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“

Germanic Warfare

Chatti Germanic Tribe | Northern Germanic Tribes: Cherusci, Jutes, Saxons.

Early Germanic warriors either first century BC or AD. The Germans east of the Rhine had a fearsome reputation and constantly waged war on their Gallic neighbours. The Gauls who lived close to the German border were considered to be the most hardened of the Gallic peoples as a result.

What we know of the Germanic warrior comes mainly from Greek- and Latin-speaking Roman authors. At this time, the Germans wrote nothing down. Some evidence survives in the archaeological record to give us a material picture of his arms and armour. Yet his reputation has survived the ages: fierce to the point of being savage, fearless bordering on the reckless, cunning like the fox. Unlike his Roman opponent, the Germanic war fighter was remarkably underequipped. In large part this was due to the paucity of basic materials. “Even iron is by no means abundant with them”, Tacitus noted, “as we may gather from the character of their weapons”. About one in ten warriors had a single-edged knife (measuring 7–12 centimetres, 2.8–4.7 inches long). Others carried a sword for cutting and thrusting; or a machete-like sax (measuring about 46 centimetres – 18.1 inches – long) for slashing and chopping. Some might bear a double-edged sword similar to the Celtic long sword of the Raeti and Norici or Roman spatha. However, Germanic weapons were made of a form of iron called ‘steely iron’ which has a much lower content of carbon, typically 0.5 to 1.5 per cent of its weight, making it softer and more likely to bend when struck with force. To compensate for this weakness, Germanic swordsmiths made the sax with a thicker upper edge, but notwithstanding this measure, against the harder steel weapons used by the Romans, Germanic swordsmen were at a material disadvantage.

Axes were wielded by those with means, while others with fewer means used wooden clubs hewn from logs which had been fire-hardened or made more deadly with iron spikes.35 Both weapons were used with devastating effect: even the rough edge of a club can cause considerable blunt trauma and crush bones. They also used bows of fir and yew and arrows, slings and slingshot that were devastating when used en masse. When the ammunition ran out, they threw rocks and stones.

Their preferred weapon was a slender but versatile spear. “They carry lances”, wrote Tacitus, “frameae as they call them, with the iron point narrow and short, but so sharp and so easy to handle that they employ them either for stabbing or throwing on occasions”. They also carried darts – missilia the Romans called them. Ranging from 90–275 centimetres (35.3–108.3 inches) in length with a tip 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 inches) long, in an expert’s hand these were terrible weapons, especially to men wearing chain mail armour, the links of which the sharp, narrow point could pierce and rip apart. Each man carried several into battle and “they can hurl them to an immense distance”.

The regular Germanic fighter wore little or no body armour, unless stripped from an opponent or made by a local craftsman, “and only a man or two here and there a helmet or head piece”. Though there were likely national or clan differences in dress, he typically wore a short- or long-sleeved tunic, baggy or close-fitting long trousers belted at the waist, and a cloak fastened with a brooch. German woollen cloth was somewhat rough to the touch but nevertheless dyed in solid colours, or woven with stripes or geometric patterns. A shield was the primary mode of defence. Sculptures and coins show Germanic shields to be flat and long, and in shape oval, rectangular or hexagonal. Tacitus comments that their shields were not supported by metal or leather but were simply wicker or painted boards, however, metal edging strips have been found in eastern Germany contesting his generalisation. He also mentions the care with which they painted the coloured devices on the front of them. Surviving first century BCE examples from Denmark, one measuring 88 centimetres (34.6 inches) by 60 centimetres (23.6 inches) and the other 66 centimetres (25.9 inches) by 30 centimetres (11.8 inches), are made of wooden planks. In these specimens a central ‘barleycorn’ shaped shield boss protects the handgrip, but iron domed and pointed circular shield bosses have also survived.

Germanic warriors fought both on foot and horseback. Each was similarly equipped with spear or darts and shield. Lightly armed infantry made up the largest part of a Germanic tribal army but their cavalry, even in smaller numbers, were very effective. Germanic cavalry would often dismount and fight on foot and Caesar observed that they even trained their horses to remain standing in the same spot so they could leap up on to them and ride to another part of the battlefield or escape. “Their horses are not remarkable”, writes Tacitus snootily,

for beauty or speed, neither are they trained to complex evolutions like ours; the riders charge straight forward, or wheel in a single turn to the right, the formation of the troop being such that there is no rear flank.

The right turn meant that the rider’s shield side was presented to their enemy so he could launch his weapon with his right side fully protected.

Young men able to run fast formed the vanguard of the attack as they were able to keep up with the cavalry charge. It was actually part of their ritual of attaining manhood. When deemed ready, a young man was formally presented with a lance and shield in the presence of his tribal assembly in what was regarded as the youth’s admission to the public life of his community. In times of war, one hundred of the ablest young men were selected from their villages to accompany the cavalry on foot. Some, having proved their courage and skill, might then become retainers or bodyguards of the clan or war chief,

and there is an eager rivalry between the retainers for the post of honour next to their chief, as well as between different chiefs for the honour of having the most numerous and most valiant bodyguard. Here lie dignity and strength. To be perpetually surrounded by a large train of picked young warriors is a distinction in peace and a protection in war.

The relationship between the retainer and retained was complex, based on a code of honour, reward and recognition:

Upon the field of battle the chief is bound in honour not to let himself be surpassed in valour, and his retainers are equally bound to rival the valour of their chief. Furthermore, for one of the retainers to come back alive from the field where his chief had fallen is from that day forward an infamy and a reproach during all the rest of his life. To defend him, to guard him, nay, to give him the glory of their own feats of valour, is the perfection of their loyalty. The chiefs fight for victory; the bodyguard for their chief.

The Germanic nations were admired by Roman authors for their free spirit and democratic form of self-rule. Chiefs were elected by a tribal assembly to administer the law in their communities and each leader had a council of one hundred free men to consult for advice and to enforce his decisions. For campaigns they elected a war leader. Caesar had observed “when a state either repels war waged against it or wages it against another, magistrates are chosen to preside over that war with such authority, that they have power of life and death”. After the war, they relinquished that power. “They choose their kings for their noble birth”, observes Tacitus,

their generals for their prowess: the king’s power is neither unlimited nor arbitrary, and the generals owe their authority less to their military rank than to their example and the admiration they excite by it, if they are dashing, if they are conspicuous, if they charge ahead of the line.

These were characteristics Drusus would have admired as they were the very same principles by which he led his own men.

Raiding was common practice among Germanic nations. In part this arose from the need to keep retainers fed and usefully employed as “forays and plunderings supply the means of keeping a free table”.62 Not for them tilling the land, but yet they could stand bloody wounds if it meant their status would rise on account of them.63 Germanic tribes tried to avoid a pitched battle. ‘Hit-and-run’ was the preferred tactic in battle, using ambushes to strike their enemy when they were least expecting and prepared for an attack. Only as a last resort, did they meet in a set piece battle, and having first carefully picked the ground, preferring wet or wooded or stony ground. The Germanic army on the battlefield is often portrayed as a rabble, a mêlée, but this is inaccurate. They assembled in columns and took up wedge formations, familiar to the Romans as the cuneus, a tactic they themselves used. Like the Romans, the men in the wedge formation interlocked or overlapped their shields to form a shield wall or ‘shield castle’. In 58 BCE, the Germanic king, Ariovistus, arrayed his men against Julius Caesar by assembling the seven tribes under his command in columns of 300 men strong with spaces between them. The Romans attacked from the front and sides, and the Germanic left flank – their unprotected side – collapsed, but on their right flank – the side protected by their shields – Ariovistus’ men were able to deflect the Roman attack by pushing aggressively forward into Caesar’s ranks.68 They were only defeated when Roman reinforcements arrived.

Just as the warriors of Raetia, Vindelicia and Noricum did, Germanic warriors fired up their spirits by singing and chanting. The Germanic war fighters sang to Hercules according to Tacitus (who may have equated him to Thor or Irmin, son of Wuotan), and

they raise a hymn in his praise, as the pattern of all valiant men, as they approach the field of battle. They have also a kind of song which they chant to fire their courage – they call it barding (barritus) – and from this chant they draw an augury of the issue of the coming day. For they inspire terror in the foe, or become flurried themselves according to the sound that goes up from the host. It is not so much any articulate expression of words as a war-like chorus. Their great aim is to produce a hoarse and tempestuous roar, every man holding his shield before his mouth to increase the volume and depth of tone by reverberation.

Stalingrad Kessel Collapses I

On 16 January 1943, just after the capture of Pitomnik, Sixth Army headquarters sent a signal, complaining that the Luftwaffe was only parachuting supplies. ‘Why were no supplies landed tonight at Gumrak?’ Fiebig replied that landing lights and ground-control radios were not working. Paulus seemed to be unaware of the chaos at the airfield. The unloading parties were badly organized and the men too weak to work properly – ‘completely apathetic’, was the Luftwaffe’s opinion. Discipline had broken down among the lightly wounded as well as stragglers and deserters drawn to the airfield and its promise of salvation. The Feldgendarmerie ‘chain dogs’ were starting to lose control over the mobs of starving soldiers, desperate to get away. According to Luftwaffe reports, many were Romanians.

By 17 January, the Sixth Army had been forced back into the eastern half of the Kessel. There was comparatively little fighting over the next four days, as Rokossovsky redeployed his armies for the final push. While most German regiments at the front followed orders, disintegration accelerated in the rear. The chief quartermaster’s department recorded that ‘the Army is no longer in any position to supply its troops’. Almost all the horses had been eaten. There was almost no bread left – frozen solid, it was known as ‘Eisbrot’. Yet there were stores full of food, held back by overzealous quartermasters, which the Russians captured intact. Some of those in authority, perhaps inevitably, exploited their positions. One doctor later described how one of his superiors, right in front of his eyes, ‘fed his dog with thickly buttered bread when there was not a single gram available to the men in his dressing station’.

Paulus, convinced that the end was near, had sent a signal on 16 January to General Zeitzler recommending that units which were still battleworthy should be allowed to break out southwards, because to stay in the Kessel meant either imprisonment or death through hunger and cold. Even though no immediate reply was obtained from Zeitzler, preparatory orders were issued. The following evening, 17 January, a staff officer with the 371st Infantry Division told Lieutenant-Colonel Mäder that: ‘On the codeword “Lion” the whole Kessel would fight its way out on all sides. Regimental commanders were to assemble fighting groups of around two hundred of their best men, inform the rest of the line of march, and break out.’

A number of officers had already started to ‘consider ways to escape Russian captivity, which seemed to us worse than death’. Freytag-Loringhoven in 16th Panzer Division had the idea of using some of the American jeeps captured from the Russians. His idea was to take Red Army uniforms and some of their very reliable Hiwis, who wanted to escape the vengeance of the NKVD, in an attempt to slip through enemy lines. This idea spread to the staff of the division, including its commander, General Angern. Even their corps commander, General Strecker, was briefly tempted when he heard about it, but as an officer with strong traditional values, the idea of leaving his soldiers was out of the question. One group from XI Corps subsequently made the attempt, and a number of other small detachments, some on skis, broke out to the south-west during the last days of the Kessel. Two staff officers from Sixth Army headquarters, Colonel Elchlepp and Lieutenant-Colonel Niemeyer, the chief of intelligence, died out in the steppe.

Paulus clearly never considered the idea of abandoning his troops. On 18 January, when a last post from Germany was distributed in some divisions, he wrote just one line of farewell to his wife, which an officer took out for him. His medals, wedding ring and signet ring were also taken out, but these objects were apparently seized by the Gestapo later.

General Hube received orders to fly out from Gumrak early the next morning in a Focke-Wulf Condor to join Milch’s Special Staff. On 20 January, after his arrival, he in turn sent a list of ‘trusted and energetic officers’ to be sent out to join him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority were not specialists in supply or air transport, but officers from his own panzer corps, especially his old division. Hube, no doubt, felt justified, since Sixth Army headquarters had stipulated that panzer specialists were among those entitled to evacuation by air.

General-Staff-trained officers were also included in the specialist category, but the most curious priority of all was what might best be described as the Sixth Army’s Noah’s Ark. Sergeant-Major Philipp Westrich from 100th Jäger Division, a tilelayer by trade, was ‘flown out of the Kessel on 22 January 1943 on the orders of Sixth Army, which requested one man from each division’. Lieutenant-Colonel Mäder and two NCOs were selected from the 297th Infantry Division, and so the list went on, division by division. Hitler, having given up Paulus’s Sixth Army for dead, was already considering the idea of rebuilding another Sixth Army – a phoenix’s egg snatched from the ashes. On 25 January, the idea became a firm plan. Hitler’s chief adjutant, General Schmundt, recorded: ‘The Führer decreed the reforming of the Sixth Army with a strength of twenty divisions.’

Officer couriers, taking out vital documents, had been selected on compassionate grounds. Prince Dohna-Schlobitten, who left on 17 January, was given the job for XIV Panzer Corps headquarters, not because he was the chief intelligence officer, but because he had the most children of any officer on the staff. Soon afterwards, Sixth Army headquarters insisted that officers flown out as specialists should double as couriers. Captain von Freytag-Loringhoven, selected because of his record as the commander of a panzer battalion, was ordered first to collect dispatches and other documents from army headquarters. There he saw Paulus, who ‘seemed absolutely bent under the responsibility’.

At Gumrak airfield, after a long wait, he went out to one of five Heinkel bombers, escorted by Feldgendarmerie, who had to force back the wounded and sick at the point of their sub-machine-guns. At the moment of leaving the Kessel, he inevitably had mixed feelings. ‘I felt very badly about leaving my comrades. On the other hand it was a chance to survive.’ He had tried to get Count Dohna (a distant cousin of Prince Dohna) out as well, but he had been too sick. Although securely packed into the aircraft, with some ten wounded soldiers, Freytag-Loringhoven could see that they were not out of danger. Their Heinkel remained stationary beside the runway while the other four took off. A pump had jammed during refuelling. Artillery shells began to fall closer. The pilot threw aside the pump, and ran back to the cockpit. They took off, lifting slowly, with their heavy load of wounded, into the low cloud base. At about six thousand feet, the Heinkel suddenly came up out of the cloud and into ‘wonderful sunshine’, and Freytag-Loringhoven was another who felt as if he ‘had been reborn’.

When they landed at Melitopol, ambulances from the base hospital were waiting for the wounded, and a staff car took Freytag-Loringhoven to Field Marshal Manstein’s headquarters. He had no illusions about his appearance. He was in ‘a very bad state’. Although a tall, well-built man, his weight had fallen to 120 pounds. His cheeks were cavernous. Like everyone in the Kessel, he had not shaved for many days. His black panzer overalls were dirty and torn, and his fieldboots were wrapped in rags as a protection against frostbite. Stahlberg, Manstein’s ADC, immaculate in his field-grey uniform, was clearly taken aback. ‘Stahlberg looked at me and I saw him wondering, “Does he have lice?” – and I certainly did have lice – and he shook hands very cautiously with me.’

Stahlberg took him straight in to see Manstein, who gave him a much more friendly welcome. The field marshal immediately got up from his desk and came round to shake hands without any apparent qualms. He took the dispatches and questioned the young captain closely about conditions in the Kessel. Yet Freytag-Loringhoven felt that he was essentially ‘a cold man’.

Manstein told Freytag-Loringhoven that he would be attached to Field Marshal Milch’s Special Staff established to improve the airlift. He reported first to Colonel-General von Richthofen, who just acknowledged his arrival and said that he was too busy to see him. Field Marshal Milch on the other hand, ‘an old Nazi’ whom he had not expected to like, proved ‘much more human’. He was horrified by Freytag-Loringhoven’s appearance. ‘My God, look at the state of you!’ After asking about the conditions in Stalingrad, Milch said: ‘Now you must have good food.’

He gave orders that Freytag-Loringhoven should receive special rations of meat, butter and even honey. The exhausted young panzer commander was then shown to one of the sleeping compartments on the luxury train. ‘It was the first time that I had seen a bed in nine months. I did not care about my lice. I threw myself into the white linen and decided to postpone my visit to the delousing station until first thing the next morning. The comfort and the warmth – it was minus twenty-five degrees outside – was an unbelievable contrast.’

Those officers coming out to work on Milch’s Special Staff were disorientated at first by their transformation to another world of plenty and possibility. But they still had no clear idea of what could and could not be expected of an airlift. ‘Is it possible to fly in tanks one by one?’ was one of Hube’s questions at his first meeting with Milch.

