Change of Desert Command

BRITISH ARMY NORTH AFRICA 1942 (E 15295) Winston Churchill shaking hands with Lieutenant General Ramsden, commanding 30 Corps, while visiting the El Alamein area, 7 August 1942.

Lt General Bernard Montgomery, GOC 8th Army, standing in front of his personal Grant tank, 5 November 1942. He had commanded the first major victory against the Germans and was about to become world famous.

While Rommel had no doubt that Auchinleck had halted Panzerarmee Afrika’s advance, Winston Churchill did not share that view. Instead Churchill saw the July battles from a perspective that owed much to his political position. He had returned from the United States where he had learned, from Roosevelt, of the fall of Tobruk, to face a ‘no confidence’ vote in the Commons. Although that vote was defeated, Churchill believed that military failures had been responsible for its having been tabled and considered that he needed a victory. That Auchinleck gave him such a victory, albeit of a defensive nature but of strategic significance, during July did not impress the prime minister. The stubborn Irish general had lost the confidence of his prime minister for his ‘refusal to accept … prodding’ and had ‘received a form of ultimatum’ on 12 July, warning that, unless Rommel was defeated, Auchinleck’s northern front, now under threat from the German advance in the Soviet Union, would not be strengthened. Yet, on 17 July, Rommel told the Italian High Command: ‘Any more blows like today and I do not anticipate being able to hold the situation.’

One of Auchinleck’s biographers commented that:

Churchill remained unable to see the fight for Egypt being won almost under his nose, and even Brooke [the CIGS] held fears for the desert battle and his friend’s grip upon it. When, on 27 July, Auchinleck put the Eighth Army on the defensive once more, Churchill considered his signal announcing the decision to be ‘very depressing’.

By contrast Auchinleck was not depressed but planned an offensive to evict Rommel from Egypt. He was making plans for training and reinforcing Eighth Army for that operation, in which he was supported by his fellow-Irishman and acting chief of staff, Major General Eric Dorman-Smith, known as ‘Chink’. Chink had been at the Auk’s side during the retreat to Alamein, providing him with much advice and a seemingly-endless fund of optimism. (Dorman-Smith is usually criticized by writers of this period, often taking their cue from some of his contemporaries who had axes to grind. On the other side, Auchinleck’s supporters do not always acknowledge Chink’s work. Fortunately, an excellent and balanced biography of Chink, by Lavinia Greacen, Chink, does much to set the record straight.) Sir Francis de Guingand, whose abilities as a staff officer were identified first by Auchinleck, although his name is more closely connected with Montgomery, wrote of this period:

to put the record straight – for there has been much controversy over this point – a great deal of the Staff’s time was taken up in carrying out the studies necessary for producing plans for a future offensive against Rommel.

On 27 July Dorman-Smith produced an ‘Appreciation of the Situation in the Western Desert’, presenting a remarkably accurate picture of forthcoming events. This appreciation, which noted Eighth Army’s object as being ‘The defence of Egypt by the defeat of the enemy forces in the Western Desert’, included a summary of the existing situation, factors affecting operations – including comparative manpower and armour strengths, as well as morale and ground, political considerations and the linkage to the Russian front – summaries of courses open to both armies and of tactical techniques and future organization. He concluded that Eighth Army was committed temporarily to a defensive battle: it lacked the strength to dislodge the enemy and required reequipment and training before being fit for offensive operations. Since neither side was likely to be reinforced strongly on land during August, he argued that no immediate offensive by either was likely, but an Axis offensive was possible towards the end of August. Provided there was no change in the land and air situation, Eighth Army would receive reinforcements of two armoured and two infantry divisions about mid-September, which might allow a new Allied offensive in late-September.

One factor omitted by Dorman-Smith was the supply of Sherman tanks from the United States. Dorman-Smith quotes Eighth Army’s heavy tank strength as ‘some 60 Grant tanks’ with another sixty due in early-August, but with no further tanks coming until September. However, Roosevelt had already promised 300 Shermans to Churchill and these, with a hundred M-7 105mm self-propelled howitzers (known as ‘Priests’ in British service, the soubriquet deriving from the mounting for an anti-aircraft machine gun which resembled a pulpit. A British-designed and built self-propelled 25-pounder, on a Valentine tank chassis, was already known as Bishop, ‘for no accountable reason’ while the clerical theme continued with a Canadian variant, Sexton, a 25-pounder on a Ram chassis, and a self-propelled 6-pounder anti-tank gun, known as Deacon.) were en route from the USA, travelling in seven fast ships, one of which was sunk, to Egypt. Dorman-Smith seems to have been unaware of the promised Shermans which began arriving in Egypt at the beginning of September. They were not ready for battle until October; some units received new tanks on the opening day of the final battle.

Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation has been criticized by a number of writers, most of whom choose to quote in isolation to advance arguments that ignore the document’s main message. They also choose to ignore other factors that do not suit their own arguments, including the efforts made by Auchinleck and Dorman-Smith to improve training and, especially, co-operation between arms. Auchinleck has often been pilloried for allowing Eighth Army’s formations to fight in small packets. Chief among his critics was Montgomery, who claimed that it was he who ordained that divisions should fight as divisions and not be broken up. Apart from the fact that divisions were broken up under Montgomery, it was Auchinleck and Dorman-Smith who espoused the principle that ‘battles are best fought by divisions fighting as divisions or, better still, corps fighting as corps; but mobile divisions and corps’.

Pitt points out that battlegroups were created at this time, giving the erroneous impression to some that the Jock Columns of 1941 had returned. However, the purpose of these battlegroups was to create mobility and ensure, as far as possible, that immobile infantry would not be retained at the front.

To promote better co-operation between arms, Auchinleck had already established a higher war course at Sarafand for officers likely to become divisional commanders, had expanded the Staff College at Haifa (adding an RAF wing to it) and had grouped in one area in Palestine all the tactical and weapon-training schools in Middle East Command ‘to ensure that a uniform doctrine, which took account of the characteristics of all three arms and was attuned to modern conditions, was taught under a single direction’.

Such changes take time and although there were improvements on the ground – artillery being used to much greater effect through concentration – these were not always noticeable to the average soldier. Animosity continued between infantryman and tankman, between tankman and gunner and between gunner and infantryman.

Air co-operation, however, was good. The airmen had provided excellent support in the withdrawal and, once the battle had become clearer on the ground, became an invaluable part of Eighth Army’s fighting strength. Although Luftwaffe elements had been transferred to support Rommel, the RAF dominated the skies over the battlefield and was also providing first-class intelligence through tactical reconnaissance missions flown over enemy lines, much of them by the Hurricanes of No.208 Squadron RAF. Farther afield, RAF bombers continued pounding Axis supply ports while torpedo-bombers harassed convoys carrying supplies for Rommel.

In theory the Axis logistical situation should have been much better than that of the Allies: for the German and Italian armies, supplies had only to be ferried across the Mediterranean from Italy to North Africa whereas British supplies had to be shipped from the United Kingdom, North America, India or the southern hemisphere Dominions via South Africa to the Suez canal. However, the theoretical smoothness of the Axis logistical machine was abraded by the presence of a very hard piece of grit in its workings: Malta. We have seen how, after the fall of Tobruk, the Axis strategic imperative should have been the conquest of Malta but that Rommel persuaded the Führer otherwise and had been permitted to carry out Operation AIDA, which Auchinleck had stopped at El Alamein. Now Rommel’s panzers thirsted for fuel that was being despatched to the bottom of the Mediterranean by the RAF and by British submarines operating from Malta, while his soldiers were short of food, clothing and ammunition for the same reasons. Captured British stores could only provide so much. Malta was strangling the Axis endeavours in North Africa. Hitler and his generals would have done well to recall Napoleon’s axiom that ‘I would rather see the English on the heights of Montmartre than in possession of Malta’.

Those endeavours had also suffered from errors made by German planners. Taking Italian advice, they had not sent diesel-engined vehicles to Africa, although such engines were better suited to desert conditions than petrol engines. Nor, initially, had they adapted their vehicles, including tanks, for desert conditions while their soldiers never achieved the same level of familiarity with desert conditions as did their British counterparts. Among the worst examples of bad German planning was the failure to supply fuel oil for cooking or workshop furnaces, relying instead on wood shipped from Italy in space that could have better used. Even though many of these problems had been overcome by the summer of 1942, they reveal a logistical weakness that cannot be laid entirely at Rommel’s door.

Having read and accepted Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation, although he initially refused to agree it because ‘it did not contain a sufficient offensive spirit’, Auchinleck then sent off his own, regular, report to London in which he noted that ‘We must now stand on the defensive and recruit our strength for a new and decisive effort’, which was not likely before mid-September. Winston Churchill, far from pleased with this prediction, decided to fly out to Egypt and assess the situation himself. Brooke, already planning such a trip, had suspected that Churchill was ‘very intent on following along close behind me if possible’ and learned on 30 July that ‘Winston had decided to follow me at once to the Middle East’. Churchill had wanted Auchinleck to come to London but the latter had refused to do so while fighting raged along the El Alamein line. Now the two would meet in Egypt.

