of the city. Now, disabused of that notion, they did everything they could to prevent the siege batteries from being constructed. But the engineers would not be deterred. No. 2 Battery* was ready on 11 September, the remaining two† a day later. No. 3 Battery, the closest to the walls, had been built under ‘a constant fire of musketry’ that inevitably cost the Indian workmen‡ many casualties: thirty-nine during the first night of work. Fred Roberts, who was in charge of two guns in No. 2 Battery, had nothing but admiration for the bravery of these unarmed pioneers. ‘As man after man was knocked over,’ he wrote, ‘they would stop a moment, weep a little over a fallen friend, place his body in a row with the rest, and then work on as before.’

* Seven heavy howitzers, two 18-pounders and nine 24-pounders.

† No. 3 Battery comprised six 18-pounders and twelve 5½-inch mortars; No. 4 Battery, sited between 2 and 3, ten heavy mortars.

‡ The British camp on the Ridge was a magnet for thousands of Indian camp-followers who were prepared to risk their lives for a few annas a day.

The morning of 12 September saw the combined fire of all four batteries — a total of fifty guns and mortars — unleashed upon Delhi’s walls. The rebels, unable to fire from their ruined bastions, brought their guns out into the open and enfiladed the siege batteries. They also sited a gun in the curtain wall near the Kashmir Bastion, fired rockets from one of their towers and ‘maintained a perfect storm of musketry from their advanced trench and from the city walls’. British casualties alone were more than three hundred during the six days prior to the assault.

At dusk on 13 September two pairs of engineer officers — Lieutenants Lang,§ Medley, Greathed and Home — went to reconnoitre the breaches near the Kashmir and Water Bastions. Lieutenants Lang and Medley made it across the ditch and were about to ascend the rubble in the breach when the appearance of two sepoy sentries forced them to retire. Both pairs reported to Baird-Smith that the breaches were ‘practicable’. He, in turn, convinced Wilson that to delay any longer would be fatal. Finally Wilson gave orders for the attack to take place the following morning.

§ Lieutenant Arthur Lang, who arrived at Delhi from Lahore on 27 July, had already carried out a daring daytime reconnaissance on the breach near the Kashmir Bastion, but was sent back in company with Medley to ascertain whether ladders would be required to scale the ditch.

The infantry assigned to the assault was divided into five columns:* the first, commanded by Brigadier-General Nicholson, was given the task of storming the broken face of the Kashmir Bastion and the nearby breach in the wall, before clearing the ramparts and bastions as far as the Ajmir Gate; the second, under Brigadier Jones of the 61st Foot, was to storm the breach in the Water Bastion and follow Nicholson as far as the Kabul Gate; the third, led by Colonel Campbell of the 52nd Light Infantry, was to enter through the shattered Kashmir Gate and head through the heart of the city towards the Jama Masjid mosque; the fourth, under Major Reid of the Sirmur Battalion, was to attack the suburbs of Kisenganj and Paharipur, and support ‘the main attack by effecting an entrance at the Cabul Gate after it should be taken’; the fifth, under Brigadier Longfield, was to cover Nicholson’s column and form a reserve. In addition the Cavalry Brigade, under Brigadier Hope Grant, was to take up a position on the right of No. 1 Battery to oppose any attempt at taking the storming columns in the flank. With so many soldiers devoted to the attack, only a thin covering screen of cavalry, artillery and convalescents was available to protect the camp. ‘A very insufficient guard,’ wrote one officer, ‘when it is considered that the enemy might well, out of their vast numbers, have detached part of their horsemen and infantry to harass, if not imperil, its safety and that of the many sick and wounded.’

* The 1st column (1,000 men) was made up of HM 75th Foot, 1st Bengal Fusiliers and 2nd Punjab Infantry; the 2nd column (850 men) of HM 8th Foot, 2nd Bengal Fusiliers and 4th Sikhs; the 3rd column (950 men) of HM 52nd Light Infantry, Kumaon Battalion and 1st Punjab Infantry; the 4th column (860 men) of the Sirmur Battalion, Guides Infantry and various other units, as well as 1,200 men of the Jammu Contingent; the reserve column (1,000 men) of HM 61st Foot, 4th Punjab Infantry and the Baluch Battalion, as well as 300 of the Jhind Contingent.

The plan was to attack at dawn. But many of the men assigned to the storming columns had been on picket duty and it took some time for them to re-join their corps. A further delay was caused by the need to destroy the partial repairs to the breaches that the rebels had effected during the night. It was, therefore, daylight when the breaching guns ceased fire and the order to advance was given. ‘No sooner were the front ranks seen by the rebels,’ recalled Fred Roberts, who was watching with Wilson from Ludlow Castle, than a storm of bullets met them from every side, and officers and men fell thick on the crest of the glacis. Then, for a few seconds, amidst a blaze of musketry, the soldiers stood at the edge of the ditch, for only one or two of the ladders had come up, the rest having been dropped by their killed or wounded carriers. Dark figures crowded on the breach, hurling stones upon our men, and daring them to come on. More ladders were brought up, they were thrown into the ditch, and our men, leaping into it, raised them against the escarp on the other side. Nicholson, at the head of a part of his column, was the first to ascend the breach in the curtain. The remainder of his troops diverged a little to the right to escalade the breach in the Kashmir bastion.

The engineer officer leading this party was Lieutenant Arthur Lang, who recorded:

Up went our ladder, but once on the berm we instantly saw that there was no place for placing our long ladders, so we scrambled just a steep, crumbling wall of masonry. I have seen it since in cold blood, and wondered how we got up at all. I was just falling backwards on our own bayonets when a Gurkha pushed me up luckily, and presently over we were, and, with the 75th and men from the Water Bastion breach, were tearing down the ramp into the Main Guard behind the Kashmere Gate.

While the 1st and 2nd Columns were storming the breaches, the 3rd Column was attacking the Kashmir Gate. On reaching the ditch in front of the gate, the infantry were ordered to lie down while Lieutenants Home and Salkeld of the Bengal Engineers, eight sappers and a bugler from the 52nd Light Infantry went forward to blow the gate. The bridge in front of the gate had been destroyed, and it was no easy task for Home and the men carrying the powder-bags to cross the single beam that remained. All the while the rebels kept up a stream of fire from the top of the gate, the city walls and through the open wicket, killing Sergeant Carmichael and wounding Havildar Madhoo. But their comrades managed to nail the bags to the gate before dropping down into the ditch to make way for Salkeld and the firing party. Salkeld was about to fire the charge when he was hit in the leg and arm. He handed the slow-match to Corporal Burgess, who, though mortally wounded, managed to complete the task.* As the noise of the explosion died away, Bugler Hawthorne sounded the advance. Ensign Wilberforce, part of the storming party of the 52nd that was sheltering in the ditch, remembered:

* Four of the eleven-strong party received the Victoria Cross: Lieutenants Duncan Home and Philip Salkeld (Bengal Engineers), Sergeant John Smith (Bengal Sappers and Miners) and Bugler Robert Hawthorne (HM 52nd Light Infantry). Both officers were dead within a month: Home was killed at Malagarh; Salkeld died of his wounds.

Away we went. Inside that sheltering glacis was security from the murderous fire to which we had been exposed . . . I saw my Captain, Crosse, go in through the Gate. It was only large enough to admit one at a time. I was going next when Corporal Taylor pushed me on one side and got second. I came next — third man in. Through the gateway we saw an open square, the sunlight pouring into it — empty. Under the arch of the gateway stood a nine-pounder gun . . . Near to and around the gun lay some dead bodies, the defenders of the Gate, the men who had shot the devoted Salkeld . . . The Gate was soon thrown open, and our men, Coke’s Rifles, and the Kumaon battalion, which formed our assaulting column, poured in after us.

As the 3rd Column entered the open space between the Main Guard and the charred ruins of St James’s Church, its men met and mingled with soldiers from the first two columns. Gradually the columns sorted themselves out and set off towards their various objectives: the 1st and 2nd Columns up the narrow road that followed the ramparts; the 3rd Column towards the Jama Masjid and the kotwali. For a time, however, the 1st Column was without Nicholson because he and Alex Taylor had taken a wrong turn towards Skinner’s House. Instead it was left to Lieutenant Lang to lead the way. He recalled:

On we rushed, shouting and cheering, while the grape and musketry from each bend, and from every street leading from our left, and from rampart and housetop, knocked down men and officers. It was exciting to madness and I felt no feeling except to rush on and hit: I only wondered how much longer I could possibly go on unhit, when the whole air seemed full of bullets . . .

We poured past the Kabul Gate and we went swimmingly along until we nearly reached the Lahore; then a short check was given by a barricade with a gun firing grape from behind it. Brig. Jones came up and called for the Engineer officer and asked where the Kabul Gate was . . . ‘Far behind,’ I said. ‘We shall have the Lahore presently.’ Alas, he declared that his orders were to stop at the Kabul.

Lang and others in the vanguard were all for continuing. But the opposition had stiffened and it was as much as they could do to hold the ground already gained. ‘As long as we rushed on cheering and never stopping, all went well,’ recalled Lang. ‘But the check was sad: the men, crouching behind comers, and in the archways which support the ramparts, gradually nursed a panic.’ Assailed by a storm of rebel musket and cannon fire, the advance troops began to retire in ones and twos. The officers did their best to stem the flow. But, within half an hour, the trickle had become a flood, and the officers were swept along in the headlong retreat back to the Kabul Gate.

It was now that Nicholson re-joined his column and resumed command. Minutes earlier he had been spotted on the walls of the Mori Bastion by Brigadier Hope Grant, commander of the cavalry brigade supporting the 4th Column. Nicholson had shouted down to Grant that all was going to plan, and that he was about to attack the Lahore Gate. Grant had less encouraging news: the 4th Column’s attack, led by Major Reid of the Sirmur Battalion, had been repulsed from the suburbs outside the Kabul Gate. A rebel counter-attack was now driving the entire column back to its starting point in the gardens of Sabzi Mundi. ‘We saw the repulse of Reid’s column,’ wrote the recuperating Neville Chamberlain, who was watching from his stretcher on the roof of Hindu Rao’s house, ‘and could not fail to admire the conduct of the mutineer native officers as they rode along in front of their regiments endeavouring to incite their men to press home their advantage against the Cashmere Contingent . . . The Jummoo troops bolted,* lost the whole or a portion of their guns, came back on our men, created a panic, and we were driven back in confusion . . . So critical did affairs then look that it seemed possible the enemy might succeed in passing through, or might turn our right defences and attack them from the rear.’ Chamberlain’s response was to order his bearers to carry him down to the gardens, where he rallied the beaten troops and organized a defensive position from his stretcher.

* Wilson also blamed the failure of the attack on ‘the cowardice of the Jummoo contingent, who ran away leaving their guns to the enemy’ (Wilson to his wife, 15 September 1857, Wilson Letters, NAM, 6807-483).

All this time Grant’s cavalry brigade had been watching helplessly, unable to ride to the assistance of Reid’s column because of the broken and built-up nature of the ground. Instead they had moved round to a position on the far right, less than 500 yards from the Lahore Gate. But the failure of Reid’s column to take the ground in front of the Kabul Gate, and Nicholson’s inability to progress beyond the same point within the city, meant that Grant’s men were subjected to a galling fire from the untouched heavy guns of the Burn Bastion and Lahore Gate. Grant and four of his staff had their horses killed under them; two of them were wounded, and Grant himself was hit by a spent musket-ball. Tombs’s troop of horse artillery lost half its 50 men and a further 17 horses; the 9th Lancers had 38 casualties and 71 horses wounded. ‘Nothing daunted,’ wrote Grant, ‘those gallant fellows held their trying position with patient endurance; and on my praising them for their good behaviour, they declared their readiness to stand the fire as long as I chose.’

Siege of Delhi 1857 Part II

Lieutenant George Alexander Renny VC at the Delhi Magazine, 16th December 1857 by David Rowlands

It may well have been the plight of the cavalry that made Nicholson so determined to achieve his last objective by capturing the Lahore Gate. But to do so he first had to take the Burn Bastion, which lay at the end of a narrow lane, 200 yards long, flanked on one side by the city wall and on the other by flat-roofed houses swarming with rebel snipers. Twice men from the 1st Bengal Fusiliers had tried to advance down the lane and twice they had been driven back with heavy losses, including their commander, Major Jacob, who was mortally wounded. Now Nicholson himself took charge. Calling on the demoralized fusiliers to follow him, he ran forward into the lane. But halfway down he realized that only a handful of men were still with him. He was in the act of calling the rest to come on, his sword above his head, when he was shot below his exposed right armpit by a sepoy firing down from one of the flat roofs. As he fell, a sergeant of the 1st Fusiliers caught him and dragged him into a small recess below the city wall. For some time he refused to be moved, saying he would stay until Delhi had been taken. Eventually he relented and was carried back to the Kabul Gate and placed in a doolie. The bearers were told to take him to the field hospital beyond the Ridge, but they preferred to plunder and left him on the side of the road a short way beyond the Kashmir Gate.