Milch himself, like anybody who had not set foot inside the Kessel, still could not grasp how truly terrible conditions were within. On receiving Paulus’s signal on 18 January that the Sixth Army would be able to hold out for only a few days more because they were virtually out of fuel and ammunition, he told Goering in a telephone conversation: ‘Those in the Fortress appear to have lost their nerve.’ Manstein was of the same opinion, he added. They both seem to have instinctively adopted a policy of personal sympathy for individuals at the same time as they distanced themselves from the horrors suffered by the abandoned army.

The wider implications of the impending disaster were left to Führer headquarters and the propaganda ministry in Berlin. ‘The Stalingrad Kessel is approaching the end,’ Goebbels had declared at his ministerial conference three days before. ‘The German press must prepare appropriate coverage of the victorious outcome of this great battle in Stalin’s city – if necessary with supplements.’ The ‘victory’ was supposedly one of moral symbolism.

Helmuth Groscurth, Strecker’s chief of staff and the most active member of the opposition to the regime in the Kessel, was determined that the facts of the disaster be communicated to senior officers to provoke them into action. He arranged a passage out for one of his trusted colleagues, Major Count Alfred von Waldersee. Waldersee was to go straight to army headquarters, at the Bendlerstrasse in Berlin, to see General Olbricht, a senior member of the opposition, and then the retired General Beck, with the message that ‘only an immediate strike’ against Hitler could now save the Sixth Army. Beck asked Waldersee to go straight to Paris to see General von Stülpnagel and Field Marshal von Rundstedt. Rundstedt’s reply was ‘so depressing’ that Waldersee lost all hope of achieving anything.

Groscurth sent a last letter to his brother on 20 January, the birthday of his daughter Susi – ‘who soon will have a father no more, like thousands of other children’, he wrote. ‘The torment goes on and will get worse by the hour. We are pushed back into the narrowest area. We will, however, fight on to the last round, as ordered, particularly since we are told that the Russians have been killing all prisoners, which I doubt… People have no idea what’s going on here. Not a single promise is kept.’

Sixth Army headquarters sensed that Milch’s staff did not appreciate how bad things were. ‘There is not a single healthy man left at the front,’ it reported that day, ‘everyone is at least suffering from frostbite. The commander of the 76th Infantry Division on a visit to the front yesterday came across many soldiers who had frozen to death.’

The Soviet offensive began again with renewed force on that morning of 20 January. The 65th Army broke through north-west of Gonchara, which was captured that night. Gumrak, only a few miles away, was the main objective.

The evacuation of the airfield and nearby headquarters the following evening was chaotic as Katyusha batteries opened up. That night, Milch’s staff received a signal from Sixth Army headquarters: ‘Gumrak airfield unusable from 22 January at 04.00 hours. At that time the new airfield of Stalingradsky will be clear for landing.’ This was optimistic. The landing strip at Stalingradsky was incapable of taking large aircraft. General Paulus was by then entirely fatalistic, and almost certainly suffering from deep depression. A Luftwaffe major just returned from the Kessel reported to Field Marshal Milch that Paulus had told him: ‘Whatever help arrives from now on will be too late. We have had it. Our men have no strength left.’ When the major tried to brief him on the general situation to the west facing Army Group Don, he had replied: ‘Dead men are no longer interested in military history.’

Because of the lack of fuel, 500 wounded men were left in the field hospital at Gumrak. As dawn rose on the morning of 22 January, Russian infantry could be seen in the distance, advancing in extended line ‘as if on a hare shoot’. As the enemy approached to within rifle range, officers from 9th Flak Division who had been responsible for the airfield packed into the last vehicle, a staff car. A hundred yards down the road they found a soldier from the field hospital, both of whose legs had been amputated, trying to propel himself along on a sled. The Luftwaffe officers stopped, and tied his sled to the back of the car as he requested, but it overturned almost as soon as they started again. One lieutenant suggested that he cling on to the front, since there was no room left inside. The wounded man refused to hold them up any longer. They were by then within range of the Russian infantry. ‘Leave me!’ he shouted. ‘I haven’t got a chance anyway.’ The Luftwaffe officers knew that he spoke the truth. Anybody who could not walk at this point was already as good as dead. They drove on and the crippled soldier sat slumped in the snow by the side of the icy track, waiting for the Russians to arrive and finish him off.

He may well have been shot, like many wounded by the wayside. The Communist writer, Erich Weinert, attempted to claim that ‘abandoned cripples’ trying to hobble after their comrades had got in the way of ‘the gunfire of the advancing Red Army’. The truth was that the Red Army, like the Wehrmacht, made little provision for enemy wounded. Reports that the 500 left behind in the field hospital at Gumrak in the care of two sick orderlies and a divisional chaplain were massacred are, however, inaccurate. The Red Army just left them to fend for themselves on ‘water from snow and horse carcasses’. Those who survived were moved to the camp at Beketovka ten days later.

The spectacle of defeat grew more terrible the closer retreating soldiers came to Stalingrad. ‘As far as the eye can see, lie soldiers crushed by tanks, helplessly moaning wounded, frozen corpses, vehicles abandoned through lack of fuel, blown-up guns and miscellaneous equipment.’ Meat had been hacked from the flanks of a dead horse beside the road. Men dreamed of coming across a parachute container, packed with supplies, but they had been either seized on landing, or lost in the snowfields.

Although the collapse in the centre could not be stemmed, in many sectors German battle groups carried out a dogged fighting retreat. Early in the morning of 22 January, the remnants of the 297th Infantry Division were pushed back from the Voroponovo sector towards the southern outskirts of Stalingrad. Major Bruno Gebele and the survivors of his battalion awaited the next onslaught. Their only artillery support consisted of several mountain howitzers commanded by a sergeant, who was told to hold his fire until the Russians were between 200 and 250 yards away. Shortly before seven o’clock, as the remnants of Gebele’s battalion sheltered from artillery fire in their bunkers, a sentry gave the alert: ‘Herr Major, sie kommen!’

Gebele had time only to yell ‘Rausf His soldiers threw themselves into their fire positions. A mass of snow-suited infantry was charging towards them, baying ‘Urrah! Urrah! Urrah!’ The first ones were only forty yards away when the German grenadiers opened fire with light machine-guns, rifles and machine pistols. The Russians suffered terrible losses. ‘The first wave was killed or left lying there, the second also, and then a third wave came. In front of our position the Soviet dead piled up and served as a sort of sandbag wall for us.’

The Russians did not abandon the attack. They simply changed its direction, and concentrated against the flanking detachments. At nine-thirty, they broke through the Romanians over to the left. An anti-tank round hit Gebele’s second-in-command, who was standing next to him, killing him instantly. Gebele himself then felt a massive blow to his left shoulder. A bullet from the same burst of machine-gun fire had also killed his chief clerk, Feldwebel Schmidt, having gone straight through his steel helmet. The enraged Gebele, resting a carbine on the snow wall in front of him, was able to get off a few shots, using his good arm and shoulder.

Another wave of Russian infantry came at them. Gebele screamed to his surviving men to open fire again. A staff sergeant tried firing a light mortar, but the range was so short that the headwind made a couple of the bombs fall on their own positions. Eventually, having held out for seven hours, Gebele saw that a Russian flag had appeared on a water tower to their rear. They had been outflanked. He gathered the last survivors of his battalion, and led them back towards the centre of Stalingrad. Inside the city, they were shaken by the scenes of destruction and military collapse. ‘It was bitterly cold,’ wrote one of them, ‘and surrounded by such chaos, it felt as if the world was coming to an end.’

That 22 January – the day after Goebbels had prepared the stage-management of the Stalingrad tragedy by calling for ‘total war’ – Sixth Army received the signal from Hitler which sealed its fate. ‘Surrender out of the question. Troops fight on to the end. If possible, hold reduced Fortress with troops still battleworthy. Bravery and tenacity of Fortress have provided the opportunity to establish a new front and launch counter-attacks. Sixth Army has thus fulfilled its historical contribution in the greatest passage in German history.’

Whenever Luftwaffe planes flew over, men looked up longingly, and continued to stare at the sky well after the tiny dot had disappeared. ‘With heavy hearts’, wrote one soldier, ‘we gazed after the German aircraft and thought how wonderful it would be to be able to fly away, out of this inferno in which we had been abandoned.’ After the capture of Gumrak airfield early on the morning of 22 January, only a handful of planes had managed to land at the small Stalingradsky landing strip. The ‘air-bridge’, and thus the last line of escape, had collapsed.

Resupply now depended on canisters dropped by parachute, ‘the supply bombs’, but despite Sixth Army’s requests for red canopies, the Luftwaffe continued to use white. The system of drops became even more hit-and-miss, because few units had any recognition panels left and VIII Air Corps lost radio contact with Sixth Army head-quarters on 24 January. Hube had a message dropped telling soldiers in the ruins of Stalingrad that, on hearing aero-engines, they should lie down on the snow-covered ground in the form of a cross to signify ‘German soldiers here’. When the light or visibility was bad, they fired signal flares into the air to direct aircraft as they approached, but the Russians all around would immediately shoot flares of similar colour into the sky to confuse the pilots. Strong winds also blew many loads across the rapidly changing front lines into enemy hands. Some men were so desperate that they risked trying to retrieve canisters right out in the open. Russian snipers picked them off with ease. In the ruins of Stalingrad, starving German soldiers attempted to ambush Soviet soldiers just to get their bread bag.

The fall of Gumrak had meant yet another terrible journey for the wounded, many of whom had already been transferred from Pitomnik, having failed to find a place on an aeroplane there. ‘Exhausted wounded men dragged themselves to the ruins of the town’, one survivor reported, ‘crawling like wild animals on all fours, in the hope of finding some sort of help.’

The conditions in Stalingrad in the makeshift hospitals were even more appalling than at Gumrak, with around 20,000 wounded packed into cellars under the ruins of the city, to say nothing of the sick, which may well have brought the total to 40,000. Some 600 badly wounded men filled the cellars of the Stalingrad theatre, with no light and no sanitation. ‘Moans, calls for help and prayers’, wrote a doctor from the 60th Motorized Infantry Division, ‘were mixed with the thunder of the bombardment. A paralysing smell of smoke, blood and the stench of wounds filled the room.’ There were no more bandages, no medicine, and no clean water.

A number of doctors from front-line units received orders to help out in the network of tunnels in the Tsaritsa ravine. This complex, like galleries in a mine, now contained over 3,000 seriously wounded or seriously ill soldiers. Dr Hermann Achleitner, on arriving for duty, was reminded immediately of the phrase: ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’ The piles of frozen corpses outside shocked him deeply. Inside, the image of hell was increased by improvised oil lamps as the only source of light. The fetid, deoxygenated air was disgusting to breathe. He was greeted by pitiful cries of ‘Give us something to eat!’ The patients received only one thin slice of stale bread per day. The doctors turned this into a sort of soup, which was hot and made it go a little further. The lack of bandages was serious for the cases of severe frostbite. ‘Often’, he noted, ‘toes and fingers stayed behind in the filthy old bandages, when we changed them.’ Delousing was impossible. Medical orderlies changing bandages found a grey mass of lice crawling on to their own wrists and arms from the patient. When a man died, the lice could be seen leaving his body en masse in search of living flesh. The doctors did what they could to isolate cases of typhus as soon as it was diagnosed, but they knew that it would not be long before they had an epidemic on their hands. A young German soldier, surveying the misery around, was heard to murmur: ‘They must never know at home what is happening here.’

The retreat from the steppe, as the Kessel was crushed by Rokos-sovsky’s armies, brought the number of Germans crowded into the ruined city to over 100,000 men. Many, if not most, of them were suffering from dysentery, jaundice and other sicknesses, their faces tinged a greenish yellow.

The reactions of Stalingrad civilians were not always hostile, as wounded men from the 297th Infantry Division discovered. ‘Two Stalingrad women rubbed my frozen legs for an hour to prevent the effects of severe frostbite,’ wrote an officer. ‘Again and again, they looked at me with compassion and said: “So young and yet he must already be dying!” ‘The same group of soldiers, to their astonishment, found several Russian women in a partly wrecked house. They had just baked some bread, and agreed to exchange a loaf for a hunk of frozen horsemeat.

Regiments and divisions were utterly meaningless. The 14th Panzer Division had fewer than eighty men still able to fight. Hardly a single tank or heavy weapon with ammunition remained. In such a hopeless situation, discipline was starting to break down. Resistance continued largely through fear of Russian revenge, following Paulus’s rejection of surrender.

Unthreatened by anti-tank guns, Soviet T-34s crushed German weapon pits and gunners alike under their tracks. Bunkers and fortified buildings were destroyed with a field gun wheeled up to almost point-blank range. German soldiers now suffered a terrible sense of powerlessness, unable to do anything for their wounded comrades or even for themselves. Their own merciless advances of the previous summer seemed to belong to an entirely different world. On 25 January, Paulus and Colonel Wilhelm Adam, one of his senior staff officers, received light head wounds from a bomb explosion. General Moritz von Drebber surrendered with part of the 297th Infantry Division three miles south-west of the mouth of the Tsaritsa. The Soviet colonel who came to take his surrender is said to have demanded: ‘Where are your regiments?’ Moritz von Drebber, according to this version broadcast two days later on Soviet radio by the novelist Theodor Plievier, another German Communist of the ‘Moscow Emigration’, glanced around at the remaining handful of men, broken by exhaustion and frostbite, and replied: ‘Do I really have to explain to you, Colonel, where my regiments are?’

The chief medical officer of the Sixth Army, General Renoldi, was one of the first generals to give himself up. (Red Army intelligence first heard as a result of his interrogation that Paulus was in a state of collapse.) Some generals, however, took an active role. Hube’s replacement, General Schlömer, was shot in the thigh, and General von Hartmann of the 71st Infantry Division was killed by a bullet through the head. General Stempel, the commander of the 371st Infantry Division, shot himself, as did a number of other officers as the enemy seized the south of Stalingrad up to the Tsaritsa river.

On 26 January at dawn, tanks of the 21st Army met up with Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Rifle Division north of the Mamaev Kurgan, near the Red October workers’ settlements. The scenes were predictably emotional, especially for Chuikov’s 62nd Army, which had been fighting on its own for almost five months. ‘The eyes of the hardened soldiers who met were filled with tears of joy,’ wrote Chuikov. Bottles were passed back and forth in fierce celebration. The Stalingrad Kessel was split in two, with Paulus and most of the senior officers bottled up in the smaller, southern pocket, and General Strecker’s XI Corps in the northern part of the city round the Stalingrad tractor factory. His only link with the outside world was the 24th Panzer Division’s radio set.

Over the next two days, German and Romanian stragglers, the wounded and shell-shocked, as well as still-active combat groups, all withdrew into the ever-diminishing southern pocket, where Paulus and Schmidt had set up new headquarters, under the Univermag department store on Red Square. The last symbol of German occupation was the swastika banner hanging from a makeshift flagpole fastened to the balcony above the main entrance. The remains of Colonel Roske’s 194th Grenadier Regiment provided its defending force. Roske was promoted to General as the new commander of the extinct 71st Infantry Division.

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor

Stalingrad Kessel Collapses II

The increasing number of senior officers who were surrendering meant that Don Front’s 7th Department, responsible for ‘Operational propaganda’, was busier than ever. So many prisoners had been brought in for interrogation since the offensive started that it had been hard to select the ‘more interesting’ ones.

Captain Dyatlenko received a signal ordering him to return immediately to Don Front headquarters. Another captured German general had already been brought in for interrogation. Dyatlenko knew it was worth spending time on this new arrival, General Edler von Daniels. The search through the mailbags of the crashed transport aeroplane at the beginning of the month had produced the letters in the form of a diary which Daniels had written to his wife. Daniels, like most newly captured prisoners, was in a vulnerable state. As an experienced interrogator, Dyatlenko knew that the best tactic was the least expected one. He questioned his prisoner obliquely about his ‘Kessel-baby’, then took him off balance by suddenly producing the letters and papers which Daniels thought were safely back in Germany.

‘Herr General,’ Dyatlenko records having said to him. ‘Please have your papers back. This is your property and you can put it in your family archive when you return home after the war.’ Apparently Daniels was overcome with gratitude. He accepted tea and biscuits and Russian cigarettes, and then ‘answered our questions’. Dyatlenko kept at him until evening. After a break for dinner, he carried on until midnight.

