About MSW

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“

Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.J Control Tank with Borgward IV Ausf.B

Pz.Abt. 301

Here is some data on the unit from Marcus Jaugitz’s book FUNKLENKPANZER.
On 9 September 1942 Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) was redesignated as Panzer-Abteilung 301. The unit participated in the defensive struggle south of Lake Ladoga with the 11. Armee on the northern Front. From 3 October to 30 October 1942 they participated in positional fighting in the area of operations of the 11. Armee and then from 31 October to 16 November 1942 they fought in the area of operations of the 18. Armee.

During this time the unit was re-organized as follows:
• 3./Panzer-Abteilung 302 arrived from Neuruppin on 22 October and was incorporated into Panzer-Abteilung 301 as the 2. Kompanie.
• The former 2./Panzer-Abteilung 301 was taken out of action, re-designated as the 3./Panzer-Abteilung 302 and transported to Neuruppin.
• Kompanie Abendroth was formed as a special remote-control unit. The bulk of this unit came from the 1. Kompamie with additional personnel from the 3. Kompanie and the headquarters kompanie.

During the period from 23 October to 11 December 1942, Panzer-Abteilung 301 remained with Heeresgruppe Nord in the area of the 18. Armee, with the exception of Kompanie Abendroth, which left the abteilung in mid-November.

On 12 December 1942 Panzer-Abteilun began entraining for transport to Arnswalde.

On 20 November 1942 the Heer called for the establishment of 10 radio-controlled armor units. At the same time it was ordered that existing personnel and radio-control equipment be brought together in a radio-control instructional unit of the Panzertruppen-Schule to be based at Neuruppin. In other-words the remote-control units were to be reorganized from existing assets. Hence another re-organization.
The new Panzer-Abteilung (Fkl) 301 was formed on 25 January 1943 at Neuruppin from elements from the disbanded Panzer-Abteilung 302 and the elements of Panzer-Abteilung 301 that had returned to Arnswalde in Pomerania.

Panzer-Abteilung (Fkl) 301 consisted of the following:
• Headquarters
• Headquarters Kompanie [Oberlt. Stein]
• Maitenance Zug [Lt. Meyer]
• 2. Panzer-Kompanie [Oberlt. Hoyer]
• 3. Panzer-Kompanie [Oberlt. Krämer]
• 4. Panzer-Kompanie [Oberlt. Busse]
Abteilung Commander: Major Reinel
Adjutant: Oberlt. Guckel
Special Staff Officer: Lt. Sickendick
Radio-Control Officer: Oberlt. Voss
Abteilung Surgeon: Oberarzt Dr, Wick

The 1. Panzer-Kompanie was to be formed from Konpanie Abendroth which was employed in southern Russia. It returned to Germany in mid-March 1943 and rather than going to Neuruppin to become the 1. Panzer-Kompanie/Panzer-Abteilung (Fkl) 301 it went instead to Eisenach as a replacement battalion. It remained there until 6 July 1943 when it was disbanded and the personnel were used to form Panzer-Kompanie 315 (Fkl).

At the beginning of September 1943 Panzer-Abteilung (Fkl) 301 reported they were ready for combat and on 11 September 1943 they received orders to transport to OB West.

As I noted above Panzer-Abteilung 301 had previously been Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk). They had been formed on 9 February 1942 with the following structure:
Battalion Stab with 2 Pz III/J
Commander: Hptm. Weicke
Adjutant: Lt. Dr. Schlüter
Executive Officer: Lt. Dr. Schmidt
Remote-control Officer: Oberlt. Dipl.Ing. Hanke
Battalion Surgeon: Dr. Wirth
1./Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) with 2 Pz III/J Oberlt. von Abendroth
1. Zug Lt. unknown with 4 Pz.III/J and 20 BIV
2. Zug Lt. Schlenzig with 5 Pz.III/J
2./Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) with 2 Pz III/J Oberlt. Fritschken
1. Zug Lt. Fischer with 4 Pz.III/J and 19 BIV
2. Zug Lt. von Rhoden with 4 Pz.III/J
3./Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) with 1 Pz.III/J Oberlt. Senne
1. Zug Lt. Dettmann with 43 Goliath and 7
2. Zug Lt. Sigmund

At the beginning of May 1942 they were ordered to proceed to Sevastapol leaving Cottbus between 11 and 13 May 1942 and arriving in the Crimea a week later. After fighting in the Sevastapol battles on 4 July 1942 they were transported to the Charzyssk area and placed under the control of the 1. Panzer-Armee. Here they took part of breaching the Russia line and pursuit into the Donets Basin and toward the Lower Don until 24 January 1942. Following the Battle of Rostov and Biatsk from 21 to 26 July 1942, the battalion was assigned the task of securing the operational area. neither demo-carriers or wire controlled vehicles saw action in this area in July but the control Panzer IIIs took part in several operations.

After a brief rest period at Uspenskaya area Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) entrained in Amvrosiyevka on 6 August 1942 for transport to the Leningrad Front. After a ten day journey they arrived at Krasnogvardeysk on 15 August 1942. They then road marched to Tishkovitsi, 20 kilometers to the south, where they were billeted. On 9 September they were re-designated as Panzer-Abteilun 301 (Fernlenk). see above. At this point the structure of the abteilung was as follows on 13 September 1942.
1./Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) with 2 Pz III/J
1. Zug with 4 Pz.III/J and 20 BIV and 3 SdKfz. 11
2. Zug with 5 Pz.III/J
2./Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) with 2 Pz III/J
1. Zug with 4 Pz.III/J and 19 BIV nd 3 SdKfz. 11
2. Zug with 4 Pz.III/J
3./Panzer-Abteilung 300 (Fernlenk) with 1 Pz.III/J
1. Zug with 43 Goliath and 7 modified Bren carriers

In the period of October/November 1942 here are some details of their operations in that time and area. In mid-November Kompanie Abendroth received orders to transfer into the area of Heeresgruppe B, They began entraining in Gatchina on the afternoon of 17 November and the trains departed that night. They arrived 8 days later at Oblivskaja on 26 November 1942, about 100 kilometers southwest of Stalingrad. While in this area Kompanie Abendroth participated in the defensive fighting at the Don and in the Kalmuck Steppe and, after further withdrawal, in the defensive fighting in the area of operations around the Donez. Wire and radio-control demolition vehicles were used in various counter attacks and defensive actions. On 30 January 1943 Kompanie Abendroth entrained in Lichaja and departed for Germany. After a journey that lasted almost six weeks because of various interruption they finally arrived in Eisenach on 13 March 1943. This segment completes the story of this element of the unit.

Found an interesting tidbit in a soldiers diary ( Heinz Prenzlin) that I though you would find interesting about Kompanie Abendroth:
11 December 1942: ‘We have been assigned a company of Infanterie-Division ‘Hermann Göring’ [Actually either the 7. or 8. Lw Feld-Division]. We deploy to attack, the Ivans are trying to force a breakthrough with tanks. We use “Goliaths” carried on trucks, results with them are good. Göring’s “Guard” runs away, the old man is furious. We collect the automatic rifles, sub-machine guns and machine guns they threw away. The machine guns are MG 42’s, most of ours are still MG 34’s.


Romeo – Tango

The simplistic lines of the Project 941B/Tango are evident in this view. The Tango was intended as the successor to the Foxtrot class, but, in the event, few were built. The Tango’s principal advantage over her predecessor was increased submerged endurance.

