Fortress Warfare in Renaissance Italy

French troops arriving in Naples, 1494.

The first fully mobile and effective field artillery appeared in 1494 in the train of Charles VIII of France when he invaded Italy, and Fornovo (1495) was probably the first battle where artillery played a really effective part. The eight-foot bronze guns were drawn by horse teams and could keep up with marching infantry. They made a great impression on the Italians whose few heavy pieces, being ox-drawn, usually arrived too late for battles and, according to Machiavelli, could never fire more than one or two shots before battle was joined.

The offensive on the rampage 1494-1503

Charles VIII and the advent of mobile siege artillery

In military affairs, the events of 1494 did much to bring the Middle Ages to an end. In that year King Charles VIII of France led his army across the Mont-Genevre Pass into Italy, and marched across the Lombard plain and the Apennines to the port of La Spezia, where he picked up the forty or so siege guns with which he intended to make good his claim to the Kingdom of Naples.

These guns were the lineal descendants of the state-owned artillery which had enabled the French to burst open the English strongholds in Normandy and Guyenne in the middle of the century. Craftsmen and bell-founders worked tirelessly to improve the weapon, and by the 1490S they had evolved a cannon that was recognisably the same creature that was going to decide battles and sieges for nearly four hundred years to come.

The medieval bombard was a massive pipe of wrought-iron rods or bronze, designed specifically to throw a large but relatively light ball of stone. The weapon was by no means without its virtues. In relation to muzzle velocity, the stone ball required only one-half the weight of powder as an iron shot of the same calibre, and it exercised a considerable smashing effect on targets like walls, siege towers, ships and trenches full of men. At the same time the bombard and its ammunition were undeniably bulky. The gun was usually fired from a solid block of wood, which rested directly on the earth; it put up a valiant fight against any gunners who threatened to disturb its repose. For transport, the bombard had to be lifted bodily onto an ox waggon running on disc-like wheels which, whenever the cart was canted over to one side, threatened to collapse and deposit the whole load gently back to earth again.

Another disadvantage concerned the manufacture of the missiles. Whereas the casting or forging of an iron cannon ball was a hot but satisfying business, skilled stonemasons had to be paid highly if they were to address themselves to the laborious and frustrating work of carving a stone ball that was just going to be fired from a gun.

In the train of Charles VIII, however, the bombard had been largely supplanted by cannon with homogeneous bronze barrels no more than eight feet long. These pieces could be transported and loaded with ease, and they discharged wrought-iron balls which could compete in range and accuracy with stone-firing bombards of at least three times their calibre. The barrel of the French cannon was readily elevated or depressed around the fulcrum formed by two trunnions (prongs). These were cast into the barrel just forward of the centre of gravity, and rested almost over the axle of the two-wheeled gun carriage beneath. For traversing, the trail of the carriage was lifted from the ground and swung to right or left.

The numerous and well-trained French gunners knew how to take advantage of their new weapon, and an Italian contemporary (Guicciardini, 1562, Bk I) wrote that the cannon were planted against the walls of a town with such speed, the space between the shots was so brief, and the balls flew so speedily, and were driven with such force, that as much execution was inflicted in a few hours as used to be done in Italy over the same number of days.

The enhanced mobility of the French guns was, if possible, still more important than their firepower. Over long distances the heavier of the barrels still had to be loaded onto separate waggons, as before, but gun carriages and waggons alike were now drawn by strong and trained horses, and travelled on ‘dished’ wheels which stood up stoutly to the strains imposed upon them by fifteenth-century roads.

By all reasonable calculations Charles should have been stopped short by one of the Florentine or papal fortresses long before he could reach his goal of Naples. Unfortunately for Italy, the French and their artillery were not reasonable opponents. Charles directed his march down the western side of the Apennines against the northern frontier of the state of Florence, the first obstacle in his path. Florence was on the verge of one of its bouts of puritanical, patriotic republicanism, and the poor Duke Piero de’ Medici, already insecure at home, threw himself on the mercy of Charles as soon as he learnt that the little fortress of Fivizzano had fallen to the French. Sarzana, Sarzanello, Pietra Santa and the citadels of Pisa and Leghorn, all were delivered up without resistance, and on 17 November the pale little French king made his triumphal entry into Florence, lance balanced on thigh. The terrified Pope Alexander VI followed Piero’s example, and hastened to place his strongholds at the disposal of the French.

There was nothing to stand between Charles and the kingdom of Naples. The small Neapolitan citadel of Monte Fortino capitulated as soon as the cannon were planted against it; and the French took a mere eight hours for the business of breaching the important frontier stronghold of Monte San Giovanni and massacring its garrison. The place had once withstood a siege of seven years. With horrifying consistency the French later used the same cruelty at Capua in 1501, Pavia in 1527, and Melfi in 1528.

In the short term the impact of the new French methods was devastating, and on 22 February 1495 Charles was able to ride into the city of Naples in the same style as he had entered Florence.

The French successes had conjured up a hostile league of Venice, the Pope, Milan and Spain. Charles accordingly retraced his steps and smashed open his communications back to France. The king thereafter lost interest in his new conquests, and over the course of 1496 his negligence and cowardice permitted the Spanish to starve into submission all the strongholds in Naples – an episode which indicated that it was nowadays far easier to conquer a kingdom than to hold it.

The Spanish counter-attack and the gunpowder mine

Objections may be made to the choice of the year 1494 to mark the beginning of early modern fortress warfare. Italian military technology had not been entirely static and, as we shall see, the all-important device of the angle bastion was invented seven years before Charles VIII burst into Italy. Then again, the occasions on which the French needed to plant their cannon were surprisingly few, because fortresses tended to surrender at the very wind of their coming. However, Macchiavelli, Guicciardini and almost all the people who have written since about Renaissance warfare are surely right to stress the revolutionary impact of the French and their new artillery. What the authorities are talking about was essentially a Blitzkrieg, which depended as much for its effect upon speed, energy and the potential for destruction, as the actual scale of physical damage. Warfare was prosecuted with a new urgency and tempo, and, no less importantly, big-power politics intruded on Italian affairs.

The newly-revealed power of the offensive fired the ambition of all the hungry southern princes, and upset the equilibrium which had reigned among the major Italian states since the middle of the fifteenth century. In 15°2 the French and Spaniards came to blows over the possession of Naples. Acting with admirable energy, the Spanish defeated the French field army twice over, then proceeded to mop up the isolated enemy garrisons all over Naples.

Out of all the doomed strongholds, the Castle of Uovo (by the city of Naples) was certainly the one that was taken in the most spectacular fashion. Cannon alone were powerless to reduce the place, situated as it was on a narrow peninsula separated from the mainland by a deep ditch. The Spaniards, however, had in their ranks one Pedro Navarro, ‘a thin little man’, who had perfected the gunpowder mine, the one weapon capable of blasting the French from their rocky retreat.

Gunpowder mines had figured in the treatises of Taccola, Mariano of Siena, and Francesco di Giorgio Martini, but it seems that they were first used in actual warfare in 1439, when the Italian educated John Vrano used a countermine in his defence of Belgrade against Sultan Amurath. Under the direction of Martini, the Genoese used gunpowder below ground in their attack on the Florentine held fortress of Sarzanello in 1487. The effect on this occasion was small, for the gallery had not been driven far enough under the foundations. Pedro Navarro, who is said to have witnessed the experiment as a private soldier, went on to remedy this effect at the siege of the Turkish fortress of San Giorgio on the island of Cephalonia in 1500. On that occasion Navarro tunnelled out long galleries beneath the citadel rock, stuffed them with gunpowder ‘to excite the flames’, and produced a devastating flare-up.

The wording of the descriptions of these early mines leaves open the possibility that the powder charges were not primarily explosive in character, but rather intended to hasten the burning of the props which supported the undermined masonry. No such doubt attaches to Navarro’s device at the Castle of Uovo in 1503. He piled his men and tools into covered boats, brought them unknown to the French to the side of the cliff facing Pizzafalcone, and laboured for three weeks to drive a gallery through the rock. On 26 June the Spanish touched off the charge, and part of the rock sprang into the air. The governor and his council were at debate in the chapel above, and despite their misuse of these sacred precincts they were propelled heavenwards with greater force than all the saints of Christianity. Thus Navarro ‘gained great credit at this siege, and struck a terror into everybody’ (Guicciardini, 1562, Bk I).

For a time the older and newer methods of mining co-existed. As late as 1537 the Spaniards attacked Saint-PQI by cutting a gash in the salient of a tower, supporting the masonry by timber, and then burning away the props. In the main, however, besiegers avidly seized on the possibility of wrecking a wall by an explosion, rather than effecting its tame subsidence by the ‘burnt-prop’ method. The explosive mine furthered the work of the cannon in wiping from the strategic map the hosts of small medieval castles which had disrupted and bedevilled so many offensive campaigns in the past. Only a good wet ditch, or a deep and well-flanked dry one was capable of deterring the enemy from ‘attaching the miner’ to the scarp.



