The Swedish Question I

Sweden’s role in World War II has evoked little interest outside of that country. Although we now know this nation would never enter the war, Hitler and Dönitz could not count on this. For Hitler Sweden represented a valuable source of raw materials and manufactured goods, as well as a possible threat to Germany’s position in Norway. To Dönitz this politically unreliable nation’s location potentially endangered the navy’s U-boat training areas in the Baltic. Particularly in the final stage of the war, both Hitler and Dönitz endeavored to ensure at all costs that Sweden remained neutral.

On several occasions Hitler claimed a political motive for retaining a foothold in the Baltic States. He feared that withdrawing from Estonia, and later from Courland, would adversely affect Sweden’s attitude. Hitler believed that the presence of German troops in the Baltic States deterred Sweden from cutting off ore imports. On 5 September 1944, when Army Group North wished to evacuate Estonia in the wake of Finland’s surrender, Hitler insisted that holding the current positions in that sector was politically important as a way of exerting influence on Sweden. Two days later Natzmer phoned OKH to check on the army group’s request to retreat; Berlin replied that Guderian had attempted to convince Hitler to give up the Baltic States but that Hitler had again brought up his concern for Sweden. In the winter and spring of 1945 Hitler returned to this theme, at times responding to Guderian’s demands to evacuate Courland by insisting that only the presence of the Courland armies prevented Sweden from declaring war on Germany. To understand why Hitler feared Swedish belligerence and whether the Swedes had given him cause for suspicion, a brief review of Sweden’s policy since 1939 is necessary.

Upon the outbreak of war Sweden declared its neutrality and continued to trade with both Britain and Germany. Sweden experienced few problems until the end of November 1939, when the Soviet Union attacked Finland. Sweden found itself in a precarious situation during the Winter War, as it had long maintained very close ties to Finland and traditionally feared Russia. The Swedish government was willing to assist the Finns in almost any way possible, short of war. Sweden provided Finland with substantial aid and sent large quantities of arms and ammunition, seriously depleting its own stocks. The Winter War also brought difficulty on the diplomatic front. Determined to prevent Swedish belligerency, Germany sent several thinly veiled threats demanding that Sweden remain neutral. Hitler feared that Sweden’s entry into the war would jeopardize the delivery of iron ore and that if Russia attacked Sweden, it would be difficult for the Swedes to refuse Allied offers to intervene in Scandinavia. The Germans warned the Swedish government that they would take swift action if Allied troops entered the country. Hitler’s anxiety in this matter was justified, because the British and French made repeated requests that Allied troops be allowed to pass through Sweden to aid Finland; Sweden refused them. The end of the Winter War in March 1940 did not lessen the danger to Sweden, for on 9 April Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark. Although a Swedish military attaché had alerted Defense Minister Per Edvin Sköld, this warning went unheeded.3 Sweden’s military position at this time was even worse than in autumn 1939. Southern Sweden was virtually defenseless, because the Swedes had concentrated their army in the north during the Winter War, and the delivery of arms and ammunition to Finland had deprived Sweden of a significant proportion of the supplies needed for its own defense.

Admiral Raeder provided Hitler with convincing naval arguments for the occupation of Norway, but Hitler’s interest in guaranteeing supplies of Swedish iron also played a role. The Winter War and the danger of Allied intervention in Scandinavia had revealed the threat to Germany’s ore imports. Swedish iron ore reached Germany by two main routes. The Swedes shipped some from ports in the Gulf of Bothnia, mainly Luleå, but most of these ports were closed nearly half the year due to ice. The preferred route was to send the ore to the Norwegian port of Narvik, ice free throughout the year, for transshipment to Germany. Yet with the outbreak of war the Narvik route proved vulnerable to British interference.

Churchill considered halting iron ore shipments to Germany decisive. The British predicted that without these imports German production would cease within months, if not weeks (an assessment that greatly exaggerated the importance of Swedish iron ore to Germany’s war economy). In April 1939 British trade envoys tactlessly warned the Swedes that in the event of war, Britain might have to destroy the iron mines. A major reason for Britain’s interest in assisting Finland during the Winter War was to occupy Sweden’s iron mines.6 In the end the British decided not to take military action against Sweden, but they did mine Norway’s coastal waters and planned to sabotage port facilities at Oxelösund, an ice-free port on Sweden’s southeastern coast from which Germany received ore. During the fighting in Norway in the spring of 1940 the British destroyed port installations at Narvik, significantly reducing its capacity for ore shipments.

Swedish iron ore was of a very high quality, having an iron content of nearly 60 percent, compared to 30 percent for German ores. Germany obtained most of its iron ore from the Reich and Nazi-occupied areas, but about 80 percent of the iron ore it did import came from Sweden. Another vital import was ball bearings. The Nazis received no more than 10 percent of their ball bearings from the Swedes, but these bearings were of the types Germany lacked later in the war due to Allied air raids. Germany also imported from Sweden high-grade steel, finished copper, sulfur, and timber.

After the occupation of Norway and Denmark, German pressure on Sweden increased. Eager to remain at peace, the Swedes granted more and more concessions to Germany. Churchill feared that the Swedes would purchase their neutrality by supplying Germany with all the ore it wanted.9 But in fact Sweden granted the Germans far more than raw materials; its government stretched neutrality past any recognized limits. Hitler had demanded strict neutrality from Sweden in April 1940, when such a policy benefited the Nazis, and the Swedes had agreed on the condition they be left in peace. After the conquest of Norway, Germany received permission for so-called transit traffic, the transport of supplies and soldiers on leave to northern Norway via Swedish rail lines. From June 1940 until November 1943 Sweden’s railroads carried over two million men on leave, more than 700,000 tons of military supplies, and 60,000 wounded (mainly from the front in Finland), many of the wounded on Swedish hospital trains. The Swedes justified these concessions by claiming that once Norway surrendered, these actions did not support or aid a belligerent.

In 1941 and 1942 foreign observers noted a decidedly pro-Nazi stance among many Swedish officials. In March 1941 the Swedish Defense Staff’s naval section prepared a study on a possible Russo-German war that mentioned the possibility of Germany transporting troops to Finland on Sweden’s railroads and hinted at Swedish forces fighting alongside Germans. In January 1942 Goebbels noted in his diary that Sweden had “done more for the German war effort than is generally assumed,” although a few months later he began to complain of the Swedes’ attitude. Sweden was, however, under Nazi pressure. In February 1941 its military attaché to Germany, Curt Juhlin-Dannfelt, spoke with the German Army chief of staff, Halder, about the possibility of granting transit rights to Allied troops if the Soviets attacked Finland again. Halder replied that if Sweden did so, Germany would reduce the nation to rubble. In the spring of 1941 the supreme commander of Sweden’s armed forces, Gen. Olof Thörnell, informed his government that Sweden could not withstand an attack and advised that war with Germany should be avoided if at all possible.

During the planning for the Russian campaign, the Germans hoped for Swedish assistance. The Skl (Seekriegsleitung or Skl (Maritime Warfare Command)) contemplated Sweden’s help in several matters, including laying minefields in its territorial waters to supplement those laid by the German Navy, allowing shipment of supplies for troops in Finland to southern Sweden, and protecting German merchant vessels in Swedish waters with Swedish warships. Hitler declared that he believed the Swedes would participate in the war in return for cession of the Åland Islands, and in early May OKW even considered how to use Sweden’s armed forces if they joined in the war with Russia.

Hitler had little reason to doubt Sweden’s good will in this period. Immediately after the invasion of the Soviet Union, its government allowed the Germans to transfer a fully equipped division through Sweden to Finland. This represented Sweden’s most flagrant breach of neutrality. The Swedes refused transit rights for a second division at the end of July 1941 but later permitted the transport of an SS battalion. In addition, the government doubled the normal allowed leave traffic. Swedes also provided a valuable service by repairing all types of vehicles from German units in northern Norway and Finland, saving the Nazis a great deal of time and transport space. Furthermore, Sweden allowed German merchant vessels to pass through its territorial waters, and on one occasion a German division sailed from Norway to Finland through Swedish waters. Despite the pro-German attitude of several prominent military and political leaders, however, Sweden’s press was virulently anti-German, frequently enraging Hitler and above all Goebbels. In the fall of 1940 the government confiscated several issues of the Göteborgs Handelstidning to placate the Germans and in June 1941 introduced a law curtailing freedom of the press.

Britain’s naval attaché in Sweden, Henry Denham, claimed that the Swedish Navy was especially pro-German. Denham also charged that the Swedish secret police worked very closely with German intelligence and kept track of his movements. Thörnell himself had a reputation for being very pro-German. In April 1941 he suggested to the government that Sweden participate in an anticipated war against the Soviets, and at the end of 1944 Thörnell reportedly was almost in tears over Germany’s defeats.

Yet the Swedes made most concessions during the years of German victory. The declaration of war on the United States, the Allied landings in North Africa, and the Soviet victory at Stalingrad caused Sweden to reassess its relations with Germany. During the second half of 1943, once Sweden had built up its armed forces to a respectable level, the Swedes began to restrict concessions previously granted. In August the Swedish government informed the Germans that it would halt the transit traffic to northern Norway and that it would no longer allow German vessels in Swedish territorial waters. Once the Swedes began to steer away from Germany, they came under increasingly heavy pressure from the Anglo-Americans to reduce exports to Germany, especially ball bearings.

Hitler viewed Sweden’s increased independence with growing mistrust. At the end of 1941 he feared the British might invade Norway to exert pressure on Sweden, and only a month later he began to suspect Swedish hostility, claiming that the Swedes would support a British landing in Scandinavia. Hitler declared that Allied domination of Sweden would deprive Germany of freedom of movement in the Baltic. In April of 1942 he notified Mussolini that Sweden would defect if the British invaded Norway. Explaining that a link between Britain and Sweden would be dangerous for Germany, he informed his Italian ally that he had reinforced Norway with seventy thousand men and deployed an armored division near Oslo to threaten Sweden. The Germans received reports that the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942 had made a profound impression in Sweden. To this Hitler declared that Scandinavia’s protection was more important than a major offensive in Russia for the coming year, and he accordingly ordered the armored division in Norway reinforced. Hitler’s reaction to Sweden’s announcement ending the transit traffic to Norway, however, was surprisingly calm. By the fall of 1943 Jodl too was convinced that a successful Allied landing in Norway would bring Sweden into the war, leading to the collapse of the entire Scandinavian front and endangering the Baltic.

Swedish intelligence rendered an invaluable service to its government by cracking Germany’s codes at a relatively early date. In April 1940 the German military rented telephone and telegraph lines between Narvik and Oslo, and Trondheim and Oslo, which passed through Swedish territory. The Swedes promptly tapped these lines, as well as German lines from Berlin, Oslo, and Helsinki to Stockholm. Although in the beginning the Swedes read only military traffic, a direct line from Berlin to the German legation in Stockholm at the end of 1940 yielded diplomatic messages. A mathematics professor at Uppsala University, Arne Beurling, succeeded in forcing the machine code (Geheimschreiber) used by the Germans for communications with Norway, and he built a deciphering machine of his own. In this way the Swedes learned of Hitler’s preparations to invade Russia by the spring of 1941. Swedish intelligence also provided the government with advance warning of German intentions in diplomatic and economic negotiations. In mid-1942, however, the Finns alerted the Germans to Swedish code-breaking activity, and the Nazis tightened their communications security. The Germans transferred many of their communication wires to underwater cables and introduced more sophisticated code machines, so that after the end of 1942 Swedish intelligence rarely could decrypt German messages. The Swedes assumed that by this time the greatest danger had passed, because Germany had been forced on the defensive, but they were dangerously mistaken. The Swedes lost the ability to read German messages just as Hitler was seriously considering invading the country.

Nazi Germany contemplated attacking Sweden on several occasions throughout the war. In planning for the invasion of Norway at the end of February 1940, one of Warlimont’s subordinates in OKW submitted a proposal to occupy parts of Denmark and Sweden. Interest in Sweden’s iron ore was evident in this plan, which called for the seizure of Luleå and the rail line Luleå–Narvik. Warlimont altered the plan to envision the occupation of all of Denmark, leaving the Swedes alone, because on 1 March Hitler had ordered that no moves be made against Sweden. German suspicion of Sweden’s unreliability, however, increased. In January 1943 OKW noted that reports from Stockholm and Helsinki indicated the Swedes would suspend transit traffic if the Allies invaded Norway, concluding for that reason that German troops in northern Norway and northern Finland required additional supplies. In March, Hitler ordered German forces in Norway to prepare a study for operations in Scandinavia in the event of a change in the military or political situation. He also commanded OKW not to issue this order in writing but to impart its contents orally to staff officers from Norway and Finland who would soon be coming to Führer Headquarters. A few days later Hitler’s mistrust of Sweden had grown even deeper. He commanded Jodl to reinforce German troops in Norway and to provide the armored division there with the heaviest offensive weapons, against which the Swedes had no defense.

The plan to invade Sweden envisioned an assault by a half-dozen divisions. In the north one division was to cross the border east of Trondheim toward Östersund and then thrust to the Gulf of Bothnia, supported by an armored division advancing somewhat farther south. In the south two to three divisions were to storm the frontier and drive on Stockholm, while one to two divisions dealt with Swedish troops near Lake Vänern. In addition, the Germans planned several small-scale amphibious and airborne landings on Sweden’s southwest coast and north of Stockholm to tie down Swedish reserves. At the beginning of 1943 the Germans had twelve divisions in Norway, including one armored division, and from April through June OKW sent further reinforcements. Yet in August, following the reverses Germany suffered in the summer of 1943, Hitler ordered the armored division to the continent, and the following month OKW transferred a division from Norway to the Balkans. This stripped German forces in Norway of operational reserves and ended the serious threat of invasion.

Swedish war plans during World War II reveal a surprising, perhaps overoptimistic, confidence and aggressiveness after 1940. In the early interwar years Swedish planning had focused on two potential enemies, the Soviets and an unnamed western power, presumably Britain. In view of the international situation in the late 1930s, in 1939 the Swedes revised their plans to include war with Germany. When Germany occupied of Norway and Denmark, Sweden suddenly faced a hostile power along its 1,200-kilometer-long western border, as well as to the south in Denmark. Sweden’s 1940 plans were entirely defensive and called for concentrating most of its army in the southern and central part of the country. Swedish plans in early 1941 again emphasized defense against a possible German attack from Norway, but now the Swedes began to show signs of greater confidence. They assumed that with Germany’s depleted naval forces heavily engaged against Britain, the anticipated German attack on the Soviet Union would make Sweden’s fleet an important factor in the Baltic and that their army could seriously threaten Germany’s position in Norway. Nonetheless, this plan proposed a benevolent attitude toward Germany, since it was in Sweden’s interest to see the Soviets defeated. Plans from the autumn of that year provided for minor offensive action across the border into Norway—for example, to cut the rail link to Trondheim. By early 1942 the Swedes felt capable of an offensive to seize a Norwegian port to establish a link to Britain. The Swedes showed, however, a particular fear of airborne assault, against which they had no defense. In 1943 Sweden’s army planned, after repulsing a German invasion, for an attack toward Oslo as well as a thrust to capture the port Mo i Rana, approximately midway between Narvik and Trondheim. The 1943 plans remained essentially unchanged until the end of the war. Beginning in 1944, however, the Swedes began to pay closer attention to a possible threat from the Soviets.

