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“
An 30 cwt armored personnel carrier called “Burford-Kégress” was built by the British firm Burford on the basis of its four-axle trucks with wheel formula 4 × 2. It was equipped with rear-axle powered Kégresse tracks produced under license from the French company Citroën. Finished in 1926, the prototype passed trials, the results of which were positively received by the military and in the same year the British Army commissioned Burford to build a small batch. Despite the success of the test, as a result of continuous operation it was discovered that the Kégresse had an extremely low wear resistance and often broke down. As a result, in 1929, only three years after its creation, the machines were taken out of service and later scrapped.
The 1920s were a period of rapid development in the design of military vehicles. Foremost among new types evolved was the half-track Credit for the invention of the idea goes to Adolphe Kegresse who had managed the Czar of Russia’s transport feet before the Revolution of 1917. In 1910, Kegresse had perfected a track to replace the rear wheels of the Czars cars, to give better traction in the snow. After Kegresse had fed from Russia he took his idea to Andre Citroen in Paris. Citroen tried it and was impressed with the Kegresse half-track, which he fitted to some of his motor cars. In essence the Kegresse track was a rubber band round two guide wheels, with a small sprung bogie to spread the load. In the winter of 1922-23 Citroen equipped a motor-car expedition across the Sahara to prove the cross-country capability of his semi-tracked vehicles. The good publicity obtained by this led to military orders, notably from the United States and British armies, as well as the French. The British used their Citroens mainly as artillery staff cars, the Americans used them as light artillery tractors, while the French used them as gun tractors, troop carriers and recovery vehicles. In Britain the Kegresse tracks were subsequently used on front-wheel drive Trojan light cars-producing a vehicle very much like the Citroen-and on Crossley and Burford trucks, which were used as troop carriers and artillery tractors. All enjoyed a cross-country ability which was beyond most wheeled trucks of the time
What amounted to a rival design, the Road less Track, appeared in Britain under the aegis of Lt-Col. Johnson, who had designed the fast, ingenious, but largely unsuccessful Medium Mk D tank of 1919. After leaving the army Johnson formed the Roadless Traction Co. These units for tractors, trucks, or cars, were designed to replace the rear wheels on almost any vehicle. The tracks were of flexibly articulated stee shoes and the large rear sprocket wheel fitted directly on the live rear axle. Small bogies were carried on cantilever arms from the idler axle. The roadless track was fitted on Morris, Guy, and FWD trucks for military service, though it did not enjoy the same international fame as the Kegresse track.
Somewhat akin to the half-track was the wheel-and-track vehicle designed to run on either wheels or track as the terrain demanded. Several nations tried this idea. The best known was the Vickers – Wolsley staff car which was first demonstrated at the 1927 Colonial Conference The tracks were lowered from a power take-off using bell crank arms. However little more was heard of this complicated and largely impracticable idea, though it was subsequently tried as well on several experimental tank designs.
In 2022 the Army will choose a new aircraft to replace its Reagan-era UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Two contenders from Sikorsky-Boeing and Bell will battle it out to become the winner of the Service’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program and the Army’s next combat helo when it deploys in 2030.
But “helicopter” isn’t even the right word to describe these two aerial beasts.
Bell’s V-280 is actually a tilt-rotor, similar to the V-22 Osprey currently flown by the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy but smaller and with a V-tail. Rather than relying on a single large main rotor for lift in forward flight and vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) like a helicopter, it tilts two large rotors (called prop-rotors) at each of its wingtips 90 degrees from horizontal to vertical and back. It’s essentially an airplane in forward flight and twin-rotor helicopter in VTOL flight.
The V-280 gets lift from its wings as well as its proprotors, adding another dimension Bell test pilot, Ernie McGuinness says. “Below 120 knots (138 mph) it flies like a helicopter. Beyond 120 it flies like an airplane.”
The traditional cyclic is moved to the pilot’s right hand in sidestick fashion in the V-280. Since the Valor is a tilt-rotor, it acts a bit more like an airplane control yoke in cruise and a cyclic in vertical flight. Bell replaces the collective with what it calls a “power lever.” It controls the thrust of Valor’s twin proprotors and the power of the twin engines but has shorter travel than a collective.
The V-280 has a thumb-wheel located on the power lever. Roll the wheel (like the one on your computer mouse) forward and the 35-foot-diameter proprotors tilt forward and down, accelerating the aircraft. Roll it backward and they tilt back and up, decelerating the V-280 hard. In hover or at slow speed the foot pedals rotate the nose left or right by commanding differential pitch between the proprotors. At speed, the pedals actuate rudders on the V-tail.
Meanwhile, Sikorsky-Boeing’s SB-1 might look like a normal helicopter, but it’s actually a “compound helicopter,” including stacked, counter-rotating main rotors, a pusher propeller, and aircraft-like rudders. The pusher-propeller can provide significant forward thrust, relieving the need to tilt its main rotor for forward flight. Counter-rotating main rotors give extra lift, stability and smoothness. This gives the SB-1 speed, climb, and VTOL advantages over normal helicopters.
“In a helicopter when you want to turn really hard, you slow down,” says Sikorsky-Boeing test pilot, Ed Henderscheid. “In the SB-1 you can turn as hard as a fixed wing airplane and the prop will maintain your speed. It allows the pilot to manipulate the flight path in ways we’ve never been able to before.”
The SB-1 is more traditional with a cyclic and collective similar to the Black Hawk but moves the cyclic to the pilot’s right hand in sidestick fashion. It also adds a thumb-wheel and two buttons on the collective to control its pusher-propeller. Rolling the wheel forward with your thumb increases propeller pitch, speeding the aircraft up. Rolling it backward decreases pitch/thrust, slowing things down.
A “zero thrust” button automatically puts the prop in negative pitch, dramatically slowing the Defiant. A clutch button engages or disengages the propeller. Rather than a tail rotor, the foot pedals command opposite pitch on each stacked main rotor, making Defiant rotate left or right at slow speed or in hover. At higher speeds the pedals actuate Defiant’s rudders like an airplane.
Their designs stem from the Army’s desire for a multi-mission VTOL aircraft that flies much faster and farther than the workhorse Black Hawk. In fact, the Army wants its UH-60 replacement to be capable of a top speed of 230 knots (265 mph) or more, one-third faster than the 159-knot (183 mph) twin-engine Black Hawk.
Despite being more than 40 years old, bettering the Black Hawk won’t be easy. The helicopter has been built in two dozen variants for the Army alone and operated by 30 global militaries
“The Black Hawk is a tall bar,” says Army veteran helicopter pilot and Sikorsky test pilot Bill Fell. “We’ve been building them for over 40 years. In my view it’s the greatest helicopter the world has ever known.”
New Designs, Different Controls
Both prototypes have already logged real-world flight hours. Bell’s V-280 has accumulated 170 hours of flight test time and even performed a flight demonstration at the 2019 Fort Worth (TX) Alliance Air Show. As for the SB-1, it has over 13 flight hours under its belt and made its first public flight in late February
But the way they fly is different. Their respective tilt rotor and compound pusher-helicopter designs allow their pilots to manipulate thrust in multiple axes at once, giving them agility a UH-60 can’t match.
In a traditional helicopter like the Black Hawk, the pilot has three primary flight controls. There’s the cyclic, a stick between the pilot’s legs. Move it left or right and the helicopter rolls left or right. Move it forward or backward and it pitches the nose up or down. The collective is a lever by the pilot’s left thigh. Pulling it up increases lift from the main rotor and increases engine power, making the helicopter climb. Lowering it decreases lift/thrust and the aircraft descends. Anti-torque pedals control the tail rotor. Step on the left pedal and the nose rotates to the left, press the right pedal and the nose rotates right.
Defiant and Valor employ programmable fly-by-wire digital flight controls, allowing engineers to tune pilot inputs and feedback.
Lifting Off and Climbing Out
Flying the Valor or Defiant is a new experience for any pilot, including veteran Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing test pilots, but there are two common themes—power and speed.
Lifting off vertically and flying away in either machine is an eye-opener test pilots say. Despite both aircraft weighing around 30,000 pounds, they leap into the air far more aggressively than a 12,000-pound Black Hawk.
The competing Defiant and Valor teams won’t offer VTOL rate-of-climb/acceleration numbers but they easily surpass the UH-60 and are expected to do so with a dozen soldiers inside.
Transiting To Target
As a medium-lift helicopter replacement, a Valor or Defiant would have to haul soldiers, weapons, or gear to battle just like the UH-60. Both teams affirm they can do so faster and more comfortably.
So far, the SB-1 has achieved around 140 knots (161 mph) top speed in flight testing. Bell says it has exceeded 300 knots (345 mph) with the V-280.
Fast Approaches and Hovers
Given sophisticated anti-aircraft threats, the Army reckons its FLRAA aircraft will need to fly fast and low, figuratively slamming on the brakes as late as possible to slow to a hover or touch down in a hot landing zone (LZ).
Though they do this differently, Defiant and Valor improve markedly on the UH-60.
Survivability was a concern when the UH-60 was designed in the early 1970s, and it’s a challenge that’s only gotten tougher. Whichever FLRRA contender is selected, it will have to survive at the “X”—defined by the Army as the terminal area where it actually has to go deliver troops, conduct reconnaissance, or pull off the attack mission.
The New Black Hawk: A Difficult Choice
The tradeoffs between the two FLRAA aircraft will make the Army’s decision a tough one. Speed, agility, survivability, maintainability, cost, and manufacturing capability among others will tip the balance. Bell already has a tilt-rotor in service with the other Armed Forces. Sikorsky already supplies the Army with the Black Hawk.
Whatever selection the Army makes, it won’t fly like any helicopter before it.
Not surprisingly, events in the imperial capitals were immediately reflected in the near periphery. The northwest borderlands were Russia’s interface with Europe. Having felt the brunt of fighting on the Eastern Front during the war, they profited from the collapse of central authority and the presence of enemy troops to break away. By the end of 1918, five new countries had declared their independence here: Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.
