Hephthalite Huns

Asia in 500, showing the Hephthalite Khanate at its greatest extent. The peak of Hephthalite power came in 522, with territories from Dzyngaria to northern India, but the empire collapsed quickly after that. In 532 a coalition of Hindu peoples expelled them from India and the Hephthalites disappeared altogether after unsuccessful wars against the Sassanids that took place between 557 and 561.

The Hephthalite Huns were a people of shadowy origins who ruled much of Central Asia and northern India from about 450 to 550 C. E. The word Hephthalite means “valiant” or “courageous,” and the Sassanian rulers, who resisted the initial westward expansion of the Huns, rightly feared their prowess as mounted cavalry and archers. Their coins bore a Bactrian script, and they probably spoke an Iranian language. A description by the sixth-century historian Procopius of Caesarea noted that they were ruled by one king and resembled the Byzantine state in their legal system.

There is also evidence in their conflict with the Sassanian kings Yazgird II and Peroz that they had a powerful army and observed sealed treaties over fixed frontiers. They were engaged in three campaigns against the King Peroz, captured him on at least two occasions, and finally defeated and killed him in battle. Thereafter, the Sassanians paid tribute in COINAGE to the Hephthalites, largely to keep the peace on their eastern frontier, until the reign of Khusrau I in the mid-sixth century C. E. The Huns territory at this juncture included Tokharistan and much of Afghanistan. They seized SOGDIANA in 509 and extended their authority as far east as Urumqi in northeast China. Although successful in India from 520 to the mid-seventh century, the Hephthalites in Central Asia had to withstand a new threat from the northeast in the form of the Turks. The Huns’ king Gatfar was seriously defeated in 560 C. E. in the vicinity of Bukhara, and the Huns thereafter survived only in the form of small and remote principalities, whose leaders paid tribute to the Sassanians and the Turks.


As had many groups before them, the Huns then turned their imperial thoughts south into GANDHARA. By 520 they controlled this area and came up against the western frontiers of the GUPTA EMPIRE under King Bhuhagupta. Under their own king, Toramana, they seized the Punjab, Kashmir, and Rajputana, a policy continued vigorously under their next king, Mihirakula, who established his capital at Sakala (modern Sialkot in the Punjab, Pakistan). He was a Sivaite, and this was a period of devastation for the venerable Buddhist monasteries, many of which were sacked and destroyed. Sakala was visited in the seventh century by XUANZANG, the Chinese monk, who noted that the walls were dilapidated but still had strong foundations. He described the presence of an inner citadel and learned that several hundred years earlier the city had been the capital of Mihirakula, who ruled over India. Pravarasena reigned from about 530 C. E. His capital, near Srinagar in Kashmir, was named Pravarasenapura after him. He issued coins inscribed with his name. We also know the names of his successors, who formed a Hun dynasty ruling over much of northwestern India and Afghanistan until the mid-seventh century C. E. Increasingly, these rulers absorbed Indian ways, particularly in respect to religion. Thus King Gokarna founded and endowed a shrine to SIVA called Gokarnesvara. The last Hephthalite king, Yudhishthira, ruled until about 670, when he was replaced by the Turk Shahi dynasty. In Central Asia, one principality that persisted after the Turks overcame the Hephthalites was located in Chaganiyan, on the northern bank of the Surkhan Dar’ya River. Another was at Khuttal in the Vakhsh Valley. These places were described by Xuanzang, who noted the number of monasteries and monks, the system of writing, and the fact that people dressed in cot- ton and sometimes woolen clothing.


The historical sources for the Hephthalites are fragmentary and at times contradictory, but it seems that while some of the population continued the typically nomadic life on the steppes, the elite became increasingly sedentary and occupied permanent walled towns or cities. One report describes the king’s gold throne and magnificent dress. Their coinage reveals kings, but there also appear to have been regional rulers. Little archaeological research has been undertaken on the major settlements of the Hephthalite empire. BALKH (Afghanistan) is known to have been one of their centers, and Xuanzang described it as their capital. It was, he said, defended with strong walls but was not densely populated. TERMEZ, on the Amu Dar’ya River, and Budrach were other cities of this period. The latter incorporated a citadel and covered an area of about 50 hectares (125 acres).

KAFYR-KALA, in the Vaksh Valley of Tajikistan was a walled regional capital with a citadel and a palace. Kafyr-kala is one of the few sites providing evidence for the nature of a regional center of the HEPHTHALITE HUNS. The Hephthalites were a powerful Hun group who dominated Central Asia and northern India between about 450 and 550 C. E. While some segments of the community preserved their nomadic ways, the ruling elite adopted a sedentary urban life, minted coins, and administered a sophisticated system of justice. Kafyr-kala is located in the upper Vaksh Valley in Tajikistan and was surrounded by a wall incorporating defensive towers. A palace dominated the citadel, which is 360 meters square (432 sq. yds.), while the lower town included a central road flanked by residences, temples, and shops. The palace was strongly defended with two walls and towers at each corner. The Chinese pilgrim XUANZANG, who traveled through this area in the seventh century, observed monasteries and Buddhist monks in Hephthalite centers. At the palace of Kafyr-kala, a Buddhist sanctuary, the walls of which were embellished with paintings of the Buddha, has been revealed by excavation.

The life led in such centers is illustrated by the painted feasting scene at Balalyk-tepe in the upper valley of the Amu Dar’ya River in Uzbekistan, which shows aristocratic men and WOMEN shielded by servants holding umbrellas. A second elite feasting scene is depicted on a silver dish from Chilek, in which female dancers are entertaining royalty. In Afghanistan, the massive rock-cut images of the Buddha at BAMIYAN in Afghanistan, the largest such statues known before their destruction by the Taliban in 2001, probably date within the period of the Hephthalite empire.


After the war with Rome, the focus of the Sassanian Empire was forced to shift towards the east where there were invasions, first by the Kushans and then the Hephthalite Huns, for the rest of the fourth century. The first major invasion of Persian territory by the Huns occurred near the end of the century and the invaders managed to reach Mesopotamia before Sassanian forces defeated them in 395. The empire was also embroiled in several internal conflicts throughout this period, which continued to occur in the fifth century as well. The Sassanian Emperor WahrIm V (r. 420-438 AD) successfully managed to consolidate his power and end the internal strife within his empire, along with putting an end to the expansion of the new Hephthalite empire. However, when a new series of conflicts with the Huns erupted during the reign of Emperor Peroz I in the later half of the fifth century AD, the Sassanians suffered several major defeats. Accounts of these battles, as well as specific information about the wars with the Huns, is scarce, yet a possible reason for the sudden superiority of the Hunnic warriors over the Sassanians may have been due to a drastic increase in the effectiveness of their horse–archers because of the adoption of stirrups. With the revolutionary equestrian equipment, mounted archers gained a considerable amount of stability, which greatly improved the accuracy of their shots. Since their heavy armour already made them much less mobile than the Hunnic horse–archers, the protection became more of a hindrance for the elite clibanarii because the extensive armour was also unable to protect them nearly as much as it was against the archers of the Roman army. Furthermore, the ability of the horse-archers to outrun the Sassanian heavy horsemen almost completely removed the threat of their cavalry charges. Ultimately, the Sassanians were so overmatched against the superior Hunnic horsemanship and equestrian tactics that, in 484, Emperor Peroz died in combat against them. A major result of these disastrous wars, as well as other increasingly frequent conflicts with the Turko-Hunnic peoples of Central Asia, was that the Sassanian clibanarii gradually evolved into a much more composite type of cavalry with different arms and armour more influenced by Central Asian styles. At the same time, the overall preference for the lance began to decrease among the Sassanian heavy cavalrymen, as the bow became more important, even though the horsemen remained heavily armoured.

BEF in Retreat 1940

Map showing the position of the British, French, Belgian and Germany armies on the evening of 25 May 1940. This was the situation when Lord Gort decided to retreat to Dunkirk, and also when Churchill decided not to evacuate the garrison of Calais.

After the shock of the events of the 20th May 1940, the British forces south of the Somme were in complete disarray. HQ 12th Division and two of its brigade HQs had survived intact but between them they could only locate one battalion of the Queen’s Regiment. Two of its battalions – 4th Buffs and 2/6th East Surreys – were nearby having been halted before they reached Abbeville and another – 6th Royal Sussex – sat in a railway siding south of Amiens. All could easily have been brought back under control had they had any signals equipment, as could the three battalions of 46th Division now cut off from their own HQ and it might have been possible to quickly reform them into a cohesive defence line along the Somme. As it was, the chance was lost simply because they were not aware of each other’s presence. Instead, it was now left to Brigadier Beauman and his Lines of Communication staff to take on the role of managing both the defence and withdrawal of millions of tons of supplies with whatever troops were to hand.

After many delays, the 1st Armoured Division had finally arrived at Cherbourg the previous day, having originally intended to reach the BEF via Le Havre but being diverted because of the bombing of that port. They were even now on their way to Rouen, the tank crews fitting their machine guns to their vehicles as they rolled along on the flat bed railway trucks bringing them north. Until reinforcements could be sent out from England, Beauman needed to gather whatever he could. The arrival of even a poorly equipped battalion like the 2/7th DWR was welcome news.

On arrival, Colonel Taylor reported to HQ 12 Division and was directed to the Nissen huts of 101 POW Camp, set up south-west of the town overlooking the docks where his men finally had the chance to get their first meal for three days and a rest, before being set to work constructing roadblocks as part of Liddel Force, another composite unit manned by local AMPC units and the former patients of the BEF’s VD hospital. Their task was the defence of the coast road into Dieppe itself. For now, though, the Germans seemed content to stay north of the Somme.

By the time the Dukes reached Dieppe, the British Line of Communications forces were beginning to recover as best they could. Also cut off by the German advance and far to the east, the 51st Highland Division was attempting to rejoin them and facing a difficult task. The Division had been deployed in the Ligne de Contact before the Maginot Line at Waldweistroff when the German assault began there on 13 May. The Highlanders had fought well until a general withdrawal had been ordered on the 15th, and on 20 May they were removed from the command of the French Third Army and put in reserve as the first stage of the pre-agreed plan to return them to the main body of the BEF. By the 23rd, the concentration of the Division at Etain was complete, ready for the next stage of a move towards Paris, but before the troops could continue, new orders arrived sending them instead to Varennes, about 30 miles from Verdun. Contrary to the terms of the Anglo-French agreement and without consultation, the Highlanders had been redeployed to the French Second Army who wanted them as a reserve for the fighting around Sedan. Following the new orders, Major-General Fortune arrived at Varennes on 25 May, only to find that six battalions of his men had been sent, without his knowledge, to Rouen instead. Infuriated, Fortune was then informed that it was no longer possible for him to rejoin the BEF and that he and his men would now fall under the command of General Robert Altmayer’s Groupement A, an improvised force later to become the French Tenth Army. They were to be deployed along the line of the Somme and would be in position by 2 June.

As the Highlanders made their way across France, the wavering Gamelin had been replaced by General Maxime Weygand and a plan to counterattack was taking shape. Gort had already set in motion an attack to be launched near Arras to relieve the garrison there and to threaten the German flanks. As this attack went forward, it was hoped that the French V Corps under General Rene Altmayer (brother of the Tenth Army commander), would attack northwards to link up and cut the German lines. Gort, fearful of his army becoming encircled, refused to commit large numbers of his badly needed men and instead sent a force of two reserve divisions – in reality little more than two battalions by now – and 83 tanks. The attack was a success in that it caused the Germans to hold back their lightning advance, now seen as potentially overstretching the force and exposing vulnerable flanks, thus contributing to the infamous ‘stop order’ issued by Hitler that saved the 2/5th West Yorkshires on the 24/25th. The anticipated French attack, however, never materialised. The liaison officer sent to find Altmayer reported that the general, who:

… seemed tired out and thoroughly disheartened, wept silently on his bed. He told me his troops had buggered off. He was ready to accept the consequences of this refusal [to go to Arras] … but he could no longer continue to sacrifice the Army Corps of which he had already lost half.

Despite this, Weygand now proposed a similar scheme, but on a much grander scale. Eight British divisions, supported by the French First Army and Belgian cavalry, would spearhead the attack south to link up with the French armies below the Somme. Weygand spelled out his plan at a meeting at Ypres but Gort was not present. The only officer able to deal in detail with the joint plan was then killed in a traffic accident and the plan was doomed. With a command structure incapable of responding to the speed of the fighting, the collapse of the Belgian Army and the lack of support from his allies, Gort’s confidence in the command and fighting abilities of the latter disappeared. From the highest levels, it seemed, the French authorities had accepted defeat and the fall of France was now inevitable. Despite the British government’s orders to co-operate fully with the French, he decided that the time had come to use his discretionary powers and save the BEF by withdrawing to Dunkirk.

Many in the French High Command, keen to find a scapegoat for the failures of their own staff, chose to portray Gort’s decision to evacuate the BEF as betrayal by ‘perfidious Albion’ and to use it as a bargaining tool as Churchill came under increasing pressure to commit more of Britain’s last line of defence – the RAF’s fighter squadrons – to the battle immediately. French fighter losses had been heavy, but in reality delivery of new aircraft so exceeded their losses that by the end of the fighting, the French air force was actually larger than at the start. These aircraft, however, sat unused far to the south. The need to keep France in the war was urgent, but Churchill had to consider whether the French determination to seemingly defend their country only to the last Briton could be allowed to outweigh the needs of his own people. In France, Fortune and his men would now become the sacrificial gesture needed to prove to France and the world that Britain would support its allies to the end.

As German tanks reached Abbeville, the British 1st Armoured Division under Major-General Evans finally reached Cherbourg. Too late to reach the BEF, the leading elements of the division were rushed forward to Rouen, and on 23 May the Queen’s Bays, one of the three cavalry units forming 2nd Armoured Brigade, received an order to seize bridges across the Somme – ‘Immediate advance of whatever elements of your Division are ready is essential. Action at once may be decisive; tomorrow may be too late.’ Evans was aware of the risk of committing his forces piecemeal into an attack but had no way of contacting GHQ to question the order and no alternative chain of command except to contact Gort via London, a slow, unwieldy process. Pushed into the assault supported by troops supplied from the best battalions Beauman could offer, the Bays fought well but found themselves too thinly spread to achieve any real success.