Brooke arrived in Egypt a scant thirty minutes before Churchill and began a round of visits and meetings, including one with Auchinleck. He also met General Corbett, Chief of the General Staff in Cairo, with whom he was unimpressed, deciding that he was not fit for his job. Since Corbett had been suggested as a possible Eighth Army commander by Auchinleck, this, in Brooke’s view, was an unfavourable indication of Auchinleck’s ability to select men, which confirmed Brooke’s ‘fears in that respect’. However, the suggestion had been that Corbett should take over on a temporary basis until a new army commander was appointed; Auchinleck proposed that the man to fill this post should be Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery. Although he had not enjoyed good relations with Monty in Britain, the Auk considered Montgomery to be the best man for the field command in the Western Desert.

Churchill’s visits to Eighth Army’s tactical HQ behind Ruweisat Ridge and the RAF HQ at Burg el Arab left him with the impression that the RAF was much better organized than Eighth Army. At Ruweisat the prime minister breakfasted with Auchinleck in the latter’s spartan surroundings, a wire cage surrounded by flies, whereas luncheon in the RAF mess at Burg el Arab had been brought specially from Shepheard’s Hotel and there was ‘white napery, gleaming silver, brandy in goblets’ and a cooling breeze from the nearby Mediterranean. Such contrasting meals helped shape Churchill’s attitude to the commanders in the Middle East.

Of one thing Churchill was already convinced: Auchinleck’s place was in Cairo, not at the front with Eighth Army which needed a new commander. Auchinleck agreed with him, having already suggested Montgomery for the role. Churchill, however, was advocating that command should go to Lieutenant General ‘Strafer’ Gott, who had been on active service in the Middle East since the beginning of the campaign. Brooke interviewed Gott, who he felt needed a rest and was too tired to assume command of Eighth Army, but Churchill’s view prevailed. Gott was appointed.

At one stage Churchill had even suggested that Brooke should take over Eighth Army but, although tempted, the CIGS considered that his duty lay in remaining in his existing post. In his discussions with Brooke, the prime minister suggested that Auchinleck should be removed as C-in-C Middle East. Since he felt that Auchinleck might keep Montgomery, his favoured candidate for Eighth Army, on too tight a rein, Brooke was inclined to agree. Their choice of replacement was General Sir Harold Alexander, another Irishman and Churchill’s favourite general. Unwilling to dismiss Auchinleck outright, the decision was made to divide Middle East Command with a new Near East Command, headed by Alexander, under which Eighth Army would serve, and a redrawn Middle East Command, encompassing Persia and Iraq, under Auchinleck. However, the war cabinet, while agreeing to divide Middle East Command, insisted that that title should be retained by Alexander’s command, to avoid confusion in the eyes of the public, and that the title ‘Persia-Iraq Command’ be adopted for Auchinleck’s area of responsibility.

News of the changes was delivered to Auchinleck by a staff officer. In a subsequent meeting with Churchill the Auk declined the Persia-Iraq Command, believing that the division of the original Middle East Command would prove impracticable in the event of crisis and that his appointment to a command with much reduced responsibilities

would look to the public too much like the appointment of an unsuccessful general to an operational sinecure – a policy of which he would thoroughly disapprove had it happened to anyone else …

By the time Auchinleck learned of the planned changes, Gott was dead, killed when the aircraft in which he was flying was shot down by a German fighter. Brooke’s first choice, Bernard Montgomery, was to command Eighth Army. Auchinleck would retire to India, although he would be appointed C-in-C India less than a year later. His chief of staff, Eric Dorman-Smith, was to go also: Brooke disliked him intensely, as did many others, and a subsequent episode in the Anzio beachhead would destroy Chink’s career. Thus did the men who had stopped Rommel, saved Egypt and the Middle East, bow out physically of the history of the desert war; but their ghosts continue to haunt discussion of that war.

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German Democratic Republic, Armed Forces

Soldiers of the Guard Regiment Friedrich Engels marching at a changing-of-the-guard ceremony at the Neue Wache on the Unter den Linden in Berlin.

The armed forces of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) included the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA, National People’s Army), the Grenztruppen (Border Troops), units of the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MFS, Ministry of State), the Volkspolizei (VP, People’s Police), the Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse (Combat Groups of the Working Class), and the Zivilverteidigung (Civil Defense). The NVA was, however, the heart of East Germany’s national defense structure. In July 1952 the armed military police force was transformed into the Kasernierte Volkspolizei (KVP, Garrisoned People’s Police), predecessor of the armed forces of East Germany.

The rearmament of East Germany was made public in May 1955 in conjunction with the foundation of the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact), which was itself a response to the incorporation of a rearmed Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that same month. On 18 January 1956, the East German parliament, the Volkskammer (Chamber of People’s Deputies), established the NVA and the Ministry of National Defense (MFNV). By 1 March 1956, the command authorities of the new army reported their operational readiness.

The NVA was organized in three military services: ground forces, consisting of two armored and four motorized rifle divisions (1987 peak strength of some 106,000 troops); air force/air defense, consisting of three divisions (1987 strength some 35,000 troops); and the People’s Navy of three flotillas (1987 peak strength of approximately 14,200 men).

At its inception, the NVA was a volunteer army. Only after the August 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall was the framework for compulsory military service created. It went into effect in 1962. Until spring 1990, there was no specific provision made for conscientious objectors, and all able-bodied East Germans served a minimum and compulsory eighteen-month tour of duty. In 1964, however, it became possible to satisfy the conscription requirement as a so-called construction soldier.

East Germany’s close association with Soviet military models and the state’s strong desire to establish unquestioned political supremacy quickly transformed the NVA into an army of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Almost all NVA officers were members of the SED, and a network of political officers and members of the state security apparatus provided the required political indoctrination and supervision of the rank and file.

The NVA was equipped in accordance with the recommendations of the Joint Armed Forces Command of the Warsaw Pact. Thus, from 1962 the NVA received Soviet short-range missiles, and although it did have means of delivering nuclear weapons, the nuclear warheads remained in Soviet custody. Also in 1962, the air force became part of the unified air defense system of the Warsaw Pact. Beginning in 1963, the navy was equipped with Soviet missile patrol boats and landing craft capable of conducting offensive operations in the Baltic Sea.

In the prelude to the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, several NVA training exercises allowed Soviet forces in East Germany to be deployed elsewhere and provided cover for the general Warsaw Pact troop buildup. Although two NVA divisions were prepared to take part in the actual invasion, they were not requested. NVA participation was limited to a small liaison team at Warsaw Pact headquarters within Czechoslovakia.

The East German minister of defense commanded the Joint Warsaw Pact maneuvers in 1970, code-named WAFFENBRÜDERSCHAFT (brothers-in-arms), which were conducted on East German territory—proof positive that East Germany had been successfully integrated into the alliance.

In spite of the official policy of détente, combat capability and readiness were increased during the 1970s and accelerated in the early 1980s after the end of détente. In case of war, the NVA would reach a personnel strength of some 500,000 troops and would become part of the 1st and 2nd Front within the 1st Strategic Echelon. Under the command of the Soviet main force, attacks were to be launched on the territories of West Germany, Denmark, and Benelux. A special force supported by combat groups, border troops, and police readiness units were to invade West Berlin.

As civil unrest in Poland increased during 1980–1982, one NVA division was kept on alert should an invasion have been required. During the domestic crisis and disorder during the Velvet Revolution in October and November 1989, “groups of one hundred” were formed, comprising a total of 20,000 troops, to support East German police forces. The operation was conducted to secure buildings and institutions from damage or destruction.

Between 1989 and 1991, there was an initial phase of disorientation that in January 1990 was followed by demonstrations and strikes in more than forty garrisons. The NVA leadership stabilized the situation by making concessions and launching reforms. The disbanding of the political machinery within the armed forces and the introduction of democratic structures based on the rule of law after the first free elections in East Germany in March 1990 caused more uncertainty vis-à-vis the role and place of the NVA. Sweeping democratic-style reform was carried out against the backdrop of the still unsolved issue of whether there would be two armies on German territory after the reunification.

After the Soviet Union agreed to the reunified Germany’s membership in NATO, the end of the NVA was sealed. On 24 September 1990, it was removed from the military organization of the Warsaw Pact and was officially disbanded on 2 October. On the day of reunification, 3 October 1990, the Bundeswehr (Federal Armed Forces) of Germany integrated more than 89,800 former NVA members and 48,000 civilian employees.

References Childs, David. The GDR: Moscow’s German Ally. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1983. Forster, Thomas. The East German Army: The Second Power in the Warsaw Pact. Translated by Deryck Viney. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1980. McAdams, A. James. Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. McCauley, Martin. The German Democratic Republic since 1945: East and West. New York: St. Martin’s, 1986.

Federal Republic of Germany, Armed Forces

Discussions regarding German rearmament took place as early as 1946, but the British government opposed anything more than an armed and mobile police force, while the French government did not wish to see Germans rearmed in any way. Serious negotiations over the creation of a German military began in 1950, however, when the Korean War stretched Western military resources thin. Once again, French resistance was the major obstacle.