Sir William Congreve’s son, Congreve the Younger, inherited his father ‘s technical talents and went on to gain even greater fame through his invention of the rockets that bore his name. Having arrived first from China centuries earlier, rockets had long been used in India before the British arrived. The younger Congreve became fascinated by examples held in the Royal Artillery Museum of captured war rockets used by the sultan of Mysore, Tippo Sahib, against British forces at Seringapatam in India during the 1790s. Impressed by the rockets’ incendiary capabilities and lack of recoil upon firing, Congreve began a series of experiments that resulted in two primary types, specifically designed for naval and land use.

Their main body was a tube constructed of multiple layers of tightly wrapped paper to which was attached a long stabilizing stick. Congreve’s earliest rockets were thus, in appearance and function, nothing more than giant versions of the modern toy bottle rocket. Although acceptable incendiaries, these prototypes, however, did not have sufficient compression to provide damaging concussion, while their paper wrappings were decidedly lacking in lethality as shrapnel for military purposes. Soon after, however, Congreve replaced the rockets ‘ paper tubes with ones of more durable and potentially deadly sheet iron.

Britain began production of Congreve’s rockets in 1805, and soon after field use indicated the need for further improvements, the chief of which addressed the placement of the stabilizing stick. The average naval and land-use Congreve stick was 15 feet in length, naval sticks being of one solid piece with land-use sticks being assembled from smaller segments on site to assist in transportation. Both types were initially attached to the outside of the length of the rocket tube before launching by means of three iron ferules. This arrangement, however, made the rockets somewhat unstable in flight, and thus gained them an early reputation for inaccuracy. Congreve eventually replaced the earlier arrangement by placing a threaded stick mounting in the center of the rocket’s base plate, with the exhaust vents arrayed around it to produce a much more stable and accurate weapon. Still, although Congreve’s invention had an extreme maximum range of approximately 3 miles, accuracy was always unreliable, making it necessary to fire barrages of rockets for appreciable effect.

Congreve’s The Rocket System, published in 1814, indicates that the classification of his rocket warheads (not including the stick weight) closely matched the standard conventional artillery ammunition of the day. These included 6-, 7-, and 8-inch carcasses, as well as 32- and 42-pound carcasses. In addition, there were also 9-, 12-, 18-, 24-, and 32-pounder shells and case shot rockets and a 6- pounder shell. The 32-pounder was the most widely used, being the smallest size for siege work and the largest for field deployment. Its 15-foot stick was mounted on a 3-foot cylindrical body, with carcasses being fitted with a sharply pointed conical nose and shells a more rounded nose. By 1813 two artillery troops were attached to the Royal Horse Artillery, with 6-, 9-, 12-, and 18-pounder rockets being the most common sizes for field use.

Still, the new technology was far from perfected. A firsthand account by a British artillery officer at Waterloo gives a quite candid picture of the horse artillery rocketeers in action:

Meanwhile the rocketeers had placed a little iron triangle in the road with a rocket lying on it. The order to fire is given-port-fir e applied-the fidgety missile begins to sputter out sparks and wriggle its tail for a second or so, and then darts forth straight up the chaussée. A gun stands right in its way, between the wheels of which the shell in the head of the rocket bursts, the gunners fall right and left, and, those of the other guns taking their heels, the battery is deserted in an instant. Strange; but so it was. I saw them run, and for some minutes afterwards I saw the guns standing mute and unmanned, whilst our rocketeers kept shooting off rockets, none of which ever followed the course of the first; most of them, on arriving about the middle of the ascent, took a vertical direction, whilst some actually turned back upon ourselves-and one of these, following me like a squib until its shell exploded, actually put me in more danger than all the fire of the enemy throughout the day. ( Mercer, 153)

Naval Rockets

Rockets used by the Royal Navy were typically larger than those intended for field use and were launched by specially outfitted sloops of war or smaller ship’s boats. Whereas these naval launchers were of wood construction and securely mounted to the vessel, land launchers, or firing frames, were of metal and designed to be disassembled for transport. The Congreve firing frame consisted of two iron or steel front legs that attached at their apex to twin metal channels enabling the frame to launch two rockets in quick succession. Earlier frames, for firing side-mounted stick rockets, utilized “half pipes” or troughs that provided less than reliable initial guidance to the rockets. After about 1815, with the introduction of the centerstick rockets, these half-pipes were replaced with full-pipes or complete tubes that acted much like a gun barrel in aiming. Elevation was accomplished by adjusting the distance between the front legs, and ignition by pulling a cord attached to a flintlock mechanism similar to that used on small arms of the period.

Congreve advocated barrages of large numbers of rapid or preferably instantaneously fired rockets to attain maximum destructive effect on targets-sound advice in that the rockets, despite improvements, remained notoriously unreliable. This doctrine was first tested in 1806, when eighteen boats launched 200 rockets in thirty minutes with limited success against Boulogne. This early trial was dwarfed the following year, when British forces launched a sustained barrage of some 40,000 incendiary rockets against Copenhagen, igniting hugely destructive fires throughout the city. British forces also used rockets against the Americans in the War of 1812, burning areas of Washington, DC. They were less successful in their 1814 bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, accomplishing little more than providing inspiration to Francis Scott Key’s composition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Congreve the Younger went on to become a member of Parliament from 1818 to 1828 and took over his father’s previous post as comptroller of the Royal Laboratory. He also continued to formulate rocket theory and tactics and in 1827 published the richly illustrated Treatise on the General Principles, Powers, and Facility of Application of the Congreve Rocket System. Owing to their inherent inaccuracy, British rockets proved most successful as incendiary weapons against large targets, such as cities, although their pyrotechnic characteristics proved effective in panicking cavalry mounts and undisciplined troops. Their other main deficiency-a tendency to fail to explode-provided those on the receiving end of rocket barrages the opportunity to recover dud examples for study. As a result, soon after the introduction of their secret weapon, the British had spread the new technology throughout Europe.

European Rockets

Although Britain maintained the lead in rocket technology and use for some fifty years, other European powers developed their own programs. The devastating use of Congreves against Copenhagen prompted the Danes to develop their own rockets, an endeavor greatly aided by Second Lieutenant Andreas Schumacher, of the Danish Engineers, who recovered a nearly intact Congreve that had had failed to detonate. Schumacher, having disassembled the British weapon, went on to add improvements to its design, including designing a number of larger models. By 1811, Schumacher’s efforts led to the building of a rocket manufacturing facility at Frederiksvaerk and eventually the establishment of the Danish Raketkompagniet (Rocket Company). The Danes went on to share their new technology with their French allies, and they used rockets against Hamburg during their 1813-1814 siege of that city.

Prompted by the success of the British and Danes, Austria and France began their own significant domestic rocket research and development programs. First headed by Chief Fireworks Master Anton Mager and later by the capable Major Vincent Augustin, the Austrian program began in 1808 and eventually developed into the largest on the Continent. Augustin’s efforts soon led to the establishment of rocket manufacturing facilities at Wiener-Neustadt near the capital that by May 1815 were engaged in mass production. That year Austria established its own rocket corps, or Raketenbatterie , which saw action at the Siege of Huningue.

The French rocket program also began with the recovery of unexploded Congreves-in their case, examples gathered after the British attack on the Ile d’Aix in 1809. The discovery soon came to the attention of Napoleon, who ordered further research to create a French rocket program. Production later began under the supervision of army captain Charles Moreton de Chabrillan and navy captain Pierre Bourrée at Vincennes. After further tests at Toulon from 1810 to 1812, production facilities were set up at Brest, Cherbourg, Lorient, and Rochefort. A combination of their high cost and the poor performance of the rockets against Calaise, however, led to the abandonment of the project in the favor of conventional artillery.

Other powers including Portugal, Russia, and Sweden also experimented with rockets but were even less successful. A Portuguese artillery noncommissioned officer, Sergeant-Major Jeronimo Nogueira de Andrade, drew up plans and proposed the adoption of an incendiary weapon in 1796, but little was done in the higher levels of the bureaucracy. Russian programs were somewhat better, in that Czar Alexander offered some encouragement, and a military study committee was established in 1810. Still, although Lieutenant Alexander Zasydko provided competent leadership in rocket development, the program languished in comparison to those of Britain and Austria.

Sweden ‘s efforts showed initial promise yet encountered resistance from a somewhat unexpected source. While visiting Copenhagen in 1810, the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius was struck by the damage still apparent following the British rocket attack on the city three years earlier. Seeing the potential of rockets as a weapon in his own country’s arsenal, Berzelius entered into a collaboration with the Danish physicist Hans Christian Orsted. Although assisted in his efforts by Danish army officers, Berzelius’s rockets were ultimately rejected by the Danish military. Master of Ordnance Colonel Paul Schroderstein briefly resuscitated the Danish rocket program in 1813, and Captain D. W. Silferstrope tried again in 1829, but Denmark eventually joined the other Continental powers in ultimately rejecting the weapons until the twentieth century.