General Wilson had watched the start of the assault from the roof of Ludlow Castle. When it became clear that the first three columns had gained a foothold in the city, he rode with his staff through the Kashmir Gate and set up his advanced headquarters in the ruins of St Thomas’s Church. There he remained for the rest of the day, becoming ‘more anxious and depressed’ as report after discouraging report came in. ‘He heard of Reid’s failure,’ recalled Fred Roberts, ‘and of Reid himself having been severely wounded; then came the disastrous news that Nicholson had fallen, and a report (happily false) that Hope Grant and Tombs were both killed. All this greatly agitated and depressed the General, until at last he began seriously to consider the advisability of leaving the city and falling back on the Ridge. I was ordered to go and find out the truth of these reports, and to ascertain exactly what had happened to No. 4 column and the Cavalry on our right.’

Roberts had just ridden through the Kashmir Gate when he came upon an abandoned doolie. Dismounting to see if he could be of any assistance to the occupant, he discovered to his ‘grief and consternation, that it was John Nicholson, with death written on his face’. Nicholson told him that he was in great pain and wished to be taken to hospital. Roberts, observing no visible sign of injury, expressed the hope that he was not seriously wounded. ‘I am dying,’ replied Nicholson, ‘there is no chance for me.’ Roberts was shocked. He had seen many men die, but to lose Nicholson at that moment was to ‘lose everything’. Only with difficulty did he gather four doolie-bearers from the multitude of camp-followers who were looting property in the vicinity and place them under the orders of a sergeant of the 61st Foot. He never saw Nicholson again.

Continuing his mission, Roberts eventually came across the Cavalry Brigade. Delighted to discover that both Tombs and Hope Grant were still alive, and that there was ‘no need for further anxiety about Reid’s column’, he galloped back to the church to report to Wilson. The news cheered Wilson without entirely dispelling his forebodings — and these increased when word arrived soon after that Campbell’s column had been forced to retire from the Jama Masjid, its furthest point of advance, to the area around the church. This failure, coupled with the ‘hopelessness of Nicholson’s condition, and, above all, the heavy list of casualties which he received later,* appeared to crush all spirit and energy’ out of Wilson. He became more convinced than ever of the need to withdraw from the city and would, in Roberts’s opinion, have ‘carried out this fatal measure’ had it not been for the presence of his chief engineer, Richard Baird-Smith, who had insisted on remaining at headquarters despite suffering from dysentery and a painful leg wound. When asked for his opinion, Baird-Smith’s reply was emphatic: ‘We must hold on.’

* During the first day of the assault, 14 September 1857, the Delhi Field Force’s casualties were sixty-six officers and 1,104 men killed and wounded, or two men in nine.

Chamberlain gave the same response to a letter from Wilson, written at four in the afternoon, stating that ‘if the Hindu Rao’s picquet cannot be moved, I do not think we shall be strong enough to take the city’. It was, said Chamberlain, imperative to hold on to the last, not least because the ground already gained would have severely demoralized the enemy. The dying Nicholson was just as determined. When told of Wilson’s suggestion to retire, he rose up in bed and roared: ‘Thank God I have strength yet to shoot him, if necessary.’

Faced with this consensus of opinion, Wilson gave up all idea of retreating. But he could not dispel his fear of failure for some days yet, as his letters to his wife demonstrate. ‘We are now holding what we have taken, but nothing more,’ he wrote on the 15th. ‘Our position is from the Cabul Gate to the College, and I cannot say we have complete possession of that. I am in Skinner’s house . . . The Europeans with the Column with me got hold of lots of beer in the Shops, and made themselves helpless. I have not a Queen’s officer under me worth a pin, or who can preserve any sort of discipline except Jones of the 60th Rifles, in fact the men are so badly officered that they will and can do nothing tomorrow . . . All we can now expect to do, is to get on gradually, but this street fighting is frightful work. Pandy is as good a soldier at that as our men.’

The fighting technique employed by Lieutenant Lang and soldiers of the 1st Column in the vicinity of the Kabul Gate was to climb on to the roof of a house and fire down into the next yard while sappers picked a hole through the wall into the adjoining house. They would then storm through the hole, turn out any non-combatants* and secure the house. And so on. But on the 15th they were forced to concede some ground and spent the day erecting parapets on the rooftops out of ‘gaily painted doors and sandbags’.

* In his ‘General Order’ of 6 September 1857, Wilson had told his men to give ‘no quarter’ to the mutineers. But for the ‘sake of humanity, and the honour of the country they belong to’, he asked them ‘to spare all women and children that may come in their way’. On the whole this request was adhered to. Able-bodied men, on the other hand, were invariably ‘taken for rebels and shot’. Mainodin Hassan Khan, the rebel kotwal of Delhi, recorded: ‘The green as well as the dry trees were consumed; the guiltless shared the same fate as the guilty. As innocent Christians fell victims on the 11th of May, so the same evil fate befel the Mahommedans on the 20th September, 1857. The gallows slew those who had escaped the sword.’ (Two Native Narratives, 72.)

The following day the 61st Foot took the magazine and Lang was given the task of setting up a battery to play on the Selimgarh Fort and neighbouring Royal Palace. Yet Wilson’s spirits were lower than ever. ‘Our force is too weak for this street fighting, where we have to gain our way inch by inch,’ he informed his wife on the 16th. As Wilson’s letter of the 15th mentioned, part of the problem was drunkenness, particularly among his European and Sikh troops who had got hold of an ‘immense quantity of wines, spirits and beer’ and were ‘incapable of doing their duty’.

On 17 September the 52nd Light Infantry occupied the Bank of Delhi on the Chandni Chauk (‘Silver Bazaar’), the famous main street of jewellers and cloth merchants that ran from the Red Fort to the Lahore Gate. Also that day Hodson’s spies reported that most of the mutineers had already fled the city in the direction of Mathura, and that those remaining were about to follow. This news reinvigorated Wilson, who told his wife that the rebels appeared to be ‘very disheartened’ and that he would not be surprised ‘to find the whole City with exception to the Palace evacuated in two or three days’.

Unknown to Wilson until the following day, the King of Delhi and his family had left the Red Fort during the afternoon of the 18th and taken refuge in Humayun’s tomb,* six miles south of the city. Bakht Khan is said to have begged the King to accompany him and a large force to Lucknow. But the King refused and Bakht Khan departed without him, taking as many men as he could muster. With the rebel garrison greatly reduced, Wilson’s men made significant gains on the 19th, notably the Burn Bastion, which was captured by Lang, Roberts and fewer than fifty men. Even now Wilson’s letters to his wife were only cautiously optimistic. ‘We are . . . progressing favourably through bombarding the City and gradually seizing strong posts,’ he wrote.

* Humayun (1530-56) was the second of the six great Mogul Emperors.

The following day it was all over. First Lang and Roberts repeated their feat of the previous day by taking the Lahore Gate from the rear with a small force; then they advanced up the deserted Chandni Chouk, ‘finding none but dead and wounded Pandies, and wondering at our finding our way all clear before us’. Meanwhile a separate column had occupied the Jama Masjid and Ensign McQueen of the 4th Punjab Infantry had ascertained that the Red Fort was all but denuded of defenders. So Lang and Roberts pushed on to the Lahore Gate of the fort. Powder was brought by another engineer officer, Lieutenant Home, and the outer gate was blown in. ‘As soon as the smoke of the explosion died away,’ recalled Roberts, ‘the 60th [Rifles], supported by the 4th Punjab Infantry, sprang through the gateway; but we did not get far, for there was a second door beyond, chained and barred, which was with difficulty forced open, when the whole party rushed in. The recesses in the long passage which led to the palace buildings were crowded with wounded men, but there was very little opposition, for only a few fanatics still held out.’

According to Lang, the race to ‘sit first in the crystal throne of the Moghuls in the Diwan-i-Khas’ was between an officer named Murray and a private of the 60th. He does not mention the victor, but adds:

British soldiers and Sikhs rummaged all the swell private rooms and marble baths of the Zenana. All the valuables seemed to have been taken away, and what was left the troops seized and tossed about. I took a little book which I say was a present from the Prince of Bokhara to the Delhi family! It was in an elegant private room in the Zenana; there I took too five pachisi* markers of glass which young princesses had been playing with just before their flight: but no real valuable plunder are we allowed to take.

* An Indian game similar to ludo.

Wilson’s ‘General Order’ of 6 September had prohibited ‘indiscriminate plunder’ and instead appointed prize agents to collect and sell ‘all captured property’ with the proceeds divided ‘fairly among all men engaged’. It was widely ignored as both officers and men ‘appropriated to their own use much treasure that ought to have gone towards swelling the general fund’. Nevertheless, goods worth more than £350,000 were handed in. And honesty did not pay because, shortly after the fall of Delhi, Canning countermanded Wilson’s order by forbidding the payment of prize money for goods stolen from British subjects, which the Indians technically were. The official reward for the victors of Delhi was restricted to the standard campaign batta of 36 rupees and 10 annas for privates and 450 rupees for lieutenants. The soldiers were incensed and took care not to surrender plunder during subsequent operations. Eventually the Indian government gave in to public pressure in Britain and agreed to distribute the prize money for Delhi in two instalments: the first in 1862, the second in 1865. The basic share for privates was £17 (almost a year’s pay); ensigns received five shares, captains eleven and a half and Wilson, the Commander-in-Chief, a sixteenth of the total, ‘an immense sum’.

That evening, 20 September, Lang and others celebrated the taking of Delhi by riding their horses up the steps of the Jama Masjid, dancing jigs and drinking toasts of beer and brandy. Sikh soldiers celebrated by lighting fires in the sacred mosque.

The following morning Wilson established his headquarters in the Diwan-i-Khas. One of his first visitors was Hodson, who had discovered that Bahadur Shah and the principal members of his family were sheltering in Humayun’s tomb. Hodson volunteered to arrest them, pointing out that ‘victory would be incomplete if the King and his male relatives were allowed to remain at large’. Wilson replied that the enterprise was too dangerous. Even when Hodson enlisted the support of Neville Chamberlain, Wilson ‘would not consent to any force being sent after them, and it was with considerable reluctance that he agreed to Hodson going on this hazardous duty with some of his men only’. Hodson set off at once with a hundred horsemen and soon reached the tomb, a magnificent structure of red sandstone inlaid with white marble whose grounds were thronged with thousands of armed retainers. Halting at the gateway, he sent in two emissaries to negotiate with Bahadur Shah. In return for surrendering, his life and that of his favourite wife, Begum Zinat Mahal, and her son, Mirza Jawan Bakht, would be guaranteed. After two hours of tense negotiations, Bahadur Shah and the Begum appeared in a gharry and Hodson escorted them back to Delhi, where they were placed under an armed guard in the Begum’s house in Chandi Chauk.

Bahadur Shah remained in Delhi until his trial in January 1858,* a figure of curiosity for the many Europeans who found it hard to believe that this was the man in whose name the rebellion had begun. Among his visitors was ‘Butcher’ Vibart, who had more reason to resent him than most, but who actually felt more pity than anger. Vibart recorded:

* Bahadur Shah was arraigned before a military commission at Delhi on 27 January 1858 on charges of rebellion, treason and murder. After a trial lasting forty days, he was found guilty on all counts, but no sentence was passed because Hodson had guaranteed his life. Instead the government exiled him, Begum Zinat Mahal and the surviving members of his family to Rangoon. He died there in 1862.

At the door stood a European sentry, but I had no difficulty in gaining admittance, and there I saw, sitting cross-legged on a native bedstead, on which he was rocking himself to and fro, a small and attenuated old man apparently between eighty and ninety years of age, with a long white beard, and almost totally blind. He was repeating to himself, in a low but audible murmur, some verses of the Koran, or it may be of some of his own poetical compositions — for he aspired to be a poet — and he certainly looked an object of pity and compassion . . . and not feeling inclined to disturb them by making any remarks, I merely stood and gazed for a while in silence on this woe-begone picture of fallen greatness, and then left the poor old man still mumbling to himself in the solitude of his dreary apartment.

On 24 September, having convinced Wilson of the need to arrest the King’s sons, Hodson returned to Humayun’s tomb. Lieutenant Macdowell, Hodson’s second-in-command, takes up the story:

We started at eight o’clock, and halted half a mile from the tomb where the Princes were. Close by were about 3,000 of their Mussalmen followers, so it was rather a ticklish bit of work. We sent in to say the Princes must give themselves up unconditionally, or take the consequences. A long half hour elapsed, when a messenger came out to say the Princes wished to know if their lives would be promised them if they came out. ‘Unconditional surrender,’ was the answer. Again we waited. It was a most anxious time . . . We heard the shouts of the fanatics . . . begging the Princes to lead them on against us. And we had only one hundred men and were six miles from Delhi. At length . . . they resolved to give themselves up . . . Soon the Princes [two of the King’s sons, Mirza Mogul and Mirza Kizr Sultan, and his grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr] appeared in a cart. Behind them thronged about 2,000 or 3,000 Mussulmans (I am not exaggerating).

