Major-General Pajari, unaware that he is standing in a minefield on a makeshift speaker’s podium, giving his speech at the Suursaari victory parade on 28 March 1942. (Sa-Kuva)

One of the most daring and unique Finnish operations during the period of trench warfare was the capture of Suursaari Island in the Gulf of Finland, 43km south of Kotka and 56km north of the Estonian coast. Due to its location, this 11km-long island had great strategic significance. Artillery stationed there could control most of the sea lanes to Leningrad. In 1939, the Soviet Union repeatedly approached Finland to see if it could annex Suursaari and the other outlying islands. When these requests were refused, the Red Army took the islands by force during the Winter War.

During the Summer War, the Finnish and German high commands agreed that Suursaari and other outlying islands had to be wrested back from Soviet hands. When supported from these islands, the Soviet Navy was able to disrupt all naval traffic to Kotka harbour, and extend their range of operations deeper into the Baltic Sea. Conversely, if Finland were to hold the islands, it would enable the Germans to bottle up the Soviet Navy into a small corner of the Gulf of Finland. In addition, the establishment of air observation bases on the archipelago could provide early warnings that would considerably increase tactical timeframes for all aerial operations.

Finnish headquarters agreed on a joint operation with the Wehrmacht high command to capture Suursaari and the neighbouring islands. They decided that the best time for the attack would be during midwinter across the frozen Gulf of Finland. Attacking while the sea lanes were still open was considered too risky, as the enemy would be able to ship reinforcements and heavy equipment rapidly to the islands. Once it became apparent that the Germans could not spare the troops needed for the operation, Mannerheim decided that the Finns would carry out the audacious plan themselves. Nevertheless, Luftwaffe support was still expected and officially requested (though it would never appear).

Mannerheim handpicked Major-General Aaro Pajari to lead the attack. He had already proven his worth as an able field commander; first during the Winter War at the battle of Tolvajärvi and again as the commander of the 18th Division during the attack phase of 1941. Despite the involvement of some 3,500 men and 67 planes, Pajari gave orders for the landing plans to be kept top secret.

The Finns had managed to gather relatively accurate intelligence on the strength of the enemy defences. Suursaari belonged to the Leningrad Naval District and was under the jurisdiction of one of their oldest navy formations, the Baltic Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Vladimir Tributs. The Suursaari garrison was commanded by Colonel Barinov, who in turn reported to the fortress commander at the nearby Lavansaari Island. Despite the island’s significance, the vital bases at Suursaari were manned by only 496 soldiers, 12 officers and the compulsory eight political commissars.

The Finns also understood the strength of the fortifications on the rocky island. The problem was how to transport the chosen few thousand men to the vicinity of the island quietly and unseen, quickly enough and with still enough energy left for the fight. The Arctic landscape provided another challenge: the transports had to somehow traverse undetected across a completely horizontal ice plateau (which was entirely devoid of cover) for dozens of kilometres.

Pajari’s plan was to first move the designated troops into staging areas, near Haapasaari and Luppi islands, about 10–15km away from their targets. He hoped to schedule his attack so that heavy snowfall would help conceal the approaching troops. However, this also meant that the necessary roads across the ice would have to be continuously ploughed to keep them open. Strong winds blowing from the open sea could pile up the snowdrifts so fast that whole roads could vanish within 20 minutes. In order to keep routes and assembly areas clear, five cars and one tractor, all fitted with snowploughs, worked continuously for a total of 408 hours.

All of the men were issued with brand new snowsuits. All their equipment was to be painted white. Furthermore, the 738 horses had to be camouflaged with white sheets and the trucks, sleighs and heavy weapons similarly painted. The troops moved into the area mainly on horse-drawn sleighs or in trucks. As time was of the essence, some men on skis were to be drawn along, holding onto ropes trailing from the crammed trucks. In addition to all the soldiers and their weapons, several bridge sections were taken along, in case the ice cracked and caused a chasm to open across the ice road. White tents were to be set up at 10km intervals along the track. These were to serve as supply points and field hospitals. In the end the total traffic on the ice was so extensive that it was a miracle the Soviets did not notice the preparations for the attack. For the time being, aircraft were only stationed on the mainland. When the time came, they were to be charged with reconnaissance duty and then the support and protection of the infantry during the attack. Additionally, they were tasked with evacuating the wounded and preventing the enemy from withdrawing from Suursaari Island.

The main Finnish attack force was split into two battalions: the 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry Regiment under Major Lauri Toiviainen, and the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Infantry Regiment under Captain Veikko Elovaara. There was also a reserve coastal guard battalion commanded by Major Åke Sokajärvi in the vicinity of the main attack. Lieutenant-Colonel Lauri Sotisaari led the spearhead with his Detachment S, which was to assault the western shore under cover of darkness. From there his men would then move both north and south along the frozen shoreline while the body of his command took control of the road connecting the two small settlements on the island. Several heavy mortars assigned to the detachment would provide tactical support. A simultaneous attack was also scheduled to start from the opposite, eastern side of the island by Detachment M under Major Martti Miettinen; its role was to prevent the enemy from escaping over the ice, and to act as a distraction from the main assault. Once the enemy dug in to defend, he was to continue his attack towards the two settlements of Suurkylä and Kiiskinkylä. Two light artillery batteries and several anti-tank guns were to provide support for the detachment.

The troops moved into their staging areas and settled into camouflaged tents near the Luppi and Haapasaari Islands. All that was needed was propitious weather. During this crucial time, the Finnish Air Force prevented Soviet planes from approaching close enough to get an idea of the scale of the preparations. On 27 March, once the temperature had dropped to -6°C, Pajari judged that the snow conditions were ideal to launch the attack on skis. Before the assault commenced, each man received a warm meal and 100ml of cognac blended with vodka, in order to give them the boost needed for rapid approach and attack.

The men moved to their jumping-off points. In order to ensure total darkness no fires were permitted and light bulbs were removed from the truck headlights, just in case somebody switched them on accidentally. Unfortunately, the first time the column of vehicles stopped, a long trail of red lights lit up; no one had remembered to remove the bulbs from the brake lights. Luckily for the Finns, this happened far enough away from the Soviet lines that the attackers could continue undetected.

Nevertheless, observers at Suursaari finally realised that something was afoot. On the evening of 26 March at 21:30 the following message was sent to headquarters at nearby Lavansaari Island: ‘About a battalion-strength enemy force seen staging around Haapasaari Island before darkness fell. Special patrols have been sent to observe.’ Lavansaari was at the time snowed in and 40km distant; sending any support there would be slow. However, the island did have an airfield, so in theory at least, air support could be rapidly scrambled.

However, the sighting had come too late. The significance and strength of the Finnish forces was greatly underestimated. After sending the message, Colonel Barinov raised the alarm at Suursaari Island standing his men to. For some reason, instead of sending out patrols to gauge the enemy’s intentions, he was content with letting the troops fight the cold in their foxholes. Although the temperature was only -6°C, the Arctic wind blowing across the ice made matters much worse. At the same time, the increasing snowfall continued to hinder visibility. While the Soviet troops seemed to be hibernating, the Finns approached the island from two directions. Everything was going to plan. Suursaari lay ahead, silhouetted dimly through the billowing snow.

The heavy mortars reached their positions 1.5km from the island, with the light mortars pulled to a mere 500m from the shore. The attack commenced at 04:00 with the troops starting to ski towards the island. When the vanguard of Detachment S was near the western shoreline, the Soviets opened fire. At the same time, the smaller Detachment M had spread out on a wide front on the ice and now engaged the enemy positions from the east. Soon a fierce firefight had developed on both sides of the island. Once the main Finnish forces secured a bridgehead, they started to force their way north and south along the rocky island. Progress was slowed by having to climb steep, rocky cliffs and to wade through ravines filled with deep snow. However, despite the determination of the Soviet defenders, the southerly force soon captured the middle of the island and Kiiskinkylä. At the same time, the majority of Detachment S targeted the rear of Suurkylä and the heavily fortified northern peninsula. A small number of men under Detachment Oksanen were sent to simultaneously secure the southernmost tip of the island from the west.

The Finnish numbers came to bear during the night and through the following morning, when the northern part of Detachment S was able to assault the positions in Suurkylä. Here the Soviets managed to hold out until 15:00. By this time, most of the other important strategic objectives around the island had been captured. Nevertheless, the Soviets continued to resist in several fortified positions across the island and by nightfall, six Soviet fighter planes flew over in support. Twelve Finnish fighters met the enemy planes and proceeded to shoot down four of them. A fifth Soviet aircraft was hit by flak, and only one plane was able to return back to its base at Lavansaari Island.

At this stage, the fiercest opposition came from the Soviets on Selkäapajanniemi Peninsula. There the defenders had used thick timber logs to build extremely strong fortifications in the natural openings in the bedrock. The Finnish Air Force was called upon to soften up these positions. At 17:30, four bombers arrived, strafing the strongholds with machine guns and delivering a total payload of 2,000kg of bombs. By the evening, the Soviet defenders had had enough, and decided to escape over the ice. The Finns pursued them relentlessly across the vastness.

