About MSW

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


The Tupolev Tu-128 ‘Fiddler’, armed with its four unique-to-type AA-5 ‘Ash’ air-to-air missiles, started to enter service with the PVO in the mid-1960s. By this time, the Soviet air defence force was just undertaking its seventh post-war structural reorganisation, the sixth such event having been completed within the period 1957-60. Both of these periods of reorganisation had been managed under the tutelage of the then C-in-C of the PVO, Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergey Biryuzov, and were considered to have introduced significant improvements to the air defence of the Soviet Union. Those changes introduced at the end of the 1950s involved a reduction in the overall area and extent of the boundaries of responsibility of the Homeland Air Defence Troops (Voyska PVO Strany). The new organisational structure more fittingly reflected these changes and eased the task of controlling air combat against aerial intruders in Soviet airspace, rather than being aligned with the boundaries of the military districts (voyenniye okrugy), as was the case previously. Instead of twenty major formations and units of Homeland Air Defence linked to the number of military districts, only thirteen formations were retained: two PVO districts (Okrugy PVO), five PVO armies (Armii PVO) and six PVO corps (Korpusa PVO). For the first time, the zones of responsibility of the restructured formations and units embraced the entire territory of the USSR and the vulnerable access points to the country.

The seventh structural reorganisation was directed mainly at regularising control within the units of the Homeland Air Defence Troops, with changes affecting control at the operational/tactical level (opyerativnyi urovyen’). PVO formations were reduced in number, albeit with an increased number of assigned personnel, and the ranking of formations was raised, while a programme of automation of the command and control process was set in train. Significant changes also affected the tactical level of control of the Homeland Air Defence Troops, and instead of individual air defence artillery and fighter air corps and divisions, mixed air defence units (smeshannyie aviatsionno-zenitniye korpusa i divizii) were created, with a regimental structure for all branches of PVO troops. Thus, two or three aviation regiments and one to three air defence missile regiments (or brigades), dependent upon equipment and personnel establishment levels, began to form part of a standard air defence division. The unified control of air and AAA resources which had been well tried in the Great Patriotic War at the operational level was now also being achieved at the tactical level. All the wartime established VNOS posts (Posty Vozdushnovo Nablyudyeniya, Opovyeshcheniya i Svyazi) were replaced by PVO radio-technical troops, operating a network of early warning and missile guidance radars, whereas the monitoring posts only provided visual air observation (vozdushnoye nablyudyeniye), air-raid warning (opovyeshcheniye) and communications (svyaz’).

It was within this new organisational structure of Homeland Air Defence that the first Tu-128s were delivered to the Moscow District of the PVO, the 14th Independent Army of the PVO, and the 10th Independent Army of the PVO. It was decided to equip 445 IAP with the Tu-128, then based at Khotilovo, this regiment forming part of the 2nd Corps of the PVO (2 Korpus PVO), with its HQ in the garrison at Rzhev. The adjective ‘fighter’ (‘istrebityel’nyi’) was dropped from the title of regiments that operated the Tu-128 after the adoption of a different level of equipment and personnel establishment (shtat) for this aircraft. So after receiving its first Tu-128s, it was the newly abbreviated 445 AP (445 Aviatsionnyi Polk) which relocated to its purpose-built base at Savvatiya to form part of the 3rd Corps of the PVO (3 Korpus PVO), headquartered in the town of Yaroslavl’. In southern Siberia the Tu-128 began to equip units of the 14th Independent Army of the PVO, the Army’s HQ being in the city of Novosibirsk. In spite of the fact that the Army’s HQ was located so far south, its zone of responsibility also embraced the vast territory of eastern and western Siberia, right up to the islands of the Arctic Ocean. The new interceptor equipped two air defence divisions: 33 Division of the PVO (33 Diviziya PVO), with its HQ in Semipalatinsk, and 39 Division of the PVO (39 Diviziya PVO), headquartered in Irkutsk. The first formation, 33 Division, had two regiments equipped with the Tu-128—64 AP at Omsk-North and 356 AP at Zhana-Semey. The third regiment, 350 AP, based at Belaya, formed part of the 39th ‘Irkutsk’ Division.

The most northerly situated major formation of Homeland Air Defence Troops was the 10th Independent Army of the PVO, with its HQ in Arkhangel’sk. The head of the 10th Army in the mid-1970s, Col. Gen. Dmitriev, described his subordinate units as comprising up to 100 AAA missile divisions, equipped with S-75 (SA-2 ‘Guideline’), S-125 (SA-3 ‘Goa’) and later S-200 (SA-5 ‘Gammon’) missile complexes, at the time the most modern systems in Soviet service. His fighter units consisted of 280 interceptors, including Su-9 ‘Fishpots’, Su-15 ‘Flagons’, Yak-28 ‘Firebars’ and, of course, Tu-128 ‘Fiddlers’, plus a squadron of Tu-126 ‘Moss’ long-range radar picket and fighter guidance aircraft (for airborne controlled intercept—ACI).1 The individual command posts of the fighter regiments and GCI stations were equipped with so-called ‘instrument guidance’ equipment (apparatura pribornovo navyedyeniya), a broadly generalised Russian term for what was, effectively, data-link control. Around 100 sub-units of radio-technical troops were equipped with several hundred radar systems of various types, operating in a variety of different frequency ranges. The 10th Army comprised around 56,000 personnel, including generals, senior, middle ranking and junior officers, warrant officers, sergeants and ordinary enlisted soldiers and airmen. Units of PVO radio-technical troops were deployed along the coast of the Barents, White and Kara Seas, on the island of Novaya Zemlya and the Franz Josef Land archipelago to conduct reconnaissance and provide early warning of flights by potential intruders into Soviet airspace.

The 10th Army’s zone of responsibility embraced a huge territorial expanse, from the borders of the USSR with Finland and Norway and along the entire northern coastline of Soviet High Arctic to the open surface of the Kara Sea and the North Pole. Falling under 10th Army control were the 4th, 5th and 23rd Divisions of the PVO, plus the PVO’s 21st Corps, with the Tu-128s of 518 AP at Talagi coming under the control of 23 Division, headquartered in the garrison at Vas’kovo (near Arkhangel’sk). The other northern Tu-128 regiment, 72 AP at Amderma, was subordinate to 4 Division of the PVO, with its HQ at Rogachyovo (aka Belushya Guba) on the island of Novaya Zemlya. The choice of base locations for the Tu-128 was not accidental but was determined by the importance of the task facing the Homeland Air Defence units. The main task of the ‘Fiddler’ during hostilities was to intercept missile-carrying bombers of the USAF, specifically the Boeing B-52 ‘Stratofortress’, before they were able to launch their weapons. Destruction of an intruding bomber was planned to take place at a distance of around 1,500 km (810 nm) from the coastline of the Kola Peninsula, i.e. over the open sea area of the Arctic Ocean.

A minimum of a pair of Tu-128s was required to achieve a 92 per cent kill probability against a single B-52. The number of interceptors could be increased depending upon the actual variant of bomber identified and its anticipated use of ECM. The kill probability for a single R-4 (AA-5 ‘Ash’) missile against the B-52 in the forward hemisphere was only 27 per cent. This seems extremely low by today’s standards, although it should be remembered that this would have been achieved at a significant distance from the launch boundary of the B-52’s cruise missiles. It must also be borne in mind that none of the interceptors of the 1960s and 1970s was capable of bettering or even achieving this performance.

In peacetime, the Tu-128 was also tasked with the interception and destruction of foreign reconnaissance balloons, known in Russian as ‘automatic drifting aerostats’ (Avtomaticheskie Dreyfuyushchiye Aerostaty or ADA), as well as escorting foreign reconnaissance aircraft in the 100 km (54 nm) exclusion zone off the coastline of the USSR. Additionally, they could be tasked with escorting and offering assistance to aircraft that had unintentionally violated Soviet airspace. Another supplementary task, during actual or simulated combat activity, involved the use of Tu-128s to clear (sanitise) the airspace and then escort Soviet LRAF medium and strategic bombers and provide top cover in their air-to-air refuelling zones. There was also an attempt to task the Tu-128 with the interception of the B-52’s North American AGM-28 ‘Hound Dog’ cruise missiles in flight. A research programme was set up by 518 AP at Talagi in the late 1960s with the objective of determining the possibility of intercepting and destroying ‘Hound Dog’ missiles after their release from the B-52. Maj.-Gen. Nikolai Skok took part in these trials as a junior officer and recalls the events:

A group of the most highly qualified and trained crews on our regiment was assembled, which also included myself, and was led by Colonel A. M. Megyera. The commission charged with undertaking the special trials was headed by the First Deputy Commander of the 10th Independent Army of the PVO, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Major General N. D. Gulaev.

The results of our intercepts of a Su-9, simulating the flight profile of a ‘Hound Dog’ missile, were not very encouraging: the radar cross-section of the Su-9 at closing speeds greater than 3,000 kph (1,620 kts) was less than the lock-on capability of the Smerch radar during a forward hemisphere attack. Lock-on was achieved too late and the range to the target was less than the minimum permitted for missile launch. After this disappointing result the order was given to study the possibility of intercepting the ‘Hound Dog’ using a rear hemisphere lag pursuit profile, since the missile’s speed exceeded that of the interceptor. The results were the same as before, although the crews who participated in the trials did obtain very useful practical experience of intercepting high-altitude, high-speed targets.

Following these trials, the plans to use the Tu-128 to intercept cruise missiles had to be shelved.

As already noted, the most vulnerable aerial approach direction over Soviet territory, which unquestionably called for obligatory and constant fighter protection, was from the north, representing the shortest distance between the USSR and the USA—the two superpowers of the Cold War period. However, in the mid-1960s, relations between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China had also deteriorated quite significantly, leading to the urgent need to establish another defensive sector focused on central China. Thus the fighter interceptor regiments of the 14th PVO Army would have to undertake combat air patrols in two separate sectors in the event of hostilities—in the north and along a central Chinese axis. The key installations which had to be protected by the 14th Army’s ‘Fiddler’ regiments were located in the vicinity of, inter alia, Novyi Urengoy, Surgut, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul, Alyeisk and Biisk. Between the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s it was believed that in the event of nuclear war, the potential enemy (at that time considered to be the United States of America and its allies) would carry out a strike in two waves:

•  an initial wave of B-52s with thirty ALCMs (Air Launched Cruise Missiles) and fifteen SRAMs (Short-range Attack Missiles)

•  a second wave of up to sixty-five B-52s with twenty ALCMs and 185 SRAMs.

It was expected that a strike deep into Siberian territory would be initiated some 7-9 hours after the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the likely launch boundary of American ALCMs being Cape Chelyuskin (Taymyr Peninsula), Kirov Island and Cape Sporyi Navolok (on Novaya Zemlya). The PVO’s fighter response would be based on these assumptions, and by way of example we list here the wartime tasks which would be carried out by the 1st and 2nd squadrons of 356 AP based at Zhana-Semey:

Wartime tasks of the 1st squadron of the 356th Aviation Regiment

The 1st squadron, comprising nine Tu-128Ms, in co-operation with the 2nd squadron of 356 AP and augmented by fighters from 849 IAP at Kupino in Novosibirsk Oblast, operating from an airfield QRA posture (dezhurstvo na aehrodromye)2 at Readiness 1, was tasked with the following missions:

•  prevention of enemy strikes on key installations in the Omsk and Novosibirsk industrial region and overflights by enemy aircraft towards key installations of the Kuzbass (Kuznetsk Basin) coal, iron and steel production area;

•  destruction of enemy aircraft along Defence Line No. 6, Bystriy to Ishim, and Defence Line No. 7, Zarya to Narym, at medium and high altitudes;

Additionally, to be prepared for deployment to the reserve airfield at Khatanga in order to:

•  reinforce PVO defensive capability using the regiment’s 3rd squadron and fighter squadrons of 849 IAP at Kupino, to neutralise enemy air power along the central Chinese axis from specific defence lines;

•  attack at medium and high altitude along Defence Line No. 12, Zharma to Gornaya Teli, from an airfield QRA posture at Readiness 1 and from airborne QRA (dezhurstvo v vozdukhye) in Zone Nos 3 and 4—see below;*

•  attack at medium altitude along the Defence Line No. 11 Kaskabulak– Nizhnyaya Tayinta–Novaya Shul’ba, from an airfield QRA posture at Readiness 1;

•  provide top cover for groups of forces of the Siberian Military District (Siberian Front) on their ‘route of advance’ between Biisk and Tashanta. In peacetime, the squadrons would be tasked with the destruction of military aircraft and drifting reconnaissance balloons of capitalist states if they violated Soviet airspace.

Wartime tasks of the 2nd squadron of the 356th Aviation Regiment

The 2nd squadron, comprising nine Tu-128s operating from an airfield QRA posture (dezhurstvo na aehrodromye) at Readiness 1, in co-operation with the 1st squadron of 356 AP, was tasked with the following missions:

•  prevention of enemy strikes on key installations in the Omsk and Novosibirsk industrial region and overflights towards the Kuzbass coal, iron and steel production area;

•  destruction of enemy aircraft at maximum possible range, before they could launch their air-to-ground missiles, operating either individually within a pairs formation or as two pairs using a forward hemisphere intercept profile at medium and high altitude along Defence Line No. 6, Bystriy to Ishim, and Defence Line No. 7, Zarya to Narym.

Additionally, to be prepared for deployment to the reserve airfield at Khatanga in order to:

•  reinforce PVO defensive capability using the regiment’s 3rd squadron and fighter squadrons of 849 IAP at Kupino, from an airfield QRA posture and from airborne QRA in Zone Nos 3 and 4;*

•  destroy enemy aircraft approaching from the central China direction along Defence Line No. 12, Novosibirsk to Gornaya Teli, and Defence Line No. 11, Ishim–Kaskabulak–Nizhnyaya Tayinta–Novaya Shul’ba.

*The regiment’s airborne QRA Zone Nos 3 and 4 were set up in designated airspace within the region of the towns of Yerofeevka and Aktokai respectively.