The Swedish Navy’s primary task was coastal defense. Since the army would concentrate its forces on the southern coast and along the Norwegian border, the burden of protecting Sweden’s long eastern shore fell to the navy. On the whole, the navy viewed its mission as defensive. By the spring of 1942 the Swedish Navy’s plans included provisions for limited offensive operations. If Germany controlled the Åland Islands the navy planned to attack supply routes to the islands. If the islands remained unoccupied, the navy intended attacks on German lines of communication in the Gulf of Bothnia, as well as on German bases in the Reval–Libau area. Surprisingly, the navy’s plans at the end of 1942 were much more pessimistic than in earlier years. The Swedes now realized that the Germans might invade not only from Norway, Denmark, or northern Germany but from Finland or the Baltic States as well. Swedish planners envisioned German landings almost everywhere. Plans in later years were not quite so gloomy, though they remained generally defensive.

If by the fall of 1943 the German Army rarely considered attacking Sweden, the navy still eyed Sweden with suspicion. The Swedish Navy was probably the most pro-German of all branches of its armed forces, but the Skl was dissatisfied. In April 1941 Raeder had complained to the Swedish naval attaché, Anders Forshell, about Sweden’s attitude. The Swedish Navy, however, proved extremely accommodating on several occasions. In the spring of 1940 Sweden’s naval vessels assisted the Germans in laying an antisubmarine net in the Sound between Denmark and Sweden (Öresund). In June 1941 the Swedish Navy laid mines in its territorial waters to supplement German mine barrages that blocked the Baltic from Swedish waters to the coast of the Baltic States. In addition, in the fall of that year Swedish warships repeatedly escorted German vessels carrying supplies to Finland.

The Swedish Question II

Dönitz was even more wary of Sweden than Raeder. When he assumed command of the navy in January 1943 Hitler wanted him to scrap the surface fleet, but Dönitz pointed out that powerful German naval forces in the Baltic would help influence Sweden’s attitude. A major irritant to Dönitz was the activity of Swedish aircraft in the Baltic. On several occasions German warships reported being “buzzed” by Swedish planes. In July 1943 the Skl ordered German vessels to open fire if approached by Swedish aircraft, maintaining that the Swedes repeatedly had been requested through diplomatic channels to halt this activity. The next month, following another incident of this type when Swedish aircraft shadowed a German convoy, Schmundt (Naval High Command, Baltic) complained that the Swedes would certainly pass any information on to Germany’s enemies. Schmundt regarded the Swedes with great mistrust; in fact, he counted them as already in the enemy camp. In August 1943 he warned the Skl that Swedish shipping represented a sizeable reserve for the Anglo-Americans. Noting Sweden’s increasingly hostile stance, he insisted that Germany must prevent the enemy’s use of these vessels. Schmundt proposed sending commandos to destroy ships in Swedish ports. Apparently the Skl considered this suggestion too far-fetched and an invitation for trouble.

The navy’s problems with Sweden persisted. Swedish fishing boats on at least two occasions entered a forbidden area and sabotaged lights on German buoys. In retaliation the Germans sank two Swedish fishing boats in the area in August 1943. Following this altercation the Foreign Ministry instructed the Skl to avoid further incidents with Sweden. Yet cases of “buzzing” and violations of German airspace continued, until events came to a head on 14 May 1944, when a German fighter shot down a Swedish plane near Libau. At first Kummetz (Schmundt’s successor) assumed that it had been a Soviet plane with Swedish markings, but he suspiciously added that if it were Swedish, it was spying on German U-boat training areas for Britain or Russia. Kummetz soon received a report that three Swedish air-men had been picked up in a dinghy, and early the next day the Germans shot down a second Swedish plane near Windau. Kummetz declared that Sweden and Germany’s enemies alike recognized the importance of air reconnaissance over this part of the Baltic and that the extraordinary search and rescue operation the Swedes had mounted when their plane had been downed revealed the importance of this information.

Kummetz’s problems with the Swedes were not yet over. At the beginning of July a German patrol boat spotted a Swedish destroyer. Swedish aircraft had not reappeared over the coast of the Baltic States, but, Kummetz argued, now destroyers had taken their place. Within a month the Germans sighted Swedish warships near the Irben Straits on three occasions. A German patrol boat near Moen fired on a Swedish plane after it approached to a distance of nine hundred meters. To the Germans’ utter surprise, the aircraft returned fire! Perplexed, Kummetz remarked that this was the first instance of Swedish aircraft fighting back. Finally, less than a week after that incident a U-boat training flotilla reported encountering a Swedish destroyer eighteen nautical miles north-northwest of Libau. Stunned, Kummetz exclaimed, “The Swedes are in the middle of our U-boat training area!”

Although regarded with great suspicion by the Germans, especially Schmundt and Kummetz, Swedish air and naval reconnaissance in the Baltic had been carried out for defensive purposes. The Swedes periodically worried about a German attack, either because the government was about to announce a measure displeasing to the Germans or because intelligence warned of an imminent German invasion. For example, on 28 July 1943, a few days before Sweden canceled the transit agreement, the Swedes began to carry out secret reconnaissance flights from the Kalmar Sound to the area near the island of Bornholm. As a further precaution, naval vessels laid mines along Sweden’s southeastern coast. In the first week of August the Swedes supplemented their air reconnaissance with patrols by destroyers near the island of Gotland and off the southeastern coast. Another invasion scare occurred at the end of March 1944, as a result of deteriorating relations between Finland and Germany. Sweden attempted to arrange peace talks between the Soviets and the Finns, angering Germany. The Swedes stepped up their air reconnaissance, and on 14 May a plane failed to return. The following day a minesweeper hailed a Latvian fishing boat and learned that the plane had been shot down. On 16 May Sweden’s Naval Staff ordered reconnaissance in this area halted. The Swedish airplane had been sent to search for transports at sea or around ports in the Baltic States, an area where the Swedes’ intelligence was poor. It had merely been a case of mutual suspicion.

Nazi preparations to seize the Åland Islands, “Tanne West,” began in the spring of 1944 and brought Sweden under even closer scrutiny. In July Kummetz warned of the possibility that Sweden might seize the islands itself. When the Germans sent heavy warships to aid Finland in the summer of 1944, the Skl instructed them to remain beyond the previously envisioned time, due to the unfavorable situation in the Gulf of Finland and also in consideration of Sweden. Although an announcement informing Sweden of Germany’s reasons for seizing the Åland Islands had been prepared, Hitler decided to cancel the operation out of regard for Sweden. In early 1944, as Sweden arranged peace talks between the Soviets and the Finns, concern for a German invasion of the Åland Islands, and possibly of Sweden itself, became acute, and the Swedes considered occupying the islands themselves. From the end of March until mid-April Swedish preparations for war steadily increased. After the Soviet summer offensive in Karelia the Swedes again briefly fretted about a German attempt to seize the Åland Islands. When word of the Germans’ unsuccessful attempt to seize Hogland arrived, the Swedes stepped up their reconnaissance near the Åland Islands but ordered no overall change in defensive readiness.

The string of Allied victories in the summer of 1944 convinced the Swedes that Hitler would lose the war and that it would be advisable for Sweden to distance itself from Germany. In the second half of that year the Swedes dealt the Germans a series of economic blows. In August, Sweden’s government announced that it would no longer insure shipping to German ports, in effect forbidding its vessels to sail to Germany. The government halted the last transit through its territory on 9 September. On 27 September, fearful that Soviet submarines would soon reach the Baltic, Sweden closed its Baltic ports and territorial waters to all foreign shipping. Finally, on 12 October the Swedes ended the export of ball bearings to Germany. All of these measures were serious, but the withdrawal of Swedish shipping was most damaging, because from 1941 to 1944 Swedish vessels had brought an average of at least 40 percent of the iron ore to Germany, and Finnish vessels nearly 10 percent. With Finland out of the war and Swedish shipping to Germany halted, the Nazis faced the loss of half of the vessels engaged in transporting ore to the Reich. The closure of Sweden’s ports also meant that iron ore, even if Germany could scrape together ships to transport it, had to travel the long, dangerous route from Narvik. These events sobered the Skl, which on 29 September issued a directive to avoid all violations of Swedish territorial waters. In view of the current political tension with Sweden, that nation could be given no excuses for going over to the enemy side.

Yet the German Navy was furious over these measures. The Skl viewed Sweden’s actions as proof that it had submitted to Allied demands to halt ore deliveries to the Reich. Dönitz declared that the Swedes had taken these steps because of “fear and dependence on international Jewish capital.” He added that Germany could still fight without Swedish ore and that the Swedes had best beware. On several occasions in the latter part of 1944 the Skl insisted that it must retain its heavy surface vessels not only to engage the Soviet fleet but with regard to Sweden as well. At the beginning of October the navy proposed the erection of launchers for Germany’s unmanned rockets to threaten cities in southern Sweden, but on 15 October Keitel announced that it was in Germany’s interest to avoid incidents with Sweden.

At the beginning of October 1944, Soviet submarines entered the Baltic. In response to this the Skl wanted to declare the entire eastern Baltic, including the Gulf of Bothnia, an operational zone. Kummetz was clearly still angry about Swedish incursions in the area during the summer. He claimed that militarily it was unnecessary to include the Gulf of Bothnia and Åland Sea but that the declaration of the eastern Baltic as an operational zone made it possible to sink all merchant ships without regard to their nationality, and Swedish warships and aircraft in the area would be fair game. Kummetz also pointed out that mines would be effective in disrupting shipping between Sweden and Finland. Dönitz replied that the navy had no interest in traffic between Finland and Sweden. After the official declaration of the eastern Baltic as a war zone as of 11 November, the Skl repeatedly instructed U-boats to fire only if they were certain the target was not a Swedish vessel.

At the beginning of 1945, OKW considered a report from the military attaché in Stockholm that warned of Sweden’s entering the war, and it returned to the proposal of erecting launching pads for V-1 and V-2 rockets pointing toward Stockholm. The Germans believed that this would dampen any enthusiasm for war in Sweden. But a few days later Hitler decided that Sweden’s entry into the war was unlikely and that no preparatory measures for Swedish belligerence should be taken. In mid-February OKW noted that relations with Sweden had further deteriorated, citing a report from the German military attaché in Sweden, Bruno von Uthmann, describing Sweden’s attitude as “unsettling.” Hitler too viewed Sweden with increased suspicion. In March he refused a proposal to evacuate northern Norway because he feared it would provide an incentive for Sweden to enter the war if the Anglo-Americans seized Narvik and established a link with Sweden. The presence of Norwegian “police troops” in Sweden was another cause of concern.

The German Navy also drew up plans for an invasion of Sweden and reviewed them regularly. The navy first examined a landing operation on Sweden’s coast around the turn of the year 1939–40. This study, however, was only theoretical and does not appear to have been linked with plans to invade Norway and Denmark then under consideration. In the spring of 1943 the navy again analyzed the possibility of attacking Sweden. In this study the Skl asserted that the seizure of Sweden’s fleet would considerably strengthen Germany’s navy. The Skl also declared that Sweden’s navy represented a “considerable threat,” due to the lack of German escort vessels and the decisive importance of the Baltic for Germany. Indicating that it could not destroy the Swedish Navy, the Skl explained that the elimination of Sweden’s fleet required the German Army to capture its ports by land, which it should do as quickly as possible. But the Skl expressed grave reservations about the entire scheme. War with Sweden would reduce, if not paralyze, U-boat training in the Baltic; disrupt supply shipments to Finland, the Baltic States, and Norway, as well as the delivery of ore imports; and end the transit traffic to Norway. If Sweden and its ports could be occupied within days or even a few weeks, the navy considered the operation worthwhile. But if the Swedes continued longer to hold parts of their country, it could invite disaster. This would serve as an invitation for the Allies to invade Scandinavia and base aircraft in Sweden, which would endanger the Baltic—and loss of the U-boat training areas in the Baltic signified the death of the U-boat war. The Skl concluded that action against Sweden without a compelling reason was justifiable only if the success of the operation within a very short time was guaranteed. In view of Germany’s current situation, this was quite unlikely.

The navy, therefore, did not recommend the invasion of Sweden. The reason was that at the end of March 1943 the Skl had considered the repercussions of an Allied invasion in northern Norway. Although the Skl feared an undesirable effect upon the attitude of both Finland and Sweden, it regarded an Allied presence in Sweden as the greatest danger. In the Skl’s eyes Sweden would serve as a bridge to the Baltic, whereas the continuation of the U-boat war required Germany’s absolute control of the Baltic. In October 1943 the question of war with Sweden again surfaced. Meisel claimed that political developments, presumably Sweden’s halt to the transit traffic, raised the possibility of Sweden’s declaring war on Germany. He ordered a reexamination of the May study, based on the assumption of Swedish belligerence due to an Allied landing in Norway, Jutland, or western Sweden. Schmundt looked into this matter, but his assessment was no brighter than the previous one. He warned that the greatest danger from war with Sweden would be the Allies’ immediate use of Sweden as an air base. This would necessitate a vast increase in air defense for all ports and important bases in the central and eastern Baltic, as well as the Gulf of Riga and Gulf of Finland. Furthermore, the mere threat of Swedish submarine activity would require the formation of antisubmarine flotillas and the gathering of escorts for supply transports to Finland, the Baltic States, and Norway. Ending on a most discouraging note, Schmundt pointed out that one could draw parallels to the situation in the Mediterranean, especially the struggle to retain North Africa. Another report on this subject from Naval High Command, Norway, reached similar conclusions.

Following the numerous steps the Swedish government took to throttle trade with Germany in the fall of 1944, the possibility of Sweden’s belligerence arose once more in mid-October. Meisel requested Wagner and the Skl’s operations section jointly to examine the consequences of war with Sweden. An Skl report from the same day noted that several problems raised in the 1943 study, such as supply of Finland and loss of imports from Sweden, no longer had any bearing on the situation. The loss of U-boat bases on France’s Atlantic coast, however, had increased the importance of control of the Baltic entrances and sea routes to Norway. The greatest problem facing Germany in the execution of such an operation was that there simply were no ground or air forces available to fight Sweden. For this reason, Germany had endeavored to keep Sweden neutral and avoid incidents. On 29 October this latest study, bearing Wagner’s signature, was completed. In it he claimed that the most effective way to eliminate the dangers resulting from Sweden’s belligerence would be to conquer and occupy the country, at least its southern half, either as a preventive measure or immediately after Sweden declared war. Wagner, however, realized that there was no chance of obtaining forces to attack Sweden. If Sweden entered the war it would almost certainly coordinate an attack of its own on Norway, probably toward the Oslo–Bergen area or Trondheim, with an Allied landing. One of Wagner’s greatest concerns was that Germany’s sea routes and U-boat training areas lay open between the German and Swedish coast. Wagner did not present a particularly optimistic assessment either.