David Morier, the British artillery train at the camp of Roermond (Flanders) in 1748. Lt. – Gen. Albert Borgard, 1st Col. – Commandant of the Royal Artillery, in Holland – centre.

The successes of Gustavus Adolphus ‘s field artillery in the seventeenth century exerted a profound effect throughout Europe. The British army responded by differentiating between its large caliber siege and coastal “heavy equipments” and its “light equipments” for field use. The light equipments were of bronze or brass and incorporated guns as heavy as 12-pounders and howitzers up to 24-pounders. As early field carriages were heavy, ponderous affairs, English field artillery of the period was typically deployed in more or less static positions as “Artillery of the Park,” to provide covering fire for infantry and cavalry units.

During the latter seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth centuries, the British army began detaching two light field pieces per infantry battalion and cavalry regiment. The remaining, typically heavier, artillery stayed centralized in the Artillery of the Park. Although that arrangement occasionally provided a tactical edge on the battlefield, the army ultimately found it organizationally impractical. As a result, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain abandoned the earlier system in favor of an autonomous Artillery of the Park arrangement.

English as well as most other European smoothbore cannons were made of both iron and bronze, and in England they were classified into four major types: guns, mortars, howitzers, and carronades. The small swivel gun also saw extensive use during the period as well. The trunnions of early English field pieces were typically mounted somewhat below the barrel’s centerline.

Britain’s progress from the jumble of various earlier artillery types to a rational organization mirrored that of other European powers. The various calibers, established during the Elizabethan period, included 6-, 9-, 12-, 18-, 24-, 32-, and 42-pounders-sizes that remained in British service through the eighteenth and into the early nineteenth centuries. The country began the century fielding a cannon design known as the “Rose and Crown” after the raised decorative motif cast into the upper face of its second reinforce. Later cannons were decorated with the raised royal cipher of the individual monarch, the name of the founder, and the date of manufacture. In use from 1650 through the end of Queen Anne’s reign in 1714, most if not all Rose and Crown pieces were of iron and exhibited a long, graceful profile with the trunnions situated below the tube’s centerline and a rather plain, unadorned cascabel.

Despite his country’s attempts at standardization, when General John Armstrong investigated Britain’s ordnance inventories in the 1730s he found six sizes of 24-pounders then in service, ranging from 8 to 10.5 feet in length. After a series of tests, Armstrong attempted to correct the situation with what has come to be known as the Armstrong System, consisting of the optimal lengths of brass (bronze) and iron guns. Still, the situation was little better in 1764; Board of Ordnance records indicated, for example, three lengths of bronze 6-pounders and seven of iron. The board’s official listings of recognized cannons of that year illustrate a dizzying array of artillery pieces then in British service.

However well intentioned, Armstrong’s reforms proved short-lived as other theorists stepped into the debate. Chief among them was John Müller, the master gunner of Woolwich. Author of Treatise of Artillery (1768) and Elements of the Science of War (1811), Müller exerted considerable influence over European and U. S. artillery development and theory during the latter half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Müller’s main concern was to increase the efficiency of British cannons by eliminating all unnecessary weight without sacrificing their effectiveness or compromising their crews’ safety.

He subsequently reduced barrel lengths and the amount of metal used in their construction. Whereas the shortening of the cannon barrels was a rather straightforward proposal, the limiting of actual gunmetal used in the tube presented a number of more complex issues. To ensure safety, earlier guns had often been overengineered, being cast in the form of a series of “reinforces” that stepped the outside diameter of the barrel downward from breech to muzzle. Müller favored a smoother exterior profile yet did somewhat reluctantly agree to allow the addition of more or less decorative bands around the tubes, at least to suggest added strength. He also reduced the windage in British guns, making them more efficient in harnessing the explosive power of the charge and thus reducing the actual powder needed.

By midcentury British guns were relatively consistent in style, with a cleaner exterior profile; they were distinguished by a raised band around the center of the cascabel. As the century progressed minor changes occurred, including a flattening of the surface of the breech face, straight rather than tapered trunnions, and the addition of rimbases to the trunnions. On bronze guns, a connecting ring at the breech for the elevating screw was added. Although iron was much less expensive and the most common metal for artillery, Müller also advocated the use of the more flexible and hence less brittle bronze for seacoast and shipboard use. To this argument he also added bronze’s advantage in that it does not rust-a considerable problem for iron guns used near saltwater or sea air.


As the century progressed, the British leadership gradually grew to appreciate the advantage of mobile artillery in the field. During the 1701-1713 War of the Spanish Succession, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), proved a pioneer in the tactical use of field artillery against the forces of Louis XIV. At the 13 August 1704 Battle of Blenheim, Marlborough, after four unsuccessful attacks, detached a number of pieces from the Artillery of the Park and ordered them forward with his infantry. Their added firepower at the pivotal moment of the battle proved a decisive factor in breaking the French lines. At the 11 September 1709 Battle of Malplaquet, Marlborough again proved himself when he moved his forty-gun Grand Battery forward with his infantry. Their fire devastated the French cavalry waiting in reserve and contributed to the French withdrawal from the field. A half-century later, at the 1759 Battle of Minden during the Seven Years’ War, the Royal Artillery placed a 12-pounder battery in position to enfilade the French positions and then moved it forward with the infantry to provide fire support. Experience during the Napoleonic Wars prompted the Royal Artillery to refine its field artillery equipment and tactics still further.

As the gun drill was virtually identical for all British field pieces of the period, artillery companies were assigned the appropriate ordnance to suit the needs of individual campaigns. The standard field pieces included the light 3-pounder gun, the 6-pounder, 9 – pounder, and 12-pounder guns, and the 4.4-inch and 5.5-inch howitzers. Of those weapons, the 9-pounder gun seems to have fallen in and out of favor before making a comeback in 1808 during the Peninsular Campaigns. Introduced in 1719, the excellent brass 9-pounder proved itself on numerous battlefields and saw extensive service during the Seven Years ‘ War. It was, however, not included in the official lists of ordnance in 1753 and seems to have been dropped in favor of the 6- and 12-pounder guns and the howitzers.

The situation reversed itself when, in preparing for the Peninsular Campaigns, British artillery commanders deemed the 12-pounder gun too cumbersome to negotiate Spain’s rough terrain and primitive roads. As a result, the 6-pounder was the heaviest British field gun at the beginning of the campaign. Unfortunately, however, having sacrificed firepower for mobility, British crews soon found themselves outgunned by the French, who fielded both 8- and 12-pounders. Significantly more powerful than the 6-pounder and lighter than the 12-pounders, the 9-pounder thus presented a logical compromise and was soon reintroduced into the British artillery train. To compensate for the 9-pounders’ weight, their horse teams were increased from the normal six horses to eight. The 9-pounders went on to render such outstanding service that Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), ordered that the majority of his horse artillery and later his field batteries be issued large numbers of the guns. Prior to the duke’s decision, the British Royal Horse Artillery went through a number of ordnance types in search of the ideal combination of mobility and firepower. As originally organized in 1793, each troop fielded two light 12-pounder guns, two 6-pounder guns, and two light 5.5-inch howitzers. Having proved too heavy, the 12- pounder was dropped by the end of the decade, and from about 1800 troops were issued five 6-pounder guns and one light 5.5-inch howitzer. Wellington’s reform then altered the mix to five 9-pounder guns and one 5.5-inch howitzer.

German WWI Anti/Tank Experience

Mauser Tankgewehr M1918

German troops using the minenwerfer as an anti-tank gun in October 1918

September 15, 1916, began as a routine day for the German infantrymen in the forward trenches around Flers on the Somme—as routine as any day was likely to be after two and a half months of vicious, close-gripped fighting that bled divisions white and reduced battalions to the strength of companies. True, an occasional rumble of engines had been audible across the line. But the British had more trucks than the Kaiser’s army, and were more willing to risk them to bring up ammunition and carry back wounded. True, there had been occasional gossip of something new up Tommy’s sleeve: of armored “land cruisers” impervious to anything less than a six-inch shell. But rumors—Scheisshausparolen in Landser speak—were endemic on the Western Front. Then “a forest of guns opened up in a ceaseless, rolling thunder, the few remaining survivors . . . fight on until the British flood overwhelms them, consumes them, and passes on. . . . An extraordinary number of men. And there, between them, spewing death, unearthly monsters: the first British tanks.”

Improvised and poorly coordinated, the British attack soon collapsed in the usual welter of blood and confusion. But for the first time on the Western Front, certainly the first time on the Somme, the heaviest losses were suffered by the defenders. Reactions varied widely. Some men panicked; others fought to a finish. But the 14th Bavarian Infantry, for example, tallied more than 1,600 casualties. Almost half were “missing,” and most of them were prisoners. That was an unheard-of ratio in an army that still prided itself on its fighting spirit. But the 14th was one of the regiments hit on the head by the tanks.