On many occasions, such a refined approach was not necessary. The psychological confusion and the anger of defeat, produced docility if not cooperation from officers who felt both personally betrayed, and also guilty towards their own men for having assured them of the Führer’s promises of salvation. During interrogation, they often made a point of uttering derogatory remarks against Hitler and the regime. They called Goebbels ‘the lame duck’ and bitterly regretted that the overweight Goering had not undergone a ‘Stalingrad diet’. But it certainly appeared to their Russian captors that these generals had recognized the real character of their Führer only when they experienced the treacherous way in which he had behaved towards them and the Sixth Army. Few of them had described him or his policies as criminal when they were advancing deep into Russia and atrocities were being committed so close behind their front lines that they must have been aware of them, if not in some cases directly responsible.

From these interviews with captured officers, Don Front head-quarters formed the firm impression that Paulus ‘was under great strain, playing a role that had been forced on him’. They were increasingly convinced that Paulus was virtually a prisoner in his own headquarters, guarded by his chief of staff. Dyatlenko had no doubt that Schmidt was ‘the eyes and hand of the Nazi Party’ in the Sixth Army, because captured officers reported that ‘Schmidt was commanding the Army and even Paulus himself.

Colonel Adam, when interrogated later by Dyatlenko, told him that Schmidt had been the one who gave the order for the truce envoys to be sent back. (Dyatlenko did not reveal that he had been one of them.) The senior officers at Sixth Army headquarters had apparently been well aware of the contents of the oilskin pouch. On that morning of 9 January, when Dyatlenko and Smyslov waited in the bunker, they had read during breakfast the leaflets dropped by Russian planes with the text of the ultimatum. That same morning, General Hube had flown back into the Kessel from his visit to Hitler. He had brought the order that there was to be no surrender. According to Adam, this had strengthened General Schmidt’s intransigent position at Sixth Army headquarters.

On 29 January, the eve of the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to power, Sixth Army headquarters sent a signal of congratulation from its ruined cellar. ‘To the Führer! The Sixth Army greet their Führer on the anniversary of your taking power. The swastika flag still flies over Stalingrad. May our struggle be an example to present and future generations never to surrender in hopeless situations so that Germany will be victorious in the end. Heil mein Führer! Paulus.’

This signal, grotesque in the circumstances, seems more likely to have been drafted and sent by General Schmidt. The words certainly had his ring to them. Paulus, at that stage, was ill from dysentery, shaken by events and demoralized, so it is not hard to imagine him just giving a nod of approval when shown the message form. Groscurth, for example, had reported in a letter not long before: ‘Paulus is in a state of physical and moral disintegration.’

On 30 January, the anniversary itself, Goering made a broadcast from the air ministry, comparing the Sixth Army to the Spartans at Thermopylae. This speech was not well received in Stalingrad, where it was listened to on radios. The fact that it was Goering, of all people, who was delivering ‘our own funeral speech’, heaped insult upon injury. Gottfried von Bismarck described the effect as ‘macabre’. In the theatre cellars in Stalingrad, which were packed with wounded, Goering’s voice was instantly recognized. ‘Turn it up!’ somebody shouted. ‘Switch it off!’ yelled others, cursing him. The broadcast finished with Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. Some officers joked bitterly that the ‘suicide of the Jews’ on the top of Masada might have been a more appropriate comparison than Thermopylae. They did not realize quite how accurate they were. Hitler was indeed counting on a mass suicide, above all of senior officers.

Hitler’s own speech was delivered by Goebbels later on that anniversary day, having been delayed by RAF bombers. It rang with bitter defiance, but the streak of self-justification was too raw to be hidden. He devoted only a single sentence to Stalingrad, the disaster which cast such a shadow over the regime’s day of celebration: ‘The heroic struggle of our soldiers on the Volga should be an exhortation to everyone to do his maximum in the struggle for Germany’s freedom and our nation’s future, and in a wider sense for the preservation of the whole of Europe.’ It was the first admission that from then on the Wehrmacht would be fighting to stave off defeat.

The next day, Hitler, as if to offset any sense of disaster, created no fewer than four new field marshals, including Paulus. It was the largest group of senior promotions since the victory over France. When the signal came through announcing his promotion to General Field Marshal, Paulus guessed immediately that he had been presented with a cup of hemlock. He exclaimed to General Pfeffer at his last generals’ conference: ‘I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal.’ Another general told his NKVD interrogator that Paulus had said: ‘It looks like an invitation to commit suicide, but I will not do this favour for him’. Paulus instinctively disapproved of suicide. When he heard that some of his men were choosing a ‘soldier’s suicide’ – standing on top of their trenchworks waiting to be shot down by the enemy – he gave orders to forbid the practice.

Hitler was not, of course, concerned with saving lives, he was interested only in creating potent myths. He clearly hoped that senior army officers would follow the example of Admiral Lütjens on the Bismarck, a fantasy no doubt encouraged by news of the deaths of Generals von Hartmann and Stempel.

The reduction of the southern pocket continued rapidly. By 30 January, Soviet troops had penetrated right to the very centre of the city. In the cellars where the main mass of Germans sheltered from the cold and the artillery fire, there was a mood of despair and dread anticipation. In the old NKVD headquarters, the winter sky was visible through the smashed dome. The stone floor was covered with rubble and fallen masonry, and the cage-like structure of stairs and railings was twisted. A red-cross flag outside the entrance enraged a German infantry officer, who saw it as a signal of surrender. He went down to the cellar, where the doctors continued to operate in the light of a field-hospital gas-lamp, while they waited for the Russians to arrive. Gaunt and wild-eyed, the officer threatened them with his sub-machine-gun. ‘What’s going on here? There’ll be no surrender! The war goes on!’ Many men were unbalanced by battle stress or hallucinations due to severe malnutrition. The cellars were filled with men raving in delirium. Dr Markstein, a Danziger, just shrugged. ‘This is a dressing station,’ he said. The deranged warrior did not shoot them, he disappeared ghost-like back into the gloom without another word.

When General von Seydlitz, in the same building, released his divisional commanders on 25 January to decide for themselves whether or not to surrender, Paulus relieved him of his command. He placed all of Seydlitz’s divisions under General Walter Heitz, the commander of VIII Corps. Heitz then issued an order that anyone who attempted to surrender should be fired upon. When Seydlitz and over a dozen other officers surrendered – they included Generals Pfeffer, Korfes and Sanne – bursts of machine-gun fire were aimed at them from German lines as the Russians led them away. Seydlitz claimed later that two German officers were mortally wounded as a result of Heitz’s ‘apocalyptic order’.

General Heitz, however, having given the order ‘We fight to the last bullet but one’, does not appear to have included himself and his headquarters in this rhetorical flourish. An officer under his command remarked that his staff, almost certainly with his knowledge, had already prepared white flags.

Colonel Rosenfeld, the Luftwaffe commander of 104th Flak Regiment, adopted the rhetoric expected by the regime. ‘The swastika flag flies above our heads,’ he signalled on the evening of 30 January. ‘The order of our supreme commander-in-chief will be followed to the last. Long live the Führer.’ That night Sixth Army headquarters sent a signal, warning that individual commanders were surrendering because their troops had no more ammunition, but also adopted similar flourishes to those of Rosenfeld, claiming that they were ‘listening to the national anthem for the last time with arms raised in the German salute’. Again, this sounds more like Schmidt’s style than that of Paulus. Whatever the truth, few soldiers had either the wish or the energy to share such emotions. ‘During that night of 30 January’, recorded a sergeant, ‘each man was preoccupied with his own thoughts, with gnawing uncertainty, with painful wounds and frostbite, with thoughts of home, and with our fate.’ Officers especially expected execution. Many removed their badges of rank.

In the middle of that same night, General Voronov in his izba at Don Front headquarters awoke in a panic from a restless sleep. The idea had suddenly come to him that Paulus might escape on an aircraft landing on the ice of the Volga. Stalin’s reaction to the loss of such a prize was evidently not hard to imagine. He jumped out of bed at once and telephoned to give orders for guns along the east bank at Stalingrad to be trained on the ice as a precaution.

By early next morning, 31 January 1943, Shumilov’s 64th Army had secured virtually all of the centre of Stalingrad. Ruined buildings and cellars had been cleared with grenade and flame-thrower. Red Square was subjected to an intense mortar and artillery bombardment, before Russian soldiers moved in on the Univermag department store. Roske’s remaining grenadiers above Paulus’s headquarters in the basement finally laid down their weapons. At 7.35 a.m., Captain Behr on Milch’s staff received the signal: ‘Russians at the entrance. We are preparing to surrender.’ Ten minutes later, as Senior Lieutenant Fyodor Ilchenko went down into the packed and stinking basement, came the signal: ‘We are surrendering.’ Behr then passed on the message to Manstein’s headquarters at Army Group Don. Back in Germany, the official communiqué announced: ‘In Stalingrad the situation is unchanged. The defenders’ spirit is unbroken.’

Staff officers from General Shumilov’s headquarters arrived to discuss surrender terms with General Schmidt in the basement. Paulus remained in an adjoining room, while Adam kept him informed of every step. Whether this was a ploy to allow Paulus to distance himself from the surrender, or a further example of Schmidt handling events because Paulus was in a state of virtual collapse, is not clear. Finally, two hours after Lieutenant Ilchenko’s appearance, General Laskin arrived to take Paulus’s formal surrender, before he, Schmidt and Adam, were taken to Shumilov’s headquarters by staff car, as General Roske had apparently insisted. Like their men, the three men who emerged into the sunlight had incipient beards, even if their faces were not quite as cadaverous as those of their soldiers. Colonel Adam, Vasily Grossman noted, had the flaps of his ushanka fur hat down ‘like the ears of a pedigree dog just out of the water’. Newsreel cameramen were waiting to record the event.

Those still in the cellars of the city centre waited until Red Army soldiers appeared. Waving the barrels of their sub-machine-guns, they ordered the Germans to throw their weapons in a corner and file out. The defeated made ready for captivity by wrapping the rags from torn-up uniforms round their boots. Some German soldiers called out ‘Hitler kaputt!’ as a signal of surrender. Russian soldiers might reply ‘Kameraden, Krieg kaputt! Paulus kapituliert!,’ but mostly they shouted ‘Faschist!’ or ‘Fritz! Κomm! Komm!’

When Soviet troops entered the theatre cellars, they gave the order: ‘Whoever’s capable of walking, get outside to be marched to a prison camp.’ Those who set off assumed that the wounded left behind would be looked after. They discovered only later that the Red Army operated on the principle that those prisoners who could not march were finished off where they lay.

In one or two cases, rage and despair produced an explosive mixture. In the NKVD building, every German expected to be shot in reprisal, after an officer, who had concealed his pistol, suddenly shot a Russian major at point-blank range, then turned the gun on himself. Somehow the moment of anger among the Russian troops passed, and the prisoners were spared.

The surrender at Stalingrad produced a volatility in which the fate of a German was utterly unpredictable. Soviet soldiers, whether deliberately or by accident, set fire to the improvised hospital full of wounded in the pioneer barracks by the airfield. Two Luftwaffe flak officers, who had been escorted to an upstairs room by Russian soldiers, in the belief that the red patches on their collars signified high rank, escaped by jumping out of a shattered window. They landed by the latrine, and when soldiers appeared ready to shoot them, the younger lieutenant saved both their lives by quick thinking and acute psychology. He told his companion to pull down his trousers. The Russians laughed and spared them. They could not shoot men with their trousers down.

The NKVD Special Department groups were searching for Hiwis and also for ‘fascist dogs’, by which they meant ‘SS, Gestapo, panzer troops, and Feldgendarmerie’. A number of German soldiers, wrongly identified as SS, who laughed at the suggestion, were pushed to one side and executed with sub-machine-guns. Apparently Red Army soldiers from a Siberian division turned away in disgust from the spectacle. The same account, based on the interrogation six months later of a woman Soviet intelligence officer by the Secret Field Police, records the execution of a group of twenty-three Hiwis.

The NKVD’s search for Hiwis was relentless. Any man not in full German uniform risked being shot on the spot, as one battalion commander from the 297th Infantry Division discovered. ‘Soviet soldiers suddenly stopped us, and because of my lack of uniform and cap, wanted to shoot me as a “Hiwi”. Only a doctor’s knowledge of Russian saved me.’

A considerable number of Hiwis proved loyal to the Germans right to the end. In the ruins of Stalingrad just before the surrender, some soldiers from the 305th Infantry Division were starving. The Hiwis with them disappeared, and they thought that they had seen the last of them, but the Russians returned with food for them. Where they had found it, they would not say. The loyalty of these Russians was not always reciprocated, however. Shortly before the surrender, one officer was asked by his warrant officer: ‘What shall we do with our eight Hiwis? Should I shoot them?’ The lieutenant, taken aback at such cold-bloodedness, rejected the idea. He told the Hiwis to hide or slip out as best they could. They were on their own.

The fate of the Hiwis rounded up at the end of the battle of Stalingrad is still unclear, partly because the files of the 10th NKVD Division remain firmly closed. There is no way of knowing how many had died during ten weeks of encirclement and the last three weeks of intense fighting. Some were shot on capture, a handful were used as interpreters and informers, then almost certainly killed later, but most were marched off by the NKVD. Even members of Red Army intelligence did not know what happened to them afterwards. They may well have been massacred – there were accounts later of captured Hiwis being beaten to death, rather than shot, to save ammunition – but in the early part of 1943 the Soviet regime wanted to increase its force of slave labour, especially when it was transferring Gulag prisoners to shtraf companies. A solution of working Hiwis to death certainly offered a more vicious revenge since it would have protracted their suffering. On the other hand, both Stalin and Beria were so obsessed with treason that only instant death might have satisfied them.

During the last few days of the battle, the Soviet military authorities were increasingly anxious to prevent small groups escaping their net. Three German officers in Red Army uniform, led by a lieutenant-colonel, were captured on 27 January. A Russian lieutenant from a tank regiment cornered another two officers, and was wounded when they fired at him. Of the nine or ten groups of Germans estimated to have broken out of the ring, none of them appear to have escaped, but by then Army Group Don had been forced back beyond the river Donets, over 200 miles from the Kessel. There is, however, an unconfirmed and unconvincing story of a soldier who did make it, but was killed next day when a bomb hit the field hospital in which he was being treated for exhaustion and frostbite. Others are said to have tried to escape southwards out into the steppe and seek shelter with the Kalmyks, who had been friendly, but the Kalmyks themselves, like numerous other peoples from the southern regions of the Soviet Union, soon attracted the revenge of Beria’s NKVD.

Russian soldiers from front-line units, especially Guards divisions, are said to have been more correct in their treatment of the vanquished than second-line units. But some drunken soldiers, celebrating victory, shot prisoners, despite orders to the contrary. Even members of elite formations rapidly stripped their captives of watches, rings and cameras, as well as the Wehrmacht’s highly prized mess tins in aluminium. Many of these items would then be bartered for vodka. In some cases a decent pair of jackboots would be seized off a prisoner, who would be thrown the Russian’s decrepit cast-offs in return. One doctor lost his prized copy of Faust, a small leather-bound edition printed on onion paper, which a Russian soldier wanted for rolling makhorka cigarettes. Blankets were also snatched off backs, sometimes just for the satisfaction of revenge because the Germans had taken the warm clothes of so many Russian civilians.

As the gaunt prisoners stumbled out of cellars and bunkers, their hands held high in surrender, their eyes searched for a piece of wood that could serve as a crutch. Many were suffering from such bad frostbite that they could hardly walk. Almost everyone had lost toenails, if not toes. Soviet officers observed that the Romanian soldiers were in an even worse state than the Germans. Apparently their rations had been cut off earlier in an attempt to maintain German strength.

The prisoners kept their eyes down, not daring to look at their guards or the ring of emaciated civilians who had emerged from the ruins in such astonishing numbers. All around, odd shots broke the silence of the former battlefield. Those in bunkers sounded muffled. Nobody knew whether each report signified the end of a soldier found hiding, of one who had offered resistance in some way, or of a severely wounded soldier receiving the coup de grâce.

These defeated remnants of the Sixth Army, without weapons or helmets, wearing woollen caps pulled down or even just rags wrapped round their heads against the hard frost, shivering in their inadequate greatcoats fastened with signal cable as a belt, were herded into long columns of march. A group of survivors from the 297th Infantry Division was confronted by a Russian officer, who pointed at the ruins around and yelled at them: ‘That’s how Berlin is going to look!’

On 26 January at dawn, tanks of the 21st Army met up with Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Rifle Division north of the Mamaev Kurgan, near the Red October workers’ settlements. The scenes were predictably emotional, especially for Chuikov’s 62nd Army, which had been fighting on its own for almost five months. ‘The eyes of the hardened soldiers who met were filled with tears of joy,’ wrote Chuikov. Bottles were passed back and forth in fierce celebration. The Stalingrad Kessel was split in two, with Paulus and most of the senior officers bottled up in the smaller, southern pocket, and General Strecker’s XI Corps in the northern part of the city round the Stalingrad tractor factory. His only link with the outside world was the 24th Panzer Division’s radio set.

