Hellenistic/Diadochi/Greek Wars 322–146 BCE


A battle in Media during the War of the Successors between the Macedonian forces of Eumenes of Cardia and Antigonus Monopthlamus. Eumenes anticipated Antigonus’s river crossing, inflicting casualties, but failing to stop his rival’s advance.


Final battle in Media between Eumenes of Cardia and Antigonus Monopthalmus. After Antigonus captured Eumenes’ supplies, Macedonian elite forces, the Argyraspids, betrayed Eumenes to Antigonus, who rid himself of a formidable rival by executing him.

■ GAZA, 312 BCE

Decisive strategic defeat for Antigonus Monopthalmus by the combined armies of Ptolemy and Seleucus. Antigonus’s son, Demetrius, lost a large-scale battle near the city, costing his father control of Syria and hope of conquering Egypt.


Demetrius Poliorcetes with 118 warships held 60 ships of Ptolemy blockaded at their Cyprian base with just 10 vessels, defeating 140 relieving Egyptian galleys at sea with the remainder. Demetrius’s victorious left rolled up the Egyptian centre.


Successful Antigonid storming of Ptolemy’s Cyprian naval base by Demetrius Poliorcetes. Demetrius employed sea-borne catapults and a moving multi-storey siege tower against the Egyptian defenders. The capture of Salamis much improved the Antigonid position in the Mediterranean.


An epic siege in which Demetrius Poliorcetes and his siege train failed to reduce the island democracy’s capital. Demetrius’s monster terrestrial and naval siege engines met equivalent responses from the defenders, supplied by the Antigonids’ rivals.

■ IPSOS, 304 BCE

Catastrophic defeat of the Antigonid Empire in Asia, leading to the death of Antigonus Monophthalmus and Demetrius Poliorcetes’ retreat to the islands and port cities of the eastern Mediterranean. The battle took place in eastern Central Asia Minor near where Lysimachus, ruler of Thrace, successfully eluded Antigonus’s army in a southward march. Lysimachus rendezvoused with Seleucus, who had ceded Alexander’s conquest in India to obtain 480 elephants, which he had transported at tremendous expense across Persia. The two allies combined 64,000 foot, 10,500 cavalry and 120 chariots to move against Antigonus’s 70,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 75 elephants. Demetrius’s initial charge with the cavalry succeeded, but Demetrius was unable to prevent the allied infantry and elephants from crushing his father’s infantry and body in the resulting disaster. Their success in this battle prompted the popularity of elephants in Hellenistic warfare.


A Greek confederation failed to hold the pass against the Gauls under Brennus seeking to move into and plunder the cities of Greece. After a repulse, the Gauls bypassed the defenders, who evacuated by sea.


Decisive defeat in late summer of Lysimachus, 80, by Seleucus, 77, invading Thrace from Asia Minor. In this final battle between Alexander’s former generals, the armies fought in western Asia Minor. Lysimachus perished in the fighting.


Naval victory off the Greek coast by the Macedonian fleet of Antigonus Gonatus over the Egyptian squadron of Ptolemy II. Antigonus, 73, employed some of the largest vessels ever in combat in the ancient world.


Two battles lost by the Aetolians under Pyrrhias attempting to defend their capital against Philip V of Macedon’s advance southwards. Support from Attalus of Pergamon and a thousand Roman marines did not prevent the defeats.


The battle of Mantinea was caused by an attack by Machanidas, the tyrant of Sparta, against Philopoemen and the Achaean League, mustering in the nearby city. Machinadas’s catapults scattered the Achaean mercenaries, but Philopoemen, rallying his forces on better ground, defeated and killed Machanidas.

■ CHIOS, 201 BCE

Large fleet action between the navies of Philip V of Macedon and the Rhodians and Attalus of Pergamon. The Macedonians recovered from initial reverses, but Philip had to abandon his effort to capture neighbouring Samos.

■ LADE, 201 BCE

Naval defeat by Philip V of Macedon of the Rhodian fleet as it sought to prevent his conquest of Rhodian possessions on the mainland opposite the island. The Rhodians afterwards appealed to Rome for aid.


Unsuccessful siege of Philip V’s southernmost fortress in Greece by the younger Flamininus and the fleets of Attalus of Pergamon and Rhodes. A naval bombardment breached the Macedonian defences, but a phalanx in the breach held.

■ AOUS, 198 BCE

Philip V’s fortified position preventing a juncture of Flamininus’s army with Rome’s Aetolian allies to the south. Flamininus found a local guide to take the Romans behind and above Philip’s lines, successfully routing the Macedonians.


Cynescephalae was the decisive battle of the Second Macedonian War, the set-piece clash of the Macedonian phalanx with the Roman manipular legion. Reinforced by veterans returning from Carthage, Flamininus took two legions in pursuit of Philip V’s full strength, consolidated in Thessaly for battle. Roman skirmishers and allied cavalry moving up one side of a ridge encountered their Macedonian counterparts, prompting Flamininus to launch an all-out assault before the Macedonian formations were fully ready for battle. Philip’s consolidated forces on the right formed a deep phalanx. This formation crested the ridge and drove down upon the legionaries, the long pikes of the Macedonians still proving effective in pushing the legionaries back. Flamininus took his elephants and unengaged right, rolling up the disorganized Macedonians opposite while the last line of the retreating legion took the Macedonians in flank, completing the rout with heavy casualties.


City of the Achaean League besieged by Nabis, tyrant of Sparta. Philopoemen and the League moved before the Romans could effectively intervene, striking against Nabis by land and sea. The Achaeans lost at sea to Nabis’s blockading squadron when a recommissioned war memorial foundered, and Gytheum fell. The Achaeans then destroyed Nabis’s disorganized forces in a night attack and besieged Sparta, while Roman marines captured Gytheum and imposed a peace.


Antiochus III, with 14,000 infantry and 500 cavalry, held the historic pass against Roman forces seeking to evict the Seleucids from Greece. Cato the Censor led a detachment around an unguarded trail, causing a disastrous rout.


Philip V’s heir Perseus’s efforts to restore Macedonian prestige in Greece led to friction and conflict with the Achaean League and Eumenes of Pergamon, both of whom were successful in drawing Rome’s attention back to the tense situation in the Balkans. Upon Rome’s declaration of hostilities, Perseus retreated behind the safety of his borders and prolonged the war with defensive campaigning. The strategy was a sensible one, which strained Rome’s alliances and supply streams. Perseus moved his forces into a strong position near his capital at Pydna and awaited Aemelius Paulus’s attack.

Two rivers protected the Macedonian flanks on the ridge where the phalanx awaited; Paulus accordingly was reluctant to engage. For unknown reasons Perseus’s phalanx charged down the hill into the Roman line, unsupported by their cavalry. A sacrificial stand by the Achaeans apparently created enough disorder for the Roman legionaries to cut their way in and utterly destroy the Macedonian army and empire.


Opening engagement of the Third Macedonian War. Perseus had 39,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry, while the Roman army of Licinius consisted of two legions containing 12,000 largely inexperienced Italian troops. Perseus forced the Romans to retreat.

■ PYDNA, 148 BCE

One Andriscus, claiming Perseus as his father, seized control of Macedonia in 149. After defeating a legion under Juventius Thalna, two legions under Caecilius Metellus crushed Andriscus near the capital of Pydna. Rome then annexed Macedonia.


Site of the Achaean League’s last effort against Roman domination of Greece; the army of Consul L. Mummius obliterated the League’s final levy and levelled the ancient and prosperous city, selling its inhabitants into slavery.

With morale restored, Pyrrhus deployed his war elephants, which the Romans had never before encountered. The Roman cavalry was routed and the infantry severely disordered by this assault. The Roman force was saved from complete disaster by the tendency of wounded elephants to run amok, disrupting their own side’s formations.

The Roman force disengaged and the Greeks were able to advance almost as far as Rome itself. However, both sides had taken very heavy losses and Pyrrhus was not confident of victory if he assaulted the city. His force pulled back and wintered in Tarentum.


After first encountering Greek war elephants at Heraclea, the Romans had developed anti-elephant tactics. On the first day of the battle of Asculum, the wooded and hilly terrain impeded the elephants and cavalry, resulting in a bloody but inconclusive clash between infantry forces. An aggressive redeployment by the Greeks forced the Romans to fight in terrain better suited to the use of elephants and the dense phalanx of the Greeks. A flank attack by the Greek elephants broke the Roman cavalry and caused a hurried withdrawal, giving the Greeks possession of the battlefield. Heavy losses on the winning side led to the concept of the ‘Pyrrhic Victory’.


To prevent King Pyrrhus from using Syracuse as a base for operations on Sicily, Carthaginian forces allied to Rome besieged the city. Pyrrhus landed Eryx and Panormus, then marched to break the siege of Syracuse.


After two years of indecisive campaigning, the Greek coalition against Macedon had made some minor progress. The coalition suffered a severe defeat at Corinth, after which the war went very much against them.


The Greek coalition against Macedonia collapsed with the fall of Athens to Macedonian troops and a peace treaty with Sparta. This cemented Macedonian control over Greece, though Egypt continued to interfere in Greek affairs.


Entering into alliance with Seleucid Persia, Macedonian troops campaigned into Syria with the intention of driving Egyptian forces out of the Aegean region. Macedonian interest in the region waned as troubles grew on the northern borders.

■ COS, 258 BCE

The Egyptian and Macedonian fleets met off Cos in a clash that decisively weakened Egyptian naval power. Details are sketchy, and the date has been disputed by several historians. An alternate date of 255 BCE has been suggested.


Continued naval clashes between Egypt and Macedon led to a battle off Andros in 245 or 246 BCE. Egyptian power in the Cyclades island group was broken as a result of this defeat.


Having been installed as regent in Asia Minor, Antiochus Hierax rebelled against his brother Seleucus II of Persia. Seleucus was decisively defeated in a clash at Ancyra, making a hasty retreat across the River Taurus.


After a period of skirmishing, the Egyptian and Seleucid armies clashed, with the Egyptian flanks soon broken. The phalangites of both armies fought on for some time, with the Egyptians finally emerging victorious.


After the failure of a first expedition by Seleucus II to retake Parthia from the Parni, a second campaign under Antiochus III brought the region under Seleucid control as a vassal state.

■ ARIUS, 209 BCE

A force of Parthian cavalry attempted to halt the Seleucid advance at the river Arius. The Seleucid advance guard, composed mainly of elite troops, crossed the river at night and surprised the Parthians in their camp.


After securing his northern frontier by reducing Parthia to a vassal state, Antiochus III marched eastward, forcing a peace settlement upon the rebellious province of Bactria. He then forayed into India where he was gifted with war elephants.


Having seized Syria and Palestine, the Seleucids held it for a short time before they were driven out by additional forces from Egypt. Antiochus launched a new campaign to regain control of the province, culminating in the battle of Panium. The Seleucids’ chief advantage was their use of cataphract cavalry, which defeated and drove off the Egyptian cavalry on the flanks, then attacked the rear of the enemy’s main infantry body.


With the Seleucid intervention in Greece defeated by a Roman army at Thermopylae, Antiochus III was forced to abandon the campaign. Roman forces then went on the offensive, making control of the Aegean vital to both sides. The Seleucid fleet was commanded by the Carthaginian Hannibal, who was in exile at the Seleucid court. Hannibal’s fleet suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of a combined Roman–Rhodian force.


Soon after the battle at Eurymedon, the Seleucid fleet was again defeated by a roughly equal-sized force of Roman and Rhodian ships. The superior experience of the Rhodians, and their use of fire-ships, were critical factors.


With the Roman army on the offensive and keen to seek a decisive battle before winter set in, Antiochus set up a fortified camp and awaited their arrival. The Roman formation was conventional, in three lines with the Roman legions in the centre and allied forces holding the flanks. The Roman force had some war elephants but these were African beasts, outmatched by the Indian elephants of the Seleucid force in both numbers and physical power.

The Seleucid cavalry broke its opposite numbers on the Roman left flank, but pursued them rather than turning on the Roman centre. The Seleucid left flank was broken soon afterwards. In the centre, the two infantry forces were evenly matched until a force of elephants mixed into the Seleucid formation were routed and the pike-armed infantry became disordered. The Seleucid force was then driven from the field.


Rising in revolt against Seleucid rule, Jewish forces under Judas Maccabeus established themselves in the mountains near Samaria, from where a force was sent against them. This was ambushed and overwhelmingly defeated.


A Seleucid force under the command of the general Seron was sent to locate and destroy the Maccabean rebels. This force was surprised at the Pass of Beth Horon and resoundingly defeated.


While Seleucid troops were in the field searching for his camp, Judas Maccabeus led an audacious attack against the Seleucids’ base at Emmaus. His force then harassed the Seleucids during their subsequent retreat.


Facing a Seleucid army under Lysias, governor of Syria, the Maccabean forces resorted to guerrilla tactics to wear down the enemy. Once the Seleucids were weakened, they were attacked and defeated at Beth Zur.


After capturing and ritually cleansing the temple at Jerusalem, the Maccabees were faced with a new army under Lysias. The Jews attempted to fight a set-piece field battle and were defeated by the better-equipped Seleucids.

■ ADASA, 161 BCE

The newly appointed governor of Judah, Nicanor, led a renewed attempt to crush the Maccabean revolt. Encountering the Jews at Adasa, near Beth-Horon, the Seleucids attacked but were defeated. This bought the revolt a brief respite.

■ ELASA, 160 BCE

Facing a vastly larger Seleucid force, Judas Maccabeus launched an attack against the bodyguard of their commander, routing it. His force was then overwhelmed by the remainder of the Seleucid army, and Judas was killed.


The diminished Seleucid kingdom in Syria was attacked by forces backed by the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. The Seleucids were defeated, though Pharaoh Ptolemy VI was killed in the fighting.


Antiochus VII led a campaign into Parthia to revive the fortunes of the declining Seleucid Empire. His force was overwhelmingly defeated at Ecbatana, bringing Seleucid ambitions in Parthia to an end.

Swedish Invasions and the Army of Peter the Great Part I

As early as the autumn of 1708, Whitworth’s cogent summary of the situation anticipated many subsequent criticisms. He praised the qualities of the Swedish armies, but suggested that Charles ‘seems to undervalue all subordinate means of proceeding with success and to rely wholly on the goodness of his army and justice of his cause, by which he has hitherto carried on a prosperous war, contrary to all ordinary rules of acting’. He concluded that if Charles had invaded Russia after Narva, Peter would probably have been forced to make peace on any terms; once that opportunity was missed, however, Peter was given the chance to train and discipline his new forces and, ‘by acting with whole armies against small detachments the soldiers became inured to fire, and easily begun to taste the sweets of conquest’. In their accounts of the campaign, several Swedish officers, in particular Gyllenkrook and Lewenhaupt, stressed that they had disagreed with Charles over many of his strategic decisions: Gyllenkrook, who had prepared the plan for a strike through Livonia at Pskov, claimed that he ‘never advised’ an attack on Moscow, but always sought to hinder it. Lewenhaupt criticised Charles for failing to wait for the supply train when it was only a day’s ride away by courier; over the siege of Poltava; and for the decision not to deploy artillery during the battle. James Jeffreyes, an English agent attached to Charles’s army, wrote immediately after Poltava:

Thus … you see a victorious and numerous army destroy’d in less than two years time, much because of the little regard they had for their enemy; but chiefly because the King would not hearken to any advice that was given him by his Councillors, who I can assure you were for carrying on this war after another method.

When Peter asked the captured Swedish generals after Poltava to explain certain of Charles’s decisions which he found hard to comprehend, Lewenhaupt remarked that the only reply they could make was that they did not know.

While it would be foolish to deny that the headstrong, intense Charles made mistakes, or bore a great deal of responsibility for what happened at Poltava, hindsight has overly coloured judgments of his strategic abilities. Concentration on the ill-fated Russian campaign unbalances many accounts,35 while contemporary assessments cannot be regarded as objective: the desire of Gyllenkrook and Lewenhaupt to clear themselves of responsibility for Poltava and the shameful surrender at Perevolochna casts more than a shadow of doubt over their accounts. One need not adopt the fervid hyperbole of the Swedish General Staff to acknowledge that the Charles who lost Poltava was also the Charles whose strategic grasp at the age of eighteen was sure enough for him to play a significant role in planning the spectacular victory over three powerful enemies in 1700. The brilliant campaigns of 1702–6 and the marshalling of exiguous forces in defence of Sweden against the most powerful coalition it ever faced between 1714 and 1718 suggest that those who dismiss his strategic abilities as negligible are the ones whose judgment is clouded.