The Paris Accords of May 1955 overcame these obstacles by creating a Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) army, the Bundeswehr, that was firmly under civilian and Allied control. In stark contrast to previous periods in German history, the Bundeswehr was under intense oversight by parliamentary committees and a public wary of military institutions. Soldiers would be subject to civil law in all matters that were not strictly military. All Bundeswehr units were designated to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for action, with the German government retaining peacetime control. Weapons and military matériel were imported from the United States, Britain, and France on a large scale until the late 1960s, when domestic military production developed.

Under the 1955 agreement, the United States and Great Britain committed themselves to maintaining a troop presence in Germany. NATO’s current European partners would provide naval and air forces to complement British and American commitments. In return, West Germany would provide twelve mixed divisions (approximately 340,000 men) for the common defense of Europe by 1959, with a final strength of 500,000. Each infantry division would have three combat commands with three motorized infantry battalions and an armor battalion each; antiaircraft, engineer, communications, and reconnaissance battalions; a company of aircraft; a military police company; and combat support from three light artillery battalions and one medium artillery battalion. Tank divisions contained two armored and three mechanized infantry battalions in each combat command. Two of the divisions would be further specialized for airborne and mountain operations.

A civilian screening process was created to recruit officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) from World War II veterans. NATO would be responsible for all war planning and for the direction of all operations. No German general staff was permitted, on grounds that it might revive German militarism. The Bundeswehr was allowed an operations staff but on the condition that officers rotated through such duty periodically. Planners believed that half of the necessary manpower for the divisions would be volunteers, while a draft would provide the remaining numbers.

The first West German military volunteers reported for duty in November 1955, and the Law for Compulsory Service passed the West German parliament on 7 July 1956. It required all men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to serve for twelve months, with provisions allowing conscientious objectors to fulfill their obligation through alternative means, usually administered at the state and local levels. Further exemptions, thought to include some 10 percent of eligible males, covered the sons of deceased and wounded veterans, economic hardship cases, clergy, and those deemed unfit for service. Men who became officers or NCOs would remain in the reserves, known as the Territorial Army, until age sixty. The term of service was increased to eighteen months in 1962 at the height of the Berlin Crisis (1958–1963). It was then reduced to fifteen months in 1972, as population growth began to provide more than adequate numbers of draftees.

The West German government experienced some difficulty in providing the promised troops. Part of the reason was monetary. Between 1956 and 1989, the share of defense-related expenditures in the West German federal budget never sank below 12 percent. It reached its zenith in the early 1960s when it was one-third of the overall budget, yet most of the money was going to purchase matériel. On average, throughout the Cold War the West German government annually spent about 20 percent of its total budget on defense.

Beyond that, rearmament was never popular in West Germany. In October 1956, West German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss announced that manpower targets had been reduced from 96,000 to 80,000 for 1956 and from 240,000 to between 175,000 and 200,000 for 1957 largely because volunteers were not coming forward in the numbers anticipated. Only eleven of the twelve German divisions originally planned for 1959 were filled out and under NATO control by 1963. It took until the mid-1970s before West Germany’s armed forces reached the final benchmark of 500,000 troops envisaged in 1955. In 1975, the Bundeswehr contained 345,000 soldiers, 110,000 air force personnel, and 39,000 seamen. At any given time, only 48 percent of the German armed forces were volunteers, far short of the 55 percent target that the West German governments maintained. Recruitment of long-term (twenty-one-month) volunteers and of NCOs in particular continuously fell far short of expectations, although the federal government offered numerous incentives such as vocational education programs and career guarantees.

Popular opposition to the Bundeswehr, although always strong, increased notably in early 1957 when the United States indicated that it would arm its European allies with nuclear weapons as part of a shift in NATO strategy. Before 1957, NATO planned a forward defense along the German frontier. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had pushed for and won the integration of German units all along the line rather than having the Bundeswehr assigned a particular sector. He had also readily accepted a ban on atomic, biological, and chemical weapons for German units in order to make rearmament more palatable to the public and to the Social Democratic opposition. NATO’s new strategy of nuclear deterrence, officially adopted on 21 March 1957, thus set off a maelstrom in German politics that continued into the 1960s.

Adenauer renounced German construction of nuclear weapons and declared that Germany would not accept national control over such weapons. NATO responded by introducing the two-key system, whereby German units possessed nuclear capabilities but the nuclear warheads and launchers remained under Allied control. After winning by-elections in Nordrhein- Westfalen in July 1958, Adenauer’s government announced that it was prepared to equip the Bundeswehr with atomic weapons. German units received Matador rockets and nuclear-capable artillery pieces so that they could fight either a conventional or a tactical nuclear war. Bundeswehr units were also divided into either the six armored infantry or four purely armored divisions to facilitate mobility and, supposedly, increase defense against nuclear attack.

Even before this restructuring was complete, however, NATO, with some prompting from West Germany and led by U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s administration, moved to a strategy of flexible response. This deemphasized the role of nuclear weapons where German forces were concerned by creating a multilateral force that deployed nuclear-armed Polaris submarines. Two of the German armored infantry divisions created in 1957 were reorganized as straight infantry divisions, and the Bundeswehr’s deployed division strength was increased by about 10,000 men to compensate for its reduced nuclear role. The question of arming West Germany with nuclear weapons was shelved for good when the coalition government led by Willy Brandt and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in November 1969.

In the late 1970s, however, NATO plans to station intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Germany renewed the debate over atomic weapons. German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who had earlier been one of the principal advocates of flexible response in Germany, declared in early 1978 that West Germany would accept nuclear weapons only if other NATO countries did as well. U.S. President Jimmy Carter eventually led a NATO climb-down on the issue, agreeing to a two-track policy that tied deployment in Germany to Soviet deployments in Eastern Europe. In the 1980s his successor, President Ronald Reagan, worked closely with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to manage the deployment of Pershing missiles in Germany. Nuclear weapons always remained under NATO and U.S. control, and the German and American governments continued to cooperate in reducing the number of nuclear weapons stationed in West Germany.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the Bundeswehr has changed immensely. Despite the integration of the former East German Army since 1990, overall troop strength has been roughly cut in half. Although during the Cold War West German troops were never deployed on foreign soil except for training exercises and joint NATO maneuvers, the Bundeswehr has undertaken several foreign peacekeeping missions since 1991, most notably in the Balkans. German armed forces now serve as part of different international missions on several continents, most notably in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.

References Bald, Detlef. Die atombewaffnung der Bundeswehr: Militaer, oeffentlichkeit und politik in der Aera Adenauer [Nuclear Armaments for West Germany’s Army: Military, Public, and Politics during the Adenauer Era]. Bremen: Edition Temmen, 1994. Schmidt, Gustave, ed. A History of NATO: The First Fifty Years. 3 vols. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Thoss, Bruno, ed. Vom Kalten Krieg zur deutschen einheit [From Cold War to German Unification]. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1995.

Queen Anne’s Army

This impressive number of troops in the service of the States-General contrasted sharply with the smaller numbers that Queen Anne could put into the field, although her Treasury had the ability to pay for considerable drafts of troops hired into Allied service from across north-western Europe. There had been for many years an aversion in England to the maintenance of a large standing army, as the bleak experience of the English Civil War and Cromwell’s protectorate cast a long shadow. William III found that, with the peace achieved at the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, Parliament in London insisted that the army be all but disbanded to save money, but also to remove this perceived potential threat to the wider civic liberty by a monarch having too large an armed force at ready disposal. The army was reduced that year from 87,000 troops to a mere 18,000, although some regiments were quietly transferred to the Irish army establishment, where the rates of pay were lower and therefore they cost less and were, presumably, out of sight of Parliament and therefore out of mind. A number of Dutch units which had been on the English establishment were transferred to the service of the States-General for the same reasons; William III lost the service of his cherished Blue Guards in the process. The departure of these lusty soldiers from London was apparently regretted by many fashionable ladies, although the men’s habit of heavy pipe smoking had, it seems, caused some discomfort to feminine nostrils. A witty doggerel rhyme was abroad in London at the time:

Must we, the battalion of bold Dutch skaters, be drove by law from your wives and your daughters, and kicked from the Crown like a band of traitors? Oh England, Oh England, ’tis very hard measure, and things done in haste are often repented at leisure.

Other regiments had been reduced to cadres, with the officers retained in service on half-pay and therefore able to be remustered fairly quickly when war came again in 1702. Those soldiers who were discharged had, in many cases, been reduced to idleness or begging on the streets as a reward for their past services, but were also eager and willing for re-enlistment when the army was increased once more. When Marlborough took the field as Captain-General in 1702 of the ‘British’ regiments (drawn as they were from the English, Scots and Irish army establishments), he had under command five regiments of Horse (Lumley’s, Wood’s, Cadogan’s, Wyndham’s and Schomberg’s), two regiments of dragoons (Hay’s and Ross’s), and twelve regiments of Foot (the 1st Foot Guards, Orkney’s, [Charles] Churchill’s, Webb’s, North and Grey’s, Howe’s, Derby’s, Blood’s, Hamilton’s, Rowe’s, Ingoldsby’s and [John] Churchill’s) (see Appendix B). This tally does not include, of course, those other units on home duties or the large contingent sent to fight in Spain and Portugal, and eventually across the Atlantic in North America. Such was the demand of the war, and the gradual and repeated augmentation in bayonet strength that, by 1709, the long red wall that was Queen Anne’s army would include no fewer than seventy-five infantry battalions, some 58,000 foot soldiers in total, in addition to the foreign troops in the service of the Grand Alliance who were paid with British gold.