The northern pocket, with the remnants of six divisions under General Strecker, still held out. Strecker, with the headquarters of XI Corps in the Stalingrad tractor plant, signalled: ‘Troops are fighting without heavy weapons or supplies. Men collapsing from exhaustion. Freezing to death still holding weapons. Strecker.’ His message was robust, but conspicuously avoided Nazi clichés. Hitler, who received the signal after the meeting with Zeitzler, replied late in the afternoon: ‘I expect the north Kessel to hold out to the last.’ To emphasize the point still further, he issued a Führer directive a short time later: ‘XI Army Corps must resist to the last to tie down as much enemy strength as possible to facilitate operations on other fronts.’

The four Soviet armies had redeployed rapidly to crush the last pocket. With a concentration of 300 field guns to just over half a mile, the factory district was smashed once again. Any surviving bunkers were destroyed at point-blank range, some with field guns, some with flame-throwers, sometimes with tanks driving right up and sticking their barrel into an embrasure.

Strecker believed that, purely to help Manstein, there was a military purpose served by fighting on, but he utterly rejected any idea of self-destruction for propaganda purposes. In his mind, there was no doubt where the duties of an officer lay, as a conversation with a regimental adjutant shortly before the end showed.

‘When the time comes,’ the adjutant assured him, ‘we will commit suicide.’

‘Suicide?’ exclaimed Strecker.

‘Yes, Herr General! My colonel will also shoot himself. He believes we should not allow ourselves to be captured.’

‘Well let me tell you something. You will not shoot yourself, nor will your colonel shoot himself. You will go into captivity along with your men and will do everything you can to set a good example.’

‘You mean…’, the young officer’s eyes lit up, ‘I don’t have to shoot myself.’

Strecker spent most of the night of 1 February at the regimental headquarters of an old friend, Colonel Julius Müller. A single candle burned in one corner of the bunker as the small group present talked about the recent fighting, past friends and the imprisonment ahead. ‘No one mentions all the suffering,’ Strecker noted, ‘no one speaks bitterly.’ In the early hours of the morning, Strecker stood up. ‘Müller, I have to go,’ he said. ‘May you and your men go with God.’ Strecker was greatly taken with Thomas Carlyle’s description of God as ‘the true Field Marshal’. No doubt, his vision of heaven was a place of perfect military order.

‘We will do our duty, Herr General,’ Müller replied as the two men shook hands.

Strecker had already rejected the requests of his divisional commanders to surrender, but at four in the morning of 2 February, Generals von Lenski and Lattmann asked Strecker once more for permission. Strecker refused again. Lenski then said that one of his officers had already left to negotiate terms with the Russians. Strecker saw no point in continuing. He and Groscurth drafted their final signal. ‘XI Army Corps has with its six divisions performed its duty down to the last man in heavy fighting. Long live Germany!’ It was received by Army Group Don. Strecker asserted later that he and Groscurth had deliberately omitted any acclamation of Hitler, but the version recorded and then sent on to East Prussia ended with ‘Long live the Führer!’ Somebody must have thought it politic to make the signal more palatable at the Wolfsschanze.

When two Russian soldiers appeared looking rather hesitant at the entrance of the command bunker, Groscurth shouted at them to fetch a general. Strecker wrote afterwards that many of their own soldiers were ‘only barely alive’.

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor

Kublai Khan’s Naval Power

Reconstructions of a 13th century Chinese ocean-going ships of the kind described by Marco Polo, remains of which have been found at Quanzou. Such vessels had thirteen watertight compartments, a crew of over one hundred and fifty men and a stern rudder which, though also known in the Muslim world, was as yet rare in Europe. These were the ships that took Kublai Khan’s invading armies to Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Conquest of Southern China

In 1264 Kublai Khan turned once again to the conquest of the Sung in what was to prove the greatest military achievement of his career. By his side were two skilled generals who already had considerable experience of fighting against the southern Chinese. These were the Mongol Bayan, son of Kublai’s old comrade Uriyangkhadai, and the Uighur Arigh Khaya. Once more Kublai ensured a carefully planned and meticulous campaign. It would be his own private war and he wanted to take southern China intact, not as a wasteland. Chinese aristocrats who offered loyalty to the new regime were left in possession of their lands. Cities were not sacked and destruction of agriculture was kept to a minimum. Nevertheless the Sung were once again to be the Mongols’ most formidable foes.

Mongol troops still faced particular problems in southern China. There remained the perennial problems of parasites, disease and unsuitable terrain for large-scale cavalry warfare. Even the Mongols’ hardy steppe ponies suffered from the hot, humid climate and there was virtually no open grazing to feed them. Mongol losses rose alarmingly and gaps in the ranks had to be filled with native Chinese levies, most of whom were infantry. At first these troops were despised by their Mongol overlords but they rapidly proved themselves to be not only hardy fighters but better able to cope with the debilitating climate. Progress was, however, painfully slow. The Sung capital of Hangchow fell only in 1276 and it took a further three years for Sung resistance finally to end. Attitudes were also different from what they had been in Genghis Khan’s day. Prisoners were usually treated moderately well and Kublai did all that he could to encourage defections from the Sung side. This was particularly successful where the powerful Sung navy was concerned, a vital factor in a war where ships provided communication and transport not only around the coast but up the broad rivers of southern China.

Meanwhile Bayan proved himself a master of siege warfare, a branch of the military art in which the nomad Mongols had now become world leaders. The most epic siege was that of Hsiang-yang, which lasted no less than five years and was to be the turning point in Kublai’s conquest of southern China. Hsiang-yang was held by one of the most tenacious of Sung commanders, Lü Wen-huan. Because the city stood on the banks of the wide Han river, the Mongols had to use their new-found nautical skills in an attempt to stop Sung supplies and reinforcements from reaching the garrison. Even if this could be achieved, and even if all overland relief efforts could be defeated, Hsiang-yang would eventually have to be stormed. To keep casualties to a minimum the Mongols therefore needed the very best available siege artillery. Experts were recruited throughout the Mongol Empire, from northern China, Korea and even from far distant Muslim Iraq. Meanwhile many battles were fought in the surrounding countryside and on the Han river, but still the city did not fall, for the Sung realized that the fate of their kingdom hung upon that of Hsiang-yang. The Mongol noose steadily tightened but a full-scale assault remained a very hazardous option. Newer, bigger siege machines were erected and an almost constant bombardment was maintained until, late in March 1273, Lü Wen-huan at last surrendered.

The loss of Hsiang-yang was a devastating blow to Sung morale. City after city now fell, until at last Kublai Khan’s armies closed around the Sung capital of Hangchow itself. This, the so-called Venice of the East, had a huge population, an enormous garrison, mighty walls, stone towers in nearly every street and a network of urban canals said to be spanned by 12000 bridges. It was a besiegers’ nightmare! By this time, January 1276, the old Sung Emperor had died, a child was on the throne and the land was ruled by the widowed Empress Dowager. General Bayan had a long list of victories to his credit, yet even he must have felt relieved when the Empress Dowager agreed to hand over the Sung Imperial Seal in an unmistakable symbol of surrender – Hangchow would not have to be besieged after all. Instead of a Mongol sack and massacre, Kublai’s officers made a peaceful yet triumphant entry into the ancient Sung capital. There they proceeded to collect all official seals, the finest works of art, books and maps to be sent to the Great Khan’s court.

Despite the Empress Dowager’s surrender, the Chinese of the deep south kept up the struggle. The last flicker of resistance was by a Sung fleet, aboard which was a nine-year old boy, Ti-ping, the last Sung Emperor. Even after the Mongols had captured every port along the coast this heroic fleet fought on from bases in coastal islands. But now the Mongols also had a navy of their own and on 19th March 1279 the enemy was trapped near Yai-shan. Only nine Sung ships broke out. That of the little Emperor was not among them. They say that the Sung admiral took the child in his arms and, shouting out ‘An Emperor of the Sung chooses death rather than imprisonment!’ leapt into the sea, drowning both himself and the boy ruler. With this, the final defeat of the Sung, Kublai Khan reunited China for the first time since the fall of the T’ang dynasty in the tenth century. Despite a turbulent history, mainland China has never since lost this unity. To the Mongols, Kublai had achieved a long-cherished dream, for

Kublai Khan inherited a powerful fleet from the defeated Sung of southern China. This he used to conquer the coastal islands, reduce piracy and attempt to force his suzereinty on distant lands which had once paid tribute to China. Chinese naval power and overseas trade had, in fact, grown enormously under the Sung, while there had been dramatic advances in naval technology. Some resulted from the influence of Arab ships arriving from Iraq, southern Arabia and Egypt, while others were purely Chinese developments that in turn influenced the naval technology of the Islamic world. Flourishing shipyards could now be found in Hangchow, Canton, Ming-Chou and Wen-chou. The Sung even had special government departments dealing with river patrols and coastal defence. All this was now available to Kublai Khan who had already established a rudimentary navy in northern China, as well as being able to draw upon Korean maritime resources.

Mongol nomads took to the sea with remarkable alacrity, just as the desert-dwelling Arabs had done during their period of empire building six centuries earlier. In fact a number of Arabs played a leading role in the development of Kublai Khan’s navy. One came from a long-established merchant family resident in Kuang-Chou. He is known only by the Chinese version of his name, P’u Shou-keng. This merchant first rose to become the Sung’s Superintendent of Maritime Trade and was later promoted as Kublai’s military commander of the vital coastal provinces of Fukien and Kwantung. Despite their humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese – which were largely a result of the weather being on Japan’s side – the Great Khan’s navy achieved some remarkable results.

The effectiveness of Kublai Khan’s military organization is shown, not in his over-ambitious forays across the sea or into the steaming jungles of south-east Asia, but in triumphant campaigns like that against the Sung of southern China. This had demanded far greater planning and logistical skill than any earlier Mongol conquest. Many of these massive and far-reaching campaigns required not only Mongol cavalry but the close coordination of such horsemen with Chinese infantry, not to mention the more-than-supporting role played by Kublai Khan’s newly formed Mongol navy. Contemporaries certainly recognized the Great Khan’s military capabilities. Marco Polo said he was ‘brave and daring in action, but in point of judgement and military skill he was considered to be the most able and successful commander that ever led the Tartars [Mongols] to battle.’

Chinese ships of this period also deserve mention, if only because archaeology has again confirmed Marco Polo’s description of both the design and huge size of the Khan’s ships. This Venetian traveller was, of course, an expert on shipping, and he stated that the largest vessels needed a crew of up to three hundred men. They were much larger than anything seen in Europe and also had a sophisticated internal structure of watertight compartments, making them much harder to sink. A ship of this kind, dating from around 1277, was found near Quanzhou, the medieval Zaitun, in 1973 . She was an ocean-going vessel with a deep keel and had originally been around one hundred and twelve feet long. Judging from the remains of her cargo the ship was returning from the East Indies when she was wrecked. Though only four weapons were found aboard this peaceful trading craft, comparable vessels sailed the pirate-infested eastern oceans as far as Sri Lanka, Arabia and perhaps east Africa. Others carried Kublai Khan’s troops to the shores of Japan, Indo-China, Java and, according to a probably legendary source, even the Philippines.

Kublai’s invasion of the distant island of Java was even more dramatic, if somewhat pointless. Ostensibly it was in retaliation for the mutilation of another of the Great Khan’s envoys, but in reality it probably had more to do with control of the rich spice trade of the Molucca island, which both states coveted. In 1293 , using the experience painfully gained against Japan and in Indochina, Kublai Khan sent a force of 20000 men under Mongol, Chinese and Uighur generals to the eastern end of Java. Armed with a year’s supply of grain and huge amounts of silver to purchase local supplies, they joined a Javanese rebel force to defeat the local king. But the Mongols’ Javanese ally then turned against them and forced them to abandon the island. All that they gained from this spectacular expedition were a few shiploads of spices, perfumes, incense, ivory, rhinoceros horns, maps and a register of the local population – hardly enough even to cover campaign expenses.

Glorious Revolution, French Invasion Threat and the Channel Campaign I

Paintings by Jan Carel Donatus van Beecq

The Dutch forces assembled between June and October: a total of 463 ships, mostly small troop-transports but including forty-nine warships, carrying a total of 40,000 men, of whom over half were troops. Besides William’s own Blue Guards, there were the Scots and English regiments of the Dutch army, plus Dutch, Huguenot, German, Swiss and Swedish regiments; there was even a unit of Laplanders. To make this possible the size of the Dutch army was multiplied four-fold. The whole force was at least double the size of the Spanish Armada of a century before, assembled in little more than a tenth of the time. William III was well aware that it was extremely dangerous to mount any naval operation, let alone a landing, in the season of the equinoctial gales, but there was no time to wait until the spring, by which time the French army might be on the Republic’s inland frontier. Nor was there time to send the fleet to sea to win a victory and clear the way for the invasion convoy, and in any case it was essential to avoid starting a fourth Dutch War if William was to arrive in England in the guise of a religious saviour rather than a foreign conqueror. Arthur Herbert was appointed commander-in-chief of the Dutch fleet with instructions at all costs to avoid battle – but the odds against being able to evade a watchful English fleet less than a hundred miles away seemed almost insuperable, and Herbert was certainly prepared to fight.

Both James II and Louis XIV had their attention elsewhere and were badly served with intelligence on Dutch preparations. It was not until late August that James II began to take the possibility of Dutch intervention seriously and ordered the main fleet to mobilize. Even then he initially thought France was a more likely Dutch target than England. It was hard for so experienced a seaman to take seriously the idea that professional naval men would risk a fleet, let alone an army, to the autumn gales, and he took it for granted that no troops would sail until the fleet had cleared the way by a decisive victory. It was therefore best for the English fleet to avoid battle with an enemy believed to be much superior, until the moment was right, but there was a risk of being caught by the sort of opening attack the Dutch had so often mounted in the past. The Downs, otherwise so well situated, were therefore out of the question. Learning that Dartmouth proposed to assemble the fleet at the Gunfleet, within fairly easy reach of the Thames and Medway yards, he recommended him to move further out, ‘for fear he should be surprised while there by the sudden coming of the Dutch fleet, as being a place he cannot well get out to sea from, while the wind remains easterly’. It would have been well for Dartmouth had he listened to a king who knew those waters much better than he did, but he preferred the convenience of the Gunfleet, and James was scrupulous in not overriding his admiral’s judgement.

The Dutch fleet sailed on 19 October and was almost immediately driven back into port by a gale. On 1 November it sailed again. The wind was hard easterly, and the initial course was to the north. William’s intentions were, as usual with him, a close secret, and he may have had thoughts of landing on the Yorkshire coast (as James certainly anticipated), but an easterly wind made that impossible. Sometime about dusk on 2 November, with all the ships clear of the Flanders Banks but before the head of the fleet neared the dangerous shoals off the Norfolk coast, the decision was taken to reverse course and steer down-Channel. Dartmouth had sailed at almost the same moment as the Dutch, but the easterly gale prevented him from getting clear of the sands. At dawn on the 3rd the outliers of the Dutch fleet were actually in sight from his flagship, sailing south, but they were dead to windward and ‘the ebb being almost spent, we could not weather the Long Sand Head and the Kentish Knock’. By the time Dartmouth got to sea on the 4th, the Dutch were well down-Channel. On the 5th the wind veered south-westerly, blocking his further progress, and blowing the Dutch fleet neatly into Torbay. There William and his troops landed over two days of unseasonable calm.

After the event, when there was so much to be gained by it, various English captains, all followers of Herbert and therefore not natural friends of Dartmouth, claimed to have formed a successful conspiracy to paralyse the English fleet. There is hardly any impartial evidence that this ‘Tangerine conspiracy’ existed. Dartmouth’s councils of war were virtually unanimous, experienced officers like Strickland, who could not possibly have been secret friends of William III, concurring with more junior figures like Matthew Aylmer who subsequently claimed to have been conspirators. Given the false intelligence that the Dutch fleet was much the stronger, and the reasonable though false assumption that it would never risk the army at sea until it had won a victory, there was everything to be said for caution – and Dartmouth was naturally of a cautious, not to say hesitant, disposition. On 16 November, with better intelligence, his fleet sailed from the Downs to fight the Dutch, only to be prevented once more by bad weather. Even then the alleged conspirators did nothing more risky than secretly to send a junior officer (Lieutenant George Byng) with a verbal message to William III. William may well have hoped or even expected that the English fleet would be disabled by disaffection, but it is not at all clear that it really was. All the evidence is that his extraordinary triumph in the face of grave risks was indeed a matter of wind and tide. As a good Calvinist, he for one had no doubt that he had been predestined to succeed, and as a master of public relations he took care to spread the image of the Protestant saviour favoured by the Protestant wind, but the English seamen found it harder to identify the hand of God. ‘’Tis strange that such mad proceedings should have such success at this time a year,’ Dartmouth wrote despondently to James II.