The Hidden King

Portrait by Cristóvão de Morais, c. 1572–1574

The personality, nature and life of Sebastian, King of Portugal, lent themselves to the strange structure of events which followed his strenuous and somewhat eccentric and stormy life. He was born in 1554, and was the son of Prince John and his wife Juana, daughter of the Emperor Charles V. He succeeded his grandfather, John III, at the age of three. His long minority aided the special development of his character. The preceptor appointed to rule his youth was a Jesuit, Luiz–Goncalvoz de Camara. Not unnaturally his teacher used his position to further the religious aims and intrigues of his strenuous Order. Sebastian was the kind of youth who is beloved by his female relatives — quite apart from his being a King; and naturally he was treated by the women in a manner to further his waywardness. When he was fourteen years old he was crowned. From thence on he insisted on having his way in everything, and grew into a young manhood which was of the type beloved of an adventurous people. He was thus described : “He was a headstrong violent nature, of reckless courage, of boundless ambition founded on a deep religious feeling. At the time of his coronation he was called ‘Another Alexander.’ He loved all kinds of danger, and found a keen pleasure in going out in a tempest in a small boat and in actually running under the guns of his own forts where his commands were stringent that any vessel coming in shore should be fired on. He was a notable horseman and could steer his charger efficiently by the pressure of either knee — indeed he was of such muscular vigour that he could, by the mere stringency of the pressure of his knees, make a powerful horse tremble and sweat. He was a great swordsman, and quite fearless. ‘What is fear?’ he used to say. Restless by nature he hardly knew what it was to be tired.”

And yet this young man — warrior as he was, had a feminine cast of face; his features were symmetrically formed with just sufficient droop in the lower lip to give the characteristic ‘note’ of Austrian physiognomy. His complexion was as fine and transparent as a girl’s; his eyes were clear and of blue; his hair of reddish gold. His height was medium, his figure fine; he was vigorous and active. He had an air of profound gravity and stern enthusiasm. Altogether he was, even without his Royal state, just such a young man as might stand for the idol of a young maid’s dream.

And yet he did not seem much of a lover. When, in 1576, he entered Spain to meet Philip II at Guadaloupe to ask the hand of the Infanta Isabella in marriage, he was described as “cold as a wooer as he was ardent as a warrior.” His eyes were so set on ambition that mere woman’s beauty did not seem to attract him. Events — even that event, the meeting — fostered his ambition. When he knelt to his host, the elder king kissed him and addressed him as “Your Majesty” the first time the great title had been used to a Portuguese king. The effect must have come but little later for at that meeting he kissed the hand of the old warrior, the Duke of Alva, and uncovered to him. His underlying pride, however, was shewn at the close of that very meeting, for he claimed equal rights in formality with the Spanish king; and there was a danger that the visit of ceremony might end worse than it began. Neither king would enter the carriage in which they were to proceed together, until the host suggested that as there were two doors they should enter at the same time.

Sebastian’s religious fervour and military ambition became one when he conceived the idea of renewing the Crusades ; he would recover the Holy Land from the dominion of the Paynim and become himself master of Morocco in the doing of it. With the latter object in his immediate view, he made in 1574, against the wise counsels of Queen Catherine, a sortie de reconnaissance of the African coast; but without any result — except the fixing of his resolution to proceed. In 1578 his scheme was complete. He would listen to no warning or counsel on the subject even from the Pope, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, or the Duke of Nassau. He seemed to foresee the realization of his dreams, and would forego nothing. He gathered an army of some 18,000 men (of which less than 2,000 were horsemen) and about a dozen cannon. The preparation was made with great splendour — a sort of forerunner of the Great Armada. It seemed to be, as in the case of the projected invasion of England ten years later by Spain, a case of “counting the chickens before they were hatched.”

Some indication of the number of adventurers and camp followers accompanying the army is given by the fact that the 800 craft ordained for the invasion of Morocco carried in all some 24,000 persons, inclusive of the fighting men. The paraphernalia and officials of victory comprised amongst many other luxuries: lists for jousts, a crown ready for the new King of Morocco to put on, and poets with completed poems celebrating victory.

At this time Morocco was entering on the throes of civil war. Muley Abd-el-Mulek, the reigning Sultan, was opposed by his nephew, Mohammed, and to aid the latter, who promised to bring in 400 horsemen, was the immediate object of Sebastian. But the fiery young King of Portugal had undertaken more than he was able to perform. Abd-el-Mulek opposed his 18,000 Portuguese with 55,000 Moors, (of whom 36,000 were horsemen) and with three times his number of cannon. The young Crusader’s generalship was distinctly defective; he was a fine fighting man, but a poor commander. Instead of attacking at once on his arrival and so putting the zeal of his own troops and the discouragement of the enemy to the best advantage, he wasted nearly a week in hunting parties and ineffectual manoeuvring. When finally issue was joined, Abd-el-Mulek, though he was actually dying, surrounded the Portuguese forces and cut them to pieces. Sebastian, though he fought like a lion, and had three horses killed under him, was hopelessly beaten. There was an attendant piece of the grimmest comedy on record. The Sultan died during the battle, but he was a stern old warrior, and as he fell back in his litter he put his finger on his lip to order with his last movement that his death should be kept secret for the time being. The officer beside him closed the curtains and went on with the fight, pretending to take orders from the dead man and to transmit them to the captains.

The fate of Sebastian was sealed in that battle. Whether he lived or died, he disappeared on 5 August, 1578. One story was that after the battle of Alcaer-el-Kebir, his body stripped and showing seven wounds was found in a heap of the slain; that it was taken to Fez and there buried; but was afterwards removed to Europe and found resting place in the Convent of Belen. Another story was that after a brilliant charge on his enemies he was taken in, but having been rescued by Lui de Brito he escaped unpursued. Certainly no one seemed to have seen the King killed, and it was strange that no part of his clothing or accoutrements was ever found. These were of great splendour, beauty and worth, and must have been easily traceable. There was a rumour that on the night following the battle some fugitives, amongst whom was one of commanding distinction, sought refuge at Arzilla.

Alcacer-el-Kebir was known as the “Battle of the three Kings.” All the principals engaged in it perished. Sebastian was killed or disappeared. Abd-el-Mulek died as we have seen, and Mohammed was drowned in trying to cross the river.

The dubiety of Sebastian’s death gave rise in after years to several impostures.

The first began six years after Sebastian’s successor — his uncle, Cardinal Henry — was placed on the throne. The impostor was known as the “King of Penamacor.” The son of a potter at Alcobaca, he established himself at Albuquerque, within the Spanish borders, somewhat to the north of Badajos, and there gave himself out as “a survivor of the African Campaign.” As usual the public went a little further and said openly that he was the missing Don Sebastian. At first he denied the soft impeachment, but later on the temptation became too great for him and he accepted it and set up in

Penamacor, where he became known as the “King of Penamacor.” He was arrested and paraded through Lisbon, bareheaded, as if to let the public see that he in no way resembled the personality of Sebastian. He was sent to the galleys for life. But he must have escaped, for later on he appeared in Paris as Silvio Pellico, Duke of Normandy, and was accepted as such in many of the salons in the exclusive Faubourg St. Germain.

The second personator of Sebastian was one Matheus Alvares, who having failed to become a monk, a year later imitated the first impostor, and in 1585 set up a hermitage at Ericeira. He bore some resemblance to the late king in build, and in the strength of this he boldly gave himself out as “King Sebastian” and set out for Lisbon. But he was arrested by the way and entered as a prisoner. He was tried and executed with frightful accessories to the execution.

The third artist in this imposture appeared in 1594. He was a Spaniard from Madrigal in Old Castile — a cook, sixty years old (Sebastian would have been just forty if he had lived). When arrested he was given but short shrift and shared the same ghastly fate as his predecessor.

The fourth, and last, imposture was more serious. This time the personator began in Venice in 1598, calling himself “Knight of the Cross.” As twenty years had now elapsed since the disappearance of Sebastian, he would have changed much in appearance, so in one respect the personator had less to contend against. Moreover the scene of endeavour was this time laid in Venice, a place even more widely removed in the sixteenth century from Lisbon by circumstances than by geographical position. Again witnesses who could give testimony to the individuality of the missing King of twenty years ago were few and far between. But on the other hand the new impostor had new difficulties to contend against. Henry, the Cardinal, had only occupied the Portuguese throne two years, for in 1580 Philip II of Spain had united the two crowns, and had held the dual monarchy for eighteen years. He was a very different antagonist from any one that might be of purely Portuguese origin.

In the eyes of many of the people — like all the Latin races naturally superstitious — one circumstance powerfully upheld the impostor’s claim. So long ago as 1587, Don John de Castro had made a seemingly prophetic statement that Sebastian was alive and would manifest himself in due time. His utterance was, like most such prophecies of the kind, “conducive to its own fulfilment ;” there were many — and some of them powerful — who were willing at the start to back up any initiator of such a claim. In his time Sebastian had been used, so far as it was possible to use a man of his temperament and position, by the intriguers of the Catholic Church, and the present occasion lent itself to their still-existent aims. Rome was very powerful four centuries ago, and its legions of adherents bound in many ties, were scattered throughout the known world. Be sure these could and would aid in any movement or intrigue which could be useful to the Church.

“The Knight of the Cross” — who insinuated, though he did not state so, that he was a Royal person was arrested on the showing of the Spanish Ambassador. He was a born liar, with all the readiness which the carrying out of such an adventure as he had planned requires. Not only was he well posted in known facts, but he seemed to be actually proof against cross-examination. The story he told was that after the battle of Alcacer-el-Kebir he with some others, had sought temporary refuge in Arzilla and in trying to make his way from there to the East Indies, he had got to “Prester John’s” land — the semi-fabled Ethiopia of those days. From thence he had been turned back, and had, after many adventures and much wandering — in the course of which he had been bought and sold a dozen times or more, found his way, alone, to Venice. Amongst other statements he alleged that Sebastian’s confessor had already recognised and acknowledged him; but he was doubtless ignorant, when he made the statement, that Padre Mauricio, Don Sebastian’s confessor, fell with his king in 1578. Two things, one, a positive inference and the other negative, told against him. He only knew of such matters as had been made public in depositions, and he did not know Portuguese. The result of his first trial was that he was sent to prison for two years.

But those two years of prison improved his case immensely. In that time he learned the Portuguese language and many facts of history. One of the first to believe — or to allege belief, in his story, Fray Estevan de Sampayo, a Dominican monk, was in 1599, sent by the Venetian authorities to Portugal to obtain an accredited description of the personal marks of King Sebastian. He returned within a year with a list of sixteen personal marks — attested by an Apostolic notary. Strange to say the prisoner exhibited every one of them — a complete agreement which in itself gave rise to the new suspicion that the list had been made out by, or on behalf of, the prisoner. The proof however was accepted — for the time; and he was released on the 28th of July, 1600 — but with the imperative, humiliating proviso that he was to quit Venice within four and twenty hours under penalty of being sent to the galleys. A number of his supporters, who met him before he went, found that he had in reality no sort of resemblance to Sebastian. Don John de Castro, who was amongst them, said that a great change in Sebastian seemed to have taken place. (He had prophesied and adhered to his prophecy. ) He now described him as a man of medium height and powerful frame, with hair and beard of black or dark brown, and said he had completely lost his beauty. “What has become of my fairness?” the swarthy exprisoner used to say. He had eyes of uncertain colour, not large but sparkling; high cheek bones; long nose; thin lips with the “Hapsburg droop” in the lower one. He was short from the waist up. ( Sebastian’s doublet would fit no other person.) His right leg and arm were longer than the left, the legs being slightly bowed like Sebastian’s. He had small feet with extraordinarily high insteps; and large hands. “In fine,” Don John summed up illogically, “he is the self-same Sebastian — except for such differences as resulted from years and labours.” Some other particulars he added which are in no way helpful to a conclusion.

The Impostor told his friends that he had in 1597, sent a messenger from Constantinople to Portugal — one Marco Tullio Catizzone — who had never returned. Thence he had travelled to Rome — where, when he was just on the eve of being presented to the Holy Father, he was robbed of all he had; thence to Verona and so on to Venice. After his expulsion from Venice he seems to have found his way to Leghorn and Florence, and thence on to Naples, where he was handed over to the jurisdiction of the Spanish Viceroy, the Count of Lemos, who had visited him in prison, and who well remembered King Sebastian whom he had seen when in a diplomatic mission. The Viceroy came to the conclusion that he bore no likeness at all to Sebastian, that he was ignorant of all save the well known historical facts that had been published, and that his speech was of “corrupt Portuguese mingled with tell-tale phrases of Calabrian dialect.” Thereupon he took active steps against him. One witness who was produced, recognized in him the real Marco Tullio Catizzone, and Count de Lemos sent for his wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law, all of whom he had deceived and deserted. His wife, Donna Paula of Messina, acknowledged him; and he confessed Ms crime. Condemned to the galleys for life, Marco Tullio, out of consideration of a possibility of an error of justice, was so far given indulgence by the authorities that he did not have to wear prison dress or labour at the oar. Many of his supporters, who still believed in him, tried to mitigate his lot and treated him as a companion; so that the hulk at San Lucar, at the mouth of the Guadalquiver became a minor centre of intrigue. But still he was not content, and adventuring further, he tried to get money from the wife of Medina–Sidonia then Governor of Andalusia. He was again arrested with some of his associates. Incriminating documents were found on him. He was racked and confessed all. And so in his real name and parentage, Marco Tullio, son of Ippolit Catizzone of Taverna, and of Petronia Cortes his wife, and husband of Paula Gallardetta was executed. He had, though of liberal education, never worked at any occupation or calling; but he had previously to his great fraud, personated other men — amongst them Don Diego of Arragon. On 23rd of September, 1603, he was dragged on a hurdle to the Square of San Lucar; his right hand was cut off and he was hanged. Five of his companions, including two priests, shared his fate.

But in a way he and the previous impostors had a sort of posthumous revenge, for Sebastian had now entered into the region of Romantic Belief. He was, like King Arthur, the ideal and the heart of a great myth. He became “The Hidden King” who would some day return to aid his nation in the hour of peril — the destined Ruler of the Fifth Monarchy, the founder of an universal Empire of Peace.