At the beginning of December Dönitz stressed that the question of whether or not Sweden entered the war was of the utmost importance. He insisted that the disadvantages would be so serious as to outweigh any possible gains. Dönitz explained that he had informed Keitel and Ribbentrop of his views on this subject. On 9 February 1945, at the Skl’s request, Jodl issued instructions to Germany’s armed forces that Sweden’s entry into the war was unlikely and that Hitler wished no directives for war with Sweden issued.

Sweden’s reaction to Germany’s defense of Courland was not quite what Hitler claimed. Instead of becoming alarmed, Sweden’s military paid scarcely any attention to the German troops in Courland. In early September the Swedes ordered defenses on the island of Gotland strengthened due to the situation in the Baltic States. Otherwise, they did not display much concern. In fact, at the very time Schörner’s supposedly threatening forces went over to the defense in Courland, the Swedish Defense Staff ordered a decrease in readiness Although Swedish military leaders considered an Allied invasion of Norway or Denmark still possible, the threat from Courland seems to have escaped them. In general, the Swedes believed Germany was so tied down in defensive fighting that by the end of 1943 they considered an invasion of Sweden remote indeed. Actually, the Defense Staff’s naval section expressed more concern about a possible threat to the Åland Islands from the Soviet Union once it captured the Baltic States. The Swedes were probably quite content to have German troops in Courland.

Dönitz’s attitude toward Sweden reveals an interesting mixture of fear and contempt. He probably would have liked nothing better than to see Sweden brought to its knees by Nazi armies, because Sweden’s conquest and occupation would have removed a potential threat to the Baltic. But by mid-1943, when Germany seriously began to consider invading Sweden, it was too late. Dönitz had realized that he could not afford any disruption to U-boat training. If Sweden survived the initial onslaught, Allied air and possibly naval forces would arrive and gain direct access to the Baltic. Dönitz realized all too well what that would mean. As Churchill later wrote, “Without command of the Baltic we could not ask for a Swedish harbour. Without a Swedish harbour we could not have command of the Baltic.” Although Dönitz was more than willing to threaten Sweden, as the navy’s proposal to aim V-1 and A-4 rockets at Stockholm demonstrates, his intention was never to provoke the Swedes but to cow them into maintaining the course they had followed since September 1939.

‘LA CADUTA DEGLI DEI’ Part I

THE FALL OF THE GODS

For the watching Bernard Freyberg the barrage for Operation Supercharge was disappointing. He had envisaged something more spectacular than Lightfoot. The anti-climax was almost certainly because, despite the barrage’s use of 192 field guns with 168 further guns employed on other tasks like counter-battery fire, the attack front was considerably narrower than before. Consequently, the artillery flashes were much more concentrated.1 It was rather different for the attacking infantry, as Private Jackson Browne of 8th DLI observed:

‘Get your kit on’. And then when the time comes, everybody’s just waiting. Half a dozen guns opened up – pop, pop, pop, pop ssshhhhhwwww!! Then all of a sudden you hear – Bugger! The earth starts to shake. Well, you looked back and saw that lot. God Almighty! Hell!

It was well organized. On each flank – on the battalion flanks – they had Bofors guns firing tracer every two or three minutes so that you could keep on line. The barrage was going now for about two minutes then they’d drop two or three smoke bombs – they were a bloody nuisance… But when they dropped you knew the barrage was lifting. You just moved in.

Never before had British infantry received such artillery support in the Desert War. The tried and trusted techniques from the Great War (as during Lightfoot) were again applicable, as Captain Ian English described:

We realized that [the barrage] in fact was our armour. That was our protection. The barrage stood on the opening line for twenty minutes while we closed up. This was the first attack behind a barrage we’d done and it was emphasized that one should always be within a hundred yards of it so one can arrive on the enemy position within a few moments of the barrage passing over.

Among 9th DLI, it was Lieutenant Wilfred White’s first action:

The noise was terrific, gunfire, shell bursts, mortars, rifle fire, machine-gun fire, the skirl of the bagpipes, the shouts of our charging infantry all combining in an incredible and unbelievable cacophony of sound. And above this noise we could hear from time to time the call of our Company Commander’s hunting horn. It made us feel rather special and somehow comforted us.

Major Teddy Worrall’s hunting horn – another example of the eccentricities of British officers in combat throughout the Second World War.

The barrage rolled forwards, battering a path, until pausing at 0220hrs on the first objective. Both infantry brigades advanced to time behind it, as English recalled:

Promptly at 0105hrs we crossed the start line in formation with bayonets fixed. At that time it was a pretty dark night because the moon was well past full and ten minutes later the barrage started. We had been expecting a lot of noise. We heard the guns behind us and the flashes we could see and the whistle of the shells going over our heads and then an enormous crash and clouds of dust in front of them.

The terrain, seemingly flat, did little to assist the advance. English described the scene:

It wasn’t flat, but it was extremely open. There were little bits of scrub. When you got down on the ground you could see in fact there were undulations and little crests. If you took a quick look at it, standing on your feet, you’d say they weren’t there at all. But in fact these little crests and pieces of dead ground were extremely useful.

Dead ground, however, could conceal Italian and German defenders whilst the absence of any features, except the line of telegraph poles marking the Rahman track, made it especially hard for any officer or sergeant with compass and map ‘trying to walk a straight course through the inferno for more than two miles to an objective which was only a pencil line on a map’.8 Jackson Browne remembered:

The company commander had a bloke – his batman. He had to pace this out all the way. He had a hell of a job. He had to count the paces. Somewhere along the line – it was about 5–6,000 yards we had to do – I think when we got to about three and a half thousand yards we had to stop for consolidation. Find out what was happening.

Despite assistance from 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion, which was to deal with a strongpoint on the right flank, it was the three DLI battalions who encountered the greatest problems. Initially, however, their advance met little opposition, as Jackson Browne recalled:

The first thing I knew was some of the Germans were coming out hysterical. What a bloody state they were in. God Almighty! There was dozens of them coming out. Some of them was cradling and crying and one thing and another. It must’ve been bad then right under that barrage. But his machine-gunners were still having a go – the diehards, y’know. Odd mortars and that coming over.

The Māori battalion had a tough fight in fulfilling its task and suffered almost 100 casualties, including its inspirational commander, Fred Baker, who was seriously wounded. The attack was conducted wholly in the spirit of its warrior heritage, as one of its officers, Major Charles Moihi Te Arawaka Bennett, made clear:

We had to fight almost every inch of the way. We were never far behind the barrage which gave us good protection and did some damage too… At one spot we were opposed by a wall of enemy firing at us with all they had. We all broke into the haka ‘Ka mate! ka mate!’ and charged straight in with the bayonet… It was the most spirited attack that I myself had taken part in.

The advance of 151st Brigade was led by 8th and 9th DLI. Ernie Kerans was with the latter’s Headquarters Company when they first met determined resistance:

The barrage was literally raising the dust and through it I could see the single explosions of shells and grenades and multiples from scores of Spandaus and other machine-guns. My Alamein was in full swing. I realised I still had my rifle slung. Bullets were now plucking at our clothes in large numbers. The bullets and bits of shrapnel came like a shower of deadly hailstones and we had to throw ourselves down to live. On the right a vehicle burst into flames and by the light I could see A Company men trying to advance. We were ahead of them but some of them were still on their feet, others were falling or had done. There were tracers amongst them and explosions all around them. Over the sounds of the barrage and the small-arms could be heard curses and the cries of the wounded. Someone in a pitiful voice was crying for his mother.

Kerans, surrounded by the terrifying sights and sounds of battle, did what the ‘poor bloody infantry’ always did in such circumstances: buried his nose in the dirt and hoped not to get hit:

From everywhere ‘Stretcher Bearer, Stretcher BEARER!’ Whatever had been on fire went out and we were just left with noise. Sight had gone but the screams and curses mixed with the chatter of the machine-guns and explosions of shells continued. We hugged the ground and bullets skimmed our heads. Ken took a bullet in his shoulder.

Similar resistance was met by 8th DLI. Men were helpless as they saw mates killed by their side.

Private John Drew’s memories were bitter:

Though we had to keep apart Joe and I kept in touch with one another till we were held down by machine-gun fire… Things here looked pretty grim and it was only the audacity of an NCO that got us out of it and which cost him an arm. By this time Joe and I had got our Gun going again and we began to advance with the section. The next thing I knew was a tremendous crash behind us. As I fell forward I caught a glimpse of Joe going down. Picking myself up, I discovered that, except for a few scratches, I was OK. I then walked over to Joe and found much to my regret that there was nothing I could do for him. Looking round I found what had been the cause of it all, one of the Jerrys had feigned dead. I then picked up the Gun. I must admit I was pretty mad by this time and let him have a full magazine. I am pretty certain he never lived to tell the tale.

As the attack fragmented, control by officers and NCOs became difficult to exercise. Lieutenant Jamie Kennedy of 9th DLI, describing his experiences in the third person, admitted his helplessness:

The company came to tanks, some dug into the ground, and here the fear of the power of the tanks seemed to make Jamie’s men crazed; he realised that they were beyond accepting any orders other than his finger pointing out targets. If a German tried to get out of his tank no one waited to see if he was surrendering; two men jumped on the tank, pushed the German back in, dropped a grenade in and closed the lid.

From a variety of motivations, men in this extreme environment of savage violence and fear committed acts that defied justification by rational explanations of revenge, orders or conditioning. The most basic instinct of survival – kill or be killed – overwhelmed them. Clear concepts of ‘combat’ and ‘atrocity’ were lost, as is evident from Jackson Browne’s account:

Quite a few went back as prisoners but there was a hell of a lot got their come-uppance. You see that list of Montgomery’s – the last list we got, the final one about what he was going to do – he said the watchword is ‘Kill Germans’. So that’s what they did. They were shooting the buggers down like they was flies. Blokes who’d never shot any bugger before were having a go. They certainly were. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It was good from our point of view!

Browne witnessed further callous and brutal actions, some committed in cold blood:

We were having casualties what with one thing and another but we had no problems with mines or anything like that. We found two blokes – one was dead with the barrage and the other was typical German with his blond hair and that. They had a tin box. I think they’d been going to lay booby traps and they’d been caught in the barrage. So, he’s lying there and Phil Thompson from Bishop Auckland shot the bugger. He said: ‘_____ !’ (Bad Language – you know). ‘Laying so-and-so booby traps!’

Distasteful as it may be to citizens of the modern democracies, such acts were committed in the defeat of fascism, giving the lie to the myth of ‘Krieg Ohne Hass’. Moreover, these actions were exceptional neither in the desert nor in the war in general.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Watson’s 6th DLI followed the lead battalions. The necessity of adequate ‘mopping up’ of resistance after the first advance (another Great War principle that was still applicable) was brought painfully home to Watson:

The tragedy was that in our enthusiasm we must have walked over some of these Italians – single chaps or ones or twos – who lay ‘doggo’ as we passed. Undoubtedly one of them killed my RSM, [Arthur] Page, killed my doctor who was tending [the wounded] and also Sergeant Fairley, who … played cricket for Crook and for the battalion down in Dorset. They all three were killed together and it was a great blow. I also think young Vickers, who had just come to the battalion, who was a splendid junior officer from a well-known Durham family and whose father farmed and was an auctioneer and valuer, he too was killed.

Watson, a true County Durham man, felt these losses of his ‘neighbours’ keenly. His men sought out the line of dug-in Italian armour marking the point at which they swung to form a north-facing flank for the bridgehead:

Sure enough, we came across this group of dug-in tanks. It was almost too good to be true that we should find them there. Practically every one of the crews was still inside and I remember walking up to one and the corporal shouting ‘Stand back, sir, stand back!’ after planting a limpet mine that sticks onto the armour plating. It just blew inwards and killed the crew. I saw A Company having great fun trying to set one alight. But we did the turn and we got into these positions. The positions that we held were absolutely in the right place. Then the guns opened up again for the 8th and 9th Battalions to continue their advance.

When the advance resumed, it was inexorable, as Browne described:

The barrage had stopped for that time and then, when it started, it was time to start moving forwards. You weren’t charging forward. I mean, you weren’t more than a bloody stroll, y’know. There were dugouts and such as that and, whether there was anybody in or not, you either fired a burst in or threw a grenade in. A lot of these Germans, they didn’t know how to give themselves up they were in such a bad state and blokes were just shooting the lot of them down.

Private Corley, Ian English’s batman, still paced out the distance:

After we’d gone about 35 minutes from the first objective, Corley said that by his reckoning we were just about on the objective. So I said ‘Right, we’ll go on about another 200 yards to make certain we are there.’ We realized we must be because the barrage had halted and we came up to it and started to consolidate the position. This was at 0340hrs and the barrage went on till 4 o’clock. The silence when it stopped was absolutely amazing. One thought one had almost got used to this deafening noise. Then it stopped and you could see the stars and the moon and it was a different world.

On their objective, perhaps even a little beyond it, the Durhams attempted to dig in. Their survival until the tanks’ arrival depended upon it.

The advance of 152nd Brigade met less opposition. The men, dressed (unlike the Durhams) in full battledress and each wearing a St Andrew’s Cross made from strips of ‘four-by-two’* on their backs for recognition purposes, went forwards to the sound of bagpipes. Douglas Wimberley recounted:

It was not an easy attack, and George Murray and his Brigade did splendidly. Casualties were by no means light. For instance, 5 Seaforth, whose first attack it was, as they had held the whole start line on the night of the 23rd, lost 12 officers and 165 men. The whole Brigade reached its objective up to time on the instant and began to dig in on the hard ground.

In its wake, two squadrons of armoured cars from the Royal Dragoons succeeded in breaking out to the west to attack supply lines and installations. With 133rd Lorried Infantry Brigade also completing its task on the left of the attack and with heavy losses inflicted on Panzergrenadier-Regiment 115 and 65o Reggimento Fanteria Motorizzata, the infantry awaited 9th Armoured Brigade’s ‘Balaclava charge’. 9th DLI’s Jamie Kennedy wrote:

The armoured might of Brigadier John Currie’s three regiments was something of a façade. Montgomery had ordered on 29 October that it be brought up to full strength, but this was accomplished by supplying repaired and reconditioned tanks as imagined by Guingand. The process had been too rushed and many had mechanical faults. Of seventy-nine Shermans and Grants and fifty-three Crusaders, only a total of ninety-four tanks reached the start line.

The eccentric use of fox hunting terminology was again in evidence, with the brigade assembly and advance referred to as ‘The Meeting of the Grafton Hounds’.26 The tanks encountered various problems in ‘attending the meet’. For one regiment, the approach march was ‘painful’ as ‘the track was narrow and the dust appalling’.27 At 0500hrs Currie requested a half-hour postponement of the attack and supporting barrage because the Warwickshire Yeomanry’s passage of a minefield was delayed. Nevertheless, this regiment, like the Wiltshire Yeomanry and 3rd Hussars, was ready at the original ‘Zero’. However, the revised artillery arrangements meant the attack started at 0615hrs. Len Flanakin, with the Warwickshire Yeomanry, met a horrific sight:

We were in the vanguard of the armour and as we came out of the minefields we fanned out to form a line. I had just witnessed the most gruesome sight I had ever seen in my life. Where the infantry had passed by they had left a tangle of bodies from both sides but the most pathetic sight was that of a Pipe Major in kilt and bagpipes hanging on the barbed wire. We had lost a few tanks in the mines but the remainder of us reached the start line and waited for the signal to advance.