William III was now ashore with his army, but his intentions were and still are obscure, though he had brought ammunition and supplies for a prolonged campaign. However many political leaders James II had alienated, very few joined William. The royal army lost a few senior officers but remained overwhelmingly loyal and substantially larger than the Dutch. Even among the minority who welcomed William, it is uncertain how many either desired or expected that he would seize the throne. The political crisis was resolved by a completely unexpected event. James II, whose bravery had been proved in a score of battles by sea and land, lost his nerve and ran away. Undoubtedly he meant to return, but it was the last and worst of his political misjudgements. His supporters’ morale was broken by his desertion, while his enemies seized the chance to declare that he had abdicated the throne, and that his infant son was spurious. Both claims were manifestly false, but they gave William III his opening. An illegal ‘Parliament’ was summoned to do his bidding. Surrounded by Dutch troops, it obediently voted that Princess Mary had succeeded her father, and Prince William was joint sovereign.

By April 1689, when they were crowned, the ‘Glorious Revolution’ had already fallen apart. The English, obsessed by fear of Catholicism, had imagined that nothing but love of the Church of England could have persuaded William III to risk his life and the Dutch Republic to spend over seven million guilders. Now they began to realize that their new king, though a Calvinist rather than a Catholic, was an ally of Catholic princes with reasons of state to be as tolerant in matters of religion as James II had been. It also began to dawn on them that he meant to involve them in an overseas war of ruinous expense. The first expense was a bill presented by the States-General for the whole cost of the invasion, computed as £663,752 (of which £600,000 was eventually paid). The bulk of the Anglican, loyalist political establishment had a very bad conscience about abandoning James II, and offered William at best a grudging tolerance. Many of the most eminent Anglican clergy refused to break their oaths of loyalty by swearing allegiance to the new king and queen. The true Whigs, on the other hand, had hoped for a restored Republic, while the Dissenters complained that William was able to extract from Parliament only limited toleration for them. Everyone charged him, very justly, with failing to persecute the Catholics. In Scotland the Revolution was taken over by extremists completely out of William’s control. Discarding constitutional figleaves, they openly declared James VII deposed for tyranny (thus making Scotland an elective monarchy), and demonstrated their superior purity and godliness by violent intolerance, including the execution of witches, Episcopalians and Englishmen. The Anglican church, forced to concede toleration to Presbyterians in England, found their Scots co-religionaries were ruthlessly persecuted in return. In both kingdoms the active supporters of William III were a minority, and the political world was divided into numerous hostile groups, each with plausible reasons to suspect the loyalty of the others. From prudence or conviction many leading politicians, William III’s supporters included, kept in contact with James II.

Although he was in all but name a conquering sovereign whose troops occupied London, William III did not have the time or opportunity to impose his will completely. He had to get himself and the Dutch army home quickly, before the French took advantage of their absence, and he was obliged to compromise with English politicians. All his experience of the Dutch constitution, moreover, had taught him that government was an impenetrable labyrinth largely inhabited by enemies. His business was to avoid government and control power by acting in secret through a handful of trusted men in key positions. Though he was the son and husband of English princesses and knew English well, he insisted on corresponding exclusively in French or Dutch (both of which he wrote surprisingly badly), and only a few Englishmen joined his close advisers. For him it was normal that formal responsibility should be dispersed among many overlapping jurisdictions, while the jealousy and suspicion which marked the English political situation was much what he was used to at home. Though the letter of the English constitution was not radically changed in 1689, the manner in which it operated was. Naval administration was particularly affected by the removal of a king who knew a great deal about his Navy, and his replacement by one who took no interest in it at all.

In foreign policy the situation in the spring of 1689 was confused. Louis XIV was at war with the League of Augsburg, including the Dutch Republic, and with William III in person as Prince of Orange, but not officially with England or Scotland. King William III of England and Scotland had as yet no formal alliance with Prince William III, Captain-General and Admiral-General of the Dutch Republic. James II’s followers controlled almost all Ireland, while in the Highlands of Scotland a Royalist army under the Viscount Dundee was in arms against the Edinburgh government. James II, whose strategic sense was so much better than his political judgement, meant to join his Irish and Scottish forces as the first stage of his campaign to regain his thrones. On 12 March 1689 French warships landed him in Ireland with some troops and money. Louis XIV, however, was busy elsewhere, he had not anticipated a naval war, and his Brest fleet was not ready for serious operations. William III cared equally little for Ireland, but had a better sense of the strategic value of sea power, and pushed the Anglo-Dutch negotiations which led to the convention of 19 April 1689, closely modelled on the abortive treaty of 1678, to create a joint Anglo-Dutch fleet. The ships were to be provided in the ratio five-eighths English to three-eighths Dutch, and the commanders-in-chief were always to be English. Naturally this was unpopular among the Dutch admirals, who on average were older and more experienced than their English contemporaries, but William was quite ruthless in putting the wider interests of alliance strategy first.

At this point, on the threshold of a naval war which was to continue over much of the following twenty-five years, it is worth pausing for a moment to survey the three navies principally involved. The most superficially impressive in many ways was the great fleet which Colbert, Louis XIV’s naval minister, built up almost from nothing in less than twenty years, and whose administration was codified in the nicest detail in 1689. Between 1672 and 1690, 216 million livres (about £16,500,000)17 were spent on it, creating a fleet of over eighty ships of the line, at least equal in numbers to the English, and on average considerably larger and more heavily armed. Contemporaries were dazzled, as they were meant to be, and some historians still are, but the practical effectiveness of this great fleet was severely compromised. More than twice as much money was spent on shipbuilding as on the naval yards, which were quite inadequate to maintain the ships. Much of what was spent on the yards went on Colbert’s new showpiece establishments at Le Havre – which had to be abandoned as an entire failure because of the hostile tidal system of the Seine – and at Rochefort, even worse situated twenty miles up a river too shallow to float large ships of the line. The French navy was almost unprovided with dry docks, so essential for the maintenance of big ships, and suffered badly from all sorts of industrial and technical weaknesses, notably in gun-founding. Its manning system, based on the compulsory registration of the coastal population for service one year in three, was widely admired abroad but never worked as intended, and never provided enough men to mobilize the whole fleet at once. The fleet itself, composed largely of big ships which drew too much water to enter any French Channel or North Sea port, was remarkably ill-adapted for war against the English and the Dutch. Above all, Colbert’s navy was an accountant’s navy, a bureaucrat’s dream whose function was to obey the regulations and balance the books. Hardly anywhere in his voluminous instructions is there any mention of war.

The Dutch fleet was the same redoutable force which had so often fought the English. It had the same dispersed and ramshackle administrative system as before, and the admiralties still drew on the hypothecated ordinary revenues and the unequalled borrowing capacity which were the envy of every other naval administration. Nevertheless the system was under strain, and began to suffer badly by the early years of the eighteenth century. Financial exhaustion seriously affected even Holland, and effectively extinguished the Admiralty of Friesland. Bureaucratic decay and corruption (notably at Rotterdam) resisted attempts at reform, and the death in 1704 of Job de Wildt, Secretary of the Amsterdam Admiralty, removed the last figure with the influence and force of character to unify the system. The design of Dutch warships, which were notably slower and more leewardly than English, made problems for the allied admirals.

The English Navy had been built up by Charles II and James II as a formidable force to fight the Dutch, as we have seen, but it was not perfectly adapted for the new strategic situation. Its ships of the line were very heavily armed, but lacked the seaworthiness and weatherliness for operations in the Atlantic – not least because they were overloaded with guns. The ‘thirty ships’ of the 1677 programme had hardly been tried at sea. There were few cruisers and little recent experience of protecting trade outside the Mediterranean; indeed there was a notable lack of senior officers with any recent fighting experience. The Navy’s logistical system was largely based in the Thames and Medway, and it had no naval yard west of Portsmouth. The administration, for all Pepys’s reforms, had never managed to keep large fleets operational for more than a few months even in the North Sea, close to its bases, and the victualling system was especially fragile. The financial resources of the English state had never matched its naval ambitions.

Unlike their new sovereign, the English Parliamentarians were acutely worried by the situation in Ireland, and anxious that the Navy should frustrate James’s campaign there. The Navy, however, was short of money after Dartmouth’s midwinter cruising, and Parliament did not vote any until 25 April. Arthur Herbert, newly appointed commander-in-chief of the main fleet, did not get to sea until the beginning of April, leaving behind a number of ships which had mutinied for overdue pay. On 1 May (a week before war was declared) he encountered and fought a French fleet under the marquis de Chateau-Renault, which was landing troops in Bantry Bay at the south-western corner of Ireland. Herbert probably had nineteen ships of the line, all English, against twenty-four French. Initially the two fleets stretched up the bay in parallel lines, then tacked and sailed back out to sea. The French were to windward throughout and left Herbert’s ships too much damaged to renew the action, but did not press their advantage and returned, first to the bay and later to Brest. It was a missed opportunity, followed by a violent quarrel between Château-Renault and his junior flag-officers, Job Forant and Jean Gabaret. For the English the action was equally unsatisfactory. Herbert’s warning that ‘though the battle is not always to the strong, yet the odds seem to be of that side’ had been justified. It took two months to repair his squadron at Portsmouth, during which Irish waters were completely uncovered. William III created Herbert Earl of Torrington, but neither of them was happy with the battle, and it was clearly his work the previous year which had earned him the title.

Parliament and the public were intensely concerned at the Irish situation, and the almost complete lack of protection for trade against French privateers (between May and June there were only two English cruisers at sea in the Channel). James’s forces were besieging Londonderry, the capture of which would open communications with Dundee’s army in Scotland. Three French frigates under Captain Duquesne-Monnier were assigned to support him, two of them commanded by English officers who had followed James. No English warships opposed them, only two small cruisers, the Pelican and the Janet, which had been commissioned by the Scottish Parliament. On 10 July they were both taken by the French force in the North Channel. A larger French squadron would probably have won James’s campaign, as both he and some French admirals urged, but Louis XIV was not much interested, and the Brest fleet did not sail until 5 August, when it cruised in the Bay of Biscay, well away from the enemy. Duquesne-Monnier was unable to prevent an Anglo-Dutch army under Marshal Schomberg landing near Belfast on 22 August. Torrington got to sea with the main Anglo-Dutch fleet in July and cruised in the Western Approaches, remaining at sea, at William III’s insistence, until the end of September, by which time the fleet was extremely sickly, and the admirals thoroughly alarmed. To Edmund Dummer of the Navy Board it seemed ‘a mighty boldness to advance with the Grand Fleet further westward of the Isle of Wight than the [Royal] Sovereign had been known to have been, since the time of her build’, without staying out into the autumn, ‘the time of the year being so uncertain’, as Admiral Edward Russell complained, ‘long nights and a dark moon coming upon us, which are dreadful things at sea at this time of the year’.

Glorious Revolution, French Invasion Threat and the Channel Campaign II

Paintings by Jan Carel Donatus van Beecq

William III would never have invaded England if he had listened to admirals who pointed out inconvenient difficulties, and the more Torrington complained, the less the king trusted him. His chosen naval adviser was his Secretary of State the Earl of Nottingham, formerly a member of the 1679 Admiralty Board, a Tory politician of sanguine temperament who prided himself on his knowledge of the Navy. Behind Nottingham stood Russell, another sea officer who had deserted James II, but an old enemy of Torrington. Together they made plans for 1690. Though naval finance and victualling were in a state of collapse, there was no one in Whitehall now who cared much about such things. A substantial part of the fleet was in the Mediterranean under Vice-Admiral Henry Killigrew, and Nottingham assumed it would neutralize the French Toulon squadron. A small force under Rear-Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell was sent to the Irish Sea – much too small, as he pointed out, to stop the French controlling the Irish Sea if they chose, and cutting off the English army in Ireland. This was the more critical since William III himself landed in Ireland in June 1690 with fresh troops. None of this disturbed Nottingham and the Privy Council in London, advising Queen Mary in her husband’s absence. Meanwhile the French elaborated grand but vague plans for the united Brest and Mediterranean fleets to enter the Channel.

In May the French Toulon squadron succeeded in evading Killigrew off Cadiz, and on 13 June the united French fleet sailed from Brest and entered the Channel. Torrington sailed from the Nore ten days later, already gloomily convinced that the French would be stronger. On the 25th he sighted them off the Isle of Wight, and reckoned them almost eighty ships of the line (the true figure was seventy-five on the day of battle), against his own fifty-six. Torrington had been a lieutenant in the Four Days’ Battle as well as the admiral at Bantry Bay; he knew the consequences of fighting against odds and being driven into port. On the other hand he was convinced that he did not have to fight. ‘Most men were in fear that the French would invade, but I was always of another opinion, for I always said that whilst we had a fleet in being, they would not make the attempt.’ In London Nottingham, discreetly encouraged by Russell, saw no cause for alarm. The French fleet could not possibly be as large as Torrington claimed, and only the admiral’s pessimism, defeatism or treachery could account for his reports. The final straw was Torrington’s announced intention to retreat to the Gunfleet. No one had forgotten who had last retreated to the Gunfleet to keep his ‘fleet in being’ in the face of a threatened invasion, and they evidently did not trust God to be on their side a second time. Rather than risk a ‘Catholic wind’, Torrington was ordered to fight whatever the odds, and Russell was sent down to the fleet with secret orders to supersede him if he refused.

Torrington received his orders on 29 June and called a council of war of his flag-officers, which concluded that they had no option but to obey. Next day the allies formed line of battle, and with the wind behind them, bore down to attack the French. We have no minutes of the council of war, and we do not know how Torrington meant to fight. Nor do we know whether Admiral Cornelis Evertsen commanding the Dutch squadron, which formed the van, correctly understood Torrington’s intentions, though he knew some English. It seems likely that Torrington meant to exploit the windward position and avoid disaster by fighting at long range. His squadron in the centre seems to have been to windward of the others, more distant from the enemy; possibly he meant his van and rear to cover the extremities of the longer French line, while he threatened the French centre, but the wind was light and the arrangement may equally have been accidental. At all events the Dutch squadron ran straight down into close action, leaving the leading division of the French fleet unmarked: ‘a notable blunder, for professionals, which I saw at once I might exploit,’ wrote Chateau-Renault commanding the French van. The leading French division doubled on the Dutch squadron and inflicted heavy losses on them, including one ship captured, two sunk and many badly damaged. When the tide turned late in the afternoon, by which time there was almost no wind, Torrington ordered the Dutch to anchor and with his own squadron anchored to leeward, covering them from the French, who were slow to react and were carried out of action by the ebb. Over the next few days the defeated allied fleet retreated up the Channel, stopping the tides for want of wind. The French pursued with extreme caution in strict line of battle, but even so it was necessary to burn seven more Dutch and one English ship to avoid capture.

The defeat of Beachy Head caused panic in England, and serious damage to the alliance. In the prevailing atmosphere of paranoia, no one attributed it to mistaken orders or overwhelming odds. Even before the battle, William, Mary and their ministers had been suspicious of Torrington; now they assumed that his deliberate treachery explained everything. ‘In plain terms, by all that yet appears,’ Nottingham informed William on 3 July, ‘my Lord Torrington deserted the Dutch so shamefully that the whole squadron had been lost if some of our ships had not rescued them.’ Nottingham of course was anxious to shift the blame, but no one disputed his interpretation. Queen Mary wrote a grovelling apology to the States-General, offering to replace their lost ships, and William III assured them that Torrington would be punished. How to do it was not so obvious. Parliamentary impeachment would be slow and highly inflammatory of the political atmosphere, but the Admiralty Board struggled to avoid the responsibility. It took an Act of Parliament confirming the Board’s power to try a peer before Torrington’s court martial finally assembled at Chatham in December. To the outraged astonishment of William and his ministers, the court acquitted him. Most of its members were his old followers from the Mediterranean, there was no evidence of treachery, and the senior Dutch witness, Rear-Admiral Gillis Schey, contributed little but incoherent rage. Torrington’s acquittal was popular among the English seamen, who regarded him as a political sacrifice to the Dutch (who ‘through their own rashness and stupidity… were so roughly handled by the French fleet’), and cheered him up the river to London. Next day William dismissed Torrington from the Navy, but he could do no more. Meanwhile the question of replacing him had proved no less difficult. The Admiralty Board wanted Russell, but he preferred influence to responsibility. The Queen and her Council fell back on the Cromwellian expedient and chose a triumvirate of Killigrew, Sir John Ashby and Sir Richard Haddock.