The ability of England to raise and finance large numbers of troops for the Allied cause was a significant asset, but persuasion and reassurance were needed at times, as the stress and strains of war took their toll. Queen Anne wrote to her brother-in-law the King of Denmark in April 1706, as Marlborough’s army gathered ready for the campaign that would lead within a few weeks to the triumph at Ramillies, an action in which Danish troops would have a key role:

My Captain-General, the Duke of Marlborough, is projecting an important undertaking against the enemy, and the friendship which I have for you making me rely on your own, I hope that you will allow Your Majesty’s troops now under the said General’s command, to march wherever he thinks best for the good of the Service … I have only to assure you that I will look on your consent in this matter as a particular mark of your friendship.

There had been difficulties over arrears of the soldier’s pay and the precise terms of their service. When Marlborough took the field against Marshal Villeroi on 19 May the Danish troops had yet to join him, but in response to his urgent summons they came up faithfully (and yet without proper authority), in time to fight to very good effect on the day of battle.

Strictly speaking, an officer’s commission was granted by the sovereign, or in the case of the Dutch Republic, by the States-General. In practice, most commissions in the army were obtained by ‘purchase’, a system that was, in essence, the same in both the British and Dutch establishments, although there were some differences in detail and application. The remainder of commissions, where not had by purchase, were obtained by patronage and the favour of influential men, and by virtue of seniority and meritorious service in action. Appointment as an officer, and promotion, had yet to depend upon ability, experience and worthy performance – although good service did have its rewards. Although seeming to be complex, the purchase system was quite straight-forward. An aspiring young man with a taste for the military life, or one whose family was keen to get him out of the house and making his own way in the world, would buy (usually with parental funds) a post as cornet (in the Horse) or ensign (in the Foot, the alternative title of second lieutenant being introduced in 1702). Successive steps upwards could then be obtained when vacancies occurred – leap-frogging in rank would later be forbidden – and payment for the advancement at the approved rate was made to the government. These funds were then devoted to obtaining fresh recruits for the army – at least that was the theory. In addition to the approved rate, there was a premium to be paid to the officer selling the commission, although this was unofficial and not formally approved. Officers selling out in a ‘good’ regiment could expect to get a better price than those from a unit whose reputation, for some reason, was not so admirable. The value and vested interest amongst officers to maintain the reputation of the regiment in which they served was obvious and had a distinct and directly connected military value. Regimental pride was a matter not simply of personal satisfaction and sense of duty performed, but of proven financial advantage when it came to selling a commission. The sum received on selling out would, again in theory, enable the retired officer to purchase a pension for himself – an important consideration because pensions from government were hard to obtain and even when granted subject to curtailment if the government changed.

At first glance, the system seems corrupt and open to abuse, but it was one which had vocal advocates as it was believed that to require an officer to buy his way upwards (at least in regimental circles, and only up to lieutenant colonel – ranks above that could not be purchased) ensured that the army was officered by ‘Men of fortune and character, men who have some connection with the interests and fortunes of the country … three quarters receive but little for their services beside the honour of serving.’ Whether that was the case or not, the system had developed and become part of the way the army was to a large degree manned. However, ‘Constrained, as it was, by “a range of laws, warrants, orders, rules, customs and connived at abuses,” the sale and concommitant purchase of commissions was, in fact, contrary to the law at the time.’ The Mutiny Act of 1695 required an oath to be sworn that no payment had been made to obtain a commission, but despite this inconvenience, the practice was widespread and officially winked at, if not openly approved. Still, in 1702, just as Marlborough set out on the campaign trail as Captain-General for the first time, a subaltern attempted to avoid an agreed payment for a commission on the grounds that such a payment would be unlawful. The Court of Chancery directed that he should make the payment all the same. In effect, as they were granted under the hand of the sovereign to an individual, commissions were acknowledged to be personal property, held only as a consequence of continued good conduct and faithful service, and capable, as a result, of being sold to another suitably qualified individual. This is evidenced by the fact that the commissions of officers who died in action could not be sold; the investment died with them.

Eventually, bowing to the powerful vested interests in the army over the ownership and value of commissions, a scale of prices to be paid was regulated by royal warrant in 1720. Amongst other things, this stipulated that an officer could only sell his commission to another immediately junior in rank to himself, thereby preventing any egregious leap-frogging. Richard Pope of Schomberg’s Horse frequently comments in his letters on the few chances for promotion and advancement, as he saw things, noting with a certain grim relish officers who fell on the field of battle and thus opened up fresh vacancies that had to be filled: ‘Major Creed being killed in the action (at Blenheim), Mr Cardonnel and Colonel Sibourg tell me I may depend upon having a Troop; but they have not yet settled the majority being unwilling to give it to [Captain] Prime for some good reasons.’

That there had been oddities and abuses in the purchase of commissions was undeniable, and the god-daughter of William III was granted a commission as captain in Hamilton’s Regiment and drew the pay that went with it for over twenty years. A rather more worthy appointment was perhaps that of the infant son of Brigadier General Archibald Rowe, who was killed at Blindheim village. The lad was granted a commission a few weeks after his father’s death, apparently as a kind of act of charity for the orphaned boy, but the Duke of Marlborough had to intervene in 1714, having been reappointed as Captain-General by King George I, to prevent the further granting of juvenile commissions. This was none too soon, for as late as 1713 Stair’s Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) had a 3-year-old cornet on its muster rolls: ‘A child who could scarcely manage a rocking horse.’ Not until the time of the much (unfairly) maligned Duke of York, was a minimum age of 16 years put on the first step of purchasing or being granted a commission. For all its ills and oddities, the system for the purchase and sale of commissions – something with a tangible cash value – helped to ensure good behaviour. A commission could also be forfeited for personal misbehaviour: Lieutenant Colonel George MacArtney, ‘a brave experienced officer’, was cashiered for ‘dishonourable conduct’ towards an old woman, the precise details of which are not clear but may be imagined. He was refused the opportunity to sell his commission on account of his actions, and had to serve on as an unpaid volunteer hoping to regain his reputation, rank and fortune by his gallantry in the field. This he eventually achieved in marked fashion by his bravery under fire, in the teeming woods at Malplaquet in the autumn of 1709.

The granting of brevet rank was at first widespread; it was a process that was in the gift of an army commander, not requiring the specific sanction of the sovereign. It allowed an officer to hold a temporary uplift in unpaid rank when called on to undertake a task or series of tasks requiring the necessary authority to command others and accomplish what was necessary. A major might therefore find himself appointed to take forward an attack with two battalions of Foot, with the brevet rank of colonel enabling him to give orders to the unit commanders. Marlborough granted dozens of brevets between 1702 and 1707 but they did cause some difficulty and occasional friction with those not holding a brevet, especially when the particular operation was over and the officer concerned had returned to regimental duty, perhaps having acquired certain airs and graces in the meantime. An indication of the difficulties that might occur was an order requiring officers to do duty in their regiments in the rank for which they were paid, once the active role requiring the brevet had expired, and Marlborough had to write to Robert Walpole in June 1708 that ‘Colonel Hollins having a commission of Brigadier, does no wise exempt him from his duty as major.’18 Given the problems that arose, the granting of brevet rank was no longer formally sanctioned, and although occasionally used (by Marlborough and others), the practice died away for the time being.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider how the various officers from many different nationalities and states, both large and small, conversed. The common soldiers had less of a problem as the opportunities or necessity to converse outside their own unit were relatively limited, and if in doubt they could, in the time-honoured fashion, always resort to raising their voices and gesticulating. For commanders, things were more tricky and a Danish officer might well ride side by side in an advance with a Hessian or a Brunswicker and have to give a shouted warning in passing to the commander of a Dutch battery. The difficulty was no less for the men who served Louis XIV, as a French commander might have a Bavarian, Irishman or a Walloon (not a particular problem there, of course) at his side. So, when having to converse with someone who was not that familiar with one’s own language, the answer was that the lingua franca (no pun intended) of both the rival armies was French, and this seemed to work remarkably well. Marlborough spoke and read French, just about, although his accent was apparently not that impressive, but he could not write in French, so all his many letters and dispatches were usually drafted in English and then translated as required. Quartermaster-General William Cadogan had an advantage when dealing with Dutch officers as he spoke their language, having married a girl from Holland, and presumably had learned to do so in agreeable circumstances.