The area that later constituted Finland had been acquired in 1809 as a result of war with Sweden. Consolidated in 1812 as the Grand Duchy of Finland, it retained its governing institutions (a Senate and a Diet), an army, courts and laws, currency, and tariffs. In the 1890s, a shift in policy toward the region resulted in these privileges being gradually curtailed. The army was dissolved, Russian was introduced as the official administrative language, and the governor-general acquired absolute power. As the Empire began to behave more like a nation-state than an empire, attempting to suppress regional and cultural differences in favor of centralized control and uniform administration (on paper, at least), it stimulated a powerful sense of national pride among local leaders and their constituencies. In the case of Finland, the loss of the Duchy’s original rights deepened the sense of shared identity between Swedish and Finnish speakers.
Regional nationalism was, of course, no simpler than the nationalism of a Russia that was only partly Russian. A remnant of the days of Swedish rule, the Finnish elite was largely Swedish-speaking. Finnish society was also divided along class lines, the division becoming ever sharper as Finland began to industrialize and its population expanded from 1.7 million in 1870 to 3.2 million in 1917. The country remained primarily agricultural, but as cities grew, so did the working class. The workers here too became targets of revolutionary agitation. Finland developed a strong German Social Democratic or Menshevik-style trade-union-oriented labor movement. By 1905, the Finns therefore displayed the full panoply of grievances affecting other regions: local resentment against the imperial center, desire for a greater role in political life, and the basis for class conflict.
The 1905 Revolution itself demonstrated the ease with which endemic social tensions could escalate into civil war. Forced to make constitutional concessions after 1905, the tsar restored Finland’s traditional rights, pleasing the moderate, establishment parties. On the left, however, Finnish socialists were faced with the militancy of their own popular base. The same Baltic sailors who were to fuel Bolshevik radicalism in 1917 attempted mutiny in 1906, without the backing of party leaders. Indeed, in Finland the 1905 Revolution turned in against itself, as newly formed Red Guards battled middle-class Home Guards. Even the Social Democrats participated in elections to the Finnish parliament, but in 1908, Russifying policies went back into effect, and the parliament lost the rights it had recently regained. The Finnish political classes became increasingly anti-Russian, while the workers became increasingly radical in their resentment of class privilege.
The outbreak of war in 1914 presented the leaders of Finnish society with a dilemma. Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich’s proclamation to the Poles in August 1914 led them to await a similar promise of postwar autonomy, but none was forthcoming. Instead, the Finnish parliament was suspended, delegates were imprisoned or exiled. As the Empire weakened, some Finns therefore made overtures to the Germans, who could be expected to hasten that progress by endorsing Finnish independence. The idea of German backing attracted support not only among the Swedish-speaking elite but also among socialist leaders, who expected the German Social Democrats to embrace their cause. Germany made no firm promises, but did allow Finnish volunteers to form a Jäger Battalion in the Prussian army. The Battalion’s role was unclear and was still under discussion when the monarchy collapsed and the situation changed completely.
Though Finland was technically at war, along with the rest of Russia, the Finns were not subject to conscription. Though shielded from the full impact of combat and occupation, Finland instantly felt the shock of revolution. On February 28, 1917, the General Staff ordered troops stationed in Finland to march on Petrograd and crush the revolt. Rear Admiral Adrian Nepenin, commander of the Baltic Fleet, at first declared a state of siege, but once the Duma Committee emerged, he accepted the new authority. By March 3, the sailors of the Baltic Fleet stationed at the Sveaborg Fortress in Helsinki harbor had mutinied, murdering thirty-eight officers, including Nepenin, who refused to relinquish his post without orders from the new government. He was shot in the back. Dual power with a vengeance.
Soviets emerged in Finland, as everywhere else, and adopted the posture of conditional support for the Provisional Government. In Finland the situation was complicated by the division between the relatively moderate local Social Democrats and the more extreme soviet leaders representing the Russian soldiers and sailors stationed in Helsinki and Vyborg, eighty miles northwest of Petrograd. Not only were the troops foreign, but they were out of control. “The first days of the revolution in Helsingfors,” the social psychologist Henning Söderhjelm recalled, “took the shape of a huge riot of the soldiers and the mob. Detachments of naval and land forces dashed about in the motor cars of their commanders, all with rifle or revolver in hand, with the finger on the trigger, firing volleys of shot into the air for joy, or shooting straight before them in order to increase the din and noise caused by the furious speed. They were hunting for the officers who had concealed themselves. The latter were killed wherever they were found, in their houses, in the street, or on staircases. … The city was entirely in the power of the Russian soldiers.” The forces of order had become forces of disruption.
The national question and the class question converged on the issue of lower-class militancy and aggression. Russian troops were not the only threat to the propertied classes. Everyday life had been a potential battlefield, Söderhjelm observed. “It was felt in the streets and in tram-cars—everywhere where people of different classes came together—that Finland had got a ruler, that the working-men with the assistance of the Russian soldiers had come to feel that their ‘class’ was the one that ruled the country.”
The Provisional Government, for its part, was eager to prevent the kind of social conflict in Finland that would open the door to German penetration. It therefore restored the former duchy to its original rights under the monarchy. It authorized the return of the parliament, entrusted with drawing up a new constitution. Despite their political differences, socialists and constitutionalists agreed to work together. Assuming it had the full sovereign power to do so, the Provisional Government issued a manifesto on March 7, which defined the interim status of Finland within the Russian state. It acted despite the fact that in relationship to Russia as a whole the new ministers claimed only temporary authority pending final resolution by the anticipated Constituent Assembly.
Pleased as they were with this turn of events, Finnish leaders overlooked the manifesto’s basic contradiction. By reversing the monarchy’s discriminatory policies, the Provisional Government restored Finland to political life, while still asserting the authority of the capital. Acting as the successor to Nicholas as Grand Duke of Finland, it at the same time granted Finland “internal independence.” By accepting these terms, the Finns claimed the right to self-rule while also acknowledging their constitutional link to Russia. The principle of national self-determination, invoked instead by some Swedish-speaking deputies, would have resolved this tension. The Provisional Government, for its part, was content with the latent contradiction, as it had no interest in promoting the breakup of the state now in its hands.
Faced with the Provisional Government’s adherence to the idea of constitutional succession (what or who was to replace Tsar Nicholas as Grand Duke of Finland), socialist and bourgeois deputies to the Finnish parliament joined to pass a bill, asserting that body’s executive competence. Leaving military and diplomatic affairs to Petrograd, Finland would exercise domestic self-rule. The proclamation, endorsed by the Finnish soviets, was issued during the July Days, when the Petrograd government seemed about to topple. Unaware of what exactly was happening in the capital, the Finnish Bolsheviks learned belatedly that the government had not in fact fallen. Following the party line, they retroactively denounced the attempt at insurrection as untimely.
In response to the bill, the Provisional Government, its energy now restored, sent troops into Finland. None of the bill’s sponsors wished to provoke an armed confrontation, however, not even the socialists. With the backing of those who hoped new elections would reduce the socialist majority, Kerensky dissolved the parliament, on the grounds that Finland had no right to challenge the current government’s authority or to preempt the decisions of the future Empire-wide Constituent Assembly. The destiny of the Finnish nation, he declared, “can only be decided on the basis of agreement with the Russian nation.” The Petrograd Soviet endorsed the dissolution of the parliament, accusing the Finns of putting the Revolution itself in jeopardy.
Of more immediate concern than the Constituent Assembly, however, was the threat of armed violence, both on the part of the same rebellious soldiers and sailors who were making the revolution in Petrograd and in the event of German invasion and Russian retreat. The Northern Corps of the Imperial Army, composed of Russian soldiers under the command of General Vladimir Oranovskii, was stationed in Vyborg. In response to Kornilov’s move on Petrograd, the Vyborg soldiers and sailors had formed a Military Revolutionary Committee. When General Oranovskii naturally refused to submit to its authority, the committee had him and a number of his officers arrested. Confined to a guardhouse, the captives were soon assailed by a crowd of angry soldiers, who mocked and beat them, then threw them into a canal and gunned them down as they tried to climb out. The Helsinki Soviet justified the murders as an expression of righteous anger. Lenin commented: “The Vyborg soldiers have demonstrated the full power of their hatred for the Kornilovite generals.”
The Russian forces still on Finnish soil remained under the authority of the government in Petrograd, but when in mid-October Kerensky tried to activate the Vyborg garrison, he was informed by the new commander that the troops would not obey. The Bolsheviks’ influence in Finland, as demonstrated in the case of General Oranovskii’s murder, was concentrated in the armed forces. By late September 1917, they dominated not only the Northern Army but also the so-called Regional Committee of Finland (Oblastnoi komitet Finliandii), representing Soviet Russian interests and Russian military personnel still in Finland. The Regional Committee competed with the Finnish Soviet, created on the Russian model but representing the ethnically Finnish working class. The essential conflict between the Finnish Social Democrats, close in spirit to the Russian Mensheviks, and the Russian-centered Bolsheviks is the key to the Finnish story: two models of socialism face to face and complicated by the ethnic (national) factor.
By early October, the Bolsheviks had also gained control of Tsentrobalt, the committee representing the sailors of the Baltic Fleet. Lenin counted on the radicalized troops and sailors across the nearby Finnish border as backup for the anticipated takeover in the capital. The Finnish Social Democrats had other concerns. At the end of September, as a result of new elections, they lost their parliamentary majority. They did not therefore hurry toward armed confrontation, although they did establish an official Red Guard. The Bolsheviks were unwilling, however, to provide them with arms, since the Finns could not promise that their men would fight on the Russian side, even in the case of a German invasion. The Finnish comrades were not only obstinately moderate but also patriotic.
In the aftermath of the parliamentary elections, the Provisional Government decided the safest way to ensure stability in Finland, as a bulwark against German aggression, was to grant self-government in advance of the Constituent Assembly. This was also a way of winning the support of the Finnish bourgeois parties, which opposed the more radical socialist program. The Provisional Government thus issued a decree on October 24, renouncing its “sovereign prerogatives over Finland, with the provision that foreign affairs be retained, as at present, by the supreme authority of Russia, and that Finland shall not alter the military legislation, or the laws concerning Russian nationals and institutions in Finland, without the consent of the Russian Government.” The Provisional Government, which did not have the legal right to do so, thereby devolved the authority formerly exercised by the Grand Duke onto the governing bodies of Finland. The formulation angered the socialists, who contended that parliament already exercised the authority the Provisional Government did not have the right to bestow. Delegates from Petrograd arrived in Helsinki with the government’s response on October 25, just as the Bolsheviks were unseating its ministers in the capital. The decree was therefore moot.