Meanwhile the much-feared French invasion had not happened, because no invasion had been prepared. The marquis de Seignelay, who had succeeded his father Colbert as naval minister, urgently needed the political credit of a glorious victory, but had thought no further. Four days before the battle, he had written to the commander-in-chief, the comte de Tourville:

My confidence that you will gain a victory is such that I congratulate you in advance on the glory that you are going to acquire on that occasion; but since we must not stop there, I shall be content if you will let me know as soon as possible after the battle your thoughts on the employment of the fleet for the rest of the campaign.

It was rather late in the year to be raising the question of strategy for the first time, particularly with an admiral whose many good qualities were undermined by a profound reluctance to take risks. Moreover Seignelay, like most people in the new English government, knew little of naval logistics, and was impatient with Tourville’s excuses when he returned to port with victuals exhausted and a large proportion of his men sick. The sole profit of a great French victory was glory – and a raid which burned the village of Teignmouth35 with several fishing boats.

During the Channel campaign, the fate of nations was all to play for in Irish waters. William III defeated James II’s army at the battle of the Boyne on the day after Beachy Head, and James subsequently withdrew to France, but William and his army remained in Ireland, dependent on lines of supply which Shovell was too weak to protect against serious attack. A fortnight before Beachy Head, James’s Irish minister the Earl of Tyrconnel had assessed the naval situation with gloomy prescience:

The want of a squadron of French men of war in St George’s Channel has been our ruin, for had we had that since the beginning of May, the Prince of Orange had been confounded without striking a stroke, for he could have sent hither neither forces nor provisions, and Schomberg’s army would have starved, if they did not desert him… It’s to be feared their fleet will only triumph in the English Channel, for some days shoot a great many cannons into the English shore, and so return in August into their own ports.

It was not the victorious French but the defeated allies who used the sea to support their Irish forces. Strenuous efforts were made to refit and strengthen the fleet, and on 17 September the joint admirals sailed with a substantial amphibious expedition which in one month succeeded in taking Cork and Kinsale, the two principal ports on the south coast of Ireland.

For 1691 the three admirals were replaced by Edward Russell. As an outspoken enemy of the Stuarts he seemed politically safer than the other admirals, but until 1689 he had never commanded anything more than a single ship, and he was cantankerous and obstructive even in his most amiable moods. In France Seignelay died in the autumn of 1690, and his replacement, the comte de Pontchartrain, saw more hope in attacks on allied trade than sterile fleet victory. Tourville was therefore sent to sea with orders to cruise between Ushant and the Scillies, intercept the rich allied Mediterranean convoy expected home in July, and fight the allied main fleet if it was encountered in more or less equal force. He was not to go far from Brest, especially not up the Channel. Even this was too bold for Tourville, who would have much preferred to stay in port. Not until 17 June was he finally forced to sea by imperative orders. Almost at once his scouts warned him of the approach of the Mediterranean convoy from one direction, and Russell’s fleet from the other. Hastily abandoning waters so full of alarming opportunities, he fled into the Bay of Biscay. There Russell, with a smaller fleet, pursued him in late July, but Tourville’s excellent scouting allowed him to evade the allies and return to Brest on 4 August. Meanwhile smaller French squadrons several times escorted troops and supplies to Ireland, where James’s forces still held Limerick, but in the absence of the main fleet the communications of the English army were not disturbed, and Limerick finally surrendered on 13 October. The English government, seriously afraid that Parliament would vote to abandon the war as soon as Ireland was subdued, was desperate for a naval victory. To Russell’s fury, he was therefore forced to keep the main fleet at sea into September, losing two big ships wrecked, when a smaller squadron of two-deckers could have protected trade and covered Ireland just as well.

William III’s English government was visibly weak and divided, and the Navy’s loyalty was widely suspect. In France James II persuaded Louis XIV that the moment was ripe for decisive intervention, and a substantial French army was assembled on the Côtentin Peninsula. The plan provided for the Toulon squadron to arrive at Brest in the spring, permitting the united French fleet to sail in April to dominate the Channel before the English and Dutch could join forces. The troops would then be landed in Dorset. Though Tourville had not got to sea before June in the past three years, neither Louis XIV nor Pontchartrain took his logistical difficulties very seriously. They had to use Tourville, who was their only admiral with the seniority and experience to command the main fleet, but they were familiar with his excuses for inactivity, and they assumed that imperative orders were the solution to all the difficulties he raised. They finally forced Tourville to sea on 2 May, still without the Mediterranean ships and many of those from Atlantic ports.

The threat of a French landing was known to William III, who was already planning one of his own in France, and strenuous efforts were made to prepare the allied fleet. Its different elements were assembled at St Helen’s (the outer anchorage of Spithead, at the eastern end of the Isle of Wight). It was a bold decision to use an open anchorage only a few days’ sail from Brest, and when the allies joined on 12 May, Tourville was already entering the Channel. Off Plymouth on the 15th he was joined by reinforcements bringing his strength up to forty-four ships of the line. The allied line eventually amounted to eighty-two ships, but Tourville had not received warning that the Dutch and English had joined, and was still expecting to meet an English force not much bigger than his own, and actively disloyal to William III. On 19 May, north-east of Cape Barfleur, Tourville sighted his enemy ahead and to leeward, and ordered an immediate attack. It is something of a mystery why he did so. His orders obliged him to fight even the united allied fleet, but only if he met it while covering his actual landing, which was not the case. It is true the orders contained phrases reflecting on his courage, but he had received similar orders in the past, and injured honour had never yet stung him into action. Perhaps the most likely explanation is the simplest: the morning was foggy, and he was committed to battle before he realized the odds against him.

At first the battle went well for Tourville in spite of the odds. His fleet was concentrated and composed largely of big ships, it was handled with great tactical skill in a bold attack on the allied centre pressed to close range; Shovell ‘never saw any come so near before they began to fight in my life’. The allied line was extended, not to say scattered, and it was some time before the van and rear could work round to envelop the French. By evening, however, Tourville’s situation was desperate, his line was disintegrating, and it was high time to disengage. During the night and the next day the main body of French ships retreated westwards, and on the 21st twenty-two ships were able to round Cape de la Hague and escape through the Race of Alderney towards St Malo. Another group failed to round Cape Barfleur and took refuge in the bay of St Vaast-la-Hougue on the eastern side of the peninsula. The laggards of the main fleet, still anchored near Cape de la Hague when the tide turned on the morning of the 21st, were driven from their anchors by the force of the flood tide and swept back eastwards. Three big ships, including Tourville’s badly damaged flagship the Soleil Royal, were beached near Cherbourg, and burned next day by English fireships. Twelve more were run close inshore at St Vaast, where shore batteries and the invasion force camped near by gave them some protection. The English took time to prepare their attack, but on the 23rd and 24th boats and fireships burned all twelve ships of the line, besides some of the troop transports in harbour. The fighting was so close inshore that in one incident the bowman of an English boat pulled a French cavalryman off his horse with a boathook.

The double battle of Barfleur-La Hougue was a notable allied victory, but in that age of discontent, few were happy with it for long. Russell thought the French ships and officers better than his own, and regretted that his subordinates Sir John Ashby and Philips van Almonde (commanding the Dutch fleet) had not risked a pursuit through the Race of Alderney to catch the rest of the French fleet before it reached St Malo. Russell’s subordinate admirals quarrelled with him and with each other. Russell was angry at being made to keep his big ships out to the end of August, indeed constantly grumbling at the risks of taking them down Channel at all in ‘weather fitting only for Laplanders to be at sea with’. ‘This storm,’ he wrote to Nottingham at the end of June,

has confirmed me in my former opinion, that no fleet of ships, being so many in number, nor of this bigness, ought to be ventured at sea but where they may have room enough to drive any way for eight and forty hours, or where they may let go an anchor and ride. In the Channel six hours, with a shift of wind, makes either side a lee shore, and had not Providence put it in my head in the morning early to bring to, but have run four leagues further over on the French coast, God knows what account you would have had of the fleet… This and a Dutch war are very different, for then bad weather was nothing, the fleet having it in their power to anchor, but now we keep the sea a thousand accidents attend it.

The government in London, bombarding him with unrealistic and contradictory instructions, expected him to mount an immediate attack on St Malo. As Lord Carmarthen, his leading minister, warned William III,

The omitting to endeavour it will be looked upon as an unpardonable crime in us not to advise and will have the worst consequences with a Parliament if it should fail for want of a due prosecution; amongst other ill humours which it will create, it will most certainly and unavoidably make them never give more for the support of any troops beyond seas.

Ministers and Parliamentarians were very displeased to be told that its dangerous approaches and heavy fortifications made an attack impossible.

Elsewhere in the world the first years of the naval war were equally disappointing. In the West Indies there were heavy losses to French privateers. Commodore Lawrence Wright arrived with thirteen warships and some transports in June 1690, but found it impossible to establish a good relationship with Christopher Codrington, Governor of the Leeward Islands, who demanded authority over both troops and ships. Codrington was a man of more energy than tact or talent, but his strategic ideas were sound: ‘All turns on mastery of the sea. If we have it, our islands are safe, however thinly peopled; if the French have it, we cannot, after the recent mortality, raise enough men in all the islands to hold one of them.’ Together they succeeded in recapturing the island of St Kitts and the Dutch island of St Eustatius in July, but the arrival of a French squadron forced the abandonment of an attempt on Guadaloupe in May 1691. Wright presently went home on sick leave (‘how justifiably I shall not say’ was the comment of the Secretary of the Admiralty) and was arrested on his return. In January 1692 Captain Ralph Wrenn arrived with reinforcements, and on 11 February was attacked off Barbados by the comte de Blenac. Though the French had double the numbers, Wrenn was able to cover the escape of his convoy and disengage without loss, but soon afterwards he and many of his men died of yellow fever, and the bulk of the squadron was sent home in April. In effect the two navies had cancelled one another out and achieved nothing.

In New England there were virtually no regular warships present, but Sir William Phips, now Governor of Massachusetts, organized an expedition which captured Port Royal, Acadia (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) in May 1690. Emboldened by this success, the colony improvised an expedition with not less than thirty-two ships against Quebec. It arrived before the city on 6 October, very late in the season, and the chaotic ‘siege’ fell apart after only a week, but it failed by only a narrow margin, for if it had arrived even a week earlier it would have found no defence prepared. The English capture of Port Royal being more or less balanced by the French capture of Casco, in these waters too, neither side was able to do the other essential damage.

This was the story of the opening years of the war at sea. The great fleets of which everyone had hoped and expected so much, proved to be difficult to use effectively in unforeseen circumstances. Governments whose experience was irrelevant and whose attention was elsewhere failed to produce any coherent naval policy, while the admirals found it easier to fight battles than to win them, and easier to win them than to achieve any lasting advantage. Only one naval operation was an unequivocal victory of enormous strategic consequences, one mounted in defiance of all common sense and professional experience, and achieved without fighting: the Dutch invasion of England in 1688.

The great torpedo scandal, 1941-43

Mark 14 torpedo’s side view and interior mechanisms, published in “Torpedoes Mark 14 and 23 Types, OP 635”, March 24, 1945

A torpedo may take a long time before it settles on its final course. If the torpedo direction is still changing when the torpedo arms, it may set off the magnetic influence exploder.

by Frederick J Milford

Naval rearmament, which began in the mid-1930s, and WW II had dramatic impact on US torpedo programs. Three of the most significant changes were the enormously increased requirement for torpedoes, the urgent need for new torpedo types and the first use of US torpedoes against enemy vessels. The increased requirement was satisfied by expanding government facilities, the Newport Torpedo Station (NTS-Newport) was enlarged, the Alexandria Torpedo Station was reopened 1 and Keyport Torpedo Station began assembling torpedoes, and by initiating civilian production. Total production between 1939 and 1945, almost 60,000 torpedoes, was about equally divided between the torpedo stations and contractors. Mk.14 torpedoes were, however, in such short supply in 1942 that some fleet boats loaded out with Mk.10 torpedoes or even Mk.15s in the after tubes 2. New types of torpedoes are discussed in Part Three of this series. Firing warshots was an almost totally new experience for the US Navy. It seems probable that the number of warshots fired against enemy vessels in December 1941 was larger than the total number of warshot torpedoes fired for any purpose 3 in the entire past history of the US Navy. Perhaps not surprisingly, this intensive use of torpedoes revealed shortcomings that had been previously obscured, especially in the new service torpedoes and particularly in the Mk.14.

The trio of new service torpedoes, Mk.13, Mk.14 and Mk.15, which represented the bulk of the US Navy torpedo development in the 1930’s were on the one hand excellent weapons and had long service lives, Mk.13 remained in service until 1950, the Mk.14 was a valuable service weapon until 1980 and Mk.15 served as long as twenty-one inch torpedoes remained on destroyers. On the other hand they all had significant problems that were only fixed after wartime use began. The Mk.14, which was the principal submarine weapon, was plagued with defects that vitiated its use as a weapon until mid-1943. The conflict between the shore establishment and the operating forces over these problems was a very significant and much discussed factor in US submarine operations during WW II.


The Great Torpedo Scandal 4 emerged and peaked between December 1941 and August 1943, but some of its roots went back twenty-five years. It involved primarily the Mk.14 5 and three distinct problems, depth control, the magnetic influence exploder 6 and the contact exploder, whose effects collectively eroded the performance of the torpedoes. The scandal was not that there were problems in what was then a relatively new weapon, but rather the refusal by the ordnance establishment to verify the problems quickly and make appropriate alterations. The fact that after twenty-five years of service the Mk.10 had newly discovered depth control problems adds weight to the characterization of the collection of problems and responses as a scandal. These comments should, however, be mitigated a little by the fact that each of the Mk.14 problems obscured the next. Although BuOrd did not identify the final problem, contact exploder malfunction when a torpedo running at high speed struck the target at ninety degrees, their response, once the difficulty had been identified, was notably prompt. In spite of the promptness of BuOrd’s response, by the time it reached Pearl Harbor a number of relatively simple solutions to the problem had been proposed, and modifications had already been designed and implemented. This was, however, almost two years after the United States entered WW II.

Torpedo Depth Control

The first of the US torpedo problems was deep running, which was a frequent torpedo problem in various navies beginning at least as early as WW I. The problem was not, however, always due to the same sort of defect 7. There are at least four distinct kinds of problems that impact depth control:

1) Differences between calibration shots and service/warshots

    a) Torpedo weight or balance changed in converting to warshots, for example, warheads that were heavier than calibration heads.

    b) Calibration firings failed to simulate service launch conditions, for example, calibration firings from barges or surface vessels rather than submerged torpedo tubes, and/or calibration shot launch speeds, i.e., the speed at which the torpedo leaves the tube, and accelerations during launch different from service conditions.

2) Design or manufacturing defects causing changes in calibration after proofing or effectively causing calibration to change with time or environment, for example, sensing water pressure where flow corrections were large, or depth spring fatigue, or leaky castings etc.

3) Erroneous calibration: failure to check against an absolute standard, for example, total reliance on hydrostatic depth measurement and failure to use nets, soft targets or other sensing systems to establish true depth.

4) Inadequate understanding of the technology involved, for example, failure to recognize the importance of hydrodynamic flow in sensing the pressure at the skin of a fast torpedo; lack of understanding of the feedback loop and depth control dynamics 8.

Amazingly, US torpedoes, especially the Mk.14, demonstrated that most of these possibilities could, in fact, occur.

Depth control problems with US torpedoes were suspected by the Newport Torpedo Station (NTS-Newport) and BuOrd even before the United States entered WW II. On 5 January 1942 BuOrd, based on earlier (1941) testing, advised that the Mk.10 torpedo, which had entered service in 1915 and was still used in S-class submarines, ran four feet deeper than set 9. NTS-Newport tests on the Mk.14 torpedo in October 1941 had been interpreted as indicated that it too ran four feet deeper than set, but this was not reported to the submarine commands at that time. War patrol experience led to fleet suspicions that the torpedoes ran deep and these thoughts were communicated to BuOrd. In response to a direct order from the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, additional NTS- Newport tests in February-March 1942 “confirmed” the four-foot error for the Mk.14. RAdm William H. Blandy, Chief of BuOrd, notified RAdm Thomas Withers, Jr., ComSubPac, of the problem in a letter dated 30 March 1942, but general notification to the submarine forces was not made until BuOrd issued BuOrd Circular Letter T-174 dated 29 April 1942. The language in correspondence between Withers and Blandy indicate that Newport and BuOrd believed that the four-foot error in Mk.14 depth was due to calibrating torpedoes with test heads that were lighter than the warhead. This would cause torpedoes with warheads to run deep both because of increased weight and a nose heavy trim. The Mk.14 depth control problem was, however, much more severe than the four feet acknowledged by NTS-Newport.