By the bright light of dawn the following morning, the Finns had cleared out the last three fortifications offering resistance at Selkäapajanniemi. This left only one determined enemy stronghold at Lounatrivi lighthouse. So far, the defenders there had resisted all attacks by the Finns. Two pioneer detachments and an artillery squad were sent to resolve the matter. The crew manhandled their gun on top of the piled ice. After setting their sights, they opened fire systematically against the lighthouse, shelling it from the top down a floor at a time. This forced the defenders to flee downwards and eventually out of the front door. Even now, these brave men refused to surrender. They were all killed in the fight that ensued. Kipparniemi Peninsula also held a small Soviet detachment. After completely surrounding the enemy, the Finns concluded that their positions were not strongly fortified. Therefore it was decided to let them stew until the following morning.

The whole of Suursaari finally came under Finnish control on 28 March. That day, Pajari decided to organise a victory parade on the ice in front of the island. Two flights of six Curtis fighter planes each were to fly sentry over the formations. After giving the orders for the procession, Pajari telephoned Mannerheim at his headquarters in Mikkeli: ‘I hereby notify you that I have more or less captured Suursaari Island. Only some minor pockets of resistance remain.’ After the phone call, Pajari found time for a quick nap in his tent. Meanwhile, his men hastened into the parade formations and readied themselves for inspection. The men also had time to assemble a makeshift speaker’s podium on top of a horse-drawn sleigh and a military marching band was even rushed all the way from Helsinki for the occasion. It was extremely risky to organise the parade so soon. Had Soviet planes happened on the scene, the men would have made easy targets on the flat, cover-free ice. Nonetheless, Pajari seemed to have had great faith in the aircraft flying over his men.

The first incident happened after all the men had been inspected, the chaplain had given his sermon and the last of the speeches delivered. At this stage, a lone Soviet machine-gun squad chose to reveal itself and surrender. They had been hiding a mere 100m away from the place where Pajari had been speaking. Had the sergeant in charge of the heavy weapon fancied some posthumous Soviet fame for himself, at least a dozen Finnish soldiers could have been killed. Afterwards, it also came to light that the general and his chief of staff had been positioned directly on top of a minefield. It was sheer good fortune that it had snowed so much, as this prevented the pressure-mines from detonating.

When the excitement of taking care of the surrendering Soviets had died down, a radio message reached Pajari. Twenty-nine enemy planes were approaching the island in three formations of eight, eleven and ten planes. Only one Finnish flight of six Curtiss fighter planes was still in the area while the second flight had already moved nearer to Lavansaari Island. It transpired that the parade had an air show-style finale. The aerial battle quickly developed into a spinning carousel with planes flying in every direction. The six Finnish planes on site engaged immediately with no shortage of targets. The second flight returned quickly from the direction of Lavansaari, attacking the rearmost of the Soviet formations. In the end, the Finns destroyed 18 of the 29 enemy planes without suffering any losses of their own. Earlier the same day, another flight of Brewsters had bagged itself five confirmed kills and a Fokker unit four more. This score of 27 confirmed enemy kills was (to date) the highest one-day tally achieved by the Finnish Air Force. Such triumphs did come with a hefty price: each pilot was forced to fly or be on high alert throughout the day and night. During the last days of the operation, the only way the men kept themselves fit to fly was through heavy use of the German-made combat stimulant Pervitin (methamphetamine). In total, they flew 643 combat missions and delivered over 5,000kg of bombs during the operation.



Battle of Saulė in 1236

The most serious threat to the early Balts came from the west. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Catholic orders of knights seeking to Christianize the Baltic region began a series of crusades. The first of these crusading orders, the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, was defeated by the Lithuanians at the Battle of Saulė in 1236. Following that defeat, the Roman Catholic pope called for a renewed campaign to conquer and Christianize the pagan Lithuanians. The call was answered by a succession of crusading knights, the most formidable of which were the members of the Teutonic Order.

Lithuanians had yet to form a unified nation-state. The political organization consisted of a nobility composed of feudal dukes and princes ruling over fiefdoms and tribes. Had they chosen to fight the Teutonic Order separately, they would have been easily defeated. Therefore, the nobility formed an alliance, led by a noble called Mindaugas, to engage in the struggle. Despite the alliance, however, the united Lithuanian duchies were not able to stem the continued advances of the Teutonic Order. Recognizing the inevitability of defeat, Mindaugas submitted to the pope in 1251 and accepted Christianity. As a consequence he was crowned the king of Lithuania in 1253 by the pope, an act establishing the first Lithuanian state.

Mindaugas’s decision was not popular among the Lithuanian nobility, many of whom refused to be baptized. The population as well remained overwhelmingly pagan. Hence, the new state was a pagan one with a Christian king. The opposition of the population to Christianity led to the murder of King Mindaugas in 1263 and the renewal of the struggle against the Christian crusaders. Following the murder of Mindaugas, rule of Lithuania reverted to the various dukes and princes. However, in order to fight the Teutonic Order, they submitted to a grand duke, who ruled as first among equals. Thanks to their unity, this time they were able to establish Lithuanian dominance in the Baltic Sea region by the end of the thirteenth century. Nonetheless, the struggle against the Teutonic Order continued throughout most of the fourteenth century, forcing the country to allocate virtually all of its resources to defense; consequently, the country’s political system of the time is referred to by some as a military monarchy.

The concentration of resources permitted the Lithuanian state to become one of the greatest empires in Europe over the course of the next 150 years-the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Grand Duke Gediminas (1316-1341) began the long-term eastward expansion of the Lithuanians, assimilating Slavic territories, many of which willingly submitted to the Grand Duchy in order to escape having to pay tribute to the Mongols, who ruled most of the Russian lands in that era (having destroyed the Kievan state in the thirteenth century). Gediminas also sought to break out of the international isolation thrust upon the country by the continued struggle against the Catholic Church and the Teutonic Order. He established formal contacts between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the countries of Western Europe, engaged in regular correspondence with their rulers, and began a dynasty that intermarried with many of the ruling families of Europe. Much of this was done in an effort to create rifts within the Catholic Church and between the ruling houses of Europe. To further this strategy, Gediminas also invited Western merchants, artisans, and academics to the new capital that he founded at Vilnius. Among those responding were many Jews, who took advantage of the remarkable degree of religious tolerance that marked the Grand Duchy and established one of the great centers of Judaism in Vilnius.

During the mid-fourteenth century, Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-1377) continued the eastern expansion begun by Gediminas. Under his rule, the Grand Duchy’s Lithuanian subjects were gradually outnumbered by newly assimilated peoples. Algirdas was followed by Grand Duke Jogaila, who is much maligned in Lithuanian history for his decision in 1386 to marry the queen of Poland, thereby entering into an alliance with that state. Jogaila’s decision was motivated by a desire to ensure Lithuanian preeminence in an emerging contest with Moscow for the loyalties of eastern Slavic princes. While still under the Mongol yoke, Moscow was laying claim to the Russian lands, many of which had been assimilated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In addition, Moscow had been recognized by Byzantium as the seat of religious authority for Orthodox Christianity in the Slavic lands. The recognition brought with it significant legitimacy for the Russian claims over these lands. Given Lithuania’s status as the last pagan nation in Europe, it found itself isolated between a Catholic West and an Orthodox East, both of which claimed the divine right to rule over the territories of the Grand Duchy. A marriage with Poland thus offered the means to both reduce the threat from the West and lay claim to a religious title (that of representing Catholic Slavs, a title that Poland had acquired) competing for the loyalties of Slavic princes. Hence, Lithuania was baptized in 1387, and the last pagan state in Europe became Christian.

As a consequence of the marriage, the Grand Duchy entered a long period of decline, even though this would not be readily apparent for several centuries. By entering into marriage with the queen of Poland, Jogaila became the king of Poland, retaining his title as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. While in the short term this appeared highly beneficial to Lithuania, it meant that the Lithuanians faced the disadvantage of being far fewer in number than the Poles. In the long term, as Lithuania’s territorial holdings were reduced (in the face of continuing Russian expansion), it became the lesser of the two states in the union. However, the advantages of the marriage uniting the two countries appeared to outweigh any disadvantages at the time. Therefore, unlike the first christening, this one was not reversed.

The subsequent grand duke, Vytautas the Great, who ruled at the beginning of the fifteenth century, not only retained Lithuania’s commitment to Christianity, he took full advantage of the union with Poland to further the prosperity of the country. In fact, the reign of Vytautas the Great marks the zenith of Lithuania’s military and political fortunes. In one of the most significant battles of the Middle Ages, Vytautas, leading a joint Lithuanian-Polish army, decisively defeated the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grünwald (1410; the battle is known as the Battle of Žalgiris in Lithuania), bringing the final defeat of the order and ending the centuries-long threat from the west. In the east, Vytautas pursued a successful policy, annexing further territories in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, expanding the borders of the Grand Duchy from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and blocking Moscow’s further expansion westward into Europe.