Shock rolled uphill. “The enemy,” one staff officer recorded, “employed new engines of war, as cruel as effective. . . . It is necessary to take whatever methods are possible to counteract them.” From the Allied perspective, the impact of tanks on the Great War is generally recognized. The cottage industry among scholars of the British learning curve, with descriptions of proto-mechanized war pitted against accounts of a semi-mobile final offensive based on combined arms and improved communications, recognizes the centrality of armor for both interpretations. French accounts are structured by Marshal Philippe Petain’s judgment that, in the wake of the frontline mutinies of 1917, it was necessary to wait for “the Americans and the tanks.” Certainly it was the tanks, the light Renault FTs, that carried the exhausted French infantry forward in the months before the armistice. Erich Ludendorff, a general in a position to know, declared after the war that Germany had been defeated not by Marshal Foch but by “General Tank.”

In those contexts it is easy to overlook the salient fact that the German army was quick and effective in developing antitank techniques. This was facilitated by the moonscape terrain of the Western Front, the mechanical unreliability of early armored vehicles, and such technical grotesqueries as the French seeking to increase the range of their early tanks by installing extra fuel tanks on their roofs, which virtually guaranteed the prompt incineration of the crew unless they were quick to abandon the vehicle. Even at Flers the Germans had taken on tanks like any other targets: aiming for openings in the armor, throwing grenades, using field guns over open sights. German intelligence thoroughly interrogated one captured tanker and translated a diary lost by another. Inside of a week, Berlin had a general description of the new weapons, accompanied by a rough but reasonably accurate sketch.

One of the most effective antitank measures was natural. Tanks drew fire from everywhere, fire sufficiently intense to strip away any infantry in their vicinity. A tank by itself was vulnerable. Therefore, the German tactic was to throw everything available at the tanks and keep calm if they kept coming. Proactive countermeasures began with inoculating the infantry against “tank fright” by using knocked-out vehicles to demonstrate their various vulnerabilities. An early frontline improvisation was the geballte Ladung: the heads of a half dozen stick grenades tied around a complete “potato-masher” and thrown into one of a tank’s many openings—or, more basic, the same half dozen grenades shoved into a sandbag and the fuse of one of them pulled. More effective and less immediately risky was the K-round. This was simply a bullet with a tungsten carbide core instead of the soft alloys commonly used in small arms rounds. Originally developed to punch holes in metal plates protecting enemy machine-gun and sniper positions, it was employed to even better effect by the ubiquitous German machine guns against the armor of the early tanks. K-rounds were less likely to disable the vehicle, mostly causing casualties and confusion among the crew, but the end effect was similar.

As improved armor limited the K-round’s effect, German designers came up with a 13mm version. Initially it was used in a specially designed single-shot rifle, the remote ancestor of today’s big-caliber sniper rifles but without any of their recoil-absorbing features. The weapon’s fierce recoil made it inaccurate and unpopular; even a strong user risked a broken collarbone or worse. More promising was the TuF (tank and antiaircraft) machine gun using the same round. None of the ten thousand TuFs originally projected were ready for service by November 11—but the concept and the bullet became the basis for John Browning’s .50-caliber machine gun, whose near-century of service makes it among the most long-lived modern weapons.

When something heavier was desirable, the German counterpart of the Stokes mortar was a much larger piece, mounted on wheels, capable of modification for direct fire and, with a ten-pound shell, lethal against any tank. The German army had also begun forming batteries of “infantry guns” even before the tanks appeared. These were usually mountain guns or modified field pieces of around three-inch caliber. Intended to support infantry attacks by direct fire, they could stop tank attacks just as well. From the beginning, ordinary field pieces with ordinary shells also proved able to knock out tanks at a range of two miles.

In an emergency the large number of 77mm field pieces mounted on trucks for antiaircraft work could become improvised antitank guns. These proved particularly useful at Cambrai in November 1917, when more than a hundred tanks were part of the spoils of the counterattack that wiped out most of the initial British gains. They did so well, indeed, that the crews had to be officially reminded that their primary duty was shooting down airplanes. As supplements, a number of ordinary field guns were mounted on trucks in the fashion of the portees used in a later war by the British in North Africa.

If survival was not sufficient incentive, rewards and honor were invoked. One Bavarian battery was awarded 500 marks for knocking out a tank near Flers. British reports and gossip praised an officer who, working a lone gun at Flesquieres during the Cambrai battle, either by himself or with a scratch crew, was supposed to have disabled anywhere from five to sixteen tanks before he was killed. The Nazis transformed the hero into a noncommissioned officer, and gave him a name and at least one statue. The legend’s less Homeric roots seem to have involved a half dozen tanks following each other over the crest of a small hill and being taken out one at a time by a German field battery. The story of “the gunner of Flesquieres” nevertheless indicates the enduring strength of the tank mystique in German military lore.

Other purpose-designed antitank weapons were ready to come on line when the war ended: short-barreled, low-velocity 37mm guns, an automatic 20mm cannon that the Swiss developed into the World War II Oerlikon. The effect of this new hardware on the projected large-scale use of a new generation of tanks in the various Allied plans for 1919 must remain speculative. What it highlights is the continued German commitment to tank defense even in the war’s final months.

That commitment is highlighted from a different perspective when considering the first German tank. It was not until October 1916 that the Prussian War Ministry summoned the first meeting of the A7V Committee. The group took its name from the sponsoring agency, the Seventh Section of the General War Department, and eventually bestowed it on the resulting vehicle. The members were mostly from the motor transport service rather than the combat arms, and their mission was technical: develop a tracked armored fighting vehicle in the shortest possible time. They depended heavily on designers and engineers loaned to the project by Germany’s major auto companies. Not surprisingly, when the first contracts for components were placed in November, no fewer than seven firms shared the pie.

A prototype was built in January; a working model was demonstrated to the General Staff in May. It is a clear front-runner for the title of “ugliest tank ever built” and a strong contender in the “most dysfunctional” category. The A7V was essentially a rectangular armored box roughly superimposed on a tractor chassis. It mounted a 57mm cannon in its front face and a half dozen machine guns around the hull. It weighed 33 tons, and required a crew of no fewer than eighteen men. Its under-slung tracks and low ground clearance left it almost no capacity to negotiate obstacles or cross broken terrain: the normal environment of the Western Front. An improved A7V and a lighter tank, resembling the British Whippet and based on the chassis of the Daimler automobile, were still in prototype states when the war ended. A projected 150-ton monster remained—fortunately—on the drawing boards.

Shortages of raw material and an increasingly dysfunctional war production organization restricted A7V production to fewer than three dozen. When finally constituted, the embryonic German armored force deployed no more than forty tanks at full strength, and more than half of those were British models salvaged and repaired. Material shortcomings were, however, the least of the problems facing Germany’s first tankers. By most accounts the Germans had the best of the first tank-versus-tank encounter at Villiers Bretonneaux on April 24, 1918. British tankers, at least, were impressed, with their commanding general describing the threat as “formidable” and warning that there was no guarantee the Germans would continue to use their tanks in small numbers.

In fact, the German army made no serious use of armor in either the spring offensive or the fighting retreat that began in August and continued until the armistice. In the ten or twelve times tanks appeared under German colors their numbers were too small—usually around five vehicles—to attract more than local attention. The crews, it is worth mentioning, were not the thrown-together body of men often described in British-oriented accounts. They did come from a number of arms and services, but all were volunteers—high-morale soldiers for a high- risk mission: a legacy that would endure. Europe’s most highly industrialized nation nevertheless fought for its survival with the least effective mechanized war instruments of the major combatants.

In public Erich Ludendorff loftily declared that the German high command had decided not to fight a “war of material.” His memoirs are more self-critical: “Perhaps I should have put on more pressure: perhaps then we would have had a few more tanks for the decisive battles of 1918. But I don’t know what other necessary war material we should have had to cut short.” For any weapon, however, a doctrine is at least as important as numbers. In contrast to both the British and the French, the German army demonstrated neither institutional nor individual capacity for thinking about mechanized war beyond the most immediate, elementary contexts.

Henry VIII’s Ordnance

Demi-culverin circa 1587 cast locally

The modern term “ordnance” apparently derived from the time of the reign of England’s Henry VIII (b. 1491; r. 1509-1547). Cannons in Henry’s artillery train were typically referred to at the time originally as “pieces of ordinance” or “ordinance guns,” to denote their casting according to regulations or official ordinance. In the course of repeated usage the term eventually evolved into the modern term “ordnance” to describe artillery.

Upon assuming the throne in 1509 at the age of eighteen, Henry inherited an artillery organization suffering from years of neglect by his father, Henry VII. Although at the time the Tower of London and other royal arsenals held respectable numbers of cannons in their inventories, many were unserviceable. The English artillery train, moreover, was also in complete disarray, and the office of Master Gunner, or chief of artillery, had lain vacant for some time. To make matters worse, Henry also discovered that only one English foundry possessed the capability to cast cannon barrels.