The Project 633/Romeo had the same sonars as the larger Foxtrot. The Romeo’s sail was distinguished by the “top hat” extension that housed the submarine’s periscopes. The massive Romeo construction program was cut back in the USSR because of the shift of emphasis to nuclear propulsion and long-range submarines.

The success of Project 641/Foxtrot, led to several cruise missile (SSGN) variants being proposed. In 1956-1957 preliminary designs were developed at TsKB-18 for Project 649, a more advanced diesel-electric submarine with a surface displacement of some 2,560 tons, a submerged dis placement of 3,460 tons, and an underwater speed up to 20 knots. The project was not pursued.

Instead, from 1965 a TsKB-18 team under Yuri Kormilitsin developed Project 641B (NATO Tango). This was a major improvement of the Foxtrot design with respect to hull form and battery capacity, the latter providing an increase in submerged endurance. Also, the sonar was linked directly to the torpedo fire control system, enabling more rapid handling of firing solutions and the automatic transmission of data to torpedoes before firing. Eighteen submarines of this long-range design were delivered from 1973 to 1982 by the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard in Gor’kiy (now Nizhny Novgorod). Construction of these submarines, in turn, was halted with development of the improved Project 877 (NATO Kilo) design.

Meanwhile, with the completion of the truncated Project 613/Whiskey program-the last submarine being delivered in 1958-work was under way on a successor medium-range submarine, Project 633 (NATO Romeo). Design work had begun at SKB-112 (Lazurit) in 1954 under chief designers Z. A. Deribin and, after 1959, A. I. Noarov. The new design had enhanced armament, sensors, and performance over Project 613.

The number of bow torpedo tubes was increased to six, in addition to the two stern tubes, while sonar, habitability, and food storage were improved, the last increasing practical endurance from 30 days for the Whiskey to 60 days for the Romeo. The latter submarine was viewed as the ultimate undersea craft of its type by the Soviet Navy’s leadership with preliminary plans being made for the production of 560 ships!

The first Project 633/Romeo, the S-350, was laid down on 22 October 1957 at the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard in Gor’kiy, which had been the lead yard for the Whiskey class. The submarine was delivered to the Navy in December 1959 with a total of 20 units being built through 1962. The early cancellation of large-scale production and the subsequent transfer of 15 of these ships to other countries reflected the Soviet Navy’s emphasis on nuclear propulsion and long-range conventional undersea craft. The recipients were Algeria (2), Bulgaria (4), Egypt (6), and Syria (3), with the Egyptian units being transferred upon completion.

China was given plans and documentation for Project 633/Romeo and initiated mass production construction of these submarines at four ship yards. According to Chinese sources, slightly more than 160 units were completed in China from 1962 to 1987, which would make this the second largest class of under sea craft constructed after World War II. 19 (Western sources place Chinese production of the Romeo at 92 units, completed between 1960 and 1984; eight of those were transferred to Egypt (4) and North Korea (4).

One Soviet unit of this class, the S-350, sank in 1962 at the naval base of Polyarnyy on the Kola Peninsula as a result of a torpedo explosion in the nearby submarine B-37. The S-350 was salvaged, repaired, and placed back in service in 1966.

In 1956 work began at SKB-112 on the more advanced Project 654, a medium-range submarine with a surface displacement of some 1,600 tons. This was the first Soviet submarine design based on the high-speed USS Albacore (AGSS 569). Construction of the lead submarine was begun at the Krasnoye Sormovo yard, but soon halted. This marked the end of the development and construction of medium-range submarines in the USSR.

Second Intermediate Period—Foundation of the Egyptian Armies I

The past decade has seen a resuscitation of scholarly interest concerning the military arm of pharaonic Egypt. This reinvigoration of a perennial topic has brought with it a deeper understanding of the cultural aspects of the warrior class as well as a more fundamental perception of the archaeological implication of war logistics. The emphasis upon the Egyptian New Kingdom, nonetheless, remains strong, if only due to the wealth of textual (inscriptional and literary) information still extant and the accompanying artistic depictions. Yet one must turn back to the Second Intermediate Period in order to see the fundamental substructure of the war machine of the Egyptian empire, a foundation that owed its importance to new technology and a new ideological framework (Cavillier 2001).

The period of Hyksos domination in Egypt, traditionally placed at the end of the 13th Dynasty and running through to the reign of Ahmose, first king of the 18th Dynasty, remains a very controversial and complicated subject (Oren 1997; Ryholt 1997: 295-310). Among all of the chronological and historical uncertainties, one of the more difficult remains that of the arrival of the horse and chariot in Egypt. Not surprisingly, the origins of the words for the new modes of warfare, encompassing war material (for example, armour, swords and chariots), are either Semitic or cannot be identified.

Although it took some time for the development of a military caste of elite chariot warriors to rise within the social sphere of the Nile Valley, there is no doubt that a transformation of the state, including its king, was the outcome. In particular, we can note the new ideological flavour of the 18th Dynasty monarchs. Repeatedly, they went to war. Campaigns became part and parcel of their normal activity. When young, princes were fully integrated within the Egyptian army, learning the special crafts of charioteer warfare and being inculcated with the ideology of an expanding Egyptian state. At the same time, these men were closely associated with their non-royal compatriots, officers within the army, whose backgrounds reflected the importance of their families at home.

Because horsemanship and driving war vehicles were now a desideratum for any future pharaoh, so too was the ability to lead men and to organize, both tactically and strategically, the manoeuvres necessary to propagate this new ideal. But there was yet another embedded feature of kingship: pharaohs were now skilled archers. Their `sporting activities’ were no longer limited to hunting or fishing but now included archery, handling of horses and chariots, spear/javelin throwing, oarsmanship and the like. How much the presence of foreign specialists within Egypt aided the Egyptians to advance on their own with these new technologies is another matter. The switch from copper to arsenical bronze was accomplished in the 12th Dynasty but the introduction of `true’ bronze for use in axes, to take a case in point, was later (Davies 1987: 96-101). It is possible that the frequent numbers of Canaanites (or Syrians) who resided in Egypt in the late Middle Kingdom helped to prepare a basis of reception for the acquisition of these new military items (Sparks 2004).

In the time of the Hyksos, one type of small horse was imported into the eastern delta (Decker 1965: 35-59; Spalinger 2005: 8-15). The exact date cannot be deter mined with accuracy, despite the on-going excavation at the Hyksos capital, Avaris (Tell el-Dab’a). Coming from Western Asia, equids had been domesticated for a long time in the steppe regions of southern Russia, and slowly but surely this art moved into the Near East. Along with the horses came chariots, vehicles that at first were small and clumsy, having two wheels that were solid. Later, changes in technology as well as technique meant that by c. 1800 BC lightweight chariots with two wheels (each having four spokes), and drawn by two horses, became the norm (Littauer and Crouwel 1979). With them came a whole group of military men, the charioteers, who were to form the higher level of military society (Gnirs 1996: 17-34).