Vytautas also took advantage of the union with Poland to lay the foundations for Lithuania’s full integration into Central Europe, something that its pagan identity had prevented it from achieving. In the 150 years after his death, Lithuania assimilated the political and cultural heritage of Western civilization. The country adopted the crop rotation system, adapted its social system to monarchism, experienced the rise of craft guilds, adopted a written language, and built a university system. Reflecting these changes, Lithuania’s first publishing house was founded in Vilnius in 1522; in addition, a legal code was written in 1529 and subsequently redrafted in 1566 and 1588. The 1588 code remained in force until the middle of the nineteenth century.

The Battle of Žalgiris

The Battle of forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland defeated the Teutonic Order, was one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages, let alone in East Central Europe. The defeat of the Teutonic Order, Žalgiris (also known as the Battle of Grünwald, or Tannenberg), in which the joint military an order of crusaders of the Catholic Church, on 15 July 1410, marked the end of the order’s expansion along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea eastward and the beginning of the decline of the order’s power.

The first German crusading orders came to Poland and the Baltic region in the thirteenth century. Two hundred years later, they had conquered most of the Baltic coastal region, including Latvia and Estonia. It is doubtless the case that they were intent on controlling Lithuania, Poland, and Russia as well. Had they succeeded, the Roman Catholic Church would have dominated the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.

Hoping to forcibly spread Christianity and acquire more territory, the focus of the Teutonic Order’s military activities in the fourteenth century was the pagan Lithuanian state. Even after Lithuania accepted Christianity in 1387, the Knights of the Teutonic Order did not cease their aggression against the country. It was obvious that diplomatic efforts would not be able to avert war with the Knights. Therefore, the only hope of defeating the order was if Lithuania and Poland united their military forces.

Hence, on 15 July 1410, a joint Lithuanian-Polish army, joined by Tatar, Bohemian, Russian, Moravian, and Moldavian soldiers, met the Teutonic Knights on the field of Žalgiris (located in the northeast of present-day Poland). The allied army was led by the grand duke of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, and the king of Poland, Jogaila. Although outnumbered (the Knights numbered 32,000, compared to more than 50,000 Poles, Lithuanians, and allies), the order enjoyed superiority in weaponry, experience, and battlefield leadership. Nonetheless, at the end of an entire day of fighting, the Teutonic Knights were defeated, a defeat from which they never recovered. On 1 February 1411, both sides signed a peace treaty, after which the Teutonic Order never again threatened Lithuania.

The Battle of Grünwald is the most important battle in the history of both Lithuania and Poland. As a consequence of the defeat of the Teutonic Order, Eastern Europe was not Germanized, and the emerging nations of Lithuania and Poland were able to develop their own cultures. For that reason, Vytautas the Great is honored in Lithuanian history as the savior of not only the nation of Lithuania, but all of Eastern Europe. Jogaila is awarded that position in Polish history.

WWI – Russian Navy versus German Navy


Gangut at anchor in Helsingfors, 1915. Note the deployed torpedo net.


After the debacle of the Russo-Japanese War reforms were initiated, and under the able Admiral von Essen the reconstruction of the Russian Navy was taken in hand. In the Baltic, the aim was to reach sixty percent of the strength of the German High Seas Fleet. At first, help from the outside was utilized to a considerable extent. The armored cruiser Rurik (15,400 tons, 4 254-mm. guns, 8 203-mm. guns) was built in England by Vickers, turbines for large destroyers in Germany. At the same time, the creation of an efficient armaments industry was begun; large shipyards were built. In June 1909 the keels of four fast battleships (23,400 tons, 12 305-mm. guns) were laid in shipyards in St. Petersburg. The ships were commissioned in 1914-1915. Three similar battleships, slightly slower, but better protected, were finished in Black Sea shipyards between 1915 and 1917, but four very large battle cruisers (32,400 tons, 12 356-mm. guns) for the Baltic were never completed. A high-quality product of the new Russian shipyards was a series of 36 large destroyers, excellently suited for minelaying.

When war broke out, both sides considered the Baltic a secondary theater of operations. The Germans had to be more active because they were more vulnerable to Russian naval operations. They generally used their old ships in the Baltic but had the advantage of being able to send ships from the High Seas Fleet as reinforcements on short notice. This possibility made the Russians very cautious. They were well prepared for minelaying, and in the first winter of the war undertook a number of cleverly planned operations of this kind in the eastern and central Baltic. Several German warships and merchant steamers were sunk or damaged by Russian mines; operations were considerably hampered. On the other hand, German submarines, as well as mines, proved dangerous to the Russians. After the death of Admiral von Essen in the spring of 1915 Russian naval activity decreased noticeably.

In the spring and summer of 1915 a massive German-Austrian land offensive forced back the Russian armies several hundred kilometers. When German land forces approached the large naval base of Libau (Liepaja) a squadron of Russian armored cruisers tried to interfere but retreated after a short fight with German light cruisers, in which no ship was seriously damaged. The only other encounter between surface forces in the open Baltic happened on 2 July 1915. A squadron of five Russian armored cruisers intercepted the minelayer Albatross (2,200 tons, 8 88-mm. guns), which was protected by the light cruiser Augsburg (4,300 tons, 12 105-mm. guns). The Albatross was soon damaged and beached herself at Östergarne on the Swedish island of Gotland. Then the German armored cruiser Roon (9,500 tons, 4 210-mm. guns) and the light cruiser Lubeck joined in the fight. With 4 254-mm. and 20 203-mm. guns the Russians were still far superior but they did not succeed in seriously damaging the German cruisers. They received some hits, too, and finally retreated although no other German forces were near.

In August 1915, a German squadron, reinforced from the North Sea, made two attempts to break into the Gulf of Riga. In the first, the mine barriers proved impenetrable. The second succeeded, in spite of considerable losses to mines, but had no lasting consequences because the German Army did not participate, although its flank on the Gulf of Riga was being continuously harrassed by bombardments from the sea and even raids by parties landed from the sea.

In the summer of 1915, the number of British submarines in the Baltic was increased. The larger E-boats again passed the Sound (between Denmark and Sweden) as in the fall of 1914; the smaller C-class arrived via canals from the White Sea. They proved distinctly more effective than the Russian submarines. For two years neither side undertook any large naval operations. The Germans suffered losses to mines and submarines, but their domination of the Baltic was never challenged. Sea power worked unobtrusively.

For Germany it was vital to have absolute control of the central and western Baltic: she received most of her iron ore from Sweden, most of the grain from her eastern provinces and coal from the Ruhr district was carried by ship, the supplies for the northern wing of the army fighting Russia went by sea, and-last but not least-sea power relieved the army from the necessity of defending the long coasts in the Baltic. Lord Fisher, for many years the British First Sea Lord, strongly advocated large-scale operations in the Baltic. He was of the opinion that this would compel the Germans to station one million men along their coasts. His estimate was probably too high, but it indicates the size of the potential problem for the German armed forces. Early in 1915 the Royal Navy ordered the Courageous class (19,000 tons, 4 381-mm. guns, 32 knots, draft only 6.8 m.) for Baltic operations. However, the outcome of the Battle of Jutland (31 May/l June 1916) clearly showed that such an undertaking would be too risky even for the Grand Fleet. The battle did not change the over-all strategic situation and therefore in some quarters is considered of little importance. True, the blockade of Germany continued but so did that of Russia, since the British had to abandon their plans for directly supporting her through the Baltic.

As early as January 1915 the Russian government had asked the Western allies to open the sea routes to European Russia again. This request led to the well-conceived, but clumsily executed attack on the Dardanelles in the spring of 1915. In the land campaign of that year the Russian armies suffered disproportionately heavy losses in men as a result of lack of ammunition. According to Minister of War Suchomlinov, field batteries received no more than four rounds per gun for a whole day of fighting. When the Black Sea and the Baltic remained closed the situation in Russia deteriorated steadily. Construction of the Murmansk railway had only just begun; from Arkhangelsk 900 kilometers of narrow-gauge rail led to the main railway system. Nine thousand kilometers of single-track railway crossed Siberia to the Far East. In the winter of 1916-17 food in the larger towns was in such short supply that four meatless days per week had to be instituted. The revolution in February 1917 was the consequence of starvation at home and decimation and defeat in the field. When the Kerensky government tried to continue the fight, the Central Powers put pressure on with three limited offensives. The last was an amphibious operation to take the Baltic Islands of Ösel, Moon (Muhu), and Dago. Russian ships still fought well but without luck. The old battleship Slava was damaged by German battleships and had to be blown up by her own crew. The destroyer Grom was taken. The Germans lost a number of smaller vessels to mines.

In this context it is amusing to read another fairytale [1] of Gorshkov’s: “The Moon Sound operation (12 to 20 October 1917) … had the far-reaching goal of uniting the Central Powers, Britain, the U. S. A., and France in the struggle against the Russian Revolution.” When he quotes Lenin to support this strange idea he only shows that this paragon of political wisdom knew very little of sea power and its consequences. He should have been grateful to the Central Powers, for the loss of the Baltic Islands further weakened the Kerensky government and helped make the Bolshevist October Revolution possible. Figures and facts are distorted in Gorshkov’s short description of the operation, which practically ended the naval war in the Baltic.

[1] In a series of articles written in 1972 (published by the U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings in 1974) Admiral Gorshkov.