Hodson told ten sowars to hurry the princes into the city while he and the rest of his men kept back the mob. The best way to do this, Hodson reasoned, would be to disarm the crowd. So accompanied by just four men he entered the garden in front of the tomb and ordered the men there to lay down their arms. Macdowell recorded: ‘There was a murmur. He reiterated the command and (God knows why, I never can understand it) they commenced doing so.’

When all the weapons had been thrown into a cart, Hodson and his men set off for Delhi, overtaking the princes and their small escort about a mile from the city walls. ‘I came up just in time,’ wrote Hodson, ‘as a large crowd had collected and were turning on the guard. I rode in among them at a gallop, and in a few words appealed to the crowd, saying that these were the butchers who had murdered and brutally used helpless women and children, and that the Government had now sent their punishment: seizing a carbine from one of my men, I deliberately shot them one after another.’ Hodson’s version of events is open to question. According to Macdowell, there was no overt threat from the crowd when Hodson caught up with the princes and declared: ‘I think we had better shoot them here. We shall never get them in.’ He did not help his cause by stripping the princes of some signet rings, a turquoise armlet and their swords. Forced to relinquish the jewellery, he was determined to hang on to at least one sword. ‘If I ever part with it,’ he wrote, ‘it shall be to . . . our Good Queen . . . Tombs declares I shall get a CB . . . and, between ourselves, I ought to have anything they can give me, for it was a fearful risk.’ Reaction to Hodson’s summary executions was mixed. Most British officers at Delhi thought the princes had got their just deserts. Even Wilson was supportive, telling his wife that two of the princes ‘have been most virulent against us’ and that ‘Hodson, as a Partizan Officer, has not his equal’. But others, further afield, were not convinced the shootings were necessary, and Hodson’s battered reputation suffered still further.

On 23 September, the day after Hodson shot the princes, Nicholson at last succumbed to the wound he had received on the 14th. He had spent most of the intervening period high on morphine, though in his more lucid moments he dictated a number of messages, including one to Sir John Lawrence, begging him to replace Wilson with Chamberlain. Other — more personal — notes were to his mother and Herbert Edwardes. Many officers, including Roberts, tried to visit Nicholson on his deathbed, but were turned away by the faithful Muhammad Hayat Khan, who did not want his master disturbed. Told on the 20th that Delhi had fallen, Nicholson replied that his last wish had ‘been granted’. Two days later he was too weak to say more than a few words to Chamberlain. The following day, at one in the afternoon, he died.

Much of British India was grief-stricken — but no one was hit harder than Herbert Edwardes in Peshawar. ‘I feel as if all happiness has gone out of my public career,’ he telegraphed to Chamberlain. ‘It was a pleasure even to behold him. And then his nature was so fully equal to his frame! So undaunted, so noble, so tender, so good, so stern to evil, so single-minded, so generous, so heroic, yet so modest. I never saw another like him, and never expect to do so. And to have had him for a brother, and now to lose him in the prime of life. It is an inexpressible and irreparable grief.’ Of the old Punjab hands only Sir John Lawrence, with whom he had crossed swords in the past, was less than fulsome in his praise, though even Lawrence was prepared to acknowledge that he had played the major role in the victory at Delhi. As for Wilson, he mourned the passing of that ‘fine fellow Nicholson’ with the words: ‘What an assistance he would have been to me.’

Nicholson’s funeral took place on 24 September in the newly prepared cemetery between the Kashmir Gate and Ludlow Castle. It was a sombre occasion: no ‘Dead March’, no volleys over the grave. Just a large, respectful crowd of Europeans, Gurkhas, Pathans and Afghans, led by the chief mourner, Neville Chamberlain. Only after the grave had been filled in did Nicholson’s frontier horsemen give vent to their grief by throwing themselves on the ground and weeping. Ensign Wilberforce, who was present, recorded:

Probably not one of these men had ever shed a tear; but for them Nicholson was everything. For him they left their frontier homes, for him they had forsaken their beloved hills to come down to the detested plains; they acknowledged none but him, they served none but him. They believed, as others, that the bullet was not cast, the sword not ground, that could hurt him; over and over again in the frontier skirmishes they had seen Nicholson pass unharmed where others must have been killed; and now that the earth was placed on his coffin, they threw their tradition to the wind.

Fred Roberts was among those who missed the funeral. As it took place, he was marching out of Delhi with a mobile column of 2,650 men* and sixteen guns, under Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Greathed of the 8th Foot, sent in pursuit of the ‘flying Rebels’. Roberts later described their route along the Chandni Chauk as a ‘veritable city of the dead’. He added: ‘Dead bodies were strewn about in all directions, in every attitude that the death-struggle had caused them to assume, and in every stage of decomposition . . . Here a dog gnawed at an uncovered limb, there a vulture, disturbed by our approach from its loathsome meal, but too completely gorged to fly, fluttered away to a safer distance . . . Our horses seemed to feel the horror of it as much as we did, for they shook and snorted in evident terror.’

* 750 British and 1,900 Indian troops, including detachments from the 9th Lancers, 8th and 75th Foot, 1st, 2nd and 5th Punjab Cavalry, 2nd and 4th Punjab Infantry, Bengal Sappers and Miners.

General Wilson remained at Delhi until 4 October, when he was relieved by General Penny and given two months’ sick leave with his wife in the hills. For his services at Delhi he was successively awarded a CB, a knighthood, a baronetcy — Sir Archdale Wilson of Delhi — and finally a pension of £1,000 a year. No mention was made in public of his hesitant — almost defeatist — conduct at Delhi until much later. And yet if men of the calibre of Chamberlain, Baird-Smith and, above all, Nicholson, had not stood up to him, he might well have withdrawn his troops from Delhi — an act whose consequences could have been fatal for British India. As it was, the success of the assault was in the balance for at least four days, a fact not lost on Wilson himself. ‘Had the fellows had any pluck,’ wrote Wilson to his brother on 27 September, ‘our small Force must have been annihilated, after getting into the City, which is built of brick houses each a fortification with few exceptions, narrow winding streets, and large masses of shops and buildings. It is only by God’s Providence in putting dismay into the Rebels’ hearts, that we have succeeded . . . I trust my success will have the effect of cutting the neck of the Rebellion, but there is much to be done yet.’

No sooner had news of Delhi’s capture reached Agra than the authorities there* were urging Wilson to move to their assistance ‘with a large moveable Column’. But it was as much as Wilson could do to scrape together the troops that he did. The retaking of Delhi had cost the British 992 killed and 2,845 wounded,† out of an effective force that was never more than 10,000 men. Many hundreds more had died of disease and exposure. Most of the seven European regiments were down to barely two hundred effectives. All were ‘sadly disorganized’, ill-disciplined and, according to Wilson, ‘badly commanded from the loss of most of their old Officers’. Yet Wilson was not disheartened. ‘If Havelock could only relieve Lucknow and move up this way,’ he wrote on 22 September, ‘the whole rebellion could be put down.’

* John Colvin, the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces, had died of a mysterious illness on 9 September. E. A. Reade, the next senior civilian, assumed charge of the Agra administration until Calcutta appointed a military officer, Colonel Hugh Fraser of the Bengal Engineers, as Colvin’s replacement with the inferior rank of chief commissioner. Colonel Cotton continued as military chief.

† The casualties of the three corps that bore the brunt of the fighting at Delhi were as follows: 60th Rifles, 389 out of 640 men; Sirmur Battalion, 319 out of 540; Corps of Guides, 303 out of 550.

Battle of Baliqao 1860


General Collineau’s column stormed Baliqiao bridge, which ivas defended by Qing Imperial Guard. According to all accounts, these Qing troops were the most determined and professional of the Chinese forces.

The Battle of Baliqao was the culmination of the Second Opium War. An Anglo – French force of 4000 men soundly defeated a Qing Army of 30,000 east of Beijing. The allied victory was followed by the sacking of the Imperial Summer Palace northwest of the city, and the conclusion of the conflict.

Prince Seng-ko-lin-Chin, one of the most successful Qing generals and Prince Sengbao, brother of the Emperor, blocked the road to Beijing with troops drawn from the Green Standard Army, reinforced by Imperial Guard troops of the Banner Army. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Anglo – French force led by French General Cousin de Montauban and British General Sir John Hope Grant attacked the Qing positions at the front and flank. After hard fighting the Qing cavalry was repulsed. The Imperial Guard held the bridge at Baliqao, but French artillery, and a determined bayonet charge by experienced infantry, dislodged them with heavy losses for the Chinese.

The Second Opium War

The Second Opium War (1856-60) was brought to an end by the battle of Baliqiao (Palikao), which involved an Anglo-French advance guard of 4000 troops against a Qing army of 30,000 men. The five-hour engagement ended with a clear victory for the Allied forces, and with Beijing (Peking) at their mercy. In the days following the battle, the Anglo-French forces seized the Imperial Summer Palace northwest of the capital and sacked it. The battle of Baliqiao was not, however, a victory of an army with superior technology against an antiquated foe. Indeed, the technological disparities were minimal; the victory went to the more disciplined army with a superior officer corps. As was the case in Afghanistan in 1842, technology rarely decided the victory in wars of empire.

Rather, the key to victory was the European powers’ determination, aided by domestic factors among the conquered peoples. The sacking of the Imperial Summer Palace in September I860 was not a foregone conclusion. As with many of the colonial wars, the Second Opium War had begun with a humiliating defeat at the hands of the indigenous armies.

The Second Opium War began when the Chinese Imperial Government refused to comply with unfavourable commercial agreements forced upon them at the end of the First Opium War (1839-42). The China trade, in opium and other goods from India, was vital to Britain’s burgeoning imperial economy. For France, the emergence of the Second French Empire meant the attainment of Bonapartist glory on the European peripheries, as in the Crimean War (1854-56) or further extension of the empire in North Africa. At the moment a French military expedition prepared to sail for China in spring 1859, Napoleon III intended on committing the vast majority of his army to a major war in Italy. There were few troops to spare, and no more than a division was dispatched to Asia under General Count Cousin de Montauban (1796-1878). The French expeditionary force consisted of two brigades of infantry and a small cavalry contingent.

The British committed a division as well, and drew forces more easily from India, where they maintained a significant military presence; their expedition was commanded by General Sir James Hope Grant (1808-1875).

The Taku Forts

The governments in Britain and France wanted a rapid conclusion to this commercial war. The British and French commanders developed a strategy of the direct approach, seizing the port of Tangku and advancing rapidly upon Beijing along the Peiho river, compelling the Chinese to accept terms. The British sent Lord Elgin (1811- 1863), and the French, Baron Gros to accompany the armies and offer terms as quickly as possible. Anglo- French hubris was fortified by the speedy destruction of Chinese junks hardly capable of offering anything but targets to the combined Allied fleet.

The attempt to force their way past the Taku Forts, protecting the port, was met with unexpected fierce resistance, however, and a humiliating repulse. At the end of July I860, the Allied fleets landed their expeditionary forces and laid siege to the forts, taking them after fierce fighting, by the end of August. The Chinese Imperial Army, commanded by Mongol general Prince Seng-ko-lin-ch’in, tried to disrupt the siege but was repelled. The prince withdrew to the road to Beijing, hoping to stop the Anglo-French army as it advanced beyond the support of the guns of the European fleet.

The Qing Army

Prince Seng-ko-lin-ch’in was an experienced and successful general who had won a number of impressive battles against the Nien and Taiping rebels. At the time of the Second Opium War, two rebellions – the Taiping in southern China, and the Nien in central and eastern China – wracked the country. The Qing (Manchu) Dynasty had ruled China since the seventeenth century. Its military might was impressive, and extended at one time from Xiangiang to Mongolia to Indochina and Burma. The organization of its armies through the eighteenth century provided well-trained men and highly skilled officers of a professional standing army. The primary forces of the Qing were the Eight Banners armies. To police the interior, and ensure provincial security, the Qing created the Green Standard Army. Green Standard troops were dispersed throughout the empire, and by the nineteenth century officers were rotated from garrison to garrison frequently to prevent them from developing bonds with their troops – a product of the paranoia caused by internal rebellion.

The vast majority of the troops under the command of Seng-ko-lin-ch’in were Green Standard soldiers, supplemented by Banner troops and cavalry. Unlike the infantry of the Banner armies, the cavalry remained relatively provincial and largely Mongol. The weapon used by the Chinese element of Seng-ko-lin-ch’in’s cavalry was primarily the lance, but it had little adequate battlefield training. For their part, the Mongols rode smaller steppe ponies and used the bow and lance. As the army withdrew closer to the imperial capital, the prince was reinforced by troops of the Imperial Guard, whose yellow silk clothing edged with black made a distinct impression on the battlefield.

The Chinese did not suffer from a lack of firepower. They had invented gunpowder, and their infantry carried muskets, but unlike their European contemporaries, both the Banner and Green Standard armies were equipped with flintlocks. Prince Seng-ko-lin-ch’in’s troops had, until recently, been armed with matchlocks! The flintlock provided an increased rate of fire over the matchlock, but they remained smooth-bore, and therefore limited in range and accuracy. They did not, however, lack artillery. The prince’s army boasted more than 100 cannon to support approximately 20,000 cavalry, including 6000 Mongols, and 10,000 infantry.