General Georges decided to use the two British divisions to carry out Weygand’s doomed plan to force a link with the northern group and the BEF. Two armoured brigades – the 2nd comprising the Bays, 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers and 10th Royal Hussars and the 3rd comprising 2nd and 5th Royal Tank Regiment (the 3rd RTR having been diverted to support the defence of Calais) – were hastily formed up. The 2nd, on the right, would be under the command of the French 2nd Cavalry Division and the 3rd on the left under the French 5th Division. Evans argued with the French that his division was not equipped for assault, but for pursuit. He was ignored and on the morning of 27 May, the tanks began to roll forward. Although the Germans had been in position for a full week, no real reconnaissance had been carried out and the 10th Hussars, unable to communicate with the French gunners who had postponed their barrage for one hour, went forward unsupported into a sector supposedly held by lightly armed Germans only to find themselves shot to pieces by heavy and accurate anti-tank fire. Their tanks disabled, the Hussars pushed forward on foot armed with pistols and, in one case, just a crowbar.

To their right, the Bays were caught on an open slope by well concealed guns and lacked the smoke canisters that might have provided some cover. The brigade commander, seeing the hopelessness of the situation, held back the 9th Lancers in reserve. The 3rd Brigade made better progress and advanced towards Abbeville and St Valery-sur-Somme. Having lost eighteen tanks, their commander, Brigadier Crocker, tried to organise a co-ordinated assault with French infantry but the promised support again failed to materialise. The 1st Armoured’s attack ground to a halt with the loss of 65 of its tanks destroyed and another 55 broken down from the long and rushed move forward. It was out of action as a co-ordinated whole. General de Gaulle’s 4th Armoured Division now launched its attack – Weygand’s plan envisaged consecutive, never concurrent, attacks – and took over the assault with its heavier tanks now better aware of the enemy dispositions. Even this was not enough and the Division withdrew.

The disastrous failure of the counterattack at Abbeville was yet another indication of the problems facing the British. Twenty-four hours after the loss of contact with the BEF, word finally reached HQ L of C at Le Mans of the previous day’s events. In near panic, General de Fonblanque issued orders for the immediate removal of all guns north of the Seine and the destruction of any that could not be moved, much to the dismay of Brigadiers Beauman and Shilstone. From the start of the war, the British had been acutely aware of their shortage of weapons. Even before the German attack began, efforts were underway to locate Belgian arsenals with a view to recovering as many anti-aircraft guns as possible if it looked as though the country might be overrun. Perhaps it was with this in mind that the German success in isolating the BEF caused de Fonblanque to consider saving the guns as his top priority; but Brigadier Shilstone, commanding all anti-aircraft defences in the Northern District, chose not to comply, realising that it would leave the vital depots at Rouen and Le Havre completely defenceless in the face of a situation that was, as yet, uncertain. For now, it seemed that the Germans might be held along the line of the Somme, or the Bresle or, at worst, the Seine, but to do so meant developing a co-ordinated plan.

In Britain, General Ironside was made aware of de Fonbalnque’s orders on the evening of the 21st and countermanded them immediately but recognised the evidence of the chaotic conditions prevailing across the Channel. In an attempt to rectify matters, he called on Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Karslake, another victim of Hore-Belisha’s purge in the late 1930s and now in retirement at home. With orders to ‘Get out all you can without alarming the French,’ Karslake sailed the next day armed with a list of priority stores considered essential to Britain’s survival should France fall. The intention was that his arrival would relieve de Fonblanque of the operational management of the Lines of Communication and leave him ‘free to concentrate on the very big administrative problems which will arise’ but when word of the change reached de Fonblanque at 0110hrs on 23 May, he is said to have torn off his insignia in disgust and exclaimed that he might as well serve as a private. After this uncharacteristic outburst, he soon regained his composure and remained in France until sent home at the end of the campaign.

The priority now, Karslake thought, was to put together a scratch defence force to protect the most important depots so that the vital equipment could be removed and evacuated. This force could then also provide a defence line along the rivers to cover the withdrawal of advanced troops should a retreat be necessary. To that end he set about contacting General Georges – still in overall command of the British units – at the HQ of the French Northern Forces. He followed this with a meeting with Beauman at Rouen.

Beauman had already set about the task of establishing a defence force for the L of C, inevitably now called Beauforce. He had passed responsibility for the administrative tasks to his sub-area commanders and was preparing improvised units from infantry base depots and the AMPC. Ironically, these men, largely discounted by Gort and the BEF, were often experienced reservists and better trained than many of their front line compatriots. There was a large cadre of veterans of the First World War who had survived the great ‘Operation Michael’ offensive of 1918 that had almost pushed the BEF into the sea and morale was still high amongst such men. They also had confidence in their commander, who had first led a brigade at the age of 29 and had been one of the youngest generals in the British Army by 1918. He had hoped for better than the treatment he received after the war and, like Karslake, had been retired early. In the current situation he had been given carte blanche by de Fonblanque to do as he saw fit and he had seen in the situation a chance to shine and perhaps to resurrect his military career, so it was a guarded meeting when Karslake first arrived. Karslake, though, was sympathetic and the two men quickly established a good working relationship as Beauman explained his use of the forces available to him to throw a screen north and east of Rouen with its left flank at Dieppe. Karslake agreed and suggested that the screen should be organised on divisional lines.

Karslake also took the opportunity to meet with General Evans of the 1st Armoured and soon realised that the common problem was a sheer lack of information. Immediately he ordered the formation of motorcycle reconnaissance teams under the command of officers from the Royal Tank Regiment to find out exactly where British and French units were and, if possible, German locations too. Without a staff, he made do with the help of only a small number of officers on the ground but managed to complete a detailed report for Ironside by midday on Saturday the 25th. The officer entrusted with delivering this report was taken seriously ill during the flight to the UK so Karslake himself returned that evening, reaching the office of General Ironside at around 2100hrs. There, it was agreed that Beauforce would be formally restructured as a division and two experienced brigadiers recently returned from Norway with knowledge of German tactics would be sent out to work under Beauman as brigade commanders. Karslake, meanwhile, would be given the role of Corps Commander and assume control of all British forces still in France under one unified HQ.

Unfortunately, Ironside was in the process of handing over his post and taking up the command of all Home Forces from Monday 27 May. His replacement, Lieutenant-General Sir John Dill, had returned the day before from a visit to Gort in France and was, presumably, very much aware that the BEF had lost contact with the forces south of the Somme and that French command and control was disintegrating. After the Germans reached the Channel coast, over 140,000 British troops – a number roughly equivalent to that of the entire Allied landing force on D-Day four years later – had been left leaderless. Any communication with Gort had to be sent via London but if Gort had shown little interest in the Lines of Communication before, at least now he had an excuse to be preoccupied. The remaining men were on their own.

Clearly, Ironside’s decision to appoint a single commander to manage the British south of the Somme made sound sense, but for some reason some of the decisions made that evening were never ratified and chief among the orders that were never enacted when Dill took over was that giving Karslake any authority to assume command. Charitably, one might suggest that Dill chose not to follow this plan because he misunderstood the intention and thought it better that Karslake concentrate on the removal of stores rather than combat. Equally, it is possible that he decided to ignore it because he disliked Ironside and, by extension, any potential supporter of Ironside. There is even some evidence that he may have cancelled the order giving Karslake command in the knowledge that his own friend, General Sir Alan Brooke, would be part of the ‘Second BEF’ Churchill was already proposing should be raised and sent to Normandy. If Karslake had command there, Brooke could not be given it. Indeed, one of Brooke’s first actions on arriving in France with the new BEF four days before the final collapse was to order Karslake home – sending the man perhaps best placed to advise him on the situation away within two hours of arriving on French soil and without bothering with any handover briefing.

Whatever the truth, Dill’s decision to cancel Ironside’s orders left the British in France without any centralised command. To compound the problem, Dill then appointed Lieutenant General James Marshall-Cornwall to head No17 British Military Mission with orders to work with the French Army HQ to:

… see every order issued to the British troops, and to report at once to the CIGS if I considered that their survival would be imperilled unnecessarily … [Vice CIGS Lieutenant General Robert] Haining added that it was the Prime Minister’s intention that the British troops should continue to fight to the last extremity in order to give the French no excuse for abandoning the struggle.

Taking up his role on 29 May, he arrived in France on the 31st, completely unaware of Karlsake’s appointment and later complaining that Karslake’s actions in assuming command were ‘injudicious’.

The divisional structure for the Beauman Division had been put in place by 28 May and orders formally raising it were issued by the War Office on the 31st. It is a measure of the confusion Dill had brought with him that the same day he himself ordered its disbandment and the evacuation of its personnel. Karslake was prepared to lose the now redundant HQ 12 Division but was reluctant to see the Beauman Division go. Obliged to comply with Whitehall, he immediately went to General Georges to discuss arrangements. Georges was astonished at the request. Although under no illusions about its origins and weaknesses, Georges pointed out that quite apart from its value in holding its present line, its removal would sent a powerful signal to the French that the British were once again heading for home at the first opportunity. As a result of George’s intervention, Dill reluctantly backed down.

Formally constituted as the first British Army division named after its commander since the Napoleonic wars, Beauman Division consisted of ‘A’ Brigade, (formerly Beauforce) now under the command of Brigadier Green and comprising the 4th Buffs, 2/6th East Surreys, 4th Borders and 1/5th Sherwood Foresters; ‘B’ Brigade (formerly Vickforce) under Brigadier Kent-Lemon and formed around three ‘Provisional Battalions’ – the 1st, 2nd and 3rd but more usually known as ‘Merry’s’, ‘Davies’ and ‘Newcombs’ Rifles respectively. ‘C’ Brigade (formerly Digforce) under Lieutenant-Colonel Diggle was made up of three AMPC battalions – ‘P’, ‘Q’ and ‘R’. To this, he was able to add divisional troops from the three 46th Division battalions stranded south of the Somme and ‘Symes Battalion’. This last was to prove a highly effective example of improvisation, welding soldiers from over 30 different regiments into a single fighting force capable of proving a greater obstacle to the German advance than much of the BEF had managed to accomplish.

Against Beauman and Karslake’s rapid progress in reorganizing the L of C, thus far Dill had managed only to create a system in which General de Fonblanque was in command of the administration of the L of C with Brigadier (now acting Major-General) Beauman commanding the defensive screen and both were answerable to Karlsake who, in turn, answered to General Georges at French Northeastern Command HQ. General Evans, commanding the 1st Armoured Division, was meanwhile answerable to Gort’s GHQ but could only communicate after considerable delay via London as all lines connecting the BEF to the south had been cut and thus was at the mercy of any more senior officer to himself. General Fortune, whose 51st Highland Division were still under French command but working their way back to the British sector from Paris, was answerable to General Ihler of the French IXth Corps but also both Fortune and Ihler were directly under General Altmayer of the French Tenth Army. All were also required to take orders from Whitehall which could conflict with any orders from the French, but would be forced to argue their case whilst agreement between London and General Georges could be met.

In all this, Marshall-Cornwall’s role was ostensibly to act as a liaison officer at Altmayer’s HQ and to co-ordinate British and French efforts but his role owed more to diplomacy than generalship. He reports that he focused his attention on the 51st and 1st Armoured as the ‘only fighting formations’ still in France and dismissed ‘Beauman’s so-called division’ as simply misleading the French into believing it ‘had some fighting value’. This appears not to have simply been a military assessment but a highly personal matter. Beauman writes of having been denied promotion to Major-General because one of his rivals had learned that a member of the selection panel was keen on shooting and so had rented a game lodge where he entertained the panel member for a month. The rival was duly supported by the panel member and promoted. ‘Even if I had been prepared to sink to such tactics,’ Beauman wrote, ‘I could not have afforded them.’ In Marshall-Cornwall’s memoirs, he writes of having added his uncle’s name of Marshall in order to gain an inheritance. He was thus able to rent a mansion near Perth with ‘250 acres of good rough shooting, including a fringe of grouse moor.’ He also notes that this lasted for about two years before ‘I was promoted to the rank of Major-General at the age of 47. This was an early promotion in those days.’ Having gained his colonelcy in 1918 as a result of his staff work in the intelligence field, Marshall-Cornwall felt that this gave him seniority so it is little wonder that Beauman, who ended the war as one of the youngest Brigadier-Generals after leading the 69th Infantry Brigade of the 23rd Division during fighting in Italy and before that serving almost continuously as an infantry officer from the outbreak of war, felt that he had been cheated by a technicality – he had not been given sufficient seniority for substantive rank. Throughout his memoir, he refers to Marshall-Cornwall only as the ‘Senior British Officer’ whilst Marshall-Cornwall in turn manages just two passing references to Beauman and in his post campaign report is highly critical of Beauman’s willingness to allow his men to use their initiative. In particular, he notes that Beauman issued orders that his men would be:

… required to give the maximum resistance possible without getting encircled. Orders for your retirement are left to your discretion, but should not be given until the enemy is reasonably near or there is a definite danger of encirclement … This is a very different spirit from Haig’s order of 12 April, 1918: ‘Every position must be held to the last man … With our backs to the wall and, believing in the justice of our cause, each of us must fight to the end.’

Although quickly deciding that the French had lost control of the battle and describing a meeting with Altmayer and the French Commander in Chief Weygand marked by Weygand becoming ‘hysterical’ and ‘screaming’ that positions should be held to the last, with men fighting with their teeth if necessary, it seems odd that Marshall-Cornwall then goes on to criticise Beauman for not taking this same suicidal attitude, especially since he says he was there to avoid British troops being ‘imperilled unnecessarily’ and, in any case, did not regard Beauman’s men as fighting troops. His account is filled with similar apparent contradictions, stating for example, that the 51st Division was ‘not under my orders, but I felt that it was under my wing’ – an odd comment given that he had been sent specifically to guard its interests but perhaps one seemingly calculated to distance himself from the division’s eventual fate. Equally, he wrote to Evans that his own ‘personal feeling and advice to you’ was that Evans must be prepared to sacrifice some of his men ‘to bolster up the French’, even though this would involve Evans deploying his men in ‘an illegitimate role, but I feel this must be accepted.’

For their part, it seems that Generals Beauman, Fortune and Evans had little respect for Marshall-Cornwall or his abilities. Other than brief visits to the front as part of his staff officer duties, Marshall-Cornwall had no combat experience and had never commanded a formation in action. Beauman, for example, describes a ‘stormy interview’ at French Army HQ with Marshall-Cornwall:

This officer had during his service held a long series of staff and military attaché appointments. As a result his knowledge of the handling and management of troops was not based on much personal experience and he appeared to think that they could be moved about like chess pieces regardless of fatigue and the state of their equipment.