In the Black Sea the Russian naval forces were more active than in the Baltic. After the German battle cruiser Goeben joined the Turkish fleet in August 1914 neither side had a marked superiority until the new Russian battleships appeared. There were quite a number of engagements, but no conclusive results. When their allies attacked the Dardanelles the Russians repeatedly bombarded the fortifications at the entrance to the Bosporus but did not attempt any landing operations. By this abstention they may have missed the best opportunity for radically improving their supply situation.

The Turkish army in East Anatolia depended on sea transport for a great part of its supplies. When the first new Russian battleship was commissioned· in the winter of 1915-16, Admiral Kolchak, formerly chief-of-staff to Admiral von Essen, made good use of her, and soon the Russians had the upper hand. Well-supported from the sea, their army advanced deep into Turkish territory. At the same time naval forces attacked and nearly stopped the vital transport of coal from Zunguldak on the Black Sea to the Bosporus. With a British army advancing on Palestine, Turkey’s situation soon became critical, but then the October Revolution put an end to Russian operations in Anatolia. The Germans occupied the Ukraine and the Black Sea ports. After the German capitulation, French forces entered Sevastopol temporarily. The best ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet left with them and rusted for many years at the French base of Bizerta in Algeria.

After foreign war, two revolutions, and a long civil war, the remnants of the Russian Navy were in bad shape. Its reconstruction had to take second place behind that of the Army. The experts disagreed on the type of navy needed by the Soviet Union. The Communist Party decided for a kind of “jeune ecole” fleet, a navy for coastal defense with torpedo craft and submarines. Then Stalin assumed command. With his acute sense for politics and power he saw the possibilities of a strong navy for furthering his plans. He also saw the technical difficulties and therefore did not precipitate matters. The second Five-Year Plan (1933-1937) provided for construction of six heavy cruisers, a number of large destroyers and a minimum of 50 submarines. Then, in the Party Congress of 1934, Stalin launched his campaign for capital ships-through a prominent submarine officer. For the construction of battleships and carriers, begun in the third Five-Year Plan, he tried to get help from the USA, but his request was turned down. After the treaty with Hitler in 1939 .he received a half-finished heavy cruiser (the Seydlitz), fire-control gear, and other equipment. In the Supreme Soviet, Premier Molotov declared that in the third Five-Year Plan the Navy had first priority. Pravda declared: “Only the biggest High Seas Fleet will meet Soviet demands.” When the Germans attacked in 1941, the big ships were not yet ready, but 291 submarines of the target number of 325 were in service or nearing completion.

Battle of Culblean


Map from Marrens or Wyness book illustrates the Culblean (Kulblane) battle ground.

In the autumn of 1335, Strathbogie raised an army of 3,000 and with some siege engines, set out to conquer the north-east of Scotland in Balliol’s name. His plan was simple – to eject the Bruce following there and replace it with the Disinherited nobles or their heirs from that region. Being autumn, every knight-tenant, landowner and humble cottar (crofter) was engaged in bringing in the harvest. Strathbogie’s campaign was marked by the smoke from burning hayricks, his men feasting off slaughtered livestock. Then Strathbogie laid siege to Kildrummy Castle, east of Aviemore, where David II’s aunt Christian Bruce was sheltering. (Christian Bruce was the wife of the Guardian, Sir Andrew Murray.) Strathbogie extracted a promise from Sir John Craig, commander of Kildrummy that unless a relief force arrived by 30 November (St Andrew’s Day), the castle would surrender to him.

Sir Andrew Murray was in Bathgate engaged in negotiations with Balliol’s commissioners when the news of Kildrummy reached him. Murray immediately broke off the talks and marched north with 800 knights and gentry including the Earl of Dunbar, Douglas of Liddesdale and Sir Alexander Seton along with about 3,000 infantry.8 Learning of the approach of the relief column, Strathbogie withdrew from Kildrummy and bivouacked in the Forest of Culblean, near Ballater on Deeside. Sir John Craig, Kildrummy Castle’s commander and his 300-strong garrison shadowed Strathbogie, linking with Sir Andrew Murray and his force on St Andrew’s Day.

Early in the morning of 30 November, Murray split his force into two divisions, himself commanding one, Douglas of Liddesdale the other. A half-asleep sentry in Strathbogie’s camp heard the sounds of the approaching army. In the growing light, Strathbogie readied his men for an attack he expected to come from the rear of his camp. On that grey autumn morning nearly 4,000 men from the Lothians, the Merse and elsewhere stood in ordered lines among the trees of the Forest of Culblean; perhaps that November morning there was a mist which offered some protection from Strathbogie’s archers. Strathbogie attacked Douglas of Liddesdale in a headlong frontal assault, charging in force to disable the Scottish wing. As the two groups clashed, Murray pressed forward with his division. In the ensuing melee Murray’s men chased Strathbogie deeper into the wood. The battle was soon over; attended by five of his knights Strathbogie placed his back against a tree, fighting bravely until he was cut down, his body pierced by several swords.

Culblean was no Bannockburn but it brought back shades of Bruce’s victories, giving Sir Andrew Murray the courage to continue the struggle. In many ways Culblean was the turning point in this, the second war of independence. The struggle was no longer one of loyalty to David Bruce or Edward Balliol but to the realm of Scotland. Culblean, a minor battle in the north, was won by men from the Lothians and the Merse, Lowlanders who had long been accused of being in the pocket of three English Kings – Edward I, II and III. The Lowlanders’ victory at Culblean restored their honour. Even the chronicles of later years would look back on Culblean as a deciding factor in the struggle for Scotland’s independence.

As mentioned earlier, by 1337 Edward III had lost interest in Scotland, the year he arrogantly declared himself King of France, which began the conflict known to history as the Hundred Years’ War. Thereafter, Edward limited his intervention in Scotland’s affairs intermittently and half-heartely. Although the war between England and Scotland continued, it was no longer prosecuted with the same impetus and enthusiasm and scale as it had been in the days of Edward I.

In a succession of skirmishes and sieges, the Scots gradually cleared the English out of most of Scotland, although the south-east still remained in their possession. By mid-1337, the disinherited nobles had been forced into a small corner of south-west Scotland. Edward III was increasingly absent from England on the Continent, eager to pursue his ambitions in France which offered better rewards than a Scotland impoverished by years of warfare. He paid Scotland little interest, knowing that Edward Balliol was now a spent force on whom he could no longer rely. But the English still occupied the Merse and Roxburghshire, reaping rich rewards from the fertile agricultural lands and lording it over the rural population.

And then came a minor but significantly morale-boosting event in January 1338. After Edward III rebuilt Edinburgh Castle in 1337, he was content to rest on his laurels, losing interest in the subordinate or satellite castles in the south-east – Berwick, Roxburgh and Dunbar – as he considered Edinburgh the key to controlling the area and allowing his forces to continue their occupation of a rich agricultural region where his troops could subsist at little cost to the English Treasury. With Edinburgh Castle in English hands, Dunbar Castle assumed an importance for the Scots as it kept open lines of communication with France, Scotland’s ally. To allow him to further his ambitions in France, Edward appointed Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick as his lieutenant in Scotland.

John of Fordun’s Chronicle tells us that in the summer of 1337, Lothian suffered wholesale destruction while Patrick, 9th Earl of Dunbar and March, was campaigning with Sir Andrew Murray in Fife and Lanarkshire, reducing every castle in those counties which still held out for Edward III or Balliol. In Lothian, the ineffective Earl of Warwick was replaced by Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel and William Montague, Earl of Salisbury; Arundel and Salisbury were appointed joint commanders of south-east Scotland. Salisbury would become the dominant partner in the events which took place in the first half of 1338.

The centre of resistance in south-east Scotland was Dunbar, East Lothian, where its virtually impregnable castle was left in charge of Agnes Randolph, Patrick 9th Earl of Dunbar’s Countess. Because of the unrest in the south-east, Salisbury and Arundel decided that Dunbar Castle must be taken as it posed a threat to stability in the remaining English-held territory. Their strategy was also aimed at relieving pressure on castles in the vicinity still occupied by English or pro-English garrisons. While the siege of Dunbar Castle was in no sense a set-piece battle which qualifies as a Scottish ‘killing field’, it deserves a brief mention in this account because its successful defence prevented the need for a pitched battle by the Scots to regain control of the south-east of Scotland.

The siege of Dunbar began on 13 January 1338 it would last for twenty-two weeks. ‘Black’ Agnes successfully withstood every attempt made by Salisbury and Arundel to capture the castle, by both fair means or foul; Salisbury tried bribery and blackmail to no avail. (Agnes’s sole surviving brother John was brought from the Tower of London and displayed before her, Salisbury threatening to execute him if she did not surrender. Agnes simply replied that were he to do so, she would inherit the earldom of Moray!) In June 1338, Agnes was relieved by Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, much to the annoyance of Edward III.

The elation of the Scots occasioned by the successful outcome at Dunbar was marred by the death of the regent, Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell; he was replaced by Robert the Steward. The town of Perth remained in the hands of the English, so the new regent concentrated his resources into recovering it. For some unknown reason, Edward III recalled Edward Balliol to England before Robert the Steward began the siege of Perth; perhaps the English king had lost any residual confidence in Balliol, or he wished to spare him the embarrassment of possible defeat. Perth had been placed in the charge of a Thomas Ughtred, who may have been a Northumbrian, given his surname; Ughtred was a common name in that region of northern England during the time of the Bernician Angles.