A hundred years ago, the custom in British theatres was to finish the evening’s performance with a farce. On this occasion the tragedy had been finished two centuries before the “comic relief” came. The occasion was in the French occupation of Portugal in 1807. The strange belief in the Hidden King broke out afresh. A rigorous censorship of Sebastianist literature was without avail — even though its disseminators were condemned by the still-existing Inquisition. The old prophecy was renewed, with a local and personal application — Napoleon was to be destroyed in the Holy Week of 1808, by the waiting Sebastian, whose approach from his mysterious retreat was to be veiled with a thick fog. There were to be new portents ; the sky was to be emblazoned with a cross of the Order of Aviz, and on March 19th a full moon was to occur during the last quarter. All these things were foretold in an egg, afterwards sent by Junot to the National Museum. The general attitude of the French people towards the subject was illustrated by a remark in an ironical manner of one writer: “what can be looked for from a people, one half of whom await the Messiah, the other half Don Sebastian?” The authority on the subject of King Sebastian, M. d’Antas, relates that as late as 1838, after the crushing of a Sebastianist insurrection in Brazil certain still believing Sebastianists were to be seen along the coast peering through the fog for the sails of the mythical ship which was to bring to them the Hidden King who was then to reveal himself.


Sailing towards Leyte Gulf from left to right CA Chikuma, BB Nagato, BC Haruna, BC Kongo and CA Tone.

Approach of the Fleets to Leyte Gulf

The Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 23–25, 1944

Admiral Halsey, reacting to the presence of the IJN Center Force, which consisted of 5 battleships, 9 cruisers, and 13 destroyers, ordered McCain, then 600 miles east of the Philippines, en route to Ulithi, to reverse course and refuel in order to be ready for whatever might develop. He ordered Sherman and Davison to close on Bogan’s group, off San Bernardino Strait, and gave all three groups their combat orders in one word, “Strike!”

Davison’s search planes discovered and attacked the Southern Force. The plotting officers at CinCPac headquarters, drawing their blue and orange lines on the chart, noted that, by closing on Bogan, Davison would be in the optimum position to attack the Center Force, but his planes would no longer be able to reach the Southern Force. Admiral Kinkaid must have noted the same thing, for he took it on himself to engage the Southern Force with his surface units. He sent Admiral Oldendorf, commanding his fire-support ships, a message, listing Halsey, Nimitz, and King as information addressees: “Prepare for night engagement. Enemy force estimated 2 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 10 destroyers reported under attack by our carrier planes in eastern Sulu Sea at 0910, 24 Oct. Enemy can arrive Leyte Gulf tonight.”

Sherman, commanding Task Group 38.3, could not comply with Halsey’s order to close on Bogan because an enemy air attack had left his light carrier Princeton afire and dead in the water. The damage to the Princeton was bad news, indeed, but to Halsey it was no excuse for neglecting the attack mission he had assigned. He radioed Mitscher, who was with Sherman’s group: “Assume ComTaskGroup 38.3 is striking large enemy force near Mindoro. Advise results of strike earliest possible.”

To Nimitz it was obvious that a piece of the Japanese puzzle was missing: the enemy would hardly commit so much surface strength in an area guarded by an American carrier force unless he intended to use his own carriers. Those carriers were known to have been training in Japan’s Inland Sea, and Nimitz assumed that they were coming down from the north under Ozawa to form a Northern Force which, together with the Southern Force and the Center Force, would attempt a triple attack on Leyte Gulf. Halsey evidently had come to the same conclusion, for at 1:34 p.m. he radioed Mitscher: “Enemy carrier strength not located. Keep area to north under observation.”

At 3:12 Halsey, listing CominCh and CinCPac as information addressees, sent his task group commanders a message that Nimitz found highly gratifying. Headed “Battle Plan,” it announced that a Task Force 34 would be formed, consisting of 4 battleships, including his flagship New Jersey, 2 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, and 14 destroyers—all drawn from Bogan’s and Davison’s task groups. Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee was to command the new task force, which would “engage decisively at long ranges,” while the carriers kept clear of the surface fighting.

CinCPac and his staff judged this the proper tactic to meet the situation—pulling out of the carrier screens a surface force to engage an enemy surface force, while retaining supporting air power in the background. Although Kinkaid was not an addressee of Halsey’s message, he knew about it because his communicators had intercepted it and shown it to him. Naturally, he, Mitscher, Nimitz, and King all assumed that Halsey would order his plan executed—possibly by short-range voice radio since the two task groups involved were close together.

At about 4:00 p.m. Mitscher notified Halsey that a magazine in the burning Princeton had exploded, damaging the cruiser Birmingham and two destroyers that were alongside fighting the carrier’s fires. The Birmingham’s casualties were severe, estimated at 150 killed and 400 wounded. Nimitz wondered why Sherman had risked such a valuable and heavily manned vessel as a cruiser to do the sort of rescue work ordinarily assigned to destroyers.

In the late afternoon Mitscher radioed Halsey that Sherman’s search planes had located the Northern Force, evidently in two sections, and that the carrier section was some 180 miles east of the northern tip of Luzon. In the circumstances he recommended scuttling the Princeton, whose flames might serve as a beacon for enemy planes after dark. Halsey told him to use his discretion about the Princeton, After a further exchange, in which Mitscher reported the Princeton scuttled, Halsey informed Nimitz and MacArthur that the enemy carrier force had been sighted—information that Nimitz had already obtained through intercepts.

At 8:24 p.m. Halsey sent a message to Kinkaid, with CominCh and CinCPac as information addressees. He gave the location, course, and speed of the Center Force, which suggested that it was headed for San Bernardino Strait and could pass through in a few hours. Strike reports, however, indicated that the Center Force had been heavily damaged. Halsey concluded: “Am proceeding north with three groups to attack enemy carrier force at dawn.” At Pearl Harbor it was assumed that this meant three carrier groups, Task Force 34, the surface group, being formed and left behind.

Nobody at CinCPac headquarters was surprised at Halsey’s northward dash. Given a choice of objectives, he could always be expected to go after carriers, the warships with the longest reach and the hardest punch. He was frustrated at having missed a chance to get at the carriers in the Battle of the Coral Sea and again in the Battle of Midway. He had condemned Spruance’s failure to go after the carriers on the night of June 18–19. Lastly, he could hardly do otherwise than go charging off after the toughest enemy force, because he had come to identify himself with the ferocious character invented by the press: “Bull” Halsey, Nemesis of the Japs. It was predictable, too, that he would not head north until it was dark, so as not to reveal his intention to any snooping enemy planes, and then he would steam toward the enemy carriers through the night, in order to cancel the enemy’s advantage in outranging the Americans with their planes.

Of course, the Japanese Center Force, damaged or not, also had to be considered, for unless something stopped it, it would soon have passed through San Bernardino Strait and be in the Pacific, heading along the east coast of Samar for Leyte Gulf. Admiral Spruance, looking at the chart, placed his hand on it just to east of the strait and said softly, as if to himself, “If I were there, I would keep my force right there.” It is not likely that many naval aviators would have agreed with him. To remain so near enemy airfields could invite shuttle-bombing by an enemy carrier force. While fighting a battle, Spruance could hardly have cratered the complex of airfields on Luzon, as he had cratered the few on Rota and Guam during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Certainly it was comforting to know that Halsey had had the wisdom to leave Task Force 34 behind to guard San Bernardino Strait. One nagging question, however, was whether he was wise to lead all three of his available carrier groups against the Northern Force. That move left Admiral Lee without any air support, as he opposed an enemy that might be supported by planes from Luzon. Nimitz must have considered this problem, but he kept hands off. In the first American carrier counterattack of the war, he had learned from Halsey himself the wise practice of not interfering with the man at the scene.

Toward dawn on October 25, two messages came into CinCPac headquarters almost simultaneously. One was from Halsey, who, still disregarding radio silence, reported that one of his night snoopers had contacted the enemy carrier force 100 miles north of his own northbound force. Halsey had succeeded in canceling the enemy’s advantage by bringing him before dawn well within the attack range of the American carrier planes.

The second message was from Kinkaid. At anchor in Leyte Gulf, he had no need to observe radio silence. Reporting on Oldendorf’s operations, the dispatch read: “Our surface forces are engaging enemy surface forces in Surigao Strait and southern Leyte Gulf.” Subsequent dispatches from Kinkaid described the progress of the battle. Sent at 4:12 a.m.: “Enemy force sighted in strait by PT boats about 0200 I, arrived entrance gulf about 0300 I. Consists of 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and destroyers. Question: Is TF 34 guarding San Bernardino Strait?” Sent at 6:23: “About 0500 I, 25 enemy surface vessels Surigao Strait pursued by our light forces.” Sent at 7:03: “At 0645 I 25th, our forces closing to polish off four Nip cripples near Kanihaan Island, Surigao Strait.”

Obviously the Seventh Fleet gunnery vessels had won a resounding victory over the enemy’s Southern Force. This was cheerful news indeed. Still, Nimitz was worried. The course and speed of the Center Force, as given in Halsey’s 8:24 message to Kinkaid, should have carried it through San Bernardino Strait a little after midnight. If Task Force 34 had been waiting outside the strait, there should have been a night battle. On the other hand,

Admiral Lee, as Nimitz knew, had developed a distaste for night combat in the battleship night action of the Battle of Guadalcanal. Perhaps Lee had managed somehow to hold off till dawn. Now the sun had risen over the Philippines, but there was still no word from him. If the Center Force had met no opposition, it could be east of Samar heading straight for Leyte Gulf. The only ships that might challenge it in that area were the three little escort carrier units, Taffy 1, 2, and 3.

A suspicion was growing in Nimitz’s mind that Task Force 34 had not been formed after all, or that, if it had been formed, it had not been left behind on October 24. Halsey in his battle plan had assigned his own flagship New Jersey to that force, yet in the 8:24 dispatch he had said: “Am proceeding north with three groups.” That he personally had gone north with three groups was indicated by his contact report, which concluded, “Own force in three groups concentrated.” Nimitz knew that he was not alone in his concern; Kinkaid’s inquiry about Task Force 34 showed that he too wanted assurance.

Nimitz buzzed for his assistant chief of staff. When Captain Bernard Austin entered his office, Nimitz asked him if there were any dispatches regarding the situation off the Philippines that he had not seen. Austin replied that he knew of none and added, “Will you tell me in particular what you are looking for?”

“I’m very concerned,” replied Nimitz, “because nothing I have seen indicates that Admiral Halsey has left San Bernardino guarded against Japanese units coming through there and getting our ships off Leyte.”

“Well, Admiral,” said Austin, “that is an unclear point in dispatches, and several other people are wondering the same thing.”

“If anything comes in,” said Nimitz, “let me know right away.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” said Austin and left the room.

Admiral Nimitz sounded a good many buzzers that morning in his search for information and opinions. About the third time he called in Austin, the latter got up his courage sufficiently to suggest that Nimitz ask Halsey if he had left any force to guard San Bernardino. “That’s what you want to know,” said Austin. “Why don’t you ask him?”

Nimitz thought a moment and then gave Austin the expected answer—he did not want to send any dispatch that would directly or indirectly influence the responsible tactical commander in the tactical use of his forces.

Out in the Philippine area about this time, communicators were startled to intercept a dispatch in plain English. The sender was Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague, the commander of Task Unit 77.4.3, known as Taffy 3, northernmost of the three Seventh Fleet escort carrier units stationed outside Leyte Gulf. This message, addressed to Commander, Third Fleet, and Commander, Task Force 34, read: “Enemy battleships and cruisers 15 miles astern this unit and firing on it. My position is 80 miles bearing 060 from Homonhon Island.” Taffy 3’s bearing and distance from Homonhon, which is at the mouth of Leyte Gulf, placed it due east of Samar.

Taffy 3’s call for help was not heard at Pearl Harbor. It was soon followed, however, by an encoded message from Kinkaid to Halsey. Sent by the Wasatch’s powerful transmitter, this message was read by both Admiral Nimitz and Admiral King: “About 0700 CTU 77.4.3 reported under fire from enemy battleships and cruisers in position 11-4, 126-25. Evidently came through San Bernardino Strait during the night. Request immediate air strike. Also request support from heavy ships. My old battleships low in ammunition.”

Kinkaid followed this message almost immediately by another to Commander, Third Fleet, this time in plain English—evidently intended as much to frighten the Japanese as to prod Halsey into action. This message read : “Enemy force attacking our escort carriers composed of 4 battleships, 8 cruisers, and other ships. Request Lee proceed top speed cover Leyte. Request immediate strike by fast carriers.”

Kinkaid continued to call on Halsey and Lee for help. “Fast battleships are urgently needed immediately at Leyte Gulf,” he cried by radio. Nearly an hour later, he was signaling, “My situation is critical. Fast battleships and support by carrier strikes may be able to keep enemy from destroying escort carriers and entering Leyte.”

Evidently these cries for help were not reaching the Lexington, for Admiral Mitscher was notifying Admiral McCain that Task Force 38 was attacking four enemy carriers. They were reaching the senior commands, however. At Pearl Harbor the usually serene Nimitz was pacing the floor. In Washington Admiral King was pacing, too—and swearing.

Finally at 8:48 a.m. Halsey indicated his awareness of the situation off Samar. It was later learned that Kinkaid’s dispatches had reached him after much delay and confusingly out of sequence. Halsey’s response was to order McCain to proceed at best possible speed toward Samar and strike the enemy force, whose position he gave. To Kinkaid he signaled: “Am now engaging enemy carrier force. Task Group 38.1 with 5 carriers and 4 heavy cruisers has been ordered to assist you immediately.” He gave McCain’s estimated position, which was nearly 300 miles northeast of the beleaguered Taffy 3, and his own, which was more than 350 miles due north. The implication was that help from McCain’s Task Group 38.1 would be considerably delayed and that timely help from the rest of Task Force 38 was out of the question.

Halsey’s message to McCain answered the main question in Nimitz’s mind. Had Task Force 34 been anywhere near Samar, Halsey would have ordered Lee to attack the enemy that was attacking Taffy 3. He would probably have ordered McCain to attack also, but he would certainly have signaled Lee. That he did not implied that Lee was with Halsey. There was a possibility that Task Force 34 had never been formed, but Nimitz conjectured otherwise. Knowing Halsey, he was convinced that Halsey had formed it that morning and was now in it, forging out ahead of the carrier groups to fight an old-fashioned surface battle with stragglers and with the cripples left by Mitscher’s carrier planes.