Considerable numbers of new recruits were required with the renewed onset of war; that was inevitable, but calls to patriotic duty in an age without means of ready mass communication had little effect outside the hearing of a beating drum and the encouraging words of a recruiting officer and his roving party. As always, some likely lads, yearning for adventure, excitement and fortune, perhaps as a way to escape the plough, the apprentice’s bench or a prospective father-in-law, would be inclined to step up to the officer at the table and accept the proffered shilling, pistole or guilder to enlist. However, the new demand for manpower was such that no fewer than nine recruiting acts were passed by the English Parliament between 1702 and 1711, which allowed, amongst other things, the impressment of men with ‘No lawful calling or visible means of support’. Vagrants, the unemployed, debtors (who would be released from their obligations by accepting enlistment) and prisoners who in many cases might otherwise have swung on the gallows were in consequence recruited into the ranks of the army. A distinguished Huguenot officer once wrote, rather over-dismissively perhaps given their subsequent performance on blood-strewn battlefields, that Marlborough’s men comprised ‘Sore-footed troops … a motley crowd of rough labourers and artisans, old soldiers, and the riff-raff of the English towns’. Conscription by destitution was in force, in effect, but what were sometimes regarded as the sweepings of society could by this means be induced, with varying degrees of reluctance, to don a red coat and shoulder a musket for the queen. Despite such unpromising starts, on the whole these men did very well in their new calling.

The effectiveness of the recruiting methods varied widely from parish to parish, and there was certainly a measure of reluctance amongst English magistrates to enforce the measures fully; the rate-payers of the district would be obliged to maintain the otherwise destitute families of absent soldiers who would very possibly never return. In addition, some groups of workers whose services were deemed essential, such as farm labourers at harvest time, were kept exempt from impressments into either military or naval service. The varying fortunes of war, at least where the success or failure of campaigns was reported at home, had their inevitable effect on recruiting. As the war went on and casualty lists lengthened, whatever enthusiasm had met triumphs such as Blenheim and Ramillies, the remorseless task to fill and refill the ranks became ever more challenging. Recruiting parties were regularly sent out to try and find young men to enlist, perhaps by plying them with drink in an effort to induce them to ‘list for a soldier’ while inebriated. These things were not simple, and the recruit, once sober again, was quite likely to slip away if he was not carefully watched and guarded, and might even make off to muster into another regiment for yet another bounty. For all the talk of taking the shilling on enlistment, the actual bounty for an English recruit in Marlborough’s day was no less than £2 – a huge sum to a labourer or apprentice, and a powerful if transitory inducement to enlist.

The trickery by which recruits were sometimes persuaded to come forward was varied, but not everyone was inclined towards or adept at these underhand practices. John Blackader, a rather severe and straight-laced officer serving in the Cameronians, wrote that ‘This vexing trade of recruiting depresses my mind … I see the greatest rakes are the best recruiters. I cannot ramble, and rove, and drink, and tell stories, and wheedle and insinuate, if my life were lying at stake.’ Nor was it at all useful or effective for a recruiting party to get a lad of good family drunk and then try to insist that he had enlisted voluntarily, as was seen when the Middlesex justices of the peace determined that the only son of a gentleman of property, Mr William Hall, should be set at liberty by recruiters from Ingoldsby’s Regiment. The often-told, but highly unlikely, tale of a shilling being quietly placed in the bottom of a glass of beer so that the imbiber could unwittingly have been said to enlist is well known, but it is just a tale. ‘Bringers’ (later notorious as ‘crimps’) were also active – they would try and persuade prospective and possibly gullible recruits of the attractions of the military life and then be rewarded for finding such promising material for the recruiting party.

Money was voted by Parliament to raise troops for specific campaigns, most notably those in Flanders and Spain in Marlborough’s day, but it was not uncommon for a regiment on the ‘Spain Establishment’ to be found serving in Flanders, and in 1703 Raby’s (the Royal) Dragoons were sent from the Low Countries to campaign in the Iberian Peninsula. On the other hand, Hill’s Regiment (later the Devons), although intended for Spain, fought with some distinction at the siege of Mons in 1709. The demands of the service plainly came first, and if troops were needed in one theatre of war, that was where they were sent, at least for a limited period while Marlborough’s influence on such matters lasted. As the duke’s fortunes and influence waned, others would make demands which he could not resist, as with the futile expedition to North America that drew troops away from Flanders in 1710, despite his protests. Unsurprisingly, this posting of regiments between various establishments caused some bureaucratic upset, with scope for double counting and over-payments, and Paymaster-General James Brydges gave evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry in 1713 that:

Some regiments have been placed on several establishments at the same time, Farrington’s, for instance, on three, viz, Flanders, Spain and Portugal; Mordaunt’s and Macartney’s, in the same manner; Hill’s and Hotham’s were put in both estimates [for Spain and Portugal], and twice provided for by parliament … Other regiments have been paid different from their respective establishments.

Pay was drawn for at least one regiment that did not even exist, other than on paper, so bureaucratic mismanagement and uncertainty on the one hand, and corruption on the other, were jogging each other’s elbows. Such irregularities seem to have been more prevalent in the Iberian Peninsula than in Flanders, where Marlborough was able to keep a keen eye on things, but, as Brydges points out, there were some exceptions and highly suspect-looking anomalies that struggled to find an explanation.

Regiments of Horse or the Foot in the duke’s army were rarely all of the same size at any given time – the varying fortunes of recruiters, the incidence of casualties, malingerers and the sick, and drafts and cross-posting having to be made to bring other units up to strength did not make for such uniform neatness. The Horse had six Troops in each regiment in 1702 (although the Queen’s Regiment of Horse had nine Troops), which gave a muster roll of some 400 officers and men. Dragoon regiments also had six Troops each, which was increased for Stair’s Dragoons and Ross’s Dragoons to nine Troops in 1708–9. Thirteen companies was the war establishment for regiments of Foot serving in Flanders from 1703 onwards, and this gave a theoretical bayonet strength of 876 officers and men, with each company finding three sergeants, three corporals, two drummers and fifty-six men in addition to the officers. Units raised for service elsewhere – Spain or the West Indies, for example – had a different established strength. The Foot Guards were also different, not being on any specific establishment, with the 1st Foot Guards having twenty-eight companies each of sixty men (seventy from 1705 onwards), and the Coldstream Guards having fourteen companies. On the Act of Union in 1707 the Scots Guards were augmented to seventeen companies, each of seventy men, but this distinguished regiment did not serve with Marlborough.

Once properly enlisted and mustered into the ranks, the recruit could expect to be issued, at his colonel’s expense (a cost sometimes applied so sparingly that he turned a nice profit on the transaction), with uniform, weapon and accoutrements, and to be instructed and drilled in their use. Queen Anne’s soldiers commonly wore collarless single-breasted red coats reaching well down towards the knee and were instantly recognizable. Waistcoats were made up from the previous year’s worn-out coat with the sleeves cut off. The gunners and engineers wore red coats with blue cuffs, and only be dressed in blue coats from the end of the war onwards. Legs were clad in close-fitting kersey or shag breeches, and great-coats were issued in foul weather while on campaign. A deserter from Cadogan’s Horse was described in the London Gazette in 1711 as wearing a ‘Red coat with green [facings] broad silver lace on the sleeves and pockets bound with narrow silver lace, green waistcoat, shag breeches, silver laced hat, brown wig/hair with black bag’. Charles Colville, joining up in 1710 as a gentleman volunteer in hopes of gaining a commission, recalled that he was issued with a soldier’s coat of scarlet cloth, waistcoat, linen shirt and neckcloth, and a laced hat adorned with (as a nice touch) a blue feather. He was pleased also to receive as his personal weapon a fusee (a light form of musket often carried by officers) rather than the standard musket, which was a weighty 12lb 42-inch-barrelled flintlock musket tipped with a sharp 18-inch steel socket bayonet for good measure. This concession for Colville was in itself unusual, and may have reflected the young man’s position as an aspirant officer with well-placed friends. He would also have been provided with a buff leather cross-belt and cartridge pouch, and a short sword of doubtful usefulness known as a hanger. It is worth remembering that a foot soldier in Marlborough’s army usually carried about 50lb of equipment when on the march – knapsack, tent portion, cooking pot and so on – in addition to his arms, ammunition and accoutrements. Louis XIV’s soldiers were probably encumbered in the same way.