These changes can be observed by the end of the 17th Dynasty. At that time, the southern state of Thebes, controlling approximately 40 per cent of the length of Egypt, was at war with the north (the Hyksos) and the south (Nubians). The `mutually hostile state’ of Egypt’s relations with the Nubians is nowhere better seen than in the evidence from the tomb of Sobeknakht of Elkab (Davies 2003a). Earlier written evidence allows us to picture an encapsulated Theban state, beset by enemies to the north and the south, but one that was able to press forward owing to its theological political foundations (Vernus 1982; 1989a). Indeed, at this time the native southern Egyptian concept of `victorious Thebes’ became overpowering (Helck 1968: 119-20; Aufrere 2001a). True, the personalized concept of the capital of a native Egyptian state, in this case Thebes of the 17th Dynasty rulers, goes back to earlier divided times, specifically to the First Intermediate Period (Franke 1990; Morenz 2005). But in the Second Intermediate Period there was an added factor, namely the foreign occupation of Egypt. From the south, Nubians penetrated downstream, while in the north a foreign-based dynasty held power over the entire delta as well as central Egypt, ultimately controlling Middle Egypt up to Cusae. The galvanization of any political strength could only come from an amalgam of a new theological-political basis as well as the new military forms of warfare used by the Hyksos themselves.

Because of its relatively limited extent, Thebes at the beginning of the 17th Dynasty was forced to develop a new military arm, based on a large number of its young men who could use horses and chariots, but who also had to be inculcated with a messianic feeling of nationalism (Ryholt 1997: 181-3, 301-10). That there was no simple, single cause-and-effect relationship among all the developments in military technology is clear (Shaw 2001). For example, a large number of military men, the so-called `king’s sons’, proliferate in the epigraphic record at this time (Schmitz 1976; Quirke 2004a). They were personally connected to the pharaoh, not by physical birth but, rather, through social and economic dependence. Equally, the administrative set-up of the Theban state reveals that some key cities and nomes possessed garrisons and military commandants, in addition to the expected civilian mayors. It is clear that this kingdom operated in a high state of military preparedness. Yet it still retained the naval orientation of earlier times. The royal flotilla was the basis of the army, and despite the gradual increase in importance of the chariotry, the old elite of marines formed the backbone of the Theban military (Berlev 1967).

The advantages that the Thebans had over their foes in the north and the south are hard to determine. Over time, they had organized a centralized state which, owing to its geographical limitations, could be easily run on a military basis. Yet practical considerations are never the only factor determining social cohesion and success. As noted above, the kingdom was set within a theological concept that placed the city of Thebes and its god Amun at the core. The Amun theology was linked with the warrior aspect of the monarch and thus his kingdom. `Victorious Thebes’ was not merely an image: it was as much a personification as an extension of the will of pharaoh and of the Theban godhead, Amun (Assmann 1992a). This feeling, one that can be seen later in private inscriptions (such as that of the naval man Ahmose Son of Abana), indicates that Thebes was `our land’. In other words, a strong and cohesive ideological force was engendered that was able to provide this state, earlier beset by foes, with a raison d’etre for military opposition and expansion. We must remember that Thebes could rightfully claim to be Egyptian in leadership and history, and by now Amun had become, theologically, the father of the warrior-king.

This nationalistic aspect of late Second Intermediate Period Egypt is well illustrated in King Kamose’s wars against the Hyksos and also from later accounts that cover this era of foreign occupation (Habachi 1972a; Smith and Smith 1976). Kamose’s royal account, composed on two stelae by his chancellor Nehy, keenly reveals the cultural bias against Apophis, the Pharaoh’s enemy. The Hyksos ruler is always called an `Asiatic’. The dichotomy between him and the son of Amun, `Kamose-the-Brave’, is a theme that runs throughout the inscriptions. Both of them were set up within the religious precinct of Karnak. All that the god wished came to pass, the result being Kamose’s victory celebration upon his return to the capital. The purpose of the narrative account was not to describe the war in a classically narrative manner. Instead, there are various literary strands from different sources that enter into the composition. For example, we learn of a previous conflict between the Thebans and the Nubians. The remarkably swift move north by means of the royal fleet is never explained, and on the basis of a later story, Apophis and Sekenenra, it is assumed that the warfare recounted here is actually a continuance of recent conflict of Thebes versus the north (Wente 1973). But the collective memory of the entire Hyksos episode, in conjunction with the final wars of `expulsion’, was purposely kept in mind by the rulers of Thebes for some time, and indeed propagated to and by the elite (Redford 1970; Assmann 1992b, 1997). It is worthwhile to note that a later ruler of Egypt, Hatshepsut of the mid-18th Dynasty, still felt it effective to refer to Egypt’s `occupation’ by the Hyksos, in order to bolster her propaganda (Allen 2002b).

This persistent attitude of extreme hostility is the major aspect of both Kamose’s official war record and that of the soldier-sailor Ahmose son of Abana (Lichtheim 1976: 12-15). Both place emphasis upon the direct moves against the Hyksos citadel at Avaris. Kamose has his narrative interrupted by a letter from the Hyksos ruler to his Nubian counterpart, promising an alliance, and uses the event to show to the elite of Egypt how dastardly were his opponents’ plans to crush the Thebans from two directions, the south and the north. Ahmose son of Abana, on the other hand, is keen to demonstrate his ability on the field, but likewise places emphasis upon the trapped nature of the foe while proclaiming his role in terms that are overtly nationalistic and xenophobic.

But there is additional information that can be brought into the equation. After Kamose died, he was followed by Ahmose, possibly his younger cousin (Bennett 1995: 42-4). The wars in the delta still continued. We lack any narrative, literary record of war from this time, even though Ahmose published an important document, the Tempest Stela, in which the Hyksos’ control over the land was associated with a recent storm (Wiener and Allen 1998). The manifestation of `the great god’, clearly Amun, is placed at the forefront of the literary account. Ahmose, with his troops on both sides of him (note the military setting of the king) and the council to the rear, inspects his territories and later restores cult centres and ritual activities that had ceased. A new interpretation of the monument has placed emphasis upon possible unrest caused by the ongoing wars in the north with the Hyksos, and there is little doubt, when one examines the chronology, that the final conquest of the Hyksos capital took at least ten to 15 years of warfare. Evidently, the king’s presumed success was won after a long and hard-fought struggle (Spalinger 2005: 22-4, 31 note 36). The so-called Tempest Stela is significant in this context as it appears to indicate that the king’s presence away from his capital, Thebes, at least in his opening years, was considered to be a problem. The account of the `catastrophe’ was theologically interpreted as `a manifestation of Amun’s desire that Ahmose return to Thebes’ (Wiener and Allen 1998: 18). Unfortunately, the extent of the damage to the inscrip tion, as well as the difficulty in separating metaphors from their core literal meanings, hinder our understanding of this important composition.

We are fortunate to possess a series of fragments from Ahmose’s religious complex at Abydos. There, in limestone, was carved a series of narrative scenes in which the king’s final move against the Hyksos fortress at Avaris was depicted. In addition, the presence of the royal fleet reveals the enduring necessity at that time for the use of the marine-based army system for campaigns within the Nile Valley. After all, travel by water was considerably more effective in time and expense than travel by land. Because the Nile served as the umbilical cord for transportation and communication, he who had control of Egypt’s only river possessed the kingdom. Thus the traditional nature of Egyptian warfare had been ship-based, and Ahmose, in his war reliefs, indicates that this system was still in place (Harvey 1998, 2004; Spalinger 2005: 19-23). Elsewhere, the king deports himself in a chariot, shooting his arrow from his massive bow, a scene that was to be the fundamental iconic base of all Egyptian visual narratives of war (Heinz 2001). The helpless opponents flee away from the superhuman king and his army. What distinguishes these pictures from later ones is the presence of Ahmose’s fleet. Because subsequent wars of the New Kingdom were concentrated in lands to the north, south or west, such visual narratives selected the natural means of fighting: with horses and chariots, and accompanying footsoldiers and charioteers. All of the later images of power reverberate through these reliefs. The mimetic restructuring of the king no longer placed him solely, or even mainly, within cultic roles at home, but now located the ruler far away from the capital and engaging a perennial foe. The fact that Ahmose’s enemy was an Asiatic helped him to no small degree in redrawing the cultural boundaries of his nascent dynasty. Most certainly, with the fall of Avaris, the way was open for a consolidation of Egyptian trade routes and mercantile centres on the southern coast of Palestine.