The invasion of Russia was undoubtedly a gamble, yet the fact that it ended in disaster should not blind the historian to the reasons for adopting it, nor to the misfortunes which played a part in its failure. Russian historians frequently condemn Charles for his aggression, comparing him to Napoleon and Hitler, whose presumption also brought their downfall. It was the Russians, however, not the Swedes, who were the aggressors in the Great Northern War, which Peter launched on the flimsiest of pretexts. Moreover, Charles had good reason for rejecting Peter’s peace overtures. In 1706–8, Peter’s reforms were by no means secure, the regular core of his army was still small, and the Swedes were aware of the great upsurge in opposition to Peter which had begun with the Astrakhan rising in 1705, and the widespread Cossack discontent, which was to see Bulavin’s rising in 1707–8 and the defection of Mazepa and significant numbers of Zaporozhians in late 1708. As Whitworth remarked:

should this army come to any considerable miscarriage, it would probably draw after it the ruin of the whole empire, since I do not know where the Czar would be able to get another; for the new raised regiments in Ingria and much more those, who are now mustering up here and in the several garrisons on the frontiers, cannot deserve the name of regular forces, not to mention the usual despondency of the russians after any misfortunes, and their general discontent and inclinations to a revolt.

Thus Charles is criticised for not invading Russia in 1700–1, and for invading in 1708–9. Yet conditions were far more favourable in 1708. Following the pleasant interlude in Saxony, the Swedish field army was larger, more experienced and better-equipped than at any point since 1700. The political situation in Poland-Lithuania was more favourable, and Saxony was out of the war. Even if the Russian army had improved substantially since Narva, the Swedes had good reason to believe that they were capable of defeating it if they could force it to battle. Why should Charles make peace, and permit the continued existence of a Russian bridgehead on the Gulf of Finland, thus giving Peter time to stifle dissent at home and build up his navy and army? Charles would have been naive to believe that Peter would be content with the cession of St Petersburg alone; it was the Russians who would benefit most from a suspension of hostilities. The only way to secure a lasting peace and long-term security for the Baltic provinces was to destroy the Russian army and force Peter to settle on Swedish terms. An invasion of Russia was the only way to achieve that end.

Charles’s reign demonstrated once more the harsh realities of Sweden’s strategic position, for all that it was better in 1700 than in 1655 or 1675. Sweden had a large, well-trained army which could be mobilised rapidly and effectively; it had to be supplemented by further recruitment, but the costs involved were not crippling. Although government income was largely static in the years before the war, it had been possible to build up a small reserve fund, amounting to roughly 1 million silver dalers in 1696, while regimental cash reserves were nearly as great, at 900,000 silver dalers. Yet although Sweden was better prepared for war than ever before, and was able to raise new funds from extraordinary taxes, such as the tenth penny levied between November 1699 and February 1700, and various expedients, the harsh realities of its chronic shortage of specie soon became apparent: the costs of mobilisation were reckoned in January 1700 at 6,374,141 silver dalers, while extraordinary sources were estimated to be capable of producing only 1,514,001. Hopes of raising loans in Holland and England at a maximum of 5 per cent interest, were dashed, since Sweden could offer little as security apart from customs tolls at Riga, Narva, Reval and Nyen. With Saxon and Russian armies heading for Livonia, the Dutch and English were understandably reluctant to risk their money, although a Dutch loan of 300,000 riksdalers was secured at 5 per cent in 1702. Sweden’s reserves underpinned the mobilisation of 1700, and made possible Travendal and Narva, but they were rapidly exhausted, and were utterly incapable of sustaining a long war: government credit was poor, and loans from private individuals were difficult to raise, while the outbreak of war brought a serious liquidity crisis for the new Bank of Sweden.

Thus Sweden, for all that Charles XI’s reforms had transformed its military capacity, faced a familiar set of problems. It could not long fight a defensive war. As had been the case in 1655, once it mobilised its army, it was forced to carry the war into enemy territory, and the war could only be sustained by fighting abroad. The indelningsverk performed well in filling gaps in the ranks, but for all the meticulous preparations of the excellent commissariat, once the troops were detached from the farms which supported them in peacetime, the problems multiplied. They were already evident when the army gathered in Scania, Sweden’s richest province; once it reached Livonia, they only worsened. In the winter of 1700–1 it rapidly became clear that if the army were to stay together it would have to leave the Baltic provinces. One of the most important arguments against an attack on Pskov was that even without taking into account the political problems following the reduktion, Livonia, devastated by famine in the 1690s, was exhausted: to strike at Pskov the army would have to retrace its steps northward across territories which had already paid substantial contributions. The move south into Courland in July 1701 was thus partly motivated by supply considerations. Courland was small, however; by early 1702 it was exhausted, and the army was suffering: after it entered Poland one observer noted the contrast between the half-naked Swedish soldiers and the regiment of Sapieha foot which accompanied them, smartly clad in green uniforms. Merely to support itself, the army had to move. It was difficult to imagine that an invasion of Russia could be sustained from an exhausted and politically unreliable supply-base, while the area round Pskov was not known to flow with milk and honey.

The decision to move south was eminently sensible. For the next six years, the Swedes supplied themselves without major difficulty. Charles did not face the concerted resistance that had frustrated his grandfather, he enjoyed substantial political support, and his army was manifestly superior to all its opponents. Small Swedish detachments were still vulnejable to attack, but the fact that they had significant support from Augustus’s enemies meant that they could deploy Polish light cavalry of their own to counter the threat and provide reconnaissance; Charles placed great store on the recruitment of these Vallacker units, and there was an entire regiment in the army which left Saxony in 1707. Swedish military dominance ensured that Magnus Stenbock, director of the General War Commissariat, could raise contributions from a wide area in a way which had not been possible in the 1650s: when the palatinates of Ruthenia and Volhynia were the object of a special expedition in the winter of 1702–3, he returned with six barrels of gold and a considerable haul of supplies in kind at a cost of 68 killed or missing and 36 horses. After the fall of Thorn in October 1703 there were for the moment no Saxon troops in the Commonwealth. With the army stationed in Warmia and Polish Prussia in the first half of 1704, the supply situation was remarkably good. It remained so when the Swedes moved their headquarters to Rawicz after the 1704 campaign, or when Volhynia was placed under contribution in 1705.

There was a price to be paid, however, for the very efficiency of the Swedish operation. Although marauding and looting were punished severely by the military authorities, who made conspicuous efforts to investigate Polish complaints against Swedish soldiers, there is reason to doubt Hatton’s indulgent assessment of their behaviour.44 Even in pro-Swedish areas, the very efficiency with which they collected contributions provoked hostile reactions from those subject to constant requisitions. Given that this was a civil war, and that Swedish control was never absolute, communities could be faced by successive demands from Swedish, Saxon and Polish forces: in December 1705 the villagers of Ilewo wrote to Thorn Council, their landlords, that, having been forced to pay contributions in cash and kind to support the Saxon garrison in 1703, they had then been placed under contributions by the Swedes, and had since faced Sapieha exactions. In such circumstances, the demands of even the best-behaved troops were resented, and local officials were deluged with requests for the waiving of rent payments to take account of the demands of the military, which were often heavy: of 217 rams inventoried in the village of Gremboczyn in 1703, the Swedes took 100; by the end of the year, after deaths, other exactions and wastage, there were only 44 left.

Such demands did little for Leszczyński’s hopes of winning support; furthermore, if they had the advantage over Gustav Adolf and Charles X that they were not bottled up in one corner of the Commonwealth, but could occupy new areas when their supply-base became exhausted, this meant that they spread their unpopularity over a steadily widening area. Their exactions inevitably provoked resistance; where they met it, they behaved with striking ruthlessness. Hatton’s picture of the Swedish soldier ‘of peasant stock and a smallholder himself in peacetime’ cheerfully chopping wood and helping round the farms on which he was billeted is not a complete fantasy, but it scarcely characterises the normal relationship between the Swedes and the local population. Charles believed it was good practice to deal ‘harshly and brusquely’ with Poles. When Wojnicz failed to pay its allotted contributions in October 1702, he ordered its division into quarters, each of which was plundered by a detachment of 100 men, before the town was burnt. The properties of Augustus’s supporters were treated with startling ruthlessness: Charles ordered Stenbock to ruin the estates of general Brandt, one of Augustus’s commanders, ‘as best thou can’. On Charles’s direct orders villages were burned, fields were laid waste, cattle were driven off to feed the army and any who objected were put to the sword. The harsh behaviour of the Swedes towards the local population during the Russian campaign of 1707–9 had its clear antecedents in Poland. At the very least, it ensured that potential supporters would think twice before abandoning the Sandomierz Confederation.

Swedish strategy was not entirely driven by considerations of supply. There were good military reasons for Charles’s desire for a war of movement. Confident of the superiority of his army, he sought battle, as had Chodkiewicz or Żółkiewski before him. Charles’s forces were too small to scatter around in garrisons, and he pursued Batory’s policy of demolishing fortifications instead of manning them. After the fall of Thorn in 1703, Charles ordered the razing of its walls, behind which a Saxon garrison of 6,000 had mouldered away. Charles could not afford to be so profligate with his army or waste too much time on irrelevant siege operations: when the Swedes captured Lwów in 1704, they spent five days on Charles’s orders blowing up the best of the 160 ‘fine large guns’ which had fallen into their hands. Charles had no use for them; Swedish military dominance was not dependent upon control of fortresses.

Between 1700 and 1708, success bred success. The defeats inflicted on Schlippenbach in the Baltic provinces could be dismissed as of minor significance so long as the main army was victorious; once it could be turned against the Russians, Sweden’s losses could be recovered. Yet the very confidence which flowed from the long run of victories could itself be a source of danger. For the threat from the Russian army was growing. Buoyed by their victories in the Baltic, Peter and his commanders were becoming more confident, while intensive drill was improving the quality of the ordinary soldiers. Despite the continuing shortage of talented officers, even foreign observers were beginning to recognise the good effects of Peter’s work. In July 1705, the Austrian ambassador Otto Pleyer remarked after the mustering of the army in Moscow that ‘the newly-arrived officers avowed they had seen no German army that was better clad, exercised or armed.’ In reporting Sheremetev’s defeat at Gemauerthof (July 1705), Whitworth noted approvingly how firmly the Russians had stood their ground. For all his reports on Russian problems over desertion and the quality of officers, he described in 1708 how the army was ‘composed of leesty, well made fellows’ and recognised that ‘the exercise [is] good, their air quite altered since their campaigns in Poland, and many of their regiments will doubtless fight well.’ The Russians themselves were increasingly confident of the quality of their troops: Peter, the harshest of critics, wrote in March 1707 that the army was ‘in good shape’; in April 1708, Sheremetev wrote of the ‘good state’ of his infantry. Most tellingly, if Charles is often accused of underestimating the fighting qualities of the Russians, there is much evidence to suggest that his army did not. After Holowczyn, Jeffreyes remarked that:

The Svedes must now own the Muscovites have learnt their lesson much better than they had either at the battles of Narva or Fraustadt, and that they equal if not exceed the Saxons both in discipline and valour, ’tis true their cavalry is not able to cope with owrs, but their infantry stand their ground obstinately, and ’tis a difficult matter to separate them or bring them in a confusion if they be not attacked sword in hand.

Posse claimed that ‘all those who saw and heard that action, must confess that they had never seen or heard such great fire from salvos, which we had to endure’. Lyth acknowledged the proficiency of Russian musketry and commented on the skill with which the Russians had chosen their positions. In the past, Swedes had felt that although the Russians had always fought sturdily enough they tended to take flight if the battle began to turn against them, but Lewenhaupt’s grudging praise of their fighting qualities at Lesnaia included a recognition that they were now capable of rallying after being forced back.

Most significantly, the Russian army was developing its own style of fighting, as Peter and his commanders gained experience of Swedish methods of waging war and realised that for all the technical help brought by westerners, western methods were not always effective. There were already signs of this at Narva, when it was Boris Sheremetev who suggested that the army should emerge from the protection of the countervallation to confront the Swedes in the open field, where its superior numbers could be made to tell.56 As the Saxon army went down to defeat after defeat, the spell of western competence was broken, and Peter’s reliance on western officers at the top level of service diminished steadily. The frequent military councils – twenty-two were held in 1708 alone – at which high-ranking officers, foreign and Russian, discussed strategy and tactics with government ministers were important for developing the fusion of western and eastern principles which increasingly characterised Petrine warfare. Papers were submitted by participants, debate was strongly encouraged, and decisions were only taken after full consideration of the situation.

Swedish Invasions and the Army of Peter the Great Part II

As Russian confidence grew, so arguments over strategy with western commanders became more frequent. The most significant such dispute came at Grodno in early 1706, where Peter had deputed Menshikov to keep an eye on the Scottish field-marshal Ogilvy who, following the departure of Augustus, was in sole command of forty-five infantry battalions and six dragoon regiments, some 35,000 men.58 All correspondance with Ogilvy was conducted via Repnin, the senior Russian officer present, who received a copy of every order Peter sent Ogilvy. As Charles advanced on Grodno, Peter, fearing the loss of much of his precious army, ordered Ogilvy to abandon the city and withdraw towards the Russian frontier. Ogilvy, despite the fact that supplies were running short, and against the advice of Repnin, Menshikov, Hallart and Wenediger, argued that it was impossible to evacuate Grodno, expressing his wish that Charles would attack, adding that: ‘do not doubt that it will bring complete victory in a few hours.’ He objected that he would be forced to destroy the heavy artillery because he did not have enough horses to transport it. Peter’s reply, sent after he received news of the disaster at Fraustadt, was sharp: he ordered Ogilvy to abandon Grodno forthwith, to take only regimental artillery with him, and to destroy the heavy guns. Once he had left the city, Ogilvy was to divide his forces and send them eastwards by separate routes. This might expose individual sections to destruction, but Peter wished at all costs to avoid a general battle which might wipe out the whole army. Ogilvy finally began the evacuation on 11/22 March, but not before he had once more risked Peter’s wrath by bluntly contesting his order, stating that it would be better to stay in Grodno until the summer, despite the shortage of provisions; as he admitted, the Swedish light cavalry was picking off foraging parties sent out from the city. Even when he was on the point of abandoning Grodno, he urged Peter to retake it.

The dispute with Ogilvy demonstrated the extent to which Peter and his Russian commanders had begun to liberate themselves from the assumptions of their western advisers. Defence must be based on mobility, not fortresses, which could be death-traps for armies, something which Peter could not risk. The different philosophies were revealed in a further argument over the composition of the army, when Peter rejected Ogilvy’s recommendation of a force of thirty regiments of foot and only sixteen of horse, deciding on a ratio of forty-seven infantry to thirty-three cavalry regiments; as Sheremetev recognised, cavalry was vitally important even in siege warfare in the east. The parting of the ways was not long delayed. In April, Ogilvy requested his release from Russian service; in September, he was finally allowed to leave. Henceforth, the Russian army was largely commanded by Russians. The long apprenticeship was over, and the new maturity of Russian strategic thinking was apparent in the council which met in Żółkiew in April 1707. Here the decision was taken not to join battle in Poland-Lithuania, despite Polish pressure, or to garrison fortresses in the Commonweath, but to withdraw through Lithuania into Russia itself, and organise a flexible defence against possible Swedish lines of attack.64 Although Peter is often credited as the creator of this plan, it is clear that Russian commanders, especially Sheremetev, played an important part in its formulation. It was dangerous, since it risked alienating the Sandomierz confederates, who wished to adopt an offensive strategy and force Charles to a decisive battle in the Commonwealth.

As the Swedes marched east, the Russians melted away before them, destroying everything in their path. The Swedes faced similar problems to those experienced by Batory 130 years earlier. Lyth’s description of marching through deep forest in the autumn of 1708 could have been lifted from Piotrowski’s diary:

we lost many men and many horses, which died of hunger, so that our misery grew ever greater; we had to watch as both men and horses alike, exhausted by hunger, dropped to the ground and died there miserably; so it remained for us doubly worse.

A month later the army emerged into a wilderness of deserted and smoking villages, whence everything had been carried away, in which they were constantly harried by enemy raids, so that they were not safe from attack ‘for a single hour’, as the great cry went up from the army ‘what shall we eat?’ Like Batory’s army at Pskov, units had to forage for miles in all directions to obtain supplies. There was one major difference, however. When Batory laid siege to Pskov he was facing an exhausted and disorganised enemy, and his cavalry dominated the theatre of operations. Charles, for all the formidable qualities of his army, was facing a very different opponent. Peter might be cautious about exposing his precious new army in open battle, but his forces, augmented by large numbers of Cossack and Kalmuk irregulars, were more than capable of subjecting the Swedes to the high-level harrassment Charles X’s armies had experienced in Poland in the 1650s. This ensured that Swedish supply problems steadily increased: forage parties were easy targets for roaming Russian units, and the constant skirmishes hit morale badly. The Swedish cavalry may have been superior on the battlefield, but the Russians were numerically stronger and well-suited to a campaign of harassment.