The Finnish Social Democrats had been unaware of the Bolshevik plans to seize power, but Bolshevik activists in Finland played a key role in Lenin and Trotsky’s scheme, by mobilizing the sailors and garrison in support of the takeover. The Finnish socialists would have preferred to avoid direct confrontation with the bourgeois parties. They were not sure the Bolshevik victory would last; they were not ready for actual class warfare. Their hand was forced, however, by the Bolshevik activists in Helsinki, who threatened to provoke the Finnish workers to revolt, over the heads of their own Social Democratic leaders; indeed, the Bolsheviks had already established a presence in the Finnish Red Guard.
Marxists of all shades on both sides of the border shared the conviction that socialism in Russia could survive only in the context of a pan-European workers’ revolution. Lenin believed that Russia should nevertheless set the pace. The Finnish socialists, like the Russian Mensheviks, felt the time was not ripe. They pressed for the current parliament to accept the socialist program and then resign, allowing a peaceful transition, which would not alienate the Finnish bourgeoisie, whose historical moment had not yet passed. The socialist leaders spoke of legality and the need to avoid armed confrontation. Finnish delegates visited Lenin in Petrograd, where he urged them to follow the Bolshevik example, but they left with the impression that the survival of Bolshevik power was not a sure thing, which of course it wasn’t.
The Finnish socialists thus dickered in exactly the manner that most annoyed Lenin, for whom actions shaped reality, not the other way around. Finally, on November 1/14, a general strike was declared, which was intended as a show of strength but not as a bid for power. In the big cities, the Finnish Red Guard, buying or borrowing weapons from the Russians, who were unwilling to give them away, easily gained control. Their members were untrained and inept, but met little resistance. The Russian-led Tsentrobalt did not offer to help them. The strike was successful, but the socialist leaders did not seize the reins. The most important result of the strike was to enhance the power and confidence of the Red Guards.
Finally, ten days later, parliament convened, with a mix of socialist and bourgeois deputies. The Social Democratic congress meeting at the same time continued to debate whether the moment was yet right for the proletarian revolution in Finland. The Helsinki Red Guard sent a delegation which demanded the seizure of power, but the party refused to be pushed. The socialists had avoided confrontation, and little blood had been shed. Altogether thirty-four people had been killed in the confrontations between the bourgeois Home Guard and the Red Guard, most by the latter. While the socialists debated, on November 13/26, the bourgeois parties in parliament appointed their own government, headed by Pehr Evind Svinhufvud. The goal was statehood, not social transformation. In November 1917, Svinhufvud was almost fifty-six years old. A lawyer and judge from a Swedish-speaking middle-class family of aristocratic origin, he was dismissed from the Finnish court of appeals in 1902 for resisting the policy of Russification. From 1907 to 1912, he was the speaker of the Finnish parliament, but his renewed resistance to Russian policies landed him in Siberia, from which he returned only after the February Revolution.
Like the Provisional Government, the Finnish parliamentary leaders were obsessed with legality and procedure, which they saw as the key to legitimacy and hence to authority and power. Russia still had legal sovereignty over Finland, but Svinhufvud’s government did not want to negotiate with the new Bolshevik rulers. The upstarts were not sure to last, but before departing the scene they might intervene on behalf of their socialist comrades. The Finnish government therefore invoked the authority of the anticipated all-Russian Constituent Assembly. The socialists, by contrast, despite their earlier reluctance to claim power in their own name, preferred to recognize the Bolshevik regime and accept the offer of immediate independence extended by the commissar of nationalities, Joseph Stalin.
The contrast between the positions of the two Finnish camps resulted in a war of manifestos. On November 21 (December 4, NS), the bourgeois government presented a constitution that declared Finland an “independent republic,” with “parliament as the holder of the sovereign power.” The socialists echoed the key phrase but insisted that “an effort must be made to realise this independence by negotiating an agreement with Russia.” A vote was taken, and the bourgeois version prevailed. December 6, 1917, became Finnish Independence Day, but the final outcome was yet to be determined and was not exclusively in Finnish hands.
As part of their bid to free themselves from Russian domination (regardless of the ideological color of its regime), in November the Finns had sent a delegation to Berlin, requesting German intervention. General Ludendorff rejected the idea. Instead, he presented the Finns with conditions that took into account the recently expressed Soviet interest in opening separate peace negotiations. Once the Germans and Russians had concluded an armistice, Finland was to “claim the right to self-determination,” insist that Russian troops withdraw, and explicitly request German support, in exchange for which Ludendorff promised to include the issue of Finnish independence in the peace negotiations. The terms of the armistice with Russia in December, however, did not mention Finland.
It was difficult for the Finns to find a sponsor. The Entente would not support Finnish independence because the anti-Bolshevik groups they did support insisted on maintaining the old borders. Nevertheless, the Finns could not afford to be openly pro-German. The Bolsheviks, by contrast, officially proclaimed their readiness to recognize a free Finland. What they meant by this was clear from the fact that they were also encouraging the Finnish proletariat to “take power into their hands.” Such independence was to involve a special, federative relationship with Russia. “We are now conquering Finland,” Lenin declared, denying this was a form of imperialist aggression. Once the Finnish workers had conquered power at home, they would naturally ally with their socialist brethren, accomplishing the triumph of the international proletarian revolution. Whether cynical or sincere, such a vision was entirely consonant with the Marxist world view on both sides of the border. Russian troops of course remained in Finland, to guard against possible German advance. The Soviets did, however, begin partial demobilization. Many soldiers simply deserted; whole divisions self-demobilized. Lenin was ready in any case to forfeit Finland and the Baltic states for the sake of peace with Germany; the Finns did not believe this and continued to badger the Allied and Scandinavian powers for recognition.
Russia still called the shots. The day parliament announced its sovereignty, the Sovnarkom declared the Regional Committee to be “the highest organ of Russian state power in Finland.” Despite Russia’s military and economic leverage, the parliament nevertheless persisted in ignoring the new regime. The Finnish socialists, on their side, presented the December 6 declaration of independence directly to Lenin and Stalin, but Svinhufvud communicated only with the vestigial representatives of the overthrown Provisional Government, on the grounds that the Constituent Assembly was still to come. Finally, on December 12/25, the Finnish Social Democratic Party appealed to the Sovnarkom to recognize Finland’s independence, hoping to take the wind out of the bourgeois nationalist sails. The parliamentary Finns, for their part, could not be sure if the Constituent Assembly would meet at all or whether it might not deliver a government less hospitable to Finnish desires. The respectable politicians arrived in Petrograd, where they were subject to a series of petty humiliations until the Sovnarkom on December 18/31, proclaimed its readiness to support “the separation of Finland from Russia.” Lenin apparently believed the concession was a relatively painless way of gaining propaganda points on the issue of national self-determination.
A few days later, though still regretting the reluctance of the Finnish socialists to take power into their own hands, the Congress of Soviets Executive Committee gave its approval; only the SRs demurred, still invoking the authority of the impending Constituent Assembly. Lenin, though reluctantly, met with Svinhufvud as two heads of state. Finnish independence was recognized in short order by Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, and Germany. Britain and the United States held out, hoping still to get Russian forces back into action against the Central Powers. On December 26, 1917 (January 8, 1918, NS), Svinhufvud told parliament that “the Russian people has generously fulfilled its promise to realize the right of self-determination of small nations.” Finland declared itself neutral.
Secession from the former Empire did not, however, separate Finland from Russian politics or from social conflicts that ignored the border. As in Russia, the Left was fragmented. The Finnish Social Democrats, despite Lenin’s urging, refused to launch their own revolution, but they were not in control of the forces they themselves had set in motion. The Red Guards had flexed their muscles during the general strike. In Helsinki the Red Guards and the Bolsheviks were particularly aggressive, engineering attacks on government personnel and property, defying not only Svinhufvud’s government but the Social Democratic leadership as well. Independent of the Regional Committee or the Bolsheviks, the Red Guards also managed to gain control of the city of Turku, where they set about pilfering government property, intimidating public servants, and looting and trashing shops. On the Red side, to sum up, there were therefore at least five centers of power or potential influence in Finland: the Finnish Social Democratic Party; the Red Guards established by that party but escaping its control; the Finnish Bolshevik Party organization in Helsinki, the Russian-dominated Regional Committee; and the Bolshevik Party in Petrograd.
White machine gun corps after the capture of Tampere’s Leinola district.
Left: Main frontline of the Finnish Civil War in 1918, the Civil War sites marked into the conflict site database in the YLE crowdsourcing, and the areas ceded to Soviet Union after Second World War; Right: 14-yearold Arvo Koivisto (4 April 1904-7 June 1918), a Red guard messenger, one of the child soldiers who took part in the Civil War. He retreated with the Reds from Tampere towards east but was caught by the Whites near Lahti on 1 May, a month after his 14th birthday. The local White Guard of his home village Tyrvää executed him in June 1918 (Vapriikki Photo archives, CC-BY).
The Svinhufvud government and its supporters dismissed the Red Guards as bandits or criminals, encouraged in their rampages by the Russian troops. As one parliamentary deputy remarked, “It is certainly not a question of a struggle between different social classes, as long as our socialist gentlemen do not wish to line up with criminals, but it is a question only of a struggle between society … and criminal gangs.” The Russian garrisons sometimes supplied the Red Guards with weapons, but the Petrograd Bolsheviks were reluctant to equip the Guards, which they did not themselves control. The Red Guards were not in fact composed of Russians, as some conservatives alleged, or of criminals, but mostly of native Finnish workers. It was the overheated Helsinki Red Guards that on January 8, 1918, the day Svinhufvud praised Russian generosity, took over the mansion of the former governor general. Rejecting the authority of the bourgeois government, they renamed the building Smolny, after Bolshevik headquarters in Petrograd. The Social Democrats accused them of “terrorism … against the party,” but did not try to stop them.