Perth was a strongly fortified and walled town; however, the Scots aided by some French auxiliaries experienced little difficulty in bringing the pro-English garrison to the negotiating table. In August 1339, Ughtred capitulated and was permitted to march out of Perth with his force intact and return to England. The subsequent re-capture of the castles of Stirling and Edinburgh meant that by 1341, it was deemed safe for David II and his Queen Joan to end their exile in France. David Bruce was hampered by two incompatible political ends when he began his reign in 1341 at the age of seventeen. Scotland’s ties with France through the Auld Alliance remained an obstacle to possible peace with England. David II could not feel secure on the throne of Scotland until England’s claims to overlordship of the country were rescinded, which Edward III would not abandon until Scotland’s alliance with France was terminated.

In 1346, Philip VI of France called upon David to relieve the pressure on France by Edward III who in August 1346 had scored a spectacular victory against the French at Crécy. David responded by raising an army and invading England with a formidable army in the autumn of 1346. He engaged the forces of Edward III at Neville’s Cross, near Durham, on 17 October; decisively beaten, David was taken prisoner along with four of his senior earls and the Bishop of St Andrews. In addition, fifty barons were taken into captivity. Among the fatal casualties was John Randolph, 4th Earl of Moray who had been unceremoniously dragged before his sister Agnes during the siege of Dunbar in 1338. David II would spend the next eleven years in English captivity; in his place, Scotland was ruled by the weak Robert the Steward. Ironically, it was the battle of Neville’s Cross which brought hostilities between Scotland and England to an end.

7–12 June 1807: The Battle of Heilsberg



The Battle of Hellsberg, 10 June 1807. This is Wilson’s battle map of 1810, clearly indicating the formidable line of Russian redoubts on high ground flanking the town.


Phase 1


Phase 2

‘I am very happy to see the enemy wished to avoid our coming to him,’ comments Napoleon on hearing of Bennigsen’s attacks along the Passarge. He quits Finkenstein for the front on 5 June, riding in an open carriage surrounded by bodyguards, later switching to horseback. The emperor, with the whole Grand Army in his wake, is riding towards the final showdown with Bennigsen. It is time to make the Polish gamble pay off.

Napoleon approaches Deppen on 7 June. Stretching miles to the rear, his columns advance: toiling up dusty dirt tracks in suffocating heat. Each man is carrying extra cartridges, and supply waggons sag under the weight of artillery ammunition. Since Mohrungen, 15 miles (24km) west of Deppen, the troops have breathed the scent of war: burning houses, rotting corpses. Napoleon finds Deppen a ruin, torched by Bennigsen before turning-tail for Guttstadt. According to Pierre François Percy, Napoleon’s Organizer of Military Heath Services: ‘We stopped for a meal; a beautiful young girl stared hungrily at my hunk of black bread … I offered her a crust; she blushed and put it into her mouth. Eating with difficulty, she turned away and wept. I had given her a glass of brandy, which she swallowed from politeness.’

Napoleon is delighted by developments, but remains puzzled about Bennigsen’s motives: ‘Everything leads to the belief that the enemy is on the move, though it is ridiculous on his part to engage in a general action now that Danzig is taken … The whole thing smells of a rash move.’ Unsure of his enemy’s whereabouts, Napoleon orders Murat forward to find prisoners. On the following day, 8 June, the emperor is presented with captives from Bagration’s rearguard. They tell of Bennigsen’s march on Guttstadt. Napoleon orders an immediate advance, led by Murat’s 12,000 troopers. Among their number is Sous-Lieutenant de Gonneville of the 6th Cuirassiers: ‘We found the villages fearfully devastated, the inhabitants fled or dead in their homes; in one of them there were five corpses side by side, and a child of twelve still breathing. Colonel d’Avenay took him, had him attended to, saved his life, and then kept him as a servant, and left him a sum of sixty pounds by will …’

Murat drives Bagration back on Guttstadt, where, aided by Platov’s Cossacks, the Russian general makes a gallant stand. Bagration holds out until the arrival of Ney’s infantry around 8.00 p.m. Then he slips over the Alle, and melting into the dusk, follows the rest of Bennigsen’s force to Heilsberg.

Napoleon enters Guttstadt on 9 June but does not tarry long. The pursuit is to continue, and Murat’s advance guard will lock horns with Bagration’s rearguard once more. Meanwhile, peasants are recruited to dig defensive ditches and prepare earthworks (in case of a Russian counter-attack), while starving Frenchmen strip their fields bare.

At dawn on 10 June the bulk of the Grand Army quits Guttstadt, striking north-east up the parched road to Heilsberg, some 12 miles (19.3km) beyond. Meanwhile, Murat makes good progress, reaching the outskirts of town before 10.00 a.m. Following him, at some distance, are the corps of Soult and Lannes (leading the ‘Reserve Army’ from Danzig). According to F.D. Logan:

Heilsberg lies in a hollow on the left bank of the Alle, which is crossed here by three bridges. The rising ground, which surrounded the town, had been fortified by the Russians during the spring by a line of redoubts on either bank. The south side of the river was thickly wooded. On the north side, west of Heilsberg, there was a slightly undulating plain across which, and parallel to, the Russian position, flowed the Spuibach. To facilitate communication with either bank Bennigsen had constructed several bridges. The Russian Army was drawn up on both sides of the river, four divisions and most of the cavalry being on the left, and five divisions on the right bank.’

Bennigsen’s position at Heilsberg is unassailable: at least by means of a frontal attack. The Russians hold the advantages of high ground, prepared defences, and superiority of numbers. They cannot be evicted from of Heilsberg at the sword’s point, but must be manoeuvred out by an outflanking operation. But the need for such a finesse is lost on the hothead Murat, who leads his unsupported cavalry to the attack.

As advance guard commander, Murat’s job is to probe Bennigsen’s strength and reconnoitre the ground before Napoleon’s arrival. But having driven the Russians from the outlying village of Launau, he boldly advances to Bevernick, a stone’s throw from Bennigsen’s batteries, overlooking Heilsberg’s western approaches. Here his attack stalls, brought to a halt by Russian artillery fire. Frustrated, and already in a filthy temper, Murat must wait for Soult’s infantry before pressing on.

About 3.30 p.m. General Savary arrives before Bevernick with two infantry regiments and six guns. The village is quickly carried, but Murat’s troopers are scattered by Russian cavalry and the French are halted once more. Meanwhile, the remainder of Soult’s infantry battles forward to Heilsberg, raked by volleys from guns on the opposite bank of the Alle. Progress is painfully slow and Murat – kitted out in a flashy white uniform and red Moroccan leather boots – is reduced to the role of spectator. Having already accused Savary of cowardice – prompting the observation that Murat wanted ‘less courage and more common sense’ – Napoleon’s cavalry supremo decides to take matters into his own hands. With no possible target but Bennigsen’s now passive squadrons, Murat orders a charge, as witnessed by de Gonneville of the 6th Cuirassiers, part of General d’Espagne’s command:

At this moment the grand duke of Berg (Murat) came up to us; he came from our right rear, followed by his staff, passed at a gallop across our front, bending forwards on his horse’s neck, and as he passed at full speed by General Espagne, he flung at him one word alone which I heard, “Charge!” This order, given without any further directions for an attack on sixty squadrons of picked men, by fifteen unsupported squadrons, seemed to me the more difficult to understand, since in order to get at the enemy there was a nearly impracticable ravine to be crossed by twos and fours, and it was then necessary to form under the enemy’s fire 100 paces from his first line. In case of a check we had no possible means of retreat, but the order was given and the thing had to be done …’

And done it is. Altogether, de Gonneville’s regiment charges six times, and by day’s end, each man’s sabre will be dripping with blood. As for Murat, he throws himself into the thick of the fighting, heedless of all danger, as his biographer, Atteridge, describes:

The cavalry was engaged with a superior force of eighty Russian squadrons, and there was hard hand-to-hand fighting. Murat had a narrow escape. Charging beside Lasalle, at the head of the hussars and chasseurs, he had his horse killed under him. He caught and mounted a riderless horse, but was hardly in the saddle again when he was cut off and surrounded by a party of Russian dragoons. He was fighting for his life, when Lasalle in person arrived to the rescue, cutting down several of the enemy. A few minutes later, Murat saved Lasalle’s life in the mêlée: “We are quits now, my dear general,” he said, grasping his hand.’

But the bloodshed continues and Murat has a second horse killed under him. A corporal of cuirassiers offers the marshal his mount, and off Murat gallops, leaving a red Moroccan boot in one of the stirrups of the dead horse.