The ambitious young monarch lost little time in initiating an arms program to remedy the appalling situation. Henry first appointed Humphrey Walker, apparently the only competent gun founder left in England, to the office of Master Gunner. The capable Walker then assumed command of twelve subordinate master gunners to oversee cannon production and to train professional gun crews. Henry’s other efforts included, in 1537, the founding of the Guild of St. George as a professional organization for his ordnance experts. Eager to pursue his Continental ambitions, Henry also supplemented his domestic production by acquiring forty-eight cannons abroad in The Netherlands from the Master Founder of Malines, Hans Poppenruyter. These included a group of approximately 45-pounder guns christened the “Twelve Apostles” and another sixteen guns of a class weighing between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds each. The latter guns required fourteen draft horses each: specially bred mares that Henry also obtained from The Netherlands.

Henry ‘s investment justified itself in 1513, when his artillery train played a major role in the relief of the English garrison of Calais at the 16 August Battle of Guinegate. Later that month Henry’s artillery, reinforced by that of his ally, Maximilian I, proved equally effective in the taking of the town of Therouanne and, in September, Tournai .

During the early sixteenth century English cannon makers were capable of making large weapons, or “great cannons,” weighing from 150 pounds up to 737 pounds. Henry vigorously promoted cannon production at Buxted, south of London in Sussex. Owing to his patronage, Buxted attracted an international mix of skilled gunmakers, including Italians, a Frenchman named Baude, a German named van Cullen, as well as the Englishmen Robert and John Owen and Ralphe Hogge. Although such professional master founders commanded considerable respect as well as high salaries and even pensions, other foundry workers were not so well compensated. Women and children were also employed by the foundries and were typically paid in food and wine or cider.

The inventories of Henry’s artillery holdings at the Tower of London and other locations indicate that his arsenal ultimately included numerous types of guns, including bombards weighing approximately 3 tons each and requiring twenty-four horses for transport, large culverins and sakers, and smaller falconets. A number of examples of Tudor cannons still survive, such as an 840-pound falconet cast by John Owen in 1551 and a saker cast by Henry’s Italian-born founders at Salisbury Place in 1519. The falconet is 7-feet, 3-inches in length with a 2.8-inch bore and was held in storage in the local parish in Jersey. The saker is a 6-foot, 11-inch weapon. Gun founders did not gain the necessary skill to produce cast iron cannon on a practical basis until well into the sixteenth century. Records indicate that two Frenchmen, Rafe Hoge and Peter Bawd, poured the first English cast iron guns at Buxted in 1543. Other reports list Peter Bawde (sometimes spelled Bawd) and Peter van Collen as making cast iron mortars with 11- to 19-inch bores, as well as explosive cast iron balls. Although these early cast iron guns were still much heavier than bronze guns of comparable size, they were significantly safer, more reliable, and more accurate than wrought iron pieces. The new iron-working method also lent itself to other applications, and the town of Buxted continued as one of England’s largest cast iron-manufacturing centers for three centuries, its other products including such diverse items as fireplace inserts and grave markers.

A new technique, applicable to both bronze and iron guns, further advanced the founding of gun barrels. During the sixteenth century founders began pouring barrels as a solid casting, rather than using a mold with a central mandrel to create the bore. Although this technique required drilling out the bore with a hardened steel reamer, it created a more precise fit for ammunition. It also helped to prevent flaws in the casting that led to cracks or air pockets within the metal- defects that led to early metal fatigue and burst barrels. The development of small air pockets in the molten metal, creating a honeycomb effect in the finished barrels, remained a problem for gun founders and was more apt to occur in cast iron barrels. Although bronze was less susceptible to the problem, its cost was some ten times that of iron. For this reason cannon makers continued to make bronze guns well into the nineteenth century. Cast iron guns also continued to be made despite their inherent danger, for simple economic reasons.

The location of the various castles and blockhouses constructed during the fortification phases between 1539 and 1547.

Henry’s Artillery Forts

The proliferation of gunpowder artillery inevitably forced military engineers throughout Europe to rethink castle construction. In siege after siege the fifteenth century had proved that the towering, flat-faced masonry walls of early fortifications were hopelessly vulnerable to heavy guns. These medieval structures, moreover, had been constructed without consideration for the installation of heavy defensive guns.

Architects thus began re-engineering existing fortifications by lowering and thickening their walls. Another measure-the addition of thick earthen facings to the walls’ outer surfaces-also provided a cushioning layer to lessen the impact of projectile strikes. The mounting of heavy defensive cannons required the construction of reinforced embrasures both to accommodate the guns themselves and to withstand the stresses of their weight and recoil. On the Continent, sophisticated new “Italian Trace” forts built specifically for artillery appeared and incorporated low, thick walls and bastions to provide multiple angles of fire over carefully prepared approaches. In addition, multileveled artillery towers, such as at Castelnaud in France, also made their appearance at strategic locations throughout Europe. Such towers employed the most advanced engineering principles of their day and were all but impregnable to any but the most determined besieger.

The improvements in defensive works, in turn, ultimately forced tacticians to devise new siege craft methods. The most effective method to emerge incorporated the construction of angled approach trenches. These ditches provided protection from the besieged castles ‘ guns and allowed the gradual advancement of siege guns to within their most effective range.

Henry’s break with the Roman Catholic Church and subsequent excommunication by Pope Paul II in 1538 set England on a collision course with the powerful Catholic kingdoms of Europe. Almost overnight Henry found himself facing a papal-backed coalition of France and Germany, and he began preparations to fortify England’s coast in anticipation of invasion.

He subsequently ordered the construction of a string of forts along England’s coast from Cornwall to Dover. Unlike the Italian Trace forts common to the Continent, Henry’s “blockhouse” or “bulwark” castles incorporated dry moats, interlocking defenses, low profiles, and rounded, sloped ramparts to deflect artillery projectiles. Possibly based on original designs by the famous German Renaissance figure Albrecht Durer, Henry’s forts also featured numerous cannons in well-designed embrasures with specially designed vents to carry away choking, target-obscuring gun smoke. Although never tested in battle, such castles as Deal and Walmar remain as testaments to Henry’s zeal in protecting his kingdom.

Meaux Falls 1422 Part II

He was employing more cannon than ever before – bombards, culverins and serpentines – more guns of all shapes and sizes arrived every day. Some may be seen at the Musée Militaire in the Invalides at Paris. He also had ribaudequins which were battle carts mounting several small cannon side by side, fired simultaneously and intended for close-quarters fighting. It was not easy to transport the bigger guns, some of which were enormous; most came by boat from Rouen and were then brought up by ox-carts to the siege-lines to be mounted in specially constructed wooden firing frames. The rough tubes which formed their barrels were rarely, if ever, straight, so that accuracy was impossible. Gunpowder was crudely mixed and unreliable. Considerable skill was needed to load; gunners filled the firing chambers three-fifths full of powder, leaving a fifth as an air pocket and a final fifth for the elm-wood tampon on which the gunstone rested, with a ratio of one part powder to nine parts stone. Barrels had to be swabbed out meticulously after each discharge. It was difficult to calculate trajectories with such weapons. Even so, at short range a barrage of gunstones could do terrible damage, battering down ramparts and smashing through house walls and roofs inside a city, as well as demoralizing a beleaguered garrison. When such bombardments continued ceaselessly by day and by night, regardless of expense, as they did during all Henry V’s sieges, the effect was horrific. The king’s passion for artillery had never flagged since his first use of it against the Welsh at Aberystwyth.

As the siege dragged on, the garrison began to feel that they would have more hope of surviving if the defence was conducted by an unusually experienced and skilful commander. They sent to a famous dauphinist captain, Guy de Nesle, Sieur d’Offrémont, who agreed to come and take over. Early on 9 March, accompanied by an escort of 100 men-at-arms, he made his way in the darkness with great daring through the sleeping English lines to a pre-arranged spot below the ramparts. Here the garrison let down ladders to a plank over the moat. The man in front of Guy on the ladder dropped a box of salt herrings he was carrying which fell onto Guy, knocking him off the ladder into the moat; he clutched at two lances held down to him but, no doubt in full plate armour, was too heavy to pull out. His frenzied splashing aroused the English sentries and he was taken prisoner.

Guy’s failure dismayed the garrison of Meaux so much that they withdrew from the town the same day to the market which they thought would be easier to defend. They broke down the connecting bridge over the canal and took the remaining food with them; it would last longer if there were no non-combatants to feed. Henry rode in immediately and before evening his guns were firing from the town into the market. He then used a portable drawbridge, mounted on a siege tower on wheels, to straddle the gap made by the defenders in the bridge joining the town to the market. Next he bombarded the fortified mill-towers so that the Earl of Worcester’s men-at-arms could charge over the drawbridge and storm the towers. The assault was successful, though Warwick’s cousin, the Earl of Worcester, lost his life when a stone was dropped on his head from the battlements. Now the English had a foothold on the market island, while the garrison was no longer able to grind its corn into flour.