The three regiments used Crusader tanks in front of Grants and Shermans but on the right 3rd Hussars had only three still running. They and the Wiltshires, in the centre, met only slight opposition initially but the Warwickshire Yeomanry, whose path of advance diverged from the other regiments, was engaged early, as Flanakin recounted:

We charged in with dawn not too far off and were soon in action against dug-in tanks and anti-tank guns including the nasty sort, the dreaded 88s. All the tanks by now were fighting their own individual battles and I was too busy to notice anything. The turret was filled full of acrid smoke each time the 75mm ejected a spent cartridge case and another shell had to be pushed in.

Since the battle opened, Lance-Corporal Mick Collins and his team of ‘flying fitters’ had worked flat out to give the Wiltshire Yeomanry tank crews every conceivable combat advantage. Collins described how:

We were doing our damnedest to keep the old Crusaders mobile and in fighting condition. When the crews asked us if we could give them a bit more pep for their engines we were only too glad to oblige. The Nuffield Liberty engine on the Crusaders was fuelled through a ‘Solex’ carburettor that was sealed to limit the speed and revolutions. To appease the tank drivers we broke the seals and adjusted the carburettors to allow maximum revs and the speed increased noticeably. After all, we agreed with the drivers that a good turn of speed is vitally essential when you know there is a distinct possibility of an 88mm shell chasing you with the sole intention of blowing you and your tank apart.

Now the value of applying learning from previous combat experience was revealed:

Our Squadron of Crusaders were able to travel quite smartly when conditions permitted and it was becoming fashionable with some of the lads to indulge in what was termed ‘beetle crushing’. If a Jerry 88mm was being troublesome and was within range the Crusader was driven straight at the gun emplacement and straight over it, thereby inflicting considerable damage to the gun and its crew. This manoeuvre depended entirely on getting in quick before Jerry could loose one off at the Crusader. Now you can appreciate why the drivers wished to have the governors removed from their carburettors. The six-pounders on the Crusaders were a definite improvement on the two-pounder on their previous tanks but even so it is a pity they were not fitted with 75s as on the Shermans.

In fact, some Crusaders in the attack were armed only with the 2-pounder gun. More significantly for their crews’ chances of survival, the artillery barrage, advancing at 100 yards every three minutes, was too slow for these tanks, which depended on speed and manoeuvrability in the absence of thicker armour.32 Those from the Wiltshires, therefore, drove rapidly through the barrage to get onto the Rahman track ahead of the heavy squadrons.

Gliders and “Nuts!”

439th [TCG] [91st TCS] glider taking off for Bastogne resupply 27 December 1944.

The heroic efforts of American forces in action at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge need no retelling. However, few historians give more than a casual mention of the part that gliders and glider pilots played in this important action during late December 1944. Flying their frail aircraft into a hail of enemy flak and ground fire, the glider pilots who participated in this battle carried to the besieged defenders badly needed ammunition and medical supplies that enabled them to hold out and secure the ultimate victory.

Several iconic images and phrases emerged from the Second World War: the raising of the American flag on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima; St Paul’s Cathedral bathed in light through the smoke of nearby burning buildings following a German air raid on London in late December1940; the encouragement of the navy chaplain to his shipmates during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition;’ Winston Churchill’s speech to the British House of Commons, and to the world, that ‘never was so much owed by so many to so few; and General Douglas MacArthur’s declaration following his ordered departure from the Philippines, ‘I shall return.’ But, it is arguable that one of the most famous in this collection of war-time memories for the ages is the response to a demand to the American general, Anthony McAuliffe, that he surrender his garrison of beleaguered troops who, in late December 1944, were holding Bastogne against superior numbers of German forces that surrounded the town. The general’s written response was terse and mystifying to its intended audience: ‘Nuts!’

It was one of the coldest winters in years as Allied soldiers huddled to stay warm and somehow defend a front that stretched for eighty-five miles through the Ardennes forest. And, it was this very combination of foul weather and a thin line of enemy troops that persuaded Hitler to punch through and drive toward the prize of the port of Antwerp. Taking this seaport would shutter the supply line that was bringing men and materiel to the both the British and Americans who had made advances toward the German Siegfried Line.

In the early morning hours of 16 December 1944 the Germans launched a massive offensive of 200,000 troops and columns of Panzer tanks that had been gathering unseen under cover of the forests of the Ardennes. The 83,000 Allied defenders along the Luxembourg and Belgium line were “too thinly dispersed to offer any great resistance against the powerful enemy attack and were forced to fall back.” By 21 December the German advances penetrated through to a depth of nearly sixty miles along a Panzer created thirty mile-wide bulge in the line of Allied defenses.

For fear of losing the gains the Allies had made since the Normandy landings on D-Day, Eisenhower brought in reserve forces including the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions who had only recently been fighting in the Market Garden campaign in Holland. But, by 20 December the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne found themselves surrounded in Bastogne, a transportation center with seven highways and three rail lines spreading out from the village.

Because Bastogne was the key to the road-net not only to the northwest but to southwest and south as well, and since nobody knew for sure at the time which way the Germans wanted to go, the need to hold Bastogne never came into question.

Supply drops to the forces in Bastogne by C-47s from England could hardly be considered a milk run since the weather and fog forced the pilots to fly low and on instruments, easy targets for German gunners on the ground. Although they brought in 300 tons of supplies at a cost of eight planes, what the ground forces needed most was gasoline and ammunition, items not conducive to successful parachute drops.

Also desperately needed were medical supplies and doctors for the more than 400 wounded soldiers, their surgical and care needs unmet as the result of the Germans capture of a field hospital and its doctors and other medical personnel, a clear violation of Geneva Convention. McAuliffe’s Christmas Eve greetings to his troops answered the question many troops in the battered city may have asked: What’s so Merry about this Christmas? We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. And to the German Commander’s proposal that we surrender, my response was, “Nuts!”

On the next day, Christmas, McAuliffe sent an urgent request for glider-delivered combat surgeons, gasoline and ammunition, the highest priority given to the medical teams. The first glider carrying two volunteer medical teams arrived on the 26th after about an hour’s flying time from its base in Étain, France. This flight was soon followed by ten additional gliders carrying additional medical personnel, gasoline and artillery shells.10 Fifteen minutes after the last glider touched down in its LZ, Patton’s first tanks broke through from the south. On the following day, an additional fifty gliders were dispatched from Châteaudun, France to fly to Bastogne, this time meeting heavy ground fire and suffering multiple hits, from anti-aircraft guns and machineguns, rounds ripping through the canvas and pinging off the metal frame, some piercing the Jerry cans of gasoline.

One of the pilots who flew into Bastogne remembers that:

   Orders quickly came for twelve gliders to be loaded with five gallon Jerry cans of gasoline stacked double decked. I was one of the “lucky guys” assigned to fly the gasoline tankers! One tracer bullet and KABOOM! Hey, someone had to do it, and by that time we had all heard about Gen. McAuliffe’s one word reply to the Kraut’s surrender ultimatum: “NUTS!” Our loaded gliders sat on the tarmac a couple of days when word came (that) the Gooney Birds could immediately take off for Bastogne towing our loaded gliders, including my lil ole gasoline tanker. At the moment I really had big time mixed emotions. I really wanted to fly into Bastogne, but I really wasn’t all that excited about flying that gasoline tanker.

Another pilot recalls that:

The timing of the arrival was good. The sun had already set and the moon had not yet risen. We came in between five and six hundred feet which meant the enemy had difficulty in getting our range. Every glider landed with nearly all gasoline intact, although some of the cans of gasoline had been pierced by small-arms fire, none, fortunately, had been hit by incendiary bullets.’

McAuliffe and the 101st Airborne got a monumental amount of well-deserved glory as did Patton and his 4th Armored Division for breaking through the Krauts to relieve Bastogne. But the volunteer combat glider pilots who flew into Bastogne received very little, if any, recognition for what they did, and no glory at all! But ask the troopers of the 101st whose gas tanks were empty and who were running out of ammunition and ask those medics who were in desperate need of medical supplies and they would tell you how they felt about those “unknown pilots” who wore the silver “G” wings.

And in the final analysis, isn’t it the thanks and admiration of your fellow soldiers that matter most? Isn’t it satisfaction enough to know that you had been responsible for saving the lives of some of your comrades by flying in teams of medical personnel, and that you were just ‘doing your job?’

During the Battle of the Bulge, two supply operations were flown with gliders; 11 were dispatched on 26 December 1944, 50 were sent on the 27th. Sixteen pilots of the 72 sent out were reported as missing in action, one was wounded, none were killed.

The Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne, Operation Repulse—the battles fought here were bloody and muddy. It was miserably cold, and it cost thousands of lives. The campaign:

… which delayed the Rhineland Campaign for six weeks secured no major terrain objectives for either side. The Germans who had employed some of their best remaining units, lost nearly 250,000 men, 600 tanks and assault guns, and about 1,600 airplanes. The Allies suffered 72,000 casualties.

A correspondent for the U.S. serviceman’s magazine, Yank, reported the grizzly side of the conflict at the Battle of the Bulge:

The Ardennes campaign was more than a fight against the strongest German attack we had faced since the early days in Normandy. It was also a fight against almost daily snowstorms in near sub-zero temperatures and face-freezing winds which doubled the difficulty of rolling back the German advance.

     We learned a lot about winter warfare in the Ardennes. Some of it was learned the hard way, by frostbitten hands and feet, pneumonia, and even death by freezing. Besides physical difficulties, there was the added trouble of frozen weapons, equipment, and even food.

     … (D)own the street is a US Army hospital, formerly a Belgian schoolhouse, which was evacuated this morning. The wounded and sick who slept there last night are now in ambulances and trucks, bouncing over that road which has just been bombed … Our jeep stalls beside a bomb crater on the right side of the road … in the muddy crater are two American bodies and an abandoned stretcher. They had been pushed off the road so that the passing vehicles would not run them over. An Army blanket covers each corpse. Beside one body is a helmet with a medic’s red cross painted on it. There is a hole drilled clean through it.

The Battle of Cromdale, 1690 Part I

The second year of the campaign began with dissension in the Jacobite camp; a not uncommon state of affairs for any force without a clear leader and command hierarchy, especially one that has suffered military defeat and has not received the promised support in terms of men and money.

To exacerbate matters, there were some minor losses at the year’s onset. Lieutenant Colonel Mackrigour, ‘one of the greatest Robber and Plunderers’ was taken by Kilmarnock’s Horse. Cannon wrote to Mackay to tell him that this man must be treated well or he would cause 10 of his own prisoners to die. Meanwhile, Laird Macknel of Colloughie submitted with 30 men. There were two reported minor attempts to take government-held towns in January. One hundred Jacobites attacked Aberdeen, but in the fighting they lost 20 men dead and 15 taken, the government losing eight men killed. A planned Jacobite attack on Inverness at the end of January by Colin Mackenzie with 200-300 men was discovered and so was repulsed, with some of the attackers being killed or captured.

Hopes for – and promised – support from Ireland and France were largely disappointed. On 8 February three ships arrived from the former, bringing a number of officers: Colonels Buchan, Maxwell, Wauchop and others. The Earl of Seaforth, a Catholic Highland nobleman, came in the spring, but ‘brought nothing with him butt Letters and Commissions to the Chiefs: Cameron had written to James in a letter of 14 February to ask for supplies, and the reply, dated from Dublin on 31 March, was as ever optimistic. James, after explaining that the delay was due to the difficulty in transporting horses, stated that the French fleet was there and so ‘Now, we shall take all necessary measures, and loose as little time as we can in executing them: As always, though, no immediate help, was forthcoming, and so James urged his followers in Scotland to keep the faith, as he knew from experience that they had in the past, stressed how they had risked much for him and that he was convinced that Providence would be with them. Yet there were some crumbs from their master’s table. On 18 January, James sent £900 to Buchan, of which £300 was earmarked for Cannon, £100 to Purcell and the remainder for the Irish troops in Scotland.

The chiefs held a council of war after receiving such letters. Present were Seaforth, Generals Buchan and Cannon, Colonel Brown and others, as to how to conduct the year’s campaign. Apparently ‘they were generally so enraged at finding themselves disappointed of the relief they expected of men, arms and other provisions of war, that many proposed to offer their submissions to King William, upon terms which they were then very sure to obtain: They recalled their losses which had reduced some to poverty, they cited the imminent garrisons planned for subduing the Highlands and expected nothing but ruin by Scotland being ‘the seat of a bloody war’ and that it was therefore best to come to terms in order to save what they could from the wreckage.

Others went further and accused James of leaving them to their mutual enemy and that it was madness to continue supporting him. They thought that it must be easy to ‘waft over some thousands of the Irish: James was blamed for neglecting his own affairs and for ignoring his ministers. Therefore, ‘it was now high time for them to look to themselves, and to observe the first principles of nature, which was self-preservation: Many present subscribed to such sentiments. The laird of Glenmoriston told Livingstone he wished to come to terms.

These sentiments were not universally held. Sir Donald MacDonaId, Sir John MacLean and the Captain of Clanranald all declared their continued adherence to James. Cameron then delivered a major speech. He said that what he had already heard from many was shocking. That they had ‘renounced their duty and allegiance, as well as the respect they owed to the majesty of their Sovereign’ was disgraceful. He wondered whether they had been deceived by their enemies. He claimed that he would support their legitimate sovereign as long as he was able to as he was their lawfully anointed. He reminded them of James’ pledges of support and future rewards. He spoke at length and ‘After this discourse, which was delivered with great warmth and zeale, none present had the assurance to speake any more of peace: Buchan was appointed as commander-in-chief until that year’s general rendezvous. He encouraged waverers with promises of French aid in the way of supplies to look forward to.

Glengarry received a letter of encouragement from James, written on 1 April: ‘Wee need not therefore exhort you to the continuance of your Endeavours for us, since wee have it from all hands that none is more earnest and zealous . . . how intent we are upon helping you out of your present difficulties:

Yet all was not well with their enemies, either. Mackay was also despondent and had lobbied to be sent to Holland at the year’s beginning, but William wanted him to remain in Scotland ’till the things were further settled: Meanwhile in January 1690, Mackay had further orders to reduce the number of units in the Scottish establishment from 10 to seven regiments of infantry, losing Mar’s, Bargany’s and Blantyre’s, and to disband 12 troops of horse and dragoons. Mackay thought that the reduction in cavalry was folly for there was ‘the necessity of a considerable body of horse and dragoons, without which it was impossible to secure the authority of the government in the north: Instructions came from the court dated 4 January to disband others, too. If there were insufficient funds to maintain regiments, then the number ofcompanies in each should be reduced. The troopers in Annandale’s and Ross’ cavalry were to be distributed among the remaining cavalry troops to make their numbers up to the establishment strength; any remaining were to be discharged. Mackay also noted the instructions from the court to put Leven, ‘tho’ but a colonel and a youth without service’ on an equal footing with him and deemed that this was ‘a token of His Majesty’s mistrust of him’, but avoided showing his displeasure.