The Red Guards were, moreover, only one side of the increasingly marked split in Finnish society. The next day, the Svinhufvud government’s Military Commission decided to purchase arms and uniforms from the Germans and retrieve the Finnish Jäger Battalion, which had been fighting in the Prussian army. The parliament then voted by a narrow margin to authorize the creation of a security force to oppose the Red Guards. One socialist deputy protested that the “bourgeois government has created a class-war army which is directed against the Finnish working people.” The Social Democrats had been reluctant to launch this war, but were unable to keep their followers in check. Now they faced the consequences. The government security force was intended initially to replace the police, which had dissolved, and the militia, which was unable to perform its functions. It consisted of the existing Home Guards, bolstered by the returning Jägers, who provided training and leadership. Financed by Finnish businessmen, the Home Guards bought weapons on the Russian black market or purchased them in Petrograd and smuggled them back home. Later they bought arms from the Germans.
All this activity was ill-coordinated and amateurish. A skilled commander was needed. On January 2/15, 1918, after some hesitation, the Military Commission appointed General Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim to lead the new force. In some respects, he seemed an unlikely candidate. Raised in an upper-class Swedish-speaking family, Mannerheim spoke Finnish poorly. Excluded by his background from a role in domestic politics, he made a career in the tsarist army, was fluent in Russian, and had spent many years outside Finland. Though not a democrat, as an officer in what had been an Allied army he favored the Entente over the Central Powers. After the Bolshevik takeover, he resigned his commission and returned to Helsinki. The Finns at this point knew little about him, but he proved an inspired choice. His evolution from imperial servant to national icon personified the tectonic shift in the region’s political life.
Mannerheim set up his military staff in Vaasa, two hundred miles north of Turku on the Gulf of Bothnia. From this point on, Finland backed into revolution and civil war, with the Germans and Soviet Russians in supporting roles. Other than Mannerheim, no charismatic figure emerged to lead the political charge on either side. The conflict escalated not as a result of foreign interference but as a byproduct of Bolshevik agitation among the Russian armed forces and in the Finnish factories. As the two sides—Finnish Reds versus Finnish Whites—tried to gain control over the exercise of armed force, the Germans tipped the balance.
Although the Russians, first as the Provisional Government and then as the Sovnarkom, had endorsed Finnish independence, Russian forces remained in place. As long as the peace talks at Brest-Litovsk were still in progress, the Germans were obliged to stay out. As Adolf Ioffe put it, “in practice the separation from Russia is not yet completed.” In theory, therefore, the Regional Committee continued to represent Russian authority in Finland. By this point, however, the Russian garrison was in the process of dissolution and could not be used as a fighting force.
Conflict escalated, as a result not of policy decisions but of the confrontation between volunteer armed groups, not yet constituting armies. On January 19 in Vyborg, site of the main Russian garrison, Russian soldiers together with local Red Guards took control of a factory that had been used to store Home Guard weapons. Skirmishes between Red Guards and Home Guards occurred in a number of other places as well. The Reds had held Vyborg only for three days, however, when the Home Guards chased them out. By now Lenin had decided to help arm the Red Guards. Fearing the Home Guards might seize the expected shipment from Petrograd, the Helsinki Red Guard leadership called for a general strike throughout southern Finland, a decision the Social Democrats did not endorse, but could not avert.
Russian leaders in Finland were no more in control than the Finnish comrades. When Svinhufvud went to talk with the Tsentrobalt sailors on January 11/24, they briefly detained him. The move was condemned by Ivar Smigla, the Latvian-Russian head of Tsentrobalt and of the Regional Committee. He had no control over his own men, however, and no hand in the decision of the Finnish Red Guards the next day to arrest Svinhufvud’s government and take power into their own hands. Smigla promised to send arms but pledged otherwise to stand aside. Having so far tried to avoid open conflict, Svinhufvud warned that any attack on the Home Guards, renamed the White Guards, would constitute an attack on the legal government—which, of course, is exactly what the Finnish Reds intended. Mannerheim, for his part, decided it was time to disarm the Russian garrison, the remnant of the Imperial Army that the Bolsheviks by now had thoroughly secured, which he correctly judged too weak to resist.
On January 13/26, fearing the impending Red Guard attack, the ministers hurriedly abandoned Helsinki. The next day, the Red Guards declared their intention of creating a “Social Democratic revolutionary government” to replace them. The Regional Committee prepared to support the Red Guards, who were dragging their own reluctant Social Democratic leaders after them, but Trotsky assured Svinhufvud that “the violent intervention of Russian military units in Finland’s internal affairs is not allowed.” The Regional Committee ordered the garrison not to get involved; for its part, the government ordered the White Guards to hold back. While leaders on all sides—Svinhufvud, the Finnish Social Democrats, the Bolshevik Smigla—were retreating, the Red Guards managed easily to seize the government buildings in Helsinki. By January 15/28, they were in control of the capital. The following day, Mannerheim, on his side, had captured Vaasa and disarmed the Russian garrison there. Red versus White—not Finn versus Russian, but Finn versus Finn—were in position.
Before the ministers closed shop in Helsinki (some going into hiding, a few making it up north), the parliament issued a final statement, urging the population to give their allegiance to General Mannerheim. “Part of the Finnish people,” it declared, “relying on foreign forces and foreign bayonets, has risen in revolt against Finland’s parliament and Finland’s government.” By early February (NS), Mannerheim had secured northeast Finland and part of Karelia, the easternmost part of the country, extending north from Petrograd (and today part of Russia), for the White—that is, anti-socialist (anti-Bolshevik, all the more so) Finnish nationalist—cause. The Finnish nation had acquired its general.
In Helsinki, meanwhile, the newly established government, having ousted the parliament, declared itself the Finnish People’s Deputation and adopted a vague program of gradual social transformation—not at all Leninist in spirit. Because there was no military opposition, the ragtag Red Guards on which it relied easily took control of the key cities of Vyborg, Tampere, and Turku. The Sovnarkom sent them some weapons, and some Red Guards came over from Petrograd to fight on their side. When, however, the Regional Committee ordered the garrison troops to fight on behalf of their Finnish comrades, they refused to obey. The most the Sovnarkom could deliver was rhetorical endorsement. On January 17/30, it recognized the People’s Deputation as the “new socialist government of Finland.” Trotsky in Brest-Litovsk said, “We greet the working class of Finland which has seized power from the hands of the bourgeoisie.” Belittling the fact that the comrades had not only ousted the so-called bourgeoisie but broken away from the Russian motherland, Lenin predicted that “more and more diverse confederations of free nations will group themselves around revolutionary Russia.” In principle, at least, the Russian Bolsheviks saw their Finnish counterparts as taking the first steps toward pan-European revolution. On March 1, 1918, Soviet Russia signed a peace treaty with allegedly socialist and independent Finland that emphasized Russia’s continuing relationship of dominance.
The Finnish comrades were not, however, Bolshevik-style Social Democrats. The Finnish party leaders tried to bring the People’s Deputation under control, to impose some restraint on the Red Guards, which had not reformed their headstrong ways. They warned that “revolution is not the same thing as criminal violence.” Essentially in the Menshevik mold, these Social Democrats defined their goal as a democratic parliamentary republic, with a mixed capitalist-socialist economy. This late in the game, with Petrograd in Bolshevik hands, they behaved as though it were still March 1917, while the Red Guards behaved as though it was January 1918, which indeed it was.
The die was cast. On both sides of the Finnish civil divide, the challenge was to create a more or less reliable fighting force motivated by political goals. The Whites represented what remained of the former parliamentary government, recognized by certain Western powers, and initially by the Sovnarkom as well. They defined their cause not in ideological terms but as the defense of law and order against “criminals and traitors,” whether Russians or Finnish Reds. “The struggle which is now in progress in Finland is not a class war,” they declared, “but is a collision between, on the one side a legal social order … and on the other side plain terrorist activity.” Mannerheim denounced “the mutilated bodies of murdered citizens and the ruins of burned villages,” demanding “revenge on the country’s traitors.” The aim was to liberate the south from the “terrorist regime” that was “murdering, plundering, imprisoning and torturing the peaceful and law-abiding inhabitants.” Some lurid details were embroidered, as in all atrocity propaganda, but the essentials were correct—for both sides. Here was the same logic as the Bolshevik Terror—again, coming from both sides.
The Red Guards were volunteers; they supplied themselves by what they called requisitioning, sometimes offering compensation but often resorting to outright plunder. They were egalitarian and bucked all authority. There were few officers to lead them in any case. Before the onset of the German offensive on February 18, 1918, the Sovnarkom continued to promise support, but when it came to accepting the German peace conditions, Lenin said, “Let them take revolutionary Finland. The revolution will not be lost if we give up Finland.” Pro-Bolshevik Russian officers did fight for the Reds, mostly in Karelia, but the Finns resented them, while the ordinary Russian soldiers hurried to board the trains leaving for Russia. They were harassed and robbed by the Finnish Red Guards, trying to stop them from taking provisions and equipment along with them. By contrast, the People’s Deputation was relatively staid. It inherited the old government institutions and the civil servants, who only briefly struck in protest. Without an armed force or police, it was unable to curtail the looting, intimidation, and bloody settling of scores perpetrated by the Finnish Red Guard, which between January and March 1918 committed some 1,650 murders. Most victims could reasonably be identified as supporters of the White cause; some were prisoners or hostages. Unlike the Red Terror in Russia, which had almost immediately acquired an organized form, these reprisals were spontaneous. The Deputation opposed them. The tactics, though brutal, were largely ineffective. The government ministers survived in hiding in Helsinki, Svinhufvud was smuggled out to the north, Mannerheim managed by subterfuge to dismantle the Russian artillery on the Sveaborg Fortress in Helsinki harbor, White propaganda circulated unobstructed. The Sovnarkom insisted the telegraph service remain in Russian control; the staff feigned allegiance and reported back to the Whites.
The White forces countenanced political terror of their own. They shot prisoners taken in combat; they shot and otherwise executed civilians thought to belong to or support the Red Guards. While condemning such excesses, Mannerheim did little to stop them and encouraged the attitudes that justified them. He told a German journalist, “The revolutionaries have made themselves guilty of high treason and insurrection and the punishment for that is death.” Saboteurs and spies behind the lines, he ordered, should be “shot on the spot.” The Finnish Red Terror was not institutionalized; the Deputation had no political police. The Finnish White Terror combined spontaneous social warfare with official policy. Better organized and led, the Whites emerged victorious, and as a consequence the toll they eventually exacted was higher.