All this time Henry’s attitude to paperwork remained as Napoleonic as ever. A stream of edicts, ordinances and letters, including answers to petitions from England, went out from his headquarters beside Meaux during the siege, possibly the most gruelling experience of his life. Even during the worst months he was constantly sending orders and instructions dealing with a truly immense range of affairs. The supply of munitions naturally ranked high among these. On 18 March 1422 he wrote to his officials: ‘We will and charge you that, in all the haste ye may, ye send unto our cofferer to Rouen all the gunstones that been at our towns of Caen and Harfleur, with all the saltpetre, coal and brimstone that is at Harfleur.’ An order for iron is in the same letter, an order which occurs frequently in his correspondence. A special official, the King’s Clerk of Ordnance, was attached to his headquarters, having responsibility for communications with the artillery depot at Caen and the royal arsenal at Rouen; the Norman administration had been given military duties by Henry, the civilian vicomtes being charged with supplying garrisons with cannon. The king insisted on efficiency – his letters always end with a variant of ‘faileth not in no wise’.

He was obsessed by the problem of supplies. Buying arrows was just one aspect. He purchased 150,000 arrows in England in 1418, a figure which had risen to nearly half a million by 1421; in addition the arsenal at Rouen seems to have manufactured them and in 1420 his commissioners were instructed to press-gang fletchers (arrow makers) to work there without pay. Then there was the question of finding enough remounts, which he appears to have contemplated solving with a huge royal stud. (In April 1421 a commission was issued to a John Longe to travel through England looking for ‘destriers, coursers and other horses suitable for the king’s stud’ and purchasing their use. Weapons, transport, food, finance, military discipline, law and order, diplomacy, affairs in England, all received his meticulous attention.

Meanwhile at Meaux, English cannon had been mounted on a small island in the Marne, protected by earthworks and shelters of heavy timber, from where they battered the adjoining market relentlessly at close range. Warwick contrived to erect a ‘sow’ (a mobile leather shelter on wheels) on the tiny strip of land between its walls and the water, using it to capture an outwork where he mounted a forward battery. Hungerford used wooden bridges to bring guns nearer the wall at another side. Landing on the island, sappers started a mine. At Easter, Henry allowed a truce, launching a general assault shortly afterwards. It was beaten back. But the defenders were beginning to despair. What finally broke their spirit was the sight of a floating siege tower, higher than the market’s walls, carried on two barges and designed for men to attack the rampart tops from the Marne side over a drawbridge. (It was never used, though the king, nothing if not a professional, had it tested after the place had fallen.) At the end of April the garrison in the market sent envoys to negotiate a surrender.

On 10 May Meaux surrendered after a resistance of seven months. It had only fallen because of Henry’s brilliant siegecraft and sheer technical expertise, as a siege it was a genuine masterpiece, as has often been claimed. After the city had finally surrendered he observed the conventions of medieval warfare in leaving its defenders their lives – though nothing else – save for twelve who were specifically excluded from mercy by the articles of surrender. The Bastard of Vaurus and his cousin had their right hands stricken off, were dragged on hurdles through what was left of the streets of Meaux, then beheaded and hanged from their own infamous tree; the bastard’s head was displayed on a lance stuck in the ground beside it, his body at the foot, and his banner thrown over it – the ultimate heraldic symbol of derision. A trumpeter called Orace, ‘one that blew and sounded an horn during the siege’, was taken to Paris for an agonizing public execution in punishment for some unrecorded insult to the king. Louis de Gast was also taken to Paris for execution. Their heads were stuck on lances and put on show at Les Halles.

Almost at once Henry sent 100 particularly valuable prisoners to the Louvre, roped in fours, for shipment to Normandy and thence to England to await ransoming. A few days later he sent another 150. According to the Bourgeois of Paris, probably a spectator, these were chained in twos by the legs, and ‘piled up like pigs’; they were given only a little black bread and water.18 We learn from Jean Juvénal that they were incarcerated in prisons all over Paris, including the Châtelet – a place of ill omen and terrible memory for Armagnacs. There was no organization for feeding such large numbers of prisoners and, according to Jean Juvénal, many died of starvation – some tearing flesh from their comrades’ bodies with their teeth before their own death. Presumably they were not worth much money. The Bishop of Meaux received somewhat better treatment before being taken away to await ransom in England, where he was to die. In all, as many as 800 of those who had surrendered were shipped over the Channel; it is likely that the majority never returned to France, ending their days in semi-slavery as indentured servants. In addition, ‘All the bourgeois and anyone else in the market was forced to hand over any valuable goods they possessed,’ says Jean Juvénal. ‘Those who disobeyed were treated very savagely, and everything contributed to King Henry’s profit. There was more than this. After the bourgeois had lost all they had, several of them were made to buy back their own houses. Through such confiscation the king extorted and amassed large sums of money.’ Bullion, jewels and every conceivable sort of valuable – including an entire legal library – was stored for the time being in special depots at Meaux, together with armour, weapons and other munitions, to await the pleasure of a monarch who had made plunder a fine art.

One prisoner who was very lucky indeed to escape with his life was Dom Philippe de Gamaches, Abbot of St Faro, the nearby monastery which had been Henry’s headquarters throughout the siege. Dom Philippe, a former monk of St Denis, together with three other monks from that abbey, had put on armour and taken up swords to fight the English. The chronicler monk of St Denis – who presumably knew them – tells us that the Bishop of Beauvais had given them all permission ‘to fight for the country’ [‘pugnareque pro patria’]. The bishop was none other than Jean Juvénal des Ursins. Fortunately for Philippe, his brother was dauphinist captain of Compiègne; he purchased the abbot’s life by handing the town over to the English – Henry had intended to drown him.

Baugé was avenged. Moreover a whole string of dauphinist fortresses surrendered in consequence, including Grépy-en-Valois and Offremont – the castle of the Guy de Nesle who had fallen into the moat at Meaux. Henry rode through the countryside receiving the surrender of each stronghold in person, mopping up any local resistance.

Then he celebrated by going to Paris to meet his queen. Monstrelet says that he and his brothers greeted Catherine ‘as though she had been an angel from heaven’. The son and heir who was the cause of so much congratulation had been left behind in England. The reunion took place at the great castle of Bois-de-Vincennes just outside Paris.

Today Vincennes may seem gloomy, a soulless barrack of a place. It has unhappy memories; the Due d’Enghien was shot in the moat in 1804 as was Mata Hari in 1917, it was General Gamelin’s headquarters in June 1940 after which foreign troops occupied it again for four years. Yet Henry’s fondness for Vincennes is understandable. Originally a hunting lodge, being in the woods it was ideally situated for the king’s favourite relaxation – if ever he had time. Catherine’s grandfather, the great King Charles V, had completed the donjon during the 1370s and it was here that Henry lived; his bedroom may still be seen. There were three mighty gatehouses and six tall towers, all linked by curtain walls, and providing enviable accommodation for his high ranking-officers. A hunting scene in the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry shows the fortress-palace in the background, much as it must have looked at this time, and one can see why the Monk of St Denis calls it ‘the most delectable of all the castles of the king of France’. Moreover Vincennes was only three miles from Paris – close enough to overawe the capital if need be, and sufficiently far away to avoid any danger from the mob or dauphinist plots.

At the Louvre, says The First English Life, echoing Monstrelet’s chronicle, ‘on the proper day of Pentecost the King of England and his queen sat together at their table in the open hall at dinner, marvellously glorious, and pompously crowned with rich and precious diadems; dukes also, prelates of the church and other great estates of England and of France, were sat every man in his degree in the same hall where the king and queen kept their estate. The feast was marvellously rich and abundant in sumptuous delicate meats and drinks.’ Unfortunately the splendid effect was somewhat tarnished by no food or drink being offered to the crowds of spectators, as had always been the custom in former days under the Valois monarchs.

The Brut of England records with relish, ‘But as for the King of France he held none other estate nor rule but was almost left alone.’ Charles VI stayed forlornly at the Hôtel de St-Pol, deserted by his nobles since, so Monstrelet informs us, ‘he was managed as the King of England pleased . . . which caused much sorrow in the hearts of all loyal Frenchmen.’ Chastellain comments indignantly that Henry, this ‘tyrant king’, despite promising to honour his father-in-law of France as long as he lived, had made ‘a figurehead [un ydole] of him, a cipher who could do nothing’. Chastellain too says that the spectacle brought tears into the eyes of the Parisians.

Henry spent two days in early June at the Hôtel de Nesle, where he watched a cycle of mystery plays about the martyrdom of his patron, St George. These were staged by Parisians who hoped to ingratiate themselves with the heir and regent of France, their future sovereign. Shortly afterwards he and Catherine, taking with them King Charles and Queen Isabeau, left the capital for Senlis.

A week later a Parisian armourer, who had once been an armourer to Charles VI, together with his wife and their neighbour, a baker, were caught plotting to let the dauphinists into Paris. A strong force of the enemy were standing by in readiness near Compiègne. The civil authority beheaded the armourer and the baker, and drowned the woman.