Victory at Chang chi wan: 18 September 1860

After failing at Tangku, Prince Seng-ko-lin-ch’in withdrew his army to Tanjian and then to Chang chi wan. There he waited for the Allied advance guard to approach the open ground where he could take full advantage of his superiority in cavalry. The Allied commanders, Grant and Montauban, coordinated their march as well as one could expect of Anglo-French cooperation. The French had little cavalry, not more than a troop of Spahis and Chasseurs d’Afrique, and therefore advanced with the Peiho River on their right and the British column to their left. General Grant’s command included the brigade of cavalry, which guarded the Allied left as they advanced along the Peiho. Combined, Montauban and Grant’s forces numbered 3000.

Grant and Montauban marched on Chang chi wan. On 18 September, reinforced by the arrival of Michel’s British battalions and more artillery, the Allies advanced towards Toung-chou (Tungzhou). A short distance before Chang chi wan, Grant and Montauban spied 15,000 of Seng-ko-lin-ch’in’s army deployed in a wide arc more than 5km (3 miles) in length. Artillery covered their front, with infantry in the town on the Allied left. The prince hoped to dissuade the Allies from continuing their advance. The British and French deployed their guns, which supported the rapid advance of the French and British columns. The Chinese possessed far more cannon, but their pieces were in a poor state, and the powder compromised. Accurate Allied gunnery, particularly from the British Armstrong rifled cannon, took a devastating toll on the cavalry. The infantry advanced with great discipline, and the combined effort of artillery fire, volleys and esprit de corps shattered the resolve of Seng-ko-lin-ch’in’s troops. His army fled, leaving 1500 dead and 60 guns on the field to 35 Allied casualties.

Battle of Baliqiao (Palikao): 21 September 1860

The victory at Chang chi wan over vastly superior lbrd. es gave Grant and Montauban even greater confidence in reaching the capital. As the Allies were en route to Toung-chou, the 101st Regiment under General Jamin arrived, further increasing French strength. After spending the night ; encamped outside the walled town, Grant and Montauban followed a canal tributary of the Peiho towards Baliqiao and its stone bridge, which carried the metalled road to the imperial capital. On the morning of 21 September, as the British and French columns moved out of their encampments past Toung- chou, they found Prince Seng-ko-lin-ch’in’s army, reinforced by Imperial Guard soldiers under General Prince Sengbaou, brother of the emperor. Some 30,000 strong, it stood in position before Baliqiao bridge.

The Chinese position was formidable, with its left on the canal, reinforced by the village of Baliqiao, another village in the centre, and a third on the far right. The road to Beijing passed through the rolling and wooded terrain and veered towards the canal and its stone bridge. Seng-ko-lin- ch’in had brought order to his routed army, and strengthened its resolve with several thousand troops from Beijing. The prince’s position was supported by more than 100 guns in the villages, across the canal defending the bridge, and along the entire front. His army included a division of Banner soldiers, but the majority were drawn from the Green Standard Army and assorted cavalry. The Imperial Guard were kept in reserve at the bridge, but the main army under Sengbaou was disposed with strong cavalry on the flanks deployed in depth of squadrons and interspersed between the infantry battalions in and behind the villages. The Chinese front covered a distance of 5km (3 miles) but lacked substantial depth. Yet, there were significant knots of trees, which obstructed the line of sight of both armies.

Keeping to the line of battle used at Chang chi wan, Grant took the left and Montauban the centre and right with the canal to protect his flank. Montauban used the wooded terrain to mask his paltry numbers, sending the first column in a slightly oblique attack against the Chinese centre. General Jamin would move to Collineau’s right and against the Chinese left. Grant moved to the far left of Collineau, hoping to flank the Qing army with his column. General Collineau’s advance guard comprised the elite companies of the 101st and 102nd Regiments, two companies of the 2nd Chasseurs a pied (elite light infantry), an engineer detachment, two batteries of horse artillery and a battery of 4-pound foot artillery. Montauban and Jamin commanded the 101st Regiment along with two more companies of the 2nd Chasseurs a pied, a battery of 12-pounders and a Congreve rocket section.

Collineau’s infantry advanced through the woods towards the Chinese centre. The rapidity of the movement startled Sengbaou, and he moved much of the cavalry from the wings to protect his centre. The French advance guard moved in skirmish order, and formed out along the road towards Baliqiao. Montauban ordered Jamin’s brigade forward. Two large bodies of Qing cavalry, some 12,000 in all, charged each of the French columns. Collineau’s artillery poured fire into the serried ranks of Mongol and Manchu cavalry, while the elite companies found security in the ditch that ran along the main road. Accurate fire took its toll on the cavalry, but Collineau soon found himself embroiled in hand-to-hand fighting around his position. Generals Montauban and Jamin also managed to deploy their guns and fire with devastating effect while their infantry formed two squares just before the cavalry hit their position. The French 12-pound battery was positioned between Collineau and Jamin’s brigades and continued to pour canister into the enemy. After some time, the cavalry broke off their attack, having failed to break the French squares or overrun Collineau’s precarious position. The respite allowed Montauban to take stock, re-form and advance upon the villages held by the Green Standard battalions.

Cavalry Redeployed

Sengbaou and Seng-ko-lin-ch’in did not renew their cavalry assault, as Grant’s column moved against their right. Montauban could not see the British advance because he was in one of the squares during the attack. Grant’s appearance forced the Qing generals to redeploy their cavalry to the flank, thereby allowing Montauban to attack the village closest to the centre. With an abundance of cavalry, it remains unclear why Singbaou or Seng-ko-lin-ch’in did not leave a substantial body to retard the advance of the French. Grant’s force was larger, had more guns and cavalry, and one can only surmise that they perceived this threat to the flank as a priority and underestimated the elan of the French assault.

The 101st stormed the village of Oua-kaua-ye in the centre, dispersing with ease the infantry defending it, and suffering little from their ineffective artillery. Following up, Montauban ordered both brigades to attack the village of Baliqiao, which was defended by more determined troops. Qing infantry defended the road across which Collineau advanced. His elite companies made short and bloody work of these soldiers and continued towards the village. Large cannon in the streets and across the canal fired on the French columns. Jamin brought up his batteries to silence the Chinese guns while the infantry moved in from two directions. The village and bridge at Baliqiao were defended by the Imperial Guard. These soldiers did not give ground. Collineau brought his cannon up to form crossfire with Jamin’s batteries.

Collineau Storms the Village

After tearing the Imperial Guard troops apart, Collineau formed his troops into an attack column and stormed the village. Fighting raged at close quarters for more than 30 minutes. Montauban led the 101st to Collineau’s support securing the village. Not wanting to lose momentum, Collineau re-formed his command and advanced rapidly upon the bridge, with the French batteries providing effective and deadly fire. The Chinese artillerists manning their guns were killed, and the Imperial Guard gave ground under the canister, followed by Collineau’s attack. The bridge was taken.

Grant’s column helped the Chinese along as its attack on the left dislodged the Green Standard troops from their village, while the British and Indian cavalry rolled up the line, overwhelming Qing cavalry that tried to hold their ground. The British attack was swift, but hard-fought. Grant’s line of attack brought him within sight of a wooden bridge that crossed the canal some 1.6km (1 mile) west of Baliqiao. The arrival of the British on Seng-ko-lin-ch’in’s far right, and the collapse of his forces in the face of their attack, compelled the general to pull his army from the field before it was trapped on the far bank of the canal. By noon, only five hours after the battle began, Grant’s British were on the far side of the canal across the wooden bridge, while Collineau’s elite companies established a bridgehead at Baliqiao. The victory sealed the fate of the imperial government.

The Allied expedition sacked the Imperial Summer Palace northwest of Beijing, and the emperor capitulated to European demands. Napoleon III, flush with victory over Austria the year before, rewarded Montauban with elevation to the rank of Count of the Empire, as Comte de Palikao’. Little did Montauban know that he would end his illustrious career as Minister of War in 1870, presiding over the collapse of the Second Empire and the fall of France to German armies.

The Ukrainian Model 2017 T-64 tank

With the war in eastern Ukraine dragging into its sixth year, the government in Kiev is buying upgraded models of a Cold War tank in an effort to outmatch Russia-backed rebels.

The Ukrainian army has acquired around 150 “T-64 2017s” since 2018, Radio Free Europe reported.

The T-64 is unique among Soviet-style tanks. A departure and major advancement compared to existing tanks when it first appeared in the early 1960s, the T-64 actually is more Ukrainian than it is Russian. The Lviv Tank Plant factory that builds the T-64 is in Ukraine. And today the Ukrainian army is the major user of the type.

The T-64 introduced a number of advancements, including a new diesel engine. It also replaces the human loader with an automatic device for ramming shells into the breech, reducing the overall crew to just three people and saving weight. The T-64 was the first Soviet tanks with the now-standard 125-millimeter smooth-bore cannon, which in upgraded T-64Bs can fire a guided missile through its tube.

The Soviets never exported the T-64, preferring to sell cheaper, simpler T-55s, T-62s and T-72s. Throughout the later decades of the Cold War, thousands of T-64s equipped Soviet armies, primed to wage apocalyptic tank war with American M-1s, German Leopards and British Challengers.

The T-64 was more than adequate to the task. “This particular tank was provided with certain capabilities that were more advanced than NATO tanks that would not appear for an additional 15 or 16 years,” U.S. Army major James Warford concluded in a 1992 thesis.

When the Soviet Union broke up, Ukraine inherited hundreds of T-64s … and the factory that built the tanks. The rebuilt T-64BM Bulat introduced new armor and a so-called “active defense” system than shoots projectiles in order to intercept incoming rockets. The current T-64 2017 adds modern thermal imagers, secure digital communications and satellite navigation.

During the modernization, the combat vehicle is equipped with modern night-vision devices with third-generation image intensifiers. Thanks to high-quality components, they have high resistance to light disturbances and provide work in difficult conditions. They are not sensitive to flash, even when the enemy uses special impediments in the infrared range.

In addition, the modernized tank features a thermal imager that detects, recognizes and eliminates the enemy with a 125mm cannon at any time of the day and in all weather conditions.

According to the report, the 2017 T-64 also received a new dynamic protection that greatly enhances the level of defense of the combat vehicle and effectively counteracts all modern anti-tank means of defeat.

According to Ukroboronprom, in 2017, the tank took part in the NATO-led Strong Europe Tank Challenge and was shown during a parade on the occasion of Ukraine’s Independence Day in 2018.

When eastern separatists—armed, supplied and reinforced by Russian agents—rose up in April 2014, demanding to split away from Kiev and join Moscow, Ukraine sent T-64s into combat.

And thanks to Russia, so did at least one rebel group. In June 2014, NATO published satellite imagery supposedly showing unmarked T-64s crossing from Russia into Ukraine. Six days later, Twitter user @mstyslav9 posted a photo they claimed depicted a T-64 belonging to the Donetsk People’s Republic separatist army.

It’s possible Moscow sent T-64s because it could then convincingly argue that the rebels had gotten the tanks from Kiev’s armories, rather than from Russia.

To clarify that the T-64s are not stolen Ukrainian examples, the Ukrainian government showed off a captured rebel T-64. “T-64BV under this serial number was issued in October 1987 at the Kharkov Tank Factory and sent to a military unit, which at that time [was] stationed in Russia,” Kiev asserted, according to Jane’s.

The Ukrainian government added that it had traced newly-built components on the tank to a factory in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Jane’s concluded that the rebels possessed at least three, and as many as “double figures” T-64s—but cautioned against alarm. “The presence of [main battle tanks] operating in rebel hands is undoubtedly a highly unwelcome development for the Ukrainian military, however their practical utility may be limited.”

 “Unless supported by combined arms forces, [main battle tanks] can prove highly vulnerable to attack from air power, infantry armed with anti-tank guided weapons and other MBTs,” Jane’s stated. “Additionally, they require a significant supply chain to maintain in the field.”

In light of tanks’ huge appetite for fuel, parts and repairs, it makes sense that Russia would supply T-64s to its rebel proxies instead of other tank models. The T-64 is, more than anything else, a Ukrainian tank—having been manufactured in that country. Rebels shouldn’t have too much trouble finding local people who can help maintain the vehicles.

But with recent upgrades, Kiev’s T-64’s are much more sophisticated, and possibly more reliable, than the rebels’ own T-64s are.

Washington Naval Treaty – Winners and Losers

Two of the French Navy’s early treaty cruisers at Toulon during the early 1930s. The ship on the left is either Duquesne or Tourville; the cruiser on the right is Suffren. The two early ships were virtually unprotected, whereas the later Suffren had a narrow 50mm waterline belt over her machinery. She can be identified here by the twin aircraft catapults abaft the second funnel.