Achaemenid Empire Administration and Army

The Median Empire was overthrown by the king of Anshan, Cyrus II, either in 554/553 or 550/549 BCE. The new dynasty founded by Cyrus adopted the administrative practices of the Medes. Once Cyrus expanded his empire to incorporate Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and parts of Central and South Asia, the newly founded empire required a new and more elaborate administrative structure. The principal challenge for a vast empire, which ruled diverse geographical regions and contained numerous ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities with their own social organizations, was how to collect taxes and generate sufficient revenue to pay the salaries of the king’s officials and troops. Beginning with Cyrus the Great but particularly during the long reign of Darius I (r. 522–486 BCE), the Achaemenids divided their empire into provinces, or satrapies. The Persian king appointed a governor, or satrap, to each province. The satraps were not hereditary rulers. They were appointed by the Persian king and served at the pleasure of their royal master. Every new country or region that had been conquered was assessed for taxes. At times for purely administrative purposes, neighboring regions were joined to a newly conquered area in a single unit (Herodotus: 3.89). The satrap was responsible for maintaining security in the area under his control, making sure that the cultivation of land would not be disrupted. Each satrap had his own army, and he could use it to defend the territory under his jurisdiction. The satraps also provided troops to the king’s army during military campaigns, thereby contributing to the central government’s cavalry and infantry forces. In a long paragraph in his Oeconomicus, the Greek author Xenophon described the relationship between the Persian king and the provincial power centers in the following words:

We agree that he [the Persian king] is seriously concerned about military matters, because he gives orders to each man [governor] who is in charge of the countries from which he receives tribute to supply provisions for a specified number of horsemen, archers, slingers, and light-armed troops who will be capable of controlling his subjects and of protecting the country if an enemy should attack. And besides these he maintains guards in the citadels. And the officials to whom this duty has been assigned supplies provisions for the guards. The king holds an annual review of the mercenaries and the other troops who have been ordered to under arms, assembling all of them, except those in the citadels, at the “place of muster.” He personally inspects the troops near his own residence and he sends men whom he trusts to review those who live farther away. And those garrison commanders and chiliarchs [commander of a thousand] and satraps who show up with the full complement of soldiers assigned to them and present them equipped with horses that are well groomed and weapons that are well maintained he promotes with honours and rewards with valuable gifts. But those commanders whom he finds either showing a lack of concern for their garrisons or making a private profit from them, he punishes severely, removing them from office and appointing other men to take charge. Furthermore, he himself examines all of the land that he seized as he rides through it, and by sending men whom he trusts he surveys the land he does not examine personally. And those governors whom he observes presenting densely populated land and fields under cultivation stocked with the trees and crops that grow in that region, to these he gives additional territory and he lavishes gifts on them and rewards them with seats of honour; but those whose lands he seized uncultivated and sparsely populated, because of the governor’s harshness or arrogance or lack of concern, he punishes, removing them from office and appointing other governors. Since he does these things, does he seem to be less concerned that the earth be well cultivated by the inhabitants than that it be well protected by the garrisons? Separate officials are appointed by him for each of these activities, not the same men: some are in charge of the inhabitants and the workers, and collect tribute from them; others command the armed troops and the garrisons. If the garrison commander does not adequately defend the country the official concerned with the inhabitants and agricultural production brings an accusation against the commander on the grounds that the people are not able to do their work because they are not properly protected. But if the garrison commander provides peace for farming, whereas the civil governor presents under populated, unproductive land, the garrison commander, in turn, brings an accusation against him. For, on the whole, those who cultivate the land poorly are unable to support garrisons or pay tribute. But wherever a satrap is appointed, he is concerned with both areas of activity. (Xenophon: IV.5–12)

After the collapse of the Persian Empire in 330 BCE, Alexander and his Macedonian generals continued with the administrative practices of the Achaemenid kings. The short-lived empire of Alexander and the Seleucid state, which succeeded it in Iran, Mesopotamia, and parts of Asia Minor, relied on a system of vassals who paid tribute and taxes to their Seleucid overlords. The Seleucids, who ruled from Antioch in Syria (present-day southern Turkey), also relied on Greek colonies, which had been founded by Alexander during his conquests.

Achaemenid Army

The Achaemenid army was the backbone of the Achaemenid state. The army served as the principal instrument for maintaining order in the empire. As the Achaemenid state grew from a small kingdom in southern Iran to the largest empire the world had ever seen, the Persian army went through a major transformation. The armies of Cyrus II the Great, the founder of the state, consisted of Persian tribal units, which had initially supported his rebellion against the Medes. As the small Persian state expanded and converted itself into an empire, the Achaemenid monarchs developed a professional army. As displayed by the magnificent wall carvings of Persepolis in southern Iran, the core units of the standing army were recruited from the Persians and the Medes. The “royal cavalry guard and the ‘Immortals’ composed the core of this standing army” (Frye: 104). According to Herodotus, the Immortals corps “was known as the Immortals, because it was invariably kept up to strength; if a man was killed or fell sick, the vacancy he left was at once filled, so that its strength was never more nor less than 10,000” (Herodotus: 7.83). The pool for recruiting the Achaemenid army was vast and deep, as ancient Persians were educated in the art of warfare since childhood. As young boys, they learned how to ride and draw bows. Sport events and hunting expeditions were organized as the means of military training.

The Achaemenid army reflected the ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity of the Persian Empire. It was a multinational force, which included fighting men from the diverse communities that resided in the empire. Commanders of infantry units were mostly Persians, related to the king either by blood or marriage. The army units were divided into units of tens, hundreds, and thousands (Herodotus: 7.81). Before embarking on a campaign, spies were dispatched to collect information on the ruler and the country that was about to be attacked. Prior to a military campaign, all army units assembled in a gathering place for inspection. The tradition among the Persians was to begin a march after sunrise (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.8). The signal for the march was given by trumpet from the king’s tent. To make the king’s tent visible to all, “a representation of the sun gleamed in a crystal case” above it (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.8). The “order of the line of march was as follows: in front, on silver alters, was carried the fire which the Persians called sacred and eternal” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.9). After the fire alters came the magi singing hymns, “followed by 365 young men in scarlet cloaks, their number equaling the days of the year,” then “the chariot consecrated to Jupiter [Ahura Mazda], drawn by white horses, followed by a horse of extraordinary size, which the Persians called ‘the Sun’s horse’” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.9). Next came various cavalry units, including “the cavalry of twelve nations variously armed”; the Immortals, “10,000 in number”; the “15,000 men called ‘the king’s kinsmen’”; and finally the unit that looked after the king’s wardrobe (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.13–14). All these units “preceded the royal chariot on which rode the king himself, towering above all others” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.15). The king appeared in magnificent attire: “his tunic was purple, interwoven with white at the center, and his gold-embroidered cloak bore a gilded motif of hawks, attacking each other with their beaks” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.17). His “royal head-dress” was “encircled by a blue ribbon flecked with white” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.19). A unit of “10,000 spearman carrying lances” followed “the king’s chariot, and to the right and left he was attended by some 200 of his most noble relatives” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.21). At the end of this column came 30,000 foot soldiers followed by 400 of the king’s horses. The female members of the royal family, including the king’s mother, wives, concubines, children, and their attendants and nurses accompanied the king in his campaigns. They were guarded among others by “a troop of women” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.22).

The Achaemenid state was originally a land power. As the boundaries of the empire expanded and reached the shores of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, the Achaemenids turned their attention to establishing Persian supremacy on the eastern Mediterranean and launched a navy. The Achaemenian navy was “the domain of Phoenicians and to some extent the Inonian” and Cyprian Greeks, but Iranian marines constituted an important component of the Achaemenian naval forces and “fought on the ships” (Frye: 107). The Phoenicians had joined the Persian navy of their own free will and enjoyed enormous power in the military decision-making process. For example, when the Achaemenid king Cambyses II ordered his fleet to attack Carthage, the Phoenicians “refused to go, because of the close bond which connected Phoenicia and Carthage” (Herodotus: 3.19). With the Phoenicians “out of it and the remainder of the naval force too weak to undertake the campaign alone, the Carthaginians escaped Persian domination” (Herodotus: 3.19). Darius, who wished to know where Indus joined the Indian Ocean, sent an expedition down the river under the command of the Inonian naval admiral Scylax of Caryanda (Herodotus: 4.44). The naval expedition followed the course of the river eastward until it reached the ocean; then, “returning westward, the ships followed the coast, and after a voyage of some thirty months,” reached Egypt (Herodotus: 4.44). This allowed Darius to make regular use of the Indian Ocean and complete his conquest of the Indus Valley (Herodotus: 4.44).

While the Achaemenid army was the principal instrument of territorial expansion and preservation of security and order, military might was used not only to wage war but also to conduct co-option and peace. To the astonishment of their enemies, the Achaemenid kings generally treated the rulers they defeated with kindness and magnanimity. According to Herodotus, Cyrus treated Astyages, the defeated king of Media, “with great consideration and kept him at his court until he died” (Herodotus: 1.130). Cyrus displayed the same benevolent generosity and forgiveness toward Croesus, the king of Lydia (Herodotus: 1.88–91). If a king sought peace he was pardoned, and at times he or one of his sons was restored on the throne. There are “many instances from which one may infer that this sort of generosity” and compassion was a common practice among ancient Iranians (Herodotus: 3.15). As Herodotus remarked, the Persians were in “the habit of treating the sons of the kings with honor, and even of restoring to their sons the thrones of those who have rebelled against them” (Herodotus: 3.15). If, however, after being defeated and pardoned a king tried to organize a revolt among his people, he was condemned to death.