Napoleon arrives too late to stop Murat’s madness, but even with the emperor present, the folly continues, as Marshal Lannes – appearing around 10.00 p.m. – launches a fruitless assault on Bennigsen’s redoubts under cover of darkness. This act of lunacy – doubtless intended to impress the emperor – results in 3,000 needless casualties to add to the 10,000 already suffered. By 11.00 p.m. the fighting finally fades, both sides leaving the battlefield to the locals, who, like a legion of ghouls, come to strip the dead. Meanwhile, Sous-Lieutenant de Gonneville returns to his bivouac, famished, fatigued, and bloodstained:

The baggage had not come up; we had no bread or anything else to eat. I had a little tea made in a bit of a canister shot case. The ground was covered pieces of these cases, and shot and muskets. The day was spent in burying our dead, and putting the living in order as far as might be … Next day, about five in the morning, the train arrived. We had bread, but very little of it; General Renauld gave me half a bottle of beer, which I shared with Marulaz; since the preceding evening we had been living on the grass, which we plucked and chewed … the emperor passed through us, and was saluted by acclamations to which he seemed to pay no attention, appearing gloomy and out of spirits. We learnt later that he had no intention of attacking the Russians so seriously as had been done, and especially had desired not to engage his cavalry. The grand duke of Berg had been reprimanded for this, and followed the emperor with a tolerably sheepish air. We again passed the night on the field of battle, lying side by side with the dead; then next day we commenced our march, after getting a ration of bread.’

Another hungry soldier is Jean-Baptiste Barrès, who beds down on the battlefield with his comrades of the Imperial Guard: ‘The day closed without result, each side retaining its positions, and we bivouacked on the ground we occupied, amidst the dead of the morning’s battle. We had been twelve hours under arms, without changing our position.’

But there is no rest for Bennigsen. Sick with fever (he fell unconscious from his horse several times during the battle), midnight finds him scribbling his report to the tsar:

This day at noon Bonaparte attacked the Russian Army in the position on the left bank of the Alle with his whole force. A short time before the attack, Prince Bagration was detached to Launau, where he was attacked by a force greatly superior; and was obliged to fall back. A considerable number of troops then received orders to advance from every quarter, while others formed the reserve. The firing began on all points, and the enemy was forced to leave the field of battle to the Russian troops, who acquired new glory on that day. The loss cannot yet be ascertained, but it is very considerable on both sides; and amounts on the part of the French, at least to 12,000 men in killed and wounded …’

At dawn on 11 June the men of both sides meet in silence to remove their wounded and bury their dead. Another costly battle of attrition is expected by all, but suddenly – too late for over 20,000 maimed or murdered men – the rival commanders come to their senses: Heilsberg can only be taken by a turning action. And so, as Napoleon prepares to march around the town’s flanks, Bennigsen prepares to evacuate. Russian guns still boom throughout the day, but as soon as night falls, Bennigsen quits:

finding that the enemy might cut off all provisions from my army in its present position, and detach a corps to Königsberg, I humbly beg leave to state to your royal Majesty, my determination to quit this place tonight, and march to another position near Schippenbeil, in order to be able to protect those behind the Alle, the transport of provisions etc., and in case the enemy marches to Königsberg, to follow him immediately.’

And at 4.00 a.m. on 12 June, the French hit town. On entering Heilsberg, they find piles of provisions, stores and wounded: all abandoned by Bennigsen in his haste to escape encirclement. But Heilsberg cannot be described as a French success. As at Eylau, Napoleon is left in possession of a battlefield, not a decisive victory. As F.D. Logan states: ‘Heilsberg is only one more instance of the failure of a frontal attack carried out by successive assaults and with no attempt at combined action by the different corps. The position was strong and the assailants were inferior in numbers …’






Portuguese Army


Portuguese Army


After losing his line along the Nivelle river, Marshal Soult withdrew his army, now numbering 63,000 men, north towards Bayonne, a strongly fortified town which had served as a major supply depot for the French army throughout the Peninsular War. The ancient citadel on the north bank overlooked the large Vauban fortress south of the river, while new earthworks had been dug around the city. The citizens had also been fiercely loyal to Napoleon thoughout his campaigns and for once the French soldiers were made welcome.

While part of Soult’s army deployed in the fortifications south of Bayonne, the rest crossed the river Nive at Cambo-les-Bains and Ustaritz and deployed along the riverbank where they could threaten Wellington’s flank as he advanced towards the city. Any advance against Bayonne was hampered by the terrain and Wellington’s movements were further restricted by the sea to the west and the river Nive to the east. Soult’s troops could watch and wait in their entrenchments while the British infantry had to contend with a labyrinth of walls, streams and woods as they advanced across the rolling hills. The winter weather had also turned the fields in front of Bayonne into a muddy wasteland.

Wellington planned to approach Bayonne from two directions, attacking the flanks of the French army. Rather than confront Soult head on, the British commander wanted to threaten his lines of communication. He now had over 8,000 cavalry, over ten times the number under Soult’s command, but there were few opportunities for them in the rough terrain south of the city. If he could get them across the river Ardour to the east of Bayonne and into the open countryside beyond, the town would be isolated.

Wellington’s plan called for two divisions to move north along the coast road, threatening the French positions around Anglet. In the centre, the Light Division would hold a line of outposts on the hills around Arcangues, connecting the two flanks of the army. The rest of the army would cross the river Nive, south-east of the city, and capture the hills on the far bank, as the start of an outflanking move designed to cross the river Ardour. It was an ambitious plan and Wellington knew that he would have to advance quickly because his army would be separated by the river Nive at a time when the winter weather could cause it to flood.

Marshal Soult had deployed five divisions south of Bayonne and they were well dug in. His remaining four divisions were holding the east bank of the river Nive, where they could threaten Wellington’s flank as he approached Bayonne. D’Erlon’s corps held a strong position on the heights overlooking Villefranque, south-east of the city, while D’Armagnac’s division covered the crossing at Ustaritz and Foy’s division held the bridge at Cambo.

As the allied troops prepared to move against the city, Wellington was forced to reconsider his situation when Spanish troops under his command began to rebel. The authorities had failed to pay many of them, while the logistics chain frequently broke down, leaving the men starving and with no means to buy food. As troops began to plunder villages, taking out their frustration on the local population, the British commander was forced to order the majority of his Spanish troops back across the Pyrenees. Although the order reduced Wellington’s army to 64,000 troops, and cost him his superiority in numbers, he knew that the French population could easily turn against his men, and he did not want to have to contend with guerrilla bands as the French had had to in the peninsula. He summed up the situation in November 1813:

If I could now bring forward 20,000 good Spaniards, paid and fed, I should have Bayonne. If I could bring forward 40,000, I do not know where I should stop. Now I have both the 20,000 and the 40,000 at my command, but I cannot venture to bring forward any for want of means of paying and supporting them. Without pay and food, they must plunder; and if they plunder, they will ruin us all.

Morillo’s division would continue to serve alongside the British and Portuguese soldiers but only after the Spanish commander had been lectured on how his men must behave once they had crossed the border: ‘I did not lose thousands of men to bring the army under my command into the French territory, in order that the soldiers might plunder and ill-treat the French peasantry, in positive disobedience of my orders.’

General Hill’s troops began offensive operations on 16 November and drove General Foy’s outposts from the west bank of the Nive in front of Cambo, but then the weather closed in. Heavy rains turned the roads into quagmires, soaked the men’s powder and turned the river Nive into a raging torrent. Engineers were unable to launch their pontoon bridges into the floodwaters at Ustaritz in General Beresford’s sector, while the fords in Hill’s sector became impassable. The only advantage for the allies was that the French outposts had to withdraw before they were cut off. It was the start of a prolonged period of bad weather and while the allied troops searched for shelter, Wellington contemplated the risks involved in the forthcoming operation. For the next three weeks the rain poured down as the two armies huddled miserably beneath their tents on either side of the flooded river.

The skies eventually cleared at the beginning of December, and as the floodwaters receded the allied troops made their final preparations for the attack. The advance on Bayonne began on 9 December when 15,000 men advanced from St Jean-de-Luz astride the coastal road towards Bayonne. General Hope’s 1st Division led with Hay’s 5th Division following, alongside Aylmer’s, Bradford’s and Campbell’s independent brigades. After crossing the river Tanque where it cut through a deep valley, the British troops advanced on to the heights beyond, forcing the French outposts back to their earthworks around Anglet. By nightfall the 1st Division had established a line of picquets on the slopes overlooking the village, but Reille’s position was never in danger. General Hope decided that the 1st Division was capable of holding Anglet on its own and the 5th Division was ordered to withdraw 5 kilometres to the south and camp for the night; the independent brigades were allowed to return to St Jean de Luc. As the advance went to plan on the left flank, the Light Division moved forward in Wellington’s centre on to the heights overlooking Arcangues village, maintaining contact between the two wings of his army.

The main attack was to take place along the river Nive. More than 13,000 men under General Hill’s command were roused from their billets in front of Cambo while it was still dark and moved down to the river bank. At dawn the sight of a beacon burning brightly against the grey sky signalled that the battle was about to commence. To the south, Morillo’s Spanish division crossed the river at Itzatza (Itxassou) and climbed the slopes towards General Paris’s troops holding Mount Ursouia. This was only a feint attack but it was enough to stop the French moving north to threaten the crossing at Cambo.