After threatening to report Beauman to the War Office, the matter was settled by General Altmayer, who ‘proved much more reasonable’. Marshall-Cornwall himself refers to an incident in which General Evans ‘explained to me forcibly’ that his tanks were in need of maintenance before they could undertake further action – although accepting Evans was ‘right to do so’. It is clear from both his own memoirs and from other accounts at the time that he could contribute little more than an extra level of confusion to the situation and was either powerless or unwilling to countermand French orders for fear of the potential impact on his career rather than his duties to the British troops whose fate he would determine. In his rather self-congratulatory memoirs, he dismisses Karslake as ‘the fifth wheel on the coach’ but, this being the case, he himself became the sixth wheel. What was really needed now was a driver, but that chance had been missed.

Syrian Military Effectiveness during the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon

Syrian combat performance in Lebanon showed improvement over past wars in some respects, while in other ways it showed no improvement whatsoever.

Strategic Performance.

Given the conditions under which they were forced to operate—and despite Asad’s continued commissarist politicization of his armed forces—Syrian generalship was fine, even good, although not brilliant. Syrian moves in the first few days were wise given their desire to avoid provoking Israel while preventing the IDF from securing a decisive advantage and then attacking the Syrian forces in Lebanon. Syrian units were placed on alert right away and ordered to begin preparing and repairing defensive positions along key axes of advance. Damascus bolstered its air defenses in the Bekaa and redeployed two of its best armored divisions plus several more commando battalions to reinforce its units in Lebanon, many of which had been on occupation duties for so long that they were not combat ready.

When the Israelis began pushing up the spine of the Lebanon range toward the Beirut-Damascus highway, the Syrians recognized the danger of this move and decided to block it, regardless of the potential for provoking a war with Israel. This too was probably the right move: as badly as the fighting in the Bekaa actually went for Syria, it almost certainly would have been worse had the Israelis been able to cut the Beirut-Damascus highway and then attack into the Bekaa from behind the main Syrian defense lines.

Syria’s strategy for fighting the Israelis once it became clear that war was unavoidable was also reasonable. Damascus deployed its commandos forward with armor support in ambushes along the narrow paths into the Bekaa. They were ideally placed to contest the Israeli advance. The alternative, deploying all of the commandos with the reinforced 1st Armored Division along the main Syrian defense lines in the Bekaa, would not have taken full advantage of the commandos’ capabilities, and their impact would have been diminished.

The Syrian defensive strategy in the Bekaa was straightforward: a standard, Soviet-style defense-in-depth with two brigades up and one back, but entirely appropriate for the situation. It may be the case that a truly brilliant general might have found a better approach, but the Syrian strategy was not bad, and it is unclear that Syrian tactical forces could have implemented a more sophisticated defensive scheme. For instance, any kind of elastic defense strategy would have given up the enormous advantage of the terrain. It also would have required Syrian units to prevail over the IDF in fluid maneuver warfare. Given the drubbing the Syrians took when they were defending in place and had all of the advantages of the terrain, and how badly their forces fared when they tried to maneuver against the Israelis, it seems likely that any such mobile defense would have failed far worse.

Finally, although the decision to commit the Syrian Air Force to defend the SAMs and the ground forces in the Bekaa Valley resulted in the destruction of about a quarter of the Syrian Air Force, it too was probably the best move. Not sending out the Air Force to confront the Israelis would have been a severe blow to morale throughout the Syrian armed forces. Moreover, the Syrian Air Force did succeed in keeping much of the Israeli Air Force occupied on June 9–10, the key days of the battle. In fact, the IAF was so intent on killing Syrian MiGs that they concentrated most of their effort on the air battles. As a result, the IAF did not provide much support to Israeli armor in the Bekaa until late on June 10 when the Syrian lines had already been broken. Of course, what can be faulted in the decision to commit the Syrian Air Force was the absence of any real strategy that took into account the well-known shortcomings of Syrian planes and pilots and so might have allowed the Syrian fighters to accomplish something more than merely serving as a punching bag for the IAF to distract it from the ground battles.

Tactical Performance. The real variations in Syrian military effectiveness were at the tactical level. Specifically, there was a sizable gap between the performance of Syrian commandos and that of the rest of the armed forces. Syria’s commando forces consistently fought markedly better than any other units of the Syrian military. They chose good ambush sites and generally established clever traps to lure the Israelis into prepared kill zones. The commandos showed a decent ability to operate in conjunction with tanks and other armored vehicles, integrating them into their own fire schemes and doing a good job protecting the tanks from Israeli infantry. The Syrian commandos also were noticeably more aggressive, creative, and willing to take initiative and to seize fleeting opportunities than other Syrian units. Their surprise counterattacks on Israeli armored columns at Ayn Zhaltah and Rashayyah in the Bekaa stand out in particular. Finally, the Syrian commandos did an excellent job disengaging whenever the Israelis began to gain the upper hand in a fight, at which point they usually pulled back to another ambush site farther up the road.

In contrast, the rest of Syria’s armed forces performed very poorly, manifesting all of the same problems that had plagued them in their previous wars. In the words of Major General Amir Drori, the overall commander of the Israeli invasion, “The Syrians did everything slower and worse than we expected.” Without a doubt, the Syrian Air Force performed worst of all the services, but having discussed their problems in some detail above, I will concentrate on the Syrian Army.

As opposed to the competent performance turned in by their commandos, Syria’s line formations had little to brag about other than their stubborn resistance and orderly retreat. Syrian armor consistently refused to maneuver against the Israelis, with the result that in every tank duel, no matter how much the terrain or circumstances favored the Syrians, it was only a matter of time before the Israelis’ superior marksmanship and constant efforts to maneuver for advantage led to a Syrian defeat. Chaim Herzog has echoed this assessment, observing that the Syrian military’s greatest problem was its chronic “inflexibility in maneuver.” Syrian artillery support was very poor and had little effect on the fighting. Syrian artillery batteries showed almost no ability to shift fire in response to changing tactical situations or to coordinate fire from geographically dispersed units. Syrian armored and mechanized formations recognized the need to conduct combined arms operations, but showed little understanding of how to actually do so. Infantry, armor, and artillery all failed to provide each other with adequate support, allowing the Israelis to defeat each in detail. In general, the Syrians relied on mass to compensate for their tactical shortcomings, but Israeli tactical skill proved so overwhelming that even where Syrian armored and mechanized formations were able to create favorable odds ratios, they were still easily defeated by the Israelis.

Damascus’s ground forces had other problems as well. Syrian units were extremely negligent in gathering information and conducting reconnaissance. Many Syrian commanders simply failed to order patrols to keep abreast of Israeli movements in their sector, instead relying on information passed down from higher echelons. Those patrols that were dispatched seemed to have little feel for the purpose of reconnaissance and rarely gathered much useful information. As a result, many Syrian units blundered around Lebanon with little understanding of where the Israelis were, sometimes with fatal consequences. Syrian units showed poor fire discipline, squandering rounds so quickly that they were forced to retreat because they were out of ammunition. Despite extensive training in night-combat from their Soviet advisors, Syrian units were almost helpless after dark. Syrian personnel at all levels could not night navigate, their units lost all cohesion in the darkness, and morale dropped accordingly. Only some of the commando units showed any ability to actually apply the training they had received and operate after dark but, fortunately for the Syrians, the Israelis generally halted each night.

The Syrian Gazelle helicopter gunships made a huge psychological impact on the Israelis, but did little actual damage. The Gazelles were not able to manage more than a few armor kills during the war, and although they employed proper “pop-up” tactics, they could only delay the Israelis. Although this was useful in slowing the Israeli advance to the Bekaa and then hindering the Israeli pursuit after they had broken through the Syrian lines, the Gazelles were unable to prevent Syrian defeats, even when they were committed in large numbers as in the fighting around Lake Qir’awn. One Israeli officer observed that the Syrian Gazelles were “not a problem” because they did not employ them creatively, had bad aim, and operated only individually or in pairs, making it easy for the IDF to handle them. Anthony Cordesman has commented that Syrian helicopter operations in Lebanon suffered from “The same tactical and operational rigidities, training, and command problems that affected its tank, other armor, and artillery performance.” Consequently, their contributions were negligible.

Syrian combat support was another impediment to their tactical performance. In particular, Syrian logistics were appalling. Damascus had established huge stockpiles of spares and combat consumables in the Bekaa, yet during the combat operations many Syrian units could not get resupplied (although part of the problem was their wasteful expenditure of ammunition). Graft had riddled the Syrian quartermaster corps with the result that a lot of things that were supposed to have been available were not. In addition, the Syrians did not understand their Soviet-style “push” logistics system, with quartermasters demanding formal requests for provisions, rather than simply sending supplies to the front at regular intervals as intended.

Maintenance was another problem area for the Syrians. Most Syrian soldiers were incapable and unwilling to perform even basic preventive maintenance on their weapons and vehicles. Instead, these functions had to be performed by specialized technicians attached at brigade and division level, and for most repairs, equipment had to be sent back to a small number of central depots around Damascus. These facilities were manned in part by Cuban technicians who handled the more advanced Soviet weaponry. The Israelis reported capturing a fair number of Syrian armored vehicles abandoned because of minor mechanical problems.

The fact that Syria’s commandos performed so much better than Syrian units ever had in the past should not obscure the fact that, in an absolute sense, when compared to the forces of other armies, Syria’s commando battalions were still mediocre. In general, the Syrian commandos were content to sit in their prepared positions, fire down on Israeli forces that wandered into their ambushes, and then retreat as soon as the Israelis recovered and began to bust up the Syrian defensive scheme. Incidents such as the commando counterattacks at Ayn Zhaltah, Rashayyah, and a few other minor engagements were still exceptions to the rule. They are noteworthy because they were among the only times that even the commandos tried to get out and upset Israeli operations. The rule, however, was for the commandos to establish ambushes and then wait passively for the IDF to come to them.

The commandos also weren’t terrific with their weapons: on any number of occasions, Israeli units were completely trapped by Syrian commando ambushes, and subjected to a hail of gunfire, grenades, and missiles, only to emerge having suffered just a handful of casualties. In addition, like other Syrian formations, the commandos frequently neglected to cover their flanks or were too quick to conclude that terrain was impassable. As a result, many Syrian ambushes were cleared by Israeli flank guards or bypassed altogether when Israeli combat engineers found a way through terrain the Syrians had deemed impassable.

Unit cohesion among Syrian formations in Lebanon was actually quite good. For the most part, Syrian units stuck together and fought back under all circumstances. Few Syrian units simply disintegrated in combat. The rule was that Syrian units fought hard and then stuck together and retreated well. Although it is true that Israeli pressure was uncharacteristically light on the Syrian armored forces withdrawing up the Bekaa after their defeat on June 10, there were still many instances of Syrian units showing good discipline and retreating in good order under heavy pressure. The commandos in particular showed outstanding unit cohesion. In many fights they clung to their defensive positions until they were overpowered by Israeli infantry units, and in several clashes, Syrian commando units fought to the last man to hold particularly important positions or when acting as rear guards to allow other forces to escape.

Syrian Combat Performance and Underdevelopment

It’s easy to get distracted by the better performance of Syria’s commandos in 1982 and see it as evidence that the Syrians had improved dramatically over their performance in 1948 (and 1967, 1970, 1973, and 1976). It’s just as important not to. The commandos represented no more than about 5 percent of the Syrian forces that fought against the Israelis in Lebanon. They were better than the other 95 percent, but not dramatically so. They never proved the equal of their Israeli opponents. They were always beaten, sometimes badly, sometimes very badly.

Meanwhile, the rest of the force was pretty disastrous and showed no marked improvement over the conduct of their predecessors back in 1948. It’s not that there weren’t any differences between the Syrian Army of 1948 and that of 1982. There were. And in some important areas and in some very noticeable ways. But overall, it’s hard to make the case that Syrian combat effectiveness had improved much.

Syrian strategic performance was notably better in 1982 than it had been in 1948, but that had nothing to do with underdevelopment. If anything, it is another bit of evidence regarding the impact of politicization. Asad had found a handful of generals who were both competent and loyal to command his forces before the October War, and these men largely remained in charge in 1982.

Syrian tactical leadership, however, demonstrated the same set of problems that plagued their forces in 1948 and all of the wars in-between. Their junior officers would not act aggressively or creatively, could not execute ad hoc operations, did not bother to patrol or otherwise try to collect information, could not maneuver for advantage or even shift their forces to react to enemy maneuvers. They rarely counterattacked, and when they did so it was generally a clumsy frontal assault. Time and again, Syrian tactical forces just sat in their defensive positions and blasted away (inaccurately) until the Israelis killed them or maneuvered them out of position. And while the commandos did noticeably better with combined arms, an ability to improvise defensive positions quickly, and a somewhat greater reactivity to Israeli moves, so too did some of the Syrian forces in 1948, notably in their second assault on Zemach and the fighting at Mishmar HaYarden. Moreover, the performance of the Syrian Air Force in 1982 was absolutely dreadful, more than compensating for any plaudits the commandos might have won. In terms of tactical leadership, there was little, if any, improvement among Syrian forces despite Syria’s significant economic development from 1948 to 1982.

A variety of other problems persisted or actually got worse as Syria developed economically between 1948 and 1982. Syrian logistics were not great in 1948, but neither did they have to be. Very little was asked of them. Syrian logistics were awful in 1982, although corruption was a big part of the problem. Syrian maintenance and operational readiness rates did not improve much, nor did Syrian weapons handling. To some extent, all of these issues need to be seen in relative terms: in 1982, the Syrians were operating far more sophisticated equipment requiring far greater logistical needs than they had in 1948. They were still bad, but they seemed to be keeping pace, staying at the same mediocre level, even as the sophistication of their equipment increased. That suggests an improvement that paralleled their rising level of development.

The one area where that didn’t seem to apply was Syria’s air force pilots. In 1982, they were utterly incapable of flying (let alone fighting) their planes when they lost their GCI guidance. There is no parallel in 1948, and this suggests that the MiG-23 and even the MiG-21 may have been beyond the ability of even a better-developed Syria to employ properly.

In an absolute sense, the Syrian military of 1982 was vastly more powerful than that of 1948. It was better armed, better trained, more professional, larger, and had more combat experience. If they somehow could have fought each other, the Syrian military of 1982 undoubtedly would have beaten the Syrian military of 1948. Two things are noteworthy for our purposes, however. First, many of the most crippling problems that the Syrians (and other Arab militaries) have consistently experienced since 1948 in tactical leadership and information handling remained unabated. If anything, they got worse. Second, despite the significant improvement in Syria’s socioeconomic circumstances, its problems with logistics, maintenance, weapons handling, and even combined arms operations did not improve much, if at all. At best, they kept the same mediocre pace with the increasing sophistication of Syria’s Soviet-supplied kit.

All of this suggests that underdevelopment probably did have an impact on the effectiveness of Arab militaries since World War II, but like politicization, it came in certain areas, and not necessarily those that were the most deleterious.