Austin, who had brought the latest dispatches to Nimitz, was several miles behind his chief’s thinking. He could see that the admiral was perturbed, and he concluded that he was still wondering where Task Force 34 was. Trying to be helpful, he suggested, “Admiral, couldn’t you just ask Admiral Halsey the simple question: Where is Task Force 34?”

Nimitz thought for a minute and then said, “Go out and write it up. That’s a good idea.”

Austin thought the question was intended as a simple inquiry, but Nimitz was using it as a nudge. What Nimitz meant was: “Where ought Task Force 34 to be—and hadn’t it better get the hell there as fast as possible?” He was sure that Halsey would take the hint. Now, in Nimitz’s considered opinion, these were extraordinary circumstances that justified his interfering with the man on the scene.

Because Nimitz’s Task Force 34 message became famous, or notorious, and because it produced a remarkable effect on Halsey, it is interesting to trace its progress to the addressee. Captain Austin went to his office and dictated the message to his yeoman: “Where is Task Force 34? From Admiral Nimitz to Commander Third Fleet, with information to Admiral King and Admiral Kinkaid.”

The yeoman, having caught a certain emphasis in his boss’s voice and feeling that he ought to indicate the emphasis in the message, stuck in the words “RPT [repeat] where is.” He then took the message down to the communication department, Jack Redman’s domain, and handed it to an ensign on duty. The ensign prepared the dispatch for transmission. He changed the words Admiral Nimitz to CinCPac, Admiral King to CominCh, and Admiral Kinkaid to CTF 77, added padding, and assigned a date-time group, 250044, meaning 44 minutes past midnight, Greenwich time, on the 25th of the month (9:44 a.m. in the Philippines).

Padding consisted of nonsense phrases placed at both ends of encrypted radio messages to bury the opening and closing words which, because they tended to be stereotyped, might provide easy points of attack for enemy cryptanalysts. The rules for padding specified that it may not consist of familiar words or quotations, it must be separated from the text by double consonants, and it must not be susceptible to being read as part of the message.

At this point we shall digress to point out that October 25 is no ordinary day in military history. For one thing, it is Saint Crispin’s Day, the date of the Battle of Agincourt (1415). It is also the date of the Battle of Balaklava (1854). The latter was marked by the magnificent, futile charge of the Light Brigade, of which Tennyson wrote:

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

Did the ensign who prepared Nimitz’s dispatch remember that this was Balaklava Day and recall the lines of Tennyson? It would not be too surprising if he did, for English professors and students of literature tend to be attracted, or assigned, to communications. If our anonymous ensign did remember the Light Brigade, he must have compared its charge into the teeth of the Russian guns with Taffy 3’s combat with the battleship force, the story of which had been coming in over his desk in dispatches all that morning. The padding he wrote at the beginning of Nimitz’s message, “Turkey trots to water,” was nonsensical enough, but his end padding, “The world wonders,” echoed Tennyson. Perhaps it was an unconscious echo, because when he was called on the carpet about it, he said, “It was just something that popped into my head.”

Admiral Halsey had a standing order that, when he was in his flagship New Jersey and a “hot” message came in addressed to him, the communicators were not to take time transferring it to a dispatch form but were to rush it to flag country as quickly as possible by the pneumatic tube. When Admiral Nimitz’s message was deciphered in the New Jersey’s communication department, a yeoman tore the strip off the ciphering machine and handed it to Ensign Burton Goldstein, who realized at a glance that this was a message that should go to Halsey without delay. He routinely ripped off the opening padding, but the end padding puzzled him. Although it was separated from the rest of the dispatch by a double consonant, it read devilishly like a part of the message. Goldstein showed the strip to his superior, Lieutenant Charles Fox, who advised him to send it on with the words attached. The liaison officer in flag country, said Fox, could point out to the admiral that the concluding phrase was probably padding.

So up the tube went the strip. The liaison officer plucked it out of the holder, noted that it was addressed to Commander, Third Fleet, and immediately handed it to Halsey. It read:


Halsey, not accustomed to seeing padding, took the final phrase to be part of the message. It looked to him like heavy-handed sarcasm, with King and Kinkaid called in to witness his humiliation.

“I was stunned as if I had been struck in the face,” recalled Halsey. “The paper rattled in my hands. I snatched off my cap, threw it on the deck, and shouted something that I am ashamed to remember. Mick Carney rushed over and grabbed my arm: ‘Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you? Pull yourself together!’

“I gave him the dispatch and turned my back. I was so mad I couldn’t talk. It was utterly impossible for me to believe that Chester Nimitz would send me such an insult.”

Admiral Nimitz’s surmise was correct. Halsey had formed Task Force 34 that morning; it included all six of his fast battleships, and with it he had forged ahead to attack stragglers and finish off cripples. After brooding for an hour over the supposed insult from CinCPac, Halsey angrily ordered Task Force 34 to reverse course from due north to due south. “For me,” he later wrote, “one of the biggest battles of the war was off, and what has been called ‘the Battle of Bull’s Run’ was on.”

As Halsey passed Task Force 38, which was still northbound, he picked up Bogan’s Task Group 38.2 to provide air cover for Task Force 34 and detached from Task Force 34 four cruisers and ten destroyers to provide additional surface support for the carriers remaining under Mitscher. To CinCPac he reported: “Your 250044. TF 34 with me engaging enemy carrier force. Am now proceeding with TG 38.2 and all fast battleships to reinforce Kinkaid. 1 enemy carrier sunk. 2 carriers dead in water. No damage own force. . . . TG 38.1 already ordered assist Kinkaid immediately.”

To Kinkaid, Halsey radioed: “I am proceeding toward Leyte with Task Group 38.2 and 6 fast battleships. My position, course, and speed later, but do not expect arrive before 0800 tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Kinkaid continued to sound off by radio. First, he reported that the Center Force had turned away, then that it was threatening Leyte Gulf again. The enemy force was, in fact, retiring. To intercept it, Halsey detached his fastest ships, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 8 destroyers, and with these sped ahead. When Halsey reached the vicinity of San Bernardino Strait a little past midnight, the only ship of the Center Force that had not passed back through the strait was a destroyer that had lingered behind to pick up Japanese survivors of the battle with Taffy 3. Halsey’s cruisers and destroyers darted ahead and sank this lone vessel with gunfire and torpedoes. His fast battleships had steamed 300 miles north and 300 miles back south between the two main enemy forces without making contact with either.

Afterward, when U. S. naval officers reviewed the Battle for Leyte Gulf, they gave each of the four main actions a name. They called the air attacks made on the Center Force as it plowed its way eastward on October 24 toward San Bernardino the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. In this phase, Halsey’s carrier planes put a heavy cruiser out of action, damaged several other ships, and sank the superbattleship Musashi.

The Southern Force was actually two enemy groups that never got together. The first group, consisting of 2 battleships, 1 heavy cruiser, and 4 destroyers, was nearly annihilated in the Battle of Surigao Strait, fought before dawn on October 25. Oldendorf had set a trap for it by lining the sides of the strait with his destroyers and PT boats and placing his battleships and cruisers on T-capping courses across its northern end. The second Japanese group, seeing what happened to the first, prudently withdrew.

The action, fought a few hours later, between the Center Force and Taffy 3 was named the Battle off Samar. The Center Force opened fire on the six jeep carriers of this unit, sinking the Gambier Bay and heavily damaging two others. The unit’s destroyers and destroyer escorts made smoke and courageously counterattacked with torpedoes. Three of these vessels were sunk by gunfire, but the enemy was thrown into confusion. Planes from the Taffies and from Leyte struck at the Center Force, sinking three of its cruisers and inducing the remainder of the force to retire. In the afternoon of October 25 aircraft from McCain’s Task Group 38.1 attacked the Center Force but did little damage. Striking from extreme range, they were hampered by wing tanks and were obliged to carry bombs instead of the heavier torpedoes. That same afternoon Japanese pilots, flying land-based planes, crashed into five carriers of Taffy 3 and nearby Taffy 1, heavily damaging all and causing one to sink. These suicide, or kamikaze, attacks were the beginning of a development that was ominous for the Americans.

Task Force 38’s attack on the Northern Force was called the Battle off Cape Engaño. In this operation, U.S. carrier planes sank the fleet carrier Zuikaku, last of the Pearl Harbor raiders, three light carriers, and two destroyers. They also damaged a cruiser, which was sunk by an American submarine as she limped homeward.

Because the Northern Force made no counterattack and its carriers appeared almost bare of planes, some officers concluded that it was as helpless as the Combined Fleet had been two years earlier and was being used merely to lure Halsey away from Leyte so that the Southern and Center forces could close in on American shipping in the gulf. After the war the Japanese confirmed that this conclusion was correct. Their carriers had lost most of their planes in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Any Japanese fleet aviators who had attained proficiency after that time had been sacrificed in trying to protect the Formosan bases from Halsey’s carrier attacks.

As long as he lived, Admiral Halsey rejected all evidence and every assertion that the Northern Force was bait. The notion that he had been lured away to the north did not sit well with him.

During the cocktail hour and at dinner in Admiral Nimitz’s quarters on the evening of October 25 (east longitude date), discussion of the day’s battles was lively and sometimes caustic. In addition to high-ranking officers present on this occasion, there was a lieutenant commander who, having just relinquished command of a submarine, was en route to the United States for leave. This young man was by no means awed into silence by the age and rank of the other guests. He felt free to express his opinions in such lofty company for the very good reason that his name happened to be Chester W. Nimitz, Jr.

Chet was amazed that CinCPac and his staff had let hours pass while they wondered whether Task Force 34 was covering San Bernardino Strait. Why, he asked, had they not asked Admiral Halsey point-blank where it was and told him to send it forthwith to wherever they wanted it to be. Patiently Admiral Nimitz explained that he and his staff were thousands of miles away from the operational area, and it was his policy to avoid like the plague interfering with the judgment of the tactical commander at the scene of action.

Later in the evening someone read or quoted the directive in Op Plan 8-44 specifying that if Halsey saw an opportunity to destroy a major portion of the enemy fleet, such destruction would become his primary task. Chet was again surprised. In signing such an order, he said brightly, Admiral Nimitz was practically giving Admiral Halsey carte blanche to abandon the beachhead. He said it was a mistake to offer Halsey any alternative whatever to supporting the landings in Leyte Gulf. “It’s your fault,” he concluded, looking at his father.

The room fell silent. This was too much. The elder Nimitz turned a bleak gaze upon his impertinent offspring. “That’s your opinion,” he said, ending the discussion.

At a little after 7:00 p.m. (Philippine time), Kinkaid, by then reasonably sure that the Center Force was retiring, expressed his appreciation to the Tames by radio: “For your magnificent performance of today my admiration knows no bounds. You have carried a load that only fleet carriers could be expected to carry. Well done. Kinkaid.”

At 9:26 p.m., Halsey, still southbound with Task Force 34, radioed Nimitz (date-time group 251226): “It can be announced with assurance that the Japanese navy has been beaten, routed, and broken by the Third and Seventh Fleets.” Nimitz passed the message to the Navy Department, and King told him not to release it because Halsey had not had sufficient time or opportunity to evaluate the situation completely. Secretary Forrestal concurred with King but nevertheless informed President Roosevelt.

The Navy’s hand was forced by MacArthur, who, on his own, released a victory communiqué to the Reuters news agency. Harry Hopkins, special assistant to the President, called Forrestal and suggested that Halsey’s message be given to the press. Forrestal was, he said, dubious about releasing good news without being absolutely certain of the facts. Hopkins thought it was worth taking a chance. Consequently, at six o’clock on the evening of October 25 (Washington time), the President called in the White House reporters and read them a paraphrase of Halsey’s victory message to Nimitz.

When the facts became known, they more than justified Halsey’s optimism. Not only had the Japanese been thwarted in their scheme to sink American shipping in Leyte Gulf, but they had lost 306,000 tons of their own combat ships—3 battleships, 4 carriers, 10 cruisers, and 9 destroyers. The Americans, at a cost of 37,000 tons of warships—1 light carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, and 1 destroyer escort—had utterly destroyed Japan’s capacity to wage another fleet battle. In short, they had won uncontested command of the Pacific Ocean.

At 10:17 in the evening of the 25th, Halsey sent a top-secret message (date-time group 251317) to Nimitz and King explaining his tactics:

Searches by my carrier planes revealed the presence of the Northern carrier force on the afternoon of 24 October, which completed the picture of all enemy naval forces. As it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait, I concentrated TF 38 during the night and steamed north to attack the Northern Force at dawn. I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet.

In a letter to King, dated October 28 and marked PERSONAL and TOP SECRET, Nimitz observed:

I am greatly pleased with the Fleet operations of the past week with two exceptions. My first exception and regret is that so valuable a unit as the BIRMINGHAM was taken alongside the damaged PRINCETON instead of relying on destroyers for the rescue, salvage, and fire fighting operation. My second exception and regret is that the fast battleships were not left in the vicinity of Samar when Task Force 38 started after the striking force reported to be in the north end of the Philippines Sea, and composed of carriers, two battleships, cruisers and destroyers in support. It never occurred to me that Halsey, knowing the composition of the ships in the Sibuyan Sea, would leave San Bernardino Strait unguarded, even though the Jap detachments in the Sibuyan Sea had been reported seriously damaged. That Halsey feels that he is in a defensive position is indicated in his top secret despatch 251317.

That the San Bernardino detachment of the Japanese Fleet, which included the YAMATO and the MUSASHI, did not completely destroy all of the escort carriers and their accompanying screen is nothing short of special dispensation from the Lord Almighty; although it can be accepted that the damage the Japs had received the day before in the Sibuyan Sea undoubtedly affected their ability to steam and shoot when they attacked Sprague’s escort carriers.

Nimitz was careful not to criticize Halsey publicly or to permit criticism of him in any records that might subsequently be made public. When Captain Ralph Parker, head of the CinCPac’s Analytical Section, sharply condemned Halsey’s tactics in the official CinCPac report of the battle, Nimitz refused to sign the report. He sent it back with a note written across it: “What are you trying to do, Parker, start another Sampson-Schley controversy? Tone this down. I’ll leave it to you.”

Halsey reported in person to Admiral King the following January, and his first words were, “I made a mistake in that battle.”

King held up his hand. “You don’t have to tell me any more,” he said. “You’ve got a green light on everything you did.”