Not unlike Lenin, Mannerheim had no objection to the use of force, but he wanted to be in control. Like the Red Guards, the White Guards were volunteers; they too resisted discipline and hierarchy, and there were too few of them to build a real army. Conscription was therefore introduced, with the fiction of reactivating the 1878 imperial law, suspended since 1900, a gesture at legality that only underscored its reverse. Not everyone drafted, moreover, could be trusted, since a large share of the population had voted socialist. Finding commanders also raised issues of allegiance. Since there were few native Finns with professional military training, Mannerheim drew on colleagues from the Russian Imperial Army, on officers from Sweden, and finally on the Germans, dispersing the handful of well-trained Jägers throughout the army to drill the recruits. The Finnish foot soldiers, however, disliked the Russian officers Mannerheim recruited, because they were Russian. They disliked Mannerheim himself and other officers, like Ernst Berthold Löfström (Ernest Levstrem), who also had Swedish names. The language of command in the Finnish White army was Swedish! Since Swedish was used by the Finnish upper classes, there was a social dimension to the soldiers’ resentment.
The Reds were ensconced in the south, in possession of the capital, Helsinki, enjoying Soviet Russian support. Fearing they would not be able to dislodge them, Svinhufvud’s deposed government urged the Germans, still negotiating at Brest-Litovsk, to insist on Russian withdrawal and provide the Whites with direct military backing. Mannerheim, for his part, did not believe the Germans would win the war and insisted that Finland must liberate itself from Russian domination and the Red threat by its own native efforts. He nevertheless realized that he needed the Jägers and, in the short run, German help. The Finnish appeal was indeed self-abasing. On February 14, 1918, the government requested the dispatch of German troops to Finland. This would be “the most effective way of saving the country: may we therefore be permitted to propose this form of intervention.” The Germans of course had their own reasons for including in the March 3, 1918, Brest-Litovsk treaty the complete withdrawal of Russian troops, warships, and Red Guards from Finland. A treaty then signed on March 7, 1918, between Germany and the independent nation of Finland named the price. Germany would have privileged access to Finnish resources, control over foreign trade and foreign relations, and the right to maintain a military presence. Finland, as Mannerheim had feared, emerged a German client.
Mannerheim remained first in command of Finnish forces, but the German general Count Rüdiger von der Goltz called the shots. The Germans declared: “we come as friends to help you, so that order, justice and liberty will again rule in your country. … We do not come as conquerors.” Svinhufvud affirmed that the Germans intended “to fight together with us against the plague from the east and to destroy the Red terror.” On April 3, 1918 von der Goltz’s nine-thousand-man Baltic Division landed in Hanko, a port eighty miles west of Helsinki. On April 6, the Deputation decided to relocate to Vyborg; some of its members even wanted to capitulate. That same day, Mannerheim’s army had captured Tampere, a hundred miles north of Helsinki, without German help. It was a moral as well as military victory. Over two thousand Red fighters were killed, another eleven thousand captured.
Both the fighting and the retribution were bloody. Mannerheim ordered that prisoners were not to be “shot out of hand,” as was the expectation and largely the practice, but brought before tribunals. During the battle, however, his forces showed no restraint, lobbing hand grenades into windows at the slightest movement, on the excuse that snipers might be lurking. At the end, those captured were massed in warehouses at the train station, then taken out to be shot, despite the General’s order. Special care was taken to execute all the Russians. A witness described the scene near the station as a “slaughter,” which left “a heap of bleeding bodies lying on the ground.” The massacres, in which Russians were summarily executed, tarnished Mannerheim’s reputation at the time, but did him no lasting harm. By contrast, when von der Goltz entered Helsinki on April 14, he encountered no organized defense but only sporadic Red Guard action. The hidden ministers emerged to form a government, and the bourgeois Finns rejoiced. In its ease and symbolic significance, von der Goltz’s success overshadowed Mannerheim’s achievement and emphasized the importance of the Germans’ role.
By April 1918, Mannerheim had fashioned a working army and prepared to take Vyborg. The Deputation appointed a military dictator to organize its defense. It ordered those Red Guards no longer needed in the west to retreat eastward and leave their families behind. The Guards indeed began moving east from Turku, but took their families with them, clogging the railroads, plundering and murdering hundreds of civilians as they went. The Deputation met for the last time in Vyborg on April 21, 1918. It decided that the core leaders should take refuge in Russia, to prepare for a return engagement. The Red Guards in Vyborg nevertheless did put up a fight, against both the White Army and von der Goltz’s Baltic Division. The Finnish General Löfström declared: “Red leaders and Russian soldiers who fight are outside the law and can be treated accordingly.” The Baltic Division had taken as many as twenty thousand prisoners. On May 1, Mannerheim held a victory parade. The Reds had executed a hundred White prisoners; the Whites executed the members of the Vyborg Soviet and another fifty prisoners. it was rumored that two hundred civilians had been slaughtered. By May 15, 1918, the fighting was over.
The moderate socialists now cooperated with the Germans, issuing a Proclamation to the Workers of Finland (April 16, 1918), denouncing the revolution as a mistake instigated by the Bolsheviks. “So down with the weapons everywhere and let us return to Western, social-democratic methods of struggle, let us return to constructive parliamentary work and unarmed organizational activity.” The socialists attempted to participate in Svinhufvud’s restored parliamentary regime, but it was only after the government’s fall in December 1918 that they were able to return to political life. For their part, those who had supported the failed Bolshevik attempt at revolution in Finland gathered in Moscow, where they formed the kernel of the Finnish Communist Party.
The Finnish Deputation, composed of non-Bolshevik socialists, countenanced the fanaticism of the Red Guards, though they were uneasy with its random, explosive character. They were in any case unable to stop it. The White leadership, by contrast, like the Bolsheviks, adopted terror as a weapon. Between January and mid-May, the Whites executed over eight thousand Red fighters, including over three hundred women, whom they claimed belonged to the Red Guards, as some may well have done. A letter to a respectable newspaper complained: “In spite of the commander in chief’s prohibitions, the shootings continue uninterrupted. The Red madness has been followed by the White terror.” At the end of May, spontaneous executions were indeed replaced by tribunals, which convicted 67,000 people and executed 265. The remaining eighty thousand prisoners were kept in harsh conditions and treated as criminals; almost twelve thousand of them died of hunger and disease.
In May Svinhufvud invited the German troops to remain. Mannerheim would have preferred to join the aristocratic Russian Whites in toppling the Bolshevik government in Moscow, but the Svinhufvud government had no use for this plan and rejected Mannerheim’s authoritarian manner. Mannerheim, for his part, refused to submit to German command, resigned his post, and left for Sweden as a private citizen. On December 12, 1918, a month after the Armistice, Svinhufvud’s regime fell and Mannerheim returned to replace him as the head of state of independent Finland. Though Mannerheim was now in charge, Finland was still occupied by von der Goltz’s Baltic Division. As a defense against the spread of Bolshevism and the descent into chaos, the Military Inter-Allied Commission of Control, formed in Paris in the wake of the Armistice, had authorized the continued presence of German troops in Finland and the Baltic states. The Armistice required German forces on formerly Russian territory not to leave until “the Allies shall think the moment suitable, having regard to the internal situation of these territories.” In Finland, however, Russian-style Bolshevism had decisively failed to spread. Finland had been saved from the threat of Soviet conquest by the German occupation and General Mannerheim’s leadership. It was saved from Bolshevism by its own tradition of democratic socialism. As the Finnish Communist Otto Wilhelm Kuusinen complained in October 1918, paying his non-Bolshevik comrades a backhanded compliment, “Finnish Social Democracy did not want to go beyond the representative political system. On the contrary, it wanted to perfect this system, as a genuinely democratic form of government.” That ideal had been compromised in the polarized context of the Finns’ own civil war, in which the radicalized Red Guards drew the moderates into the bloody combat. After the German defeat, Finland emerged as a conservative republic, avoiding extremes of both right and left. The new country’s most important accomplishment was to have escaped imperial Russian borders.
The culmination of the reign of Alexander I: Marshal Marmont hands over the keys of Paris to the Russian Emperor
After the despotic reign of Paul I came to an end, Alexander I was hailed as a savior. He had liberal tendencies that evoked the enlightenment of Catherine the Great, though like Catherine he preserved the privilege of autocracy. He is remembered chiefly for defeating Napoleon in 1812, but Alexander’s relationship with Napoleon was complicated. During his rule, Russia would form and forsake numerous alliances with the French. When he died without children after a reign of twenty-four years, he left Russia in a state of confusion and revolt until he was succeeded by his younger brother, Nicholas.
By the time Alexander came to the throne, Russia was no longer at war with France, and Napoleon had conquered Switzerland and much of Italy. Once Napoleon switched his focus to the German states, however, Russia could no longer afford to remain neutral. In the spring of 1805, Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France and king of Italy; Russia, Britain, and Austria formed a coalition to fight him. Alexander went in person to invite the Prussian king to join the coalition, and afterwards traveled to Austria to meet the Russian army. Napoleon sent an envoy to Austria to negotiate terms with Alexander’s general, Kutuzov, said to be the greatest military commander then living. Alexander demanded that Napoleon renounce his conquests in Italy. Confident in the superiority of his army, despite the fact that the Russian-Austrian forces outnumbered his, Napoleon refused and prepared for battle. The fight resulted in a loss of over 28,000 Russian soldiers, as Napoleon circumnavigated an attempted flank maneuver and took the high ground. The Russian defeat was due principally to the fact that Alexander countermanded Katuzov’s decisions on the advice of his Austrian allies. The Russian emperor was forced to retreat to the countryside as the French emperor gloated over his victory. Alexander continued to prosecute the war against Napoleon until he suffered an even more overwhelming defeat at Eylau in January of 1807, at which point he requested a personal meeting with Napoleon to negotiate peace.