The Grimbosq Bridgehead

On 6 August, 176th Brigade, 59th Division, crossed the Orne near Bas de Brieux (near Grimbosq). The 271.ID fought fiercely, but the English were able establish a bridgehead. Kampfgruppe Wünsche counter-attacked on 7 and 8 August with Panther tanks and Tigers from 2nd Company.

SS-Sturmbannführer Max Wünsche, commander of Kampfgruppe Wünsche.

However, the intervention of the 271.Infanterie-Division and Kampfgruppe Wünsche at the bridgehead prevented the 89.Infanterie-Division collapsing of its left flank. Despite their bridgehead, the British would remain temporarily blocked, unable to extend it, and this decisive action remained limited within the context of Operation Totalize.

However, at the time of the fighting, at 21:40 on 7 August, Heeresgruppe B ordered the transfer of the Hitlerjugend Division to reinforce the Panzergruppe, who were fighting next to the 7th Army. The transfer operations were activated and Kampfgruppe Wünsche was to follow at 10:00 on 8 August, after the destruction of the Grimbosq bridgehead. But two hours after the order arrived, at 19:45 on 7 August, SS-Brigadeführer Kraemer told the Panzerarmee that shelling was taking place in the Bretteville-sur-Laize sector and between Boulon and Grimbosq. Meanwhile, violent Allied artillery fire was falling on the German front line, which was the sign of an imminent offensive, and Kraemer requested that the Hitlerjugend Division remained at the disposal of I.SS-Panzer-Korps. It would eventually stay in the sector and thus play an important role in Operation Totalize.

The 12.SS-Panzer-Division was no longer at full strength, having suffered casualties following two months of heavy fighting, and some of its elements had been detached to the west (Kampfgruppe Olboeter). It currently comprised of Kampfgruppe Wünsche (as we have seen), which gathered all available panzers, Panthers at the Grimbosq bridgehead;, thirty-nine Panzer IVs, and around twenty Tigers (2nd and 3rd companies of SS Panzer-Abteilung 101), three grenadier battalions (I./25, I./26, III./26) and artillery (SS-Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 12 and SS-Werfer-Abteilung 12).

On I./SS-Panzer-Korps’ right flank, to the east, the 272.Infanterie-Division would play an intermittent role against the left flank of the Allied offensive. But overall, the balance of power was very much in II Canadian Corps’ favour, which launched 60,000 men and more than 600 tanks into battle, meaning the odds were about three to one for men, and ten to one for tanks.

The 12 Manitoba Dragoons: This was the II Canadian Corps reconnaissance group and was launched into battle on 9 August 1944. 13 August was a black day for this unit, when nine vehicles were destroyed. C Squadron was in contact with elements of the 51st Infantry Highland Division in the Saint-Sylvain area. The unit would then participate in the closing of the Falaise Pocket. A Staghound from A Squadron.

The Canadian Corps

The 4th Canadian Armoured Division provided the other armed force of the offensive, and was part of the 1st Canadian Army and II Canadian Corps, commanded by Major General George Kitching. It was created in Canada in 1942 and transferred to Great Britain from the autumn of 1943. It landed in Normandy in the last week of July 1944, taking over from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on the night of 30-31 July. By 2 August it was already advancing towards Tilly-la-Campagne, although it failed to capture this position, and then came to a halt at La Hogue on 5 August. However, it was now preparing for the new operation and was comprised of an armoured brigade, as well as an infantry brigade.

– Reconnaissance was provided by the 29th Reconnaissance Regiment, The South Alberta Regiment.

– The 4th Armoured Brigade aligned the 21st Armoured Regiment (The Governor General’s Foot Guards), the 22nd Armoured Regiment (The Canadian Grenadier Guards), the 28th Armoured Regiment (The British Columbia Regiment) and a motorised infantry battalion attached to The Lake Superior Regiment.

– The 10th Infantry Brigade aligned The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, The Algonquin Regiment, and The Argyll and Sutherland Regiment (Princess Louise’s).

– It also included artillery from the 15th and 23rd Field Artillery Regiments, 5th Anti-Tank Regiment and the 8th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. In addition, engineering support was provided by the 4th Canadian Armoured Divisional Engineers and communication and information was provided by the 4th Canadian Armoured Divisional Signals.

Two Canadian infantry divisions would also join the offensive.

The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was under the command of Major General Charles Foulkes. Born on 3 January 1903, he was a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Regiment in 1926, made captain by 1930, lieutenant colonel in 1940, brigadier in September 1942, then finally major general in 1944, when he took command of division on 11 January.

– Its 1st Infantry Brigade (4th Brigade), aligned The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and The Essex Scottish Regiment.

– Its 2nd Infantry Brigade (5th Brigade) aligned The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, Le Régiment de Maisonneuve and The Calgary Highlanders.

– Its 3rd Infantry Brigade (6th Brigade) aligned Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada and The South Saskatchewan Regiment.

Reconnaissance was provided by the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment (14th Canadian Hussars) and artillery was provided by the 4th, 5th and 6th Field Artillery Regiments, the 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, the Toronto Scottish Regiment (machine guns and mortars), the 2nd Canadian Divisional Engineers and the 2nd Canadian Divisional Signals.

The division was formed at Aldershot in 1940 and participated in the landing attempt at Dieppe in August 1942. It landed in Normandy in the first week of July 1944, attached to the II Canadian Corps with the 51st ID, and took part in Operation Atlantic from 18 July onwards. It then unsuccessfully attacked the Verrieres ridge on 20 and 21 July, before taking part in Operation Spring from the 25th. The Black Watch had lost 324 men after finally taking Verrieres, but now remained stuck at May-sur-Orne, Saint-André-sur-Orne and Saint-Martin-de-Fontenay. However, all this meant that the men knew the area well.

The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, commanded by Major General R.F.L. Keller, had been fighting in the Battle of Normandy since 6 June 1944. It was formed on 20 May 1940 and was chosen in July 1943 as the first Canadian division to land in Normandy. It fought bravely in the fighting to the west of Caen against the Hitlerjugend, and was the first to enter the city on 9 July. It was attached to the II Canadian Corp as of 11 July, along with the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. It proceeded to participate in Operation Atlantic on the 18th and Operation Spring on the 25th, before finally being relieved by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division on the night of 30-31 July and being sent to the rear to recuperate. On 7 July it was recalled in order to participate in Operation Totalize and would be in action on the night of 9-10 July.

– Its 7th Brigade comprised of The Royal Winnipeg Rifle Regiment (The Winnipegs), The Regina Rifle Regiment (the Reginas) and the 1st Battalion The Canadian Scottish Regiment.

– Its 8th Brigade comprised of The Queen’s Own Rifle of Canada, Le Régiment de la Chaudière and The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.

– Its 9th Brigade comprised of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada (HLI), The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders (Glens or SDG) and The North Nova Scotia Highlanders (Novas or NNSH).

Reconnaissance was provided by the 7th Reconnaissance Regiment (17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars) and artillery by the 12th, 13th and 14th Régiments, the 3rd Anti-Tank Regiment and the 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

The Canadian Corps also included the 51st (Highland) Division, a British unit, which was commanded by Major General Tom Gordon Rennie. He had been injured on 12 June while in charge of the 3rd Infantry Division, and then took over command of 51st Division on 26 July following the dismissal of Major General C. Bullen Smith. The division comprised of three battalions of the Black Watch, a regiment that had first been created in 1740.

– Its 152nd Brigade comprised of the 2nd and 5th Battalions The Seaforth Highlanders, and the 5th Battalion The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

– Its 153rd Brigade aligned the 5th Battalion The Black Watch, and the 1st and 5th/7th Battalions The Gordon Highlanders.

– Finally, its 154th Brigade was made up of the 1st and 7th Battalions The Black Watch, and the 7th Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Civil War and the New Imperial Army I

The Toba-Fushimi fighting marked the opening battle of the Boshin (dragon) Civil War, named after the Chinese zodiacal cyclic character that designated the year 1868. The new army fought under makeshift arrangements with unclear channels of command and control and no reliable recruiting base. Samurai and kiheitai units paradoxically were fighting in the name of the throne, but they did not belong to the throne. To correct this anomaly and defend the court, which was in open rebellion against the shogunate, in early March 1868 the newly proclaimed imperial government created various administrative offices, including a military branch. The next month it organized an imperial bodyguard, about 400 or 500 warriors, composed of Satsuma and Chōshū units augmented by veterans of the Toba-Fushimi battles, yeomen, and masterless warriors from various domains, who reported directly to the court. The imperial court next notified domains to restrict the size of their local armies and contribute to the expenses of a national officers’ training school in Kyoto.

Within a few months, however, authorities disbanded the ineffective military branch and the imperial bodyguard, which lacked modern equipment and weapons. To replace them, in April authorities established the military affairs directorate, composed of two bureaus: one for the army, one for the navy. The directorate drafted an army organization act based on manpower contributions from each domain proportional to its respective annual rice production. This conscript army (chōheigun) integrated samurai and commoners from the various domains into its ranks.

As the Boshin Civil War continued, the newly formed military affairs directorate had expected to raise troops from the wealthier domains. In June 1868 it fixed the organization of the army by making each fief responsible, at least in theory, for sending to Kyoto ten men per each 10,000 koku of rice the domain produced. The policy put the government in competition with the domains to recruit troops, a contradiction not remedied until April 1869 when it banned domains from enlisting soldiers. The quota system to recruit government troops, however, never worked as intended, and the authorities abolished it the following year.

Meanwhile, in mid-March 1868 Prince Arisugawa took command of the Eastern Expeditionary Force as loyalist columns pushed along three main highways toward the shogun’s capital at Edo (present-day Tokyo). Skirmishes involving a few hundred warriors on either side brushed aside bakufu resistance, and the columns swiftly converged on the capital. The advancing army continually proclaimed its close bond with the imperial court, first to legitimize its cause; second, to brand enemies of the government as enemies of the court and therefore traitors; and third, to gain popular support.

For food, supplies, horses, and weapons, the government army established a series of logistics relay stations along the three major thoroughfares. These small depots stocked material supplied by local pro-government domains or confiscated from bakufu agencies, senior retainers of the old regime, and anyone opposing the government. The army routinely impressed local villagers as porters or teamsters to move supplies between the depots and the frontline units. Japan’s largest merchant families also contributed money and supplies to the new army. The Mitsui branch directors in Edo, for example, donated more than 25,000 ryō (US$25,000) as insurance to protect their storehouses from pro-bakufu arsonists and probably government troops as well.

Government propaganda teams accompanied the army to extol the new imperial government’s virtues and to attract adherents by offering an immediate halving of taxes on rice harvests. To complement the effort, the army issued regulations governing conduct. All ranks would share the same food, accommodations, and work details; troops would immediately report anyone spreading rumors that might lower morale; quarreling and fighting in camp were forbidden; attacks against foreigners were strictly prohibited; and commanders were supposed to prevent arson, plunder, and rape from tarnishing the new government’s image. The results were mixed. If the populace cooperated, they were treated fairly, which meant the men might be persuaded to work as military porters or laborers, the villages to donate food, and promises made to cooperate with the government army. But the standard tactic to combat the roving bands of Tokugawa supporters who harassed government columns with hit-and-run attacks was to burn nearby homes to deny the guerrillas shelter. Suspected collaborators were summarily executed.

As the government troops pushed into bakufu strongholds, coercion replaced persuasion. Soldiers requisitioned food; confiscated weapons, valuables, and cash; and impressed villagers for labor details. Although government orders prohibited arson, it was an effective tactic during battle and for pacification purposes. Uncooperative villages risked being burned to the ground, likely because soldiers understood that inhabitants feared arson above all other forms of retribution. In extreme cases, such as the final northeastern campaign, government troops torched more than one-third of the homes in the Akita domain. To avoid that fate, villagers along the army’s route-of-march provided commanders with food, supplies, and intelligence. But this cooperation was based on little more than extortion and did not indicate a sudden shift in allegiance to the new government.

By the time the main loyalist forces reached Edo in early May, Saigō Takamori had already negotiated a peaceful surrender of the city with bakufu agents, the shogunate being divided internally between hard-liners and those favoring an accommodation with the new government. The 41-year-old Saigō stood almost six feet tall and weighed about 250 pounds, making him a giant by Japanese standards. After a decade as a minor provincial official, in 1854 Saigō moved to Edo to promote Satsuma policies. Four years later reactionary shogunate officials forced him to flee to Satsuma, but he was then exiled. After his pardon in 1864, Satsuma officials sent Saigō to Kyoto to handle the domain’s national affairs.

There was no denying Saigō’s ability, but the man was an enigma, given to lengthy silences that could be interpreted as contemplative wisdom or hopeless stupidity. His indifference to awards, honors, or material trappings, complemented by his dynamic charisma and humanism, made Saigō the most respected personality in early Meiji Japan. His deal with the bakufu, however, had enabled more than 2,000 warriors loyal to the shogun to escape from Edo, and the guerrilla war these reactionaries were waging against the loyalists was ravaging the nearby countryside.

North of Edo pro-bakufu forces held Utsunomiya castle; in early June, government forces defeated the shogun’s troops in a series of minor engagements between Utsunomiya and Edo. They withstood a subsequent bakufu counteroffensive and, strengthened with reinforcements, occupied the castle to secure the northern approaches to Edo. The vanquished bakufu units fled to northern Japan.

Meanwhile, loyalist troops had garrisoned the shogun’s capital without opposition, but their efficiency and morale slowly disintegrated as the provincial troops settled in to the comforts and fleshpots of the big city. As martial skills eroded, Saigō worried about the diehard pro-shogun radicals who retained de facto control of the city. The most powerful of these bands was the Shōgitai (League to Demonstrate Righteousness), formed in February 1868, which eventually enrolled about 2,000 warriors, each sworn to kill a Satsuma “traitor. ”

Operating from its headquarters in Edo’s Ueno district, Shōgitai units selectively cracked down on the roving criminal gangs that had turned the nighttime capital into a place of robbery, murder, and extortion. Besides punishing these outlaws they also ferreted out Satsuma informers and pro-court spies, and while the government army slipped into idleness, Shōgitai units busily constructed strongholds around Ueno Hill. The ongoing fighting in the north and the deteriorating conditions in Edo created the impression that the new government was unable to control the strategically vital Edo region. When reports of the impasse in Edo reached the Kyoto government, leaders Ōkubo Toshimichi (with Saigō a central leader of Satsuma since 1864), Kido Koin (leader of Chōshū with Takasugi from 1865), and Iwakura Tomomi (a high-ranking court noble) sent Ōmura Masujirō to restore government control in the city and eliminate the Shōgitai influence.