On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, Russian land forces were the biggest in the world, numbering 41,079 officers and 1,067,000 other ranks, and with full deployment of more than 3 million including the reserves. The sum of Russian troops stationed at that time east of Lake Baikal (the Priamur and Siberian Military Districts and the Kwantung Fortified Region) was about 95,000 infantry, some 3,000–5,000 cavalry, and between 120 to just under 200 guns. These were concentrated at Port Arthur, under the command of Lieutenant General Anatolii Stoessel, and around Vladivostok, under the command of General Nikolai Linievich. These forces were arranged in 68 infantry battalions, 35 squadrons of cavalry (mainly Cossacks), 13 engineer companies, five fortress engineer companies, and four and a half battalions of fortress artillery.

While it had often been regarded as conservative and unpolished, the Imperial Russian Army of 1904 was very different from what it had been four decades earlier. The defeat suffered by Russia in the Crimean War hastened the abolition of serfdom and stimulated the reorganization of the Imperial Russian Army. During the 1860s, War Minister D. A. Miliutin carried out several reforms that created a sufficient number of trained reservists to deploy a massive army in the event of war. The reform also resolved the problem of improving the organization of the military administration and the rearmament of the army. From 1874 military service was compulsory for every male who reached the age of 21. The length of active military service was set at up to six years, with nine years in the reserves. The law of 1874 did not extend to the Cossacks, or to the people of the Trans-Caucasus region, Central Asia, and Siberia. The benefits of the military reforms became clear during the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–1878. But despite the ultimate victory, the war also revealed disorganization, deficiencies in armaments, and weakness in the high command. Further reforms in the aftermath of the war made the Imperial Russian Army an awesome force, yet its true abilities were not tested for more than two decades.

On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, the Russian national service consisted of four years of active service and 14 years in the reserves, with two training periods of six weeks each, for soldiers from the age of 21 to 43. There were few exemptions from service, though several groups, such as the Cossacks and Finns, were entitled to different conditions of service. The army had 12 military districts: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Finland, Vilno, Warsaw, Kiev, Odessa, Kazan, the Caucasus, Turkestan, Siberia and the Amur region, and the Oblast of the Don Host. Despite the improved deployment, the army suffered from outdated tactics and old, inflexible, high-ranking officers, who were often unfamiliar with new advances in technology. The lower-ranking officers and non-commissioned officers suffered from long periods of being given unchallenging assignments and a lack of training. The land forces were divided into regular units and Cossacks. In peacetime, field troops made up 73.4 percent of the entire regular forces, whereas fortress troops were 6.6 percent, reserve forces 9.5 percent, rear forces 0.7 percent, local troops 2.3 percent, and auxiliary detachments 7.5 percent. In 1898 the infantry accounted for 74.8 percent of the entire army; cavalry were 8.5 percent (excluding the Cossack cavalry units), artillery 13.7 percent, and engineering 3.0 percent. Infantry divisions, consisting of about 18,000 men each, were assembled into corps, and corps were joined in wartime into armies.

On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, the forces of the Imperial Russian Army in Manchuria were organized within the Manchurian Army, under the command of General Nikolai Linievich. This army consisted of two corps: the First Siberian Army Corps and the Third Siberian Army Corps. The rank and file were mainly loyal peasants from eastern Russia, who were regarded as resilient and accustomed to the harsh conditions of the region, but uneducated and unused to fighting without a commanding officer to direct them. Initially the two corps were smaller and less well organized than parallel European corps. The former, for example, had 32 guns, whereas the latter had 48 or 64 guns. Each corps consisted of two divisions, which in turn comprised two brigades. The typical Siberian brigade consisted of 3,400 men and 12 artillery guns in two batteries. A battery consisted of eight Putilov M-1903 76.2-millimeter [3-inch] field guns, as well as a small unspecified number of 117-millimeter [4.6-inch] howitzers and no more than eight Maxim machine guns. The Siberian infantry brigades grew slowly and eventually evolved into the Siberian infantry divisions, which did not exist prior to the war.

The Siberian corps had no divisional cavalry and their infantry soldiers were equipped with the Mosin M-1891 rifle while their commissioned and non-commissioned officers were equipped also with the Nagant M-95 revolver. At the outbreak of the war the Russian units of the Manchurian Army were widely dispersed and disorganized, but as the war progressed their organization and efficiency increased. During 1904 the Manchurian Army was gradually reinforced by the First, Fourth, Eighth, Tenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth European Army Corps, consisting of 28,000 rifles and 112 guns each. Thus army corps, rather than divisions, were the main fighting unit used by the Russians during this war. Their troops were transferred eastward by the Trans-Siberian Railway, which could deliver 40,000 men (one and a half corps) a month. In September 1904 the Manchurian Army was divided into the First Manchurian Army and the Second Manchurian Army, and in December 1904 the Third Manchurian Army was also formed.

In the aftermath of the Russo–Japanese War, the Imperial Russian Army was forced to undertake a series of reforms to strengthen its forces, and thus initiated the “great military program.” In 1913 it envisaged an increase in the army’s size by almost 40 percent by 1917, and a large-scale augmentation of the armaments used by the artillery and the rifle forces. Changes were made also in the readiness of the army to mobilize and the way it was staffed. The overall length of service was set at 18 years, of which three to four years were on active service. On the eve of World War I, Russia’s land forces were regarded as a potentially unbeatable army, although in reality the army was still in the midst of a process of reorganizing and developing its capabilities. In the first months of the war, the Imperial Russian Army mobilized 3.5 million men. However, at the end of 1917 and early in 1918 it was demobilized, and the Red Army was created instead.


Russian infantry corps in Manchuria numbered by most estimates about 95,000 men and consisted mainly of peasants, considered hardy, obedient, brave, and used to the extreme conditions of the region. They won the admiration of military observers though they were still trained in outdated tactics. They were conditioned to volley fire on command and used the bayonet more often than required. These practices largely constricted their individual marksmanship abilities. They also often suffered from lack of motivation; during the conflict in Manchuria most of the second-line reservists resented being called up for duty in this remote area. The main weapon used by the Russian infantry was the Mosin M-1891 rifle, and infantry units also increasingly used Maxim machine guns as close fire support for the troops. The individual’s personal kit weighed about 32 kilograms [70 pounds] and consisted of two and a half days’ worth of rations in a watertight kitbag, a greatcoat, a tent sheet, and a shovel. The infantryman carried between 120 and 300 rounds of ammunition in clips of five.

Maxim Machine Gun.

Main machine gun used by the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo–Japanese War. It was designed in 1883 by Hiram Maxim, an American living in Great Britain, and during the following years came into widespread use. In 1895 the Imperial Japanese Army purchased a number of Maxims but eventually preferred the Hotchkiss machine gun. The Imperial Russian Army, however, purchased 58 Maxim machine guns in 1899 and made it its main machine gun. In 1902 the army concluded a contract with the British firm Vickers to manufacture the Maxim in Russia, thereby cutting costs by two-thirds. Manufacture of the Russian version of the Maxim started only in 1910; the machine gun was designated Pulemiot Maxima. At the outbreak of the Russo–Japanese War, the Russian war ministry placed a rush order abroad for a total of 450 machine guns for the troops at the front, which were mostly supplied toward the end of the war. The Maxim’s design was simple though ingenious: it was water cooled, recoil operated, and fully automatic. Its recoil, caused by the explosion of the powder, operated to eject the spent cartridge and load the next round. The Maxim was fabric belt-fed, and it fired the same 7.62-millimeter [.30-inch] ammunition used by the Russian-made Mosin M-1891 rifle.

Technical data: Water-cooled 4 liters; Caliber: 7.62mm; Gun length: 1.107m, barrel length: 0.72m; Grooves: 4; Wheeled mount weight: 36kg; Tripod mount weight: 27.6kg, empty fabric belt weight: 1.1kg, loaded fabric belt weight: 6.1kg (250 rounds); Effective rate of fire: 250r/min.

Mosin M-1891 Rifle.

Russian main rifle during the Russo–Japanese War. It was first produced following an order of Tsar Nicholas II, and thereafter it was manufactured in Russia, the Soviet Union, and Belgium from 1891 to 1944 in several models. It originated as a design of Captain S. M. Mosin and was favored over a Belgian design by Leon Nagant for its ruggedness and lighter weight. The Mosin M-1891 replaced the older, heavier, and longer Karle and Berdan No. 2 rifles. By 1903 the two-phase introduction of the Mosin M-1891 to the ranks was complete, and both the regular army and the reserves were armed with the new rifle. The Russian infantry had a bayonet permanently fixed to the rifle, which hindered accurate shooting to some extent. Versions of the Mosin were used as frontline rifles until World War II and as practice rifles until the late 1970s.

Technical data: Caliber: 7.62mm [0.3in.]; Weight: 4.33kg [9.61bs], with bayonet and sling 4.78kg [10.61bs]; Length: 131cm [51.4in.], with bayonet: 173cm [68.2in.], barrel length: 80.3cm [31.6in.]; Magazine capacity: 5 rounds; Rate of fire: 8–10r/min; Maximum sighting range (iron sights): 2,200m.