For all the sense of tragic inevitability which pervades accounts of Charles’s Russian campaign, he had little choice but to attempt what he recognised was a risky operation, and his conduct of it was by no means as strategically inept as it is often portrayed. There were good reasons for the decision to turn south in the autumn of 1708. The move into the Ukraine would open easier lines of communication through Volhynia, Podolia and Ruthenia to Leszczyński, and bring the Swedes closer to the Turks and Tatars, whom Charles had good reason to believe might be persuaded to join the war against Russia. Whether or not Charles wished to force Peter to a decisive battle after crossing the Dnieper, or, as Stille believes, he was attempting an ambitious flanking move, he had failed by mid-September. The Swedes did catch the Russian cavalry at Tatarsk (10/21 September), but the ground was unfavourable and Charles was unwilling to risk an attack. A march north was now impossible. The Russians were laying waste the countryside – the Swedes counted the flames of twenty-four burning villages from their encampment – while Lewenhaupt and Rehnskióld agreed that the roads from Smolensk to Moscow would be impassible. The supply situation was becoming serious, morale was suffering, and the army greeted the decision to turn south with relief:

we have been in a very desolate country … half a mile from the boarders of Muscovy, where we found nothing but what was burnt and destroyd, and of large villages little left but the bare names, we had allso news of the like destruction as farr as Smolensko, which has had this happy effect on His Maj:ty that he has desisted from pursuing the ennemy, and turnd his march to the right, with intention as is supposd to make an incursion into Ukrain, this is a country … wery plentifull of all necessaryes and where no army as yet has been.

It was undoubtedly an error to turn south without waiting for Lewenhaupt, or turning back towards the Dnieper to meet him, as Piper urged; it is clear that Charles, despite optimistic reports that Lewenhaupt was across the Dnieper, was aware that he was not. Charles was confident that Lewenhaupt would be capable of beating off any attack, but underestimated the Russian ability to seize the opportunity. Peter sent Sheremetev to shadow the main Swedish army, while detaching a force of 6,795 dragoons and 4,830 infantry, mounted on horses to ensure rapidity of movement. This korvolant (corps volant) moved swiftly on Lewenhaupt’s force, whose speed was reduced by the need to maintain full battle order on the march to protect the cumbersome wagon train. The Swedes gave a good account of themselves at Lesnaia, but although they slightly outnumbered the Russians, they were unable to save the vital supply-train, losing nearly half their strength into the bargain. The Russian horse might be inferior to the Swedish cavalry, but Lesnaia underlined the usefulness of dragoons in the eastern theatre of war.

Charles had paid the price of not waiting for Lewenhaupt, and it is unlikely that Peter would have risked an attack if the main Swedish army had not turned south. Nevertheless, if the loss of the supply train was a blow, it was by no means fatal. Initially it seemed that the move south was justified. On crossing into the Ukraine in early November, Lyth reported that it was rich in grain, fruit, tobacco and cattle, with few forests and extensive fields. There was an abundance of honey, flax and hemp, which could be bought very cheaply; although the Russians had made some effort at destruction, the Swedes were able to excavate buried supplies, and bread, beer, spirits, wines, mead, honey, cattle and fodder for the horses were plentiful. By December, however, the situation had deteriorated sharply; although the Swedes found ample supplies of tobacco, food and fodder began to be a problem, while the growing shortages were exacerbated by a sudden and vicious turn in the weather in what was to prove one of the fiercest winters of the century. In the coldest snap, in late December, men froze to death in the saddle overnight; on Christmas Eve, 25–26 men from Lyth’s company succumbed and Lewenhaupt calculated that 4,000 men fell victim to the cold. This seriously weakened the army and had a severe effect on morale, but Charles cannot be blamed for the exceptional severity of the winter. The period of extreme cold was relatively brief, and although conditions thereafter were far from comfortable, they were bearable, and if the Swedes suffered, so did the Russians. The Russians were far better able to replace their losses, however, and it remains true that the Swedish losses helped shift the balance of advantage towards Peter.

If Charles’s strategy was undoubtedly risky, it was not the work of a madman or an aggressive psychopath. Nevertheless, the Swedes were always fighting at a disadvantage in country familiar to their enemies. Further reverses were to follow. After the loss of Lewenhaupt’s baggage train it was essential that an alternative store of supplies be secured, but the Swedes lost by a whisker the race for Baturyn, Mazepa’s headquarters. After the Cossack hetman had finally declared for Charles, on 24 October (OS), Menshikov sacked Baturyn (2/13 November), cruelly massacring the population and destroying or carrying off the precious reserves of arms, ammunition and food with which Charles had hoped to augment his rapidly-diminishing supplies.

Although Mazepa’s defection was a considerable boost for Charles, especially when it was followed in March 1709 by that of the Zaporozhians, it was not to prove decisive. The 1650s, when the Cossacks had briefly promised to emerge as a significant political force in the southeast, were long gone. The Ukrainian Ruina had shattered Cossack unity. By looking to the Swedes Mazepa and the Zaporozhian hetman Kost’ Hordiienko were merely continuing the politics of the last half century, in which Cossack leaders had manoeuvred between Poland, Russia and the Ottomans, seeking a basis for the autonomy they had enjoyed under Khmelnytsky. The Cossacks, although still extremely useful as sharpshooters and irregular troops, were not the military force they had once been. Indeed, the heavy casualties which Mazepa’s Cossacks had incurred when forced by Peter to fight in the north against the Swedes, where they had proved no match for regular troops, had played a significant role in alienating them. Moreover, the Zaporozhians were strongly hostile to the Poles, and Charles’s ill-disguised scheming with Mazepa to eliminate the Commonwealth once and for all from the Ukraine not only ensured the continuing hostility of the Sandomierz confederates, it also threatened his relations with Leszczyński, the Ottomans and the Tatars. In March 1709, Wiśniowiecki, who had extensive Ukrainian estates, abandoned Leszczyński and rejoined the Sandomierz Confederation. The destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich by a Russian force in May 1709 merely demonstrated that Charles’s hopes for a widespread Ukrainian rebellion against Russia were ill-founded, and that the mobile and much larger Russian forces were in control of the wider theatre of campaign.

Thus when Charles’s diminishing army finally launched the general battle he had sought for so long at Poltava on 27 June 1709 (OS) it was not under the favourable circumstances for which he had hoped. Indeed, although it was characteristically the Swedes who took the initiative with an ambitious plan to assault the Russian camp, it was the Russians who had issued the challenge by crossing the Vorskla to the north of Poltava on 20 June (OS), three days after Charles’s luck ran out when he received a bad wound in his foot from a stray bullet while observing the Russian positions. Two days later, he received final confirmation that neither Leszczyński nor Krassau would be joining him. Although he accompanied his army into battle borne on a litter, Rehnskióld took operational command. Unable to provide the inspirational leadership for which he was famous, Charles was condemned to follow the battle from a distance, while the morale of his troops was undoubtedly affected. Nevertheless, a battle was necessary. A Swedish victory, while it might not destroy the Russian army, would relieve the pressing supply problems, would help Leszczyński, and might tempt the Ottomans and Tatars to commit themselves. The only viable alternatives were to withdraw across the Dnieper, southwards to the Crimea or back towards Poland; both would be hazardous with the Russians across the Vorskla

The Macedonian Monarchy and the Roman Republic

First Macedonian War, (215-205 B. C. E.)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Macedonians vs. Romans

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Northern frontiers of Macedon


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Philip V of Macedon wanted to expand his empire.

OUTCOME: Indecisive, except to spawn further warfare.



TREATIES: Peace of Phoenice, 205 B. C. E.

King Philip V (238-179 B. C. E.) of Macedon was a warlike and restless monarch ambitious to extend his empire at any cost. He exploited the Second PUNIC WAR, in which the forces of Rome were preoccupied with fighting Carthage, to attack the diminished Roman forces in the east, the region known as Illyria. However, the Romans could not decisively defeat the Macedonians, nor could Philip wear down the Romans, and the result was warfare that consumed a decade, producing little result.

Philip took a new tack. Allying himself with Hannibal of Carthage (247-c. 183-181 B. C. E.), he invaded the Greek city-states. Rome, characteristically neutral in the affairs of these states, saw Philip’s incursions as an opportunity to expand the Roman sphere of influence. Rome concluded the Peace of Phoenice, which was generous to Philip. However, within five years of the end of the First Macedonian War, the Second MACEDONIAN WAR began.

Second Macedonian War, (200-196 B. C. E.)



DECLARATION: Rome against Macedon, 200 B. C. E.

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Philip V of Macedon wanted to extend his empire into the Greek states. OUTCOME: Rome defeated Macedon, which agreed to an indemnity.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Each side fielded about 20,000 men.

CASUALTIES: At Cynoscephalae, the decisive battle of the war, Macedonian losses were 10,000 killed; Roman losses were much lower.

TREATIES: Indemnity agreement

The First MACEDONIAN WAR ended at the northern frontiers of Macedon. Although the Peace of Phoenice offered many favorable terms to Macedon, much was left unsettled, and, in 200 B. C. E., Philip V (238-179 B. C. E.) of Macedon turned southward, intending to make inroads into the Greek city-states. He menaced Rhodes and Pergamum first, then attacked other city-states. Rome demanded Philip’s pledge to make no further hostile moves. He refused and, seeing gains to be made in defeating Philip in Greece, Rome engaged him. The climactic battle of the Second Macedonian War came in 197 B. C. E., when Rome’s legions soundly beat Philip at Cynoscephalae. Titus Quintius Flaminius (c. 227-174 B. C. E.) led 20,000 Roman legionaries and met the Macedonian force on the heights of Cynoscephalae, in southwestern Thessaly. It was a hard-fought battle, but Philip took by far the worst of it. Half his 20,000 men were killed. Rome’s losses, while substantial, did not approach this magnitude. As a result of his defeat, Philip withdrew from Greece and further agreed to render a large indemnity to Rome, which then proclaimed itself the liberator and protector of the Greek states, asserting a benevolent dominance over them.

Philip’s son Perseus (c. 212-166 B. C. E.) succeeded him as Macedon’s king in 179. Instead of invading Greece, he made alliances among the Greek states. Fearing this kind of influence as well, Rome initiated the Third MACEDONIAN WAR.

Third Macedonian War, (172-167 B. C. E.)


PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Southeastern Macedonia


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Rome wanted to stop Macedon’s meddling in Greek politics.

OUTCOME: Macedon was defeated; Rome divided Macedonia into republics.


CASUALTIES: Macedonian losses at Pydna (168 B. C. E.) were 20,000 killed and 11,000 made prisoner; in contrast, Rome lost about 100 killed.


After Perseus (c. 212-166 B. C. E.), who had inherited the Macedonian throne from his father Philip V in 179 B. C. E., began to meddle in Greek affairs by making alliances with various Greek city-states, Rome sent an army to attack his forces at Pydna in southeastern Macedonia. Fought on June 22, 168 B. C. E., this battle proved decisive, the Macedonians lost 20,000 killed and 11,000 taken as prisoners; Roman losses amounted to no more than 100 killed. The following year, Perseus was dethroned and made captive. To ensure that Macedon would never again threaten the stability of the Roman world, the victors divided it into four republics. However, this only succeeded in causing internal conflict, as the republics soon fell to disputing with one another. In a climate of discontent and confusion, a pretender to the throne attempted to reestablish the Macedonian monarchy in 152 B. C. E., an action that ignited the Fourth MACEDONIAN WAR.

Fourth Macedonian War, (151-146 B. C. E.)




MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: When a pretender to the throne vowed to reunify Macedon, the Romans decided to subjugate it fully.

OUTCOME: The Macedonian army was no match for the Romans, who conquered Macedon and annexed it.




Following the Roman partition of Macedon into four republics, a pretender to the throne arose, calling for the reunification of the nation under his leadership. This provoked Rome to dispatch forces to fight the Macedonians for a fourth time, and, once again, Rome easily triumphed over the Macedonian army. The war included no battles of military significance; the Macedonians were simply de- moralized by the Roman Legions and melted away before them. Having tried and failed to render Macedon docile by dividing it into four republics, Rome now annexed the country to itself. This was the first major step in the long expansion of the Roman Empire.

Further reading: M. Cary, A History of the Greek World from 323 to 146 B. C. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963); N. G. L. Hammond, The Macedonian State (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Victor Davis Hanson, The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (New York: Sterling, 2002); J. F. Lazenby, Hannibal’s War: A Military History of the Second Punic War (Warminster, England: Aris and Phillips, 1978); Colin Wells, The Roman Empire, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995).

Philip V

In 219 BC Philip V had been king of Macedon for a matter of months, but he would have known from the outset that, even without the Romans complicating his life, that his was no easy job. Though ranked as one of the great Hellenistic powers, for more than a century Macedon had been ‘punching above its weight’ as modern military parlance puts it. A relatively small and partly mountainous country, with limited resources of manpower, Macedon had an abundance of barbarian enemies to occupy its armies; as if holding down the fractious statelets of the Greek peninsula was not effort enough. As pointed out earlier, Macedon compensated for its weakness in manpower and military overstretch by having both a superbly organized army and an efficient administration.

Since the king of Macedon was the linchpin of that administration, it was natural that Macedon’s enemies would test the mettle of that linchpin, who was, after all, a 17-year-old boy. As Polybius remarks:

The Aetolians had for long been dissatisfied with peace and with a way of life limited to their own resources, as they had been accustomed to live on the wealth of their neighbours … Nevertheless whilst Antigonus was alive, they kept their peace through fear of Macedonia, but when the king died leaving as his successor Philip, who was almost a child, they thought this new king could be safely ignored.

More or less the same thought had occurred to the Dardanians, the warlike people to the north of Illyria against whom Antigonus Doson had probably been campaigning at the time of his death. Assuming a state of confusion whilst Philip picked up the reins of power, the Dardanians lost no time in launching a quick raid on Macedonia. Philip had been expecting this and had prepared his response with the speed and flair that was to become his trademark.

The Dardanians were driven back in confusion to their mountains, but before Philip could follow up this early success word reached him of trouble to the south. The Aetolians had started a war with the small city-state of Messenia. Since the Hellenic League created by Antigonus Doson to deal with Cleomenes of Sparta had never been dissolved, the Messanians called for aid from their former allies, above all the Achaeans and Macedon.

Aratus, leader of the Achaeans at this time, responded promptly to the Messanian plea without waiting for Philip, whom he knew to be busy with the Dardanians. However, the Achaeans were out-manouvered and soundly beaten by the Aetolians, which is why it became essential for Philip to hurry to Corinth to take matters in hand. The contingencies of the international situation meant that rather than seeking an immediate military solution, the king was initially inclined towards negotiations.

Trouble was brewing to the east where a war had broken out between Rhodes and Byzantium, enthusiastically encouraged by the Ptolemaic Egyptians. Also with Egyptian encouragement, Athens had revolted from Macedon, and Sparta was becoming restless once more. The outlook to the west was ominous. Relations between Rome and Carthage were deteriorating rapidly as a result of Hannibal’s unchecked expansion in Spain, and the two Illyrian leaders, Demetrius and Sacerdilaidas were becoming increasingly assertive. Sacerdilaidas had vigorously joined in the Aetolian aggression, and not to be outdone, Demetrius had embarked on the expansionist policy on the borders of the Roman protectorate which was to bring the legions down on his head. In short, Philip was emphatically not looking for trouble if he could talk his way out of it instead.

Leaving Demetrius to be dealt with by the Romans, Philip bribed Sacerdilaidas to his side and thus secured his western frontier. However, the Aetolians had already shown how little they feared Macedon’s intervention. Aetolia’s privateers had captured a ship of the Macedonian royal navy, and taking it to Aetolia, sold the ship and enslaved its captain and crew. Now convinced that Philip had come south to fight, the Aetolians pre-empted negotiations by resuming hostilities. The war which followed is known as the Social War, since it involved the allies of Macedon. It was basically another spat between the Greek confederations. However this spat was more important than most because it established the military and political situation which prevailed at the time of the coming of Rome.

In response to Aetolian attacks Philip arrived in Epirus via Thessaly. He ignored an Aetolian attempt to distract him by a very substantial raid into Macedonia and took the city of Ambracus. Then, with a combined army of Macedonians, Epirots and Achaeans he pushed deep into the Aetolian heartland. However, his hopes of finishing the war that year were dashed by news that the Dardanians were preparing a larger and more organized assault on his kingdom. Philip was desperately needed in the north once more. It was while en route to deal with the latest crisis that Philip added to his entourage, Demetrius of Pharos fresh from his drubbing by the Romans. It was unlikely that Philip would look kindly on Roman intervention in Illyria, which he perceived as part of his bailiwick, and his kindly reception of Demetrius was probably a reflection of his pique.

Hearing of Philip’s immanent return, the Dardanians abandoned their plans for invasion. It was now late in the campaigning season, and everyone assumed that hostilities were now concluded for the year. Consequently it came as a shock to the Aetolians and their allies when Philip suddenly reappeared in Corinth with a picked force of some 6,000 men and advanced through the winter snows into Arcadia in the eastern Peloponnese.