The United States attained most of its objectives at Washington: nominal parity with the world’s premier naval power, the British Empire; the termination of a financially unsustainable naval arms race at a point which favoured the US Navy; an end to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, together with a statutory margin of superiority (a ratio of 10:6) over the Imperial Japanese Navy in the crucial capital ship category; and a set of ancillary treaties backed by all the major European powers which would hopefully restrain Japanese expansionism on the Asian mainland. The only major concession was the agreement not to build new military bases (nor to fortify existing ones) in the Philippines or on Guam. This would make the defence of the latter territories against an attack by Japan more difficult, and would imply the despatch of a large expeditionary fleet supported by an array of auxiliary vessels across the broad expanses of the Pacific in the event of conflict.

The United States was a colonial power only by default, not by intention or inclination; Guam had been inherited and the Philippines purchased cheaply following the successful outcome of the war against Spain in 1898. The United States, unlike its co-signatories of the Washington Treaty, was also a nation rich in natural resources. It required only markets overseas for its manufactured goods, hence its espousal of free trade as the first principle of international relations. The great European colonial empires, on the other hand, were predicated on the need not just for markets but for the raw materials from which to produce their manufactured goods. It was the scramble for colonies in Africa and Asia which at the turn of the century had become the focus of European rivalry, whereas it was the conflict between imperialism (which implied exclusive or protected markets) and the principle of free trade which would continue to create tensions between the United States and the other powers, particularly Japan. During the 1930s an increasingly isolationist United States would attempt to resolve the strategic problem presented by the defence of the Philippines by preparing to grant that nation full independence, with its own armed forces. This would enable US security to be focused on the Alaska/Hawaii/Panama triangle favoured by the Republican administration of President Herbert Hoover.

The immense distances involved in naval operations in the Pacific: 5,000 miles or more from the West Coast of the United States to the Western Pacific, 3,000 miles from Pearl Harbor. In the period which followed the Great War the US Navy planned to develop Guam as a forward naval base. Guam could protect US interests both in the Philippines and in China, and has been compared to ‘a lancet pointed to Japan’s side’.1 Under the terms of the Washington Treaty, the USA renounced its right to develop and fortify Guam in return for Japanese acceptance of a 5:3 ratio in capital ships. The US Navy now had to accept that any military expedition to the Western Pacific would have to be conducted by large warships with great endurance, and these would have to be supported by a ‘fleet train’ of supporting vessels and large floating docks. Successive Republican administrations, the natural instincts of which were isolationist, would focus America’s defence on a Pearl Harbor/Alaska/Panama ‘strategic triangle’ which was essentially defensive in its orientation. Britain was compelled to choose between Australia and Singapore for its own forward defensive base, and opted for the latter primarily because it guarded the gateway to the Indian Ocean. This, however, left Hong Kong, halfway between Singapore and the Japanese home islands, out on a limb. Although the intention of Article XIX of the treaty was to make the Western Pacific a ‘zone of peace’, it also had the effect of making Japan the dominant military power in the region.


The British came home from Washington shaken, but having nevertheless secured an end to a naval arms race the country simply could not afford, as well as a network of treaties which on the face of it appeared to guarantee the international stability necessary for the security of the British Empire. However, numerous concessions had had to be made from what was essentially a position of economic and political weakness. The Washington Treaty marked an end to British naval supremacy, leaving Britain with less leverage when dealing with other powers. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was dead, which meant that the Imperial Japanese Navy, built largely with British expertise and assistance, would no longer be able to ‘mind the shop’ in South-east Asia on Britain’s behalf. On the contrary, with Britain’s decision to align herself more closely with the United States, Japan became a potential threat to her possessions in South-east Asia and to the dominions of Australia and New Zealand. These territories could now be defended only by the despatch of a large expeditionary fleet to Singapore, which would have to be further developed (at considerable expense) as a major base. However, whereas the expeditionary fleet envisaged by US policy would be the main US Fleet based on Pearl Harbor, any such British fleet would have to be transferred from the British Isles or from the Mediterranean, and such a transfer could take place only if there were a stable political situation in Europe. The 5:5:3 ratio (for Britain–USA–Japan) agreed at Washington made it impossible for Britain to have material superiority in both European waters and the Far East, and the growing crisis in Europe during the late 1930s would compel Britain to back-track on its assurances to the South Pacific dominions. By May 1939, the fleet to be dispatched had become a fleet, and the journey time had been extended from forty days to ninety days – by September the Chiefs of Staff were informing the military authorities in Malaya that it could be six months!

The British delegation also failed to secure the total abolition of submarines it had set out to achieve. In this they were unable to convince the French, who were adamant that they needed submarines to compensate for their inferiority in capital ships, or the Americans and Japanese, who were interested in developing submersibles based on the German ‘cruiser’ models for strategic scouting in the broad expanses of the Pacific. The British also lost their fight to preserve the G3 battlecruiser programme, these ships being so far beyond the new limits on displacement as to be unacceptable to the other contracting powers. However, they did secure permission to build two new 16in-gun battleships within the new limits, to counterbalance the Japanese and American 16in-gun ships already building.

Intransigent French resistance to other proposals at the Conference also indirectly benefited the Royal Navy. The United States failed in its efforts to extend the ratio agreed for capital ships to other categories. This meant that there was no legal restriction on the size of the force of cruisers that Britain could keep in service to police her large empire – the current requirement, set on the advice of Admiral John Jellicoe following his tour of the Empire in 1919–20, was for seventy. Unfortunately for the Royal Navy, the high level at which the qualitative limits were set for this type of vessel (10,000 tons with 8in guns) would ensure that the new ‘treaty’ cruisers were unaffordable in the numbers required. This would drive the British to seek a reduction in those limits at both Geneva 1927 and London 1930; it would also compel Britain to accept quantitative limits which effectively restricted the Royal Navy to fifty cruisers at the latter conference to secure an agreement with the United States and Japan.


Although Japan had ambitions to become a great power, and had made immense strides in that direction during the early part of the century, her industrial infrastructure was not yet fully developed, and her people were regarded by the European imperial powers and by the United States as racial inferiors. Despite her powerful modern navy, Japan therefore lacked the necessary economic and political ‘clout’ to secure a favourable outcome at the Washington Conference. Moreover, the IJN delegation to the Washington Conference was divided by personal and political antagonisms. The experienced navy minister, Kato Tomosaburo, who headed the delegation, held to the view that an arms race with the United States was not in Japan’s interest, and was inclined to accept the 6:10 ratio in capital ships offered in return for concessions on the basing of foreign warships close to Japan. However, this ran counter to the views of the ‘Young Turk’ element in the IJN, who opposed any constraint on the development of the navy and who regarded a 7:10 ratio as the minimum compatible with Japan’s security. The insistence on this 7:10 ratio by the younger Kato Kanji, president of the Staff College and chief naval aide at Washington, split the Japanese delegation and ensured that the treaty would never be accepted by the increasingly influential nationalist faction of the IJN.

Some concessions were obtained by Japan, notably the completion of the 16-inch battleship Mutsu, and the non-fortification of naval bases in the Western Pacific, which gave the IJN uncontested naval superiority in East Asian waters. However, the new imperial defence policy drafted in 1922 and published in 1923 would establish the United States as the most likely hypothetical enemy for the army and the navy, and both services would come to regard war as inevitable given US economic expansion in China and anti-Japanese agitation on the US West Coast. Japan would eventually abandon the treaty in 1936, the first of the five contracting powers so to do.

France and Italy

The Italians were quite happy with the outcomes of the conference. The wheeling and dealing on the Pacific theatre, which were fundamental to the key political negotiations for the other major powers, were peripheral to Italian interests, and Italy was flattered by the offer of parity in capital ships with France,2 an offer which constituted a recognition of her recent efforts to build a powerful modern fleet. Italy now had the naval means to support her long-standing colonial ambitions in North Africa, which would ultimately bring her into conflict with Britain and France.

The French, on the other hand, were devastated. The Marine Nationale could not be renewed during the Great War because the workforce in the dockyards had been redirected into the manufacture of guns and munitions for the French Army. By 1918 the Marine Nationale comprised a large and obsolescent fleet of predominantly pre-dreadnought vintage, fit only for the scrapyard. This was the status quo with which the unholy Anglo-Saxon alliance of Britain and the United States confronted the French at Washington. The resulting treaty placed France well below Japan in the permitted tonnage of capital ships (a ratio of nine ships to five), and on a par with the Italian Fleet. This was seen as incompatible with French security obligations. The French Empire stretched from the West Indies to the south-west Pacific, via Africa, the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia, and was second only to the British Empire in scale and importance. French Indochina was even closer to Japan than Malaya and Singapore (and in 1941–42, ironically, would become the platform for the invasion of both). Moreover, France was traditionally a major European power, straddling both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Italy, by contrast, was a relatively new country whose navy needed to operate only in neighbouring waters.

When the French delegation returned to France with the treaty, there was considerable anger at the humiliation inflicted by ‘perfidious Albion’ and its American cousins, and much heated debate took place in the French Parliament before the Washington Treaty was reluctantly ratified in 1923. This made the French even more determined to fend off the inevitable attempts by the other major powers to extend the ratios agreed for capital ships to other categories, particularly cruisers and submarines. The latter types would increasingly take on the role of the defence of French trade and the empire.

In truth France’s humiliation was a result of economic exhaustion in the wake of the Great War. When the Marine Nationale finally embarked on its programme of renewal it found that it could neither afford all the ships it wanted – of the twenty-one treaty cruisers requested post-Washington only seven were built – nor find the shipbuilding or military-industrial capacity to deliver them within the contracted time.


Such then were the successes and disappointments which the delegations took away with them in unequal measure from the conference to their respective countries. The following chapters will consider in detail the effects of the Washington Treaty on the subsequent development of the five navies in terms both of their strategic posture and of the ships they chose to design and build within the constraints of the treaty.


The ‘Arab’ invasion army which defeated the Visigoths at the Transductine Promontories in 711 numbered 12,000 men including only 300 Arab cavalry, the remainder being Berber infantry. However these were reinforced in 712 by another 10-18,000 Arabs and Syrians. In 741 they were further reinforced by the 10,000 survivors (out of27,000) of the Syrian Junds of Homs, Damascus, Jordan, Palestine and Qinnasrin, which had been severely manhandled by Berber rebels in North Africa. Their leader, with the Jordan contingent, settled in Cordoba, the Horns contingent settled in Seville, that of Damascus in Elvira, Qinnasrin in Jaen, and Palestine in Algeciras and Medina Sidonia. It was through these Junds, staunch supporters of his dynasty, that an Umayyad exile, ‘Abd ar-Rabman, became Amir of Cordoba in 756. These Spanish Umayyads assumed the title of Caliph under ‘Abd ar-Rabman III (912-961) and lasted down to 1031, after which the Caliphate disintegrated into a number of minor amirates (the Taifa kingdoms) which were steadily absorbed by the Spaniards until conquered by Murabit Berbers in I 090.

‘Abd ar-Rahman I (756-788) established an army of 40,000 mercenary Berbers imported from North Africa (he distrusted the Junds), as well as a Black Guard- the first recorded regular Negro unit in a Moslem army. The later at least was organised on a decimal basis, consisting of2 units of 1,000 men, each divided into 10 companies of 100.

Thereafter Andalusian Umayyad armies comprised 5 principal elements, these being: (1) the native regulars from those districts owing military service, i. e. the old Junds whose obligations were hereditary; (2) temporary volunteers called hashid or ‘recruits’ who were enlisted for a single expedition; (3) religious volunteers called mujahids or al-murabitun who lived in fortified frontier communities called ribats, to whom fighting the Christians was a religious duty; (4) permanent units of foreign mercenaries, the murtaziqa, paid regular salaries; and (5) irregular foreign mercenaries called muttawi’a whose only pay, like that of the mujahids, came at the end of the campaign in the form of booty and other gratuities. In addition ‘Abd ar-Rabman II, who ruled in the mid-9th century, made military service compulsory for all Andalusians, but they do not seem to have often been called on to fulfil this obligation.

Under al-Hakam I (796-822) the army was comprised chiefly of Berbers and Negroes but also included Christians (the commanding officer of his bodyguard bearing the title of comes) both from Northern Spain and even beyond the Pyrenees. His famous Guard, established c. 807, consisted of 2,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry and was called al-Khurs (‘The Mutes’ or ‘The Silent Ones’), since none of its members could speak Arabic! In total the standing army at his disposal numbered 50,000 men, a mixture of mercenaries and ghulams. 2,000 of them were permanently posted ai<.ng the banks of the River Guadalquivir on the frontier with the Christians, this force being divided into 20 units of 100 horsemen each under an officer called an ‘arif.

Masudi, writing c. 940, records the total strength of Caliph ‘Abd ar-Rabman rii’s standing army as an unlikely 100,000, which required one-third of Andalusia’s total revenue for its maintenance. An alternative source records the higher figure of 150,000, adding that his bodyguard numbered 12,000 men of whom 8,000 were cavalry. lr was he who introduced formal unit organisation into the Andalusian army, based on a corps of 5,000 men under an amir; within this were 5 units of 1,000, each under a qa’id, subdivided into 5 units of200 men under naqibs, in turn comprised of 5 units of 40 men each under an ‘arif. The smallest unit consisted of8 men under a nazir.