The twenty-nine-year-old Alexander and the thirty-eight-year-old Napoleon met in June of 1807 at a rafted pavilion constructed by French and Russian engineers in the middle of the Nieman River. There, in a private conversation that lasted over two hours, Alexander promised to support Napoleon against his bitterest enemies, the British, if Napoleon would cease to hound Prussia. To Napoleon, Alexander expressed sentiments that might have come from the lips of his grandmother, Catherine the Great; as Sebag-Montefiore writes, he “praised elective republics and criticized hereditary monarchy which he regarded as irrational—except in Russia, where local conditions made it essential.” The two rulers got along very well, adjourning to nearby Tilsit where they dined with the Prussian king Frederick William in the evenings, then went behind his back to have further long private conversations by night. “Had he been a woman,” said Napoleon afterwards, speaking of Alexander, “I would have made him my mistress.” The negotiations concluded without a significant loss of Russian territory. Napoleon’s minister, Talleyrand, even approached Alexander about a possible marriage between Napoleon and Alexander’s beloved younger sister Catherine. Napoleon was still married to Josephine, but as she was childless, he was considering divorcing her. Catherine, however, had her matrimonial sights set on the Holy Roman Emperor, and resolved to avoid marrying Napoleon if she could.
After they had returned to their own countries, Napoleon sent envoys to Alexander’s court; the emperor welcomed them, but his courtiers seethed at the French presence. In 1808, Napoleon invited Alexander to a second meeting, along with other European kings and princes. They continued to find one another excellent company, but privately, Napoleon was becoming frustrated. The French blockade of Britain was doing the Russians no favors, and Alexander used this to negotiate the return of Wallachia and Moldavia. Alexander understood and shared the simmering resentment the Russian people harbored against the French, but having survived at the courts of Catherine the Great and Paul I, he knew how to keep his own counsel and make people believe he liked them when it suited his purposes. His friendship with Napoleon would not last indefinitely.
During the 1808 summit, Napoleon suggested that Alexander seize Finland from Sweden; when Alexander returned to Russia, he did so, making Finland a Russian duchy. But when Napoleon went to war against Francis, emperor of Austria, Alexander did not observe his treaty agreement to back the French, and Napoleon became disillusioned with the Russian alliance. Napoleon had divorced Josephine by this time, and he once again proposed a marriage to one of Alexander’s sisters—this time, his youngest sister Anne, who was only fourteen. When Alexander said that he would not permit her to marry until she was sixteen, Napoleon unceremoniously broke off negotiations and married Marie-Louise, sister of Francis of Austria. The Russians were insulted; the French were furious at what they considered to be Alexander’s duplicity. It was only a matter of time before war broke out between the two countries. Then, in 1810, the queen-consort of Prussia died. Queen Louise was famous throughout Europe for her beauty; early in his reign, when Alexander visited the court of her husband, Frederick William, he had admired her in person, and it was said that he had fallen in love with her. Her fatal illness had supposedly been brought on by Napoleon’s ceaseless attacks against her country. Now, Alexander swore to avenge her death. His friendship with Napoleon cooled, and Napoleon began to plan his invasion of Russia.
“I will not be the first to draw the sword,” said Alexander in 1811, speaking to one of Napoleon’s envoys, “but I will be the last to put it back in its sheath.” Unlike his grandfather, Peter III, Alexander thought exhaustively through every possible outcome of the looming war before making decisions. He wrote to his sister Catherine that he believed it possible that Moscow and St. Petersburg might both be taken by Napoleon’s forces. In April of 1812, Napoleon began to assemble the largest army the world had ever seen, compromised of 615,000 soldiers from Poland, Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy, Austria, and Egypt, in preparation for his invasion of Russia. In June, they crossed the Niemen River. Alexander had two choices for engaging the enemy: either march out to meet them, or pretend to retreat so that Napoleon’s forces would follow them deep into the heart of Russia, where the French army would be at significant disadvantage. Napoleon, in fact, had no intention of penetrating so far into the Russian interior; he merely wanted to fight until the Russian army was so weak that Alexander would be forced to agree to any terms Napoleon named. But Alexander’s war minister, Barclay, would succeed in drawing them in.
Alexander faced a private humiliation at the war’s outset: his generals and ministers signed a petition begging him not to present himself on the field of battle. As emperor, his word was law, and he could countermand the order of any of his commanders in a single breath. But unlike Napoleon, Alexander was a better politician than a military tactician, and when he overruled his generals, the results were never good. Alexander was crestfallen, but he complied with the wishes of his generals in good grace, thus showing himself to be wiser than than some of his successors would prove to be. He returned home to be greeted by huge crowds of cheering people. All of Russia had reached a fever pitch of nationalistic pride over the French invasion.
Russian and French forces clashed at Smolensk. Here, Napoleon expected to meet and defeat the full strength of the Russian army, but they merely engaged him until the city was destroyed, then retreated. Winter was approaching; Napoleon had expected to spend the cold season in Smolensk, but now it was uninhabitable. Though the Russian retreat was planned, it was unpopular with the people, who did not understand the larger strategy. Alexander was forced to appoint Kutuzov, who had been Potemkin’s understudy, to take charge of the war effort and defend Moscow. Napoleon was only a ten-day march away from the city.
Kutuzov and Napoleon met in battle on August 26, 1812, at the village of Borodino, less than a hundred miles from Moscow. The Russians fortified their position with redoubts—enclosed forts surrounding a large entrenched fortress, where the army could hold their ground and fire from under cover. Russian and French forces were almost equally matched, with 125,000 men on the Russian side and 130,000 on the French. The strategy was simple; Napoleon was famous for his flanking maneuvers, but the strength of the redoubts were that they were made to be flanked. His only option was repeated frontal assaults, pitching Russian and French soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. The result was what has been called “the bloodiest single day in the history of warfare”, a record it held until the twentieth century. Neither side had won. Kutuzov made the strategic decision to march his army to the far side of Moscow and evacuate the civilian population. Napoleon would follow, but he declared that “Moscow is the sponge that will soak him up.” The population, bearing their possession in carts, or on their backs, marched east. Jails were opened and prisoners allowed to join the exodus. The decision was made to burn Moscow to the ground, rather than allow the French to occupy it. When a dismayed Napoleon took up residence in the Kremlin, where he expected to receive notice of surrender from Alexander, the city had been burning for six days. Alexander read reports of these events from safety in St. Petersburg. He was horrified, but he steeled his resolve, declaring that he would rather be a potato-eating peasant than ever negotiate peace with Napoleon.
As winter approached, Napoleon began to realize that no offer of surrender was coming; he began to organize a retreat from Moscow, but to his surprise, the Russians followed. At first, they only harassed the French in sporadic engagements; then two more divisions of the Russian army attacked from the north and the south, forcing the French to a standstill in the dead of the Russian winter and making further retreat impossible. Napoleon, sensing the inevitable, abandoned his men and fled to Paris.
Napoleon was humiliated, but Russian revenge was not yet spent. As the new year of 1813 approached, Alexander, now more confident than he had been at the war’s beginning, took personal charge of the army once more and pursued Napoleon into Europe. He was joined by Prussia, and the cost of the enterprise was fielded by Britain. Napoleon was swiftly rebuilding his army. After a number of engagements, Napoleon attended armistice negotiations, but the nations of Europe wanted to see France punished for Napoleon’s audacity; Napoleon agreed only to a return to the borders that existed before his invasion of Russia. Austria declared war, and Alexander’s forces joined them. The Russian emperor desired nothing less than to avenge Moscow by marching his soldiers through the streets of Paris.
Luck was on his side. Napoleon was avoiding Paris, and the city had few defenses. In March of 1813, Alexander and his allies attacked. Paris surrendered on Match 18, after a week of fighting. Some of Alexander’s advisors urged him to burn the city in revenge, but Alexander preferred to be seen as Europe’s savior rather than France’s destroyer. Under Alexander’s watchful eye, the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte was ended, and the royal family of Bourbon was restored to the French throne. Napoleon was given the island of Elba to be his domain in exile. Alexander’s triumph was complete. He returned to Russia by way of Britain, where he met the prince regent, ruling on behalf of the mad George III. Back in St. Petersburg, the emperor was offered a title by the senate, Alexander the Blessed—perhaps out of respect for his piousness, or because it would have been confusing to call him Alexander the Great. In any case, he refused.
In 1820, Alexander visited his beloved brother Nicholas and informed him that he wished to abdicate. He was now forty-three; insurrections and failed government reforms had followed the Napoleonic wars, and he felt that he had already accomplished the mission God had given him as emperor. Alexander had no sons, and his brother Constantine was next in line in the succession, but Constantine did not wish to be emperor either; he had an Orthodox wife whom he wanted to divorce so that he could marry his Polish mistress, an act which would bar him from the throne. Nicholas, nineteen years younger than Alexander, had never expected to be emperor, and the abdication announcement made him cling to his beloved wife Mouffy, daughter of the king of Prussia, and burst into tears. The altered plan of succession was signed by Alexander and Constantine in 1821, but no notice of it was given to the public. In October of 1825, Alexander became ill with chills and a fever, symptoms of typhoid, for which he refused medical treatment. By November 17th, he was dead.
What did 1997 mean? On 1 July that year the People’s Republic of China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. China’s senior leadership and British government ministers and officials took part in a punctiliously choreographed midnight handover ceremony. Rain poured down, and tears were shed for all the reasons that tears might be shed: sadness, joy, fear, confusion, or relief. The departing Governor stepped aboard the British royal yacht Britannia just after midnight and sailed away. The Union Jack had been pulled down at midnight, the five stars of China’s flag raised in its stead, and the colony’s own standard was at the same time surmounted by that of the new Special Administrative Region. Other symbols of colonial rule were being removed as midnight passed, and many had already been superseded by 1997. In Beijing there were fireworks in Tiananmen Square. A digital clock that had been placed in front of the Museum of Revolutionary History, and which had been counting down the days and seconds since 1994, reached zero. Crowds chanted as the seconds ticked down. A century of humiliation had been ‘washed away’ as the rain fell in Hong Kong.