Second Intermediate Period—Foundation of the Egyptian Armies II

Egyptian Infantry in the Middle Kingdom : 1. Archer, 2. Light Spearman, 3. Nubian Archer, 4. Phalanx Spearman, 5. Axeman, 6. Javelineer | Standards: (a) Standard of Hare Nome, (b) The Scepter Nome, (c) Anupu – The Black Dog Nome

Egyptian Soldiers, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty: 1. Pharaoh Ahmose, 2. Officer, 3. Infantry, 4. Syrian Chariot Warrior, 5. Horseman, 6. High Ranking Officer, 7. Hyksos Chariot Warrior, 8. Canaanite Spearman

New Kingdom Egyptian armies added massed chariotry to the already sophisticated infantry tactics of the Middle Kingdom. Nevertheless, in contrast to the Canaanites, the Egyptians continued to rely heavily on their infantry, although both Thutmose III at Megiddo and Ramesses II at Kadesh berate their foot for lack of discipline.


It is thought-provoking to analyse the events surrounding the earlier seizure of the crucial site of Sile (Tjaru). Recent excavations have thrown welcome light on this matter, but the key point is that this fortress in the north-eastern delta served as the entrance and the exit of merchants, armies and tribes alike (Morris 2005: 46-7, 56-60). Sile, probably the second most important base of Hyksos control, fell to Ahmose before the capital itself. Located at Tell el-Hebua, it seems to have been significant from the Second Intermediate Period on, and bears witness to the intimate economic relations that the Hyksos had with their neighbours in Palestine. We can assume that the king’s troops used the numerous canals and small waterways in order to advance swiftly upon the citadel. The decisive battle, nonetheless, had to be fought outside the walls, in what was to become the standard means of military warfare: the king or his troops advance inland; they engage their opponents in the field outside a city or fortress; the fighting is chariot-based, and when the defending side loses, the city surrenders. This was the ideal system of Egyptian military conflict, one that occurs again and again in their pictorial reports carved on temple walls (Gaballa 1976).

The process of expansion by means of war rapidly became a principal raison d’etre of the re-unified Egyptian kingdom. The old conflict with Nubia never ceased, and we find not only Kamose but also his immediate successors (Ahmose, Amenhotep I and Thutmose I) pushing their fleet and army considerably upstream. To some degree, this was conceived as a reconquest of lost provinces that Egypt once held, in particular the territory between the First and Second Cataracts. That region, named Wawat, was soon to be completely incorporated into the Egyptian economy. Buhen at the Second Cataract was quickly established as the administrative focus of Egypt’s imperialistic desires. In similar fashion, the island of Sai at the Second Cataract was converted into yet another fortress-town. This practice is known only from the southern zone of Egypt’s control (Morris 2005: 112-13). Asia appears to have been another matter, probably because the logistics of political and military domination were more complex.

Under the first two rulers of the 18th Dynasty there is little evidence that the Egyptians were able to control Palestine. The need to develop a larger fighting force, composed of elite charioteers, was not at the core of the difficulty: distance and isolation were. Thus it was somewhat troublesome for King Ahmose to capture the southern Palestinian city of Sharuhen (Spalinger 2005: 34 note 31); sieges are notoriously the result of an army’s incapacity to effect a swift battlefield decision. Within Egypt proper, troops and supplies could be quickly dispatched to problematic regions with little fear of interruption, and this was also the case in Nubia. In Western Asia, on the other hand, there were no rivers that could provide such logistical support except for the faraway Euphrates in eastern Syria. Thus a different system of logistics had to be developed, one based on the active support of local cities, reinforced by key military bases. This took time.

This key difference between Asia and Nubia explains the seemingly rapid takeover of Lower Nubia (the province of Wawat) by the time of the death of Thutmose I, as well as territory south to the Third Cataract. This king even moved his flotilla far beyond the Fourth Cataract, and his exploits indicate just how effective the Egyptian logistical system was (Davies 2004). We must not assume that such an extensive voyage and the submission or defeat of the locals at the extreme limits of the known universe implies that Egypt could hold such territory. Superior military technology – in particular better bronze weapons, chariots and horses – could overwhelm the locals. In addition, the Nile was a perfect artery for expansion. Nonetheless – and the Nubian work projects of Amenhotep I and Thutmose I prove this – two key problems came to the fore. In order for Egyptian imperialism to be maintained, supply bases as well as military garrisons were needed: hence, the development of an 18th Dynasty fortress system, coupled with permanent occupation. At the same time, once the distances east and west of the Nile broadened, severe constraints were placed on Egyptian political and military control.

One reason why Middle Kingdom control over Nubia was more limited than that of the New Kingdom lies in the lower technological level at that time (O’Connor 1993; O’Connor and Reid 2003). In the 12th Dynasty, Egypt could move beyond the Second Cataract, as attested by campaigns against the Kingdom of Kerma. But Egypt could not control lands further south; hence, the major building projects of the 12th Dynasty in the Second Cataract region. This is not to deny that in the early New Kingdom major crises occurred in Nubia. One well-known case was the eruption of rebellion at the time of Thutmose I’s death (Gabolde 2004). The severity of the disturbance indicates that `pacification’ did not automatically mean control.

The first century or so of the New Kingdom may be said to have provided the bases of military and political domination over Palestine and Nubia. Equally, this period witnessed the gradual development of the Egyptian army with a more complex system of administration. By the reign of Thutmose III, the chariot divisions with their leaders had come to the fore in the military (Gnirs 1996: 12-17, 31-4). `Field marshals’ of non-royal blood ran the officer class. The gradual transformation of a marine-oriented army to a land-based one entailed the establishment of a new and increasingly important career path. The military had become a powerful corporation in its own right, and with the king leading it in person, the ethos of the army and the concept of kingship had altered (Spalinger 2005: 70-80). Now, the rulers of Egypt were expected to engage in wars, to show their virility in the field, to bring back prisoners as proof of success, and to return thanks and captives to the godhead, Amun. In fact, it seems that every campaign began in the temple of Amun where a `speech oracle’ (Schenke 1960) took place during which Amun promised victory to his son, the living king. The trip to foreign and distant lands commenced from, and returned to, the religious centre of Thebes.

All kings, including Hatshepsut, were obliged to perform military deeds. Begun as a nationalistic reaction against the internally divided nature of the home country, war now assumed a permanent aspect of society that embraced all key members, not just the king and his officers. The temples included age-old ritual smiting scenes on their walls, updated to reflect the circumstance of Asiatic and Nubian prisoners. The king comported himself in a militaristic manner, whether through his manly acts of archery and horsemanship in war or peace, or within a temple bequeathing captives to workhouses, if not death (Hornung 1982a). If the influence of the newly won empire led to independence of action and confidence in strength, it also meant that the kingdom had now become one of the superpowers of the day (Redford 1995).