In his autobiography, however, King criticized both Halsey and Kinkaid. He attributed “the element of surprise in the Battle of Samar not only to Halsey’s absence in the north but also to Kinkaid’s failure to use his own squadrons for search at a crucial moment.”

Rarely in military history have two successive battles presented more similar tactical problems than those of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, and rarely have the commanders responded so differently. Long afterward Halsey sadly suggested that it might have been better if he had commanded in the Philippine Sea and Spruance at Leyte Gulf.

One reason why historians have treated Halsey’s blunder so gently is that his earlier advice had led to the speeding up of the timetable for action against the Philippines. Had the Leyte invasion taken place on December 20, as originally scheduled, Ozawa would have had time to train his aviators enough to give the Americans a real fight. Since Halsey was responsible for the speed-up, his strategic insight more than offset his tactical lapse.


Agustina Domenech’s exploits in the siege of Zaragoza inspired one of the few heroic etchings in Goya’s series “The Disasters of War.”

Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain in February 1808 set revolutions in motion throughout Latin America. It created a different kind of popular movement in Spain itself: resistance. For six years, Spanish patriots, men and women alike, fought against the French occupation in small irregular bands and provided critical support to the British Army in the Peninsular War against France. Twenty-two-year-old Agustina Zaragoza Domenech (1786–1857), who kept a key artillery position from falling into French hands at the first siege of Zaragoza, became the face of that resistance—so much so that British poet Lord Byron and Spanish artist Francisco Goya both created works celebrating her heroism.

Napoleon’s invasion of Spain had its official roots in long-simmering tensions between King Carlos IV of Spain and his son Ferdinand. Fearful that his father intended to remove him from the succession, Ferdinand asked Napoleon to help him depose his father.

If Ferdinand had been patient, the throne would have fallen into his hands without the risk of inviting Napoleon to invade. Carlos IV and his wife were not popular with their subjects. In March 1808, a public uprising forced Carlos to abdicate in favor of Ferdinand. The new king arrived in Madrid on March 24, one day after French commander Joachim Murat entered the city at the head of the French army. Dissatisfaction with Carlos IV’s corrupt government was so strong that many Spaniards greeted the French as liberators. By the end of April, it was clear the French had come to conquer, not to liberate.

On May 2, rumors spread that the French planned to forcibly remove the remaining members of the royal family to Bayonne, where Carlos and Ferdinand were now held captive, having abdicated in favor of Napoleon’s brother. Violent protests erupted in Madrid. A cavalry unit made up of the Muslim slave soldiers known as Mamluks, a souvenir of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, charged the protesting crowd, which was armed with little more than cudgels and knives. Once the protestors were dispersed, Murat’s men rounded up everyone they could find who was armed. Executions lasted through the night and well into the morning.

The brutal repression of the May 2 protest fueled resistance across Spain.

Agustina Zaragoza Domenech was the wife of Juan Roca, a Spanish sergeant stationed at Barcelona. With Ferdinand’s abdication, the Spanish army owed its allegiance to Joseph Bonaparte—and indirectly to France. Plenty of Spanish soldiers were unhappy with this arrangement, including Roca. Like many other Spanish soldiers, Roca fled French-occupied Barcelona after the May uprising in Madrid and made his way to Zaragoza, where General José de Palafox had organized resistance against the French. Domenech followed her husband there with their four-year-old son. Soon after reaching Zaragoza, Roca was sent to join a force some hundred miles away, leaving Domenech on her own in Zaragoza when the French army besieged the city on June 13.

Palafox held the French off for two months, from June 13 through August 15, with an improvised force of soldiers and townspeople—similar to those that have defended besieged cities throughout history. Domenech, like other women in the city, took on the tasks women traditionally performed in a besieged city: bringing food and water to the men on the city walls and caring for the wounded.

On July 2, 1808, the French launched a new attack on the city walls. As Domenech approached an artillery battery near the Portillo gate on the east wall of the city, a French shell destroyed the battery’s earthwork defenses and killed or incapacitated most of its gunners before they could fire their last round. The French army stormed the position. Domenech took a linstock—a long pole designed to hold a burning length of wicking, known as a “slow match”—from the hand of one of the fallen soldiers and fired the loaded twenty-four-pound cannon. Hit by a round of grapeshot at close range, the French retreated. Domenech received a medal, a small pension, and an honorary commission as a lieutenant for her bravery.

Domenech was not the only woman to fight at Zaragoza. By all accounts, many women took part in the city’s defense. At least two others received official recognition for their services. French horsemen surrounded a peasant woman named Casta Álvarez (1776–1846) as she delivered food and water to a key artillery battery. She grabbed a musket and bayonet and joined the battery’s defense. She received a pension and a medal for her role. Manuela Sancho (1783–1863) was wounded defending the convent of San Jose during the second siege. General Palafox, who clearly saw the promotional value of women warriors, mentioned her with honors. She, too, received a pension for her services at war’s end.

Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen

Twenty Arado Ar 234 Bs were produced and delivered by the end of June 1944. The only notable use of the plane in the bomber role was during the Ardennes offensive in winter 1944-45, and the most spectacular operational bombing mission was the repeated attacks by Ar 234 B-2s flown by III/KG 76 on the vital Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen in March 1945. The uninterceptable aircraft, though handicapped by fuel shortage, continued to see scattered front-line action for reconnaissance until Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.

The crew of a Multiple Gun Motor Carriage M16 relax on stand-by close to the famous bridgeat Remagen. The crew have toned down the appearance of the vehicle with hessian anda board over the tracks. Note the spare ammunition magazines.

Hermann Göring sought volunteers to fly suicide missions into the bridge, a proposal also intercepted by Allied eavesdroppers even before it was rejected as impractical by German commanders. Nearly four hundred Luftwaffe sorties were flown over Remagen, including missions by jet planes and antiquated Stuka dive-bombers; all could just as well have been deliberately suicidal. The marauders soon encountered twenty-five barrage balloons and nearly seven hundred antiaircraft guns—the Army’s densest concentration of World War II—under orders to shoot anything with wings. Each approaching enemy plane was said by one officer to “cost the American taxpayer a million dollars in antiaircraft ammunition,” and gunners would claim more than a hundred aircraft shot down. The intense fire inflicted two hundred friendly casualties on the ground, mostly welts and bruises from the spent .50-caliber slugs that fell like hard rain. On Hitler’s command, V-2 launch sites in Holland also fired eleven rockets at the bridge, the only tactical use of the weapon during the war. None struck home; the single near miss killed three GIs and a barnyard full of livestock several hundred yards from the river.

The Luftwaffe began attacking the Remagen Bridge almost immediately with the first few attacks on March 8. The expectation was that the Stuka would offer the best hope of a pinpoint attack on the bridge, but when all three Stukas were shot down on the first attack mission, it was obvious that another method was needed. German jet strike aircraft seemed a more survivable option since they could outrun Allied fighters and their speed might reduce their vulnerability to the growing anti-aircraft defenses the US Army was deploying around the bridge. At first, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring asked for volunteers to fly a suicide mission against the bridge, diving their aircraft directly into the structure. Although there were volunteers, the idea was quickly squashed by senior officers who pointed out that the bomb’s safeing and arming system would prevent the bomb from detonating in these circumstances.

The second day of Luftwaffe attacks began with an assortment of propeller driven aircraft including the ubiquitous Fw 190 and Bf 109, but also including the heavy “destroyer” fighters such as the Me 410. The first jet attacks began later that day including both the Me 262 and Arado Ar 234. This shows the attack by 8./KG 76, which staged three sorties that day. The Arado Ar 234 was Germany’s first dedicated jet bomber. It had first been deployed in 1944 on a trials basis in the reconnaissance role, but by 1945 the bomber variants were entering service in growing numbers. The first bomber missions by III./KG. 76 were conducted in December 1944 over Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.


Although overshadowed by the Me 262 fighter, the Arado was one of the most sophisticated aircraft of its day. It was heavier on take off than the Me 262, so required a rocket-assisted take-off system. The pilot sat in a forward cockpit with excellent forward visibility and a state-of-the-art navigation and bombing system. The usual attack mode was to place the aircraft into a shallow dive at the target, releasing the bomb with the aid of the PV1B periscopic sight tied into the aircraft’s BZA bombing computer. As an alternative to dive bombing when attacking area targets from high altitude, the pilot would put the aircraft under autopilot control and then aim at the target using the Lotfe 7K bombsight, which was integrated with the bombing computer to release the bomb automatically at the right moment, but this was not a popular tactic. A third method was the Egon flight-control system which was based around the aircraft’s FuG 25a IFF (identification-friend-or-foe) transceiver working in conjunction with two ground-based Freya radars and allowed for blind bombing in the event of cloudy conditions.

The jet attacks against Remagen on March 9 proved fruitless, in part due to the intense anti-aircraft fire near the bridge from five US Army anti-aircraft battalions including quad .50-cal. heavy machine guns, 37mm and 40mm automatic cannon, and even 90mm anti-aircraft guns.

Hermann Göring had long been out of Hitler’s favor for the continuing collapse of the Luftwaffe, and he attempted to re-enter the Führer’s good graces by promising that the Luftwaffe would destroy the bridge. The special squadrons for bridge destruction using the Mistel composite aircraft had already been committed to attack the bridges in the east being used by the Red Army, and bomber units using the Fritz-X guided bomb and Hs. 293 missile were inactive because of the lack of fuel and combat losses in 1944. The Luftwaffe in the west was too weak to launch massed attacks on account of the dominating presence of Allied fighters, but the 14th Fliegerdivision under Oberst von Heinemann attempted to stage numerous small-scale attacks with whatever fighters and fighter-bombers could be scraped together. An initial attack was conducted around 1645hrs on March 8 by three Stukas and an Fw 190- all were shot down by the half-tracks of the 482nd AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion, making it clear that dive-bombing was no solution. The only aircraft with a reasonable chance of surviving the Allied air cover were the new jets so Göring ordered the formation of Gefechtsverband Kowalewski, which combined about 30 Me 262A-2a jet fighter-bombers from II./KG 51 and about 40 Ar 234B jet bombers from Obst. Lt. Robert Kowalewski’s III./KG 76 into a special combined jet strike force.

On 8 March, early next morning the Reichsmarschall called KG 51 operations room to request volunteers to sacrifice their lives by diving bomb-carrying Me 262 s into the bridge. Two pilots stepped forward but were dissuaded by their squadron commanders at the last moment. Between 13 March and 20 April, I./KG 51 used the Autobahn between Leipheim and Neu-Ulm as its operational base. Since the delivery unit of the Kuno assembly works (a factory hidden in woods near Burgau ), and a similar plant near Leipheim aerodrome were nearby, this offered some limited opportunity for engine overhauls. At least two operations were flown from Giebelstadt against armour heading for Mainz, one of these against the important railway bridge at Bad Munster am Stein on 18 March 1945. These few operations fell well short of doing anything to change the situation or stop the Allied advance.

By March 9, there were five US anti-aircraft battalions protecting the bridge, running the gamut from quad .50-cal. machine guns up to 90mm guns. The attacks early in the day included the usual Bf 109 and FW 190 fighters, but also included improvised attacks by Me 410 heavy fighters. The first jet attacks on the bridge began on March 9 and included several Me 262 attacks, as well as three sorties by Ar 234s. One each of the jet types was lost to flak that day, and US units claimed 13 of the 17 German aircraft making attacks. The third day, cloud cover protected the bridge in the morning, but in the afternoon, some 47 attacks were made with the antiaircraft guns claiming a further 28 aircraft.

On the 10th the 359th escorted B-17s sent to bomb the marshalling yards at Hagen and Schwerte. Lt Col McKee led `A’ group and Capt Cox `B’ group, their meeting point with the `Forts’ being over the Dutch town of Egmond at 1210 hrs. There was solid cloud cover over the targets, and the bombs had to be dropped by radar. During the mission the 370th searched for jets reported over Koblenz, but found nothing. Escort was maintained until south-east of Koblenz, when a message came through ordering the group to an area east of the Remagen bridgehead. A second call directed the 359th specifically to the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen to search for Fw 190s and Ar 234 jet bombers attacking the span.

Unfortunately the American anti-aircraft gunners at the bridge were not told about the approaching Mustangs, and the 359th came under intense friendly fire, as well as fire from a German 20 mm flak gun situated on a nearby hillside. At 1525 hrs two Mustangs from the 368th, flown by Lts George H Blackburn (in P-51D-15 44-15067) and James W McCormack (flying P-51D-20 44-63740) were both hit by the German guns at 1000 ft. McCormack died when his P-51 crashed soon after being hit, and Blackburn perished when his fighter crashed into a wood near Windhagen, two-and-a-half miles away.

Capt Wetmore’s Mustang was also hit, but by the American gunners. A fire started in the right wing of his machine, but this soon died out and the ace flew to St Trond, in Belgium, and bellied in with fuel starvation problems and a jammed canopy. The latter had failed to jettison when it became snagged on a camera installed behind the armour plate aft of the pilot’s head. The drill was to crank the canopy back past the point where the cross-brace would catch on the camera before jettisoning it. Wetmore evidently failed to follow this procedure! He returned to base on the 12th.

The danger of low-altitude attacks led to attempts by the Ar 234 bombers to use the advanced Egon blind-bombing system from high altitude on March 12, but this was no more successful. This was the heaviest single day of air attacks involving some 91 aircraft of which the US AA units claimed 26 destroyed and eight damaged. Jet strikes against the bridge peaked on March 13 with 19 Ar 234 sorties out of the 90 sorties flown by the Luftwaffe that day; US AA units claimed 26 shot down and nine damaged. It was also the worst day of the campaign for the Me 262 fighter-bombers, losing five aircraft to flak and Allied fighters. The scale of Luftwaffe attacks dropped dramatically in the next few days because of the losses. By March 13, the anti-aircraft defense reached its peak, with 16 AA gun batteries and 33 automatic weapons batteries for a total of 672 AA weapons around the bridge. Remagen witnessed the densest concentration of US Army anti-aircraft fire anywhere during the war and it accomplished its mission. No German aircraft managed to hit the bridge in the ten days of attacks.

Luftwaffe repeatedly attack the Ludendorff Bridge with Me-262s, though German records indicate that due to bad weather no 262s flew on March 14. Eleven Ar-234s attacked the pontoon bridges south of the Ludendorff span that day, however, and two of four losses were attributed to P-38s.