There had been other ways of looking forward to this moment than the clock. (This was one of several; there was one at the Hong Kong–Shenzhen border, and another in Beijing at the ruins of the Yuanming Yuan, the old Summer Palace looted and burned down by French and British troops in 1860.) One that had stuck with me was a music video that seemed to be endlessly repeated in 1994 on a satellite music channel – itself a phenomenon that was bewildering for a visitor to China – and that I had watched in a Shanghai hotel room. A young woman faced the camera, strumming a guitar. Her name was Ai Jing, and at the age of twenty-four she had a hit across and beyond the Chinese-speaking world with a catchy song, ‘My 1997’. It takes the form of a jaunty folk riff periodically interrupted by passages in a Chinese opera style, in which she narrates her journey from Shenyang in the far northeast, through Beijing, to Shanghai’s Bund and down south to the border with Hong Kong. Visually the film makes the same shifts from past to present. But the song is about the future: ‘when will I be able to visit Hong Kong?’ she asks from Guangzhou. It is a cheeky song, lamenting at once a Hong Kong lover, but Hong Kong itself as a lover, perhaps, certainly as a future for the Chinese. The song and video’s celebratory climax presents a sensual longing for urban freedom and modernity. On the cover of the CD itself Ai Jing was photographed in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong bar district. ‘What is it like? What are Hong Kong people like?’ Ai asks. In the years before the handover of the last significantly sized British colony, the Chinese government was sponsoring academic research and film-makers. In these endeavours it was making Hong Kong the focus for a celebration of China’s new strength, and a reminder of past weakness and humiliation. Culture still mattered; it was no less a political sphere than it had been in the most hectic days of the Maoist era, or even during the more cosmopolitan republic. So Ai Jing’s song deftly struck the right political notes, and subverted them. Her 1997 was not about national humiliation, but about personal liberation.
Late colonial Hong Kong had boomed as a British imperial city was transformed into a global capitalist hub. The disputes between the British and the Chinese diplomats continued almost up to the last moment. Signs of that old treaty-port world remained in abundance after the formal symbols of British power were removed, but many of the new expatriates of the 1990s and after were looking north, waiting for China, diving in whenever opportunity was opened up, finding partners, and chasing ancient fantasies of unlimited China markets. For the Chinese government the question was how to manage it all, and how to bring the foreign back in without re-creating the past, and without surrendering sovereignty and dignity. Reclaiming Hong Kong was a grand affirmation of its triumph over history. The handover was a substantial exercise in political theatre, but it was also a landmark in the growing economic freedoms enjoyed by Chinese. After 1949 the city had inherited Shanghai’s modernity. High-rise Hong Kong provided an alternative vision of China’s present, and its soon-to-be-realized future. The return of Macao in 1999 was also accompanied by much fanfare, but the earlier return in 1997 was made significantly more important as a symbol, as its roots lay not in the Ming Dynasty but in the nineteenth-century British assault on China’s sovereignty.
Ai Jing’s video lingers in the mind, but there were orthodox cultural projects launched before 1997 that were intended to resonate widely as well. In one way the most mainstream of these was a big-budget film, The Opium War, which premiered with a showing for senior government leaders in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 9 June 1997, and which was described by its director, the veteran Chinese film-maker Xie Jin, as a ‘special gift for the motherland and the people … to ensure we and our descendants forever remember the humiliation the nation once suffered’. Hong Kong’s Shanghai-born incoming senior leaders – Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and Legislative Council President Rita Fan – attended the Hong Kong premiere three days later. The film had already been endorsed by no less a figure than Deng Xiaoping’s successor, the Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin, and patriotically minded backers had put up the funds. Group bookings by government and other official and party units produced a good deal of the receipts. Hong Kong’s origins in the conflict over the opium trade and in the British bid to seize ‘the entire East … the Nineteenth century’ mattered most in this retelling (and the ambition was put into the mouth of Queen Victoria). The film was by some measure the most expensive then yet made in China. Its script delivered a more nuanced understanding of the British position than might have been expected; however, the significant point is that ultimately the project was not rooted in Hong Kong’s present but in China’s past. Hong Kong was not what its people had made it by 1997, and what they might make it afterwards, but was to be remembered as an historical act of theft, with its origins in a squalid criminal enterprise and the weakness and chauvinism of the Qing.
It was not in fact the first time in modern Chinese history that a retrocession had been commemorated with a film about the Opium War. The earlier occasion had been the premiere of the 1943 Japanese-sponsored Chinese movie Wanshou liufang (Eternity), screened in Nanjing for the benefit of collaborationist president Wang Jingwei. That, too, had been an officially directed project, and it was released to mark the handover of the International Settlement to the quisling Shanghai Special Municipality on 1 August 1943. At the very least this coincidence of rituals demonstrates the centrality of nationalism and anti-imperialism to all twentieth-century political projects in China. The Chinese Communist Party and Wang Jingwei, once allies, later the bitterest of opponents, played tunes from the same narrow repertoire. This is not to suggest any equation between the CCP and Wang Jingwei’s regime, but to highlight the centrality of these issues of humiliation in understanding the competing forms of nationalism that have emerged in modern China.
Over the next thirty years the world that Ai Jing’s song laid claim to was brought to China. The state enterprises that her lyrics mention her father working in have folded, and have been broken up for scrap like those ships that were the fuel for the first foreign business established in China. These enterprises were swept aside by the massive programme of renewal and economic development that began with those contentious reforms in Guangdong province in 1979. Economic growth brought profound social and cultural transformation that is still unfolding, and there are now bar districts like Lan Kwai Fong all over China. Hong Kong is still very different, providing a distinctive modern Chinese culture with different values; but like Macao it is also partly irrelevant to the story of change in China itself. A quarter of a million foreign nationals live in Shanghai, for example, which has hungrily embraced all the trappings of its ambitions to be a world-class city, and all the greyer and darker ones too. Only the rickshaws are missing from the streets.
There are plenty of those in the museums, however, for the past is bigger business than ever in China. An estimated 10,000 ‘Red Tourism’ sites and half a billion visits to them in 2011 accounted for one-fifth of all Chinese domestic tourism. Heritage initiatives with little political flavouring have also made progress in the generally unequal battle with the bulldozer and property speculation. Some of this apparent political elision is striking: Tianjin’s former Italian concession was revamped as the ‘Italian-style scenic district’ after 2004. In this case an Italian colonial enterprise now serves as an example of cosmopolitan heritage style. The repackaging of the colonial as the cosmopolitan is now quite common. It serves the purpose too of stressing continuities over time despite China’s shutdown during the Maoist era. The iconic modern skyline in China is still Shanghai’s. Its high-rises were the stuff of the movies viewed across the nation in the 1930s and 1940s, and this persisted. But now the vista representing Shanghai in its room at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing is of the Pudong skyline, across the river from the Bund. To appreciate this, which thousands of tourists from all over China do every day, one needs to turn one’s back on the old Bund and its buildings, on the British Consulate, the headquarters of Jardine Matheson and Co., the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, Sir Victor Sassoon’s Cathay Hotel, the North China Daily News Building, Yokohama Specie Bank and the Shanghai Club.
But even when backs are turned the memory is kept alive. On 1 October every year, China’s national day, city officials in Shanghai gather on the north end of the Bund at what is still called a park, although little trace of anything much like one remains. What dominates the site now is a ‘Monument to the People’s Heroes’ that was unveiled in 1993. Three granite pillars lean together at the top to form a three-sided obelisk reaching 60 metres into the air. They represent the ‘eternal glory’ of the ‘people’s heroes’ who died in the liberation war, in revolutionary movements more widely since the 1919 May Fourth Movement and since the Opium War. In a sunken area around its base are seven bas-relief friezes depicting key incidents in the revolutionary history of the city down to 1949, culminating with students dancing the yangge in Shanghai’s streets in May 1949. For some decades prior to 1943 another much less imposing obelisk stood close to this very same spot, a memorial erected in 1866 to the foreign officers of the Ever Victorious Army, the unit led by General Gordon that supported Qing forces in the battles around Shanghai against the Taiping. The city’s histories, like all of China’s, overlay and echo one another. And not far away you can read the twentieth century’s changes on what was formerly the China headquarters of the British company Imperial Chemical Industries. Shorn now of the allegorical reliefs with which it was adorned on its unveiling in 1923, its own name is just still visible, and so are huge sets of Cultural Revolution slogans running down the building, wishing long life to the Great Helmsman Chairman Mao. It now houses a securities firm.
The annual ceremony at the memorial on the Bund is of fresh vintage. Recently the event commenced early in the morning with the playing of the national anthem by a military band, while the participants stood in contemplative silence. Then, without a word, the Shanghai Party Secretary, the Mayor and representatives from other official organizations stepped forward to lay wreaths in front of the obelisk. So the ceremony itself echoes another, the one that took place annually from 1924 to 1941, and then again from 1945 to 1948, on 11 November, Remembrance Day for the Allied dead of the world wars. That took place at the other end of the former International Settlement Bund, in front of Shanghai’s tall war memorial. This is a powerful testament to the reach of imported practices and forms, and their acculturation – including the ceremonial silence, and the playing by a military band using European instruments, of a national anthem indebted to Western musical forms, and indeed to the very idea of a ‘national anthem’. The concrete forms of memorialization – those obelisks – are linked in a similar way. But none of these are any less authentic facets of modern China and modern Chinese culture. Most of Shanghai’s tourists do not pay any homage at the memorial, despite the fact that it is a ‘patriotic education base’. Most do not even really visit that end of the promenade: the blindingly neon-lit Pudong skyline at night is the draw instead. Such is the pervasiveness still of the humiliation narrative that they hardly need to, for the stories it tells remain at the heart of the nationwide system of patriotic education.
Reactions to bilateral and other disputes that unfold or erupt today are still nearly always addressed through the prism of the past, or they are about that past. There were violent street and online protests during the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands in 2012, which were inflamed by its coincidental timing with the anniversary of the Japanese Kwantung Army’s attack on Manchuria on 18 September (usually simply ‘918’ in Chinese). The islands themselves are another legacy issue from the longer history of territorial disintegration in the nineteenth century: ‘No longer learn from Li Hongzhang,’ shouted demonstrators in Nanchang, echoing Deng Xiaoping’s curt rejoinder to Margaret Thatcher over Hong Kong. ‘Never forget National Humiliation; Remember 9.18; Recover the Diaoyu islands’, ran another slogan. Since 2000 controversy over demands for the repatriation of artefacts looted from the Yuanming Yuan in 1860 has also gathered tremendous momentum. And over forty years after Prime Minister Tanaka’s incompetent first apology, and the 1972 Sino-Japanese joint declaration, Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s official statement in 2015 to mark the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Sino-Japanese War was closely read, and sharply criticized for its perceived inadequacies in Chinese and others’ eyes. The sullen and resentful language of the text was a mark not only of Abe’s own conservative politics and revisionist leanings, but also of a wider exasperation in Japan with the never-ending war. For China the past is becoming more important. And what’s clear in all of this is that the Chinese state is now often playing catch-up, struggling to keep abreast of the popular nationalism that it has nurtured and encouraged, and which runs riot in social media, on foreign university campuses and sometimes in Chinese streets. The state needs to be agile, for its perceived inadequacies in defending China’s honour have frequently diverted popular hostility towards it and away from Japan.