In the centre, General Hill’s 2nd Division and General Le Cor’s Portuguese division headed down to the river bank north and south of Cambo, and officers shepherded their companies as the men queued up to cross at three fords. General Foy had posted a strong guard around the bridge in the centre of the village but the floodwaters meant that he had not been able to maintain outposts at the fords. As the British and Portuguese troops waded into the chest-deep torrent they held their powder and muskets above the freezing water. General Foy’s infantry maintained a heavy fire from the far bank but the two divisions quickly deployed on the far bank and returned fire before charging. The village of Cambo and its bridge were soon in allied hands, and as cavalry and artillery poured across the bridge the French began to withdraw. The daring crossing had been a total success and Wellington was able to order an advance north along the river bank.

Wellington’s main attack was in the centre around the village of Ustaritz, which sat high on a ridge overlooking the wide, open river valley. General D’Armagnac had been unable to establish a strong defensive line on the east bank and the allied guns posted on the heights kept the French at bay while the engineers launched their pontoon bridge. General Beresford ordered Picton’s 3rd and Clinton’s 6th Divisions across and they fanned out on the far bank, driving the French before them. The experienced British soldiers advanced rapidly against the green French troops and by the time Cole’s 4th and Walker’s 7th Divisions had crossed, over 26,000 men were on the far bank.

The three French divisions were powerless to stop Hill and Beresford and by nightfall their two footholds had expanded to form a single 8-kilometre-wide bridgehead on the east bank of the river Nive. Marshal Soult chose to abandon Mount Ursuoia and withdraw from the high ground overlooking the British positions so he could concentrate his troops around Villefranque. Although he had lost this battle, Soult was determined to win the campaign. The withdrawal north towards Bayonne was seen by many as a sign of defeat but as Wellington’s troops settled down for the night, the French divisions were on the move once more.

The French commander believed that Wellington had made a mistake in moving so many troops to the east bank of the Nive and he was determined to make him pay for it. As rain fell across Bayonne over 25,000 troops left their camp fires burning and marched into the city. Five divisions moved through the dark streets and deployed south of the city ready to attack in a bold move to strike back at Wellington’s weakened left and centre. Soult wanted to attack quickly before the British commander could move his troops back to the west bank of the Nive.

Despite the appalling weather some 50,000 French troops were in position before dawn on 10 December and ready to attack. Reille’s corps was waiting to advance down the coast road towards Hope’s position around Anglet while Clausel’s corps faced the Light Division. D’Erlon’s corps was poised to advance down the west bank of the river Nive, cutting the British army in two. Wellington, however, was unimpressed by the marshal’s plan and confidently stated that he ‘has lost his numerical advantage by extending himself in this manner and I intend to attack him in the false position he has adopted’.

General Reille’s corps led the attack down the coast road towards the 1st Division and soon drove the Guards picquets from Anglet, forcing General Hope’s men to fall back in confusion across the river Tanque, where they made a stand alongside Campbell’s and Bradford’s Portuguese brigades. Although French dragoons overran the 1st Portuguese Line, another more solid line was soon formed and Reille’s men were stopped in front of Chateau Barrouillet, the home of the Mayor of Biarritz.

Undeterred, Reille ordered the rest of his corps forward. While General Villatte’s division reinforced the attack down the coast road, General Foy advanced inland through the village of Pacho and forded the upper reaches of the river Tanque to outflank General Hope’s precarious position. As soon as this manoeuvre was spotted by British outposts, Wellington was notified and he ordered General Hay to move his 5th Division forward to counter the move. Lord Aylmer’s brigade arrived just as the French were about to attack the 1st Division’s flank and Wellington galloped up to the 85th to offer them encouragement: ‘You must keep your ground, my lads. Charge! Charge!’ The two lines of redcoats did exactly what was asked of them, opening fire as the French infantry closed in and charged. The 85th stopped Foy’s attack in its tracks, giving the 1st Division time to reorganise and prepare for the next onslaught. This was, however, the high point of the French assault: Reille had lost the advantage. General Hope was able to cover the south bank of the river Tanque and turn his right flank at an angle to face Foy’s attack. Time after time the three French divisions tried to break the British but the line repeatedly triumphed over the column and after several hours’ fighting Reille gave the order to withdraw.

While the 1st Division was fighting for its life, the Light Division faced the full weight of Clausel’s corps. The picquets fell back in front of the three French divisions, abandoning the high ground around Bassussarry, as General Alten checked the deployment of his troops around Arcangues, 3 kilometres to the south. He had chosen a strong position and the French found marshy ground blocking the way forward in many areas. It would have been suicidal to push columns forward on the flanks and Clausel ordered them to wait until the Arcangues ridge had been taken.

The 43rd Regiment was deployed around Arcangues church and stood directly in the path of the French onslaught. Alten’s riflemen took cover where they could, some using the churchyard wall and the headstones for cover. Others broke into the church and lined the galleries inside, smashing the windows to get a better shot at the French. Clausel needed to deploy his gun batteries as close as he could to the 43rd to give his men the advantage they needed but as soon as the gun teams appeared on the ridge around Arcangues chateau, the riflemen opened fire. They were some 400 metres away, at extreme range for riflemen, but dozens of French artillerymen and horses were shot down as they tried to take aim, firing roundshot at the church. It was an unequal fight but the Goliath of the duel was eventually forced to retire and Clausel’s horse teams withdrew to a safe distance, leaving twelve guns abandoned on the ridge.

By the afternoon of 10 December, Soult’s ambitious plan was in tatters but General D’Erlon was ordered to make a final attempt to drive a wedge between the two wings of Wellington’s army. D’Armagnac’s division was ordered forward and advanced along the west bank of the Nive, aiming to outflank the riflemen holding Arcangues. Again the outcome was the same. The outposts abandoned their positions near Villefranque and fell back towards Ustaritz. The French columns found General Le Cor’s 7th Division waiting for them on the far side of a stream and once again the lines of British and Portuguese troops stopped the columns in their tracks.

As the light began to fail, Soult had to admit that his plan had failed; his men were exhausted after their long night march followed by a frustrating battle in the heavy rain. The situation did not improve during the night for the French when three battalions of German troops deserted after hearing news that Napoleon had been defeated at Leipzig in October.

Meanwhile, Wellington spent the night deploying his army, shifting troops from west to east to counter further attacks. The 4th and 7th Divisions moved to St Jean de Luc to help General Hope defend the coast road. The 3rd and 6th Divisions had also crossed the river Nive to reinforce the Light Division and took up positions north of Ustaritz.

By the morning of 11 December the advantage had shifted in the allies’ favour. Wellington knew where the French were likely to attack and French morale had plummeted after two days of fighting and marching without success. Even so, Soult was determined to continue and Reille renewed the attack across the river Tanque, taking the 1st Division by surprise. The British picquets were overrun and as they fell back General Hope found himself on the defensive. His battalions suffered over 400 casualties in the opening attack and they fell back over 1.5 kilometres, losing the village of Barrouillet and its chateau. Despite the initial shock, the 1st Division rallied on the 4th and 7th Divisions, bringing Reille’s attack to a halt.

Soult’s options were running out and a final attack on 12 December ended in failure when Reille’s exhausted corps fell back from the river Tanque to the fortifications around Anglet. Casualties had been high–around 1,500 on each side–but the French commander refused to accept defeat. Although his attempt to break the allied positions on the west bank of the river Nive had failed, Marshal Soult had not given up trying to drive Wellington’s troops back from the outskirts of Bayonne. He would once again move his men through Bayonne and shift his attack to the opposite flank.

British Troops Engaged during the Battles of the Nive

1st Division General Sir John Hope

Howard’s Brigade 1/1st Guards, 3/1st Guards, 1 Coy 5/60th

Stopford’s Brigade 1/Coldstream, 1/3rd Guards, 1 Coy 5/60th

Hinuber’s Brigade 1st, 2nd and 5th Line KGL

Halkett’s Brigade 1st and 2nd Light Battalions KGL

2nd Division General Stewart

Barnes’s Brigade 1/50th, 1/71st, 1/92nd

Byng’s Brigade 1/3rd, 1/57th, 1st Prov. Bttn (1/31st and 2/66th)

Pringle’s Brigade 1/28th, 2/34th, 1/39th

Ashworth’s Brigade 6th Portuguese Line, 18th Portuguese Line, 8th Caçadores

5th Division General Leith

Greville’s Brigade 3/1st, 1/9th, 1/38th

Robinson’s Brigade 1/4th, 2/47th, 2/59th, 2/84th

Lord Aylmer’s Brigade 2/62nd, 76th, 85th

De Regod’s Brigade 3rd Portuguese Line, 15th Portuguese Line, 8th Caçadores

6th Division General Clinton

Pack’s Brigade 1/42nd, 1/79th, 1/91st, 1 Coy 5/60th

Lambert’s Brigade 1/11th, 1/32nd, 1/36th, 1/61st

Douglas’s Brigade 8th Portuguese Line, 12th Portuguese Line, 9th Caçadores

Light Division General Alten

Kempt’s Brigade 1/43rd, 1/95th, 3/95th

Colborne’s Brigade 1/52nd, 2/95th

Portuguese Brigade 1st and 3rd Caçadores, 17th Line

Portuguese Division General Le Cor

Da Costa’s Brigade 2nd Line, 14th Line

Buchan’s Brigade 4th Line, 10th Line, 4th Caçadores

Bradford’s Brigade 13th Portuguese Line, 24th Portuguese Line, 5th Caçadores

Campbell’s Brigade 1st Portuguese Line, 16th Portuguese Line, 4th Caçadores

Cavalry 13th Light Dragoons, 14th Light Dragoons, 16th Light Dragoons

Battle of Santa Cruz


Anti-aircraft shell bursts, fired at attacking Japanese aircraft, fill the sky above USS Enterprise (center left) and her screening ships during the battle on October 26, 1942.