A highly profitable and successful campaign followed in which Philip’s conduct and generalship aroused near-universal admiration in Greece. The end of the year 219 BC saw Philip back at the city of Argos with the Aetolians packed out of the Peloponnese and the peninsula largely subdued apart from Sparta, soon to be under the rule of King Nabis, a ruler in the tradition of the late Cleomenes. At about this time, word reached Philip that Rome was on the brink of war with Carthage, as Hannibal had attacked Rome’s ally in Spain (the city of Saguntum) and Carthage had failed to respond appropriately to this outrage by one of its generals. This news, with its momentous implications for the future of Greece and Macedon, was considered of little note at the time.

Summer 218 BC saw Hannibal and his elephants set out for the Alps, and a Roman army head off in the opposite direction to Spain. In the east, the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids began a serious war over possession of an area called Coele-Syria. Between the two, the states of Greece resumed where they had left off the previous winter. Philip had obtained supplies of corn from the Achaeans to compensate for the effects of the Aetolian raid on Macedonia the previous year. Perhaps feeling the Aetolians owed him yet more corn, he suddenly switched his attack from land to sea and, with ships partly supplied by Sacerdilaidas, pillaged the island of Cephallenia, a valuable ally which supplied Aetolia with both corn and ships.

On hearing that the Aetolians had attacked Thessaly, Philip made another lightning change of direction. Taking advantage of the absence of Aetilia’s army he attacked the country once more with a force which included Macedonian regulars, Illyrian tribesmen, Thracian irregulars and Cretan bowmen. These made their way through the narrow mountain passes before the remaining Aetolians had time to mount an effective defence, and took and sacked Thermus, the principal city of the Aetolian confederacy.

The Macedonian army then razed much of the town, in contravention of the laws of war as the Greeks perceived them, and so earned Philip the undying enmity of the Aetolians. On hearing of the attack on Aetolia, the Spartans declared against Macedon, and were stunned to find that within days the Macedonian king had departed Aetolia and was plundering their lands.

Philip might have done more, but his commanders were suffering from divided loyalties. There were those who endorsed the operations in Greece, and those who were aware that Thessaly and Macedonia were lightly defended in consequence. Chief among those with the latter view was Philip’s counsellor, Apelles. Polybius (who, as an Achaean, was all in favour of Philip beating up the Aetolians) claims that Apelles had expected his seniority to impress the young king to the point where Apelles might have been the de facto ruler of Macedon. When Philip showed himself both highly competent and very much his own man, Apelles became bitter and treacherous. The Macedonian kings traditionally allowed their followers considerable freedom of speech and action, but when they overstepped the mark (as Apelles proceeded to do by interfering with the efficiency of the army) these same kings could also be remarkably abrupt. Apelles and the generals who supported him were promptly executed and their followers purged from the royal court.

By way of appeasing the remainder of Apelles’ faction in the army, Philip switched operations the following year to Boeotia, intending to secure this area and so prevent Aetolian raids on Macedon and Thessaly. It was after another substantial victory in this new theatre of operations that news reached Philip that Hannibal had thrashed the Romans at the Battle of Lake Trasimene in Italy.

This was of particular interest to Philip as Sacerdilaidas now felt that his efforts for the Macedonian cause had been insufficiently rewarded and he had turned openly hostile. With Hannibal keeping the Romans out of the game, the Illyrians had returned whole-heartedly to state-sponsored piracy and regional trade was suffering. Urged on by Demetrius of Pharos, Philip began to contemplate patching up a peace with the Aetolians, and subduing the Illyrians once and for all. Then using Illyria as a springboard, Philip might establish a Macedonian presence in war-weakened Italy. Perhaps after all, the master plan of Pyrrhus could be realized.

This was, as Polybius remarks, the moment when the separate threads of Greek and Roman history became intertwined, and events in the west directly affected Greece. It was a moment not only of great opportunity, but of great danger. In the peace conference with the Aetolians which was part one of Philip’s ambitious new plan, Polybius has one speaker remark:

Whether the Carthaginians beat the Romans or the Romans beat the Carthaginians, it is highly unlikely that the winners will be content to rule Italy and Sicily. They are sure to come here. …if you wait for these clouds gathering in the west to cover Greece, I very much fear these truces and wars and games at which we now play are going to be rudely interrupted.

After their mauling at Macedonian hands over the previous few years the Aetolians were keen to retire and lick their wounds under the mantle of Greek unity. This left Philip free to move his plan to part two and attack Illyria, where he made considerable progress before the winter closed in.

During the winter was all sides in the converging regional conflict mustered their forces for a hectic campaigning season to come. The Romans had elected as consul Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror of Illyria in 219 BC, and were gathering the largest army they had ever put into the field in an effort to push Hannibal from Italy. Philip was busily building a fleet (mostly fast light ships of the Illyrian type) for operations in the Adriatic, and the Achaeans and Aetolians were quietly preparing for another bout of mutual hostilities. Sacerdilaidas was industriously building ships to counter Philip’s fleet, and had sent to the Romans for aid. The Romans had problems of their own at this point, but dispatched a small fleet of some dozen ships from Lilybaeum in Sicily with instructions to familiarize themselves with the situation in the Balkans and Adriatic coast.

Philip’s fleet, pushing northward, encountered these ships, the first military encounter between Macedonians and Romans. The Macedonians did not engage the newcomers, for Philip had not yet decided on war with Rome. Philip thought he had encountered the full Roman fleet, and was uncertain whether this presaged another major Roman incursion into the region. So perturbed was he by this extension of Roman power that he pulled back his forces which had reached as far as Apollonia and awaited developments.

Though he had not lost any men, this retreat was a blow to Philip’s prestige. The setback soured the young king who had heretofore enjoyed little but outright success. He would have further cursed when he realized that he had retreated from Illyria, not before the full Roman fleet, but merely a strong reconnaissance force. None of this would have disposed him favourably to Rome. Later in the year, news reached Macedonia that even as Philip was pulling back from Illyria, in expectation of the arrival of a Roman army, Hannibal was busily wiping out that same army at Cannae, killing, among tens of thousand of others, the consul Aemilius Paulus.

This development appears to have tipped the balance. However, Philip did not immediately declare war on Rome. It is possible that Philip may even have considered that he had left it too late to do so, and that Rome must now surely sue for peace. However, as 215 BC began, and the Romans fought grimly on, Philip could offer assistance to Carthage without appearing simply to climb on to the bandwagon of Hannibal’s success. Led by an Athenian, Xenophanes, ambassadors were sent to make an agreement for an offensive alliance against the Romans.

Chios 201 BC: A Coalition Command

Phalanx vs Legion: Battle of Cynoscephalae

Armored Forces of Barbarossa I

Whatever might be the Reich’s advantages on the levels of policy and strategy, the approximately 130 German infantry divisions in Barbarossa’s order of battle carried weapons looted from a half dozen armies. There were five divisions of Waffen SS, with greater reputations for ferocity than fighting power. Client states—Romania, Finland, Slovakia—provided between 20 and 30 more divisions of limited operational value. Occupied Europe was stripped of everything with four wheels and an engine to provide logistic support for this mixed bag. Trucks were purchased from Switzerland. Other trucks were requisitioned from French North Africa. And in the final analysis, sustaining the invasion still depended heavily on captured railroads whose track gauge had to be altered to fit Western rolling stock.

Traditional logistics were just the tip of an iceberg of improvisation. The army expected to sustain itself directly from the campaign’s beginning by utilizing captured Red Army resources and systematically exploiting the civil population. Whatever the military merits of this approach for foot- marching, horse-powered formations, its applicability to the mechanized troops was marginal. To cite only the most obvious example, German tanks had gasoline engines. In the West they had been able to refuel from local filling stations. In Russia such facilities were limited, and Russian gas was of sufficiently lower octane to be a positive risk for already overworked motors. If anything at all went wrong, solutions would have to be improvised. Meanwhile, the theater-level planning for Barbarossa virtually guaranteed problems.

Hitler based Operation Barbarossa on the assumption that success depended on shattering the USSR in one blow. His directive of December 18, 1940, could not have been plainer: the bulk of Russian forces in the west was to be destroyed in a series of bold operations. The generals concurred. They never proposed to match the Russians face-to-face, gun-for-gun, and tank-for-tank. Mechanized war depended on timing: a dozen tanks on the spot were preferable to 50 an hour later. Mechanized war depended on disruption: confusion produced entropy while discouraging resistance. And mechanized war depended on hardness. An enemy could not merely drop his weapon and raise his hands. He needed to feel defeat in his ductless glands—and in his soul. The close synergy between Nazi principles and military behavior demonstrated from the beginning of the Russo-German War was not entirely a consequence of shared racist values. It reflected as well the “way of war” the German army had been developing since at least 1918.

How best then to break the enemy comprehensively? The first operational study began in July 1940. It projected a dual strike, one directly on Moscow, the other on Kiev. This should be enough to destroy the Red Army and disrupt the Soviet state. The ultimate objective was a line: Rostov-Gorki-Archangel; anything to the east would remain “Indian country” until further notice. A parallel study projected three simultaneous assaults, toward Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev. From the beginning, in other words, long before Hitler’s direct involvement, the army’s plans incorporated dispersion of the army’s striking power.

This was not a manifestation of ignorance, willful or otherwise. German planners were fully aware of the size of the Soviet Union. They had reasonable ideas of the kinds of changes it might impose on an operational approach designed for application against small countries. Attaché reports and clandestine reconnaissance flights provided information both negative (on such issues as the lack of roads appropriate for rapid movement) and positive (indicating significant recent buildup of industrial capacity on both sides of the Urals). A series of map exercises in early December 1940 indicated significant problems of overstretch, producing results much like those of a similar exercise in 1913: German forces hung up in the middle of Russia as the enemy massed for a general counteroffensive. The conclusion was that German forces were barely sufficient for the assigned mission. And that was at the beginning.

Germany’s overall mobilization might have been incomplete, but by the summer of 1941, 85 percent of men between 20 and 30 were serving in the Wehrmacht. The remainder were considered indispensable to the war economy. In May, Halder informed the Replacement Army that the initial battles would cost 275,000 casualties, with another 200,000 expected in September. The available replacement pool for the army was 385,000. Simple arithmetic indicated that the pool would be empty before autumn even given Halder’s optimistic time frame.

Shortfalls were certain in another crucial area. The success of mobile war as practiced in Germany depended heavily on air support in a context of air superiority. The planes need not always be present, but they had to be available. The Luftwaffe had exponentially more experience than the Red Air Force, along with significantly superior aircraft and tactics. The Luftwaffe was also fighting in the West and the Mediterranean, suffering steady attrition of planes and crews. It would be covering a far greater geographic area than in 1940, with corresponding extension of technical and logistical demands. Even in a short campaign, the ground forces were correspondingly likely to be depending on their own skills and resources a higher proportion of the time than ever before.

Planning for Barbarossa rolled on, moving from conceptions into details without a bump. Private reservations, expressed in such passive-aggressive ways as buying and reading Baron Caulaincourt’s memoirs of Napoleon’s disastrous 1812 campaign, did not prevent participation of the middle-ranking officers who would be the field commanders. What emerged, significantly independent of Hitler’s direct involvement, was a sophisticated version of what was essentially a military steeple-chase: three army groups lined up on the frontier, and at the starter’s barrage, going as fast as possible in three extrinsic directions. Instead of the single clenched fist of Frederick the Great, or the elder Moltke’s “moving separately and fighting together,” the projected operation resembled a martial artist spreading his fingers as he struck what was intended as a killing blow. Instead of being structured into a decisive point, soldiers, cities, and resources shifted priorities in an ever-changing kaleidoscope. The closest thing to prioritization was Hitler’s emendation of the army’s original plan to provide for Leningrad’s capture before mounting a decisive attack on Moscow. And all this was to be achieved on a campaign of four or five months’ duration.

Scholars and soldiers increasingly, one might say overwhelmingly, describe Barbarossa as fundamentally flawed, a program for defeat even in a narrow military context. But while its dysfunctional genesis may have been in the fever swamps of hubris and racism, a steel thread linked Barbarossa to the real world: the panzers. The Führer and his generals were convinced that the army of the Third Reich had developed a style of war not merely countering the historic Russian strengths of mass, space, and determination, but rendering them irrelevant: a heavyweight boxer confronting a sawed-off shotgun. In his December directive Hitler emphasized “bold armored thrusts.” The army’s map exercises concluded that mobile units would decide the campaign and the war. At every turn the structure of Barbarossa was an inverted pyramid, with the panzers at the tip. Va banque, all or nothing—the Reich’s fate rode with the tanks.

Barbarossa Commences

The barrage opened with Teutonic precision at 3:30 AM on June 22, 1941. A half hour earlier, Luftwaffe bombers had crossed into Russia to strike major air bases. Earlier still, special operations detachments had infiltrated Russian territory, setting ambushes and seizing bridges. As dawn broke, three million men crashed forward under an umbrella of more than a thousand planes.

The Russians were taken completely by surprise at all levels. A train carrying Russian goods had crossed into Germany shortly after midnight. One unit of the Red Army reported it was under attack only to receive the response, “You must be insane!” Stalin suffered a nervous collapse. Foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov confronted the German ambassador: “Surely we have not deserved this!”

Martin van Creveld’s careful calculations have long since discredited the long-standing argument that the Balkan operation delayed Barbarossa by a significant amount of time—enough, perhaps, to set up the Germans’ eventual defeat by “General Winter.” Instead the unexpectedly rapid collapse of Yugoslavia made it possible to transfer and refit the mobile divisions ahead of the originally projected schedule. The reason their transport was not expedited was the slow arrival of the motor vehicles for the panzers’ rear echelons. There was no point in rushing movements from the Balkans when trucks and related equipment were still arriving at what Halder called the last moment: the end of May and early June. Drivers and unit mechanics had scant time to get acquainted with their vehicles’ quirks even had they nothing else to do—an unlikely circumstance in the context of the great invasion.

Spring also came late to western Russia in 1941. Thaws were heavy; streams and rivers overflowed; ground was soft. Here was a case when losing time in the short run meant saving it in the long run—especially given the ramshackle nature of the mobile divisions’ supply columns.

The scale of Barbarossa and the subsequent operations of the Russo-German War preclude continuing at the level of detail presented earlier in the text. It is correspondingly useful to begin with a scorecard. Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Army Group North included Panzer Group 4. Erich Hoepner had three panzer and three motorized divisions, with two corps headquarters. One was commanded by Erich von Manstein. Restored to favor, in the coming weeks Manstein would emerge as a rising star of the armored force. Bock’s Army Group Center had two panzer groups. Number 3, under Hermann Hoth, had three panzer and three motorized divisions. Panzer Group 2 was Heinz Guderian’s: five panzer and three motorized divisions, plus Grossdeutschland. Guderian was also assigned the army’s only horse cavalry division—an apparent contradiction in technological terms that reflected the potential threat from the waterlogged Pripet Marshes on his flank. Rundstedt commanded Army Group South, with five panzer and three motorized divisions along with the Leibstandarte, all under Kleist’s Panzer Group 1.

As in France, the command relationships between panzer groups and field armies were left ambiguous—a situation that would contribute significantly to friction and ill- will as Barbarossa developed. In contrast to 1940, however, each group was assigned a number of infantry divisions: two for Hoepner, three for Hoth, no fewer than six each for Guderian and Kleist. As early as February, Hoth protested that the infantry would slow his advance and block the roads for the panzers’ rear echelons. Bock and Guderian were unhappy for similar reasons. Bock’s comment that his superiors did not seem to know what they wanted reflected Halder’s ongoing concern about the mobile formations getting too far ahead of the marching masses. But in 1941, Guderian commanded more infantry than panzer divisions, and had fewer tanks than in the previous year. In 1940 his corps frontages rarely exceeded 15 miles; in Russia, the norm for his group would be 80 and more. Precisely how the infantry was supposed to cope remained unaddressed.

The generally accepted rule of thumb is that an attack needs a local advantage of three to one in combat power to break through at a specific point—assuming rough equality in “fighting power.” On June 22, tactical surprise produced a degree of operational shock denying conventional wisdom. The Red Air Force lost almost 4,000 planes in the war’s first five days—most of them destroyed on the ground. Other material losses were proportional. Command and control at all levels seemed to disintegrate. The Germans were nevertheless encountering not an obliging enemy, but one caught between two stools. The impact of Stalin’s purges on the officer corps has recently been called into question on the basis of statistics indicating that fewer than 10 percent were actually removed. The focus on numbers overlooks the ripple effects, in particular the diminishing of the mutual rapport and confidence so important in the kind of war the Germans brought with them.

At the same time, in response to substandard performances in Poland and Finland, the Red Army had restored a spectrum of behaviors and institutions abolished after the revolution of 1917, designed collectively to introduce more conventional discipline and reestablish the authority of officers and senior NCOs. These changes did not sit well with a rank and file appropriately described as “reluctant soldiers.” Nor did they fit well on officers who were themselves profoundly uncertain of their positions in the wake of the purges..