When the German fighter force did decide to return to the skies on the 14th, Eighth Air Force fighters further reduced its inventory – 17 enemy aircraft fell during the day, four of them jets. One of the latter was credited to 13.333-kill ace Capt Don Bryan, who used his combat experience to the utmost in order to outwit the German pilot.

On March 14, Bryan flew a mission over the Rhine River in the P-51 Worra Bird 3. The plane was Lieutenant George A. Middleton’s, but Bryan, as flight leader, had the option of selecting the best aircraft available. Worra Bird 3 it was. In the air, he spotted a Blitz piloted by Captain Hans Hirschberger, who was making his combat debut. Hirschberger was a member of Kampfgeschwader 76 (KG 76), a Luftwaffe bomber outfit equipped with Ar 234s. Hirschberger was in the area as part of the German air effort to bust the Ludendorff Bridge and slow the flow of Allied forces into Germany.

Bryan kept his eyes on Hirschberger’s Blitz. He watched it pull off the bridge and maneuver into a tight turn to evade a formation of P-47s. The maneuver compromised the jet’s strongest asset: superior speed. Bryan positioned himself so his adversary would have to fly toward him. It was a maneuver he had carefully considered and rehearsed.

When he was ready, Bryan dived at the Blitz and fired a burst from his Mustang’s .50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns. He saw hits sparkling against the Blitz’s right engine housing. It wasn’t immediately obvious whether he’d disabled the engine, but now the jet was moving at a slower speed. Bryan was able to stay behind it, readjust his aim, and then open up again. “I don’t know what the hell was on his mind,” Bryan said of Hirschberger, “but he should have gotten out of that airplane while he was high enough. I think he was afraid I would shoot at him in his parachute, which I would never do.” Having waited too long to jettison the roof hatch, Hirschberger went down with his plane.

In his encounter report, Bryan wrote, “I hit him with the first burst and knocked his right jet out. He made a shallow turn to the right and started very mild evasive maneuvers. There was no jet wash or prop wash or anything [I needed to avoid], so I squirted him. The [Blitz] was emitting much white smoke. I do not believe the [Blitz] caught fire. I finished firing [and] he rolled over on his back and dived straight into the ground and exploded. Just before hitting the ground, the pilot jettisoned his canopy, but did not get out.”

Three days after Bryan’s triumph, the bridge soon to be known as the Bridge at Remagen collapsed. But by then enough Americans had reached the eastern bank of the Rhine to hold their ground. Reinforcements continued to pour over pontoon bridges. Nazi Germany’s final collapse was just weeks away.

Through March 17, the US Army estimated that the Luftwaffe had conducted about 400 sorties against the bridge of which 140 aircraft were claimed to have been shot down and 59 probably destroyed. Gefechtsverband Kowalewski had lost 18 jet aircraft in combat plus several more damaged aircraft crashing on landing, a total of about a third its original strength.

JG 53 was transferred closer to the middle Rhine sector, where US troops had unexpectedly seized a bridge across the river at Remagen. But after several days of costly missions in this area, the Gruppen returned to the Stuttgart region. So absolute was Allied air superiority by this stage that Oberstleutnant Helmut Bennemann’s pilots could now only operate during the hours of dawn and dusk. And still they were being forced to retreat.

At Himmler’s urging, Hitler ordered that the bridgehead area be wiped out using V-2 missiles regardless of civilian losses. Himmler dispatched SS-Abteilung 500, a recently formed missile battalion, to attack the bridgehead. The battalion was armed with an improved version of the V-2 missile with a special radio guidance upgrade, and launched 11 missiles during March 11-17 from bases in the Netherlands without scoring any hits. One missile came within a mile of the bridge, striking inside Remagen; aside from one other hit within the town, the rest of the missiles exploded harmlessly in the river or open countryside. Another special weapon to appear was the Karl 540mm super-heavy mortar. Karl-Batterie 638 with two of these massive weapons was sent to the Remagen area where some 14 rounds were fired starting on March 16; these did not hit the bridge but caused considerable damage within the town of Remagen itself.

Repairs on the Ludendorff continued for nine days even as tactical bridges carried most of the traffic across the Rhine. Between air raids and enemy shellings, two hundred welders, riggers, ironworkers, and carpenters swarmed over the structure, patching chords, stringers, and holes in the deck. Measurements showed the Ludy settling a bit on the upstream side, to the south, but engineers believed the structure had been stabilized.

It had not. Just before three P.M. on Saturday, March 17, a rivet sheared away with a sharp pop! Others followed, as if musketry swept the girders. A vertical hanger snapped. Dust billowed from the quaking deck. Timbers splintered and the squeal of steel on steel echoed against the Erpeler Ley. “Men on the deck dropped their tools and started to run,” an engineer colonel later testified. Many found themselves sprinting uphill as the center span twisted counterclockwise and buckled. Then the entire bridge seemed to fold in on itself, “gracefully, like an old slow-motion movie,” before pitching into the Rhine with a white splash.

Of those who rode the Ludy down, twenty-eight died and another sixty-three were injured. A major’s body found atop the east pier was recognizable only by his oak-leaf rank insignia; others vanished into the Rhine forever. Scaffolding and deck timbers threatened to ram through the treadways downstream until engineers with axes and poles pushed the debris away while boatmen fished survivors from the river. Precisely why the bridge collapsed would remain uncertain. Weakened by earlier Allied bombing and the botched demolition, the span had since been assaulted by hard winds, heavy traffic, welding, incessant hammering, V-2s, artillery, and the vibration of a thousand shells fired from an Army 8-inch howitzer battery less than a mile away. “Most of us,” an engineer told his diary, “are glad the damned thing is gone.”


Me 262 at Remagen

Goring called for volunteers from I./KG 51 at Hopsten to undertake self-sacrificial ramming operations against the great Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen – a vital crossing point over the Rhine that the Americans had now reached and crossed. On 9 March, as Bonn and Bad Godesberg were captured by the US First Army, and other Allied forces continued to expand their bridgehead beyond the town, three Ar 234s from III./KG 76 attacked the bridge with 250 kg bombs, but without success. In response to Goring’s call, two pilots from KG 51 came forward, but the suicide sortie was never flown.

Eight aircraft from Gefechtsverband Kowalewski made an attack on the Remagen Bridge on the 12th, seven aircraft bombing it and the other machine targeting transport columns. A second attack on the bridge was flown later by eight more aircraft from III./KG 76 and I./KG 51. No jets were lost, but no success was recorded either.


Taking off from Rheine on 13 March, four Me 262s from II./KG 51 made an attack between 0905 hrs and 1002 hrs at an altitude of 5000 m on river crossings in the bridgehead area. The jets were each equipped with two AB 250 containers filled with SD 10 anti-personnel bombs. A formation of ten P-47s was encountered, but it was to be a fruitless engagement for both sides. Due to the presence of the US fighters, the effects of bombing were not observed. Two jets were lost on the return flight to Rheine, one making an emergency landing near Lüdinghausen due to a shortage of fuel. The other pilot bailed out when an engine unit failed, his aircraft crashing at Neuenkirchen, southwest of Rheine.

On the 18th operations resumed when, between 1138 hrs and 1238 hrs, three Me 262s of II./KG 51 mounted a high-level attack through clouds against the Remagen bridgehead from 6000 m using Egon control. Six 250 kg containers of SD 10 fragmentation bombs were dropped, but the effects were not observed. There was no contact with enemy aircraft.

The Germans improvised a system conceptually similar to Oboe, code named Egon, for bombing on the Eastern Front on a limited scale. It used two modified Freyas to play the roles of Cat and Mouse; these two Freya Egon sets were located about 93 miles (150 km) apart and the aircraft carried a two-channel IFF to respond to them. Voice radio directed the bombers. Despite the considerable effort the Germans put into other electronic navigation systems, they never took this concept further


In the course of the fourteenth century the main forum of crusading warfare in the eastern Mediterranean became Constantinople and the Balkans, a shift prompted by the remorseless rise of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were a nomadic tribe from northwestern Asia Minor who had emerged under the leadership of Osman, a frontier warlord, at the very start of the fourteenth century. Their origins are somewhat hazy but early on the presence of large numbers of ghazis (volunteers dedicated to the holy war who fought in the expectation of booty and who were treated as martyrs on their death) and Sufi mystics gave them a strong religious drive. A series of victories against Muslim and Byzantine Christian opponents convinced them that God was on their side. By the middle of the century they had established a strong territorial base in northwestern Anatolia and begun to push through the Dardanelles and into southeastern Europe. In 1389 the Ottomans destroyed a Serbian army at Kosovo, another battle that has remained strong in modern regional consciousness. The immensity of the Turkish threat began to concentrate minds in Catholic Europe in a way not seen for decades. Coupled with a rare window of peace in the Hundred Years War, and inflamed by the crusading enthusiasm of John of Nevers, son of the duke of Burgundy, and Marshal Boucicaut, this generated a substantial army ready to turn back the Ottoman menace. Boucicaut’s biographer evoked the spirit in which the French nobility joined the crusade: “he [John of Nevers] was then in the full flower of youth, and wanted to follow the path sought by the virtuous, that is to say, the honour of knighthood. He considered that he could not use his time better than in dedicating his youth to God’s service, by bodily labour for the spreading of the faith . . . several young lords wanted to go along, to escape boredom and employ their time and energies on deeds of knighthood. For it really seemed to them that they could not go on a more honourable expedition or one more pleasing to God.” The results of the expedition were, however, catastrophic.

In July 1396 the French linked up with King Sigismund of Hungary at Buda and a combined army of perhaps fifteen to twenty thousand men began to march down the Danube intent upon the recovery of Nicopolis, a strong defensive site in Bulgaria. After this the crusade planned to move on to Constantinople and relieve the city from a siege led by Sultan Bayezid I (1389–1402), known as Yilderim, or Thunderbolt. Early successes lulled the Christians into a sense of complacency and as they blockaded Nicopolis their camp became a scene of indiscipline and licentiousness; Bayezid, meanwhile, had gathered his troops and was approaching fast. On September 25 the two sides met in battle. The French impetuously hurled themselves against Bayezid’s infantry and light cavalry who were carefully positioned at the top of a hill. Stakes in the ground tore the crusaders’ horses to pieces, but although they fought on foot, so great was their momentum that they succeeded in cutting their way up past the Turkish infantry to face the light cavalry. At this point they discovered Bayezid’s trap: waiting on the other side of the hill, fresh and rested, were his heavy cavalry. The Ottomans charged and the crusaders, from being convinced of their success, collapsed: “the lion in them turned into a timid hare,” commented one contemporary. Thousands of men were killed or taken prisoner, an earlier massacre of Turks was avenged by the summary execution of countless Christians, and Count John and Marshal Boucicaut were imprisoned. The debacle of Nicopolis was a massive blow to crusading morale in western Europe and it gave the Turks free access to continue their conquest of the Balkans. In 1402 their momentum was briefly stalled by defeat at the hands the Turcoman ruler Timur (also known as Tamerlane) at the Battle of Ankara, and a period of dynastic infighting checked their progress further, but within a couple of decades they were looking to expand again.

The Turks’ prime target was clearly Constantinople, in part because of its immense wealth and importance to Christianity, in part because it lay directly between Ottoman lands in Anatolia and their possessions in the Balkans. The Greeks had regained the city from the Latins in 1261, but only a pale shadow of past glories survived; that said, it did survive blockades and sieges from 1394 to 1402 and in 1442. So great was the Ottoman menace that Emperor John VIII was persuaded to grasp the nettle of Church unity and in 1439 he led a delegation to Florence where, after centuries of division, the union of the Catholic and Orthodox—with the former as the senior partner—was finally proclaimed. This provoked outrage among some of the Greeks: “We have betrayed our faith. We have exchanged piety for impiety.” John, however, received the reward he was after with a new crusade in 1444. This saw another heavy defeat for the Christians at the town of Varna on the west coast of the Black Sea (in modern-day Bulgaria) when Ottoman troops, fighting under the banner of jihad, entirely crushed their opponents.

In 1451, Mehmet II, known to posterity as Mehmet the Conqueror, became sultan at the age of seventeen (he had held the title briefly between 1444 and 1446). Two years later this remarkable character struck Christendom an enormous blow with the capture of Constantinople. He was a brave, secretive, and utterly ruthless man; he was also a scholar and a superb strategist. He is described as having a hooked nose and fleshy lips, or “a parrot’s beak resting on cherries” as a poet so colorfully expressed it. Two actions early on in his sultanate—one a combination of the private and the political, the other strategic—give a sense of the man. First, as soon as he became ruler, he ordered his infant half-brother to be drowned in his bath (the perpetrator was then executed for murder); thus he enshrined fratricide as a means of preventing civil war. Secondly, he commissioned the construction of the castle of Bogaz Kesa, the Throat-Cutter, a few miles east along the Bosporus. This fine fortress (known today as Rumeli Hisari) has four large and thirteen smaller towers and was completed in a matter of months, testimony to the superbly efficient Ottoman war machine. As the name of the castle suggests, it was designed to block the passage of Christian shipping along the Bosporus and thereby to close the net around Constantinople.

Within the city, Emperor Constantine IX (1449–53) viewed these developments with understandable trepidation. He appealed to the West for help, but other than some support from the Venetians, who still retained an interest in Constantinople long after their part in the 1204 conquest, no major forces arrived. The Genoese held a colony at Galata, just across the Golden Horn, and while they professed neutrality, their men and shipping also came to play a vital role in the defense of the city. Even with such limited outside assistance the sheer strength of Constantinople’s fortifications made it a formidable site. The emperor commanded ditches to be cleared while the dilapidated outer walls were restored and covered with huge bales of cotton and wool to try to cushion them from cannon fire. He also ordered the fabrication of a huge boom, made from massive sections of wood and iron links, to span the Golden Horn and protect the more vulnerable walls on the inlet—the area where the Fourth Crusade had broken into the city. Contemporaries indicate the defenders’ great faith in this construction and their confidence that, in conjunction with the mighty city walls, it would enable them to endure once more.