By the mid-10th century the royal bodyguard of ghulams is recorded as 3,750 men, all ‘Slavs’, though in Spain the term was by this time used for Franks, Lombards and Spaniards as well as true Slavs. This Slav guard was disbanded c. 978 by the vizier Ibn Abi Amir(better known as al-Mansur, 976-1002) who distrusted its members, but Slav ghulams continued to be employed down to 1031. Nor did al-Mansur trust the native Arab aristocracy, and he resolved to totally reorganise the army by abolishing the tribal units, the Junds, on which it was still based. Many of these were thereafter exempted from military service in return for a cash payment, the money being used to hire large numbers of Berbers from North Africa plus considerably smaller numbers of Christian cavalry from Leon, Castile and Navarre. All these plus Arabs and Negroes be intermixed in regular regiments without regard for family or patron so as to eliminate tribal jealousies. Al-Mansur allegedly increased Andalusia’s armed forces to as many as 600,000 men (probably 60,000), the large Berber element transforming the army into a practically all-cavalry force.

The name Andalusia derives from the Arabic ai-Andalus, ‘The Land of the Vandals’.


In the early period after the Moslem conquest Visigothic organisation appears to have persisted virtually unchanged in those corners of Spain that remained in Christian hands. However, as territory was steadily regained from the Moslems military organisation underwent steady change.

A system of landholding, originally instituted by the Frankish marcher lords (who had been established in Northern Spain by Charlemagne), evolved in the 9th century in the granting of tracts of wasteland in exchange for their cultivation. These grants were called aprisiones, which tended to become allodial possessions. Never· the less many of the landed nobility thus created were obliged to perform mounted military service for either the king or their own overlords, though others served in exchange for cash payments and yet others served simply as an obligation of their social status. The king’s own vassals, irrespective of which category they individually belonged to, were the fideles or milites regis. The bands of retainers such nobles led were usually maintained at their own expense.

Up to the close of the 10th century some of the Christian states acknowledged the overlordship of the Umayyad Amir, later Caliph, of Cordoba, which gave them the opportunity to expand steadily at the expense of their Moslem neighbours, securing their gains by the construction of forts. These were garrisoned from the 10th century onwards by regular troops paid for by taxes levied from the surrounding lands. Few of these soldiers held land of their own so they were not feudal troops, particularly since the majority were non-noble. As the frontiers expanded similar non-noble mounted soldiers called caballeros vi llanos, freemen of sufficient income and property to own a horse, came to owe service in exchange for non-hereditable grants of conquered land called caballerias, infantry similarly owing military service for smaller grants of land called peonias; both of these types began to appear in the middle to late 10th century.

As in Andalusia military service was technically owed by all able-bodied freemen but was likewise rarely called upon, warfare being largely a matter of raids and counter-raids launched by the nobles’ mounted bands, these sometimes penetrating as far south as Lisbon and Cordoba itself. However, when required infantry could be raised by a levy of one man out of every 3 by the 10th century, the other 2 of the trio paying for his rations and supplying an animal for his transport, presumably a donkey or mule since all men with horses were automatically obliged to serve as cavalry.

In addition Moslem mercenaries can often be found in Christian employ, though their numbers were smaller than in succeeding centuries. At the very end of this era we also find multi-national armies fighting alongside the Spaniards in the role of proto-crusaders; Frenchmen, Normans, Aquitanians and Burgundians arc encountered in this guise in 1064, and Papal and Italo-Norman contingents are also claimed by some authorities. Two sources even claim that French knights had been regularly crossing the Pyrenees to assist in the Reconquista since Sancho the Great of Navarre’s reign (1000-1035).

The Severans and Britain in the Third Century AD

The North of England in the late second and third century.

Dividing the province

It is one of the acknowledged ‘facts’ of Roman history, that Roman senators, who had successfully mounted a coup, attempted to ensure that the same methods could not be used against them by any would-be successors. 193 saw three Roman governors vie for the throne, all of whom used as their power bases the armies of their three legion provinces. It is thus hardly surprising to find that the victors, the Severans, are usually assumed to have been responsible for breaking up these commands into smaller, less dangerous units.

The earliest source for this division is Herodian, a historian of the late second and early third centuries, who has the advantage of being a near contemporary of the events described. Contemporaneity does not necessarily equate to being well informed, however, and Herodian can also be somewhat partial at times. He stated that one of the outcomes of the Battle of Lugdunum (197) was that Severus ‘set the affairs in Britain in order and divided the administration in the province into two commands’. There is certainly evidence that there were two British provinces later in the third century. The first was Britannia Superior (which probably refers to its greater proximity to Rome, and certainly does not imply any regional superiority) in the south, which contained the legio XX Valeria Victrix (at Chester) and legio II Adiutrix (at Caerleon), whilst Britannia Inferior, further north, held legio VI Victrix at York. Inferior was governed by a senator of praetorian rank, whilst the southern, more powerful, province remained the preserve of men who had held the Consulate. Nevertheless the early date given by Herodian for the division is contradicted by Cassius Dio, who places it in the reign of Caracalla. There are also inscriptions naming three governors of Severan Britain who all commanded a unified province, as well as one mentioning the legate of one of the southern legions operating north of Hadrian’s Wall under Severus. The latter could be explained by sending troops on detached duty to the neighbouring province, but no such convenient explanation exists for the three provincial governors.

Birley (2005, 333–336), following Dio and the epigraphic evidence, makes a good case for the division only occurring under Caracalla, after 213. It may seem surprising in view of the warfare on the northern frontier at this time that close support to Hadrian’s Wall was restricted to one legion. Indeed one might have expected Inferior to be the senior, two legion province. It is worth pointing out that the North contained the bulk of the auxiliary forces of Britain, which means that a division which put two legions and the fleet on one side, and a single legion, but with most of the auxiliaries on the other, may actually reflect a fairly even distribution of power in the island. Moreover the fact that two legions now had their bases in separate provinces does not seem to have diminished the presence of some of their members on Hadrian’s Wall. The legionary compound at Corbridge continued into the third century, while the fort at Carlisle appears to have been occupied by detachments from legiones II and XX.

Severan military activity in Britain

There is a surviving fragment of Cassius Dio (75(76), 5.4), which belongs in the immediate aftermath of Severus’ Civil War against his final rival Albinus (c. 197/198). As so often with such fragments, it lacks context, but it reads as follows:

Because the Caledonians did not keep to their promises and had prepared to aid the Maeatae, and because Severus was then devoting himself to the Parthian (or neighbouring) war, Lupus was compelled to buy peace from the Maeatae for a large sum, receiving a few captives.

The events described must have happened a substantial distance north of Hadrian’s Wall, as the Maeatae are traditionally associated with the area around Stirling, beyond the (now abandoned) Antonine Wall. This suggests that even at that point, Rome still took considerable interest in affairs in Scotland, a fact underlined by the substantial hoards of Roman coinage of the late second and early third century that have been found there (Hunter 2007, 23–32). The phrasing does, though, suggest that warfare was averted for the moment, although the presence of prisoners suggests that some sort of confrontation with Rome, and perhaps an incursion into Roman territory, had occurred earlier – albeit there is no indication of when this might have happened, or whether anything but the outpost forts north of Hadrian’s Wall would have been involved.

Virius Lupus was the first Severan governor of Britain and appears to have governed the whole province. In addition to his attested activities north of Hadrian’s Wall, he is also known from three building inscriptions, dateable to 197, from Corbridge (RIB 1163, building unspecified), Ilkley (RIB 637 mentioning the rebuilding of an unknown structure) and Bowes (RIB 730). The latter commemorates the rebuilding of a bath building, which had been destroyed by fire, and there has been a persistent tendency in archaeological literature to suggest that this fire, the rebuilding mentioned in the other inscriptions, and the burning of a barrack at Ravenglass, may be linked to the Maeatae trouble mentioned by Dio. Yet it is hard to see why a tribe from the lower reaches of the Forth, on the east coast, would be responsible for burning a fort on the west coast, and for widely distributed damage between the Stainmore Pass and the still more southerly fort of Ilkley. A bathhouse fire in the central Pennines is surely more easily explained as an accident, rather than the result of enemy action, that even with modern transport lived 4½ hours drive away, and was separated from the forts by Hadrian’s Wall.

Septimius Severus (193/211) is one of the most visible Emperors in the epigraphy and archaeology of Roman Britain. During his 14 years in power in Britain, he ordered the rebuilding (or rather finishing) of all three active legionary fortresses in stone (e.g. Ottaway 2004, 75), and substantially rebuilt or refurbished forts all over the north of England. Indeed on Hadrian’s Wall his activity was such that early Wall scholars spent considerable time debating whether it was really Severus’, rather than Hadrian’s Wall.

Much of this building was probably occasioned by the simple fact that forty years after the withdrawal from Antonine Scotland, the fort structures were likely to need ‘updating’ or, in some cases, complete rebuilding. Such was the case at Risingham, where a gate had collapsed through old age (RIB 1234), and another building inscription from Caernarvon/Segontium (RIB 430 + add), which must predate 209, shows that such activity was not just limited to the Wall. The governor most frequently mentioned in these inscriptions is Alfenius Senecio, who certainly appears on eight, and has been restored on a further three, and thus almost personified the programme. One of these inscriptions (RIB 1337 + add) is not a building inscription, but a dedication to the Victoria of the two Emperors Septimius Severus and his older son Caracalla. But Birley (2005, 191) has pointed out that this may just as likely commemorate the anniversary of the Severan Parthian campaigns, or relate to a war elsewhere, as to a victory in Britain.

There is comparatively little evidence for what was happening north of the Wall during the Severan period. Newstead appears to have been abandoned around 180, but High Rochester, Birrens, Bewcastle and Risingham remained in operation, documenting Rome’s continued interest in the area, and it would thus seem much more reasonable to assume, if any trouble was caused by the Maeatae in the aftermath of the Civil War, that it would have occurred in the Scottish Lowlands, in areas under Roman protection through the outposts, but north of Hadrian’s Wall and thus more accessible.

In addition to the refurbishments, some forts and installations were clearly new designs. At Vindolanda, the earlier stone fort was demolished and its stone frontage has been found apparently deliberately collapsed into the ditch. Its replacement was built over the Antonine vicus and surrounded on three sides by substantial ditches. The east side, facing the old fort platform, was only defended by a wall, and faced an area of roundhouses arranged in long lines, apparently covering most of the former fort (Birley & Blake 2005, 27–30). This complex is so far unique and its purpose remains debatable. Hodgson’s suggestion (2009, 32) that it provided accommodation for levees of civilians from the South, who were involved in the reconstruction of Hadrian’s Wall, is one possibility, but it does not explain why the accommodation should take such an unusual form, or be deemed important enough to replace the existing stone fort. South Shields, on the Wall’s eastern flank, on the south side of the Tyne mouth, was rebuilt in this period, as a fort plan dominated by numerous granaries, turning it into one of the most striking examples of a supply base in the Roman Empire.

Further north two forts appear to have been built on the East coast: Cramond and Carpow. Carpow was a legionary vexillation fortress serving detachments of both legio VI Victrix and legio II Augusta. It was located at the apex of the Tay estuary, just below its confluence with the Earn, and close to its lowest crossing point. It is currently the only known Severan installation in the area, and its isolation is striking, but Cramond parallels its basic location, this time on the south side of the Forth estuary.

Cramond was first built as one of the coastal forts on the eastern flank of the Antonine Wall. The withdrawal from the Wall from 158 onwards does not seem to have involved the fort’s demolition and some reduced occupation appears to have continued on the site (Holmes et al. 2003, 153f.), but it was fully reactivated in the Severan period. The date of reoccupation used to be fixed at 208, with reference to the historical sources, but there has recently been a tendency to shift this date back due to the evidence of coins. For example, Holmes (et al. 2003, 155) suggests a possible start date ‘in the very early years of the third century’. Like South Shields, Cramond seems to have had a role as a support base, with a considerable provision of workshops and industrial complexes, both internally, in the praetentura, and outside the fort, which included evidence for pottery manufacture.

The situation in the south

Roman military installations south of the Pennines became rare during the course of the second century. Apart from the legions and a few large forts left in Wales (e.g. Segontium/Caernarvon), the principal sites were the Cripplegate fort in London (probably designed to house the Governor’s bodyguard and any troops passing through) and the fort at Dover. Because of its classis Britannica brick stamps, the latter is usually associated with the fleet, and this does seem more likely than the alternative: that it was only built by the navy, but was garrisoned by other troops, given that it has also produced inscriptions recording fleet commanders. It was originally constructed in the early second century and in its rebuilt form lasted to c. 210 (Philp 1981). The classis Britannica had been operating in the Channel and along the British coast from the late first century. Its largest base appears to have been on the French side at Boulogne, but in addition to building the fort at Dover, it was also active in Kent and Sussex, and was involved with iron smelting and brick making at sites such as Beaufort Park (built in the late second century and operational until the mid third). A detachment is also recorded on Hadrian’s Wall, where its construction skills, along with naval transport, may both have been useful. We know little about the detailed workings of the unit, but in analogy to other fleets, it is usually assumed that it would have served a logistical role (providing transport or at least escorts for supplies, officials and troops moving to and from Britain), as well as monitoring other maritime traffic.