One result was a significant decline in training standards that were already mediocre. Western images are largely shaped by German myths describing the Russian as a “natural fighter,” whose instincts and way of life made him one with nature and inured him to hardship in ways foreign to “civilized” men. The Red Army soldier did come from a society and a system whose hardness and brutality prefigured and replicated military life. Stalin’s Soviet Union was a society organized for violence, with a steady erosion of distinctions and barriers between military and civilian spheres. If armed struggle never became the end in itself that it was for fascism, Soviet culture was nevertheless comprehensively militarized in preparation for a future revolutionary apocalypse. Soviet political language was structured around military phrasing. Absolute political control and comprehensive iron discipline, often gruesomely enforced, helped bridge the still- inevitable gaps between peace and war.

The winter campaign in Finland during 1939-40 had shown that Russian soldiers adapted to terrain and weather, remained committed to winning the war even in defeat, and maintained discipline at unit levels under extreme stress. But a combination of institutional disruptions and prewar expansion left too many of them ignorant of minor tactics and fire discipline—all the things the German system inculcated in its conscripts from the beginning. The Rotarmisten, the Red soldiers, would fight—but too often did not know how to fight the Germans.

The quality of Soviet tanks in the summer of 1941 has often been misrepresented. The Red Army fielded about 24,000 of them on June 22, 1941. More than 20,000 dated from the mid-1930s. The major types were the T-26 infantry tank, 9.5 tons with either a 37mm or a 45mm antitank gun; and the BT-7 “fast tank,” a 14-ton Christie model with a 45mm gun whose road speed of 45 miles per hour had been bought at the expense of armor protection. Frequently and legitimately described as obsolescent, these tanks were nevertheless a reasonable match for anything in the German inventory, one for one, on anything like a level field.

The Red Army’s institutional behavior prior to Barbarossa could not have been less suited to providing that level field had it been designed by the Wehrmacht. Since the 1920s the USSR had been developing sophisticated concepts of mobile armored warfare, and using the full resources of a command economy to produce appropriate equipment. By 1938 the Soviet order of battle included four tank corps and a large number of tank brigades whose use in war was structured by a comprehensive doctrine of “deep battle” that included using “shock armies” to break through on narrow fronts and air-supported mobile groups taking the fight into the enemy’s rear at a rate of 25 or 30 miles a day. But in November 1939 these formations were disbanded, replaced by motorized divisions and tank brigades designed essentially for close infantry support.

One reason for this measure—the public one—was that the Spanish Civil War had shown the relative vulnerability of tanks, while large armored formations had proved difficult to control both against the Japanese in Mongolia and during the occupation of eastern Poland. Reinforcing operational experience were purges that focused heavily on the armored forces as a potential domestic threat. Not only were the top-level advocates of mobile war eliminated, including men like Mikhail Tukhachevsky; all but one commander at brigade level and 80 percent of the battalion commanders were replaced—and many of those they had replaced had succeeded men purged earlier.

German successes in 1940 combined with the running down of the purges to encourage reappraisal already inspired by the Red Army’s dubious performance in Finland. Beginning in 1940 the People’s Commissariat of Defense began authorizing what became a total of 29 mechanized corps, each with two tank divisions and a motorized division: 36,000 men and 1,000 tanks each, plus 20 more brigades of 300 T-26s for infantry support! The numbers are mind-boggling even by subsequent standards. Given the Soviets’ intention to equip the new corps with state-of-the-art T-34s and KV-1s, the prospect is even more impressive. Reality was tempered, however, by the limited number of the new tanks in service—1,500 in June 1941—and tempered even further by maintenance statistics showing that 30 percent of the tanks actually assigned to units required major overhauls, while no fewer than 44 percent needed complete rebuilding.

That left a total of around 7,000 “runners” to face the panzer onslaught. It might have been enough except for, ironically, a command decision that played directly into the Soviet armored force’s major weaknesses. Recently available archival evidence shows that, far from collapsing in disorganized panic, from Barbarossa’s beginning the Red Army conducted a spectrum of counterattacks in a coherent attempt to implement prewar plans for an active defense ending in a decisive counteroffensive. The problem was that the mechanized corps central to these operations were too cumbersome to be handled effectively by inexperienced commanders, especially given their barely adequate communication systems. Their efforts were too often so poorly coordinated that the Germans processed and described them as the random thrashings of a disintegrating army. Most of the prewar Soviet armored force, and more than 10,000 tanks, were destroyed in less than six weeks.

Yet even in these early stages the panzers were bleeding. War diaries and letters home described “tough, devious, and deceitful” Russians fighting hard and holding on to the death. What amounted to a partisan war waged by regular soldiers was erupting behind a front line at best poorly defined. Forests and grain fields provided favorable opportunities for ambushes. Isolated tanks could do damage before they were themselves destroyed. Casualties among junior officers, the ones responsible for resolving tactical emergencies, mounted as the Germans found themselves waging a 360-degree war.

In Poland and France, terrain and climate had favored the panzers. From Barbarossa’s beginnings they were on the other side. Russian road conditions were universally described as “catastrophic” and “impossible.” Not only impressed civilian vehicles but army trucks sacrificed suspensions, transmissions, and oil pans in going so makeshift that armored cars balanced precariously on the deep ruts. Russian dust, especially the fine dust of sandy Byelorussia, clogged air filters and increased oil consumption until overworked engines gave in and seized up. Personal weapons required such constant cleaning that Soviet hardware, especially the jam-defying submachine guns, unofficially began replacing Mausers and Schmeissers in the rifle companies.

The earlier major campaigns had lines of communication short enough to return seriously damaged tanks to Germany. Divisions needed to undertake no more than field repairs. Russian conditions demanded more, and maintenance units proved unequal to the task. Not only was heavy equipment for moving disabled vehicles unavailable; workshops began running short on replacement parts almost immediately. Too often the result was a tank cannibalized for spares, or blown up before being abandoned.

Then conditions worsened. By early July episodic storms became heavy rains that turned dirt roads to bottomless mud and made apparently open fields impassable morasses. A first wave of vehicles might get through, but attempts at systematic follow-up usually resulted in traffic jams regularly described in words like “colossal.” Dust and mud combined to make fuel consumption exponentially higher than standard rates of usage. Empty fuel tanks as well as breakdowns began immobilizing the panzers. Though figures vary widely, the histories and records of the panzer divisions in Army Groups South and Center present rates of attrition eroding combat-effective strengths to levels as low as 30 or 40 percent. Even small-scale Russian successes—three tanks knocked out here, a half dozen there; one searing encounter that left 3rd Panzer Division 22 tanks weaker in just a few minutes—had disproportionate effects on diminishing numbers.

Vehicle losses were only part of the panzers’ problem, and arguably the lesser part. Effectiveness decreased as men grew tired and made the mistakes of fatigue, ranging from not checking an engine filter to not noticing a potential ambush site. Infantrymen constrained to leave their trucks to make corduroy roads from tree trunks, motorcyclists choked with dust that defied kerchiefs soaked with suddenly scarce water, and tankers trying to extract their vehicles from mudholes that seemed to appear from nowhere were a long way from blitzkrieg’s glory days. There were still plenty of volunteers for high-risk missions. But by its third week Barbarossa had already cost more lives than the entire campaign in the West. And Moscow was a long way off.

With supply columns increasingly vulnerable to ambushes and concentrating on bringing up material, the panzer troopers helped themselves to what was available. Stress and fatigue synergized with ideologically structured racism to underpin behavior that from the beginning caused levels of bitterness noticed even in German official reports. It usually began by “requisitioning” food: portable items like chickens, eggs, fruit, and milk; stores of grain; cattle and hogs for impromptu butchering. Looting was regularly accompanied by destruction, and the effect on the victims was compounded by personalized meanness: smashing dishes, ripping up clothes and bedding, using boots and rifle butts in place of words and gestures.

The Germans as well found themselves facing “colossal” tanks against which German panzers and antitank guns seemed to have no effect. The T-34 disputes the title of the war’s best tank only with the German Panther. Its design, featuring sloped armor, a dual-purpose 76mm gun, and a diesel engine and Christie-type suspension allowing speeds up to 35 miles per hour, set standards in the three essentials of protection, firepower, and mobility. Germans sometimes confused the T-34 with the BT-7. Few made that mistake a second time. Distributed in small numbers and manned by poorly trained crews, from Barbarossa’s beginnings not only did the T-34 prove impervious to German armor-piercing rounds at fifty feet and less; it ran rings around Panzer IIIs and IVs used to dominating in speed and maneuverability.

More frightening, because it could not be mistaken for anything else, was the KV-I. At 43 tons, it was undergunned with a 76mm piece. It was mechanically troublesome and not particularly maneuverable. But with armor up to four inches thick, the KV did not have to move very often. Panzer Group 4 initially found the dense northern forest a greater obstacle than the Russian army. Manstein’s new LXVI Panzer Corps covered almost 100 miles in four days, crossing Lithuania in a knife-thrust that carried it into Daugavpils and across the vital Dvina River bridges. The course for Leningrad seemed well set. Then the KVs made an appearance. The 37mm guns were useless. Mark IV rounds made no impression from front or sides. Six-inch howitzer shells burst harmlessly on the plating. One KV rolled right over a bogged-down 35(t), crushing it like a tin can. Another, in an often-told vignette, held up the entire 6th Panzer Division of Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s XLIV Panzer Corps for two days, blocking a key crossroads, defying even 88mm rounds until, in an attack coordinated by a full colonel, pioneers were able to shove grenades into the turret.

Initially Leeb gave Hoepner a free hand. His group remained unattached to either of the armies and was allowed to make its own way forward. But more and more KVs appeared in the van of Soviet counterattacks. Sixth Panzer Division’s 35(t)s engaged them at 30 yards. They overran the 114th Motorized Regiment, leaving in their wake a trail of crushed and mutilated bodies that sparked and fueled stories of unprovoked massacre. First Panzer Division’s command post was caught so badly by surprise that the staff and commander used their pistols. The roads, few, narrow, and unpaved, had a way of disappearing entirely. Closely flanked by forests and swamps, they channeled and constrained German movement and were ambush magnets even for demoralized stragglers. Tanks, trucks, and half-tracks lurched from village to village as bemused officers discarded useless maps and sought directions from local civilians who offered only blank stares and shrugged shoulders.

Nor could towns be bypassed readily. Clearing them took time and lives. As the panzers approached Pskov their purportedly supporting infantry was mopping up in Daugavpils, 60 miles to the rear. Leeb’s repeated reaction was to halt the armor despite vehement objections from Hoepner and his corps commanders that operations were being sacrificed to tactics. And Leningrad seemed ever farther away.

In contrast to Leeb’s sector, Army Group South had ample open ground in front of it. Rundstedt used his infantry to make the initial breakthrough on a 50-mile front, and by the morning of June 23 the Landser were past the frontier positions. Breakout was another matter. The commander of the Southwestern Front (the Soviet counterpart of a German army group), Colonel General M. P. Kirponos, had four infantry armies and six mechanized corps under his hand, and understood how to use them. Panzer Group 1 met resistance featuring large-scale counterattacks better organized, and fighting withdrawals more timely, than those facing its counterparts. Not until early July would the panzer spearheads crack Soviet defenses and erode Soviet command and control to a point where one can speak of systematic maneuver operations beginning. Even then Soviet attacks regularly threw the Germans off balance.

Army Group Center’s sector is usually referenced as the site of Barbarossa’s greatest initial success. Panzer Groups 2 and 3 drove so deeply into the Soviet rear on each side of the fortress of Bialystok that on Day 2 of the offensive, Halder spoke of achieving complete operational freedom. On June 28, Hoth’s and Guderian’s spearheads linked up at Minsk in history’s greatest battle of encirclement. The Germans claimed 5,000 tanks and 10,000 guns destroyed or captured. A third of a million Russians were dead or wounded; another third of a million were on their way to German POW camps.

Seen from the sharp end, the situation was less spectacular and less tidy. The mobile forces so far outpaced the marching divisions that the “pocket” was in many places no more than a line on a headquarters map. Red Army units might have been cut off but they neither surrendered nor dissolved. “Worse than Verdun,” grimly noted one infantry colonel. Russian soldiers filtered through and broke through the purported encirclement in numbers that set German generals quarreling. Guderian and Gunther von Kluge, commanding 4th Army in Guderian’s wake, reprised the earlier debate in France by disagreeing over whether it was best advised to seal the Minsk pocket tightly or continue driving along the high road to Moscow. Bock and Halder could see the advantages of both prospects too clearly to decide on either.

The High Command’s decision to make another army headquarters responsible for clearing the pocket and put Kluge temporarily in command of both panzer groups (and confusingly retitled his command 4th Panzer Army for that period) has been interpreted as simplifying the command structure, and as braking the overaggressive panzers. Both were Band-Aids that did nothing to resolve the fundamental issue of overstretch. What they did was signal a level of indecision that encouraged Hitler to extend his direct involvement with operational issues.

To a degree the generals’ behavior in these critical weeks reflected the ambiguities of the matrix established 70 years earlier by Helmuth von Moltke. While he stressed the importance of realizing that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” he also asserted that the original plan needed to be good enough to allow improvisations within its overall framework. What held this dialectic together were the nineteenth century’s limitations on mobility and shock. Subordinate formations—armies and corps—lacked the fighting power to achieve decisions separately, but could not usually move far enough away from each other to create real risks—at least when properly commanded.

The internal combustion engine and the radio had changed those parameters—but to what degree? When exactly did the “artistic” daring and initiative postulated by the “German way of war” cross the line into chaotic solipsism? Or had that question lost its relevance to war-making through what would later be called a paradigm shift?

The bones of contention, or perhaps the pawns on the board, were the panzer and motorized divisions, consistently and haphazardly shifted among higher commands, now as fire brigades cleaning up the rear, now as spearheads restoring momentum at the front—and always eroding their fighting power. But the panzer generals understood better than their more conventional superiors that the battles of the frontier were no more an end in themselves than their predecessors in 1914 had been. They understood as well, albeit more viscerally than cerebrally, the volcano’s rim on which the campaign was dancing. No matter the initial victories’ costs and successes, they were the first stages of a campaign whose outcome depended on the armored force maintaining its cohesion, its mobility, and its focus. Intelligence was reporting new Soviet forces occupying positions on the road to Moscow. The schoolboy wisdom of running faster to restore balance after stumbling seemed all too applicable.

Armored Forces of Barbarossa II

Before the officially sanctioned date of July 3, Hoth and Guderian sent their tanks toward the next geographic objective: the Dvina-Dnieper line—more than 300 miles distant. By this time it was clear to everyone involved that the gaps between panzer groups and infantry armies could only grow wider. The Soviet forces still active behind the panzers’ axes of advance could only grow larger. In a sense Panzer Groups 2 and 3 were replicating Rommel’s behavior in the desert. Just as logistics was a rear-echelon problem, so was cleaning up whatever the armor left behind.

From the beginning of this phase the panzers encountered resistance stronger than expected. Stalin had assigned Marshal Semyon Timoshenko to organize the defense, concentrate reserves, and, above all, counterattack at every opportunity. Timoshenko was no master of mobility but he was a hard man even by Soviet standards. His tanks and riflemen made the Germans pay for their tactical victories. A battalion of the 35th Panzer Regiment occupied the town of Staryi Bychoff on the Dnieper, only to be pinned down by a defense that cost 33 men and nine tanks—the regiment’s heaviest losses in a single day since the start of the war. Its report describes the Russians as “hard-fighting, very brave soldiers.” The Red Air Force reappeared in strength, and with new material. Nine Il-2 Sturmoviks, a formidably armored ground attack plane, gave Rommel’s old division a taste of its French medicine on July 5, delaying the advance most of a day. One Il-2 took more than 200 ground-fire hits and made it home. Rain and terrain slowed the Germans as well. On one 50-mile stretch of road in Hoth’s sector, 100 bridges in succession failed to take the strain of tanks and trucks. The often-overlooked pioneers were correspondingly vital for both panzer groups: bridging flooded rivers, repeating the job when the bridges collapsed, and all the time keeping watch for die-hard Soviet stragglers.

The Germans were winning on an increasingly frayed shoestring. Third Panzer Division was down to a third of its authorized tank strength. Fourth Panzer Division sent a staff officer all the way back to Germany in search of spare parts. A single tank battalion of 7th Panzer Division reported no fewer than five lieutenants killed in a few days—shot through the head by snipers who had a free hand because the riflemen’s trucks could not keep up with the tanks. The motorized artillery as well was having increasing difficulty keeping pace, especially the heavy corps and army battalions so valuable for taking out Soviet prepared defenses. The result was increasing reliance on the Luftwaffe, and the air crews gave their best. Richthofen’s VIII Air Corps, its Stukas using an early version of the cluster bomb, climaxed three weeks of constant effort by taking two of Hoth’s divisions across the Dvina on July 8. The medium bombers of Air Fleet 2 hammered roads and rail junctions and interdicted troop movements—but against increasing fighter opposition that drew more and more German fighters into the air battle.