The independent reign of Thutmose III is traditionally seen as the apogee of the 18th Dynasty’s military might and success. If so, and his published war record attempted to prove this, it was obtained only after many decades of continual warfare (Redford 2003; Cavillier 2003). There are two major divisions within the military reports of Thutmose III, although both were considered to belong together. The first covers the momentous campaign of the king to the central Palestinian city of Megiddo. That narration, detailed and historically sober, focuses upon the background to the war as well as the heroic deeds of the monarch. These two aspects permeate the composition. We learn that the north Syrian city of Kadesh was an active supporter of the resistance, undoubtedly hoping to deflect pharaonic strength away from itself. It is also evident from the official report that this opposition to Egyptian control had come about because of Egypt’s seemingly unopposed success at an earlier time. Even though we do not know precisely the depth of Egyptian control in Asia, it is clear that if Thutmose I was able to fight on the Upper Euphrates, none of the small city-states of Palestine and Syria was able, on its own, to resist Egypt effectively. Some have even argued that Palestine was devastated by the Egyptians in the early 18th Dynasty, a hypothesis that still needs clear proof (Spalinger 2005: 65-6 note 7 and 96-7). If so, the opposition of the Palestinian cities with support from Syria makes further sense.

These shows of armed resistance received support from the Syrian kingdom of Mitanni. Earlier, under Thutmose I, Egypt had engaged in war with Mitanni without, however, being able to achieve a decisive victory, since Mitannian power was equal to Egypt’s. Mitanni stood close to the Lebanon and maintained indirect control over central and south-eastern Syria. Any forays of Egypt into its heartland met with stiff opposition. So it is not surprising to find Mitanni actively championing a major revolt in Palestine against Egyptian control. Significantly, the subsequent northern wars of Thutmose III – Nubia had ceased to be a thorn in the side of Egypt by now – were directed inland and across Syria to the heartland of Mitanni. But before Thutmose could press his army so deep into Asia, he had to crush the rebellion at Megiddo.

In his later campaigns, all of which preoccupied him up to his forty-second regnal year, Thutmose III moved troops and war material north, through the age-old trade routes of the Via Maris on the coast, or the King’s Highway in the central valley of Palestine and Syria. Furthermore, the Egyptians secured the harbours of the Lebanon, used the ports as staging bases, and campaigned inland against Kadesh and eventually Mitanni. This intense fighting ought to indicate that neither mere heroism nor personal satisfaction was at the heart of the matter. Although the economic implications of Egypt’s hegemony over Asia are still murky, it can be argued that Egypt had become reliant upon the region for long-range trade as well as the possible importation of horses and chariots, the power force always needed for any army at this time. Egypt’s desire to maintain control of the Levantine ports further highlights its indirect economic influence over the eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, the recent argument that the port of Perunefer, Egyptian for `good departure’, was located at Avaris/Tell el-Dab#a, emphasizes even more the need that the Egyptians had for an aggressive marine policy (Bietak 2005). Finally, all of this control could only be maintained by some type of policing, a point that has been investigated in detail from the voluminous data revealed in the Amarna Letters (Pintore 1973; Na’aman 1975; Liverani 1990, 1994; Bryce 2003).

By the end of the reign of Thutmose III, a rigorous policy of garrisons had come to exist in Asia. Though small in number, such troops served as a `civil guard’ necessary to aid and support small wars. Local princes were closely watched and often deposed if they attempted to shake off Egyptian control. One new fortress in the Lebanon is known from the reign of Thutmose III (Morris 2005: 213). By this time, the personal involvement of the king was no longer significant. In the subsequent reign of Amenhotep II, for example, the king fought in person only twice, although a third war is known to have occurred when he was regent with his father. Thutmose IV went abroad once, to Nubia. The role of the various Egyptian `commissioners’ and garrison soldiers was locally based. Their duty was to keep the peace and not actively to upset any urban power, city or kingdom. Local troops would have been busy in their attempt to repel local marauders, especially the tribes circulating around the borders of eastern and southern Palestine (known to the Egyptians as `Shasu’) (Giveon 1971; Ward 1972). This persisted into the following dynasty, as the various Late Egyptian Miscellanies reveal (Moers 2001; Spalinger 2005: 267-9). The inter national correspondence of the Amarna Letters, dated to the reign of Amenhotep IV, reveals similarly parochial, though extremely bothersome, concerns.

Rome at the Cusp of Barbarian Invasion: The Vandals I



The Gathering Storm

At some point at the end of the fourth century or beginning of the fifth, the Huns moved westward again. They occupied the Hungarian plain and sent a new wave of refugees up against the Roman frontiers. This time the Vandals were amongst them. Led by Godegisel, the Asdings were probably the first to move and some were pushing up against the Danube and raiding into Raetia as early as 401. These early Vandal raiders were defeated by Stilicho and some of the survivors may have been engaged as foederati (federates), given land in exchange for military service.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider just how momentous a decision it must have been for the Vandals to up-sticks and move. Despite their later wanderings, the Vandals were settled farmers and not nomads. They had lived in more or less the same part of central Europe for hundreds of years and by migrating westward they would leave everything that was familiar behind forever.

The decision would not have been taken lightly, nor quickly. Around the council fires there must have been many voices arguing to stay put and come to some sort of accord with the Huns. Other Germanic peoples, such as the Gepids, did take that option and in the end seem to have done fairly well by it. It may be that the decision to move was influenced by other factors than simply terror at the approach of the Huns. In all likelihood some warriors decided to strike out early, like those who raided Raetia in 401, then as conditions worsened others made the move, taking their families with them.

Procopius, writing in the sixth century, attributes the Vandal migration to famine. Perhaps there had been several poor harvests which made staying put in face of the advancing Huns a less than promising option. It is also interesting to note that Procopius also says that not all the Vandals migrated: `When the Vandals originally pressed by hunger, were about to remove from their ancestral abodes, a certain part of them was left behind who were reluctant to go and not desirous of following Godegisel.’

It is generally assumed that, unlike the Goths, all the Vandals – both Silings and Asdings, men, women and children – migrated west in the early fifth century. Archeology tends to back this up. Material goods connected with the so-called Przeworsk culture have been found in the Vandals’ central European heartland dating back centuries. Then, suddenly, from the start of the fifth century these artefacts disappear from the archeological record entirely. It may be that there was a split as Procopius says and that the end of the Przeworsk culture could be accounted for by the warrior elites moving on, leaving the others behind to fall under Hun overlordship or be absorbed by other tribes. We cannot know for certain but on balance it would seem as though most, if not all, Vandals moved west to seek a new home inside the Roman Empire. This would not have been a coordinated migration but rather decisions made by individual groups, with some moving earlier and others joining in later. As each group made their decision, they would have had to weigh up the difficulties of their present situation against the possibility of a better life in the future.

What realistic hope did the Vandals have of carving out new lands for themselves inside the Empire? Most barbarian incursions into Roman territory were doomed to failure. They might achieve initial success but eventually the Romans would prevail, destroying the invaders and following up with punitive raids against their homelands. The aftermath of Adrianople in 378 had broken this mould. When the Vandals were contemplating their options they would have been well aware that the descendants of the Gothic victors at Adrianople had both land and status within the Empire. The Franks had also been granted land on the west bank of the Rhine in exchange for military service, and all the tribes along the Rhine frontier – Franks, Burgundians and Alamanni – had done quite well out of recent treaties with Stilicho.