By the late second and early third century, a need seems to have been felt for the military presence along the coast to be increased. The earliest new fort to be identified was at Reculver (Philp 2005, 216), where construction started in the late second century. After a hiatus of several years, it was eventually completed around 211, which matches comparable data from Caister-on-Sea in Norfolk, and our limited evidence from Brancaster. Philp would link these three with Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight (for which little dating evidence exists), and they may be the beginnings of the coastal defence system, which by the late fourth century had become the so-called ‘Saxon Shore’. In origin, though, in view of the dating evidence for Cramond and Carpow, it may be worth discussing whether the original forts were possibly designed as further elements in a supply chain reaching from the iron processing and supply harbours of Kent, to the Hadrian’s Wall complex and advanced forts in Scotland, and that they only mutated into a new coastal defence role later, once more costal forts were built over the course of the third century. Once again, more research is clearly needed.

Severus on campaign

Herodian tells us that Septimius Severus had three reasons for coming to campaign in Britain: a) to add a British victory to his other conquests in the East and North b) to get his sons (Caracalla and his younger brother Geta) away from the flesh pots of Rome and c) because the governor had requested help against the barbarians (Herodian III, 14, 1–3). A.R. Birley (2005, 191) points out that the latter is a topos, (a repeated theme that may be rooted in expectation rather than fact). To judge from similar descriptions in Herodian and elsewhere, the chain of logic would run something like this: in Roman eyes it was unjust to start a war without proper cause; this means that it was important to be able to claim that a war was fought in defence of the Empire or its allies. If the governor requested help, this showed that the Emperor was hardly likely to be just fabricating the evidence to justify military action, but was responding to a genuine emergency. In other words, this was a conscientious Emperor fighting a just war. In theory, this would balance the additional motives for waging war in Britain, even though the educational opportunity and self-aggrandizement would not usually be seen solely as acceptable reasons. Nor would a secondary reason given by Dio, that the legions were becoming restless and needed something to keep them occupied (76 (77), 11.1). Herodian, who counted Severus as one of the ‘good Emperors’, was thus able to provide suitable window dressing for a military adventure.

We have two main accounts for the campaign, as well as a number of other fragments. Cassius Dio, with his now customary disdain for geography and military detail, reports that in the first season Severus pursued the Caledonii and Maeatae, but that the enemy employed guerrilla tactics, luring the Roman army into ambushes and difficult terrain, while not allowing themselves to be engaged in set piece battles. Despite heavy losses (Dio mentions 50,000 dead, which must again be an exaggeration, as it would equate to nearly the entire garrison of Britain at the time), Severus reached the end of the island, where he took astronomical measurements on the length of day, before returning and concluding a treaty with the barbarians. In the second season, Severus responded to a revolt by ordering the soldiers to kill everybody involved. This was apparently carried out, but the Caledonii then joined the revolt of the Maeatae, and Septimius Severus died while preparing for a campaign against both. Again, the account offers little in the way of geographical detail (typical for Dio) and focused instead on the ethnographic peculiarities of the enemy, and on Caracalla’s hunger for power and supposed attempts to speed his father’s demise.

Herodian’s account agrees with Dio’s as to the major events, but says that the campaign was fought north of the fortifications that provided the defences of the Empire and adds that Caracalla commanded the second year campaigns, as his father’s health had already deteriorated. Beyond the fact of victory, most of the accounts left by the fourth and fifth century historians, Jerome, Orosius, Eutropius and Aurelius Victor, concentrate on Severus’ death in Eburacum/York, rather than on the achievements of the campaigns. Orosius (7.17) and Eutropius (8.19) also claim that ‘he defended the island with a wall’, the latter clearly a reference to the extensive work on Hadrian’s Wall conducted in the decade before the Imperial visit. These late sources thus add very little to our understanding of the military operations. Coins issued at the time show Severus riding forth, a standard issue for an Emperor on campaign, and the image of a ship (on one coin accompanied by the legend TRAIECTUM – crossing or transshipment point), which might be taken to suggest that naval operations formed part of the campaign, although it might also just reflect the fact that Britain is an island.

In the past, archaeologists have tended to define the area of operations by means of a series of marching camps, which some publications would project all the way into Moray. More recent work has significantly changed our perception of these camps, however. After extensive excavations at the Kintore example, the 110 acre group, which formed the chain leading to Moray, is now mostly considered to be Flavian, leaving only the 63 acre and 130 acres series, along with the 165 acre camps in the Lowlands, as possible contenders for the Severan campaigns (NB: the groups were defined before metrication and have become a label rather than a strict indicator of size). The 130 acre sites form a close knit series stretching from Ardoch, through most of the Strathmore, and we know that they must at least slightly postdate the 63 acre camps, thanks to Hanson’s excavations at Ardoch, where the ditches of an example of each intersect. More recent excavations at Innerpeffray, however, might suggest that the camps were built before the Roman road through the area, and so could be earlier, perhaps Antonine, especially as evidence for a more modern road on this line is currently lacking (Woolliscroft and Hoffmann 2006). Roman temporary camps have always been notoriously difficult to date and, as has been pointed out by Hanson, there has long been a tendency to try to associate them with the two best known campaigns in Scotland: the Flavian and Severan. Ye t there were several other occasions in the second, later the third and the fourth centuries where campaigning took the Roman army north of Hadrian’s Wall and, as most of the camps still lack dating evidence, it is possible that future work will change our understanding of these structures.

Withdrawal from Scotland

Cassius Dio tells us that after the death of their father, Caracalla and Geta quickly concluded peace with the Caledonians, withdrew from enemy territory and returned to Rome to make sure that their succession as Emperors passed off smoothly. This has usually led to the assumption that a number of forts (including Carpow and Cramond) must have been abandoned at this time. But a fragmentary inscription from the East Gate of the Carpow legionary fortress presents problems. Wright has suggested that it could only have been cut after Geta’s death in Rome in 212, suggesting that the base was still under construction then and so remained in use after the end of the Severan campaigns. This has led to the belief that there may have been a continued presence in Scotland, possibly into the 220s or 230s (Bidwell and Speak 1994, 29). More recently, however, John Casey has pointed out that this same inscription could be restored to refer to Commodus (180/192), giving an earlier start date for Carpow, with interesting historical implications. Moreover, Nick Holmes (2003, 156 with further references) would argue that the coin evidence for both Cramond and Carpow does not support an extended stay beyond 211, and nor have they produced evidence of sufficient post-Severan pottery to suggest continued occupation.

Interestingly the Vindolanda roundhouse settlement was abandoned at about the same time, and Stone Fort II was built on the site (Birley and Blake 2005, 31). Nevertheless some features of the Severan building programme were retained, including the now fully renovated Hadrian’s Wall, and the supply base of South Shields, which appears to have continued to function as such into the late third century. But was the abandonment of the new territories necessarily a change of policy by sons keen to abandon their father’s goals in favour of a rapid return to Rome? Collingwood and Myres (1937, 160) suggested that the fact that Severus reoccupied very few of the earlier Flavian and Antonine fort sites, despite their lying on his line of advance, implies that he never intended a permanent occupation of Scotland, but only a punitive campaign: ‘visiting the wrath of Rome on enemies of Rome outside their grasp, but not outside their reach’. They would see this as part of the same strategy that brought about the rebuilding/refurbishing of Hadrian’s Wall, and thus provided an armoured baseline from which exactly such punitive campaigns could be launched, keeping the area to the north cowed under Rome’s political control and the province itself secure. This model, sometimes referred to by Scottish medieval historians as the ‘Caracallan’ or ‘Severan’ settlement (Fraser 2009), has been seen as the foundation on which early Medieval Scottish history developed, creating, in effect, an inner/southern zone of close contact with Rome, with a number of outer/northern and western zones beyond, which had much looser connections with the Empire. It is hard to verify this model by archaeological means. Certainly there are differences in what and how much Roman material reached different areas of Scotland, but the data sets are so small, and the historical records so sparse, that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to fully prove or disprove this model. For the moment, therefore, it might be best to leave it as an interesting hypothesis in need of further testing, noting in doing so, that the site of Birnie, in Moray, which should definitely lie in the ‘outer zone’, contained Severan coin hoards. This suggests at least that the division between inner/southern and outer/northern regions should not be seen as a simple geographical Lowland/Highland issue.

Stalin and Barbarossa

During 1940, relations between the Soviet Union and Germany remained formally correct, but were increasingly strained. Hitler had strong misgivings about the Russians being so near to the Romanian oil fields. Stalin was alarmed by reports of German troops in Finland and of German designs on the Balkans. The ten-year pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan, signed in Berlin on September 27, 1940, and excluding Soviet Russia, added to his anxieties.

On November 12, on the invitation of Ribbentrop, Molotov arrived in Berlin to discuss “a long-term delimitation of interests.” He found that Hitler was concerned only with the division of the British Empire between the Soviet Union and the Axis powers. Molotov showed no interest and infuriated Hitler by firing question after question at him and demanding specific answers about German intentions in Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Hitler was not accustomed to interrogation of this kind, and he was antagonized by the rocklike obstinacy of the Soviet minister. As early as the summer of 1940, he had started thinking about the invasion of Russia, but this meeting with the persistent and imperturbable Molotov probably influenced him in deciding finally to launch Operation Barbarossa.

The façade of cordial relations was maintained in the first months of 1941. But tension was mounting. In March, Bulgaria joined the Axis; Yugoslavia also agreed to join. On March 27, however, a revolt in Yugoslavia against the pro-German policy resulted in the formation of a new government which looked to Moscow. Stalin was quick to sign a pact of friendship and nonaggression with the new Yugoslav regime but could do nothing when German forces invaded the country and Belgrade was mercilessly bombed.

On May 5, in the Kremlin, Stalin addressed several hundred young officers, newly graduated from the military academies. He emphasized the importance of modernization and re-equipment in building up the power of the Red Army. He went on to warn them that the situation was grave and a German attack in the near future could not be ruled out. He told them bluntly that the Red Army was not yet strong enough to smash the Germans easily; it suffered from shortages of modern tanks, aircraft, and other equipment, and its troops were still under training. The Soviet government by diplomacy and other means was striving to delay the Germans until autumn when the approach of winter would postpone any attack until 1942. If Soviet tactics succeeded, then the war with Nazi Germany would come almost inevitably in 1942, but valuable months would have been gained. The period “from now until August” was the most dangerous.

This meeting was followed by a series of desperate attempts to appease Hitler. Friendly economic and diplomatic gestures were made. Painful efforts to avoid even the semblance of provocation were continued. On June 14, 1941, TASS, the Soviet news agency, issued a communiqué emphasizing friendly relations with Germany, which was “unswervingly observing the conditions of the Soviet-German Non-aggression Pact, just as the U.S.S.R. is doing” and denying rumors, emanating from London, of an “early war between the two countries.” Berlin ignored these gestures. Hitler had already made his decision.

The tension in the Kremlin became unbearable during these weeks of waiting. Stalin felt the strain. He was irascible, and reports on relations with Germany could only be submitted to him “in fear and trepidation.” He had concentrated “all his thoughts and deeds” on averting war in 1941; he was confident, but not positive, that he would succeed. In the midst of the conflicting intelligence reports and rumors, he was deeply uneasy. The German chief of staff had issued on February 15, 1941, a special “Directive for Misinforming the Enemy” to provide cover for Operation Barbarossa. False information was leaked that German troop movements in the east were part of the “greatest misinformation manoeuvre in history, designed to distract attention from final preparations for the invasion of England.”

Stalin was undoubtedly influenced by this misinformation. He did not believe, however, that in the last resort, Hitler would depart from the traditions of Bismarck’s Ostpolitik, requiring that Germany should avoid military involvement in Russia while engaged in the west. At the same time, he had an exaggerated conception of the power and influence of the German generals even to the extent of believing that, contrary to Hitler’s specific instructions, they were trying to precipitate war against Russia.

Among members of the Politburo and the Soviet High Command, the firm opinion was that war would be averted in 1941. Zhdanov held that Germany was taken up with war against Britain and incapable of fighting on two fronts. On March 20, 1941, General Filipp Golikov, head of military intelligence, submitted to Stalin a report on German troop concentration in the borderlands, but expressed the opinion that the information must have originated from the British and German intelligence services. Early in May, Kuznetsov sent a similar report to Stalin, giving information received from the Soviet naval attaché in Berlin on the imminence of war. Like Golikov, he nullified the value of the report by adding that in his opinion, the information was false and planted by some foreign agency.

Early in April 1941, Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin, warning him of German troop movements and the imminence of attack on the Soviet Union. This was followed by an urgent warning given to the Soviet ambassador in London on June 18. Reports from the Soviet Embassy in Berlin and from Dr. Richard Sorge, the brilliant Soviet spy in Japan, gave the exact date of the German invasion.