The tank and the airplane might be the Wehrmacht’s concept of an ideal couple. But like most couples, stress brought out the worst sides of both partners. The ground units’ war diaries contain an increasing litany of complaints about Russian aircraft being “masters of the skies,” about the damage to tankers’ morale from repeated attacks by low-flying Soviet aircraft, about Stuka strikes promised but never delivered. The Luftwaffe responded by describing the soldiers as “outrageously spoiled” by direct air support, and too quick to halt or even retreat in the face of opposition if German planes were not overhead. Richthofen himself upbraided his ground-pounding opposite numbers for refusing to recognize that in order to be effective, air power must be concentrated and could not be distributed piecemeal.

These arguments have been common in the air-ground relations of all armed forces, from North Africa through Korea and Vietnam, down to Desert Storm. Nevertheless they highlight the growing erosion of the German mobile forces, to the point where maneuver would become their only viable option.

And yet the panzers kept advancing—as far as 100 miles a day for some units. When movement stalled, group, corps, and division commanders probed for weak spots. When none existed, the colonels, captains, and sergeants created them. As Hoth smashed the Russian right, Guderian crossed the Dnieper south of Mogilev, and the panzers sought once more to create a giant pocket by meeting at Smolensk. With Soviet defenses in shreds and Soviet mobile formations scattered, the first German troops entered Smolensk late on July 15.

Eleven days later the German High Command declared the Smolensk pocket closed. The call was premature, but German skills showed to particular advantage against the major counterattacks mounted beginning in late July. German tank companies took advantage of Soviet inexperience to knock out two or three dozen T-34s at a time. On August 5, Bock announced the end of the fighting, the capture of another 300,000 prisoners, and the destruction of more than 3,000 tanks and almost as many guns.

It was the climax of a series of virtuoso performances that combine to make a case that the relative tactical and operational superiority of the panzers over their opponents was never greater than in the first half of July 1941, on the high road to Moscow. Guderian spoke of attacks going in like training exercises. Guderian’s senior subordinates in turn praised his common sense and goodwill, the Fingerspitzengefühl, and not least the unflagging energy that marked him a master of mechanized war at the operational level. If Hoth lacked his stablemate’s flair (and his gift for securing headlines), his handling of Panzer Group 3 produced results at the same level.

These successes were, however, the point of the spear—or better said, the tip of an iceberg. Army Group Center’s mobile forces had by now outrun their logistics to a degree impossible for even the most operationally minded generals to overlook. Losses in tanks continued to mount. Rifle companies were shrinking to the strength of platoons. As a result, for the first time in the campaign, the panzers lacked the strength to force the pace of engagements. Instead they were increasingly constrained to wear down Soviet attacks and throw them off balance before counterattacking themselves. That pattern would become characteristic of German tactics and operations in the second half of the Russo-German War. Its systematic appearance at this early stage was another of Barbarossa’s many warning signs.

Like the giant Antaeus of classical mythology or the Green Knight of medieval English lore, the Red Army seemed to derive strength from being knocked down. Initial estimates had allowed for around 200 Soviet divisions. By the end of the Smolensk operation, more than 300 had appeared on German charts. The USSR outproduced Germany in tanks during 1941. But in six weeks, the best Soviet commanders had been discredited, the best Soviet formations had been eviscerated, thousands of tanks, guns, and aircraft had been destroyed, and tens of thousands of square miles overrun. Was it entirely wishful thinking that sustained the German belief that one more strike would finish the job? And was that viewpoint underpinned by an unacknowledged but growing sense of the panzers as an ultimately wasting asset, best employed to their limits while they could still shape the campaign?

As early as July 8, Hitler had informed the Chief of Staff of his intention to divert mobile forces north and south with open options: to reinforce the attack on Leningrad, to cooperate with Army Group South in capturing Kiev, and to regroup for a drive on Moscow. Depending on the operational situation, this represented a flat denial of the concept of the decisive point. It also represented the downplaying of the moral importance of Moscow. The city’s loss would be a prestige victory and an ideological triumph for National Socialism—a double body blow to the Soviet Union.

A fable with many versions in many languages describes a donkey starving to death because he is unable to choose among a half dozen full mangers. Franz Halder was no folklorist, but on July 23 he informed Hitler that the Russians had been decisively weakened—not decisively defeated. Every new operation had to begin by breaking enemy resistance, but overall infantry strength was down by 20 percent, and the panzer divisions averaged 50 percent short of establishment.

On the other hand, Kiev was the transportation and communications hub for the great industrial centers of southwest Russia. Leningrad, Lenin’s city, was arguably more the USSR’s moral center than was the official capital. Its capture would give Germany control of the Baltic Sea, create a united political and military front with Finland, and free Panzer Group 4 for employment against Moscow.

And if the enemy’s army was considered the primary objective, as opposed to resources and territory, the pickings were likely to be easier on the wings than by continuing headlong into a sector the Soviets must defend at all costs, and where their counterattacks indicated they were doing just that. The pace of Army Group Center’s advance was slowing perceptively enough to cause concern. At the same time, that advance was creating an increasingly exposed salient. Securing its flanks, especially the southern one, was a defensible response, especially in the context of those suddenly emerging reserves Wehrmacht intelligence had asserted the Red Army did not possess.

Rundstedt, whose army group could expect to benefit massively from a southern option, argued in public for the importance of continuing the drive on Moscow. He and Leeb, however, also had a particular sense of what they were on the verge of accomplishing with just a few of the right kinds of resources. Reduced to its essentials, the revised plan projected sending elements of Panzer Group 2 south with the mission of enveloping and destroying the Soviet forces engaging Rundstedt’s left. Hoth’s Group would turn north to assist in capturing Leningrad, then swing toward the Volga in cooperation with Panzer Group 4. Army Group Center would continue advancing on Moscow with infantry and sort out its rear areas and logistics until the mobile divisions returned.

When the Army High Command asked whether the campaign now sought economic objectives or destruction of Soviet military forces, the answer was “both.” It would be oversimplified hindsight to describe Hitler as playing his senior generals against each other. It would be an equal oversimplification to describe the generals as blindly obsessed with their respective places in the history of war. Both factors were undeniably present—and it must be particularly emphasized that generals without high levels of alpha ambition are likely to be liabilities in senior command. What is significant about the decisions made as the Smolensk pocket closed is the underlying consensus that affirmed them: a conviction that the panzers could still move fast enough and strike hard enough to make ultimate choices unnecessary. Barbarossa’s second stage would be predicated on what might be called a postmod ern construction: a “flexible Schwerpunkt.”

Depending on perspective, that placed the panzers in the role of either a chameleon placed on a plaid shirt, or a cartoon character running through a china shop shattering one glass after another by flicking his finger. In a month, XLI Panzer Corps had fought its way across 650 miles of forest and swamp to within 100 miles of Leningrad. Air supply sustained the final stage of an advance that by July 14 had thrown two bridges across the Luga River, the last major natural barrier before a city that was only two days’ march away—on the maps. But Leeb was a cautious general; the Soviet defense was desperate; and Reinhardt’s depleted divisions lacked the fighting power to overrun a city with two and a half million inhabitants. For armored forces, getting into a city was far less a problem than getting out of it—especially given the constrained time frame in which the attack on Leningrad was conceptualized.

Had Manstein’s corps been directly involved, the story might have played out differently. Instead Leeb and Hoepner had turned Manstein southeast toward Novgorod and the Moscow-Leningrad railroad. It was the kind of maneuver operation basic to panzer doctrine, in which Manstein possessed unusual skill—and which the Soviets were determined to frustrate. A well-executed counterattack cut off 8th Panzer Division and took out half of its 150 tanks in the four days Manstein required to break the 8th free. Pushing slowly forward, the corps eventually also bogged down along the Luga River.

As for the projected reinforcement by Panzer Group 3, not until August 16 was Army Group Center formally ordered to transfer four of its mobile divisions to Army Group North—a consequence of increasingly forceful debates between and among Hitler and the relevant generals. The new arrivals proved just enough to encourage Leeb and Hoepner and not enough to turn the tide in their sector. With both of Hoepner’s corps immobilized on the Luga, when Hoth’s divisions finally arrived, Leeb committed them to strengthen his thinly manned front as opposed to reinforcing one of Hoepner’s corps as a striking force. On September 8, Hoepner nevertheless renewed his group’s attack.

Schlisselburg, widely regarded as a keystone of the defense, fell after heavy and expensive fighting. The Russians threw in everything they had. First Panzer Division engaged tanks literally fresh from factory assembly lines. But the city held—and the Army High Command grew increasingly insistent on transferring Panzer Group 4 south for the drive against Moscow. Sixth Panzer Division was ordered south on August 18. By the twenty-fifth the front had “stabilized” in a blockade that plunged Leningrad into three years of horror as Hitler ordered the starving of the city his tanks failed to conquer.

Army Group North’s series of tactical victories between June and September neither camouflage nor compensate for unhandiness at the operational level. Leeb has come under especially heavy criticism for repeatedly halting or slowing the armored spearheads to allow the infantry to close up: a fits-and-starts process that gave the Soviets time to improvise Leningrad’s defense. The dispersion of Hoepner’s panzers in the first half of July further diminished blitzkrieg’s prospects in the northern sector. Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, in short, will never go down as a master, or even an apprentice, of mobile war.

In Leeb’s defense, arguably even more than in Barbarossa’s other sectors, logistics and rear security controlled the pace and nature of operations in the north. The first phase of the German advance had been through the relatively developed territory of the Baltic states: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, which had been occupied by the Red Army in 1940 and were as yet relatively spared the blessings of Marxism-Leninism. The Germans benefited from overrunning large amounts of stockpiled Red Army supplies, and from capturing a number of major bridges and rail connections undamaged. Crossing into the USSR proper meant entering a literal wilderness, historically left undeveloped to provide a glacis for Russia’s northern capital. The near-literal absence of infrastructure made exploiting local resources nearly impossible: there were no surpluses, however meager, to requisition, confiscate, or steal.

That put a rapid, unexpected burden on a supply system stretched to move its own bases forward into the northern wasteland. It was not mere reflex caution that led Leeb to insist repeatedly on the necessity for bringing the infantry forward as the price of the next advance. Guerilla activity in Army Group North’s rear grew so serious that beginning on August 5, the entire 8th Panzer Division was withdrawn from the front and assigned to anti-partisan duties on the line of communications.

Developments in Army Group South followed a different pattern. Kleist shook off the initial Russian counterattacks, broke through an improvised “Stalin Line” on July 5, and started his tanks toward Kiev. In their wake marched the infantry of 6th Army, who were intended to do the heavy work of actually capturing the city. Fighting through strong resistance, especially by units officially overrun and reported as scattered, Panzer Group 1 had its first sight of Kiev’s skyline on July 10.

With the infantry and heavy artillery a hundred miles to the rear, III Panzer Corps commander Eberhard von Mackensen nevertheless considered storming the city with the two panzer divisions and one motorized division coming on line. Sixth Army CO Walther von Reichenau, anything but battle-shy, compared the prospect of fighting house-to-house in Kiev to Verdun—not least because of the constant losses his infantry were already taking from persistent air and ground attack. It was Hitler, however, who pulled the plug, forbidding a direct attack on Kiev for the present and freeing Mackensen’s corps for what seemed a far more promising mission.

The other two mobile corps of Panzer Group 1 had turned south of Kiev toward Uman. Red Army counterattacks, heavy air strikes, and poor weather slowed and disrupted the operation. Mutual envelopment operations at times left troops uncertain who was encircling whom. Nevertheless between July 16 and August 3, Kleist’s group created and sustained a pocket that, when cleared, yielded more than 100,000 prisoners—no mean bag even by the standards of Minsk and Smolensk. Large numbers of Russians managed to escape a trap that, like the others in Barbarossa, never fully closed. They did so at the expense of their organization and much of their equipment as the Red Army began a full-scale retreat from Bessarabia and the western Ukraine, abandoning the Dnieper River line. An enraged Stalin ordered the dismissal of some generals, and the execution of others.

Uman was no more than second prize in the blitzkrieg lottery. Halder and Rundstedt originally projected an even bigger encirclement in the area of Kirovograd, one cutting off the entire Soviet force west of the Dnieper. That had exceeded the panzers’ capacity. But with most of the Soviet front in apparent disintegration, with the Romanians advancing on Odessa and the Black Sea coast, the military prospects of a “southern strategy” began to match Hitler’s original economic visions—particularly when the major alternative involved a direct assault on Moscow in the best traditions of the Great War. Blitzkrieg was about creating opportunities and seizing them. Panzer Group 1 had begun Barbarossa with the lowest force-to-space ratio of the four. The increasing development of the southern front had increased the distances among possible objectives. But Rundstedt, Kleist, and the mobile corps commanders had done well—better than well—playing cape-and-sword with the Red Army. Suitably reinforced, they could finish the job.

Orders might be given, but mobile war German style depended on informed consent. The pivotal figure in the developing shift of operational focus was Heinz Guderian. He was considered firmly in the Moscow camp—so firmly that on August 23 he flew to Hitler’s Rastenburg headquarters with the intention of protesting in person against the projected reassignment of his group. By his own account at least he made a compelling presentation. Hitler then responded with his reasons for the Kiev option. Guderian’s self-described reluctance to make a scene in the face of a firm decision need not be taken at face value. But nor should his critics’ descriptions of careerism overriding principle be accepted without modification.

Guderian was at best a medium-sized fish in what had suddenly become a very big pond. His focus since June 21 had been to his front: operational and tactical. During the discussion Hitler had asked him a question: Did Guderian’s men have one more great effort in them? Guderian answered yes—if given an objective whose importance was self-evident. Kiev was not Moscow. But keep Panzer Group 2 together, give its commander a free hand, and there was a solid chance of completing the operation before the autumn rains shut down southern Russia entirely. Hitler conceded the point, and Halder flew into an enduring rage at what he called Guderian’s capitulation.

In Guderian’s terms, that was just another sign that the Chief of Staff might talk the talk of mobile war, but could never walk the walk. When matters grew dark, it was time to step on the gas. It is always ill-advised to throw spitballs at an adversary armed with rocks. Guderian began his move south minus one of his corps, transferred at Halder’s orders. But with massive Luftwaffe support, Panzer Group 2 broke the Soviet front within days. Third Panzer Division’s commander Walther Model was one of a rising new breed of hard-charging risk-takers willing to make bricks without straw and mobile war with only a few tanks. In a tactical tour de force, a battle group of the 3rd Panzer Divsion captured a key bridge over the Desna River on August 26, motorcyclists and half-tracks shooting their way across as German and Soviet pioneers dueled under the roadbed for control of the demolition apparatus.

The panzers drove south, shrugging off poorly coordinated flank attacks. As he had done in France, Guderian chivied subordinates mercilessly. Soviet commanders at all levels were bewildered by the speed of the German advance and the ability of the Germans to be where they were not expected. By September 7, Panzer Group 2 had opened a twenty-mile operational gap between the Southwestern Front and its right-flank neighbor the Bryansk Front.

Meanwhile, Panzer Group 1 struck for the Dnieper. The first permanent bridgehead came at Kremenchug. Then, on August 25, the 13th Panzer Division captured an intact bridge at Dnepropetrovsk, opening a way into the Soviet rear. Semyon Budenny, commanding the Southwestern Front, was an old-line horse cavalryman, an anachronism in the internal- combustion era. But he knew well enough what mobile troops could achieve in empty space. He requested permission to retreat—and was promptly replaced. Stalin’s determination to hold the line in part reflected the ongoing battle for Kiev, which fully justified Reichenau’s grim prediction. It was street by street and house by house, with the Germans making little progress. Stalin ordered Kiev held and threw in reinforcements, as the Germans began turning two breakthroughs into one envelopment.

Facing massive counterattacks around Dnepropetrovsk, Kleist feinted north and drove through Kremenchug. The starring role went to one of the new formations: 16th Panzer Division, under another newcomer, Hans Hube. Crossing the Dnieper on September 11, by the thirteenth the division was 20 miles into the Soviet rear with two more divisions in close support. Again Stalin ordered Kiev held: no retreat without his authorization. Panzer Group 1 was down to half strength and less in tanks, but on the cusp of the kind of objective Guderian had described to Hitler. Hube led from the front as his tanks overran an army headquarters whose commander was constrained to escape through a window. The Luftwaffe, with V Air Corps supporting Kleist and II Air Corps supporting Guderian, pounced on every Soviet effort to establish blocking points and scoured the sky clean of Soviet aircraft. On the evening of September 16—at 1820, to be exact—3rd and 16th Panzer Divisions met to close the Kiev pocket at Lokhvitsa, more than 120 miles behind the city itself.