In a mood of desperation, the operating forces made their own running depth determinations, using fishnets for depth measurement, at Frenchman’s Bay in Australia on 20 June 1942. These measurements indicated that the depth errors were probably more like eleven feet 10. BuOrd and NTS-Newport criticized the methodology and were reluctant to accept the results of the

Frenchman’s Bay firings and it was not until August of 1942, after intervention by the CNO, Admiral Ernest J. King, that they re-investigated and agreed that there was a ten-foot depth error in the Mk.14 system. Interim instructions for fixing the problem were issued very quickly and kits to effect an official alteration were distributed in late 1942. As near as we have been able to determine, there were two independent problems: Trim change due to warheads heavier than calibration heads and sensing the water pressure at a point where the velocity head was significant and consequently the measured pressure was low. The fix for the latter moved the pressure sensing port to the interior of the free-flooding midbody where the pressure was close to the true hydrostatic pressure and so reflected the true depth. The modified torpedoes were identified by the suffix A added to the Mod. with the most famous being Mk.14 Mod. 3A

Since the hydrodynamic problem has seldom been explained in readily accessible documents, we give a brief summary here. The pressure along the length of a torpedo varies because the velocity of the water relative to the surface varies. The pressure at the nose is higher than the hydrostatic pressure, which is proportional to depth, by an amount proportional to the square of the torpedoes speed. This corresponds to a depth of 39 feet of seawater for a torpedo moving at 30 knots or 88 ft for a 45 knot speed. As the measuring point is moved back along the skin of the torpedo the pressure decreases rapidly and becomes substantially less than the hydrostatic pressure. The pressure subsequently rises but remains slightly less than the hydrostatic pressure along most of the cylindrical section. Finally along the conical afterbody the pressure again drops and then rises though, since the actual flow is not streamline, not to the values found at the nose. The critical point is that the pressure at the skin of a torpedo is generally different from the hydrostatic pressure corresponding to the torpedo’s depth. The deviation is substantial in the nose and tail cone regions. A depth error due to the measurement of the wrong pressure would, of course, be detected in any calibration process that used an absolute depth measurement for reference. Unfortunately the Torpedo Station used a depth and roll recorder which determined depth by measuring the water pressure and was thus subject to the same kind of error as the depth gear. Furthermore, the depth and roll recorder was placed in the test head at a point where the hydrodynamic pressure was less than the hydrostatic pressure by almost the same amount as at the location, in the afterbody, of the sensing port for the depth gear. Thus both the recorder and the depth gear sensed essentially the same pressure, though not the hydrostatic pressure, and the torpedo appeared to be running at the set depth. The depth engine, however, responded to the lower pressure by adjusting the horizontal rudders to correct this “error” and the torpedo ran deep. The hydrodynamic theory needed to understand this problem was readily available in the 1930s but most design engineers were quite probably not acquainted with it. In consequence, it was assumed that since the depth recorder showed the correct depth, the torpedo was running at the correct depth. There are other insidious aspects to this problem. One of these is that a depth recorder checked against depth by static immersion in water to various depths or in a pressurized tank of water reads correctly since the error described above is due to hydrodynamic flow. Further the error is proportional to the square of the torpedo speed and is thus almost twice as important for a 46 knot torpedo as it is for a 33 knot torpedo. None of these comments, however, justify or excuse the failure to use an absolute standard to verify the results obtained with the depth and roll recorder or the obdurate resistance to complaints from the operating forces.

The operational aspects of the depth control problem have been recounted many times 11. The Mk.10 problem, which was probably dominated by the error caused by the change from exercise heads to warheads, was handled by simply setting the torpedo to run at a shallower depth and this procedure was implemented in January 1942, over twenty-five years after the weapon entered service. The Mk.14 problem required both a calibration modification and a modification to sense water pressure in the midships section and the latter was implemented beginning in the last half of 1943.

The Magnetic Influence Exploder

The second problem with the Mk.14 torpedo was the erratic performance of the magnetic influence feature of the Mk.6 exploder. Magnetic influence exploders had great appeal as proximity fuses for torpedoes offering the possibility of detonating the warheads under the vulnerable bottoms of warships. This potential advantage led most of the major navies to attempt to develop such exploders and generally these first attempts were not successful in service use.

The basic idea of a magnetic influence exploder is to sense either the field due to permanent magnetization of a ships hull or the perturbation of the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the large quantity of relatively high permeability ferrous metal in the ships structure. This is a sound and workable idea, but early simple attempts did not take adequate account of the nature of the perturbation. The Mk.6 device in particular relied on the variation of the horizontal component of the magnetic field as the torpedo approached the target. This field variation induced a voltage in a sensing coil. The voltage triggered a thyratron which discharged a capacitor through a solenoid. The solenoid, in turn, operated a lever that displaced the inertia ring thus triggering the mechanical exploder. This complex arrangement was presumably designed so that an exploder, Mk.5, without the magnetic influence portion, but otherwise identical to the Mk.6 exploder could be produced and issued to the fleet in peacetime. Security was apparently the overall motivation for this convoluted approach.

The perturbation of the Earth’s field by a ship naturally depends on the inclination of the Earth’s field to the horizontal. This inclination varies from zero at the magnetic equator to ninety degrees at the magnetic poles. At NTS Newport it is about sixty degrees. Regardless of the inclination of the Earth’s field, a ship, because of the ferrous metal in its structure, causes both horizontal and vertical perturbations of the Earth’s field which vary with distance and direction from the ship. The closer the Earth’s field is to vertical the greater the rate of change of the horizontal perturbation field with distance and the closer to a point directly below the keel the maximum rate of change occurs. Thus a device that senses the rate of change of the horizontal component of the perturbed field works best where the Earth’s magnetic field has a large vertical component. Unfortunately, a device that works well at high magnetic latitudes may not work at all well where the Earth’s field is nearly horizontal. Thus, the performance of a simple magnetic influence exploder is significantly dependent on the latitude at which it is operated.

Exactly this problem affected the magnetic exploders developed by the Royal Navy, the German navy and the US Navy. The Royal Navy quickly abandoned magnetic influence devices and relied on contact exploders. The German navy provided a sensitivity adjustment that would, in principle, compensate for changes in latitude. This was unsatisfactory and it too was abandoned fairly quickly 12. The BuOrd/Naval Torpedo Station Newport response was first denial that there was a problem, then a complicated set of instructions for setting the exploders for different latitudes.

The magnetic influence exploder was unquestionably responsible for sinking some, perhaps even a large fraction, of the 1.4 million gross registry tons of Japanese merchant ships sunk by submarines between December 1941 and August 1943. Reports from submarine commanding officers of apparent magnetic influence exploder failure, mainly duds and prematures, finally led to CinCPac ordering the disabling of the magnetic influence feature on 24 June 1943. ComSubSoWesPac reluctantly followed suit in December 1943 13. CinCPac’s order was issued eighteen months after Jacobs, on Sargo’s first war patrol, ordered the deactivation of the magnetic influence portion of the Mk.6 exploders in his torpedoes and incidentally got into considerable difficulty for doing so. Magnetic influence exploders were not used by US Navy submarines through the balance of WW II.

The Impact Exploder

Once the depth problem had been fixed and the magnetic influence feature of the Mk.6 exploder deactivated, it came the turn of the impact exploder to demonstrate its merit. Unfortunately the initial result was a plethora of duds, solid hits on targets without warhead detonations 14. This problem was suspected earlier, but it was not until the other two problems had been eliminated that there was unequivocal evidence of a problem with the impact exploder. This difficulty was a further frustration for the operating forces, but fortunately it was quickly diagnosed. The key to the problem was again the increased speed of Mk.14 15. The impact portion of the Mk.6 exploder was exactly the same as that which had been used in the Mk.4 and Mk.5 exploders. The Mk.4 worked entirely satisfactorily in the 33.5 knot Mk.13 torpedo. What was overlooked was that in going from 33.5 knots to 46.3 knots the inertial forces involved in striking the target at normal incidence were almost doubled. These greatly increased inertial forces were sufficient to bend the vertical pins that guided the firing pin block. The displacement was sometimes enough to cause the firing pins to miss the percussion caps, resulting in a dud. In cases of oblique hits, the forces were smaller and the impact exploder more often operated properly. Several war patrols, especially those cited above, convinced ComSubPac, VAdm Charles Lockwood, that there was a problem and he again resorted to experiment. Firings at a cliff in Hawaii demonstrated that some torpedoes did not detonate when they hit the cliff. A rather risky disassembly of a dud revealed the distortion of the guide pins. It was a simple solution to make aluminum alloy (rather than steel) firing pin blocks and lighten them as much as possible thus reducing the inertial forces to a level that did not distort the guide pins. Another solution was to use an electrical detonator and a ball switch to fire the warhead. This too was relatively easy to implement and soon became standard.

Once these and other less significant problems were solved, the Mk.14 torpedo became a reliable and important weapon. After WW II, it was modified to accommodate electrical fire control settings, gyro angle, depth and speed, and as Mk.14 Mod.5 remained in service until 1980.


It is worth asking how these three problems might have come about and presented such a refractory situation early in WW II. It is easy to identify several contributing factors, but it is unlikely that any one of them alone was the deciding factor. One of the first factors was the economy. These torpedoes were developed during the great depression, the total US Navy budget from 1923 through 1934 averaged less than 350 million dollars per year and total personnel stood at about 110,000. In that environment a torpedo was valued at around $10,000 (about the same as a fighter aircraft airframe complete except for engine) and destroying one in testing was a risk that only the fearless were willing to run. The result was that testing and proofing were done in such a way as to avoid risk of damage either to expensive torpedoes or scarce targets. As is often the case, constrained testing failed to reveal certain critical problems. It is, however, difficult not to believe that deep running, in particular, should have been discovered. There were well documented reports of German and British problems during WW I. It appears also that impact exploders were not tested in high speed torpedoes or at least not tested in impacts of well simulated warheads with hard targets. Such tests were undoubtedly omitted in an effort to avoid destroying useful materiel, exploders in particular, and perhaps further justified by the fact that the exploder performed satisfactorily in lower speed tests and by its primary role as a back up to the magnetic influence exploder. Thus we conclude that with respect to these two problems, depth control and the impact exploder, the poor state of navy finances and the concomitant lack of realistic testing probably played a significant role.

Another aspect of the situation was the almost total isolation of NTS Newport from the larger US technical and engineering community especially after 1923 when the station secured a monopoly on torpedo development and production. Political and labor interests in keeping jobs in New England probably encouraged the isolation. The net result seems to have been a lack of expansion of the scientific basis for torpedo technology at Newport at a time when dramatic changes in engineering were taking place elsewhere. No one was thinking about torpedoes from different perspectives and asking hard questions about design details. The isolation was exacerbated, especially in the case of the Mark 6 exploder, by draconian security, which in some cases even excluded the operating forces from full knowledge of the weapons they were expected to use. In this isolated environment, NTS-Newport developed an arrogant `We are the torpedo experts.’ attitude and when problems began to arise, the response was denial–`there is nothing wrong with the torpedoes’- -with the result that problems were identified and fixed slowly.

Perhaps not surprisingly a very strong polarization developed between the operating forces and the torpedo shore establishment. The operating forces resented their exclusion from the torpedo development cycle and flaunted their successes in proving that there were problems with the Mk.14 torpedo. These strongly expressed opinions of the men of the operating forces did not tend to improve relations with NTS-Newport. The operating forces also tended to exaggerate their contributions to the solution of the problems and deprecate those of NTS-Newport. A distinguished and truly great submariner recently wrote: _So by the beginning of September 1943, the operating submariners had detected and solved three serious defects in the Mark XIV torpedo: its faulty depth setting, skittish magnetic exploder and sluggish firing pin. All three problems had been solved by the operating forces in their tenders and bases, without help from Newport or Washington. 16 This is certainly an overstatement, but what is most significant is that though written over fifty years after the events, it still reflects the intense polarization that existed between the operating forces and the torpedo shore establishment.

This spectrum of problems was not unique to the US torpedo establishment. Almost the same set, defective depth control, unsatisfactory and untested magnetic exploder and a contact exploder that did not work at certain striking angles, occurred in the German navy and many of the responses of the shore establishment to the problems were also the same. The situation is discussed in considerable detail by Doenitz in his memoirs 17. The German navy’s problems were closed out, however, with four senior officers being tried by court martial, on the orders of Grand Admiral Eric Raeder, found guilty and punished.

Lest there be any implication that the entire US Navy or even all of BuOrd was functioning in isolation, we note that at about the same time early experiments with what became radar were being conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory (only about 350 miles Southwest of Newport). In 1937 complete disclosure of the state of radar development was made to the Army Signal Corps and Bell Telephone Laboratories. Radio Corporation of America was brought into the fold in 1938. 18 The contrast of this approach to the Newport approach is nothing if not striking. BuOrd itself in the development of range keepers for surface fire control, in a comparably secret endeavor roughly contemporaneous with the Mk.14 development, co-opted Ford Instrument, ARMA and Sperry to assist with the development. A later dramatically contrasting development program was the development of the Mk.24 Mine (Torpedo) between December 1941 and May 1943, which is discussed in a subsequent part of this series.

This takes the story of U.S.Navy torpedoes through beginning of WW II. As the United States became involved in the war, it became apparent that new kinds of torpedoes would be useful and a multitude of programs to develop improved weapons for submarines, surface vessels and aircraft were initiated. The idea that torpedoes could be significant ASW weapons also evolved and was elaborated with considerable success. The wartime developments and the post war development of US Navy torpedoes are discussed in the third part of this series.


1 The Newport monopoly on the torpedo business had a significant effect on the development of torpedoes. The extent of the monopoly and efforts to preserve it are illustrated by opposition to the reopening of Alexandria, which was accomplished in the face of demands from New England politicians and labor leaders that Newport be expanded. Resuming torpedo work at Alexandria expeditiously was possible only because when it was closed in 1923 it had been incorporated into the Washington Navy Yard. Consequently, the torpedo station could be reopened without an Act of Congress.

2 This was mentioned by Adm. B.A. Clarey in a recent interview with John DeVirgilio and confirmed by RAdm M.H. Rindskopf who also supplied key parts of the following material. Mk.15 torpedoes were too long to be loaded through hatches or stowed in the torpedo rooms. They were also too long for either the forward or longer aft torpedo tubes. They were modified, probably by using shorter warheads, and loaded into the aft tubes through the muzzle doors. USS Drum, SS-228, sailed so loaded on her second war patrol from Pearl Harbor in July 1942. All four Mk.15s were fired.

3 This, of course, means self-propelled torpedoes and excludes spar and towed devices. Apparently, only eleven torpedoes fired by US forces against enemy vessels prior to WW II (AL boats against U-boats). The number of warheads used in training and test and evaluation was very small. US submarines made 54 war patrols in December 1941 and fired 66 torpedoes at enemy targets, quite possibly more warheads than had been fired in the entire previous history of the US Navy.

4 At least three MA theses have been written about the problems of the Mk.14 torpedo (Ingram (1978), Shireman (1991) and Hoerl (1991)); the problem was noted by Morison and is discussed at length in Theodore Roscoe, , _United States Submarine Operations in World War II_, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1949; Clay Blair, Jr., “Silent Victory: The U.S.Submarine War Against Japan”, Philadelphia and New York: J.B.Lippincott, 1975; and Edwyn Gray, “The Devil’s Device: Robert Whitehead and the History of the Torpedo” (Revised Edition), Annapolis, USNI Press, 1991.. David E. Cohen has written a paper on the subject, “The Mk.XIV Torpedo: Lessons for Today”, Naval History, Vol.6, No.4, Winter 1992, pp.34-36″

5 Criticism of the destroyer launched Mk.15 is almost nonexistent. This is strange because the principal differences between the Mk.14 and the Mk.15 were in the size of the warhead, the fuel load, three speed vice two speed and slightly slower high speed, 45.0 k vice 46.3 k. One might speculate that it is even more difficult to distinguish misses from duds in a high-speed destroyer attack than it is in a more measured submarine attack. The Mk.15 did, in fact suffer from the same defects and they were rectified in essentially the same way that those of the Mk.14 were. The Mk.13 was a slower speed torpedo so it did not have the contact exploder problem and it used the Mk.4 exploder which did not have the magnetic influence feature.