BUILDING THE PRUSSIAN ARMY

The test of state power that really mattered was its ability to sustain a standing army. Prussia not only had a big one, it came to be synonymous with militarism. In the eighteenth century, however, this status was of recent origin. In 1610, when the Elector Johann Sigismund instructed his militia to conduct training exercises, the timorous soldiers declined on the ground that firing their guns might frighten their women. Alas, this pleasing sense of priorities did not serve Brandenburg well when the Thirty Years’ War erupted eight years later. For a state stretched out across the North German Plain with no natural frontiers, security could only come from a strong army. The attempt by the Elector Georg Wilhelm (r. 1619–40) to stay out of the conflict ended in disaster. In 1630 he sent an emissary to his brother-in-law, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, who had just landed in Pomerania, asking him to respect Brandenburg’s neutrality. Gustavus Adolphus replied tartly that in an existential struggle between good and evil (Protestant and Catholic), noncommitment was not an option. Georg Wilhelm’s great-great-grandson, Frederick, provided a withering account of this episode in his Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg, as he described how the Elector’s ministers bleated pathetically, “What can we do? They’ve got all the big guns” as they counseled surrender to the Swedes. During the last two decades of the war, Brandenburg was repeatedly fought over by the various combatants, losing between 40 and 50 percent of its entire population.

Georg Wilhelm’s son, Frederick William, who succeeded him in 1640 at the age of twenty, had learned the lesson that it was better to be predator than prey. Later in his reign he observed to his chief minister Otto von Schwerin: “I have experienced neutrality before; even under the most favorable conditions, you are treated badly. I have vowed never to be neutral again as long as I live.” By 1646 he had managed to scrape together an army of 8,000, which allowed him some sort of scope for independent action in the dog days of the Thirty Years’ War. His reward came in the final peace settlement. Although bitterly disappointed not to make good his claim to western Pomerania and the all-important mouth of the Oder, he did secure the impoverished eastern part, together with three secularized prince-bishoprics (Kammin, Halberstadt and Minden) and the reversion of the wealthy and strategically important archbishopric of Magdeburg, of which he eventually took possession in 1680. Frederick William was now in a self-sustaining spiral: the more troops he had at his disposal, the more easily he could extract money from the Estates, and the more money he was able to extract, the more troops he was able to recruit. He was assisted by the decision of the Holy Roman Empire in 1654 that princes could raise taxes to maintain essential garrisons and fortifications. By the time he died in 1688 he had a standing army of 31,000 at his disposal.

It was also more securely under his command. Until late in his reign he had been obliged to rely on private warlords to supply him with troops. In 1672 General Georg von Derfflinger, who had been born in Austria and had served in several different armies, including the Swedish, declined an order from the Elector because his contract had not specified unconditional obedience. Three years later, on 18 June 1675, Derfflinger was second-in-command to Frederick William at the battle of Fehrbellin, the first major victory won by a Brandenburg army solely through its own efforts. Although the numbers involved on each side were modest—12,000 to 15,000—its significance was recognized by contemporaries when they awarded Frederick William the sobriquet “The Great Elector.” His great-grandson observed: “He was praised by his enemies, blessed by his subjects; and posterity dates from that famous day the subsequent elevation of the house of Brandenburg.”

Although during the next three years the Great Elector’s army pushed the Swedes out of Germany, it brought him scant reward when peace was made. Real power rested in the hands of the big battalions, and they were commanded by the French King Louis XIV, who intervened at the negotiating table to rescue his Swedish allies. All that Frederick William had to show for five years of successful campaigning was a modest frontier adjustment and the cession by the Swedes of their right to a share in the tolls of the Brandenburg part of Pomerania. All the conquered territory had to be handed back. On a medal struck to mark the peace, the disappointed Great Elector had inscribed Dido’s lines from Virgil’s Aeneid addressed to the as-yet-unborn-Hannibal—exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor (May you arise from my bones, you unknown avenger). Rather oddly, Frederick the Great, who was to play Hannibal to Frederick William’s Dido, did not mention this in his account of the episode.

For all the importance assigned to the Great Elector by his successors, Brandenburg was still only a second- or third-rate power when he died in 1688. It was only towards the very end that he managed to assert sole control of his army and he was still dependent on foreign subsidies to wage war. His observation that “alliances are good but one’s own forces are better” referred to an aspiration not an achievement. The same could be said of his son Frederick III (who dropped two digits to become Frederick I when he gained the royal title of “King in Prussia” in 1701). It used to be thought that the Hohenzollern rulers of Brandenburg-Prussia could be divided into two types—the exceptionally gifted, and the dim and/or unstable. It was Frederick III/I’s misfortune to be sandwiched between two high-achievers (Frederick William the Great Elector and Frederick William I) and also to become the target of some of his grandson Frederick the Great’s most scathing comments. Yet he steered his state safely through the very choppy waters stirred up by the Nine Years’ War (1688–97), the Great Northern War (1700–1721) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14). On occasion his army intervened effectively, not least at the battle of Blenheim in 1704, where it played an important role in helping the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene win a crushing victory over the French. By 1709 Frederick had increased his army to 44,000, the largest in the Holy Roman Empire after Austria’s.

In that year it was also present in strength at the battle of Malplaquet when Marlborough and Eugene again defeated the French in the bloodiest engagement of the War of the Spanish Succession. Leading the Prussian contingent were two men who were to make a decisive contribution to Prussia’s military elevation: the Crown Prince Frederick William and General Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau. Despite, or perhaps because of, the carnage, which inflicted 25 percent casualties on the victors, the former always maintained that the day of the battle—11 September 1709—had been the happiest of his life and he always celebrated the anniversary. When he succeeded to the throne in 1713, he and Prince Leopold at once set about increasing the quantity and improving the quality of the army. By a combination of ferocious discipline and incessant drilling, it was turned into a responsive killing machine that could move rapidly across country and then deploy on the battlefield with unprecedented speed. Their innovations included: a metal ramrod, which allowed more rapid rates of fire; an improved bayonet, which was constantly at the ready; and quick-marching in step. In his History of My Own Times, the main beneficiary of these reforms commented on his father’s achievement: “A Prussian battalion became a walking battery whose speed in reloading tripled its firepower and so gave the Prussians an advantage of three to one.” Their grasp of cavalry was much less sure. Frederick William’s notorious obsession with very large soldiers meant that very large—and slow—horses had to be found for them: “giants on elephants” was his son’s dismissive comment. This was based on firsthand experience, for when Frederick first took them to war in 1740, the Austrian cavalry found it all too easy to immobilize their opponents’ gigantic but ponderous horses with one saber slash to the head. Also of dubious military value was Frederick William’s obsession with recruiting giant soldiers for his Guards, which cost four times as much as any other regiment but never saw action.

Overall the quality may have been impressive; the width was much less so. When he came to the throne in 1713, Frederick William could recruit from a total population of only around 1.6 million. At once he abolished the notoriously inefficient militia system and resorted to a mixture of impressment at home and voluntary enlistment from abroad. The unpopularity of the former and the expense of the latter led to a major reform in 1733 by which the Prussian lands were divided into cantons of some 5,000 households, each assigned to a regiment for recruiting. All male children were inscribed on the regimental rolls at the age of ten. Although it was stated firmly that “all inhabitants are born into the service of the country,” numerous groups were exempted: peasant farmers and their eldest sons, immigrants, merchants, manufacturers, craftsmen and those in certain “reserved occupations” such as seafaring. Even so, a good quarter of the total population was inscribed on the cantonal lists and two-thirds of the army could be raised from native resources.

Combined with the relative efficiency of the fiscal and administrative system, this cantonal organization worked well enough to promote Prussia to something approaching the premier league of European military powers. In 1713 the peacetime strength of around 30,000 put the country on a par with Piedmont or Saxony; by 1740 the equivalent figure was 80,000, which outstripped Spain, the Dutch Republic or Sweden and brought it within striking distance of Austria. Frederick the Great commented in his Political Testament of 1768: “These cantons are the pure substance of the state.” Flattering sincerely by imitation, the Austrians followed their enemies’ example, albeit with a long delay, and introduced cantonal recruiting in 1777.

 

THE END OF KAMPFGRUPPE PEIPER I

James Dietz prints

CHENEUX AND TROIS PONTS, BELGIUM, DECEMBER 22–24, 1944

During the night of December 21–22, a higher-level G-2 report was telephoned in from 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters stating that the U.S. 7th Armored Division had been heavily attacked late that afternoon and pushed out of the Belgian city of St. Vith to the east. A serious accident occurred later that morning when Lieutenant Colonel Harrison broke his jaw when an American truck crashed into his jeep in Cheneux. The injured battalion commander was sent to an aid post and then evacuated to the rear. His loss was another blow to the remaining 1st Battalion members who had recently lost so many others. It seemed almost unbelievable that the officer who had encouraged his men in the attack on Cheneux from his forward command post, who had crossed the Waal River with them under enemy fire in broad daylight, and who had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day had been put out of commission by a traffic accident.

Major Berry, executive battalion commander, succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Harrison as commanding officer. Captain Milloy of Headquarters Company became acting battalion executive officer, being the most senior officer present. He was not only the youngest company commander, but also the most experienced, having led C Company in all previous campaigns. Major Berry learned at the same time that more replacements were on the way, and would arrive the next day. Milloy was temporarily replaced as company commander by 1st Lieutenant Peyton C. Hartley.