The extent of the suggested troop reduction was ameliorated. Mackay, Leven and Major General Munro wrote to the King that the retention of the cavalry was essential for the security of Scotland. The infantry loss was also softened for the men of the disbanded regiments formed a new regiment, Cunningham’s, and the remainder made up a company in each of the other seven regiments.

Mackay wanted Captain John Hill of Leven’s regiment to be appointed as adjutant general. Mackay had no one in this role and he stated that it was necessary in order to distribute orders, muster troops and have the cavalry made useful for service. Such work would greatly assist Mackay in bringing the war to a swift resolution.

Arms, ammunition and uniforms were also insufficient at the beginning of the year. The Privy Council requested 3,000 muskets with ammunition on 10 January. On 1 April they asked for new uniforms for Mackay’s, Ramsay’s and Lauder’s regiments. Beveridge’s regiment was poorly armed because the men had muskets of different calibre; perhaps a mix of matchlocks and flintlocks. Yet in other ways, the condition of the troops at the year’s onset was good. They were being paid out of English resources and were mostly up to strength ‘and in good order’. Mackay also ordered six three-pounders for use in the field, but there is no evidence they ever fired a shot in anger.

Mackay’s policy was to have towns, cities and other places garrisoned to deny them to the Jacobites and to restrict supplies available to the Jacobites. The Castle of Erchless, to the south-west of Inverness, belonging to Chisholm of Strathglass, was garrisoned by Lieutenant Colonel Lumstone with seven companies of Strathmore’s regiment, for example. Expeditions were sent to attack and capture Jacobites. On 1 March Captain John Hay of Livingstone’s Horse, at Banff took suspected Jacobites at Lord Oliphanfs house at Bachlen. At the end of the month, Livingstone sent horse and dragoons to Strathglass, killing and capturing Jacobites there, and taking some cattle to Inverness.

The first prong of Mackay’s strategy was to have a garrisoned fort in the West Highlands, an issue which he had raised in the previous year. He later wrote ‘the only formidable rebels then in the kingdom might be subdued by placing a garrison in Innerlochy: This meant ships, boats, spades, shovels and pickaxes and frigates to convoy them there. Yet delays occurred, due to the overriding precedence claimed by William’s expedition to Ireland and the Scottish government lacking money. It was not until March that such necessaries could be supplied. Mackay met members of the Privy Council and gave them an account of what he had requested to the court.

Feeling that the Privy Council would be unreceptive to his plan, he suggested to them that troops be transported along the coast to prevent any of the Islanders from reinforcing the Jacobites on the mainland. Paying for war was difficult: the Lords of the Treasury supplying £600, but this was inadequate given ‘so great was the disorder and poverty of the government: Glasgow was zealous for the cause and made up the shortfall in funding.

Fort William was thus established. It had three six-pounders, six three pounders with 130 balls, and a dozen culverins, with 20 balls each. There were also 800 grenades. However, instead of 1 ,200 men in the garrison as planned, there were only 900 allocated, which was further reduced by desertions. The palisade was weak. On 21 July, Hill wrote of the Jacobites, ‘they stir not yet but come not in.

Secondly, part of Mackay’s strategy to defeat the Jacobites was to send the newly promoted Major Jacob Ferguson of Lauder’s regiment, with 600 men to be shipped at Greenock and for Captain Edward Pottinger of HMS Dartmouth with other ships, to work together against the Jacobites of the Western Islands. They were to ‘resolve and do every thing unanimously and with one accord: Pottinger was to have the final word on seaborne matters, Ferguson to have the lead as to landing troops and in land-based operations.

The aim was stated by Mackay in his instructions to Ferguson:

The main desseyn of this detachment being to make a diversion, allarme the rebel coasts, cut their communication with the Islanders now in rebellion against their Majesties authoritie, and to take away or burn all their boats and berlins whether on the Isles or along the coasts of the rebelles upon firme land: the Major is to undertake nothing as to landing but upon visible and apparent advantages and humane assurance of success.

Mackay added that although this was to be done ‘with all the rigour of military executions, such as shall continue obstinate in their rebellion, with this proviso, that women and children be not touched or wronged in their persons.

There were difficulties and delays. Ferguson had to wait five weeks for the provisions for his expedition. Meanwhile, Mackay broadcast his plans for Ferguson, though stating that he had far more men than was the case in reality, in order that numbers accruing to Cannon and Buchan would be reduced. According to Mackay, the Jacobites, instead of supplying 4,000- 5,000 men, only 700-800 were sent out with Buchan. Thus ‘the gross of the rebels, particularly such as dwelt near the sea with the inhabitants of the isles stayed at home to guard their country against the frigates, with Ferguson’s detachment, at the every noise whereof they were very much terrified.

Ferguson’s raiding, assisted with help from the Campbells, resulted in property belonging to Jacobites in Mull being destroyed. Castle Duart, stronghold of the MacLeans, was left alone. However, inhabitants of Kintyre and Mull yielded by early June.

If Ferguson thought that with 300-400 men he might master the Isle of Mull, he was to contact the laird of Ardkinglas, sheriff depute of Argyllshire, who was then to assist him with ‘the most resolute and best armed men of the shire’ (later that year 600 Argyllshire militia aided his troops). Generally, boats held by the Jacobites were the main target for without them they would be unable to assist their allies on the mainland with men or provisions. Men swearing allegiance to their Majesties and delivering their weapons were to be protected but their chiefs had to surrender themselves to Ferguson in person. The major also had to keep his men under control or else punish them. MacLeod, though he had not declared his open allegiance to their Majesties, was to be assured of protection once Ferguson was on the coast.

From May to October there were three ships cruising off the north-west of Scotland. These were HMS Dartmouth, a 32 gun frigate with a crew of 135 men under Pottinger. Then there was the smaller Larke, a sixth-rate frigate of 1 8 guns and 85 men under Captain Andrew Douglass. Finally there was the Fanfan, of two guns and 30 men under Richard Finch. There were at least 500-600 Jacobites on Mull near the castle Duart to oppose them.

Initially the two larger ships focussed their attention on Islay. On 19 May they landed troops there, on different sides of the islands. Pottinger’s and Captain James Hackett’s detachments had orders to ‘burne and destroy those rebels, and [the latter] did accordingly land 30 men: The Lark sent another 19 soldiers ashore. Four prisoners were taken. On the next day they were at Mull. Captain Robert Mackay took 200 sailors and soldiers ashore to march to Castle Boy, ‘they having sett severall towns afire’ by nightfall. On the following day, further towns were burnt and boats were destroyed. In the remainder of the month and in June, the ships landed men to destroy further boats and houses and to make prisoners, destroying ‘such as fall in their way:

Pottinger wrote ‘glowing’ reports on Ferguson’s effectiveness. On 19 June, whilst cruising off Mull, he wrote:

Major Ferguson, his men, ships and boats, done the best service wee were capable of, by burning & destroying the severall islands & houses, boats, cattle &c. of such as are in actuall Rebellion. To be particular would be too tedious to yo. Hon., tho’ on some islands the souldiers have scarce a beast, nor a hutt to shelter in.

Pottinger noted, following Mackay’s orders, that he had given instructions that the men had been ‘strictly charged not to molest’ women and children. Yet his initial incursions had been resisted. The MacLeans, Glengarrys and Camerons ‘continue as obstinate as Jews’ but ‘which in good time I hope shall be reduc’t: Ferguson lost a dozen men in his expeditions, mostly by straggling. One man had been caught by the Jacobites and hanged ‘most barbarously.

The Fanfan, on 20 June, landed a Captain Piercy Kirk of the Queen Consort’s Foot and 50 soldiers on an unnamed island, after firing from the ship at Jacobites on the shore. The raiding party killed three Jacobites and the rest fled to the mountains. No losses were incurred by the soldiers. On the following day the ship fired at people on the shore of the Isle of Mull.

Sir Donald MacDonald’s son sought terms with Ferguson by early July, but his father objected to such a surrender. This led to his house ‘the prettiest house in the Highlands of Scotland’ being reduced to ‘flames and ashes: The Dartmouth, a half mile away, fired ‘betwixt 3 and 400 shott’ at it before men landed to finish the job, ‘what my guns could not batter down: Pottinger, writing on 31 July, considered that his expedition had been a success, for it had ‘kept ye clans of these islands from joining: who could have brought in a body above 3,000 men to have joined Buchan and Cannon. The apprehension they concerned of our landing, kept each of them to preserve their own self interest’.

Yet for Pottinger, this success would come, ultimately, at a very high price. The expedition was not without loss, apart from those men already referred to. On 18 September Fanfan’s captain learnt that the Dartmouth had been lost at sea in Collander Bay. Only five men and one boy had been saved. Pottinger was dead. Colonel Hill wrote, ’tis a very great loss.

Thirdly, Mackay ordered Livingstone, who had been at Aberdeen and Inverness since August 1689, to march north with his dragoon regiment for he knew the country, the people and the latter’s intention better than any other. Mackay gave him varying instructions dependent on the intelligence he received from Livingstone.

On 6 February, Mackay wrote an upbeat letter to Melville, assuring him that ‘no man serves his interest with lesse regard to his owne than I doe: He added, ‘I question not but with Gods assistance, to be able to give a good account of the Highland rebellion before the end of Appril: His difficulties, though were a lack of experienced officers as subordinates who could hold independent commands and advance notice of supplies sent northwards.

Fighting was occurring on a low level. At the end of March, two troops of horse and two of dragoons, along with a few infantry, were besieging Castle Glendaleth. There was firing on both sides, but the besiegers could not enter. Captain Charles Dundas of the Royal Regiment of Foot was killed, ‘being over forward with two or three mor ofye dragoons, and a few wounded of ye Foot: They then retreated on hearing that 500 Highlanders were on their way.

Meanwhile in the north of Scotland on 22 April, Livingstone, having recovered from the illness that had afflicted him in February, heard that there were Jacobites at Mackintosh’s house at Aberarder, Strathearn, which was 15 miles from Inverness. With 1 ,000 infantry, four troops of horse and some dragoons, with artillery, moved to attack them. The Jacobites retreated when they were within six miles of them. Ramsay’s and Angus’ regiments were to march to join Livingstone, but on hearing there was a Jacobite threat to Montrose, returned there.

Mackay’s plans were known about by the Jacobites and apparently, ‘the very noise of it occasioned such alarm among the rebels: Buchan, as the senior major general to Cannon, took over command of the Jacobite army. According to Balcarres, the plan was for him ‘to go down to the borders of the low country, to amuse the enemy and fatigue their troops by allaruming them in severall of their quarters.

He asked the clans to supply him with 100 men each (on 18 March Cluny of MacPherson was asked for 200 men) and had 1,200-1,500 men with him; the low numbers due to the attacks on the West as already noted. He hoped to collect more supporters before marching to the Lowlands. At the end of March they marched from Keppoch to Kilwinny at the end of Loch Ness. By the middle of April, they were in Strathspey and remained on the north bank for 10 days; Balcarres writing that instead of taking action as discussed, he ‘continued there without doing anything: He was advised to quarter his men in the woods of Glenlochy ‘where they could not be attacked but under great disadvantage, yet he would not hearken to this advice: Instead he put his men in the villages near Cromdale, ‘though all the clans positively protested against that march’. Two hundred men led by Grant and Brody were sent to guard the fords over the Spey, and apparently they ‘were so well posted that they might have stopt the enemy from crossing that great river: They would have known that their enemies were at Inverness and so the danger was from the north.

Passchendaele 1917

The Start of the Attack

The attack on the Wytschaete-Messines ridge was a limited ‘bite and hold’ operation designed to clear the southern flank of the forthcoming Third Battle of Ypres. Messines was meticulously planned by General Herbert Plumer, who had taken to heart the key lesson of the Somme, that careful rehearsal and comprehensive planning were even more important than massive artillery bombardments. Plumer kept a firm personal grip on every possible aspect of his operation, from the barrage plan to the co-ordination of the mines, and from the water supply to the new backpacks used to take supplies to the front. The Australian general John Monash once famously said that trench warfare was ‘simply a problem of engineering’, and the battle of Messines, at which he was present as a division commander, was doubtless the sort of thing that he had in mind.

Plumer certainly believed in overkill, with some three million shells being fired during the two-week preliminary bombardment that was designed not only to break the Germans’ wire, but even to starve out their front-line infantry by preventing supplies being moved up to them from the rear. Then these supposedly starved troops would be blown sky-high by the simultaneous detonation of massive interlocking mines. The effects of the shock waves were to be multiplied as they rebounded off each other, and in the event as many as some 10,000 Germans were killed. The explosion could be heard in London, 130 miles away. Then a comprehensive creeping barrage began immediately and the attacking infantry captured the crest of the ridge along the whole of the attack frontage, at small loss. Casualties slowly mounted as the Germans gathered their wits and launched counter-attacks during the following days, complete with ground attack aircraft, but overall the battle had been a remarkable demonstration of Plumer’s tactical virtuosity.

Unfortunately the same could not be said of the early stages of the next battle, which was to be a much larger offensive out of the Ypres salient and Nieuport. One of the problems was that the operation had multiple aims, the incongruous first of which was to help the Royal Navy by capturing enemy naval bases on the Belgian coast. A major bridgehead across the mouth of the Yser Canal was to be set up opposite Nieuport, from which a drive on Ostend and Zeebrugge could be launched in conjunction with amphibious landings. However, while the bridgehead was still garrisoned by only one brigade, the Germans very cleverly counter-attacked and wiped it out. It soon became clear that the whole coastal wing of the British offensive would have to be abandoned. If Ostend were to be captured at all, it would have to be taken by an overland thrust of almost thirty miles due north from the Ypres salient, rather than the ten miles north-east from Nieuport. This was, of course, very much further than had been achieved by any offensive on the Western Front since 1914. Even if the rail junction north of Roulers (Roeselare) were accepted as a compromise or intermediate target, it was still twelve miles northeast from Ypres, and in a divergent direction.

As if this confusion were not bad enough, a number of other conflicting aims were also jostling for attention. One was the tactical consideration that the best way to clear the Germans away from the Ypres area was to capture the Gheluvelt plateau to the east of the city, in the direction of Menin, which was commanding high ground. Thus Haig found he had three possible directions for his thrust – towards Ostend, Roulers or Menin – which was of course no more than the logical result of starting in a salient where the enemy occupied almost three out of the four points of the compass.