The Vandals must have thought that they too could hope for a similar arrangement, especially if the man in charge, Stilicho, was himself a Vandal on his father’s side. Jordanes goes as far as to say that the Vandals were invited into the Empire by Stilicho:

`A long time afterward they [the Vandals] were summoned thence [to Gaul] by Stilicho, Master of the Soldiery, Ex-Consul and Patrician, and took possession of Gaul. Here they plundered their neighbours and had no settled place of abode.’

Could there be any truth to this claim?

Gaul had been a thorn in Stilicho’s side for years. It was the place where rivals could and did rise up to challenge him and the Emperor Honorius, whom he protected. His interest was in maintaining his power base in Italy, keeping an eye on Alaric’s Goths in the Balkans and playing politics with Constantinople. The Gallic Army had been decimated in the civil wars of the late-fourth century, and in 401 Stilicho withdrew more troops from Gaul to support his struggle against Alaric’s Goths who were threatening Italy. While the Rhine defences needed bolstering, the last thing Stilicho wanted was another strong Gallic Army to challenge him. Therefore it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he would have been tempted to have his Vandal cousins move into Gaul as his surrogates. Even if Stilicho had not formally invited the Vandals, maybe there had been communications which some Vandal leaders had interpreted as an invitation, even if they were only meant as polite diplomatic words.

Virtually all modern historians discount collusion between Stilicho and the Vandals, despite the former’s ancestry and despite the fact that he did very little to oppose their crossing into Gaul. The Vandals were not the only barbarians on the move. Goths, Suevi, Alans and others were forced out of their central European homelands by the Huns, famine or both in the first years of the fifth century. Even when the Vandals crossed the Rhine, they were probably a minority partner to the Suevi and Alans. Furthermore, Stilicho’s policy had been to rely on the Franks and other western Germanic tribes to secure the Rhine for him in place of Roman soldiers. This policy seemed to have worked relatively well and there would have been no reason for him to change it. In the unlikely event that there had been any understanding between Stilicho and some of the Vandal leaders, the chain of events in the first decade of the fifth century were so cataclysmic to overwhelm all involved.

All of a sudden hundreds of thousands of people were willingly or unwillingly on the move, and the Vandals were only a small part of this movement. Most probably the decisions to migrate were sparked off by the westward expansion of the Huns, but no doubt many other factors came into play as well. These may have included food shortages, although the climatic records from around 400 do not reveal any unusual weather patterns. Probably there was also a degree of opportunism on the part of the Vandals, Suevi and Alans, as they saw how Stilicho was otherwise occupied and knew that the Rhine defences were relatively thin.

As the Huns migrated from the Eurasian steppes into central Europe, the first wave of displaced Germans to break over the Roman frontier was led by Radagasius, a Goth, who brought a large army into Italy in 405. The composition of Radagasius’ force is not known but probably it was a coalition of various Germanic peoples, possibly including some Asding Vandals. It included women and children as well as warriors, so it was a migration rather than a raiding force. Radagasius’ force was large enough to require Stilicho to call on thirty units from the Roman field army as well as Hun and Alan auxiliaries to oppose him. He also withdrew yet more troops from the Rhine frontier to bolster Italy’s defences. This probably gave Stilicho something in the region of 20-25,000 men.

It is interesting to note that, according to the Notitia Dignitatum, the Italian field army contained seven cavalry and thirty-seven infantry units in the fifth century, with another twelve cavalry and forty-eight infantry units in the Gallic Army. These were on top of the border troops stationed along the frontiers. Yet it took a great deal of time and effort to gather the thirty units needed to oppose Radagasius, leaving the invaders plenty of time to ravage northern Italy while Stilicho marshalled his forces. This is good example of just how misleading official army organizational lists can be. Unit strengths and levels of readiness can vary hugely and often only a tiny fraction of the theoretical military capability can be deployed. This remains a problem even in the modern world. If we think of the huge efforts it took by NATO nations and others to maintain relatively small numbers of troops in Afghanistan to deal with insurgents, then we have some idea of the problems facing the Romans in the fifth century.

In the end, Stilicho decisively defeated Radagaisus near Florence on 23 August 406. Then he fixed his attention firmly on the east, oblivious or unaware of the storm gathering to the north and west.

The Storm Breaks

The coalition of Asding and Siling Vandals, together with Alans and Suevi, crossed the Rhine on 31 December 406. This is the date given by Prosper of Aquitaine. In recent years some historians have made a case for the crossing taking place a year earlier – that is on 31 December 405. This is partly based on the fact that Zosimus says that the ravaging of Gaul took place in 406 and it is unlikely he would have assigned that year if the barbarians only crossed on the last day of it. Also in 406 there were a number of usurpations in Britain and these are often seen as a reaction to the lack of response to the invasion of Gaul by the Imperial authorities. To make matters more confusing, Orosius says that the Rhine crossing took place two years before the Gothic sack of Rome, which would be 408.

The arguments is for shifting the occasion of the Rhine crossing and therefore we prefer to stick with the rather precise date Prosper has given us of New Year’s Eve 406. But before trying to reconstruct the actual Rhine crossing itself, we should look at what was happening in the months that led up to it.

By the end of 405, Stilicho had defeated Radagasius and incorporated 12,000 of the survivors into his army, while others dispersed to join Alaric’s Goths in the Balkans and the westward-moving Vandals. In 406, a series of revolts took place in Britain with the British Army proclaiming Marcus and Gratian in quick succession as Emperor before assassinating their candidates when they did not do as the army wished. Towards the end of 406, the British Army settled on a soldier with the suitably Imperial name of Constantine (Constantine III), who managed to retain their approval. Meanwhile Stilicho became embroiled in a fight with Constantinople over control of the Balkans. Parts of the Balkan provinces had previously belonged to the Western Empire but had been transferred to the East several years earlier. Stilicho wanted them back as they were a prime recruiting ground for soldiers. Additionally, it would give him territory he could offer to Alaric in order to finally come to a lasting and peaceful settlement with his troublesome Goths.

Meanwhile, the Vandals had been moving slowly westward as part of a greater movement of displaced peoples. After the failure of Radagasius’ migration across the Danube, the southern route into the Roman Empire had to be ruled out, leaving the Rhine frontier as their only hope. If we discount any collusion with Stilicho, it is unlikely that the Vandals had detailed intelligence of the state of Roman defences along the west bank of the Rhine, just as Stilicho was apparently unaware of the large westward movements beyond the frontier. This does, of course, call into question whether or not there may have been some collusion.

The problem for the Vandals was that if the west bank of the Rhine may have been relatively weakly defended, the east bank was not. The powerful Alemannic and Frankish confederacies were well established on the upper and lower Rhine respectively, with the Burgundians edging into the gap between them. These tribes had been in long contact with Rome and had benefited from it. Their societies had greater material wealth than the Vandals, more developed organizational structures and they were being subsidized by Rome to hold the Rhine frontier. The last thing they would have welcomed would have been a new group of illegal immigrants knocking on their door for a piece of the action.