Kiev was the third of Barbarossa’s major pocket battles, and the greatest. Serious resistance ended around September 24; mopping up took ten days longer. German official figures give more than 800 tanks and almost 3,500 guns captured, along with more than 650,000 prisoners. Salvaging the equipment and transferring the men took weeks. Kiev was also the smoothest of the envelopments. Leakage was minimal—only around 15,000 Soviet soldiers managed to escape across the steppe. Panzer Group 1 was worn thin, like a long-used knife blade. Winter was close enough for Rundstedt to recommend suspending operations. On October 1, Kleist’s men, renamed the 1st Panzer Army, instead turned south first to the Sea of Azov, then toward Rostov and the oil fields of the Caucasus, 180 degrees away from the revitalized attack on Moscow the High Command was calling Operation Typhoon.

The upgrading of Panzer Group 1, and eventually all the rest, to army status was more than cosmetic retitling. On one hand it was positive: a recognition that the mobile forces’ effectiveness depended heavily on the kind of autonomy denied when they were subordinated to army commanders rather than reporting directly to the army groups. In particular the tension between Guderian and Hoth and their nominal superior von Kluge had contributed significantly to a level of friction and delay clearly unaffordable in the circumstances of the Russo-German War. On the other side of the coin, establishing the higher panzer headquarters as armies downgraded their specialist function. Increasingly they would be used in the same way as other armies, commanding mixed bags of mobile and marching divisions, occupying sectors as often as conducting mobile operations—in short, following the patterns developing in Army Group North but on a larger scale.

Kiev remains a subject of controversy among scholars and soldiers. One school argues that the operation was a digression. It did not end the war; the USSR did not collapse. Instead, Kiev (and Leningrad) further strained an already overextended panzer force. Kiev arguably delayed the attack on Moscow by a month, giving the Red Army and General Winter time that could not have been bought in battle. But Kiev also destroyed or neutralized massive Soviet forces that would have been available against the right flank of the Moscow offensive. Nor could Stalin and his generals overlook the near-free strategic hand Kiev gave Rundstedt in southern Ukraine: diversion of strength and attention is usually a two-way process. And as Robert M. Citino dryly puts it, “Can any battle that nets 665,000 prisoners be considered a mistake?” Even the USSR’s deployable resources, human and material, were not infinitely renewable.

Kiev was a crucial benchmark in another, no less decisive way. On September 24, a series of explosions shook the city. Preset, remote-controlled demolitions started fires that destroyed much of what remained intact after the fighting. Hitler ordered retribution. The army enthusiastically cooperated not for the first time in such exercises, but in a visible, spectacular way that made its position on the Jewish question unmistakable. Its culmination was the shooting of more than 30,000 Jews at Babi Yar—an operation that would have been impossible without army-supplied transport, administration, and area security.

Events in Kiev reinforced the growing awareness among Russians who had worked and sacrificed to build a Soviet future that the Germans were no less committed to destroying that future. The Soviet people did not become overnight the united and determined force of Communist myth. Panic, looting, wildcat strikes—a general breakdown of law and order prevailed in Moscow during the fighting. Well before then, however, it was increasingly obvious that whatever might be wrong with the USSR, it was nothing the Germans could fix—or wanted to.

Stalin’s obscene treatment of his own people had created a significant opportunity the Germans failed to utilize. Stalin himself acknowledged the possibility in a speech of May 1945. Prospects for extending individual and local cooperation with occupation into a call for a joint war against Soviet tyranny nevertheless foundered from the beginning on Nazi-structured racism. Hitler forbade any consideration of Slavs as allies. Independently of Hitler, atrocities became a rear-area norm. Soldiers took snapshots of mass hangings and mass shootings, often sending them home to their families. Such messages as “1,153 Jewish looters shot,” or “2,200 Jews shot,” grew into boasts of 20,000, 30,000 shootings and more.

These body counts had little to do with actually fighting partisans. The vast, consistent discrepancy between the numbers of weapons seized and people executed make that point eloquently. The perpetrators submitted detailed reports to Berlin in codes so simple that British intelligence had been reading them since 1939. The information went unpublicized because the British government believed its release would jeopardize other code-breaking operations deemed vital to the war effort—especially the decryption of German raidio messages by the ULTRA operation.

Nor was the work confined to Nazi organizations. Einsatzgruppen, Waffen SS, and army “ field-grays” came together in a common cause across occupied Russia. While generals like Leeb and Bock offered token protests, Reichenau called for “severe and just retribution against subhuman Jewry” and for a campaign of terror against all Russians. Hoth issued a more extreme version. Guderian declared he “made the order his own.” Manstein, promoted to army command in the Crimea, took up his new post by demanding the eradication of partisans and “Jewish Bolsheviks.”

Arguably more crucial to the war’s metastasizing brutalization were the junior officers. In 1939 about half still came from more or less traditional sources: the educated middle classes broadly defined. With the outbreak of war, combat experience became the dominant criterion. There was less and less time to provide more than basic instruction to officer candidates who saw their survival to date as prima facie proof of skill and luck, and who tended to regard training courses in the Fatherland as an opportunity for unauthorized rest and recreation. After the fall of 1942, any German over sixteen could become an army officer if he served acceptably at the front, demonstrated the proper character, believed in the Nazi cause, and was racially pure. The Waffen SS was more overtly egalitarian, but its basic criteria were essentially the same.

This relative democratization in good part reflected the growing synergy between National Socialist ideology and the demands of the front. Hitler wanted young men “as tough as leather, as fleet as grey-hounds, and as hard as Krupp steel,” correspondingly unburdened by reflection or imagination. The Red Army at its best did not offer sophisticated tactical opposition. What division and regimental commanders wanted in subordinates was tough men physically and morally, those willing to lead from the front and publicly confident in even the most desperate situations. One might speculate, indeed, that a steady supply of twentysomething lieutenants with wound badges and attitudes helped older, wiser, and more tired majors and colonels to suppress their own doubts about Hitler and his war. And men with such conditioning were more likely to encourage than restrain aggressive behavior against “others” and “outsiders.”


From left to right: military counterintelligence chief (SMERSH) Viktor Abakumov, NKGB Commissar Vsevolod Merkulov, and NKVD Commissar Lavrenty Beria.

During WWII the NKVD continued propaganda and coercion, which as before, went hand in hand. This leopard did not change its spots; terror did not abate during the war. Those who had lived under German occupation, or who had become prisoners of war and escaped, suffered the consequences of NKVD suspicion, and hundreds of thousands of them were arrested. The Soviet regime punished the families of deserters. A new phenomenon during the war was the punishment of entire nations: the Volga Germans were deported immediately at the outbreak of the war. In 1943 and 1944 it was the turn of the Crimean Tatars and Muslim minorities of the Caucasus: deported to Central Asia, they lived in the most inhuman conditions. The new element in this terror was its naked racism. Every member belonging to a certain minority group was punished, regardless of class status, past behavior, or achievements. Communist party secretaries were deported as well as artists, peasants, and workers.

Despite the arrests, the number of prisoners in camps declined during the war. This happened partly because inmates were sent to the front in punishment battalions, where they fought in the most dangerous sections. The morale and heroism of these battalions were impressive: most of the soldiers did not survive. The camps were also depopulated by the extraordinary death rates: approximately a quarter of the inmates died every year. People died because of mistreatment, overwork, and undernourishment.

In wartime nothing is more important than maintaining the morale and loyalty of the armed forces. In addressing this need the Soviet Union learned from decades of experience. At first, the regime reverted to the dual command system it had developed during a previous time of crisis, the civil war. From the regimental level up, political appointees supervised regular officers. They were responsible for the loyalty of the officers and at the same time directed the political education system. The abandonment of united command, however, harmed military efficiency; once the most dangerous first year had passed, the Stalinist leadership reestablished united command. This did not mean that the political officers had no further role to play. The network of commissars, supervised by the chief political administration of the army, survived. The commissars carried out propaganda among the troops: they organized lectures, discussed the daily press with the soldiers, and participated in organizing agitational trains that brought films and theater productions to the front.

Yet another network within the army functioned to assure the loyalty of the troops – the network of security officers. Although these men wore military uniforms, they were entirely independent of the high command and reported directly to the NKVD. According to contemporary reports, these security officers were greatly disliked by regular officers.

The principal Soviet foreign intelligence service, the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennykh Del was headed in Moscow by Lavrenti Beria and operated across the globe through legal and illegal rezidenturas, run by the head of foreign intelligence, Pavel Fitin, which were heavily dependent on local Communist parties for support and sources. Considered the sword and the shield of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the NKVD concentrated on the acquisition of technology and industrial processes before the war, but later concentrated on political intelligence and atomic data.

NKVD rezidenturas were usually concealed in either diplomatic or trade missions headed by a resident, who supervised a team of subordinates that managed networks of agents, either directly or through intermediaries. Their operations were directed in detail from Moscow, as was learned subsequently from the study of the relevant VENONA traffic, which revealed aspects of NKVD wartime agent management in Mexico City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, London, and Stockholm. Evidently the NKVD’s ability to function in western Europe following the Nazi repudiation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in June 1941 was severely handicapped, leaving the Soviets devoid of legal rezidenturas in Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, The Hague, Oslo, Rome, Prague, Bern, Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, and possibly Madrid and Lisbon, too. This placed a heavy burden on the rezidenturas in London, Ottawa, Mexico City, Stockholm, the three in the United States, and eventually Buenos Aires when a rezident was posted there in 1944.

In London, the NKVD declared a rezident, Ivan Chichayev, to his hosts for liaison purposes, but in reality continued to conduct local intelligence-gathering operations through numerous agents, among them Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Leo Long, and Anthony Blunt, who penetrated various branches of British intelligence under the direction of the undeclared rezident, Anatoli Gorsky. In addition, Melita Norwood, Klaus Fuchs, and Allan Nunn May passed information to the NKVD from inside the British atomic weapons development program.

In Ottawa, the NKVD rezident, Vitali Pavlov, ran few independent operations, because the local Communist Party had been embraced by his GRU counterpart, Nikolai Zabotin. In Mexico, Lev Vasilevsky ran the embassy rezidentura under the alias Lev Tarasov and was largely dependent on Spanish Republican refugees. In Stockholm, the rezidentura was headed by a Mrs. Yartseva and then Vasili Razin, and it concentrated on the development of local political figures.

Gorsky (code-named VADIM, alias Anatoli Gromov) was appointed rezident in Washington, D.C., in September 1944, a post he held until December the following year, when he was transferred to Buenos Aires. In March 1945, the New York rezident, Stepan Apresyan, was posted to San Francisco, a rezidentura that had been opened in December 1941 by Grigori M. Kheifets (code-named CHARON), with a subrezidentura in Los Angeles. Kheifets was recalled to Moscow in January 1945 and replaced by Grigori P. Kasparov (code-named GIFT). Apresyan’s replacement in New York was Pavel Fedosimov (code-named STEPAN). Together, these NKVD officers ran more than 200 spies, of whom 115 were later identified as U.S. citizens with a further 100 undetected.

On the Eastern Front, the NKVD gained a ruthless reputation for capturing enemy agents and managing entire networks of double agents, often at the expense of having to sacrifice authentic information to enhance the standing of their deception campaigns. In the 18 months up to September 1943, the NKVD turned 80 captured enemy agents equipped with wireless transmitters, and by the end of hostilities, it had run 185 double agents with radios.

NKVD Security Forces

NKVD Security Forces Aside from combat units of the Red Army, Soviet state security forces fielded a large number of combat units during the war. In 1941 the NKVD was responsible for the Border Troops who patrolled along the frontier, and these look a very active part in the initial fighting of June 1941. The war also saw a major expansion in the NKVD Internal Troops. These units were organised like rifle or cavalry divisions and were intended to maintain internal order in the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the war the NKVD formed 15 rifle divisions. At times of crisis, these units were committed to the front like regular rifle divisions. Indeed, the NKVD formed some of them into Special Purpose (Spetsnaz) Armies, and one of these was used during the breakthroughs in the Crimea. However, this was not their primary role. They were intended to stiffen the resistance of the Red Army, and during major operations were often formed into ‘blocking detachments’ which collected stragglers and prevented retreats. Their other role was to hunt out anti-Soviet partisan groups, and to carry out punitive expeditions against ethnic groups suspected of collaborating with the Germans. The NKVD special troops were expanded in the final years of the war, eventually totalling 53 divisions and 28 brigades, not counting the Border Troops. This was equal to about a tenth of the total number of regular Red Army rifle divisions. These units were used in the prolonged partisan wars in the Ukraine and the Baltic republics which lasted until the early 1950s. They were also involved in the wholesale deportations of suspected ethnic groups in 1943-45. In some respects, the NKVD formations resembled the German Waffen-SS in terms of independence from the normal military structure. However, the NKVD troops were used mainly for internal security and repression, and were not heavily enough armed for front-line combat. Unlike the Waffen-SS, they had no major armoured or mechanised formations.

Defense of Panama Canal – Batteries and Accommodation

The 14-inch M1920 railway gun was the last model railway gun to be deployed by the United States Army. It was an upgrade of the US Navy 14″/50 caliber railway gun. Only four were deployed; two in the Harbor Defenses of Los Angeles and two in the Panama Canal Zone, where they could be shifted between the harbor defenses of Cristobal (Atlantic) or Balboa (Pacific).

The Harbor Defenses of Cristobal, Panama (Panama Canal Zone, Atlantic side)

FORT RANDOLPH /Margarita Island /1911 to Panama, 1979; commercial development /KK


#1/2/14″/RY/1928-1948/ 2 guns for Panama, 4 empl. (#1 & #8) 1 empl. destroyed



Weed/2/ 6″/DC/1912-1946

X(4A)/4/155 mm/PM/1940

2C/4/155 mm/PM

5A/4/155 mm/PM

FORT DeLESSEPS /Colon / 1911 /to Panama, 1950s /KK

Morgan/2/ 6″/P /1913-1944/modified casemate mounts M1910

AMTB #3b/4/90 mm/F/1943-1948/Cristobal mole, built over

FORT SHERMAN / Toro Point / 1911 / MD, MC /to Panama 1999/KK






Pratt/2/12″/BCLR/1924-1948/Iglesia Pt., casemated-WWII

MacKenzie/2/12″/BCLR/1924-1948/Iglesia Pt., not rebuilt

Kilpatrick/2/ 6″/DC/1913-1946

W/4/155 mm/PM/1940

Other sites / ?

U/4/155 mm/PM/1918/Tortuguilla Point

V/4/155 mm/PM/1940/Naranjitos Point

Y/4/155 mm/PM/1940/Palma Media Island

Z(1A)/4/155 mm/PM/1940/Galetta Is.

1B/4/155 mm/PM//Galetta Is.

The Harbor Defenses of Balboa, Panama (Panama Canal Zone, Pacific Side)

FORT KOBBE (ex-Ft. Bruja)/ Bruja Point /Howard AFB to Panama 1999/ KK

Murray/2/16″ /BCLRN/1926-1948/Bruja Pt., casemated-WWII

Haan/2/16″ /BCLRN/1926-1948/Batele Pt., not casemated, empl. buried

AMTB #6/4/90 mm/F/1943-1948

Z (3A)

FORT AMADOR / Balboa / to Panama, 1997; commercial development /K

Birney/2/ 6″/DC/1913-1943/buried

Smith/2/ 6″/DC/1913-1943/buried

FORT GRANT /Balboa /to Panama, 1979 private development /MD, MC /KK

Newton/1/16″/DC/1914-1943/Perico Is., filled to loading platform level

Buell/2/14″/DC/1912-1948/Naos Is.

Burnside/2/14″/DC/1912-1948/Naos Is./

Warren/2/14″/DC/1912-1948/Flaminco Is., empls. filled to parapit edge

Prince/4/12″/M/1912-1943/Flaminco Is.

Merritt/4/12″/M/1912-1943/Flaminco Is.

Carr/4/12″/M/1912-1943/Flaminco Is.

Parke/2/ 6″/DC/1912-1948/Naos Is.

#8/2/14″/RY/1928-1948/Culebra Is., empl (see #1, Randolph), covered

T/2/155 mm/PM//Flamenco Is.

U (10A)/2/155 mm/PM//Flamenco Is.

V(10B)/2/155 mm/PM//Culebra Is.

Other sites /?

W (1B)/4/155 mm/PM//Taboquilla Is.

2B/2/155 mm/PM//Taboquilla Is.

unnamed/4/155 mm/PM//Paitilla Pt.

X/2/155 m/PM//Urara Is.

Y (1A)/4/155 mm/PM//Taboga Is.

Non portable version: the SCR-271 at Camp Evans


The SCR-270 (Signal Corps Radio, model 270) was one of the first operational early warning radars. It was the U. S. Army’s primary long-distance radar throughout World War II and was deployed around the world. It is also known as the Pearl Harbor Radar, as it was a SCR-270 set that saw the incoming raid about half an hour before the attack commenced.