Compared to Saigō, Ōmura seemed physically clumsy; and, unlike the gregarious Saigō, his introverted personality and perpetually sour countenance attracted few friends, much less casual admirers. Saigō’s patient wait-and-see style and measured diplomacy left Ōmura seething at the sight of a seemingly powerless government army standing idly by while the Shōgitai incited antigovernment violence in Edo. Ōmura demanded action, but Saigō’s disinclination to turn the city into a battleground was a major reason for his lenient terms with the shogun’s representatives.

Assured from Kyoto that reinforcements and money were on the way, Ōmura and his lieutenant Eto Shimpei decided to attack. They believed that the Shōgitai were few in number and ignored Satsuma commanders’ arguments that more loyalist troops were needed to stabilize the city. Moreover, Ōmura was certain that his artillery would rout the pro-shogunate forces. His only concession was to the weather; he postponed the offensive until the arrival of the rainy season rather than bombard the city during the dry weather, when Edo’s wooden buildings would burn like tinder.

On July 4 Ōmura summoned Saigō and ordered him to attack the Shōgitai’s Ueno strongpoint immediately, overriding Saigō’s objections with a casual wave of his fan. As Saigō and his captains had predicted, the attack ran headlong into a ready-and-waiting enemy, the Shōgitai having been alerted to the impending assault by Satsuma deserters. Although outnumbered two to one, the approximately 1,000 Shōgitai troops fought from behind well-prepared defenses that were anchored by a small lake on one flank and thick woods on the other and could only be taken by a frontal assault.

Ōmura expected that artillery fire would drive the Shōgitai from their shelters, leaving them vulnerable to Saigō’s infantry. From Edo castle, Ōmura watched the billowing smoke and heard the loud explosions and thought that his plan had succeeded. But the artillery guns soon malfunctioned, and the few that did fire were wildly inaccurate, producing noise and fireworks but few enemy casualties. Saigō’s vanguard, led by Kirino Toshiaki, charged directly into the Shōgitai’s barricades, losing at least 120 men killed or wounded. About twice that number of Shōgitai supporters were slain, although many more were apprehended fleeing from Ueno.

The victory secured Edo for the new government, crushed one of the largest and most violent antigovernment units, restored the momentum of the imperial forces by releasing them to move north, and, by showing that the pro-Tokugawa forces could not defeat the emperor’s army, calmed fears of a prolonged civil war. Despite the artillery fiasco and the heavy government casualties, Ōmura emerged as a hero, acclaimed for his grasp of modern military science, much to Saigō’s chagrin, who had lost face over the incident. Formidable resistance continued in northern Japan, but by controlling Edo the army had turned a corner. To signify the bakufu’s demise, the next month the capital moved from Kyoto to Edo, which had been the de facto political center of Japan for 250 years. On September 3 Edo was officially renamed Tokyo, and the next month Emperor Mutsuhito adopted the reign name of Meiji and henceforth was identified as the Emperor Meiji.

The Northern Campaigns

On June 10, 1868, two Aizu samurai attacked a senior Chōshū officer in a Fukushima brothel. Desperate to escape, he jumped through a second-floor window only to land face-first on a stone walkway, where he was seized by his assailants and later executed. Among the murdered official’s personal effects were confidential government plans to subjugate the northern domains, including the Tokugawa stronghold of Aizu. Reacting to these threats, twenty-five pro-bakufu vassals in northern Honshū formed a confederation to resist the Satsuma-Chōshū government, as distinct from the imperial government. To crush the league, Ōmura devised a complicated strategy to capture the city of Sendai on the Pacific (east) coast and then send converging columns southward to attack the Aizu rebel stronghold at Wakamatsu castle from the rear. Landings in Echigo Province on the Japan Sea (west) coast with probing attacks against the major passes would fix the defenders in place.

Yamagata Aritomo commanded the 12,000-man-strong government army contingent that landed along the west coast in late July and quickly captured Nagaoka castle. Then he hesitated, even though his veteran forces (leavened with about 1,000 kiheitai and Satsuma warriors) outnumbered the rebels three to one. Yamagata spread the entire army along a 50-mile-long defensive front, leaving him no reserve. He parceled out artillery, giving each unit a few guns but not enough firepower to blast through league fortifications. When he tried to evict rebel defenders from strategic mountain passes, the army suffered successive reverses. Thereafter the rainy season made streams and rivers impassable and restricted campaigning. By that time, Yamagata was barely on speaking terms with his second-in-command, the veteran Satsuma commander Kuroda Kiyotaka, who spent much of the campaign sulking in his tent.

The opposing armies faced each other about 6 miles north of Nagaoka, with their flanks bounded on the west by a river and on the east by a large trackless swamp. Stuck in their cold, wet trenches, morale among government troops plummeted, abetted by rebels chanting Buddhist funeral sutras throughout the night. Meanwhile, battle-hardened, aggressive pro-Tokugawa commanders executed an active defense, probing and raiding government outposts and disrupting their rear supply areas.

On the east coast, operations initially went smoother. The main government army moved overland from Edo on Shirokawa castle, which dominated a strategic mountain pass leading to Aizu. By mid-June government troops had taken the castle in a frontal attack coordinated with columns enveloping the town. Government artillery destroyed the prepared defenses and routed the 2,500 defenders. Several smaller domains in the league promptly capitulated. The hardcore Aizu defenders withdrew into their main defenses, which were constructed to blend into the rugged mountainous terrain. With Yamagata’s western campaign stalled, there was little pressure on the Aizu rear, enabling the rebels to concentrate their forces against the eastern prong of the government offensive. The Kyoto high command sent reinforcements under Saigō’s leadership to reinvigorate Yamagata’s operations.

Unable to break into the southern approaches to Aizu–Wakamatsu castle, government troops commanded by Itagaki Taisuke and Ichiji Masaharu maneuvered north along the main highway and in mid-October captured the northern outposts protecting Aizu’s rear areas. They then pivoted west through the mountains and defeated successive Aizu contingents by concentrating artillery fire to pin down defenders while small bands of riflemen turned their flanks. When the rebels shifted troops to protect their vulnerable flanks, loyalist forces smashed through the weakened ridgeline defenses. By late October Itagaki and Ichiji were within five miles of Wakamatsu castle.

Around the same time, Saigō seized Niigata city, a major port on the Sea of Japan about forty miles north of Nagaoka castle. Capturing the port cut off rebel access to imported foreign-manufactured weapons and interdicted a major supply route running from the city to Aizu-Wakamatsu. But the day Niigata fell, rebel troops farther south capitalized on their knowledge of the local terrain to cross the supposedly impassable swamp, outflank the main government lines, and then overwhelm the small government garrison at Nagaoka castle. With government forces divided and their line of communication threatened, Yamagata fled for his life, allegedly discarding his sword and equipment in his haste. Saigō countermarched south and retook the castle five days later. Yamagata, however, failed to cut off the withdrawing rebel forces, and the western campaign stalled again.

These setbacks and the slow progress on the eastern front sowed doubt among government leaders in Kyoto that the army could finish the campaign before the region’s heavy winter snows made further campaigning impossible. Satsuma troops, which formed the backbone of the army, came from southern Japan and were neither acclimated nor equipped for winter operations. Rather than risk the imperial army’s carefully crafted reputation for invincibility and its best troops, Ōmura suspended eastern operations against Aizu until the following spring.

Itagaki and Ijichi ignored Kyoto’s orders and unilaterally assaulted the main Aizu stronghold, forcing the heavily outnumbered Aizu samurai to commit their entire reserve. One such unit, the White Tiger Brigade, consisted of a few hundred 16- and 17-year-olds and suffered severe losses. Retreating toward Wakamatsu castle, sixteen survivors mistakenly assumed that the thick black smoke and red flames rising from the adjacent castle town meant the castle had fallen. With all hope apparently lost, they committed suicide, an act of sincerity that redeemed their treason and apotheosized the White Tiger Brigade as a symbol of loyalty and selfless courage that resonated powerfully among the public.

Once the main Aizu defenses collapsed, the army overran minor strongholds in rapid succession and rebel survivors fled to Wakamatsu castle. Although the government artillery could not penetrate the thick castle walls, the defenders were unprepared for a winter siege and surrendered in early November. Losses of pro-Tokugawa forces for the entire campaign were around 2,700 killed. Sporadic fighting continued in northern Japan until mid-December, when the league finally capitulated and its leaders took responsibility for defeat by committing ritual suicide.

During the Tokugawa period suicide to atone for mistakes or defeat was an accepted cultural norm among the warrior class. During the Boshin Civil War warrior customs regarding fallen enemies or prisoners likely encouraged battlefield suicides. Both armies routinely cut off the heads of dead or wounded enemies for purposes of identification or morale-enhancing displays. In one case a bakufu leader’s severed head was brought to Kyoto for public display. The gruesome practice was widespread, and western doctors working in Japan reported that they rarely saw wounded enemy soldiers, apparently because of the criteria for head-taking and surrender.

Surrender was recognized, provided both sides agreed on terms for capitulation. During the Boshin War’s early stages, potential prisoners were usually executed for suspected cowardice for surrendering (the idea of the shame of surrender) or because their wounds testified that they had resisted government troops. Suspected spies or bakufu agents were summarily executed. Many Shōgitai prisoners captured at Ueno fit all categories and were promptly beheaded. In the later stages of the war, the new army accepted surrenders of pro-bakufu troops as the government realized that reconciliation was necessary to unify the nation.

This conciliatory attitude did not carry over to the disposition of the dead. The government honored its war dead with special ceremonies that Ōmura later institutionalized by establishing the Shōkonsha (shrine for inviting spirits) in June 1869 as the official shrine to commemorate government war dead. He hoped that official memorialization of the war dead would stimulate a popular national consciousness by enshrining the concept of an official death for the sake of the nation, not merely a private death in a meaningless vendetta.

Enemy dead were regarded as traitors and ineligible for enshrinement in government shrines. Their beheaded corpses were often left where they fell, and local villagers would furtively bury the remains. Partly because the Aizu warriors had so fiercely resisted the government army and partly owing to Aizu’s long-standing enmity with Chōshū, the Meiji leaders forbade even the burial of Aizu corpses and ordered them left to rot in open fields.

At the end of 1868, Tokugawa supporters still controlled Ezochi (Hokkaidō). In October 1868, bakufu ground and naval units from Sendai had landed on Hokkaidō’s south coast and overwhelmed the undermanned army garrison. The remaining government troops abandoned the island, fleeing to the safety of nearby Honshū. In the spring of 1869, reconstituted and much-strengthened government ground and naval forces returned and converged on the major rebel stronghold at Hakodate. The outnumbered pro-shogunate rebels fell back and by early May prepared for a final stand from Hakodate’s pentagon-shaped fortress.

Constructed by the bakufu between 1857 and 1864 to protect Ezochi from the Russian threat, the first western-style fortress in Japan defended Hakodate’s harbor, where the three remaining bakufu warships were sheltered. During naval battles on May 11, one government ship sank after a shell exploded its powder magazine, but two bakufu warships ran aground, and the third was previously damaged. The subsequent fighting for the fortress produced more sound and flash than bloodshed. Thousands of government artillery shells fell on the fortress, causing three casualties. Government losses were two dead and twenty-one wounded. The siege did reduce the rebels to near starvation, forcing them to surrender on May 25.

Civil War and the New Imperial Army II

After the fall of the fortress, one company of government troops remained in Hokkaidō, but it did little more than police Hakodate city. In 1870 the colonization office responded to increasing friction with Russia over Sakhalin Island by relocating samurai families from Tokyo to Hokkaidō to create self-sufficient military communities organized around units composed of farmersoldiers. Saigō Takamori enthusiastically backed the plan and in 1873 moved more displaced samurai to Hokkaidō to reinforce the garrison, provide jobs for otherwise unemployed warriors, and open the northern island to development. An Ainu (aboriginal) uprising spurred cries for a permanent garrison, but the sparse Japanese population made it impossible to conscript enough soldiers locally to meet troop personnel requirements.

Authorities relied on the tondenhei system promoted by Lt. Gen. Kuroda, concurrently vice director of the colonization office. Beginning in May 1875, the government gave settlers (ex-samurai and army reservists) a small parcel of land, which became their property if they cultivated it for three years. Most of the thirty-seven tondenhei settlements were located along a 120-mile trace running north from Sapporo and protecting the northwest side of the island. Despite Kuroda’s notions about an ideal warrior-farmer ready to take up arms to defend his home and family, Japanese warriors were not farmers, and few wanted to emigrate to faraway Hokkaidō. As late as 1905 Hokkaidō had only about 4,000 regular troops and about 1,000 reservists.

An Assessment

Throughout the northern campaigns of 1868–1869, the government army outnumbered rebel forces and enjoyed overwhelming material and technological superiority. Cannons and rifles, not samurai swords and spears, decided the outcome of the Boshin Civil War. Firepower may have relegated traditional samurai weapons to the scrapheap, but paradoxically the Tokugawa forces consistently displayed superior élan and fighting spirit and atoned for their defeats with collective suicides. In short, antigovernment forces exhibited the type of battlefield behavior and morale that the government rarely saw in the new army’s conscript soldiers.

The campaigns highlighted major differences between field commanders and central headquarters. Army headquarters in faraway Kyoto often proposed plans at odds with the local conditions, and as tensions increased, line officers ignored central direction in favor of unilateral action. Lacking a strong central staff capable of enforcing orders, the army was at the mercy of individual commanders for leadership and direction. Similarly, the absence of unified tactical doctrine and disputes over appropriate tactics and doctrine between line and staff left units to fight according to the tactics favored by their respective commanders. Resentment flared because the nobility and Chōshū and Satsuma samurai monopolized senior army posts. Within the ranks the composition of the new government army, especially its use of commoners, created resentment among soldiers of samurai lineage. Although the restoration wars would later take on a romantic hue filled with swashbuckling samurai, the new government’s military success in the Boshin Civil War left a residue of disgruntled warriors, marginalized commoners, and a torn social fabric.

Reorganizing the Army

Saigō, Ōmura, Ōkubo Toshimichi, and other military leaders of the restoration were divided over the new army’s organization. Saigō was enigmatic, leading the new army yet retaining strong military ties to his regional base in southern Japan. Ōmura sought a strong central government at the expense of the regional domains and recommended a national conscription system to build a standing army under the new government’s direct control. He also proposed European-style reforms for the new army and the abolition of traditional warrior-class privileges such as carrying swords. Ōkubo, one of the most powerful leaders of the new regime, wanted a samurai army, and proposals that filled the national army with commoners and peasants while they eliminated samurai privileges repelled him.