It was difficult for the officers and men of A Company who had moved to Trois Ponts to take in the fact that they had seen no action, whereas many other units in the division had been committed in heavy fighting. Their first casualty was sustained when a sergeant was wounded in a German shelling that morning. “When our house was hit by German cannon fire we ran to a house with a back having open land for about 25 to 30 feet to the river front and settled in there,” recalled Private First Class Bayley. “Our houses were just to the north of the town center on the west bank. This was a very quiet area, nothing happening. A few hundred yards to the north of us and a few hundred yards to the south, some of the most vicious fighting of the war was taking place and would extend over the next several days. We could hear some of it, especially the tank and artillery shells, but nothing was coming into our area and there were no engaged firefights. Germans on the other side of the river were keeping out of sight, as we were on our side.

“It was strangely quiet. It is hard to realize that such quiet could occur on an extremely active battle front. We posted lookouts in the upstairs rooms, being careful to keep away from the windows. During the night the platoon members would take observation turns in a foxhole at the back left-corner of the house. We had our rifles and some very powerful plastic Gammon grenades on the front lip of our foxhole to warn the soldiers if an attack was started. We never had to use them.

“We had our first snow the night of the 22nd. I made my bed in a concrete-constructed coal bin. I don’t know why it seemed safer, but it did. This quiet state of affairs went on through the 24th and was apparently going to last into Christmas Day.”

In the early afternoon, heavy German artillery fire rained down on the 3rd Battalion positions at 1330 hours, appearing to come from the direction of the Château de Froidcour on the other bank of the Amblève River. Fifteen minutes later, 3rd Platoon, I Company, paratroopers sighted a white bed sheet hanging out one of the windows of the château. Captain Burriss sent out a contact patrol to investigate, led by 1st Lt. Harold E. Reeves. According to his Silver Star Citation, Reeves “volunteered to lead a combat patrol with the mission of trying to make contact with friendly troops that had been cut off by the German offensive. First Lieutenant Reeves led his patrol through two miles of enemy-held territory under heavy shelling by the enemy and our own artillery. First Lieutenant Reeves pressed his patrol on through all this until contact was established with friendly troops. As a result of this action, First Lieutenant Reeves’ patrol captured 50 Germans and liberated eight American soldiers that had been captured by the Germans a few days before. Information gained by First Lieutenant Reeves as to the location of Allied Prisoners of War and the enemy troops was invaluable in the attack that was launched shortly on his return.”

As 30th Infantry and 82nd Airborne artillery hammered Kampfgruppe Peiper all day long in La Gleize, some of the shells landed in I Company’s position, but fortunately did not hit anyone. At 1650 hours Lieutenant Reeves’ group reported at back to the 3rd Battalion CP. Reeves informed Lieutenant Colonel Cook that there were both American and German wounded at the Château de Froidcour, and delivered a slightly wounded soldier from the 2nd Armored Division who had returned with them.

“On the afternoon of 22 December,” recalled Captain Campana, “the 2nd Battalion was ordered to relieve the 1st Battalion at Cheneux. On arriving in the town, we saw evidence of the bitter fight which had taken place. German dead and equipment lay strewn on the main road and adjacent fields. A disabled self-propelled gun and tank were on the road. Some of the enemy dead were clad in American olive-drab shirts and wool-knit sweaters beneath their uniforms. The battalion took over the defense of the town and bridge and waited for events to happen. Sounds of brisk fighting on our left flank could be heard, intermingled with tank-gun fire. It was the 119th Infantry attacking the Germans in La Gleize with assistance from the 740th Tank Battalion.”

While Captain Komosa’s D Company occupied positions in Cheneux itself, cameramen filmed their reception by Chaplain Kozak on the western outskirts of the town. As the Catholic chaplain prayed with several troopers clustered around him, a platoon radio operator stood behind him, looking sideways into the camera, smiling feebly. Captain Norman’s E Company took up positions just north of Cheneux; to the south, the battered remnants of C Company were emplaced along the Salm River with B Company to their south, followed by A Company in the northern outskirts of Trois Ponts.

Early in the evening, 1st Lt. Thompson, the 3rd Platoon leader in E Company, was ordered to send out a security patrol to the east to screen the vicinity of La Gleize and find the position of the new German lines. Pvt. George H. Mahon describes the five-man patrol: “I walked down in the middle of a street, two men on either side of me. Our mission was not to get into a skirmish but just to locate [the Germans] and get back. First thing I know, I was looking at a wooded area and I saw a flicker like a cigarette. About the same time I saw a concussion grenade go off in front of me. It blew me down and my helmet was blown off. [No one was hit.] We got up and got back to our lines.”

Around 2045 hours the patrol reported to Lieutenant Thompson that they had heard vehicular movement in the town of La Gleize. During this debriefing, Thompson noticed that Mahon was hobbling: “By the time I got near our lines I couldn’t bend one knee. I told Lieutenant Thompson and he said I should go see the doctors. I said, ‘It’s just swollen from the concussion. It wasn’t a fragmentation grenade. I’ll be all right.’ It was about 2300 hours at night. He told me, ‘Go over and see the doctor anyhow. We aren’t going to hit them until about 0230, so go over there and see what he has to say.’

“I went to the aid station and there weren’t any other wounded in there. They had already been evacuated. The doctor said, ‘Take your pants off.’ I took my boots off, my pants off, and then when I pulled my socks off, he said, ‘Wow!’ He stopped me and said, ‘Put them back on. You are going nowhere. Lay down on that stretcher.’ I said, ‘I came walking in here from my company.’ He said, ‘Damnit, I am not requesting you to do it. I am telling you, it’s an order!’ I went over there, lay down, and fell asleep. Next thing I woke up in France in a warehouse-kind of building and then moved to a hospital in England because of frozen feet. It took another two months before I could return to the unit. I was still in my dress uniform from when we left Camp Sissonne.”

Lieutenant Stark of the 80th AAAB requested permission to test-fire a 57mm shell on an abandoned German Mark VI King Tiger tank: “With the taking of Cheneux and the bridge across the Amblève River, offensive action was temporarily halted. All antitank guns were placed in positions so that they covered all angles and approaches to the bridge across the river. I, desiring to replenish the supplies, principally rations and gasoline, tried to locate these supplies. The 1st Battalion had failed to draw supplies for its attachments, and in turn, the regiment had not made any provisions for the resupply of the attached antitank platoons, as it believed the battalions had included them in their requests. The battery commander and I finally received supplies from our own battalion headquarters. All echelons of the unit to which the platoon was attached were contacted, so that the situation would not recur.

“Near one of the gun positions overlooking the bridge was a knocked-out German Tiger tank. I was curious to know exactly what effect a shell fired from a 57mm gun would have on the front of the tank. Such an opportunity had not previously been afforded. Permission to fire the gun was received from the battalion commander. A special round of super high-velocity armor-piercing shell was fired from a distance of about 200 yards, and the front of the tank was penetrated slightly above the axle.”

Lt. Col. William B. Lovelady of the 33rd Armored Regiment supported the 119th Infantry Regiment between Stoumont and La Gleize, with a CP situated at Roanne, east of La Gleize. He recalled that “on December 22, 1944, about 9:30 PM, a young lieutenant from the 82nd Airborne was brought to my command post. He was wet, cold, and his face was all blackened. He had swum, waded, or whatever across the Amblève River to contact one of our outposts. He told them he had information for the Commanding Officer and asked to be taken there. You can imagine my surprise and gratitude to see him, since we had not been in contact with friendly forces for three days, and to learn that the paratroopers were just across the river cheered us. His message was that we were now attached to the XVIII Airborne Corps. He gave me a sketch of the disposition of forces just across the river, and asked me for a similar sketch or diagram of our forces. (Generally, just strung out across the road with the Amblève River on the right, and a steep wooded hill on our left.)

“Just before he left, he asked if we needed anything. We told him that the Germans were dug-in on the hill to our left and we needed artillery or mortars. He offered help. He said he would shoot a line across the river at dawn and we could call for and direct the fire from their Howitzers. This was done and we soon neutralized the enemy on the hill. This experience was one of the greatest in our five campaigns. We have no record of this incident in our book, Regimental or Combat Command B logs, and most, if not all, of the individuals that knew of this have either passed on, or are out of contact. Perhaps there is a mention of this incident in the Airborne or Regimental Journals.”

That same evening in La Gleize, bad news came through for Obersturm-bannführer Peiper: “The last hope for relief through units of the Division had to be given up. In the last radioed order which was received, Division ordered the encircled forces to fight their way out of the pocket. For unknown reasons the U.S. infantry and tank units [of the 30th Infantry Division] failed to resume their attack against La Gleize on 23 December, but the situation in the pocket nevertheless remained grave. Ammunition and fuel supplies were practically exhausted and no food supplies had arrived since the first day of the attack. Ammunition and fuel supplies by air on 22 December admittedly had arrived, but only about 10 percent of the supplies dropped by the three planes reached the target area, an amount which could have no effect whatever.”