Rome at the Cusp of Barbarian Invasion: The Vandals II

Unsurprisingly, the arrival of the Vandal migrants led to conflict as the Franks and Alamanni attempted to close their borders. There were probably many small engagements as groups of new immigrants tried their luck, only to be repulsed. Most of these have gone unrecorded, but at some point there was a major battle between the Vandals and the Franks. Fragments of the contemporary writer Renatus Profuturus Frigeridus, preserved by Gregory of Tours, say that the Vandals were on the brink of a catastrophic defeat. Their king, Godegisel, was killed in the fighting but at the last minute the Vandals were saved by the timely intervention of a force of Alans under Respendial, who `turned the army of his people from the Rhine, since the Vandals were getting the worse of the war with the Franks, having lost their king, Godegisel, and about 20,000 of the army, and all the Vandals would have been exterminated if the army of the Alans had not come to their aid in time.’

This battle probably took place some time in the summer or autumn of 406, and it allowed the Vandals and their allies to move into Frankish territory on the middle Rhine. Although they had won a path to the Roman frontier, the new immigrants must have been in a fairly desperate state. Unable to grow or harvest crops and with no supply bases to call on, it would have been a monumental task to keep their people and livestock alive. The Vandals were a settled people with no nomadic history and no expertise in living off the land. If they managed to move up to the Rhine in the autumn of 406 they may have been able to take in some of the crops the Franks had planted, but this would at best only keep starvation at bay for a few months.

In the pre-industrial age armies rarely moved in a North European winter. Without the benefit of canned goods, mass production and mechanised transport that did not require forage, any movement of a large group of people in winter would inevitably lead to utter disaster. Yet the Asdings, Silings, Suevi and Alans crossed the Rhine in the depths of midwinter. What on earth persuaded them to do this when all sensible armies would have been in winter quarters awaiting the onset of the spring campaigning season?

The traditional view is that the winter was so cold that the Rhine froze over, giving the invaders the possibility to cross on a wide front. Although the Rhine remains open all year round in present times, it has frozen over in the past and it is not impossible that it froze in the winter of 406/7. Whether the ice would have been thick enough for tens of thousands of people with their wagons and baggage to cross is another matter. There are no contemporary accounts to support the idea of a crossing on ice, despite the fact that it has become a relatively accepted popular image.

The most evocative popular account of the crossing of the frozen Rhine is in Wallace Breem’s delightful novel Eagle in the Snow. Here we see the last remnants of the Roman frontier forces fighting a last stand, which is doomed as soon as the Rhine freezes. A story of civilization fighting off barbarism or established cultures digging in against impoverished migrants has a strong resonance today, just as it did in the eighteenth century when Edward Gibbon wrote his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It was Gibbon who first gave us the story of the Rhine freezing over, possibly to explain his incomprehension at how the Vandals, Alans and Suevi were able to cross over into Gaul with such apparent ease. Many modern writers have followed Gibbon, although even he himself was not definitive about the river freezing: `On the last day of the year, in a season when the waters of the Rhine were most probably frozen [my italics], they entered, without opposition, the defenceless provinces of Gaul.’

In truth, the move of tens of thousands of people with all their belongings in the depths of midwinter must have been one of desperation. The Frankish lands the migrants had occupied on the east bank would not have sustained them for long. As winter began to set in, so would the prospect of starvation. On the west bank there were well-provisioned towns and a few probing raids would have given the Vandals and their allies some indication of the paucity of Roman defences, which had been stripped to support Stilicho’s campaigns in Italy.

The crossing of the Rhine probably took place at several points, with Mainz (Mogontiacum) as the centre of axis. It did not need the Rhine to freeze over to make such a crossing possible. The Roman Rhine bridges were still standing, and if the river was open then picked warriors in makeshift boats could have gone across first to secure the bridgeheads. If the river had frozen over then this could possibly have been done over the ice. If there was even partial freezing of the river, then the Roman Rhine fleet would not have been able to intervene.

Defending the Rhine

In order to understand how easily the Vandals, Alans and Suevi crossed the Rhine once they had defeated the Franks on the east bank, we need to appreciate the Roman system of defence. The frontiers, were defended by troops deployed in fortifications along the borders of the empire. Known as limitanei (soldiers defending the frontiers, or limes) or riparienses (soldiers defending the rivers), these men occupied strongpoints along the frontiers and patrolled the borders. Deployed in relatively small detachments, they were able to deter or intervene to deal with small-scale incursions but were neither expected nor able to deal with a major invasion. To think of them in modern terms, they were more like a border force or home guard than regular armed forces, even though many of the units could trace their heritage back to the legions of previous centuries. Backing them up, in the Western Empire, there were two main field armies, one based in Italy and the other in Gaul. Each of these field armies were, on paper, about 20-30000 strong and it was their job to intervene once the frontiers has been breached to defeat the invaders and restore order. The field army units were known as palatini – the most senior units who were originally part of a central army commanded in person by the Emperor – and comitatenses – units of the regional field armies. Units of limitanei drawn from the frontier to reinforce the field armies took on the title of pseudocomitatenses.

This was the theoretical principle of defence, but in reality the field armies in the fifth century were more occupied supporting various political interests than they were in defending the empire from external threats. Stilicho had the support of the Italian field army but not that of Gaul. When Constantine crossed over from Britain in early 407, the Gallic Army went over to him.

The Gallic field army was commanded by the Magister Equitum intra Gallias who in theory had twelve cavalry and forty-eight infantry units at his disposal, with unit strengths probably averaging out at roughly 500 men each. However, we have already seen how Stilicho struggled to field an army of thirty units to fight Radagasius and so we should not assume that the Magister Equitum’s entire force could be quickly and easily deployed. Furthermore, many of these units would have been severely weakened after their defeat in the civil wars and may well not have been anything like at full strength.

The defence of the middle Rhine, where the Vandals crossed, fell to the Dux Mogontiacensis (Duke of Mainz). According to the Notitia Dignitatum, he had eleven prefects under his command. The units commanded by these prefects and their home stations are recorded as:

Praefectus militum Pacensium, at Saletio (Seltz)

Praefectus militum Menapiorum, at Tabernae (Rheinzabern)

Praefectus militum Anderetianorum, at Vicus Julius (Germersheim)

Praefectus militum Vindicum, at Nemetes (Speyer)

Praefectus militum Martensium, at Alta Ripa (Altrip)

Praefectus militum Secundae Flaviae, at Vangiones (Worms)

Praefectus militum Armigerorum, at Mogontiacum (Mainz)

Praefectus militum Bingensium, at Vingo (Bingen)

Praefectus militum Balistariorum, at Bodobrica (Boppard)

Praefectus militum Defensorum, at Confluentes (Koblenz)

Praefectus militum Acincensium, at Antennacum (Andernach)

Some of these units are also listed under the Gallic field army, which may indicate that they had been pulled back from the Rhine. Alternatively, it could also mean that a few units of the field army such as the Menapii and Armigeri (senior legions of the Gallic field army and also listed under the Dux Mogontiacensis) had been sent to reinforce the frontier. However, as the trend had been to strip the frontiers to bolster the field armies it seems that the first possibility is the most likely.

These units probably only contained few hundred men each. While they could hold the walls of a fortified strongpoint and mount patrols, there could never have been any possibility that these dispersed garrisons could block a crossing of the frontier by many thousand warriors, even if the latter were weakened by hunger and bogged down with their families and chattels. At best all these men could hope for would be to hold out behind their fortifications while the barbarians moved past, to be dealt with by the field army at a later date.