Ōmura and Ōkubo did share a deep-rooted fear about the survival of the imperial government that they had created. Danger seemed everywhere as the new, unstable society seethed with sedition and treachery. In early January 1869, for example, six sword-wielding anti-foreign assassins murdered a senior councilor in broad daylight on a major Kyoto thoroughfare. Riots and peasant uprisings underscored rural instability, disgruntled samurai were suspect, and foreigners might overwhelm Japan as they had China. The authorities first sought to control the reactionary warriors, who represented the immediate armed threat to their new government, by counterposing a military organization that relied on conscription and indoctrination to inculcate soldiers’ loyalty to the government and emperor.

In order to educate junior officers, in 1868 the court and council of state (dajōkan) established a school of military science in Kyoto on the site of the former French training ground. Enrollment was initially restricted to sons of the nobility and government officials. The following year the government converted the former shogunate’s Yokohama Foreign Language School into a French-style military academy to train samurai from Chōshū and elsewhere for an invasion of Korea. In July 1869, however, the government reorganized the military directorate into the military affairs ministry under the titular command of Prince Yoshiaki. Ōmura served as vice minister of military affairs with responsibility for training and organization.

Ōmura refused to perpetuate the samurai monopoly on warfare. He first incorporated the school of military science into the military affairs ministry and then in September transferred the Kyoto facility to Osaka, the country’s maritime and overland transportation hub. Osaka’s strategic central location would allow government troops to move rapidly in any direction to suppress antigovernment uprisings. The decision also shifted the military locus of power westward to check Satsuma’s growing influence. Ōmura next constructed a French-style maneuver area and barracks cantonment for a battalion of Chōshū troops as well as a major arsenal. His ambitious five-year plan anticipated a revised conscription system, standardized equipment, military academies to train noncommissioned officers and educate professional officers, and a new army force structure.

With institutional army reforms in progress, in September 1869 Ōmura traveled to Kyoto to inspect the new school and stayed at a nearby inn. In Kyoto’s late summer twilight, assassins stormed into the two-story latticed wooden inn and mortally wounded Ōmura in a wild sword-swinging melee. His two lieutenants jumped through a paper lattice window into the alley, only to be cut down by waiting gang members. Believing that one of their bloodied victims was Ōmura, the murderers fled. Ōmura succumbed to his wounds in an Osaka hospital in early November.

Twenty-four years later the army officially dedicated a statue to Ōmura during ceremonies held at the Yasukuni Shrine in 1893. Ōmura’s statue, the first western-style bronze work commissioned in Japan, still rises over the entrance to Yasukuni, garbed in samurai finery and bearing two swords. The period representation, however, misrepresents the man who was determined to build an army of commoners and peasants and was a driving force in the abolition of samurai privileges, including their right to bear swords. It is faithful in one respect. Ōmura looks out at Ueno Park, scene of his greatest military victory, and one that ensured the Meiji ascendancy.

An Army in Turmoil

The attack on Ōmura shocked the fledgling Meiji government. Acting on a nationwide alert, police quickly apprehended the killers, who turned out to be reactionary samurai from northern Japan and disgruntled former kiheitai members. Ōmura’s death threw the army’s leadership into turmoil with major implications for the institution’s future. Maebara Issei succeeded Ōmura but soon resigned after quarreling with Kido’s decision to forcibly suppress rebellious kiheitai units (and subsequently quit the government altogether in September 1870 for reasons described below). Itagaki Taisuke was nominated to fill the vacancy, but he did not get along with Ōkubo, who vetoed his selection. Kuroda Kiyotaka, Yamagata’s nemesis during the Boshin War, was unavailable, having departed the army in 1870 to oversee Hokkaidō’s development. This left Yamagata Aritomo, who had promptly returned to Japan from his European inspection tour after learning of the attack on Ōmura. In August 1870, the council of state appointed Yamagata minister of the military department, a post that had been vacant for almost one year.

Yamagata’s remaining rival within the army was Maj. Gen. Yamada Akiyoshi, the deputy minister of the military department, known as the Little Napoleon because of his planning skill as the Eastern Expeditionary army’s chief of staff during the Boshin War. Critics, however, dismissed him as a poseur. Shortly after Yamagata took control of the army, Yamada joined the Iwakura Mission that departed Japan in November 1871 for an extended inspection tour through the United States and Europe with a delegation of Japan’s most prominent statesmen. Yamagata’s last serious rivals, Itagaki Taisuke and Saigō Takamori, quit the government in 1873 over the Korea controversy. Itagaki became involved with the liberty and people’s rights movement, and Saigō, an army general, commander of the Imperial Guard, and concurrently a senior councilor, became a magnet attracting disaffected samurai.

With his major competitors gone, Yamagata would dominate the army and cultivate a clique of Chōshū officers to consolidate his power base. Due to his patronage, by 1888 sixteen of forty-two general officers were of Chōshū lineage. With the exception of imperial family members, men from Satsuma and Chōshū would monopolize the top positions in the army until 1907. Protégés such as Katsura Tarō, Kawakami Sōroku, Kodama Gentarō, and Terauchi Masatake, among others, would lead the army’s next generation and also rise to the highest civilian cabinet positions. Yamagata eradicated localized loyalties that might threaten central authority while he created his personality-based regional power base.

As Yamagata consolidated his position, the same regional and individual loyalties that had provided the glue that held the government army together during the restoration wars became suspect as impediments to the new government’s goal of a unified Japan. Central authorities rapidly disbanded the independent military organizations of the various domains in favor of a national army, but regionalism and factionalism dominated the selection and training of the army’s future leaders.

In 1869, ostensibly for financial reasons, the government reduced the size of the quota-based conscript army that it had assembled from various domains. Government authorities questioned the conscripts’ reliability, and domain leaders disliked their troops serving as long-term conscripts in a military force outside their control. That December the government eliminated the Chōshū kiheitai and similar units as part of an army-wide reorganization.

Younger men replaced the older veterans when the army dismissed soldiers over 40 years of age or in poor physical condition. Army authorities raised officers’ pay but lowered it for the more numerous rank-and-file to save money. The discarded veterans were the foot soldiers who had borne the brunt of the fighting in the restoration wars. In return they received miserly pensions and no rewards for their service. Kiheitai veterans, especially peasants and townsmen, vigorously protested plans to cut the 4,000-man force by half and the associated reforms.

Reactionaries played on these grievances to foment armed revolt in Chōshū. Insurgents opposed the dissolution of volunteer units, resisted westernization of weapons and equipment, and refused to obey their officers’ commands. In January 1870 about 1,800 disaffected former kiheitai members, more than 70 percent of them peasants, attacked Yamaguchi castle, surrounded the government’s administrative offices, and temporarily seized power. Peasants and merchants, aggrieved by poor harvests and runaway inflation, joined former government soldiers to raid government offices and stockpiles. Peasant revolts also broke out in nearby areas, forcing Kido, one of the government’s three senior councilors (Saigō and Ōkubo were the others) to mobilize loyal units in Chōshū and elsewhere to suppress the uprising by early February 1870. About 200 men on both sides were killed or wounded in the fighting, but the government executed an additional 130 rebels. The harsh sentences were aimed less at disaffected samurai than at cowing a possible peasant uprising that Kido feared would quickly sweep across Japan.

Building the New Army

Most of the new government’s leaders favored some form of national conscription to create a centralized military force to maintain domestic order, but there was a fundamental question about who was qualified to serve in the army. Yamada had originally allied himself with the late Ōmura’s Chōshū followers in the military department to deflect the attempts of Ōkubo, Kuroda, and other Satsuma leaders to create a professional military caste. In March 1870 the government instituted a revamped conscription system based on rice production, requiring each domain to maintain 60 troops per 10,000 koku of arable land production. The abolition of domains in late August 1871 simultaneously swept away the administrative infrastructure underpinning the conscription system, although a quota of five men from any class between the ages of 20 and 30 for every 10,000 koku of the new prefecture’s harvested rice stayed in effect.

Meanwhile, in March 1871,Yamagata, Iwakura, Saigō, and Kido had organized samurai from the three most powerful loyalist domains—Chōshū, Satsuma, and Tosa,—into an Imperial Guard to protect the throne and replace the diminished national army. The emperor donated 100,000 ryō to underwrite the new unit, which was directly subordinate to the court. The 6,200-man imperial bodyguard consisted of infantry and artillery units with a few cavalry squadrons and doubled as a national army, marking the beginning of modern Japan’s military institution.

More institutional changes soon followed. The military department was reorganized in July 1871, and on August 29, simultaneous with the decree abolishing the domains, the council of state ordered local lords to disband their private armies and turn over their weapons to the central government army. Though Yamagata played on the foreign threat, especially Russia’s southward expansion, to justify a national army, the government’s immediate perceived danger was domestic insurrection. Consequently, on August 31, with the court’s approval, the military department accordingly divided the country into four military districts, each with its own garrison or chindai, to deal with peasant uprisings or disaffected samurai insurrections. The Imperial Guard formed the Tokyo garrison whereas conscripts filled the ranks at the Osaka, Kumamoto, and Sendai garrisons. The four garrisons marshaled about 8,000 troops—mostly infantry, but also a few hundred artillerymen and engineers. Smaller detachments guarded outposts at Kagoshima, Fushimi, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and elsewhere. By late December 1871 the military department set army modernization and coastal defense as priorities. Yamagata and his deputies devised long-range plans for an army to maintain internal security, defend strategic coastal areas, train and educate military and naval officers, and build arsenals as well as supply depots. Despite Yamagata’s previous heated rhetoric about the foreign menace, little serious planning was directed against Russia.

In February 1872 the military department was abolished and separate army and navy departments were established. The Imperial Guard also underwent several reorganizations, and in January 1874 Yamagata became the Guard commander and concurrently vice army minister. Although created to defend the home islands against foreign aggression, the elite unit’s principal mission was to protect the throne by suppressing domestic samurai revolts, peasant uprisings, and antigovernment demonstrations.

No one, however, held high hopes for a quota-based, conscript-manned garrison system. By the summer of 1871, the army had inducted about 1,500 conscripts but found 25 percent of them to be physically unfit for military service. The remaining 1,100 or so were divided into various branches—infantry, cavalry, artillery, construction, and a bugle corps—collectively known as the Osaka unit.

The conscripts found themselves in a new, much more westernized world. They were forbidden to wear Japanese-style swords, although they could attach western-style bayonets to their uniform belts. New diets introduced the conscripts to meat, a change from the traditional rice and vegetable staples and one that caused indigestion and worse. In theory the conscripts received standardized uniforms, but a contemporary newspaper account described a mixed bag of conscripts, some wearing wooden clogs, others straw sandals, and a potpourri of tunics and jackets. Even more distressing, some were talking or reading books while on duty. One senior officer later recalled inspecting otherwise resplendent but bare-footed conscripts. In short, garrisons suffered from lack of weapons, money, authority, and personnel recruiting.

Military Training and Education

In early 1874, under French direction, the army relocated its small-arms firing ranges to the estate of a former shogunate official. The new home of the Toyama Infantry School (founded in 1873) taught minor tactics, marksmanship, bayonet practice, and physical education designed to prepare junior officers for command assignments. The eight-month course eventually standardized infantry doctrine and officer training throughout the army. The army concurrently established specialized technical schools in Tokyo for ordnance, military construction, and high explosives under the arsenal bureau’s direction as well as veterinary science, farriery, and equestrian schools. Each had around sixty students, and by 1875 numerous French-designed training facilities, rifle ranges, and specialized schools were active in Tokyo.

The army invested heavily in officer and noncommissioned officer (NCO) education. The reorganized school of military science opened in January 1870 with fifty-seven students enrolled in junior officer or NCO courses. The same year the government ordered each prefecture to send cadets in numbers proportionate to their respective rice production, and thereafter classes annually averaged about 100 students. The Yokohama facility also relocated to Osaka in 1870.

The Osaka school was renamed the Army Military Science School in November 1871 and moved to Tokyo in early 1872, where the army reorganized it into three provisional sections: a preparatory school with a middle school curriculum plus instruction in western languages, in effect a junior cadet school; a military academy that taught branch technical skills; and an NCO academy, which was removed from the cadet school the following year. In October 1874 the officers school formally became the military academy, and the following May the preparatory school was designated the cadet academy. The military science school was abolished. In January 1877 the cadet school was amalgamated into the military academy.

Military academy classes originally enrolled two types of cadets, regular (graduates of preparatory academies or those qualified by examination) and provisional (graduates of the NCO academy or selected NCO volunteers under 27 years of age). The former had a three-year course, the latter about half that, although both received regular commissions. The curriculum covered ordnance and weapons, equestrian skills, marksmanship and physical training, foreign language (French), and records administration. Almost all of the original students were of samurai stock, with just 13 commoners versus 719 warriors enrolled in the 1872 classes. One of Yamagata’s first decisions after taking over the military department, however, was to open the school of military science to commoners, and by 1881 the numbers had tilted in favor of commoners, whose 258 cadets outnumbered the 158 from warrior families.

Former samurai had as much trouble with the new military discipline as peasant conscripts. When the school of military science prohibited officer candidates from wearing swords and encouraged cadets, who were overwhelmingly from the samurai class, to cut their traditional topknot, many quit. Those who stayed had to adjust to wearing western-style clothing, which was as uncomfortable for them as it was for conscripts. Pants chafed, and boots and shoes caused blisters and were generally uncomfortable.

Even time changed because the military academy used the western measurements of minutes and hours to govern curriculum and schedules. Freshly commissioned officer graduates in turn drilled their conscript soldiers with the new way to measure time, and the draftees brought the concept back to their villages, factories, or offices. By the early 1870s senior officers carried pocket watches, an acknowledgment that coordination of troop movements, training schedules, and timetables made the clock a technological reality of military life.

Civil War and the New Imperial Army III

The military academy aimed to educate officers in western military science and tactics, but Japan lacked schools that taught foreign languages, western pedagogy, or natural sciences. Educational reforms of 1872 established four years of primary schooling and three of middle school, but attendance was not compulsory and most students did not graduate from primary school. Until the military preparatory schools produced their first graduates, the military academy operated on a transitional basis. During the three-year interval the provisional academy trained former samurai in French doctrine, including battalion echelon maneuver, drill, squad regulations, and the basics of field fortification. In the best of circumstances, which these were not, it would take a decade to educate youths for specialized military training.