Two versions were produced, the mobile SCR-270, and the fixed SCR-271 which used the same electronics but replaced the antenna with a model with somewhat greater resolution. An upgraded version, the SCR-289, was also produced, but saw little use. All of the -270 versions were later replaced by newer microwave units after the cavity magnetron was introduced to the US during the Tizard Mission. The only early warning system of the sort to see action was the AN/CPS-1, which was available in late 1944.

The non-portable version, the SCR-271-A, s/n 1 was delivered to the Canal Zone and began operation in October of 1940 at Fort Sherman on the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. It picked up airliners at 117 miles in its initial test run. The second set was set up on Fort Grant’s Tobaga Island on the Pacific end of the Canal by December of 1940, thus giving radar coverage to the vitally important but vulnerable Panama Canal. Westinghouse quickly ramped up production, and produced 100 by the end of 1941.


Local archivists and historians have encountered their greatest challenge in researching the early fortifications of the Panama Canal area installations.  In large part this is due to Army Regulation #348, issued locally on November 18, 1918, as Panama Canal Department General Order #48, “The taking of photographs or other views of permanent works of defence [sic] will not be permitted.”  This stringent level of secrecy was considered necessary by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and The Panama Canal which were responsible for the construction and security of the fortifications.

In September of 1911, while the breakwater was still under construction, fortification construction, which included batteries, gun emplacements and magazines, was begun.

The defense sites were designed to protect the Pacific entrance to the canal and the first set of locks at Miraflores against an enemy naval attack.  Also, “as at any fortified place from which a fleet may have to issue in the face of an enemy’s fleet,” the defense sites protected the clearly vulnerable ships transiting the canal until they could reach deep water.

The railroad line, which had been installed to aid in the construction of the breakwater, remained in place and was used to transport ammunition to supply the guns located on the islands’ defensive sites.

Of the eight batteries constructed at Fort Grant, three were located on Naos Island.  Battery Burnside, named in honor of Major General Ambrose E. Burnside (Third U. S. Artillery), was mounted with two 14-inch rifles on disappearing carriages, and had a range of 18,400 yards.  Battery Buell, named in honor of Major General Don Carlos Buell (Assistant Adjutant-General, U. S. A.), was mounted in the same manner as Battery Burnside. Battery Parke, named in honor of Major General John G. Parke (Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.), was equipped with two 6-inch rifles with a range of 6,000 yards.

The guns, mounted on disappearing carriages, were constructed “on an unsinkable and steady platform, and they [could] be provided with unlimited protection and accurate range-finding devices.”

In addition to these fixed batteries, the defense sites at Naos Island were equipped with 12-inch mortars “of a new and powerful type.”

Battery Newton, located on Perico Island, was named in honor of Major General John Newton (Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.).  Battery Newton was equipped with one 14-inch rifle with a range of 18,400 yards, mounted on a disappearing carriage.

Flamenco Island, the most heavily fortified of the islands, was equipped with four batteries.  Battery Carr was named in honor of Brevet Major General Joseph Bradford Carr (U. S. Volunteers)., Battery Merritt for Major General Wesley Merritt (U. S. A.); Battery Prince in honor of Brigadier General Harry Prince (U. S. Volunteers).- and Battery Warren for Major General Gouverneur K. Warren (Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.).

Batteries Carr, Merritt and Prince were manned with four 12-inch mortars each.  Construction of the batteries was begun in early 1912, and was completed (with equipment installed) by 1917.

Battery Warren was equipped with two 14-inch rifles on disappearing carriages.  These rifles “commanded the entire area of seaward approach,” with the exception of a small blind spot on Taboga Island’s southern side.  The battery “included space for ammunition storage, control and plotting rooms, and a communications system.  During construction of Battery Warren, an elevator was installed in a vertical shaft which was sunk 200 feet from the summit to connect with a horizontal tunnel which entered from the mortar batteries on the north side of the island.”

As a side note, before the construction of the batteries at Flamenco (or “Deadman’s”) Island could begin, two cemeteries located there were moved in August of 1911 to Ancon Cemetery near Ancon Hospital.  Many of those buried there were “soldiers who had died of tropical diseases while making the hazardous crossing of Panama en route to posts in California.”

Although Fort Amador’s primary function was to provide housing for the Coast Artillery units to manning the fortifications at Fort Grant, two batteries were constructed on the southern tip of the post.  Batteries Birney and Smith, which were identical, were mounted with two 6-inch rifles on disappearing carriages. Although ineffective against a naval attack on the Canal, they were capable of firing on small vessels, such as a screening force, minesweepers, submarines, or landing craft.” Construction of Batteries Birney and Smith was begun in 1913 and completed in 1917.  Battery Birney was named in honor of Major General David B. Birney, U. S. Volunteers.  Battery Smith was named in honor of Major General Charles F. Smith, Third U. S. Infantry.  The defense of the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal was completed with the installation of fourteen searchlights “to facilitate night firing” at Forts Amador and Grant.

On December 22, 1913, Fort Amador and Fort Grant Coast Artillery Posts were initially manned.  Among the first to arrive was the 81st Company, Coast Artillery, followed by the 45th (107 men) and the 144th (105 men) Companies on September 18, 1914.  Additional troops arrived in 1915, including the 40th and 116th Companies; in 1916, the 8th, 73rd and 87th Companies arrived for duty at Fort Grant.

Although the guns were fired on a regular basis, between 1929 and 1939 “shortages of funds and personnel resulted in many of the big seacoast guns being placed in caretaker status… In the years immediately preceding the U. S. entry into World War II all guns were rehabilitated, tested, and placed in service status.”

By 1939, “the growth of air power as a weapon of war forced the Panama Canal Department to increase its air defenses, thus necessitating more and bigger airdromes, and also compelled it to expand its ground defenses to provide adequate anti-aircraft artillery coverage of vital installations.”  The battery fortifications at Forts Grant and Amador, planned and constructed to defend primarily against a naval attack, were deemed obsolete and plans were made for them to be dismantled and salvaged.

Battery Warren at Flamenco Island was last fired on December 8, 1944.  Both guns were removed and scrapped in 1948.  It was later “converted for use as a site for HAWK missiles which [were] part of the Panama Canal defenses.  Much of the underground area [was] used in connection with the operation of the missile battery.”

The four guns of Batteries Birney and Smith at Fort Amador were dismounted in 1943 and disposed of.  “The concrete emplacements were subsequently covered with earth and the area used for the erection of family quarters.  Quarters No. 85 and No. 86 stand on the site formerly occupied by Battery Birney, while Quarters No. 87, No. 91 and No. 184 are in the general area of Battery Smith.”



Fort Amador construction falls into three approximate eras:  the Post Canal Construction Era (1912 – 1937), the World War II Era

(1938 – 1946) and Contemporary Era (1946 to the present).


Buildings erected to accommodate the work force during the construction of the canal were of a temporary nature. Predominant building materials, intended to last only until the completion of the Canal, included wood and sheet metal.

Following the completion of the canal, permanent communities were planned.  Chief Engineer Goethals strongly believed that U. S. citizens living in the Panama Canal Zone should live in beautiful communities – communities which would contribute to the quality of life for their residents.  To achieve that end, an architect was hired to prepare both an overall plan for the permanent communities – civic and military – and to design individual buildings.

Early architectural plans for Canal Zone communities were prepared by Mr. Austin W. Lord of the New York firm of Lord, Hewlett, and Tallent.  Mr. Lord, who preferred to work out of his office in New York, was assisted by several on-site Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC) architects.

Mr. Lord chose Itallanate Renaissance as the primary architectural style for the permanent buildings in the Canal Zone.  Details of the Itallanate style include interior courtyards, large, often arched windows and verandas – features which capture breezes to cool the buildings’ interiors – as well as heavily bracketed roofs.  It was also a style popular in the United States in the early Twentieth Century.

In addition to determining the overall architectural style to be incorporated into the new structures, Mr. Lord decided on building materials – reinforced concrete with hollow concrete block stuccoed on the outside and red clay roofing tiles which would last for decades in the harsh tropical climate.

After completing the architectural plans for about a dozen individual buildings (including the Administration Building in Balboa) for the ICC, Mr. Lord removed himself from the project. Unsatisfied with the fact that Mr. Lord preferred to work out of his New York office, Chief Engineer Goethals was not disappointed with this turn of events.

The early decision regarding style and materials made by Austin Lord were continued by subsequent ICC architects.

The ICC architect, Samuel M. Hitt, was responsible for the architectural aspects of the designs at Fort Amador and other installations, while Mr. T. C. Morris, an assistant engineer, was charged with the more technical aspects of “details and designs of foundations, reinforced concrete, and analyses for size, dimensions of beams, columns, floors, etc.”

Barracks designs – for Fort Amador as well as for other installations – were also “made in accordance with types furnished by the Quartermaster Corps, United States Army; and the types of quarters were determined by a board of officers consisting of Col.  William F. Blauverl, Lieut.  Col. Charles F. Mason, Maj.  B. T. Clayton, Maj.  William E. Cole, and Capt.  R. E. Wood.”26  The Board took into consideration the design program already formalized and approved by the ICC.

Typical Facade with Architectural Elements Identified

1)   Copper screened louvers 2)   “Media Aguas” 3)   Large copper screened porches 4)   Reinforced concrete exterior 5)   Living quarters located above ground floor 6)   Clay Tile 7)   Maids Quarters, launder, and storage areas on ground floor

The Isthinian Canal Commission also employed several landscape architects, the first of whom was Mr. William L. Phillips, who had “special charge of the details of townsites, streets, parks, etc.”

The design elements and construction methods at Forts Amador and Grant are typical of the excellent Post Canal Construction Era ICC architecture.  Foundation and structural elements were cast in concrete due to concern for building degradation from the tropical climate and termites.  Living quarters were raised to the second level with storage, maid quarters, and later, garages placed on the ground level.  The solid, reinforced concrete walls also rendered the buildings ratproof – a Sanitation Department regulation for the prevention of the spread of bubonic plague.

Sub-floors and interior partitions were also of concrete, with wood reserved for doors and window frames, media aguas, roof framing, and floors.  Copper screened windows and porches allowed for air circulation within the buildings, while at the same time keeping out mosquitoes – the carriers of Yellow Fever and malaria.

Due to the heavy rains that occur in the region, intermediate roof projections, referred to locally as ‘media aguas,’ served the purpose of keeping water away from windows and blocking the harsh mid-day sun from interiors.

Full-length porches allowed the off-shore breezes to circulate through buildings.

Over the years, many of these buildings have undergone alterations and additions in keeping with the times.  With the advent of air conditioning, many oversized screen porches were enclosed to provide additional living areas.  Casement windows were reduced in size and wood frames were replaced with aluminum. The result of many of these changes was to further remove the building occupants from the surrounding environment.  While some of the alterations to these structures reflect the original design theme, others have, unfortunately, strayed from the original design intent of the Isthmian Canal Commission architects.

The first of the Post Canal Construction Era buildings to be erected at Fort Amador were barracks, family quarters, the headquarters building, a wagon shed and a wood stable.

Constructed in 1915, Building #1 was Headquarters for the Coast Artillery Post.  The front and rear porches were originally enclosed with copper screen.

Construction of the two-story band barracks building (Building #2) was begun in December of 1916, and was completed around June 30, 1917.  The building contained a band practice room, an office, and three storage rooms for instruments and music on the first floor.  Sleeping quarters for thirty men were located on the second floor.

The first set of company barracks completed at Fort Amador

(Buildings #3 through #9) were turned over to the Coast Artillery on September 28, 1914.

Construction of the two-story, raised Bachelor Lieutenants’ Quarters (Building #30) was begun in March of 1917, and was completed around June 30, 1918.

The first floor of the Six-set bachelor officers’ quarters contained a public porch and two private porches, two “Sitting Rooms,” a library with built-in bookcases, a “Billiard Room,” two bedrooms, an “Alcove,” a service pantry, a kitchen, and a dining room.  The second floor included four bedrooms, four “Sitting Rooms” and an “Inspector’s Room” with a private porch.

Originally designed to accommodate six single officers, Quarters #30 was converted sometime around 1959 into four units of family housing.

Seven sets of four-family, two-bedroom Non-commissioned Officers quarters were completed in 1915.  In the photograph example, the original porches have been infilled, and the original windows and doors have been replaced.

The first sets of four-family (three bedroom) Lieutenants’ Quarters were begun in October of 1916, and were completed by June 30, 1918.  In this photograph example also, the original porches have been infilled, and the original windows and doors have been replaced.

The first sets of two-family (four bedroom) Captains’ Quarters were begun in November 1916, and were nearly completed by June 30, 1917.

Unlike the four-family quarters, these two-family (three bedroom) quarters were divided horizontally, with one family residing on each floor.  The ground, or basement, floors contained two “Chambers” and two “Trunk Rooms”.

The first sets of single-family four bedroom Commanding Officers’ Quarters were begun in October of 1916, and were completed by June 30, 1917.

Quarters #1 represents the most drastic example of alterations to a single building at Fort Amador.  At an unknown date, this building was converted from a two-family Field Grade Officers’ Quarters into single-family quarters, and became the official residence of the Commanding General, United States Army South


Following the 1979 return of Building #1 to the Republic of Panama, the Commanding General’s quarters was redesignated Quarters #1.

Two sets of single-family, two-bedroom Non-commissioned Officers quarters, Building #’s 452 and 453, were completed at an unknown date, but most likely between 1917 and 1925.  Unlike the other family housing units at Fort Amador, these one-story structures contain elements of the Tropical Caribbean French architectural style constructed during the Panama Canal Construction Era. The buildings are raised off of the ground by wooden piers, both the interior and exterior walls of the buildings are of wood frame siding, and the roof is of corrugated iron. Quarters #453 was demolished in 1978.

Administrators of the Panama Canal Zone and the military reservations located within the Zone recognized that “opportunity for diversion in the Canal Zone [was] limited.  The community [was] not self-governing and lack[ed] political interests.  There no industrial activity outside of the canal work, and initiative and ambition [found] little outlet but in the day’s work.  The employees live[d] in houses owned and controlled by the Government and [could] not develop permanent and personally owned homes in the Canal Zone.”

Concern for quality of life issues prompted both the Isthmian Canal Commission and The Panama Canal to construct clubhouses and other recreational facilities which were open to all U. S. citizens residing on the Isthmus.  Military personnel also had access to the Army and Navy Y. M. C. A. in Balboa.

Construction of the Band Stand at Fort Amador was begun in May of 1917, and was completed by June 30, l9l8.  Military bands gave concerts regularly at installations and clubhouses throughout the Panama Canal Zone.

Service facilities at Fort Amador and Fort Grant included a commissary, a post exchange, a gymnasium and a theater.  Schools and medical clinics were available within a few miles.

The Non-commissioned Officers’ Club, constructed in 1934, was demolished after being turned over to the Republic of Panama in 1979.

In 1936, Fort Amador’s 18-hole golf course was laid out and a Club House was constructed.

Constructed in 1932, the Post Theater included a stage and a projection booth on the second floor.


World War II Era construction was in reaction to the anticipated increase in the number of troops required for Canal defense. Typically constructed with wood framing, these structures were intended to last only a few decades.  With a few exceptions, emphasis was placed on function rather than aesthetics.

Casa Caribe, the six-unit Distinguished Visitors’ Quarters, was constructed in 1939.  Typical of the World War II Era, the two- story, raised structure is of wood frame construction.

The present Fort Amador Officers’ Club was constructed in 1941 as a bowling alley.

With an increasing emphasis on sports, a baseball field was laid out on the Parade Ground at Fort Amador.  The baseball field was named McCardell Field in January of 1957, in honor of Major Norman C. McCardell, U. S. Army Caribbean Special Services, who died on December 7, 1956, at Gorgas Hospital at the age of 39.


Contemporary Construction Era buildings were designed by District architects and engineers of the Corps of Engineers.  The design of these generic structures was intended to be international – that is, the buildings could be constructed at any military facility in the United States or in the world.  Little emphasis was placed on environment or locale.  The structure would protect the user from the cold climate of Alaska or the torrid heat of the Philippines – whichever were required.  Purely functional, little emphasis was placed on aesthetics.

Fifteen sets of two-family, three-bedroom Capehart quarters were constructed in 1960.  The Capehart quarters display a drastic departure from the previous Canal Zone architecture.

Ten sets of two-family, four-bedroom quarters were constructed in 1960.  Three of these quarters are located at the beginning of the Causeway.

Four single-family, three-bedroom Field Grade Officers quarters were constructed in the 1960’s.  Unlike typical contemporary construction, the design of these concrete family housing units managed to successfully recapture the feeling of the Tropics. The ground floor provides space for a car and a maid’s living area.  The elevated living area provides an openness to the surrounding landscape.