It is interesting to compare the two great sieges of 1204 and 1453. Aside from the obvious contrast of the latter episode being Muslim against Christian, rather than Catholics versus Orthodox, the size of the opposing forces was strikingly different. In 1204 the crusaders were massively outnumbered by the Byzantines; in 1453, however, the Christian troops in Constantinople totaled perhaps ten thousand. Notwithstanding the defensive efforts of the citizenry—and even monks were pressed into service—in military terms, at over eighty thousand men (plus tens of thousands of laborers) the Ottoman army was a vastly bigger fighting force, mighty enough for a Venetian eyewitness to describe the defenders as “an ant in the mouth of a bear.” The 1453 siege was also more multifaceted with a significant part of the fighting taking place on water. During the earlier campaign the besieging Venetians had enjoyed almost a free hand at sea, but in 1453 an Ottoman fleet of up to four hundred ships frequently tussled with a small but powerful Genoese and Cretan force based around the defensive boom. Finally, technology had moved on: by 1453 the emergence of gunpowder (during the late thirteenth century) meant that cannon came to play a hugely prominent role in the later campaign.

The siege began on April 6. Mehmet’s engineers had constructed a massive palisaded rampart that ran from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn while a similar structure overlooked the city from the Galata side. With siege guns and catapults the Turks soon began to bombard the “queen of cities.” Teams of workmen had strengthened roads and bridges to allow the transportation of several colossal cannon—one required sixty oxen to pull it—from their base at Edirne, 250 miles to the northwest. Most of the firepower concentrated on the gates of Saint Romanus (now known as the Topkapi Gate) and Charisus, both toward the middle of the land walls. The Turks’ largest gun burst, but one of the others remained a monstrous piece of weaponry, capable of firing a shot of almost 550 kilograms. Mehmet had over fourteen batteries of cannon, most of which could launch balls of between 100 and 200 kilograms. Day after day these machines generated a lethal hail of stone that crashed and smashed against the walls of Constantinople, splintering its defenses and demoralizing the defenders. Mehmet was canny enough to continually reposition his cannon to best advantage, and at times he triangulated three guns on a single point to maximize their effect. The Byzantines had artillery of their own but these were far smaller devices and used mainly against troops and siege engines; lack of powder and shot were further restrictions on the Christians’ firepower: by contrast, Mehmet’s biggest cannon consumed 1,100 pounds of gunpowder a day! A contemporary noted: “He devised machines of all sorts . . . especially of the newest kind, a strange sort, unbelievable when told of but, as experience demonstrated, able to accomplish everything.”

Nicolò Barbaro, a Venetian eyewitness, described the debilitating effect of living in continuous anticipation of a major assault. Such tensions were increased by a series of night attacks, usually heralded by the harsh cracking and snapping of castanets, but all were successfully resisted. On April 20, however, the Christians scored an unexpected victory. The appearance of three large Genoese vessels bearing papally sponsored troops and supplies prompted a sea battle. Mehmet’s admiral engaged the galleys but the greater size of the Genoese boats gave them a crucial advantage over the oared Turkish ships and the Christians used their superior height to pour down arrows and small-arms fire onto their enemy. As Mehmet watched from the shore he grew increasingly enraged at the lack of progress and, famously, he mounted his horse and plunged into the sea to bellow inaudible advice to his admiral. Once the wind turned, the Christian vessels were able to reach the safety of the boom and this duly opened to bring them sanctuary. The defeat was a massive blow to Ottoman pride and caused consternation in the Muslim camp. Mehmet was beside himself with rage and summoned the admiral to answer for this failure—the sultan was said to have wanted to execute the man, but his colleagues persuaded their ruler that the loss of rank and a flogging would suffice.

The Christians’ continued trust in the boom seemed well placed, but Mehmet was not to be resisted. Because he could not break the barrier the sultan devised a quite brilliant way to—literally—get around it. As we saw with Reynald of Châtillon’s transportation of kit-form ships from Kerak down to the Red Sea in 1182, it was possible to move vessels overland. Others had followed his example; more recently the Venetians had shifted galleys from the River Adige to Lake Garda. Mehmet accomplished something similar, although on a jaw-dropping scale. His engineers constructed a shallow trench that ran from the shore of the Bosporus, up over the steep hill (through the modern Taksim Square) and then down to the Golden Horn. This carefully crafted ditch was then covered in boards and greased, allowing ships to be laboriously hauled up the slope and then eased downhill behind the boom and into the heart of the Christian harbor. An incredible seventy-two vessels made this journey and once back in the water their sails were rerigged and they could threaten the weakest walls of Constantinople. The creation of a pontoon bridge to link up the troops near Galata with those by the land walls was another sign of technical flair and a hint that a major assault was brewing.

On April 28 the Christians attempted to seize the upper hand with a bid to destroy the main Ottoman fleet. They filled transport ships with sacks of flammable materials—cotton and wool—to set the Turkish boats ablaze, but the flotilla’s commander, “a man eager to win honour in this world,” raced ahead of the escort vessels and drew the full weight of enemy firepower. The Turks scored a direct hit on only their second shot and “quicker than ten paternosters” the ship sank with all hands to ruin the Christian offensive. Soon the Ottomans regained the initiative and in mid-May heavy bombardment of the gates of Saint Romanus and the Caligaria (near the Blachernae Palace in the north) called for the most desperate resistance.

Around this time the Turks started to use yet another stratagem to break into the city—a contingent of specialist Serbian miners began to dig a series of shafts in a bid to get under the walls and to provide an entry point into Constantinople. As usual with Mehmet’s armies the scale of these works was immense—one of the tunnels was over half a mile long—but one night the defenders heard the sound of digging and their own mining expert, a Scotsman named John Grant, located the shaft. He dug out a countermine, set fire to the Turks’ supports, and caused them to collapse and suffocate the attackers.

Throughout the siege, the Turkish artillery continued to pound away at the walls, parts of which were now filled with a patchwork of earth, rubble, and timber barricades. Barbaro noted the demoralizing effect of the mighty cannon: “One was of exceptional size . . . and when it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbour felt the vibrations of it. Because of the great noise, many women fainted with the shock which the firing of it gave them. No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls.” A strange fog caused consternation in the Christian camp when what should have been a full moon appeared as a slim, three-day moon, an event seen as a dire omen because a famous prophecy foretold that Constantinople would fall when the planet gave a sign.

Meanwhile Mehmet considered his next move. Some of his inner circle argued in favor of a peaceful solution and they suggested that Constantine could hand over his city in return for control of the Morea. The Byzantine emperor’s response was curt: “God forbid that I should live as an emperor without an empire. As my city falls, I will fall with it.” Rumors of an approaching Venetian fleet and plans for a Hungarian relief force to march to Constantinople probably underlay Constantine’s continued resistance. By the same token, however, fear of this imminent crusade pushed Mehmet into action. Like Saladin before the Battle of Hattin, the sultan’s campaign had built up so much momentum that he needed to bring it all to the boil or else risk losing support of his own people. The danger of running out of supplies—his enormous army had been outside Constantinople for over fifty days and had utterly stripped the countryside of food—was another important consideration.

On May 26 the sultan ordered preparations to be made for the final assault. Huge fires were lit throughout the Turkish camp and the men fasted by day and feasted by night. Mehmet went among his men to raise morale and the imams told stirring stories of the jihad and of Islamic heroes of the past. The prospect of taking Constantinople had a profound spiritual resonance with Muslims because a well-known Hadith promised the capture of the city. The prophecy had powerful eschatological overtones and claimed this would be a definitive Muslim victory, surpassing all others and representing the penultimate defeat of Christianity before the final Armageddon. Here, then, was a chance to fulfill that centuries-old destiny—and with a leader named Mehmet, the Turkish form of Muhammad. Encouraged by these portents, the Ottoman encirclement of Constantinople grew ever tighter. The troops brought up two thousand scaling ladders, they filled in the ditches, and the bombardment intensified further until, in Barbaro’s words, “it was a thing not of this world.” The defenders knew their supreme test was about to come and while Emperor Constantine deployed his troops as best he could, the clergy paraded relics and led prayers and processions around the city.

A couple of hours before daybreak on May 29 a volley of artillery fire announced the start of the attack. The principal focus was the damaged area near the Saint Romanus Gate, although in the course of the day Ottoman forces also engaged the remainder of the land walls and the defenses along the Golden Horn. First to be sent forward were Christian prisoners and subject peoples—the most expendable of all Mehmet’s troops. The defenders’ crossbowmen and light artillery duly slaughtered most of these hapless souls—in any case, had they retreated, then Mehmet’s Janissaries, his crack troops, had orders to kill them. A second, more organized division made a further foray although they too were driven back. All of this drained the defenders’ energy and resources—it also left the Janissaries fresh and rested, waiting for their turn to move. As Mehmet himself watched, these professional warriors advanced with disconcerting slowness toward the Saint Romanus Gate and, unusually for Muslim armies, without musical accompaniment. This sinister new assault was fiercer than ever—they were “not like Turks, but like lions,” related Barbaro. Still the Christians held them off, but the city resounded with the chaos of battle, the Turks “firing cannon again and again, with so many other guns and arrows without number and shouting from these pagans, that the very air seemed to be split apart.” For all the Christians’ valor they were doomed, “since God had made up his mind that the city should fall into the hands of the Turks.”

The Janissaries at last got a foothold in the Saint Romanus barbican but their determination was colored with good fortune too. Several accounts describe the Genoese commander, John Giustiniani Longo, being wounded, although reports of his reaction vary. Some claim that he sought medical help, although in doing so, he caused the emperor to believe he was deserting his post. Barbaro, admittedly a hostile Venetian, suggested that Longo had retreated, shouting “The Turks have got into the city!,” which made everyone abandon hope. This panic, in turn, gave the Janissaries the chance to make a proper opening in the main walls and from there they poured into the city. In the early morning light the flags of Venice and the emperor were torn down and Ottoman banners began to appear on the skyline of Constantinople. As the Christians lost heart, the Genoese and the Venetians attempted to fight through to their vessels on the Golden Horn and flee. While the Italians rushed out, Ottoman troops poured in from every side and for one day the city was given over to the sack. Across Constantinople, the Turks wrought havoc, killing indiscriminately, whether young or old, male or female, healthy or infirm. Women, girls, and nuns were ravaged and many thousands of Christians were captured to be ransomed or sold as slaves. Barbaro luridly conveys the savagery of the moment: “The blood flowed in the city like rainwater in the gutters after a sudden storm, and the corpses of Turks and Christians were thrown into the Dardanelles, where they floated out to sea like melons on a canal.” They tore an inestimable amount of booty from the great religious institutions, as well as from private houses and from merchants. Just as in 1204, the mighty sanctuary of the Hagia Sophia was ripped open and plundered, and Leonard of Chios claimed the Turks “showed no respect for the sacred altars or holy images, but destroyed them, and gouged the eyes from the saints . . . and they stuffed their pouches with gold and silver taken from the holy images and sacred vessels.” Crucifixes were paraded in a mocking procession through the Muslim camp and very soon the Hagia Sophia was turned from a church into a mosque.

The death of Constantine himself is shrouded in mystery. Some writers claimed that as the final onslaught began the emperor begged his courtiers to kill him and when they refused he charged into the fray and died under a hail of scimitars and daggers. Muslim sources indicate that he was close to the walls on the Sea of Marmara, looking to escape by boat, when he was slain by troops unaware of his true identity. Yet once the battle was over Sultan Mehmet did not try to eradicate a Christian presence from his new capital; for a start he realized that the city needed its local population to survive and prosper and soon Muslims, Christians, and Jews mingled freely enough, although the latter two remained subject groups who paid a poll tax according to Islamic law. The sultan even appointed a new Orthodox patriarch, which shows a broad sense of tolerance too.

The loss of Christendom’s greatest city provoked outrage in the West, not least because of the apparent indifference of the major ruling powers. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II) wrote: “For what calamity of the times is not laid at the door of the princes? All troubles are ascribed to the negligence of rulers. ‘They might,’ said the populace, ‘have aided perishing Greece before she was captured. They were indifferent. They are not fit to rule.’”


Within a year of Mehmet’s triumph, Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy, one of the most powerful men in Europe, made lavish promises to launch a crusade to recover Constantinople and to drive back the infidel. The forum for this was the Feast of the Pheasant (February 1454), an event saturated with chivalric behavior and another superb, if slightly late, example of the intimate connection between noble display and crusading. The year 1453 had also marked the end of the Hundred Years War and this seemed the perfect moment to respond to the catastrophe in the East. Philip’s father had led the forces defeated at Nicopolis in 1396 and although held prisoner for six months he had received a hero’s welcome on his return. Philip summoned the Burgundian nobility to the city of Lille in northern France to attend a sumptuous banquet and to hear his plans. Thirty-five artists were employed to decorate the chamber and, to ensure that the world knew of this splendid occasion, the duke ordered official accounts of the feast to be distributed. The report noted:

There was even a chapel on the table, with a choir in it, a pasty full of flute players. A figure of a girl, quite naked, stood against a pillar . . . she was guarded by a live lion who sat near her. My lord duke was served by a two-headed horse ridden by two men sitting back to back, each holding a trumpet. . . . Next came an elephant . . . carrying a castle in which sat the Holy Church, who made piteous complaint on behalf of the Christians persecuted by the Turks, and begged for help. Then two knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece brought in two damsels . . . these ladies asked my lord duke to make his vow. It was understood that if the king of France would go on the crusade, the duke would go.

Philip’s vow was made “to God my creator and to the most virgin His mother, and to the ladies, and I swear on the pheasant. . . . If the Grand Turk would be willing to do battle with me in single combat, I shall fight with him with the aid of God and the Virgin mother in order to sustain the Christian faith.” This entrancing combination of revelry and unrestrained excess shows an almost total absorption of crusading into the chivalric ethos. The contrast between the cavorting of naked women and the impassioned preaching of a man such as Bernard of Clairvaux is self-evident, yet the Holy Church was said to be delighted by Philip’s promise—as well it might, given that many of the guests soon followed his example and assumed the cross too.