In January 1875 the relocated military academy opened at Ichigaya (a former daimyō residence in Tokyo) under the direct supervision of the army ministry. Altogether 158 students enrolled in either a two-year course (for the infantry and cavalry branches) or a three-year curriculum (for the more technically complex artillery and engineer branches). Upon graduation, cadets were commissioned as second lieutenants. Under the tutelage of thirteen French instructors (including eleven military officers), cadets studied French, tactics, military organization, and debate. The army adopted French army doctrine and tactics because of the availability of French military instructors in Japan (who had been employed by the shogun), Japanese officers’ acquaintance with the French language through the Yokohama language school, and their familiarity with the French military system. Until 1877 the army relied exclusively on French military advisers, whose numbers reached a high of forty-three personnel in 1875.

Students who enrolled in the NCO academy’s twelve-month (later fifteen-month) course graduated as corporals eligible for competitive examination for entrance to the military academy. Initial confusion about the difference between the NCO academy and the cadet school led to cases of students entering both or dropping out of the NCO academy to enter the cadet school. Many selected that option, including three who later rose to the rank of full general. Others accepted NCO rank and with their academy colleagues would become the backbone and small-unit leaders of the new national army.

The reorganized NCO academy offered a two-year course of instruction exclusively for noncommissioned officer candidates. Conscripts volunteered for the course and required their regimental commander’s recommendation to attend. After graduation they were promoted to NCO rank. The army closed the academy in 1889 because it was attracting few volunteers, was soliciting men who had not been conscripted, and was producing lackluster graduates. The other source of NCOs was conscripts who volunteered for additional service after completing three years of active duty. Their respective regimental commanders had to endorse the application. Between 1889 and reforms in 1927, potential infantry branch NCOs learned their craft within the regiment through on-the-job training and by observing and learning from the regiment’s senior NCOs. Other branches had technical schools where their NCOs continued to go for training and instruction.

French instructors at the military academy relied on detailed explanations in exercises and drills, not innovation, to solve set-piece tactical problems. The order of battle rigidly divided formations into skirmishers, main force, and reserves. Officers learned their specific responsibilities within each echelon. The battalion (about 800 men) was the tactical unit for purposes of instruction, so little attention was given to large-unit operations. By stressing technical proficiency, the French advisers taught the Japanese to organize, train, and command military units from company to brigade echelon. By confining instruction to minor tactics and excluding strategy, however, they underestimated their students.

The military academy organized its core curriculum around military science, mathematics, and natural sciences. Subjects included tactics, military organization, weaponry, military geography, and engineering. French was the only foreign language taught until 1883 when the curriculum introduced German, followed by Chinese the next year and English in 1894. After 1877 the government retained a handful of French advisers as language instructors and ordnance technicians.

Military texts imported from the United States were popular among officers because commentators then hailed the American Civil War as the first modern war. Aspiring Japanese officers also read the French strategist Antoine Henri de Jomini, finding that his formulaic principals of warfare followed a rational progression they easily understood. Karl von Clausewitz was translated into Japanese during the late 1850s, but the Prussian strategist’s theory was deemed overly complex.

Under French direction the Toyama Infantry School emerged as the center for musketry, particularly after mid-1876 when Maj. Murata Tsuneyoshi, a Boshin War veteran and a Guard battalion commander, returned from his tour of Prussian and French ordnance and arsenal facilities. Murata quickly put his observations to work by designing extended firing ranges with moving and pop-up surprise targets. He also became the army’s leading designer of small arms. By 1880 Murata had produced his initial rifle at the Tokyo arsenal. After redesigns that included an eight-round magazine that made loading easier and increased firepower, in 1889 the Murata rifle was issued to all active duty soldiers. It remained the standard army rifle until 1910. Reservists continued to use the older Snider rifles.

The modern artillery guns used during the Franco-Prussian War (1870) impressed military observer Maj. Gen. Ōyama Iwao, who returned from Europe convinced that without an independent arms industry Japan would never be a truly sovereign nation. Acting on his advice, in July 1871 the military affairs ministry established the army artillery bureau to manage ordnance matters, including production of small arms, artillery, and ammunition. The same year an arsenal began producing obsolete French bronze mountain artillery guns to equip each garrison. In the mid-1870s the Guard imported the superior German-manufactured steel artillery piece from the Krupp factories, a practice that continued because Japan lacked iron ore and steel plants for casting. In 1879 the Osaka arsenal began manufacturing artillery guns using Italian techniques and fielded these bronze cannon army-wide in 1885. Besides the arsenals, the government retained control of strategic industries such as dockyards, machine shops, and woolen mills (which produced military uniforms). The nascent strategic factories were centers for the absorption and dissemination of modern manufacturing techniques and skills that contributed to capital formation.

The New Conscription Ordinance

The government’s two previous attempts to introduce national conscription had failed. Its third was more ambitious, more radical, and more controversial, particularly about the size of reserve forces. No unanimity existed about a conscription system. Yamada’s opinion, for example, had changed after his return from abroad, and he became an advocate of the militia system similar to those he had observed in Switzerland and the United States. Other officials wanted warriors, not commoners, to fill the ranks. Yamagata favored a Prussian conscription model. Others, including the French-trained Maj. Gen. Miura Gorō, the Tokyo garrison commander, wanted a French-style system.

Yamagata, however, understood the broader implications of national conscription. He distrusted the warrior class, several members of which he regarded as clear dangers to the state, making it foolish to rely solely on samurai to defend the government. Thus, Yamagata used conscription to get rid of the samurai volunteer army, curtail the warrior class, and simultaneously inculcate a mentality of national service for the sake of the emperor and the state. To eliminate preferential treatment for the warrior volunteers, Yamagata revived ancient imperial myths and largely fanciful traditions of military service to the imperial household to promote loyalty to the emperor while curtailing samurai independence. Conscription would likewise break down the old order’s feudal customs, promote the restoration’s goals, and create a future pool of trained soldiers available in times of foreign crisis and able to protect their homes in times of internal disorder. Furthermore, army indoctrination could translate the conscripts’ regional loyalties into national allegiance and send them home as veterans to proselytize army virtues, modernization, and proto-nationalism to their communities. This in brief was the notion of “good soldiers—good citizens.”

The January 10, 1873, conscription ordinance was based on the French model and provided for seven years of military service: three on active duty and the remainder in the reserves. There were liberal exemptions, including the obvious—criminals, hardship cases, and the physically unqualified—and the less obvious—heads of households or heirs, students, government bureaucrats, and teachers. A conscript could also purchase a substitute for 270 yen, an enormous sum that restricted this privilege to the wealthy. Less apparent but more enduring was the emphasis on primogeniture, which though eventually abolished would exert a lasting influence on the enlisted ranks. Under the new ordinance the 1873 conscript army was composed mainly of second and third sons of impoverished farmers who manned the regional garrisons while former samurai controlled the Guard and the Tokyo garrison. The long-term effect was the army’s custom of discouraging first-born male conscripts from making the service a career.

Because of the army’s small size and numerous exemptions, relatively few young men were actually conscripted for a three-year term on active duty. In 1873 the army numbered approximately 17,900 (from a population of 35 million); it doubled to about 33,000 in 1875.62 The 1876 cohort of 20-year-old males numbered about 300,000 candidates, of whom the army evaluated 53,226 as suitable for active duty. Assuming a one-third turnover as three-year enlistments expired, the army needed about 13,000 draftees annually, about one-quarter of those who passed the rigorous physical examination—or approximately 4 percent of the entire cohort. Until the conscription reforms in the 1880s, the percentage of conscripts fluctuated between 3 and 6 percent of the eligible cohort, making military service highly selective (see Table).

One’s chances of being drafted also varied considerably by region. In 1876 the physical examination disqualified more than 85 percent of potential inductees in the Tokyo and Osaka districts. In northeastern Japan, 70 percent of inductees failed, and even among those judged physically eligible for military service, not all were called to active duty.

Regardless of how few men were actually drafted, conscription irked all classes. Former samurai opposed the draft as a class-leveling device that cost them their privileges as the armed guards of the feudal elite. Peasants equated military service with the corvée system imposed by the Tokugawa regime and resisted this latest manpower levy. Others saw it as an unwanted intrusion into their lives, and although the conscription regulations contained numerous exemptions, these applied mainly to wealthier households. Some draft-eligible young men evaded conscription by self-imposed exile, moving from their home district to faraway remote Hokkaidō or distant Okinawa (which was not subject to conscription until 1898). Publishers offered manuals on how to beat the draft. Second or third sons adopted by other families as heirs and heads of households became known as “adopted conscripts.” But these measures were benign compared to the large-scale violent protests against conscription that took place in 1873.

Anti-conscription riots that year joined massive popular disturbances in Fukuoka Province over inflationary rice prices and demonstrations against new excise taxes on seafood and the abolition of the ban on Christianity. In May 1873 tens of thousands of peasants rioted in Okayama Prefecture, burning the homes of the wealthy as well as torching schools and burakumin (the untouchable class) residences, and murdering government officials and school teachers. Rioters destroyed about 400 homes and other buildings and killed or injured more than a dozen people. Among their demands were the elimination of conscription, compulsory education, and forced hair cutting. The Osaka garrison had neither the troops nor the equipment to deal with the mass demonstrations, leaving the government to hastily enlist 300 ex-warriors to suppress the uprising.

Despite severe penalties, including the beheading of more than a dozen demonstrators and the imprisoning of several hundred others, demonstrations quickly spread to neighboring Tottori prefecture, where in mid-June 22,000 people joined five days of protests demanding an end to conscription, compulsory schooling, and the newly adopted western calendar. By the end of the month tens of thousands of peasants rioted in Kagawa prefecture, where the authorities eventually executed several ringleaders and fined 17,000 people for joining in the disorders. Again the army needed outside help, which came this time in the form of fifty former warriors, to put down the demonstrations.

Although the demonstrators opposed the “blood tax,” a term to describe the conscription system that many peasants took literally, having heard wild rumors that the army would drain conscripts’ blood to make wine for the westerners, at root the mass protests demanded a reduction in soaring rice prices caused by rampant inflation as well as abolition of primary schools and the western calendar. Responding to the widespread unrest, Yamada Akiyoshi pronounced national conscription premature and proposed to postpone its introduction for about a decade. During that interval the government would educate the people in the values of the new nation, which in turn would make conscription acceptable to them. Meanwhile, a citizen militia led by professional officers could protect the nation. Soon afterward Yamada left the army to pursue a career in the law; he later would become justice minister. His opinions about the value of a militia system and a small standing army, however, continued to resonate with influential officers for the next two decades.

Army and Emperor

The new Meiji leaders relied heavily on the imperial institution to connect past to present when formulating national values. The army in particular stressed its links to the emperor to inculcate loyalty in the ranks. An imperial memorial issued on February 3, 1870, proclaimed the emperor a living embodiment of godhood and his throne a holy office established by the Sun Goddess and handed down in unbroken succession to the present. In 1872 the military department promulgated an imperial rescript (tokuhō) of eight articles that set standards of conduct for the new army by enunciating a soldier’s duties based on bedrock principles of loyalty to the throne, obedience to orders, courtesy and respect for superiors, and the prohibition of various types of disruptive conduct. Thereafter, when recruits entered the barracks for the first time they were welcomed with a ceremony that included their officers reading the rescript aloud to them, a practice that continued until 1934.

Besides issuing memorials, the emperor presided over military ceremonies, beginning in February 1870 when he reviewed about 4,000 troops on the imperial grounds in conjunction with the establishment of the ordnance bureau. In October 1871, Emperor Meiji observed his newly formed imperial bodyguard conduct field training exercises in a driving rainstorm. The following year he presented the new Guard infantry regiments their unit colors, inaugurating a tradition that continued until the end of World War II. In April 1873 he attended military exercises at Tokyo and led Imperial Guard cavalry troops through field maneuvers.

Emperor Meiji also presided over the military academy’s first commencement, in July 1878, publicly affirming the bond between the army’s officer corps and the imperial institution. To further strengthen identification with the throne, imperial family members routinely served in the military, although the court had not produced active warriors since the wars of the fourteenth century. They were exempted from conscription, preinduction physicals, and written qualification tests and were directly commissioned by an imperial order. In 1885, the year after the creation of aristocratic ranks and titles, young men from twenty-three newly ennobled families were transferred from the Peers School to the military academy, where they formed about 12 percent of the 108-man class.69 The emperor also promoted social changes. In 1873, January 4 became Tenchōsetsu (the emperor’s birthday), a national holiday. In March of that year he cut his hair in the western style, and in June he appeared in a western-style army uniform during a military exercise.

Tactics for the New Army

Until 1870, “modern” infantry tactics were found in an 1829 translation of a Dutch tactics manual. Concurrent with the new conscription system, the army adopted French tactical military doctrine, its 1873 infantry manual being a translation of the 1869 French edition. Training was conducted in squad-size groupings commanded by a corporal. Recruits received six months of basic instruction that included physical conditioning, platoon and company formations, dispersed movement, marksmanship, bayonet drill, basic sanitation, and military customs and ceremonies. Field training consisted of mandatory drills, execution of the manual of arms, rote memorization of set-piece tactical problems, and small-unit command and control. Instructors relied on strictly choreographed drill regimens, endless repetition, and iron discipline to get results. The army penal code issued in April 1873 prescribed severe punishment for disobeying superiors or conspiring against the government. In 1874 seventy soldiers were tried under the penal code; 530 were tried the following year.

In October 1874 the army created the corporal’s group, a squad-size unit of conscripts organized for drill and training purposes and overseen by a noncommissioned officer or junior officer. The system would eventually evolve into the squad section that regulated training, discipline, and conscripts’ lives in the barracks. Squad leaders initially handled only training, but revised regulations in 1880 assigned NCOs greater administrative responsibilities for the unit’s daily activities. Administration and management, however, were weak. Training regimens varied according to garrisons because of an absence of standardized training programs, frequent changes to drill manuals, irregular tables of organization, and the personalities and interests of commanders and NCOs. The army’s first standardized table of organization appeared in 1877 and established the strength of an infantry company at 160 enlisted and eight NCOs, each responsible for a twenty-man section.

Monday through Friday the conscripts awakened at 5 a. m. for morning drill followed by afternoon training sessions. After Saturday morning drill, they spent the day preparing their barracks for a 4 p. m. inspection. A Saturday-night bath followed inspection, and Sunday was a free day. Although the army conscripted from all classes of society, its officers and NCOs were drawn mainly from former samurai, and the traditional hierarchical relationship of samurai and peasant endured. Former warriors who became NCOs routinely beat or physically punished the farmer conscripts to instill discipline and ensure compliance with orders. Under such conditions, desertion flourished; of fifty conscripts sent by one domain, half deserted, one of them on four different occasions. It is true that the Imperial Guard received better training and equipment, but it too often relied on uncritical and uncomprehending imitation of western-style tactical drill because the army lacked a professional officer corps sophisticated enough to devise more appropriate methods.