 Combat troops mounted on horses. Their importance in the Russo–Japanese War was limited and often marginal. After a millennium in which mounted troops were considered the masters of offensive warfare, the Russo–Japanese War marks a turning point in the history of cavalry; thereafter this type of warfare was to disappear rapidly from the modern battlefield. In many respects the limited contribution of cavalry during the Russo–Japanese War presaged its demise during World War I. The European armies, however, did not learn this particular lesson, nor the general lesson regarding the leading role of defense in modern warfare. Consequently they started World War I with huge cavalry forces without any effective alternative until the invention of the tank. While both belligerents in the Russo–Japanese War used cavalry forces, the Imperial Russian Army employed about three times more cavalry units than the Imperial Japanese Army.

On the eve of war the Russian cavalry numbered more than 80,000 and comprised 25 cavalry divisions, including two Guards, 17 Army, and six Cossack cavalry detachments. The Russian cavalry in East Asia consisted mostly of Cossacks, with each cavalry division consisting of 3,400 dragoons trained in mounted and dismounted combat. Some divisions had their own artillery support, usually 12 horse-drawn artillery guns. The Russian cavalry forces in Manchuria were organized in December 1904 in one huge Cavalier Corps. They were commanded initially by Lieutenant General Pavel Mishchenko until February 1905, then briefly by Lieutenant General Pavel Rennenkampf during February, by Lieutenant General Vladimir Grekov until March, and then again by Mishchenko until September 1905. The tactics of the Russian cavalry were revised several times during the 50 years prior to the war, their equipment was modernized, switching from lances to rifles and bayonets, and dragoon training was instituted combining infantry training with cavalry tactics. Nevertheless, at the outbreak of the Russo–Japanese War, they were still guided by outdated notions of attack, with scant regard for the technological and tactical advances achieved during the 19th century. Foremost among these advances was the widespread implementation of machine guns in the battlefield, the much more extensive use of artillery as support during battle, and the change from close to dispersed infantry formations, which made the infantry an unsuitable target for formation cavalry attacks.

In the evolution of cavalry warfare, the Russo–Japanese War is noted for the absence of the lance and sword, which were replaced by the rifle. The few achievements of the Russian cavalry were made through the effect of firearms. However, the cavalry units of both armies had little significance for the overall outcome of the Russo–Japanese War, and their basic weaknesses were quickly demonstrated. The Russian cavalry often lacked fighting spirit, as recorded by General Aleksei Kuropatkin in his memoirs: “Until cavalry is educated to feel that it should fight as obstinately as infantry, the money expended on our mounted arm is wasted.” Still, spirit was not the only cause. Horses were costly to maintain and the transport and effectiveness of cavalry was insignificant in siege warfare, such as in the siege of Port Arthur, or trench warfare, like that which developed before the battle of Mukden.


The Russo–Japanese War witnessed a massive use of artillery, but it was not a revolutionary step in the development of this branch. While the amount of usage and the centralization of control during the war were without precedent, field artillery reached maturity only during World War I. The use of goniometers for measuring angles, panoramic sights, field telephones (especially by the Japanese), and even aerial observation by balloons allowed the commanding officers in the field to use their artillery firepower against targets outside the line of sight of the batteries used. These technological advances, together with the increase in the range and effectiveness of the guns, made it possible to concentrate the fire of a whole army corps on a single target. At the battle of Liaoyang, for example, medium and heavy artillery were massively employed. On the Japanese side alone there were 56 heavy guns and mortars and a total of 470 guns. During the battle of Sha-ho, 48 Russian guns fired 8,000 rounds in 40 minutes; at the battle of Tashihchiao, a battery fired 500 rounds per gun.

The battle of Sha-ho may furnish a further instance of successful concentration of the fire of dispersed batteries. The concealment of batteries in action began to be more fully realized and the impracticability of close support by guns pushed forward into the infantry firing line under the enemy’s small-arms fire was demonstrated on many occasions. The advances of technology, achieved already in the 19th century, made the use of artillery and indirect fire in the battlefield safer and simpler, and during this war indirect fire at last became the norm. All in all, the two armies used unprecedented quantities of artillery ammunition. The Imperial Russian Army, for example, spent about 900,000 artillery rounds during the entire war, a tiny proportion of the 65.3 million manufactured and imported by Russia during World War I, and a fraction of the 360 millions shells and bombs Russia alone manufactured during World War II.

Still, the Imperial Japanese Army appeared to be more adapted to the modern use of artillery during the Russo–Japanese War. It used screens of artillery shelling to cover the advance of its infantry with very accurate and close support, through the extensive employment of field telephones and flag signaling. The tactics of advancing, positioning, and deploying the artillery forces evolved as well. The Japanese used camouflage and batteries to conceal the positioning of their guns from the Russian troops, and they watered the roads on which they moved them to prevent dust clouds that would have given away their position and movements. Until the Russo–Japanese War, shelling would stop when the attacking troops were still far from their target to prevent their being harmed, but now Japanese artillery officers often continued shelling almost up to the Russian trenches and ceased only moments before the assault began. During the war the Russians displayed improved gunnery performance and innovation as well. In the fortification of Port Arthur, for example, they placed most of their guns in batteries outside the forts of the main perimeter, contrary to common practice, thus eliminating “dead” ground and forcing the attacker to disperse his fire. Altogether, the use of artillery in the Russo–Japanese War inaugurated the era of mass bombardment and close support for the advancing troops, a fact that did not attract much attention of military observers.

During the Russo–Japanese War the distinction between guns and howitzers gradually disappeared and both sides employed successfully a small number of howitzers. Both sides used an increasingly large number of 120-millimeter [4.7-inch] Krupp-design howitzers purchased before the turn of the century, as well as a small number of 150-millimeter [5.9-inch] Model 38 howitzers (only in Japan). Only the Japanese, however, made full use of this type of gun by mobilizing 18 gigantic Krupp-made 280-millimeter [11-inch] howitzers at Port Arthur. Their firepower was exploited to the utmost during the siege of the fort and was instrumental in razing the Russian defenses. The Russian artillery corps were equipped with superb quick-firing Putilov M-1903 76.2-millimeter [3-inch] field guns, which replaced the older M-1900. Even though these guns were most up-to-date, they were still heavier and less maneuverable than the Japanese guns. In addition, both sides made use of various older guns of 90 to 120 millimeters, and the Russians also employed during the siege of Port Arthur naval guns, mainly of 152 millimeters [6 inches] and smaller, which were removed from the warships of the Pacific Fleet. Both sides made some limited use of heavy mortars, especially in mountain engagements and around Port Arthur against nearby targets protected by hills or other obstacles. They were of 90–150 millimeter caliber and could fire up to 30-kilogram [66-pound] shells a short distance.

152mm Gun 2A36 M1976

During the 1970s the Soviets developed a new towed 152mm gun. It was first seen by NATO Intelligence sources in 1976, and so was dubbed the M1976. However, it did not enter service until 1981, when it replaced the M-46 130mm field gun. It was another four years before the M1976 was seen in a Moscow May Day parade, towed by a 6×6 KrAZ-260 truck. Its Soviet industrial number was 2A36 but it was called the Giatsint (‘hyacinth’) by the Soviet Army and was the same as that used in the 2S5 tracked self-propelled artillery system. The M1986 was deployed in batteries of six or eight guns, with three batteries per battalion. Production ceased during the 1980s.

Entering service in 1981, the 152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) replaced the 130mm M-46 in Soviet service and was also provided to Finland and Iraq. It is mounted on a split-trail carriage with large rear spades and a forward- mounted retractable firing base. The M1976 is served by a crew of eight and fires a 101-pound high-explosive shell up to 29,528 yards. With rocket-assisted projectiles, it attains a range of 43,745 yards.

The 152mm Self-Propelled Gun (2S5) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) was designed and manufactured by the Uraltransmash Works and entered Soviet service in 1976. It saw service with Soviet forces in Afghanistan and was also adopted by Finland and Iraq. The 2S5 is equipped with a front mounted dozer blade to prepare firing positions and a rear stabilizing spade. It is served by between five and seven crewmen and, aided by a partially automated loading system, achieves a firing rate of up to 6 rounds per minute. The 2S5 utilizes a separate powder charge and projectile and accepts conventional, chemical, concrete-piercing, laser-guided, and tactical nuclear warheads. It fires a conventional 101-pound HE round up to 31,059 yards and a rocket-assisted projectile to a maximum of 43,745 yards.

152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976)

Adoption date: 1981

Caliber: 152mm

Weight: 21,517 pounds

Breech: semiautomatic horizontal sliding block

Barrel length: 323 inches

Elevation: 57°

Traversal: 25°

Projectile weight: 101 pounds

Muzzle velocity: 2,625 fps

Maximum range: 43,745 yards