Two months later Philip repeated his intention at Regensburg where he spoke of his Christian duty and of “the crisis in which Christianity finds itself. If we wish to keep our faith, our liberty, our lives, we must take the field against the Turks and crush their power before it becomes any stronger.” Centuries of crusading hyperbole had preceded this statement, but it was a rare occasion when the gravity of the threat seemed to match the claims being made. Philip pushed ahead with his plans and engaged in serious and extensive preparations that included the manufacture of new pennons and banners, as well as signing up over five hundred gunners: an indication that Mehmet’s use of heavy artillery had been noticed in the West. Mehmet heard about the crusade and riled the duke with use of his spectacular title: “true heir of King Alexander and Hector of Troy, sultan of Babylon,” and he promised to do to Philip’s army the same as his predecessor had done to the duke’s father at Nicopolis. By the summer of 1456, however, the duke’s enthusiasm had begun to wane. His stipulation that the king of France should crusade remained unfulfilled as national rivalries became ever more important in frustrating the chances of holy war.

Mehmet, meanwhile, inspired by his triumph, advanced toward the Balkan town of Belgrade. In spite of his recent successes the determined resistance of Hungarian troops led by John Hunyadi and the seventy-year-old Franciscan friar John of Capistrano held off the Turks for three weeks and then, in a pitched battle, utterly defeated them. This feat of virtuosity, achieved without the crowned heads of western Europe, did much to stem the Ottoman advance for the next fifty years at least. As the fifteenth century drew to a close, the final large-scale crusading campaign of the medieval period was about to take place in Iberia.

Simon Stevin, (c. 1548–1620)

Simon Stevin (1548-1620), the country’s leading mathematician, was an important collaborator in Maurice’s army reforms. He introduced the decimal system, applied rigorous accountancy to the army’s bookkeeping, produced standard designs for camps and fortifications, and, to ensure reliable maps for the army, in 1600 he founded a chair for land-surveying at Leiden University. Stevin was also an avid inventor, though neither a folding spade-pickaxe that he devised for the infantry, nor the `sailing carts’ that Maurice enjoyed riding on flat beaches (his only known leisure pastime), were in fact adopted for the army.

In 1597, Maurice of Nassau advanced in the Lower Rhineland capturing a number of fortresses including Moers, west of Duisburg. His objective was to give the Dutch room for manoeuvre, create a buffer zone of fortified positions, and cut Spanish supply and communication links, particularly along the Rhine and with the north-eastern Low Countries. Dutch siege warfare, directed by Simon Stevin, who was the Quartermaster-General of the army, was both well-organised and successful.

Flemish scientist who, in physics, developed statics and hydrodynamics; he also introduced decimal notation into Western mathematics.

Stevinus was born in Bruges (now in Belgium). Until 1570 he worked as a merchant’s clerk in Antwerp before travelling extensively in Germany, Poland and Norway. He then settled in Holland and took up a teaching position at Leiden University; one of his students was Prince Maurice of Orange-Nassau, stadholder of the United Provinces after 1584. As a mathematician, Stevin helped to standardize the use of decimal fractions, ideas which he published in La Thiende (1585) and La Disme (1585). He made important contributions to the science of fluid mechanics and assisted in the refutation of the Aristotelian notion that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies. After about 1590, Prince Maurice frequently consulted Stevin on matters relating to fortification and castramétation. He is mentioned as quartermaster-general and engineer of the Dutch army in 1592 and additionally held the post of commissioner of the public water works. Stevin planned entrenched camps and drew up instructions for the building of fortifications and the conduct of sieges. More importantly, Stevin designed the series of sluices and inundations which became the basis of Holland’s `Water Line’. His ideas were encapsulated in Sterctenbouwing (1594), in which he advocated a number of mathematical rules for the design of fortifications. This book was the theoretical expression of the `Old Netherlands’ System’ of fortification whose principal exponent was Adriaen Anthonisz. Stevin frequently attended at sieges to advise on the methods of attack.

On 9 January 1600 Maurice and Stevin set up a chair of surveying and fortification at Leyden University. The instruction to the university stipulated that each period of teaching in surveying is to last half an hour, and it is to be followed by a further half hour in which the lecturer will answer questions and elaborate on any points which were not understood in the first session. In their daily engineering business the pupils are to converse in the ordinary local speech, and speak little or no Latin. For that reason the lessons are to be held in Dutch, and not in Latin, French or any other foreign language (Duyck, 1862-6, II, lxxix). Aspirant engineers attended the Leyden school in some numbers until a pedantic professor reintroduced Latin in 1668 and drove them away. Lectures were delivered in Dutch rather than Latin. Stevin inspired many military engineers, especially A. Freitag and M. Dogen; the nineteenth-century Belgian engineer Henri Brialmont was profoundly influenced by Stevin’s work.

Field Engineering

The 80 Years’ War changed the craft of war into a science, and this is perhaps best illustrated by the development of field engineering. The problems facing commanders did not differ much between the beginning and the end of the war: rivers always had to be crossed, cities had to be secured, camps protected and fortifications overcome. Yet the early approach differed vastly from the later resources and techniques.

When William of Orange had to cross the Meuse in 1568, his opponents guarded all known bridges and forts. Eventually William found a suitable ford for his 8,000 cavalry, but the current was too strong for his 18,000 infantry. Instead of looking elsewhere or building a bridge, he improvised: he ordered a few hundred cavalry to wade into the river and form a living dam to break the water’s speed, so the infantry could cross safely in their lee.

Some 25 years later, when Maurice was seeking to impose order and control in his army, engineering offered him a perfect platform. Every engineer had his own ideas on how to lay a siege; to remedy this, in 1604 Maurice asked Simon Stevin, the leading mathematician, to design a `blue print’ for future fortifications and siege works. Stevin had also introduced bookkeeping to the army, allowing budgets to be set. Combining budgets, standardization and known attrition rates meant that the outcome of sieges could be more or less calculated.

Maurice set up a new hierarchy of officials to supervise the progress of all engineering works. The commies van de fortijicatien stood at the bottom of the ladder, and the successive rungs were represented by ingenieurs (who received 300 florins per year) and controlleurs (who got one hundred more).

The whole machine was directed by Simon Stevin of Bruges, who had once been Maurice’s tutor in mathematics and fortification, and was now appointed Quartermaster-General of the army. Stevin originated and directed the attacks in all the sieges at which he was present. Otherwise, as ‘even Master Stevin cannot be everywhere’ (quoted in Ten Raa, 191 I, 11,284), the siege projects were put forward by the engineers on the spot and the most suitable scheme selected by the commanding general.

Stevin’s work was not confined to the field. As well as composing valuable textbooks, he helped Maurice to draw up the engineer regulations of 1599 and 1606, and he worked out the exact and permanent dimensions of the Rhineland foot, a unit of measurement which remained in wide currency in northern European fortification well into the nineteenth century.

Many a stretch of ground, which seemed eminently suitable for siege approaches, could be flooded without warning when the defenders cut a dyke or opened a sluice, as happened to Mondragon’s battery when he was attacking Fort Lillo at Antwerp in 1584. Stevin, defined two categories of sites which were particularly suitable for ‘water manoeuvres’ of this kind. The first embraced towns which stood beside the sea or on rivers which had a large tidal variation (Ostend, Sluis, Ijzendijk, Antwerp, Veere, Zierikzee, Willemstad, Geertruydenberg, Enkhuizen, etc.). The second consisted of places that stood on non-tidal stretches of river, but owned a tributary which flowed through or close by the walls (Doesburg, Zutphen, Deventer, Zwolle).

Armies would try to situate their camp or battlefield position with flanks protected by terrain or wagons. Under Maurice these aspects also became regulated and standardized, and with good reason: on several occasions camps of both sides had been overrun by unexpected attacks. In 1600 Maurice appointed the mathematician Stevin to direct the construction of army camps. After reaching a new location, a regiment would be shown where to start digging and setting up huts according to Stevin’s plans, and drummers had a special signal to summon the men for this task. Even an overnight camp had to have a ditch 3ft (1m) wide and 4ft (1.2m) deep, preferably with a palisade (a clear echo of the ancient Roman marching camp). In the 1630s the army train carried 60,000 pointed stakes for this purpose, each around 4ins (10cm) thick and 6ft (2m) long. Another quick defence were Xs of spears stuck in the ground, called Friese ruiter (`Frisian riders’, chevaux de frise). As a ready-to-use alternative, two-wheeled carts fitted with six spears could march with the army and be swiftly deployed; in 1644, 800 of these carts were sent to assist the French army on its coastal campaign in the Spanish Netherlands. When these standard means were not available local commanders continued to improvise, as on Sao Tome in 1641; there six big anchors were hauled ashore and put in front of the artillery to shield it from enemy fire.

Accounting Debates and Accounting Practices in the Dutch Republic

No transition in the history of accounting has drawn so much attention among historians as the introduction and spread of double-entry bookkeeping (DEB) with separate capital accounts. This, of course, is due to the special place this system of accounting holds in the grand narrative of modernization, ever since Werner Sombart and Max Weber singled out DEB as the hallmark of capitalist rationality. At first glance, the Dutch case bears out the theory. In the highly commercialized context of the Low Countries, instructive texts on the use of DEB aimed at merchants were already circulating in the first half of the sixteenth century. At the turn of the seventeenth century, Simon Stevin held a famous discussion with Stadtholder Maurice on the applicability of `merchant style accounting’ to the princely domains, as well as state accounting more generally. After this, he wrote an innovative treatise on accounting, including a model DEB-based account for Maurice’ domains. This text is considered the most advanced treatise on bookkeeping of its time, and DEB instructions such as this were very popular in the Dutch Republic. No doubt, the spread of knowledge on bookkeeping infused the minds of the Dutch ruling classes and political elites. As Jacob Soll pointed out: `The ars mercatoria was a rich part of everyday urban life and an essential element of state government. The Dutch ruling elite was familiar with the minutiae of finance, industry, and trade.’

For example, in his Nieuwe inventie van rekeninghe van compagnie (New invention of company accounts), Simon Stevin himself recommended DEB accounting explicitly for the aim of facilitating the closing of accounts in order to divide profits and losses over participants in a single, short-term venture.

Simon Stevin and the Aims of State Accounting Stevin’s 1604 tract is a stylized rendering of discussions between himself and Maurice around the turn of the seventeenth century. Positing himself (realistically) as Maurice’ teacher in matters concerning mathematics and bookkeeping, Stevin in a rather schoolmasterly fashion explains the advantages of replacing the traditional system of accounting for the princely domains with Italian-style double-entry bookkeeping. Up to that time, bailiffs of the domains had put income and expenditure in a single column, determining the balance by a simple process of adding and deducting. At the start of the fictitious conversation, Stevin gives the reasons why a merchant would prefer the double-entry system over the system commonly used in state administration:

First, so that he always knows how much money his treasurer has, or ought to have, in his cash register, which is now unknown to the Prince and his treasurer (.). Further, the merchant has a handy certainty of all goods handed over by him to the control of his factors, whereas the Prince in all commodities supplied to him must rely on the information of his officers. Third, the merchant always has a clear view, not only of the remainders on the accounts of his debtors and creditors, but also of the stock of all goods that he should have in his possession, the profits or damages incurred on every category of goods. And he obtains all of this with such short shrift that can be held for impossible if the ordinary method of accounting of the bailiffs would be applied to a large trade.

Stevin did not make clear why these advantages could only be reached by the use of a particular style of DEB. Overall, he concentrated on the greater ease provided by DEB in surveying. This emphasis is consistent with Stevin’s main contribution to DEB: the introduction of periodic balancing. Stevin thus laid much stress on the connections between commercial accounting, orderly management of stocks and the possibility of gaining a separate overview of costs and profits for the discrete elements of business brought on the accounts. As an ideal for managing people and goods, this cut two ways. Not only did proper accounting enable administrators to make far more precise economic judgements. It also increased state control over the administrators themselves, diminishing the possibilities for fraud. According to Stevin, `bookkeeping is a well-known means to force unjust people with violence to behave justly, out of shame and fear of what might follow’.

According to his own rendering, Stevin managed to convince Maurice of the usefulness of his suggestions, and, with the help of `an experienced accountant in trade’, he wrote an annotated model account for the princely domains. In 1604 his system of accounting was put into practice for the first time. In 1608, Stevin published his model account, and later he also prepared a second version, including substantial corrections for printing. His own stated reasons for doing so show his concern for the continuation, spreading and further development of DEB practices:

First, because it can serve as an example for those who might be willing to follow its example. Second, to make sure that its improvement – if any is found and made public – could serve to our common enlightenment. Third, and most importantly, to make sure that when some officers who act as auditor or clerk would come to pass away or leave their posts, there could always be found another person who understands this practice.

Contrary to the supposition in much of the older literature, the `modern’ form of DEB with a separate capital account advocated by Simon Stevin in his Vorstelicke bouckhouding op de Italiaensche Wyse was rarely fully applied in practice. Nevertheless, many of the underlying assumptions of the merits of commercial bookkeeping expressed by him did inform state administrators. They left a strong imprint on the attitudes of Dutch naval administrators.

On Religion

The conventional attitude of the Dutch political leadership at the close of the sixteenth century on Religion was summed up by the Flemish immigrant Simon Stevin in his book Het Burgherlick Leven (1590), where he urged those citizens of the United Provinces who privately did not accept the teachings of the Reformed Church to recognize it as their obligation, and as their own interest, to conform outwardly. This was partly for moral and educational reasons, for if the authority of the public Church is undermined, or seen not to be respected, then children will not be in awe of the Church and will grow up without discipline, morality, and respect. But it was also for political reasons, to curb internal dissension. He argues that the pious individual who rejects the theology of the public Church and insists on the practice of another religion should move to another state where his own religion is that of the State Church. If the individual, for whatever reasons, does not move, then it his clear duty to conform outwardly and not to criticize the established Church.

In statics Stevinus made use of the parallelogram of forces and in dynamics he made a scientific study of pulley systems. In hydrostatics he noted that the pressure exerted by a liquid depends only on its height and is independent of the shape of the vessel containing it. He is supposed to have carried out an experiment (later attributed to Italian physicist Galileo) in which he dropped two unequal weights from a tall building to demonstrate that they fell at the same rate.

Stevinus wrote in the vernacular (a principle he advocated for all scientists). His book on mechanics is De Beghinselen der Weeghcoust (1586).


R. Depau, Simon Stevin (Brussels, 1942); Eduard Jan Dijsterhuis, Simon Stevin: science in the Netherlands around 1600 (The Hague, 1970); The Principal Works of Simon Stevin, ed. W. H. Schukking (Amsterdam, 1964), iv, The Art of War.