Five years after the restoration, the new government had created a national army from scratch, fought a civil war, and imposed domestic order. It had established conscription, military schools and training facilities, and begun to standardize equipment and training. The army was small, depending on conscription as much for political reasons (to eliminate warrior influence) as social (as a leveling device) and economic (it was affordable). Significant differences about the nature of the armed institution remained unresolved; its deployment capability was haphazard at best, its personnel unproven, and its leadership divided. Standardized training and equipment were still lacking, and the effectiveness of military schools was still undetermined. The army had no popular base of support, conscription was greatly resented, and samurai bands were leading armed rebellions. On the positive side, the Meiji leaders had erected the framework for a national army that relied on the imperial symbolism of the emperor as the military leader, although they protected the army against direct imperial intervention in military affairs by establishing a system in which the emperor could rarely decide anything by himself. From these shaky foundations, the new army ventured into an uncertain and dangerous future.


Maintaining Combat Capability

Fuel and ammunition shortages were not the only things that could bring operational exploitation to a premature end. Even more serious were insupportable losses, especially in armor. To avoid premature culmination, which would sacrifice the opportunities created by a successful breakthrough, the Red Army paid increasing attention to the repair and restoration of damaged equipment and the replacement of casualties. The system that evolved during the war is best illustrated through the example of keeping up tank and SAU numbers. Maintaining combat capabilities started before an operation began. Every effort was made to bring participating units and formations up to—and, if possible, over—strength, with their weapons and equipment ready for many days of intense usage. Factory-new tanks and SAUs would replace as many worn or outdated ones as possible (the latter would often remain in quiet sectors while their crews were shipped to the assembly area to pick up their new ones for the next operation). Others whose tracks and engines had already been subject to considerable wear and tear would, wherever possible, have at least their most timeworn items replaced. In practice, this was the main means by which the viability of formations was maintained. During the conduct of an operation, the provision of fresh replacements while operating at a high tempo in the enemy’s depth was not a practical option (unless there was an operational pause), even if they were available.

Planning for force regeneration during the course of an operation had to take into account uneven loss rates from two causes: combat (destroyed or, more commonly, damaged) and noncombat (mechanical breakdown or badly mired). By far the heaviest casualties from enemy action would be suffered during the breakthrough. Ideally, these losses would be incurred mostly by the combined-arms armies, with the mobile groups being used only to complete the penetration. Of course, if the operation did not develop as planned and a clean breach was not achieved, an attritional struggle would develop, the casualty rate would remain high, and the depth achieved would be limited; for example, in the Orel Operation, it took Fourth Tank Army ten days to penetrate the defense, and it lost 83.9 percent of its T-34s. During exploitation operations, by contrast, average daily loss rates would remain low. However, there would be increases, sometimes sharp ones, during the penetration of defense lines in the enemy’s depth, when drawn into fighting in built-up areas, when forcing major water obstacles, or (usually as the operation was culminating) during enemy counterattacks; for instance, in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, over 50 percent of First Guards Tank Army’s losses were incurred during the establishment and subsequent defense of the Sandomir bridgehead over the Vistula. The incidence of noncombat losses depended substantially on the duration of the operation, the terrain it crossed, and the weather. Also important, however, was the state of equipment maintenance. The frequency and extent of mechanical failures were noticeably reduced as the war progressed and driver training and unit-level maintenance improved; for example, 334 tanks and SAUs of First Guards Tank Army failed in the Belgorod-Khar’kov Operation, but only 105 during the Vistula-Oder Operation, even though the army in the latter was 30 percent larger. Generalizing very broadly, 70 percent of the tanks and SAUs requiring recovery and repair had been battle damaged, and 30 percent had suffered technical malfunctions or become bogged down.

The system for restoring unserviceable tanks and SAUs and returning them to combat units was designed to cope with maneuver operations at a high tempo. At each level, responsibility for the regeneration of combat power rested with the higher commander. He distributed his assets to reinforce his subordinate formations according to the importance of their missions and the likely strength of the opposition, being prepared to switch resources to different axes as operational requirements dictated. At front level, a reserve was generally held to ensure that adequate facilities were available in the most critical area and at the most critical time.

Units possessed a minimal technical capability that was sufficient only for routine maintenance and the simplest of repairs. Thus, brigades would undertake work requiring no more than two hours. The mobile tank repair bases of corps and armies would establish technical observation posts in the areas where their units and formations had done their heaviest fighting. These would direct evacuation subunits and units in the collection of the casualties inflicted in the latest battle in order to concentrate them at damaged vehicle collection points (save those needing less than six hours of work, which were dealt with on the spot). The repair units would then arrive to work on the contents of these collection points. There was strict prioritization in the execution of repair work. Top priority went to those requiring running repairs needing no more than six to eight hours; then jobs taking up to twelve hours were tackled. Corps repair shops would then move on to repairs requiring twelve to eighteen hours if they remained in the area long enough. If, however, the operation was developing at a satisfactory tempo, they would have to hurry on to the next damaged vehicle collection point, possibly quite distant, usually leaving many relatively minor jobs undone. Army facilities would take their place, and once they had completed the easier jobs, they would start on medium repairs requiring one, two, or even three days. They too would frequently have to move on before completing all the medium repairs. Major repairs would be left to front workshops, but they rarely had time to get to these after catching up with the backlog of medium repairs that resulted from a high rate of advance. An example of the system at work is provided by the two damaged vehicle collection points leapfrogging forward to operate 40 to 50 km (25 to 30 miles) apart in the zone of First Guards Tank Army during the Vistula-Oder Operation. During the forty days of their involvement (which did not end with the army’s transition to defense), one moved three times and the other five times, spending from three to sixteen days at each location. Between them, they repaired 227 armored vehicles and eliminated lesser malfunctions in another 356; 88 were back-loaded to front workshops. Largely as a result of their work, on 1 February 1945 the army’s serviceable tank and SAU strength was 577, or 76 percent of its starting strength. (Second Guards Tank Army did not fare so well, ending up with 495 tanks and SAUs at the conclusion of the operation, 59 percent of its initial 838.)

Table 2 analyzes the armored vehicle losses and repairs of some tank armies during third-period operations selected to illustrate different operational conditions. Second Guards Tank Army in the Vistula-Oder Operation represents the ideal: the armored formation was inserted through a clean breach, and in a high-tempo exploitation to great depth, it forced intermediate defense lines before they could be defended. The tank armies of 1 Ukrainian Front, in contrast, had to complete the penetration before being able to conduct rapid operational maneuver, and this largely accounted for their higher losses. In the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, First Guards Tank Army not only had to complete the breakthrough but, even more significantly, had to engage in a prolonged and wearing fight to hold the Sandomir bridgehead against counterattacks. The East Prussian Operation, mounted as a supporting effort for the main offensive on the Warsaw-Berlin axis, had to gnaw through prepared, unsurprised defenses in depth, and losses were accordingly high.

Table 1

Table 1 above illustrates how, generalizing broadly from these and other operations of the third period, the total losses of tank armies averaged 70 percent or more, but irrecoverable losses were only about 25 percent of initial strengths. The evolved method of employing recovery and repair facilities made it possible for tank armies to rehabilitate and return to action most tanks and SAUs that could be repaired in the field (although, owing to the shortage of spare parts, a lot of repairable equipment was cannibalized as the operation progressed). In each of these operations, almost all tanks and SAUs that required running repairs and 80 percent of those needing medium repairs were restored to combat units. Indeed, it was not uncommon, as in the case of First Guards Tank Army in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, for total losses to exceed the army’s initial strength. In the same operation, each of Third Guards Tank Army’s tanks and SAUs was out of commission two or three times, and they were returned to service just as frequently. Of course, a critical factor in the success of the recovery and repair system was battlefield success. When battles ended, the Soviet forces were left in possession of the scenes of carnage, allowing them to scavenge, sort, and classify every vehicle into every category from total wreck to minor mobility problems. For the retreating Germans, on the other hand, every fighting vehicle left on the battlefield was a write-off, no matter how superficial the damage.

Table 2

The treatment of human casualties followed the same principles that were applied to equipment. The system was calculated to contribute to the maintenance of combat power to the maximum extent possible; it could be described as austere. Thus, for example, ambulances were thin on the ground, and most wounded were taken to the rear in unsprung peasant carts or trucks returning from delivering ammunition. Medical battalions were concentrated on the axes where the greatest casualties were expected, and they moved from one area of fierce fighting to the next, leapfrogging forward. The policy was to treat as many of the injured as possible at each stage in the medical chain; the further back a man was sent, the more difficult it became to reintegrate him into a unit on recovery. At subunit level, only basic first aid was provided; even at unit (regiment and brigade) level, only those casualties were treated that could be returned immediately to combat. The rest were triaged, with the lightly wounded who would be fit for battle in a day or two being sent to divisional field hospitals, treated, and held there until they could be sent forward. Those with little prospect of proving useful during the course of the operation were sorted by injury and dispatched to specialized army or, in the most serious cases, front hospitals. At each stage, emergency aid would be given to save the soldier’s life and stabilize him, but therapeutic treatment was given at any stage only to those who could be expected to recover in a usefully short period of time; such prioritization was considered the greatest contribution the medical services could make to the restoration of combat effectiveness.

The Red Army found that, in offensive operations, it would generally lose one man killed or missing for every three medical casualties (i.e., wounded or sick; the latter usually representing, according to a rather conservative estimate, about 15 percent of the total). Of the medical losses, 81 percent were eventually returned to duty, so permanent wastage represented somewhat more than 40 percent of all casualties. In calculating manpower requirements, Soviet planners learned that, at army level, 65 to 80 percent of the losses incurred in an entire operation would usually be suffered during the breakthrough phase—the first three or four days. Such data informed the provision of medical resources. It was also important for planning on the operations side, as was the realization that, whereas the total casualty bill was largely a function of the enemy’s strength and preparedness, the proportion of Soviet casualties as a percentage of the total force decreased as the superiority ratio increased. Table 2 shows the rough correlation between superiority ratios and percentage losses during the penetration of prepared defenses; apparent inconsistencies can be accounted for by such factors as whether surprise was achieved and the level of enemy preparation. Most importantly, such analysis helped front-level commanders and staffs to establish the numbers of men necessary to sustain the advance through to the entire planned depth of the operation and achieve the assigned objectives.

Soviet forecasting of force requirements and probable loss rates, and therefore viability, improved over time. Front calculations became increasingly reliable, albeit consistently on the conservative side and only at the macro level. Although improvements in the organization and training of technical troops and medical services resulted in the return of increasing numbers of temporarily incapacitated equipment and, to a lesser extent, men to service, casualties still had considerable impact on combat capabilities. When a high rate of advance was being achieved, restored tanks and SAUs and wounded men treated at divisional level could not rejoin their original first-echelon units, which would be too far away by that time. Of necessity, they were used instead to restore units that had been temporarily withdrawn from combat or to augment second echelons or create reserves, usually by rebuilding units under the control of headquarters that had lost most of their combat power. Longer-term sustainability at army and front levels did not translate into the immediate viability of leading lower formations.

It was, for example, reckoned that a tank or mechanized corps would be approaching combat exhaustion by the fourth or fifth day of a penetration battle or the eighth to tenth day of operations in the enemy’s depth. Various methods were employed to sustain operational endurance, assuming, of course, there was no second echelon immediately available to assume the role of the depleted formation. Regrouping could solve some problems. Thus, when the headquarters of the still numerically viable 25 Tank Corps was destroyed during the Orel Operation, Eleventh Guards Army transferred the formation to 36 Guards Rifle Corps so that its armor could act under infantry command, providing close infantry support. Where the command and control apparatus remained intact but losses left units verging on combat ineffectiveness, the usual answer was to form improvised groupings. For example, during the Belgorod-Khar’kov Operation, the remains of 29 Tank Corps were reformed into a single composite brigade. An alternative approach was used during the Carpathian-Dukla Operation, when the commander of 4 Guards Tank Corps redistributed the assets of 3 Guards Motor Rifle Brigade between his tank brigades. During its actions in the enemy’s depth toward the end of the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, 25 Tank Corps was down to 15 percent of its tanks and SAUs, 50 percent of its artillery and mortars, 19 percent of its riflemen, and 40 percent of its communications equipment. To create a formation capable of forcing the Wisloka and preventing the enemy’s withdrawal to Krosno, the corps was regrouped into a composite 20 Guards Motor-Rifle Brigade and a tank battalion commanded by 162 Tank Brigade headquarters. Such improvised units and formations were able to shake down quite quickly into effective teams, thanks to a combination of uniform training and simple tactical drills. Nevertheless, the very fact that such ad hoc creations were proving necessary was a warning to senior commanders that their culminating point was nigh.


In the third period, the Red Army executed increasingly deep and continuous operations, more and more frequently mounting successive operations without pauses between them as conservatively calculated goals were achieved at lower than anticipated cost. This was made possible by the evolution of a logistic system well suited to achieving distant objectives at a high tempo. It was designed to support operational maneuver rather than linear-attritional combat. It was austere, with only essentials being resourced. Above all, perhaps, senior commanders laid down clear priorities for the logistic effort and generally eschewed the temptation to pursue all desirable aims simultaneously, thus risking culmination across a broad front with no critical objectives achieved. Secondary tasks were undertaken only through sequenced operations once the main ones were attained.

The Soviets’ logistic reach was extended by the very fact that they accomplished high-speed offensives. The Red Army was routinely left in possession of the battlefield, with all that implied for recovery and repair. The faster the advance, the less chance the enemy had to carry out a scorched-earth policy as he retreated. Railway lines and bridges were often taken intact or with only superficial damage. The enemy sometimes lacked the time necessary to evacuate or even destroy the supply dumps he needed to offer continued effective resistance; captured fuel often extended the reach of advancing Soviet formations. Moreover, consumption fell as the tempo rose. Compare a tank army achieving a rate of advance of 16 to 45 km (10 to 30 miles) per day with one making only 4.5 to 13 km (3 to 10 miles) per day. At the higher rate, it would use only one-third the amount of fuel consumed at the lower rate to cover 100 km (60 miles). It would also expend only one-sixth the amount of ammunition. It suffered less than one-third the number of personnel casualties, and although tank and SAU losses were running close to two-thirds, the vast majority were simple, quickly repairable mechanical breakdowns. Such is the difference between pursuit of an enemy incapable of serious resistance and fighting through a balanced defense conducted by a determined foe. Success bred success—for both the commanders and the logisticians who had the conceptual and organizational readiness to exploit it.