Stalin regarded these reports with skepticism. He remained deeply mistrustful of Britain. There was, it seems, no limit to the perfidy of which he believed Britain capable. He was convinced that Britain and the United States were doing everything possible to incite Hitler to attack Russia and that Britain, in particular, saw a German campaign in the east as the one way to save itself from catastrophe. He believed that the British government had recently held secret talks with Nazi officials, seeking to reach an agreement at the expense of Russia. The solo flight of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, to Scotland on May 10–11, 1941, intensified his suspicions of British secret diplomacy.

On the evening of June 21, Zhukov learned by telephone from Kiev that a German sergeant major had crossed to the Soviet lines and informed the Soviet commander that the German forces would attack at dawn on the following morning.

Zhukov at once telephoned Stalin and Timoshenko. Stalin summoned them to the Kremlin. He received them alone and heard Zhukov’s report.

“But perhaps the German generals sent this deserter to provoke a conflict,” was his first response.

“No, we think the deserter is telling the truth,” they replied.

Members of the Politburo arrived. He asked for their opinions, but there was no response.

Timoshenko produced a draft directive, alerting all commands. But Stalin had not given up hope that it might be a false alarm. He had the directive redrafted and finally approved its dispatch. It ordered all units on the fronts of the Leningrad, Baltic, Western, Kiev, and Odessa military districts to come to immediate readiness for a possible sudden German attack. Transmission of the directive was completed by 0030 hours on June 22, 1941. At 0400 hours, the invasion began.

The German forces, comprising 3 million troops in 162 divisions with 3,400 tanks and 7,000 guns, advanced in three groups: the north group toward Leningrad, the center group toward Moscow, and the south group into the Ukraine. The sixteen months that followed were for the Germans, a period of immense gains; for the Russians, they were months of disastrous defeats and horrifying casualties and devastation.

By dawn on June 22, 1941, Timoshenko, Zhukov, and his deputy chief of the general staff, Vatutin, were receiving frantic communications from front commanders. All reported air attacks and requested orders. Timoshenko told Zhukov to telephone Stalin.

Stalin heard his report and proposal to order troops to retaliate. There was a long silence during which Zhukov could hear the sound of his breathing on the line. Then Stalin ordered him and Timoshenko to come to the Kremlin and to tell Poskrebyshev to summon the members of the Politburo.

At 4:30 a.m., all were assembled in Stalin’s office. He stood by the table, his face white, with an unlit pipe in his hand. He was visibly shaken.

Molotov hastened into the room from a meeting with the German ambassador. He reported that Germany had declared war.

Stalin sank into his chair and sat in silence. This was one of the most shattering moments in his whole life. He had used every means at his disposal to avert this war. He had desperately willed it to be delayed at least until the following spring. He thought he had succeeded, but he had failed. Armaments were beginning to flow to the armed forces from the defense industries, and the intensive training programs were bringing daily improvements in discipline and efficiency. Six months would have made a vast difference.

Stalin knew he had made a tragic miscalculation. The Politburo and senior military commanders, with all of whom he had discussed his decisions, had shared his views. But they were dominated by him and conscious of his intellectual superiority and his supreme authority. He was honest enough to recognize that it was wholly his responsibility. He had misjudged Hitler’s intentions. Soviet Russia was threatened now with a holocaust which could sweep away the communist regime and all that it had achieved.

It was later alleged that on this evening or during the following weeks when news of terrible defeats were reaching him, his nerve snapped and he surrendered to black despair. Khrushchev stated that about this time, Stalin thought the end had come. He exclaimed: “All Lenin created, we have lost for ever!” After this outburst, he did nothing “for a long time”; he returned to active leadership only after a Politburo deputation pleaded with him to resume command. But Khrushchev’s allegations are not supported by others who were at his side. In fact, Stalin had never been more in command than during these critical days when all seemed lost.

At the dawn meeting on June 22, Stalin came out of his brooding silence to authorize Directive No. 2, calling on all military districts to attack the invaders. The order was unrealistic. The Red Army was falling back in confusion. The breakdown in communications was posing acute problems. Moscow lost touch with the forces to the north of the Pripet and with other commands.

About 1:00 p.m. on June 22, Stalin telephoned Zhukov and said that, since front commanders lacked combat experience and were confused, the Politburo was sending him to the Southwest Front as the representative of the Stavka. Khrushchev would join him there. Shaposhnikov and Grigory Kulik were going to the West Front. In reply to Zhukov’s query as to who would manage the general staff at this critical time, Stalin answered tersely, “Leave Vatutin in your place. Don’t lose time! We’ll get along somehow!” He flew at once to Kiev and, joined by Khrushchev, traveled by car to Ternopol, where Mikhail Kirponos, the front commander, had his command post. Already on the first day of the war, Stalin was following Lenin’s practice in the Civil War of sending trusted personal representatives to critical areas. For him, it was not only a matter of keeping direct contact with the front and a watchful eye on unproven commanders but also a demonstration of his presence.

Shattered by the German onslaught, the Red forces fell back. Directive No. 3, sent by Stalin on the night of June 22, ordering the Southwest, the West, and the Northwest Fronts to attack, was utterly impracticable. The situation was confused, and information was not reaching Moscow. Stalin himself had no conception of the speed of the German advance or the chaos in the Red Army positions.

On June 26, Stalin phoned Zhukov in Ternopol, ordering him to return to the general headquarters at once. The enemy was approaching Minsk, and Dimitry Pavlov, commanding the West Front, had evidently lost control. Kulik had disappeared and Shaposhnikov was ill. On June 28, Russian troops surrendered Minsk, the capital of Belorussia. German troops carried out a savage massacre of the inhabitants and destroyed most of the city.

Twice on June 29, Stalin came to the general headquarters. He was in a black mood and reacted violently to the chaotic situation on the West Front. Zhukov conferred by telegraph with General Pavlov, but it was clear that the situation was hopeless. The next day, Stalin ordered Zhukov to summon Pavlov to Moscow. On his arrival, Zhukov hardly recognized him; he had changed so much in the eight days of the war. Pavlov was removed from his command, and with other generals from this front, he was put on trial. All were shot.

Stalin held them responsible for the destruction of the West Front. He attached special importance to this front against which he believed the Germans would deliver their main assault. But they were, in fact, victims of the war and specifically of his own miscalculations. The most serious mistake was that the troops were not deployed in depth along the extensive western frontier with the result that the German armored divisions, advancing at speed, were able to outflank and encircle strategic positions.

The court-martial and execution of Pavlov and his senior staff also had the effect of undermining the confidence of the troops and of the people in the army’s commanders. Many doubted the allegations of their treachery and feared a new purge was being planned. This fear was increased by the decree of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet on July 16, 1941, restoring the powers of the military kommissars. Stalin was quick to realize, however, that by this drastic action, he had not stiffened morale as he had intended but had aggravated the critical uneasiness within the Red Army at a time when cool and stubborn resistance was needed. He did not repeat this mistake. In future, commanders who failed were demoted, or they simply disappeared, and their fate remained secret.

The need to set up military and civil command structures had been overlooked in the preparations for war. Stalin had been concentrating on the defense industries and the equipping and training of the armed forces. He personally disliked time-consuming committee work and, since all major matters came to the Politburo and finally to him for decision, he may have thought he could dispense with supreme command organs. The outbreak of war had shown at once that many responsibilities had to be delegated.

Early on June 22, 1941, Timoshenko had submitted a draft plan to set up a high command with Stalin as commander in chief. Before signing the decree on the following day, Stalin redrafted it, naming Timoshenko as supreme commander and establishing a general headquarters of the high command, which consisted of a council of war with Timoshenko as chairman and a membership of Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Budënny, Zhukov, and Kuznetsov. This arrangement, according to Zhukov, complicated the command, for there were in effect, two commanders in chief, Timoshenko de jure and Stalin de facto. The general headquarters took the title of Stavka, which had been used for the tsarist supreme military headquarters. Stalin’s Stavka did not, however, have the same large support staff, but was at first merely a group of advisers.

The general headquarters’ orders and instructions were discussed and agreed in Stalin’s study in the Kremlin. It was a large, light, austerely furnished room, paneled in stained oak, with a long table, covered in green cloth. Portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenin hung on the walls, and portraits of eighteenth-century military heroes Alexander Suvorov and Mikhail Kutuzov joined them later in the war. Stalin’s desk, covered with maps and papers, was to one side. Poskrebyshev’s office adjoined the study and next to it was a small room, occupied by security guards. Behind the study were a lounge and signal room with all the equipment used by Poskrebyshev to connect Stalin with the front commanders. This was the main communications center. Stalin’s office and sometimes the dacha at Kuntsevo served as the supreme headquarters of the Soviet armed forces throughout the war.

On June 30, the State Defense Committee (GKO) was set up. It was the supreme organ, and its orders were executed by the Council of People’s Kommissars through the machinery of the kommissariats. The Stavka, responsible for the conduct of military affairs, was renamed the Stavka of the Supreme Command. Its council now comprised Stalin as chairman, and Molotov, Timoshenko, Voroshilov, Budënny, Shaposhnikov, and Zhukov as its members. On July 19, 1941, Stalin became kommissar for defense, and on August 8, 1941, he was appointed Supreme commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the U.S.S.R.

One of the first and most important directives of the State Defense Council (GKO), issued on July 4, was to transfer industries to the east. The evacuation of 1,523 industrial units, many of them enormous, including 1,360 major armament plants, was a tremendous undertaking and in human terms, a heroic achievement. But the dismantling and removal of these industries brought an immediate drop in production. Armament shortages were acute in the autumn of 1941 and spring of 1942. By the summer, production was reviving rapidly.

In the first fury of invasion, Stalin had been taken up with the collapse of the Soviet defenses, the organization of the high command, and resisting the invader. For a short time, he forgot the people and the need to invoke their fighting spirit and strengthen their morale. The nation was shaken and bewildered by the sudden devastating invasion. They had believed the Red Army would never permit an enemy onto Russian soil. Stalin himself was in some degree a victim of this propaganda. Although he knew better than anyone the weaknesses of the Red Army, he had not accepted in his heart that an invader could cross the frontiers. He had approved the Draft Field Regulations in 1939, which enshrined the themes that “the Soviet Union will meet any enemy attack by a smashing blow with all the might of its armed forces” and that “the military activity of the Red Army will aim at the complete destruction of the enemy and the achievement of a decisive victory at a small cost of blood.” This confidence had been shattered, and he knew that it was vital to rally the Russian people for the bitter ordeal ahead of them.

On July 3, twelve days after the invasion, Stalin broadcast to the nation. It was a historic speech, devoid of rhetoric, which appealed to the national pride of the people and to the sturdy Russian instinct to defend their homeland. He spoke as friend and leader, and it was this assurance that they had been waiting for. Russians everywhere and especially in the armed forces felt, as they listened, an “enormous enthusiasm and patriotic uplift.” General Ivan Fedyuninsky, who was to play a distinguished role on several fronts, wrote: “We suddenly seemed to feel much stronger.”

“Comrades, citizens, brothers and sisters, fighters of our army and navy! I am speaking to you, my friends,” were Stalin’s opening words. They differed strikingly from his usual form of address, and at once united them with him. Then, with a profound instinct for the mood and needs of the people, he described their predicament, and every word burned with his own implacable will to victory

At points, Stalin exaggerated and excused, but he did not obscure the truth. “Although the enemy’s finest divisions and the finest units of his air force have already been smashed and have gone to their death on the field of battle, the enemy continues to push forward.” The Soviet-German Pact had been designed to give peace or at least delay the war, but Hitler had perfidiously broken their agreement and had attacked with the advantage of surprise. He would not benefit for long.

Using simple concrete language, he brought home to the people what the war would mean for them. “The enemy is cruel and implacable. He is out to seize our lands, watered by the sweat of our brows, to seize our grain and oil, secured by the labour of our hands. He is out to restore the rule of the landlords, to restore tsarism . . . to germanize [the peoples of the Soviet Union] to turn them into the slaves of the German princes and barons.”

He told them bluntly that they were locked in a life-and-death struggle with a vile enemy and that they must be ruthless, utterly ruthless, in beating him. They must eradicate the chaos and panic in the rear of the lines. Then he stressed in detail the scorched-earth policy which they must follow. “In case of a forced retreat . . . all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway car, a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. The collective farmers must drive all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe keeping of the authorities for transportation to the rear. All valuable property, including metals, grain and fuel, that cannot be withdrawn, must be destroyed without fail. . . . In areas occupied by the enemy, guerrillas, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat the enemy, to foment guerrilla warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transport. In occupied regions, conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.”

He expressed gratitude for the “historic utterance,” made by Churchill in a prompt broadcast on the evening of June 22 when he declared: “We shall give whatever help we can to Russia and the Russian people.” Stalin went on to speak of Napoleon’s invasion and of Russia’s victory over the French, adding that Hitler was no more invincible than Napoleon had been. Then as now, the Russian people were fighting “a national patriotic war,” and they were fighting for the freedom of all peoples. He called upon the Russians “to rally round the party of Lenin and Stalin.”