It was certainly Haig’s duty to select one out of the three possible directions for his attack, and explain clearly to his subordinates exactly what the aim was intended to be. Alas, he failed to do either, but retreated into veiled talk of secret ‘higher considerations’ which prevented him from explaining his master plan. This has often been taken as a reference to the need to draw German attention away from the French mutinies, at a time when he felt he could not state out loud that they actually existed, in the same way that the Somme had relieved the pressure on Verdun in 1916. Modern research apparently rejects this interpretation of both 1916 and 1917, although of course Haig always saw it as his duty to fight alongside his French allies. Linked to all this, in Haig’s mind there must also have been some sort of theory of attrition, or ‘putting pressure on the Germans’, which in turn implied ‘seeking to fight frontal battles with as many of them as possible’, thereby ‘killing as many of them as possible’. This, of course, was a totally different objective from the idea of making a clean and deep breakthrough to Ostend, or Roulers, or across the Gheluvelt plateau. In all his battles Haig invariably retained some ultimate faith in at least the possibility of such a breakthrough, although he never actually managed to achieve one. In the particular case of Third Ypres it meant that he appointed the cavalryman Gough to command the major part of the battle, while Plumer, the more methodical expert in ‘bite and hold’ operations, was left in a secondary role.

There were thus considerable uncertainties within Haig’s planning staff. In which direction should they attack, and should they go for a breakthrough or a limited objective? In the event an ingenious compromise was agreed, whereby a whole series of ‘bite and hold’ attacks would be mounted in quick succession, hopefully at three-day intervals, until perhaps a final decisive breakthrough might be achieved. As for the direction, it was optimistically believed that because the attack frontage would be so long, and the attacking troops so numerous, all the various different objectives could be captured, and so every point of the compass could be covered. It might even be said, with the benefit of hindsight, that if only the battle had started a month earlier, and if only the weather gods had bestowed a little bit more luck upon it, it just might have worked.

Behind all this, however, is the much darker question of why Haig should have chosen to fight at Ypres at all. Even if we accept that he absolutely had to fight a major battle somewhere – to relieve the French or even to make a breakthrough all the way to Berlin – we are still free to question his precise choice of battlefield. His battles around Arras had only just finished in May, so we can understand why he might not have wished to return to the charge in that particular area. Nor had he personally any good memories of the sector facing Lille, between Vimy and Armentieres. Conversely, however, he must surely have treasured warm memories of his own personal triumph at the first (defensive) battle of Ypres in 1914. For Douglas Haig himself, the Ypres salient must have seemed almost like a benign environment, even though it was a notoriously malevolent one for those who had to actually live in it. Not only was it surrounded and overlooked on three sides by the enemy, and especially by his artillery, but it was a notoriously damp and muddy site in its own right. It had already won a particularly evil reputation among the rank and file of the BEF during Haig’s first battle in 1914, which was not at all improved by the frightening German use of gas in the second battle in 1915.

There was, however, another potential site for the great midsummer offensive of 1917, which with today’s hindsight we can suggest would have been considerably better than Ypres. This was the Cambrai sector, to the south of Arras, where the British were not in a salient and where the well-drained ground had not been churned up by years of shell fire. Admittedly it was a sector in which the Germans were especially well fortified in their new Hindenburg Line, but they were extremely well fortified at Ypres too, so maybe there was no significant disadvantage in that respect. As it happens, Cambrai would be the scene of a dramatic British success on 20 November, but by that time too many of the available resources had already been consumed in the Ypres salient. The Cambrai battle – really it should be called little more than a ‘raid’ – could not be sustained for more than ten days. We may speculate that if only the main weight of the BEF had been deployed to Cambrai in midsummer, the overall level of success might have been very much higher than it actually was.

The reality, however, was that Haig had committed himself un- shakeably to Ypres as the site of his main battle of 1917. Ideally it should have started very soon after the preliminaries at Messines in early June, but in fact it was delayed, for a variety of reasons, for over a month. The bombardment did not start until 18 July, at which point the Germans sprang their first nasty surprise, in the form of a counter-battery bombardment using their new blistering agent, mustard gas. The British artillery had to struggle against this horror at the same time as it was trying to suppress the German artillery, so naturally its efficiency was reduced. Finally the infantry went over the top on 31 July.

The first ‘bite and hold’ operation went very well over ground that had been thoroughly prepared by the artillery. However, it was found that the Germans had very strong positions in great depth, including many concrete bunkers, and it was only their forward outposts that had been captured. Then it began to rain, and the rain did not stop before the battlefield had been turned into a total quagmire. The preparations for the second ‘bite’ were delayed, and it turned out to be far less decisive than the first. The artillery could not move forward as quickly as planned; the tanks bogged down unless they stuck to the roads; many of the infantry weapons became jammed with mud, and the Germans were remorseless in their counter-attacks. The initial optimism for a rapid advance started to fade away. As the days ticked by criticisms of Gough’s methods began to mount, until at the end of August Haig eventually restricted the frontage for which he was responsible, and brought in Plumer to impose the strict organization and planning that had served him so well at Messines.

Plumer Takes Over

At this point the rain stopped and the sun once again began to shine, but for the next three weeks the British were unable to exploit the dry weather. Plumer was reorganizing the assault forces, so the offensive was temporarily halted. It resumed on 20 September in grand style, with a succession of three textbook ‘bite and hold’ attacks, culminating at Broodseinde on 4 October. Of particular note was the inability of the German counter-attacks to make progress against the massive weight of British artillery fire. Whatever tactics the Germans attempted to employ, they appeared to be powerless in the face of this dominant arm. It was exactly how Haig’s battle had been supposed to run in late June, and British spirits rose just as German optimism dissolved. However, it was now autumn moving into winter, and the rains began again, never to relent. In the long weeks after the heady success of Broodseinde the battlefield reverted to a heavily cratered bog, in which men could easily drown if they strayed away from the all too few duckboard paths. Depression and frustration set in as even the most normal operations became practically impossible. The Gheluvelt plateau was never totally captured, although the village of Passchendaele, at its summit, was captured by Canadian troops on 6 November, after which the whole operation was soon closed down. The allies had got nowhere near either Roulers or Ostend, and the cavalry Corps de Chasse had long ago been sent back to its stables.

The name ‘Passchendaele’ has entered the English language and consciousness as a symbol of the same type of futile sacrifice as was perceived to have occurred on the Somme a year earlier. However, in this case there were some added horrors which seemed to make the whole experience even worse. The most obvious was the rain and the all-pervasive mud, which the British public soon came to understand in a very vivid manner when the photographs were published after the war. The moonscape of shell craters filled with water, and devoid of all vegetation, made a very powerful impression. The very name ‘Passchendaele’ is itself resonant of squelching through deep, slimy mire.

Less well understood were some of the other horrors that were seen for the first time in this battle. Mustard gas was the first, and it was probably the nastiest gas of the entire war. The systematic use of concrete pillboxes by the Germans might be seen as another, in the sense that they made it much harder than previously to knock out or neutralize an enemy machine gun post. A third horror, widely noted in the memoirs of participants, was what in modern parlance is called ‘the deep battle’, or the ability to reach deep behind enemy lines with firepower delivered by artillery and aircraft. Before Third Ypres the troops knew that they were almost totally safe from attack as soon as they had moved a couple of miles back from the front line. In the second half of 1917, however, this could no longer be relied upon. In particular the techniques of night bombing had become more advanced. Soldiers sleeping ten miles behind the front now found they were likely to be woken up, and perhaps even killed, by air raids. At the same time truly long-range artillery was available in ever increasing numbers and on the British side, at least, the science of first-round accuracy (‘predicted fire’) was being perfected for its use.

Many different sub-sciences had to be brought together before a gun could be relied upon to hit its target with its first shot. The weather had to be studied at every altitude through which the shell would travel. The firing characteristics of each individual gun had to be exactly known, especially since they were constantly changing as the barrel wore out. Each batch of shells was also subtly different from every other batch, and these differences had to be fully understood if their line of flight was to be predicted. Precise and detailed mapping was especially vital, to establish the locations of both the firing gun and its target. To achieve this it was necessary to set up a vast network of aircraft taking photographs of the terrain on a daily basis; laboratories to process and interpret the photographs; workshops to convert the data into an accurately surveyed set of maps; and finally a printing and distribution system to get the maps to the guns and the tactical air photos to the infantry. During some operations new sets of maps and photographs had to be issued daily, as the situation on the ground kept changing. There was also a need for certain specialized techniques for locating enemy gun batteries, such as flash spotting or sound ranging. All this was enormously more sophisticated than anything that had been known before the war, and it amounted to a significant step forward in the ‘art of war’.

Apart from anything else, the new artillery techniques meant that guns no longer needed to be pre-registered by the lengthy old methods of trial and error. In the past, this prolonged process had always given away the presence of the guns many days before an attack was launched, which in turn was a key intelligence indicator that an attack was imminent. An attacker was unable to achieve surprise, however well he might camouflage the build-up of his troops, so the defender had every opportunity to concentrate his reserves at the key point. With the new techniques of ‘predicted fire’, by contrast, the guns needed to support an attack could be kept hidden and silent right up to the moment when the infantry climbed out of its trenches and began its assault. The enemy could be kept in total ignorance of the impending offensive until about two minutes before it arrived on his forward positions.

This represented a revolution in tactics, which came to be understood by the British high command soon after the battle of Third Ypres had begun. Obviously by that stage it was already far too late to achieve surprise at Ypres itself, but General Byng, commanding the Third Army further to the south, realized that he had an ideal opportunity to do so on his frontage facing Cambrai. He devised a plan of attack, based around a surprise artillery bombardment using ‘predicted fire’. Tanks were not originally part of this plan, as many have subsequently claimed, but they were added only later as an afterthought, to help crush the wire. The attack was carefully prepared in total secrecy during the first three weeks of November, and achieved total surprise when it was finally unleashed in the dawn mists of 20 November.

Despite the great strength of the Hindenburg Line defences, the assault troops rolled forward in splendid style. Most of the German artillery was knocked out almost instantly by accurate long-range fire; the wire was crushed under the tracks of some 378 tanks, and the infantry quickly occupied the enemy’s front-line trenches. Only in front of Flesquières, in the second line of defence, did the attack encounter stiff resistance. The leading tanks had the misfortune to encounter a specialist battery that had been trained in anti-tank tactics, and were shot to pieces as they climbed up the slope. For all their strengths and shock value, Flesquières demonstrated that tanks were far from invulnerable to enemy fire, and in fact during the day as a whole no fewer than sixty-five were knocked out. A further 114 were immobilized by mechanical problems or bogging, so the attrition rate was running at around 50 per cent per day of combat. Another major problem was that the build-up of carbon monoxide and petrol fumes within each tank, especially when combined with motion sickness, severely limited the time its crew could continue in action. Six hours was a very good average; eight hours was absolutely heroic. When advancing carefully over a broken and complicated battlefield, this factor greatly restricted the distance a tank could advance in a day from its starting point, which would itself necessarily be some way behind the infantry’s start line. In the case of Cambrai some tanks managed to advance as far as five miles into enemy territory on 20 November, but many more went much less far.

In the conditions of the Great War the tank could never possibly be considered a weapon of breakthrough. It had very limited range and speed, not to mention many other important tactical limitations. What it achieved at Cambrai was a great political triumph, in that at long last there were hundreds of tanks on the battlefield, rather than just a few dozens, and the progress made on 20 November was spectacular in the context of the Western Front. The church bells were rung in Britain upon receipt of the news, and the ‘myth of the tank’ entered the popular consciousness. The future of tank development and funding, which had been controversial ever since Bullecourt in April, was assured. The responsibility for making a breakthrough nevertheless remained firmly where it had always resided – with the horsed cavalry.

On 20 November it was the cavalry that was supposed to break through ‘to the green fields beyond’, and ultimately capture Cambrai itself. However the wide St Quentin Canal lay across the path of their intended advance, and by the time they got there only one rickety bridge remained. Some of the cavalry got across and established a bridgehead; but the whole impetus of their forward charge had been wrecked. The Germans were granted time to bring up reinforcements and make a fight of it after all. This meant that the successes of the first day, which had certainly been great, would lead to no breakthrough but only a new round of attritional trench warfare. It became focused on Bourlon Wood, a hill feature overlooking the whole battlefield from the north. The British finally took it on 23 November, only to lose it again on the 27th. At this stage of the battle Byng had run out of reserves, since his operation had only ever been conceived on a relatively small scale when compared with the major offensive that had just finished at Ypres. Indeed, he now found he had perilously few troops left to defend the ground he had won.

The Germans duly exploited the British weakness by mounting two major counter-attacks on 30 November, of which the one towards the south-east flank of the British salient was particularly effective. Much of the ground captured on the 20th was retaken and the balance of casualties, which had previously been heavily in favour of the British, was restored almost to equality. For the British it made a disappointing end to a battle that had started so well. For the Germans it demonstrated that in favourable circumstances they could still land well-prepared offensive blows with infantry spearheads following a hurricane bombardment. At Ypres the British artillery had been too strong and the terrain too broken for this tactic to work; but at Cambrai it worked well and pointed the way to a series of successful offensives in spring 1918. Nevertheless, the overall result at Cambrai was something of a drawn match. The breakthrough that had eluded tacticians in 1916 thus continued to elude them right to the end of 1917.

Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive I

Major-General Wilhelm Sebastian von Belling’s campaign Pomerania in 1761 against the Swedes.

At the Northern Front, the Campaign 1761 had been a more involved one than usual, for the most part. The Prussian posts at the start of the campaign were: at Anklam, stood Major Alexander Friedrich Knobelsdorf, with three companies; at Demmin, Lieutenant Colonel Golz was present with I. Battalion of Hordt; at Reubnitz, stood Captain Thilling with a squadron of horse. During the opening course of this campaign, a reinforcement of about 6,000 men were dispatched to join the Swedish forces already facing the bluecoats. In the last week of June, General Lantinghausen, fed up with the frustrations of field charge of the Swedish arms, threw up his command in favor of General Ehrensvard. The new formations were being assimilated meanwhile into the existing army in Swedish Pomerania. The strengthened force, gaining confidence, began to press Belling back although Henry had sent a detachment to the aid of Belling. In the latter part of the campaign, Belling and General Stutterheim were able not only to hold their own but did finally compel the intruders to retire back into their home regions in Swedish Pomerania.

At the commencement of the campaign, Belling was careful to keep his limited forces of Prussians (approximately 3,000 strong) deployed where they could do the most good. A single squadron of the Belling Hussars, led by Captain von Thilling, was put up at Reubnitz, while Knobelsdorf was at Anklam, and other forces at Demmin.

Ehrensvard forthwith ordered his forces divided into three full columns, to advance. The general himself, taking some 4,000 Swedes (including about 600 hussars), marched past Loitz, detaching in the process a roving vanguard, led by Lt.-Col. Hierta, which barged into the retreating Free Corps of Hordt over by Kleitzer-Mühle. The bluecoats could not stand firm, and they promptly fell back, leaving behind some 165 men as prisoners. Belling responded by deploying his forces to shield his two supply depots. About the same time, General Lybecker led a body of men over the Trebel, where the force joined up with Hessenstein and moved on Vurchen. An isolated charge was unleashed which rode down Lybecker’s forward most elements but was subsequently checked by the main body of the Swedish force (July 20). Meanwhile, Ehrensvard ordered a concentration at Demmin of his forces, while simultaneously he began to threaten the pivotal Prussian arsenal at Malchin. Belling reacted to the Swedish marches by almost insensibly tending towards Nauendorf. Early on July 28, with little fanfare, the bluecoats crashed into the enemy lines over by Breest and Spantekow.