6 Properly, the exploder is the entire Mk.6 assembly. It has an influence feature and a contact feature. This leads to awkward verbiage so we refer to the magnetic influence exploder and the contact exploder. Both are parts of the Exploder Mk.6, which weighs approximately 90 lbs, and some elements of the exploder function in both modes. The exploder also contains important safety features.

7 Some indication of the bewildering set of problems experienced by other navies can be found in Cdr. Richard Compton-Hall, RN (Ret) “Submarines and the War at Sea”, 1914-1918″, London: Macmillan, 1992; Karl Doenitz, “Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days”, Annapolis: U.S.Naval Institute Press, 1990. Cajus Bekker, (pseudonym for H.D. Berenbrok). “Hitler’s Naval War” Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.

8 The Summary Technical Report of Division 6 of NDRC, _Torpedo Studies_ Vol.21, Washington: NDRC, 1946, p.15, contains the following revealing comment: “The principal result of the study of Depth-keeping is the development of a theory … there is no longer any excuse for the laborious production of depth mechanism that cannot be expected to operate at all.”

9 Roscoe p.253

10 More detail can be found in any of the references cited above. Blair discusses the situation on pp 275 ff. It is not clear whether or not the eleven-foot error included the error due to changing from exercise heads to warheads. It is, however, interesting that BuOrd/NTS-Newport criticized the Frenchman’s Bay experiments on the basis of “improper torpedo trim conditions” (Quoted in Blair p.276).

11 Roscoe p.253; Morison Vol.IV p.221 in particular; Blair pp.169-70, 198; John David Hoerl, _Torpedoes and the Gun Club_, unpublished MA Thesis, VPI and State University, 1991, pp. 9-15

12 Successful magnetic exploders have, of course, subsequently been developed by many organizations.

13 ComSubSoWesPac (Christie) issued the deactivation order in response to an order he had received from the new Commander, Seventh Fleet (Kincaid). Blair “Silent Victory”, p.504. Christie had been heavily involved in the development of the Mk.6 exploder at Newport and was reluctant to see it abandoned.

14 Two of the best documented patrols that suffered duds were Wahoo 5 (April 1943) and Tinosa 2 (July 1943). The first of these is reported in O’Kane “Wahoo” and the second in Shireman “The Sixteenth Torpedo” unpublished MA thesis, U. of Wisconsin, 1991.

15 The literature on the Mk.13, Mk.14 and Mk.15 torpedoes focuses strongly on the Mk.14 and says almost nothing about either the Mk.13 or the Mk.15. This is understandable in the case of the Mk.13 since it was a slower torpedo and consequently had a smaller depth error and no major problem with the contact exploder. In the case of the destroyer launched Mk.15, which was a few feet longer than the Mk.14 and carried a larger warhead, but otherwise nearly identical to the Mk.14, I have found no references to unequivocal torpedo failures. This may be because during a destroyer torpedo attack things are too hectic to permit a careful evaluation of torpedo performance.

16 James F. Calvert _Silent Running: My Years on a World War II Attack Submarine_, New York: John Wiley, 1995 pp.96-97.

17 Karl Doenitz “Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days”, Annapolis: USN Press, 1990. The bulk of the discussion of torpedo failures is contained in Chapter 7 and Appendix 3.

18 L.S.Howeth “History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy”, Washington: GPO, 1963 Chapter XXXVIII, and chronology pp. 540-41.

MOHI, 11 April 1241

The Mongol incursions presented Europe with insuperable military problems. An initial raid in 1223 tested the Russian states’ mettle and found it wanting. Then, in a series of consecutive campaigns from 1237-41, Mongol forces overran Russia and devastated Poland and Hungary. Against their strategic speed and discipline in battle, western arms proved totally inadequate. A Mongol conquest of Christian Europe might have been possible, although logistically difficult, but it was never attempted.

While Baidar and Kadan had been sweeping through Poland, Batu’s armies had been advancing into Hungary, and once Baidar and Kadan had located the armies of Silesia and Bohemia and were preparing to secure the northern flank by eliminating or decoying them, Batu, who had been taunting Bela’s soldiers in Pest, began to withdraw. As always the co-ordination of the Mongol armies was faultless, but the timing of the decisive engagements was astonishing. It cannot be dismissed as coincidence, and since the uncertainty of the enemy positions would have made pre-planning impossible, the only explanation seems to be the speed of the Mongol messengers and in particular the efficiency of their signalling system. The day after the destruction of the Silesian army at Liegnitz, the southern flank was secured by Kuyuk who stormed Hermannstadt, over five hundred miles away, and destroyed the army of Transylvania, and in the centre Batu and Subedei halted to engage Bela on the heath at Mohi, which lies south-west of the river Sajo just before it joins the Tisza.

During the retreat Subedei, Mangku and Batu rode ahead of their soldiers to inspect the battlefield which Batu had chosen. On the afternoon of 10 April the Mongol army rode over the heath, crossed the Sajo by the only bridge and continued ten miles beyond it into the thickets, with the hills and vineyards of Tokay ahead of them and the rivers Tisza and Hernard on either side. In the evening when Bela arrived, a reconnaissance of a thousand Hungarian horsemen crossed the stone bridge, rode into the thickets, found nothing and returned to guard the bridge while the remainder of their army made its camp on the heath. Hundreds of wagons were drawn up in a circle around the tents and held together with chains and ropes. In the last light of the day Batu led his staff corps back to a hilltop and showed them the Hungarian position. On their right were the marshes of the Tisza, ahead of them the Sajo, and on their left and behind them the hills and forests of Lomnitz and Diosgyor. If they could be kept on the heath, the enemy were trapped like cattle in a corral.

When night came Subedei led thirty thousand men through the hills and back to the Sajo beyond the heath. His plan was to cross over and take the enemy in the rear while Batu engaged their front, and he began to build a wooden bridge between the villages of Girines and Nady Czeks. Bela’s scouts had already proved them- selves to be inept on several occasions, including that afternoon, and if there were any pickets they saw and heard nothing.

Just before dawn Batu launched his attack on the stone bridge. The guards held the west bank until reinforcements came from their camp and when it seemed as though the deep ranks of defenders could hold out indefinitely against a narrow column of Mongol cavalry, they jeered at them across the river. But Batu brought up a battery of seven catapults and began to bombard the far side of the bridge, `to the accompaniment of thunderous noise and flashes of fire’. As the disordered Hungarian ranks drew back from the fire bombs and grenades, the catapults increased their range and Batu’s soldiers crossed the bridge safely behind a `rolling barrage’.

At first the Hungarians were confused by the tactical use of artillery on the battlefield, but on the heath Batu’s forty thousand men faced the entire Hungarian army and it seemed only a matter of time before superior numbers would prevail. Committed to a plan which limited their ability to manoeuvre, the Mongol soldiers moved round slowly towards the centre of the heath so that the Hungarian rear would be towards Subedei’s surprise attack, and only their fire power saved them from being overwhelmed by the massed charges of the finest cavalry in Europe. After two ferocious hours Batu’s dangerously depleted ranks began to stretch out audaciously into a half circle as though they believed that they could surround their enemy, and as the Hungarians were preparing to charge through the line, another half circle under Subedei appeared behind them. The rest of the Mongol army had arrived at last, and the two lines closed in behind a shower of arrows. Surprised and about to be surrounded, the Hungarians had lost the advantage, but were too experienced to panic. Before the circle could be completed, they formed into columns and made an orderly withdrawal into their fortified camp.

The Mongols surrounded the camp, but Batu was despondent. The second bridge had taken longer than expected to build and the delay had cost him terrible casualties for which he blamed Subedei. He was no longer confident that his exhausted soldiers were strong enough to storm the camp or hold their own if the Hungarians came out again, and he wanted to play safe and retreat. Subedei, however, had more faith in his soldiers and their trust in him was absolute. `If the princes wish to retreat they may do so,’ he said, `but for my part I am resolved not to return until I have reached Pest and the Danube’.

The battle continued, and in the Hungarian camp many of the barons, who had earlier fought valiantly when victory seemed certain, would have abandoned Bela to his fate, if their camp had not already been surrounded. Bela’s brother Koloman rallied enough men to charge the Mongol artillery which was pounding the camp with fire bombs, but they were driven back. Then, after a bombardment of several hours had wrecked the fortifications, burned most of the tents and destroyed the Hungarian morale, the Mongol army began to mass for a charge, leaving a large gap in their lines in front of the gorge through which the armies had entered the heath on the day before. A few Hungarian horsemen made a run for it and escaped through the gap, and when the Mongol charge began, only the Templars and the soldiers of Koloman and Archbishop Hugolin formed up in a wedge to meet it. As Subedei had hoped, the remainder, many of them throwing down their arms and their armour to lessen the weight for their horses, set out after the first fugitives to make their escape while the Mongols were concentrating on their attack. The soldiers in the Hungarian wedge were decimated by Mongol arrows and finally smashed by a charge of heavy cavalry under Siban. Once again, as their brothers had done two days before at Liegnitz, the Templars died to a man. Archbishop Hugolin was killed and Koloman, fatally wounded, escaped with a few survivors to join Bela and the other fugitives.

But the escape route had been a trap.[1] When the runaway column was stretched out over the heath and through the gorge, Mongol light cavalry attacked and rode along either side of it, shooting down the fugitives as though they were hunting them. The heath became a mass of riderless horses and for thirty miles beyond it the road back to Pest was littered with Hungarian dead, `like stones in a quarry’. What had begun as a fierce contest between two extraordinary armies had ended in a rout, and the most conservative estimate of the Hungarian dead was sixty thousand men.

Only those who had been at the head of the fugitives or had ridden through the chaos into the hills at the side of the gorge escaped, and among these were Bela and Koloman. Bela outran his Mongol pursuers by taking a fresher horse from one of his loyal followers each time his own tired, and when he was clear he doubled back, swam over the Sajo and spent the night among the trees, guarded only by an old Slav retainer called Vochu. Koloman reached the Danube, crossing in a boat with the women and children who were fleeing from Pest, and made his way to his own Hungarian domains in Croatia where he died of his wounds.

The Mongols advanced, burned Pest and rode north and south along the Danube, terrifying the citizens of Buda on the western bank, although they did not cross. Instead they began to consolidate their conquest of eastern Hungary and to destroy Bela’s chances of rallying its inhabitants. In the camp at Mohi they had captured the great seal of the Hungarian chancellor and they used it to issue a fake proclamation which prevented the mustering of a new army: `Do not fear the rage and ferocity of these dogs; do not leave your houses; we have only been surprised and we shall soon with God’s help recapture our camp; continue to pray to God to assist us in the destruction of our enemies.’ In the cities they minted new coins which made Bela’s currency worthless and in the country they persuaded the farmers to return to their land under Mongol protection.

Through the Carpathian Mountains Bela and Vochu made their way towards Austria where Bela believed he would find refuge. One night they sheltered in a monastery in Thurocz where Bela met a fellow fugitive, Boleslaw the Chaste, who had fled from Cracow. At Pressburg on the Austrian border Bela was reunited with his wife and children and naively accepted the hospitality of Duke Frederick, only to find himself a prisoner. In return for his freedom and indeed his safety, Frederick demanded the repayment of the indemnity that he had been forced to pay six years before, but all the wealth that Bela had with him, including the Hungarian crown jewels, was not nearly enough. In addition he was forced to pawn three of his western departments, and while Frederick’s soldiers were preparing to take over these new dominions, which were probably the predominantly German areas of Moson, Sopron and Vas, Bela and his family travelled south to the safety of Croatia.

As news of the disasters in Poland and Hungary began to spread throughout the rest of Europe, a wave of panic followed it. Gruesome rumours of diabolical atrocities committed by unearthly monsters with supernatural powers led to a superstitious hysteria, and even the clergy revived the old myths and legends in an attempt to explain the mysterious invaders. The Dominican Ricoldo of Monte Croce argued learnedly that the true name Mongol was derived from Magogoli, the followers of Magog, and that the Tartars trembled at the name of Alexander. In Germany it was said that the Tartars were the lost tribes of Israel and that Jews were smuggling arms to them, using barrels which they pretended were filled with poisoned wine, with the result that at several border posts Jewish merchants were indiscriminately slaughtered. Mongol women were said to have accompanied the army and to have fought in battle as fiercely as the men. The Hungarians had described the invaders as `dog-faced Tartars’, probably because of the shape of their fur caps, but Ivo of Narbonne recorded that their princes had the heads of dogs and that the soldiers, who ate the bodies of the dead, tore off the breasts of the young women that they had raped and reserved them as delicacies for these princes. After the collapse of the mighty Hungarian army it seemed, even to the pope, that all of Christendom might be destroyed by these merciless horsemen from hell and every day in the crowded churches of northern Europe the congregations prayed, `from the fury of the Tartars oh Lord deliver us’.

It is difficult to determine just how much further into Europe the Mongols might have penetrated if his campaign had continued. Certainly they reached Korneuberg and Wiener Neustadt, only 30 miles south of Vienna. However, the news which reached them there and caused their withdrawal probably saved Western Europe from ‘a nasty ravage’ and Eastern Europe from permanent Mongol occupation such as befell parts of Russia; for, hearing that Khan Ogodai had died, they returned to the east for the election of his successor.

[1] The Mongols sometimes confused an enemy by feinting towards his front and then unleashing their main attack against his rear. By attacking from several directions, the Mongols gave their enemies the impression that they were surrounded. By leaving a gap in their encirclement the Mongols allowed the enemy an apparent means of escape, whereas in reality it served as a trap. In their panic and desire to escape through this gap, the enemy often discarded their weapons to flee faster and rarely maintained their discipline. The Mongols then attacked them from the rear, as in their defeat of the Hungarians at Mohi in 1241. Dalantai called this the ‘Open-the-End tactic’ and noted that the Mongols used it if the enemy seemed to be very strong and might fight to the death if trapped.


Even though the Hungarians began to become ‘Westernised’ at a relatively early date their tactics continued to include many purely Asiatic elements, notably in the use of both native and mercenary nomad horse-archers (the latter at first composed of Pechenegs but by the early-13th century principally Cumans); indeed, up until the 13th century even Hungarian heavy cavalrymen continued to often carry a bow in addition to lance and shield, and when tactically necessary they were prepared to fight as horse-archers. More usually, however, this role was left to the light cavalry, who wore no armour but dressed only in ‘fair garments’ and pointed caps and were usually armed with just bow, sabre and mace. Such Hungarian light cavalry either preceded the heavy cavalry in open order or skirmished from the wings- as, for example, at Marchfeld in 1278, where they rode back and forth and peppered the Bohemian right flank with volley after volley of arrows, disordering it in preparation for the charge of the Hungarian heavies. Onokar von Steier’s early-14th century ‘Rhyming Chronicle’ gives interesting details of a similar encounter between Hungarian light cavalry and heavily- armoured German knights in 1286. He describes how the Germans drew up in their usual close array, ‘stirrup to stirrup, lance to lance’, and how the Hungarians, who wore no armour, repeatedly rode at them, yelling like demons and shooting showers of arrows but never pressing their auack home; instead they wheeled away to left or right as they drew close (the order for which maneuver was given by rattling an arrow quiver, so Villani tells us in the mid-14th century; this noise was therefore only audible to the charging horsemen themselves, and not to the enemy). After 5 hours, during which time they had not come to grips with the Hungarians once, the exhausted Germans, with many of their horses dead or wounded, were obliged to surrender. One other prominent feature of Hungarian tactics that was doubtless a result of Asiatic, in this case Pecheneg, influence was the frequent use of wagons to fortify the army encampment, as at Mohi in 1241. (It should be noted, incidentally, that though the Hungarians were defeated at Mohi through poor generalship, contemporary Chinese sources state that the heaviest losses inflicted on the Mongols in their European campaign of 1237-41 were suffered in a night-battle against the Hungarians just before the engagement on the Sajó.)

Sometimes the Hungarians also employed standard Western European tactics, drawing up in close order with their best troops traditionally in the front line. Their close array appears to have been the cause of their defeat at the Battle of Serolin in 1167, where the Byzantines, with an army of similar composition, deployed in a looser, more maneuverable formation than the Hungarians, who formed up as ‘a single compact body’ around their standard, which was here mounted on a carroccio (obviously under the influence of Italian mercenaries, often encountered in Hungarian armies as, for example, at Mohi). When present on the battlefield Hungarian infantry seem to have constituted the centre of the line, either behind or in front of the cavalry.