The story of the world outlined in this book is on the whole not well enough known. It certainly lives on in saga, romance or thriller, or through cinema – J. G. Ballard’s autobiographical Empire of the Sun, mediated through Hollywood, for example. As we have seen, it was portrayed as romance back in the 1920s and especially in the 1930s, and this persists. But it is still too easily thought of as a sideshow, far away and involving people with whom there is little connection. In most cases there was always a profound asymmetry in relations: the West was always far more important in China than China seemed to be at home. As we have seen, this was not always in fact actually true, although it generally holds good. What it does mean is that a significant imbalance in knowledge and understanding persists. In 2011 I was invited to give a talk about The Scramble for China at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. It seemed wise to signal in advance that I could not provide much by way of enlightenment on contemporary policy. I did not know what the then CCP leader Hu Jintao thought, or much about climate change or healthcare initiatives. I was not to worry, was the response, leave policy to us, but we really need to know more about the history. Our recruits have learned little of it before they join us, yet the Chinese still talk about it all the time. Given how profoundly modern China has been shaped by its relationship with the United Kingdom, this was a telling admission.
They know this well in China, of course. And in which other state does a new leadership team, on the day that it is unveiled, change into more sombre clothing, and make a pilgrimage to a history museum? (What other state has so many history museums?) This is what Xi Jinping and the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo did on 29 November 2012. The most powerful leaders in the land paid homage to the past through this visit to the National Museum of China, and its permanent display ‘The Road to Rejuvenation’ (the official translation of the Chinese Fuxing zhi lu). The design aesthetic in the first galleries is darkness. Art works and artefacts illustrate a stridently captioned narrative of China’s story of humiliation and weakness from 1840 onwards. But then comes the light, and in the second set of galleries a different aesthetic decorates a record of events and triumphs since 1949 (and in a discreet and selective way some disasters). The exhibition concludes, or at least did on my own last visit – when it was thronged with school groups assiduously taking notes – by paying homage to China’s space programme, and then with a display of mobile phones. The promise of a project that generates intense national pride, and the history of China’s economic growth and individual prosperity, are both framed in a story of release from the shame of the past. The promise at the end of the black tunnel of history is a smartphone.
The story of the foreign presence in China in the twentieth century, as much as in the nineteenth century or in any part of China’s modern history, is too important today to be left in the hands of the Chinese party-state and this approved script. Its sanctioned narrative is partial, self-serving and ultimately incendiary. A new nationalism in which angry demonstrators have been heard many times clamouring for war and for killing Japanese is pregnant with the potential for calamity. But this is not a Japanese problem alone. No nation complicit in the degradation of China after the 1830s – which includes most European states as well as the United States – is ultimately secure. Being effectively equipped with the facts might help us understand the roots of that rage. In this book I have aimed to show that world in all its complexity and all its contexts – and that word ‘complexity’ is no coy cover for nostalgia or an apologetics. The foreign presence in China in the twentieth century had more than its fair share of bigotry, racism, violence, greed, or simple callous indifference. This is on display in profusion in the National Museum of China. In that world, too, you can find collaboration, cohabitation, alliance and coalition. Many other voices also spoke for China and stood up for it against its enemies and against ignorance and prejudice overseas, and on China’s streets. This is all but absent in the displays in Beijing. There was also self-delusion and self-conceit, as well as genuine humanitarian concern and disinterested technical interest. This was a world in which the imperatives or norms of a world in which colonial power was exercised overlapped with (and helped shape) new forms of globalization and the movement of people, goods and ideas. It was a world in which people in China incorporated into their lives all sorts of innovations that came from overseas, and equally made their own new culture, promiscuously mixing all sorts of foreign ingredients and indigenous ones too. Chinese of all political hues and none worked with and against the unequal and unjust exercise of foreign political power in China and the treatment of China in international forums and organizations. The Chinese Communist Party holds no monopoly of nationalistic virtue, and it was itself complicit in the continued degradation of Chinese sovereignty in the 1950s.
‘The Chinese nation has suffered unusual hardship and sacrifice in the world’s modern history,’ said Xi Jinping in November 2012 at the end of his museum visit. Its people ‘have never given in, have struggled ceaselessly, and have finally taken hold of their own destiny’. Xi’s rhetoric then and since has promised a ‘China dream’, the ‘great renewal of the Chinese nation’ and individual aspiration, subsuming along the way the hopes of Ai Jing’s song ‘My 1997’. The China dream is grounded in this story of an unrelenting Chinese nightmare. We need to acknowledge that, and understand it, but we do not need to believe it.
Initially known as Cromwell III, the Meteor-engined version of the A27 design was designated A27M (M: Meteor engine). The Meteor engine as adapted from the Merlin for tank use had about 80 % of its component parts identical to the aircraft engine, thus greatly facilitating production for tanks. Rolls-Royce converted a batch of Merlins for use in tanks, and during 1941 two Crusader tanks had Meteor engines installed in place of their Liberty power plants for exhaustive test running. This enabled positioning of auxiliary components, wear and tear, oil consumption, and so on to be determined at an early date while design work on the A27 itself proceeded. Birmingham Carriage & Wagon delivered the first mild steel prototype to the Army for trials on March 1, 1942, actually ahead of the Centaur pilot model. Two more pilot models were delivered by the end of 1942, and teething troubles on tests proved relatively minor-mainly detail points concerned with clutch, gears, and cooling. The idea of using the powerful Meteor engine was handsomely vindicated by results, and ample power was available for any forseen developments of the A27 type. Cromwell production started in January 1943, by which time Leyland had become the design and production “parents” for the entire A27 series. This embraced all subcontractors for component parts as well as plants building Cromwells.
Meanwhile, War Office policy with regards to tank armament had changed considerably since the “heavy cruiser” requirement resulting in the A24/A27 series had been formulated. Fighting in the Western Desert, coupled by the decisive appearance of the American-built M3 and M4 Medium tanks in that theatre led to a requirement for a gun with “dual-purpose” capability-able to fire HE or AP shot-as fitted in the very successful M3 and M4 mediums. Work on a British designed version of the 75mm gun virtually a bored-out development of the British 6pdr able to fire American ammunition, was put in hand in December 1942 and Cromwells from Mk IV onward were produced with this weapon in place of the 6pdr. The first vehicles so equipped were delivered in November 1943, but there were many initial defects in this gun, including unsatisfactory semi-automatic cams in the breech, which were not entirely put right until May 1944.
The Cromwell was numerically the most important British-built cruiser tank of World War II, forming the main equipment of British armoured divisions in 1944-45 together with the American-built M4 Sherman. However, even with a 75mm gun it was still, by 1944 standards, inferior to contemporary German tanks like the Panther and late-model PzKw IVs. With its Meteor engine it was the fastest and most powerful of British tank designs until that period, but physical limitations (mainly the narrowness of the hull) prevented its being upgunned further and considerable redesign was necessary to turn it into a vehicle capable of carrying the very desirable 17pdr gun armament -see the Challenger and Comet for further details.
All the A24/A27 series were structurally similar, with a hull and turret of simple box shape and composite construction-an inner skin with an outer layer of armour bolted on. Driver and co-driver/hull machine gunner sat in the forward compartment, and the turret crew consisted of the commander, gunner and loader who was also the radio operator. Tracks were manganese with centre guides, and the engine and transmission were at the rear. Numerous detail modifications were incorporated during the Cromwell’s production run, which ended in 1945. These are noted below. Most important innovation was the introduction of all-welded construction in place of rivetting on later models, thus further simplifying mass-production.
Cromwell I: Original production model with 6pdr gun. Similar in external appearance to Centaur I.
Cromwell II: Mk I modified by removal of hull machine gun and fitting of wider tracks-15tin in place of 14in.
Cromwell III: Centaur I re-engined with Meteor to bring it to A27M standards. Originally designated Cromwell X.
Cromwell IV: Centaur III with 75mm gun re-engined with Meteor.
Cromwell IVw: As Mk IV but with all-welded hull, and built with Meteor engine.
Cromwell Vw: As Mk IV but with all-welded hull.
Cromwell VI: As Mk IV but with 95mm howitzer replacing the 6pdr for the close support role.
Cromwell VII: Cromwell IV re-worked with applique armour welded on hull front, 15 ½ in tracks replacing 14in tracks, stronger suspension, and reduced final drive ratio to govern down maximum speed to 32mph.
Cromwell VIIw: Cromwell Vw modified as above.
Cromwell VIII: Cromwell VI modified as above.
Cromwell ARV: Vehicle with turret removed, winch fitted in turret space, and demountable A-frame jib. Appearance as Centaur ARV.
Cromwell Command/OP: Mk IV, VI or VIII fitted with dummy gun and extra radio equipment for use of formation commander or artillery observation officers.
Cromwell CIRD: Vehicle with fittings to take Canadian Indestructible Roller Device (CIRD) mine exploding equipment. Few only converted.
Cromwell “Prong”: Standard vehicle fitted with Cullin Hedgerow Cutting Device, Normandy 1944. This equipment, at first, extemporised in the field, then manufactured in limited quantities, was fitted to some Cromwell and Sherman tanks in June-August 1944 to assist in breaking through the extensive hedges and foliage of the “Bocage” country of Normandy which otherwise tended to restrict movement to the roads.
Charioteer: Post-war (1950) conversion of existing Cromwell chassis with new turret and 20pdr gun. Several experimental or trials models of Cromwells were produced to test installations or proposed modifications. Three of these are illustrated. Also projected was a Cromwell Crocodile, still under development at the war’s end. It was similar to the Churchill Crocodile.