Ehrensvard forthwith pulled back, while a second, separate Prussian effort was launched from Stettin over by Űecker. But the Swedes held the line, and Belling withdrew as July closed out over by Friedland. July 30, the Swedes tried to break across the Tollense River near Breest and Friedland. Although these attempts were repelled, a more successful effort affected a crossing at Klempenow, but a bluecoat force under Knobelsdorf’s direction took cover at a nearby farm and opened such a bitter fire upon the local enemy they were finally compelled to withdraw.

The next day, Belling moved through the Kavelpasse, where he immediately encountered a Swedish force of about 150 horse under Major Schwartze. An initial Swedish success led to a furious counterattack, following which Belling withdrew as was his want upon Friedland, then to Bartow (August 2). The Swedes under General Hessenstein, ensconced about Demmin, reacted to the near encroachment in short order. They pressed off, on August 5, in three distinct files, one on Sedenbollentin, under the charge of Hessenstein himself, one under Lt.-Col. Wrangle through Breest, and a small force of horse at the town of Brook. Meanwhile, General Carpelan with another body of men was kept back at Bartow.

For his part, Belling did his best to sow confusion in the rear of the main enemy force. A Prussian cavalry troop of some 200 riders rode down part of Carpelan’s encampment, but could then progress no farther. After a short but furious altercation, Belling withdrew again on to Friedland, while Hessenstein and Ehrensvard drew back on Schwanbeck in the immediate neighborhood.

Over in the Russian sphere of influence, there was no dearth of activity either. As the campaign wore on, the final drama of events on the Eastern Front were inexorably winding down towards a finish. Twice before during the course of this long war the port city of Colberg had been besieged, and now it was to be again. In mid–1761, Colberg was still in Prussian hands, but the Russian Command had ordered General Gottlob Curt Heinrich Graf von Tottleben, to take the place by siege. He was opposed by Werner (with some 5,000 men), joined by Eugene of Württemberg’s 12,000 men, while Commandant Heyde was still leading a garrison in Colberg (some 2,000 bluecoats) itself. But the attention of the bluecoats in general, and of Frederick, was centered in Silesia where the king was keeping his main force. So little was actually allowed for Colberg, although it was important, for, if the fortress should fall into Russian hands, Russian armies could then winter on the Baltic Sea coast rather than having to fall back into Poland.

Meanwhile, when Totleben’s spying was finally discovered, the command of the greencoat forces in Pomerania fell to Lt.-Gen. Peter Rumyantsev. His approach was informed to Prussian scouts when the Russians reached Cöslin on June 22, although they took great pains to proceed to their business slowly. The truce of Werner and Totleben expired on May 12, and the bluecoats immediately began earnest preparations for what was to come. Rumyantsev spent considerable time at Cöslin “consolidating” his position and it was not until August 19 that he deigned occupy Belgard—giving the Russians the control of the Persante River, and thus allowing preliminary operations for another try at Colberg.

With Belling taking up post at Friedland, the bluecoats strove to consolidate their forces in response to the enemy. Knobelsdorf, from Bartow, took a mere 48 hours or so to cover over 70 miles of hard terrain territory to arrive at Friedland. In the first of August, the Belling Hussars there were under Major von Hoendorf and Captain von Rüllman. Then, before daylight on August 6, Belling, with some 2,300 men, including 1,200 cavalry, suddenly erupted against the Swedish block force holding the river crossing at Röpenackerpasse. Belling’s Johnny-on-the-spot, Knobelsdorf, stormed forward against the Swedish lines, but an energetic counterattack mounted chiefly by the Västgöta Cuirassiers, along with two full units of infantry, loosened the Prussian stranglehold on the bridge thereabouts in very short order. Belling once again retired after this on Friedland.

Belling was not able to stand pat, for a large Swedish force launched a major effort at get at the Prussian magazine of Malchin. Leaving only a handful of men to hold all of Friedland, Belling moved as dexterously as possible to cover Malchin from the enemy’s encroachments. But the Swedes had vanished, so the bluecoat horse sped off in pursuit of the Swedish Majors Plathen and Schwartze and their Swedish force. The Swedes turned on their pursuers at Kentzlin (August 8), and promptly checked Belling’s “enthusiasm” for the whole business. Losses in this venture were two dead, ten wounded, one captured for the bluecoats, while the Swedish loss was 13 killed, 40 wounded, and 11 captured. The latter retired upon Friedland once more, and, responding to an increase in the enemy force opposed to him, proceeded to strip down, and then cart away, their two major supply depots, both at Treptow and at Malchin, in anticipation of a renewed Swedish offensive.

A resurgent Swedish force of some 16,000 men now concentrated in front of the bluecoats. Early on August 12, General Hessenstein (at the head of about 3,800 men) marched from Siedenbollentin aiming for Colpin via Neubrandenburg. Pausing thereabouts, he rested his men while Ehrensvard centralized his forces in preparation for a major offensive to be mounted against the Prussian positions.

Keeping his forces together out to Boldekau, the general unleashed Hessenstein for Woldegk, while Meijerfelt’s small force made straight for the little bluecoat force guarding Friedland. A smaller force of the light cavalry swarmed around Belling. The latter, disdaining a nearby enemy post, galloped towards Hessenstein’s men over by the Kavelpasse. The bluecoats struck hard, by Röhlau (August 14), riding down the Swedes and taking 85 captives. Hessenstein reeled back, while Belling, startled by the “speed” of the enemy advance on Finkenbrück, galloped out to intercept the new effort. The Swedish Plathen fell back on Anklam (August 17), while, on the same day, Ehrensvard marched a force which wrestled away Neubrandenburg from the foe.

The Swedish General Stackelberg assumed a central position hard about Klein-Teetzleben. Swedish outposts detected Belling’s approach, and Stackelberg fell back immediately without hesitation to a position hard by Neubrandenburg (August 21, 1761).

The situation before the Swedes continued to unfold as well. The Prussians wasted no time in going over to the offensive. August 31, 1761 Major Zülow attacked the Swedes at the Tollense River crossing at Klempenow, but was thrown back abruptly. The reinforcements allowed a new attack to be mounted by Major Stojenthy, but the foe was able to turn back this new effort also.

General Stutterheim would not be denied, and laid down an artillery covering fire opposite to the Swedish position hard-by, while Belling took a side detour, broke across the Tollense (September 2), and seized Klempenow.

The Swedes fell back on Boldekow, while Belling’s men consolidated their hold upon Breest and Klempenow. The bluecoats were destined not to remain undisturbed for long, for Ehrensvard, after a hasty preparation, tried to accost the Prussians at Klempenow, under the charge of Captain Hullessen (September 4). Crohnjelm, who was in command of the Swedish force, launched a furious, but short-lived, attack, which failed to turn the bluecoats out of their lines. Ehrensvard then withdrew as was his want, detaching General Carpelan to hold a base position beside the Tollense River.

The general progression of the Prussians was hedging back upon Stettin, but the Swedish military was mostly content to leave their foe alone at that stage. General Stutterheim, however, was not satisfied to let matters stand pat. He burst out to Bargensdorf, but, hard-by Kueblankh, was the extent of his march just then. Bevern, still keeping in Stettin, pressed off a force on Wollin, trying to sabotage the Swedish link from the island to the mainland. Early the following morning, Belling overthrew an enemy force led by Hessenstein, hard-by Jatzkhe. This blunted the Swedes from that immediate vicinity.

However, Ehrensvard was resolved to hazard holding on to Wollin as well as the links to the positions in Swedish Pomerania. The presence of Stutterheim’s Prussians over by Pasewalk and Woldegk really negated any meaningful Swedish offensive in the whole region. So Ehrensvard stayed put, but did dispatch Major-General Fredrik Vilhelm von Hessenstein with a force of some 2,100 men to join up with the Swedish force at Wollin.

Meanwhile, General Stutterheim fell back upon Stettin, which action immediately relinquished the offensive to the reenergized Swedes. A Swedish force under General Lybecker pressed off eastward, while a second assembly of Swedes under Major-General Jacob Magnus Sprengtporten also marched, bound for Ferdinandshof. This conglomerate of some 14,000 men constituted the last major Swedish offensive of the Seven Years’ War. And, we might add, one of the few of the entire war.

September 17, Lybecker’s men rolled into open country hard-by Kosabroma. Belling and his hussars, being very close at hand, did not waste time. They attacked and routed the Swedish horse which clung on the flanks and in front of Lybecker’s foot soldiers. The initial Prussian blow drove the Swedes back into nearby wooded terrain, but the emergency deployment of artillery and the subsequent shelling helped check the ardor of the bluecoats. A force of the Prussian hussars under Major Zülow struck at the Swedish flanks, but the onset of nightfall and Lybecker’s men managing to stand their ground brought the tussle to an end without clear result. The upshot was, Belling moved off during the night, and the only Prussian force left in front of Lybecker’s Swedes was a small force under Lt.-Col. Golz.

This development enabled Lybecker to advance once more, while Belling belatedly made his way over near Rothemühl. The progress of General Sprengtporten on Ferdinandshof had flushed out Knobelsdorf’s small force, which had been deployed thereabouts. The latter conducted a fighting retreat and fell away with his band to Rothemühl as well. Belling barged into Neuenzond, with the Swedes of the Skaraborgs Infantry making themselves to home between Rothemühl and Friedrichshagen.

Belling sent scouts, which judiciously felt out the enemy position over by Rothemühl and returned with word that the Swedes were in fact well prepared for action. Belling did little more at this point than to deploy his guns and start lobbing shells in the direction of the enemy. Lybecker had resumed his march, pressing Golz and trying to figure out the strength of the Prussian force just in front of him. It was indeed fortuitous that Lybecker, acting under the mistaken belief he had Belling’s whole force confronting him, instead of just a part, pulled up short and waited. The Swedes of Sprengtporten emerged from Ferdinandshof just before noon, making their way down the road through Friedrichshagen, where they encountered some light Prussian resistance.

Lybecker, for his part, had been content to engage in mere small arms’ fire with Golz, but Belling was savagely attacked by Sprengtporten before he hardly had time to react. But, the grenadiers of Ingersleben nevertheless attacked the Swedes head-on, piercing the enemy’s front and moving so rapidly forward through the Swedish ranks they outpaced their supporters, and were quickly surrounded by the foe. This was a devastating development. In heavy fighting, Ingersleben was forced finally to recoil, although the Swedish pursuit was quickly checked by the hussars of Belling.

At that stage, Belling, with Sprengtporten moving in and Lybecker behind still being “contained” by Golz, withdrew as was his want on Taschenberg. The two Swedish processions forthwith joined up near Schönhausen with very little fanfare, and retired forthwith upon Woldegk. Swedish losses at Rothemühl amounted to some 150 men, while the Prussians lost closer to 500 men of all arms.

After an interval of just a few days, the Swedes resumed their offensive. September 23, General Sprengtporten moved on Taschenberg, driving out an enemy hussar force across the Űecker on to Rollwitz and thereabouts. Knobelsdorf spun back on Űckermunde with patrols reaching over on Torgelow. This left a vacuum of sorts, into which the Swedes were only too eager to proceed.

The foe wasted no time in sending raiding parties to raise contributions from the region round about. There were no further meaningful engagements on the Northern Front until the Russians sent raiding parties of their own into the Űeckermark province and the vicinity of Stettin. The Prussians reacted by reinforcing the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern over in Stettin, while their Swedish enemy was himself being strengthened to renew once more its advance into Prussian territory—early October 1761.

Ehrensvard was building up to renew his lumbering advance into Prussian Pomerania. October 15, his Swedish force emerged from behind the Peene, while the bluecoats reacted conservatively. The two sides had a brief interlude of military inactivity, although the Swedes on water continued to maneuver about. In early November, Swedish ships brought reinforcements from Finland and from their homeland, in a desperate bid to inflict a defeat upon the enemy before the depths of winter could interfere. November 22, several Swedish vessels appeared on the Peene River and the reinforcements, meanwhile, were being assimilated into the rest of the Swedish formations.

Thus far, the weather had been comparatively mild, but this situation abruptly did an about face. In the first few weeks of December, the temperatures plunged, and the Peene tried to freeze over. This forced the Swedish ships to make for Stralsund instead. The Swedes also suddenly seemed to lose all interest in campaigning, but it did not take long at all for Belling to try to take advantage of the enemy inactivity and the poor weather conditions, like the heavy snowfall. Belling, in spite of the elements, split up his command, sending Knobelsdorf over to Tessin, while I. Battalion of Hordt was unbuckled upon Gnöien. Meanwhile, Ehrensvard pulled his forces out of Demmin, which was then promptly occupied by the Prussians, while the latter also did their best to secure Anklam as well.

The weather continued to deteriorate, but Belling moved out. On December 10, the main Prussian force reached Gnöien. There was now a concerted effort put forth to drive the Swedes back into their own territory. After dark the next day, Belling’s men accosted the Swedish position at Volksdorf astride the Peene River. The next morning, December 12, 1761 the bluecoats hitched into Neuhringen. But the province of Mecklenburg was largely evacuated by the Swedes, and so Belling pulled back from the incursion and moved off in the direction of Demmin and Meyerkrebs.

But the interlude here was very brief, for before twenty-four hours had elapsed, Belling was at it again. His Prussians pushed off, bound for Rustow and Randow, pressing the enemy in his path into precipitate retreat. But not all of the Swedes were in a defensive frame of mind. General Meijerfelt performed almost a diversionary raid upon the bluecoats ensconced in Anklam, but the foray was limited to taking only a handful of prisoners. The Prussian force, on the other hand, continued to progress in its endeavors, and, December 16, Belling’s men pressed on to Loitz, but hard by Langenfelde, the Swedish commander Carpelan was discovered and compelled to retreat, which move uncovered Jarmen. Belling at once pressed on that place. Knobelsdorf, for his part, attacked an enemy force at Gutzkow (December 20), while still other Prussians were making a camp at Remplin.

All of these moves combined to betray the vulnerability of Mecklenburg to any Prussian encroachment. Of course Prussian raiders were being sent to pilfer as much in the way of men and material as they could to help out the Prussian war effort. The upshot was, Ehrensvard sure heard “it” from a very agitated Duke of Mecklenburg, who had some trouble understanding how the recently reinforced Swedish army could allow Belling to run rough shod all over the province, while, at the same time, the Swedes themselves were snug behind the Peene—although perhaps not warm and snug. Ehrensvard had little choice but to respond to the entreaty, dispatching General Meijerfelt with a force over the Peene, putting in an appearance back in Mecklenburg, while General Sprengtporten took up the banner as well, marching on Dargun and Malchin, near where his men arrived on December 22.

The Swedes were determined to snare Malchin and worked up a rather involved assault scheme to accomplish this feat. Sprengtporten’s grenadiers thundered into action on the western end of Malchin by the Wargentiner Gate. This particular column was initially repulsed by the defenders under the charge of Golz, but the Skaraborg Infantry and the rest of the column striking against the Kahldener Gate ruptured the Prussian defenses, forcing the bluecoats to abandon Malchin forthwith. Belling sent his hussars to check General Sprengtporten’s pursuit, although the latter did venture on to Basedow. The Swedes appeared on the point of coming back to life offensively in this early winter when all was altered abruptly once more by Prince Eugene of Württemberg and the timely arrival of his force back in front of the Swedes after Colberg had capitulated to the Russians.

Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive II

From Stettin, Eugene’s force made by Pasewalk aiming to recover Malchin. It was a decision by the bluecoats to try to regain the place before winter deepened. The sudden advent of the army of Prince Eugene, even badly used as it was by then, threw consternation into the minds of the Swedish commanders opposite to all of this. December 30, Eugene’s men arrived at Treptow, news of which was immediately communicated to Sprengtporten. The Swedish commander weighed in on the notion of actually hitching back into Swedish Pomerania, but Belling sent the ever faithful Major Zülow with a detachment of approximately 400 men galloping on to Neukahlden, which move severed the road over by Dargun and isolated the command of General Sprengtporten. Belling forthwith was instructed by Prince Eugene to bring his force over to Treptow. With the bluecoats thus linked up in the region, the scheme was hurriedly worked up to take Malchin back from the enemy and, simultaneously if at all possible, to hack Sprengtporten’s force to pieces.

In order to turn Sprengtporten’s men out of the lines round about Malchin, Prince Eugene realized he would have to split up his own force in order to approach Malchin from different directions simultaneously. Eugene assumed chief command of the main column of the bluecoats himself, while Belling would lean upon Malchin with his own independent force at about the same time.

Before the bluecoats launched their attack, Prince Eugene summoned General Sprengtporten to surrender Malchin. When this offer was snubbed outright, a Prussian attack was launched that made some progress but when darkness intervened, the enemy still held Malchin (December 31). The next morning, January 1, 1762, another charge by the Prussians inflicted losses, but failed to turn their determined enemy out of their lines. Ehrensvard, learning of the latest developments at the front, was inspired to send a reinforcement of about 3,000 men, commanded by Lt.-Col. Carnal, to proceed at once towards Malchin to join up with Sprengtporten. As for Belling, he had Major von Knobelsdorf (January 1) with 200 infantry and 150 hussars posted towards Dargun. Belling pressed over at his best pace to face Carnal’s Swedes, which had been deployed hard about Neu Kahlden. The bluecoats in the meanwhile arrived on a rise overlooking Carnal’s force, unlimbering some artillery to start shelling the Swedish positions.

Carnal unleashed his men, who promptly attacked Belling’s pressed men, forcing the Prussians to recoil from their post. The latter lost some 200 men in this altercation, while the Swedes had 31 killed and 102 wounded. Belling wasted no time in falling back towards Eugene’s force, which move left Malchin firmly in Swedish hands. The bluecoats finally proceeded to into winter quarters right after this, in the same positions they had held at the start of the campaign, while the Swedes retired behind the Peene and Trebel Rivers, by which moves they evacuated Mecklenburg, no doubt against their intentions. The operations on the Northern Front in the Seven Years’ War closed with this, for the death of Czarina Elizabeth soon after and the consequent desertion of Russia from active fighting in the war was Sweden’s signal to do the same.

Meanwhile, the operations on the Western Front had been somewhat slower paced in 1761 than in 1760. Preliminary operations to secure a firmer foothold for the French having proven unsuccessful, they resolved to redouble their efforts. Madame Pompadour now had two armies organized and set against Ferdinand. The latter could dispose of some 95,000 men for the new campaign. Broglie was still in command of the French forces in the field, but Soubise had been elevated, largely through his influence with the Pompadour, to be his Co-Commander. This may have helped soothe some hard feelings, but with Choiseul still in overall command, left much confusion about who commanded what. Nevertheless, there were 160,000 French troops ready to take to the field for Campaign 1761.

Ferdinand’s task was to guard Lippstadt from the enemy, and he would have found this enterprise far more difficult than he did had the French chosen to keep their two armies operating as separate entities. Fortunately, Soubise and Broglie moved to join up, their rendezvous being accomplished at Soest on July 6 while their opponents remained idle west of Soubise’s camp at Vellinghausen. The position that Ferdinand held there fronted eastwards to the left of that town while the center was near the Ahse River and the right hugged below it. The latter flank was shielded behind marshy patches of ground and a tributary in front, but almost exposed from certain directions. The allies had their base at Hamm, a village where the Ahse and Lippe Rivers joined. The French had determined to attack Ferdinand’s forces in his position thereabouts, but problems between Broglie and Soubise about a firm timetable for this assault caused the enterprise to be delayed several times.

But, by mid–July, French outparties were probing near the enemy camp; on July 15, Broglie at last ordered a march up to charge the allied camp. Heavy reconnaissance followed, about 1800 hours a deliberate strike was launched upon Ferdinand’s post by the French in strength. Quickly responding, the Marquis of Granby ordered his men to form up, while Broglie, lunging forward under the cover of a heavy cannonade, struck again and again in futile blows. The last of these attempts was beaten back by about 2200 hours. About 130,000 French troops had participated in this phase of the Battle of Vellinghausen, although this figure did not include the troops of Soubise (which were quite out of effective range behind the proceedings).

Although he was denied the reinforcements that might have proven decisive, Broglie was grimly determined to destroy Ferdinand’s force if the opportunity presented itself. Accordingly, renewed assaults were launched at about 0400 hours, July 16, but Prince Ferdinand had strengthened his left wing from the right of his lines (that is, the one facing Soubise) and again forced back the French in heavy fighting. And, while Broglie’s men battered themselves against a strengthened allied wall of troops, Soubise did nothing but launch a feeble attack upon the enemy left with a small party; this was quickly repulsed with the loss of 24 men. Near 1000 hours, seeing signs the enemy was faltering at last, Ferdinand’s cavalry burst forth and drove the discouraged Broglie from the field with a loss of 5,000 men (almost 50 percent of them being prisoners). The allies lost some 2,000 men in the battle.

The ensuing episode shows the inherent dangers of trying to put two generals in charge at the same time in field command. For a vigorous debate arose soon after over whom was responsible for Vellinghausen: Soubise or Broglie. The influence of the Soubise faction was greater, which eclipsed Broglie, easing him right out of the picture. The intrigue itself dated from before Vellinghausen, but the provided a catalyst to end Broglie’s command. The incident shows French military objectives, which should have been sacrosanct to the conduct of the war, played second fiddle to politics and intrigue. Soubise retired into Westphalia, marching and maneuvering weakly to threaten one allied post after another, but actually accomplishing very little for the French cause. As for Broglie, he retrieved Wolfenbüttel, but then lost it again in the course of a few days; he then retired unceremoniously into winter quarters. Then Broglie, by far the most capable French commander of this war in a long time, was replaced in sole command of the French field armies by the almost incompetent Soubise. The latter proceeded to finish out the war with equal ineptness.

In Saxony, the opponents went into winter quarters, while back in Silesia, the Prussian king, shocked by the news of the fall of Schweidnitz to Laudon, in early October moved to Strehlen, where he again took up a defensive position covering Breslau and Neisse. By this point, the winter was in full force, so Frederick (October 5) took up in Strehlen for the off-season. He then repaired to Breslau to spend the winter (December 9). Before this, however, there occurred a rather curious incident involving the Prussian monarch, a kidnaping plot and one Baron Heinrich Gottlob Freiherr von Warkotsch.

This Baron Warkotsch had been a captain years before in the Austrian army and it was clear they still had his sympathies. Nevertheless, the king appears to have regarded the baron with some favor, allowing him to visit his headquarters, “dine at the royal table” and apparently even foregoing the extraction of men and equipment from Warkotsch’s extensive holdings to support the Prussian war effort. This makes the baron’s treason all the odder.

Nor was the attempted betrayal a sudden impulse of sorts. In summer, when the king was at Schönbrunn, night of August 15, he happened to be sleeping in one of Warkotsch’s rooms. This room opened on a secret passage and hidden staircase, by which the Austrians might have nabbed, or even murdered, Frederick, which was obviously Warkotsch’s intentions at the time (as he did not hesitate to employ the ominous sounding phrase “dead or alive”). However, the last minute arrival of a body of Ziethen’s command, which had changed its accommodations at the last moment, in the vicinity gave the baron a case of fortuitous cold feet. In short, the conspirators planned to “seize the king when he should come forth unattended, and convey him to the Austrian camp.”

Forward to the late autumn. Now the fortunes of war and his many trials had led the king back to Silesia, this time to the little village of Wöischnitz (near Strehlen, the temporary headquarters of the king), where Frederick had an escort of 30 grenadiers. Warkotsch planned to carry out his dastardly conspiracy under the cover of darkness, even though a large division of bluecoats (some 6,000 men all told) was close by the headquarters.

Warkotsch conceived of a plot to set the thick woods round about Strehlen and vicinity on fire, which in the confusion of the moment should enable Colonel Wallis to accost the king and make straightway for Laudon’s headquarters. For his treacherous conduct in delivering up the royal head, the baron was supposed to receive the princely sum of 100,000 florins. As Archenholtz points out, Warkotsch, to act with such perfidious conduct, had to believe that Prussia was going to lose the war, and thus control of Silesia. The extent to which the Austrian government was involved in the plot is not precisely known, but the large size of the “reward” sure gives one pause. It was 100,000 florins (which was roughly $600,000 in equivalent U.S. dollars in 2000, according to Duffy’s rate of exchange). It is certain that Warkotsch proceeded to inform Laudon that Frederick’s temporary headquarters at Strehlen had few guards and he could be easily taken captive. Now why Laudon did not try the deed with his large army rather than work out a rather involved plot is hard to explain.

The particulars are the following. Warkotsch was in communication with a certain man named Schmidt in Siebenhuben; the pair kept in touch through the baron’s faithful servant, Matthias Kappel. An Austrian party was prepared in Heinreichau under Colonel Wallis to affect the capture of the king when the time came. Fortunately for the bluecoats, on November 30, Kappel, instead of delivering Warkotsch’s note to the little Austrian waiting party, took it instead to a local Catholic priest named Gerlach. To his credit, this poor parish priest sent Kappel to the person of the king himself to deliver the acid letter. Thus the scheme was exposed. As soon as Warkotsch heard the jig was up, he took refuge in the same room occupied formerly by the king, and when a Prussian officer entered to place him under arrest, the baron used the hidden stairway to affect his escape. Schmidt also managed to flee. Later, when the baron returned to try to claim some of his money and valuables, his “friends” in his escort helped themselves to it instead. Subsequently, Warkotsch fled to Hungary and implored Maria Theresa to send him a stipend; she eventually “rewarded” him with an annual 300 florins for his maintenance. He was even given a “new identity,” one Count Löbenstein. The upshot was, Baron Warkotsch and Schmidt were both burned in effigy and the Prussians confiscated all of their properties.

Laudon went into winter hibernation from Lusatia, although, with the fortress Schweidnitz in his hands, for him it had been a profitable campaign. None of the warring parties suspected great fundamental changes which would alter the political considerations for the new year of 1762.

England, now involved in a new war with Spain (declared January 2, 1762), was yearning to be set free from the Prussian alliance, and had cast Pitt out of office, replacing him with Lord Bute. It did not take long for big upheavals in policy.

Bute offered Frederick a subsidy only on the condition that the Prussian seek to make peace with Austria through negotiation (in fact, Bute was already haggling with the French to bring war between France and England to an end). Although it is not within our confines to examine Europe’s political climate at this time in depth, there are two developments we need to look at more closely: (1) The defection of Great Britain from the Prussian alliance, and (2) The long anticipated death of the Empress Elizabeth and the consequent defection of Russia from the Allied cause.

The first was directly related to the removal of Pitt from office. With Pitt out of the equation, Frederick’s Prussia had few friends left in high office in London and even the Prussian representatives in London joined in the crescendo for their master to make some concessions to Count Kaunitz and the allies in order to get the war over with. As for Frederick, he was still holding fast to the line, and even hoping that at least a part of Saxony might be left to him at the peace. However, with his only important ally actively negotiating with the French, the king faced dismal prospects.

Part of the reason for the English decision to try to come to terms with the French involved soaring losses by Great Britain of its merchant vessels to swarming French privateers. The total loss of English trading vessels in 1760 had been over 300, “and in 1761 at over eight hundred, three times that of the French.” Obviously, it would not be long before losses of this magnitude would become unsustainable.

By the end of 1761, the bluecoat armies no longer had possession of Saxony and held only Breslau, Neisse, and some other strips even in Silesia (the rest was by then controlled by the Austrians and Russians). The Swedes and Russians held much of Pomerania and East Prussia had been long been before sacrificed on the twin alters of necessity and reluctant acceptance. The Prussian army had been reduced to most desperate straits, thanks to the combination of the severed money subsidy from the English and reduced territory from which to draw new recruits. There would only be some 60,000 men for the new campaign: about 30,000 with the king himself, Prince Henry with 25,000 in what little remained of Saxony, and the remaining 5,000 or so confronting the Swedes and Russians in the area of Pomerania.

Frederick was on the brink of the abyss. He rightly felt that nothing short of a miracle could stave off the defeat and the next campaign must surely be the finale. Then, out of the blue, the “miracle” happened. In late 1761, the ailing Czarina Elizabeth collapsed and—on December 29—died. In the end, Elizabeth was deserted by a number of her courtiers, who looked past the dying Czarina and fixed their gaze upon the Prussophile, the man who would be Peter III. This included even Vorontsov, a childhood friend of the woman’s, who abandoned her abruptly. The upshot was, gone was one of Frederick’s most irreconcilable foes. Her nephew, Peter, became the new Czar; he, it must be remembered, was an ardent admirer of the Prussian king and all things Prussian. This Peter III at once recalled Buturlin with his army from the front and Poland and immediately informed the British representative he wished to negotiate peace with Frederick.

Peter was child-like, rather a simpleton, but at this crucial moment, he became the Prussian monarch’s best friend on the political scene. Peter cheerfully handed back to the Prussians all of the conquests that had been bought dearly with Russian blood, including Colberg and East Prussia, and immediately ordered his armies to cease and desist from fighting Prussians. This although the two countries did not actually sign a formal peace until May 15, 1762, in the Treaty of St. Petersburg. Sweden took the opportunity to close out its wholly unfortunate little war with Prussia as well; subsequently, the two powers signed a Treaty of Hamburg (May 22, 1762), which resulted in no territorial changes. The whole character of the war had changed; in one fell swoop.

The defection of the two northern powers significantly altered the coming Campaign 1762 from those that had gone before. For the first time, Frederick did not have to bother with sending troops to a Northern or Eastern Front; he was free to concentrate against the French and the Austrians, who, besides the Imperialist army, were the last of the field armies confronting the Prussians.

To operate against Frederick in Silesia, was Marshal Daun, who had, due entirely to the reductions in the field armies because of finances, only 80,000 men with him. Frederick faced the new year with the comfort that peace was on the way as both sides were exhausted and tired of the fighting. With new revenue from the reclaimed provinces swelling his treasury, the king again had a large army. Nearly 120,000 men strong, of which 70,000 would be with Frederick’s army, Prince Henry would have 40,000 more in Saxony, and a reserve of 10,000 men.