There was also a Rhine fleet, the Classis Germanica, which patrolled the river and was an integral part of the Roman defensive system. We do not know how large it was, but in 359 Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that a squadron of forty ships was used against the Alamanni. Later inscriptions testify to ongoing clashes with Germanic tribes up until the Rhine crossing in 406. If the Rhine had been frozen or partially frozen, then it would have prevented any ships from intercepting the invaders. The Classis Germanica seems to have disappeared after the Vandal invasion as there is no mention of it in the Notitia Dignitatum.

So if the Dux Mogontiacensis and his border force were never expected to hold back a major invasion, what did the Gallic field army do?

Apparently very little.

In the fourth century the Gallic capital had been at Trier on the Rhine, but by the fifth century it had moved to Arles at the mouth of the Rhone in the south. The Rhine had been abandoned psychologically, if not yet in reality. From Arles, the focus of the authorities was far more towards Italy and the Mediterranean than to the northern frontiers.

The explanation for the apparent inaction by the Gallic Army rests in the convoluted Imperial politics of the time. On paper the Gallic Army should have had enough men to deal with the barbarian incursion across the Rhine. However, as the Vandals and their allies were crossing into Gaul from Germany, so too was Constantine from Britain. Unloved and run down by Stilicho, the Gallic Army threw in their lot with Constantine and their main worry was to hold their own against the Imperial authorities with the barbarian incursion a secondary concern.

Constantine probably crossed the channel in early 407, bringing with him the last remnants of the Roman Army in Britain. He forged alliances with the Franks and Alamanni and there is some evidence that he fought against the various bands of Vandals, Suevi and Alans to bottle them up in northern Gaul for a while.

Most of the military might of the Western Empire resided under Stilicho’s command in Italy. He was about to embark on a war with the Eastern Empire over control of Illyricum. So what did he do when he learned that the barbarians were overrunning Gaul and that Constantine was doing his best to contain them?

Naturally he did what any late Roman potentate would do. He sent an army to Gaul to destroy Constantine. A usurper was, after all, a far greater threat to his power than a mere barbarian invasion. Stilicho’s army, led by the Goth Sarus, was defeated, leaving Constantine in control of Britain and Gaul, with Spain also recognizing his authority. So it was, that rather than concentrating their forces to defeat a foreign invader the Romans fought amongst themselves and left the field open to the Vandals and their allies.

Sherman Firefly

The 17pdr gun, the most powerful of the British wartime anti-tank guns, was meanwhile fitted to the American Shermans in British service, a compromise which produced one of the most effective tanks of the war years. This 17pdr version of the Sherman was called the Firefly.

The British mounted their 17-pounder antitank gun—ballistically a rough equivalent of the German 88—in one out of four of their Shermans. In the weeks after D-Day, none of the alternatives proved optional. The 75mm gun was ineffective against German frontal armor at any but near-suicidal ranges. American crews quickly learned that the 76mm was second-rate. To make it better fit a Sherman turret, the Ordnance Department reduced the barrel by over a foot, correspondingly reducing muzzle velocity, ballistic effectiveness, and armor penetration. The Firefly was an excellent tank killer, but its long barrel stood out from the Sherman shorthorns, making it a distinctive and favorite target.

The major development in British service of the Sherman tank was the fitting of the 17pdr gun to a proportion of Shermans to provide the most powerfully armed British tank of the war. Known as the Sherman Firefly, the fitting of the 17pdr gun had been suggested in January 1943 as a safeguard against the failure of the Challenger programme, this latter tank proving, on trials, to have several shortcomings. Though there was some opposition to this idea at the Ministry of Supply, the British War Office insisted on a pilot conversion being produced. This was ready in November 1943 and in February 1944 the Firefly conversion was given full priority for service following delays and uncertainties with the Challenger, which prevented it being in service in time for Operation Overlord, the Normandy landings.

In the late part of 1943, it was decided to mount the British high velocity 17pdr gun on to the Sherman. To achieve this, the turret had to be slightly modified and the gun was mounted on its side and adapted for left-hand loading. The original trunnions were used with a new mounting, recoil and elevating gear. Since the 17pdr breech filled almost the whole turret, displacing radio equipment from the rear wall, an aperture was cut in the rear of the turret and an armoured box which also acted as a counterweight was welded on to accommodate the radio sets in a rear extension. An additional hatch for the loader was cut in the turret roof, since the gun breech obstructed his exit through the commander’s rotating roof hatch. To provide maximum stowage space inside the hull for the 17pdr ammunition, the hull gunner’s position was eliminated, the bow machine-gun was removed, the aperture plated over and an ammunition bin replaced the seat. Thus modified, stowage for 78 17pdr rounds was provided in the vehicle. Most Fireflies were converted from the Sherman V (US designation M4A4) mainly because the British had large Lend-Lease deliveries of this model, and the next most numerous was basically the Sherman I (M4). Of these a proportion were the late-production M4 type with combination cast and rolled upper hulls. A small number of M4A1 (British Sherman II), M4A2 (British Sherman III), and M4A3 (British Sherman IV) were also converted. Apart from giving the M4 series their own designation (ie, Sherman I, II, III, IV and V) the British also applied a suffix letter to the mark number to indicate the armament. ‘A’ indicated US 76mm gun on any model, ‘B’ indicated US 105mm howitzer and ‘C indicated British 17pdr.

The Sherman Firefly was the only British tank landing at Normandy which could take on the German Tiger and Panther tanks on anything approaching equal terms and proved a most successful expedient design. Initially Sherman Fireflies were issued on the basis of one per troop, due to the shortage of 17pdr guns available for fitting in tanks. By early 1945, however, the type was in service in more generous numbers. In late 1945, a Firefly turret was sent to APG for test firing mounted on a M4A3 chassis. It was evaluated for the US Army but not adopted for service.

“Fireflys” at Norrey

9 June 1944

Nine Sherman tanks including several “Fireflys” equipped with the 17-pounder, were being moved towards the front to reinforce the Reginas’ position in Norrey. As the tanks, from the Elgin Regiment, were making a detour in front of the village when they spotted the advancing Panthers. Catastrophically for the 3rd Panzer Company, the swing to the left, though protecting them from the 6-pounders in Norrey, exposed their flanks to the Shermans at not more than 1000 metres distance. The Canadian tanks deployed in a straight line and opened fire. A “Firefly” commanded by Lieutenant Henry hit the tank nearest the rail-line first. Adolf Morawetz thought he had struck a mine; “after a dull bang and shaking, as if the tracks had been ripped off, the tank came to a standstill.” After another bang, the ammunition for the MG-42 ignited and the Panther burst into flames. Before Morawetz desperately attempted to open the hatch he had just closed, he looked through his periscope and watched as the neighbouring Panther exploded ” throwing the turret into the air. Morawetz survived, but his tank and crew had been destroyed. Six other Panthers were quickly dispatched in the next four minutes. The survivors, including the badly burned crews who had bailed out of their destroyed tanks, fled back towards the underpass. The infantry were forced to join the men of the 2nd Company under the bridge, as an artillery barrage began to pound the area inflicting heavy casualties. The converging attack of the 1st Battalion of the 25th Panzer Grenadiers never materialized. The assault was a complete and total failure.

Sherman IC (Firefly): British designation for M4A1 re armed in Britain with 17pdr gun.

Sherman VC (Firefly): British designation for M4A4 re armed in Britain with 17pdr gun. Most Firefly conversions were on the M4A4 chassis. Hull machine gun (and gunner) deleted in all Fireflies to increase ammunition stowage.