Although the Japanese had originally considered the occupation of Guadalcanal subsidiary to the advance on Port Moresby, at the end of August they made the recapture of Henderson Field their prime objective. On 18 September, they further determined that their troops in New Guinea, now within 30 miles of Port Moresby, would go onto the defensive and begin a slow withdrawal, so that all available reinforcements could go to Guadalcanal. During early October, the ‘Tokyo Express’ duly brought them to the island; Lieutenant General Hyakutake personally arrived on the 9th.

It had been planned that a ‘Tokyo Express’ should set ashore a particularly large reinforcement of men and equipment, including heavy artillery pieces, on the night of 11/12 October. Its approach was detected and Rear Admiral Norman Scott, commanding a task force of cruisers and destroyers, some of them fitted with new, improved radar sets, attempted to intercept it, only to encounter instead an enemy covering force of similar strength to his own.

The resulting clash, known as the Battle of Cape Esperance after the north-west point of Guadalcanal, provided the delighted and relieved Americans with their first victory in a night action. The Japanese commander, Rear Admiral Aritomo Goto who had led the Port Moresby Close Support Force at Coral Sea, was killed and his flagship, heavy cruiser Aoba, was badly damaged. Heavy cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubuki were sunk and next morning, aircraft from Henderson Field sent two more destroyers, Murakumo and Natsugumo, to the bottom. Several of Scott’s vessels suffered considerable damage but only destroyer, Duncan, was lost.

While Scott’s success dramatically lifted American spirits, however, it seemed merely a temporary irritation to Hyakutake. By 15 October, he had 22,000 men under his command, the majority of them fresh troops. The Americans could muster a thousand more but many of them were far from fresh and suffering from a variety of ailments. Hyakutake’s target was Henderson Field for he rightly regarded American control of the air as a crucial factor in deciding the ownership of the island.

To assist him in attaining his aim, Hyakutake was strongly supported by the Imperial Navy. A carrier force hovered some 300 miles north of Guadalcanal to prevent any American attempt at reinforcement or evacuation and meanwhile to deliver strikes on targets of opportunity; one such on 15 October sank destroyer Meredith with the loss of 185 men. Japanese surface vessels were instructed to neutralize Henderson Field by bombardments. In the early hours of 14 October, the greatest of these was delivered by battleships Kongo and Haruna, while on the nights of both the 14th/15th and the 15th/16th, pairs of heavy cruisers poured their 8-inch shells onto the aerodrome.

Yet despite the damage and casualties inevitably caused, the ‘Cactus Air Force’ was never subdued. On 15 October, its aircraft so damaged three Japanese transports that these were forced to beach, ultimately becoming total losses. On 25 October, they repulsed another attempted bombardment, this time in daylight, and left light cruiser Yura crippled and on fire; her destruction was completed by Flying Fortresses. The defenders of the airfield proved equally steadfast. Starting in the afternoon of 23 October, the Japanese made a whole series of attempts to capture it. By the early hours of the 26th, the last of these had failed with immense losses. Hyakutake accepted that he must await further reinforcements before he could renew his attempts to secure Guadalcanal. Admiral Yamamoto ordered his warships to reverse course to the north.

That, sadly, was not the end of the story. On 18 October, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, had replaced Vice Admiral Ghormley with Vice Admiral William Halsey, an extremely determined and pugnacious character whose nickname – bestowed by the newspapers; no one who knew him ever called him this – was ‘The Bull’. His appointment was received with delight throughout the South Pacific and gave notice to friend and foe alike that however long and hard the Guadalcanal campaign might be, the Americans would see it through to the end.

Unfortunately Halsey’s virtues were weakened by one great defect: his corroding hatred of his foes often prevented him from appreciating what brave and dangerous enemies they were. So now when the Japanese had accepted that their plans had failed and their ships were interested only in retiring, he insisted on bringing about a naval battle under very disadvantageous circumstances that could well have resulted in the loss of America’s only two serviceable fleet carriers.

When Halsey took up his post, he had only one carrier under his command but by 26 October, Enterprise, her repairs hastily completed, had returned to the South Pacific and joined forces with Hornet north of the Santa Cruz Islands, which in turn lay well to the east of Guadalcanal. Both of them were placed under the tactical control of Rear Admiral Kinkaid and were ordered to steam north-westward to engage the Japanese fleet. This put them outside the range of the ‘Cactus Air Force’ and they were further deprived of the support of a force built around battleship Washington that Halsey decided to retain in the vicinity of Guadalcanal to guard against another attempted bombardment. Halsey later came to appreciate his mistake, declaring that he would never again allow the Japanese to ‘suck’ his ‘flat-tops’ away to the north.

Furthermore, unlike Midway where, contrary to myth, the Americans had had larger numbers of ships and aircraft available in the actual combat-zone, at the Battle of Santa Cruz it was the Japanese who held these advantages. As usual their fleet was divided into a number of separate formations, the most important being Nagumo’s Striking Force containing Shokaku, Zuikaku, light carrier Zuiho, a heavy cruiser and eight destroyers. Junyo, whose lack of speed made it difficult for her to operate in close company with the other Japanese carriers, was stationed to the north-west, screened by a couple of destroyers. In advance of Nagumo steamed the Vanguard Group of Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe with battleships Hiei and Kirishima, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and seven destroyers. The oddly entitled Advance Group – battleships Kongo and Haruna, four heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and twelve destroyers under the overall commander, Vice Admiral Kondo – in fact brought up the rear.

The ships in these various formations considerably outnumbered those with the American carriers that, as at the Eastern Solomons, formed the centres of two separate groups about 10 miles apart. Enterprise was guarded by battleship South Dakota, one heavy and one light cruiser and eight destroyers; Hornet by two heavy and two light cruisers and six destroyers. In aircraft, Nagumo could bring fifty-seven Kates, sixty-eight Vals and eighty-seven Zeros against Kinkaid’s seventy-two Dauntlesses, twenty-nine Avengers and seventy Wildcats. In addition, Enterprise carried a new Air Group, the first to be formed after Pearl Harbour, the pilots of which were mostly very inexperienced, having only just completed their training. A large proportion of American aircraft losses at Santa Cruz would be the results of accidents unrelated to combat.

As so often seems to be the case, the stronger force had most of the luck. Enterprise at 0512 sent out sixteen Dauntlesses flying in pairs on armed reconnaissance but it was not until 0650 that two of them, flown by Lieutenant Commander Lee and Ensign Johnson, sighted Nagumo. A Japanese reconnaissance machine had discovered Hornet 20 minutes earlier, and though both sides prepared for action, Nagumo had the priceless advantage of being able to strike first. At 0710, a total of eighteen Kates, twenty Vals and eighteen Zeros from Shokaku and Zuikaku, plus nine Zeros from Zuiho, set out to strike at Kinkaid.

Nagumo then made ready for another raid, but at 0740, two more of Enterprise’s scouts appeared. They dived on little Zuiho, their bombs striking her near the stern and tearing a jagged 50-foot hole in her flight deck that prevented her from conducting any further flying operations. Though pursued for miles by the furious Combat Air Patrol, Lieutenant Strong and Ensign Irvine made good their escape, their gunners downing two Zeros for good measure. Nonetheless, Nagumo was able to get a second strike of twelve Kates, twenty Vals and twelve Zeros airborne at 0822, while Junyo contributed eighteen Vals and eleven Zeros soon after 0900.

Meanwhile Kinkaid was also sending out his airmen but in accordance with the then American beliefs and mindful of the need to recover lost time, they flew, as usual, in separate groups. The first of these, fifteen Dauntlesses, six Avengers armed with bombs and eight fighters, left Hornet at 0730, but the inexperienced Air Group on Enterprise could not launch its raid of three dive-bombers, eight torpedo-planes and eight fighters for another half-hour. Nine more Dauntlesses, nine bomb-carrying Avengers and seven Wildcats from Hornet followed at 0815.

Having taken off first, the Japanese arrived first. At 0910, their first wave hurtled down on Hornet in a perfectly co-ordinated assault. The Vals had already made a hit on her flight deck aft together with two very near misses, before the most spectacular incident of the raid took place. The aircraft flown by the dive-bombers’ leader, Lieutenant Commander Mamoru Seki who had also led the successful attack on Enterprise at the Eastern Solomons, was fatally hit but, trailing a long column of flame, he deliberately dived into Hornet’s superstructure, then crashed on through the flight deck where two of his bombs exploded, starting a furious fire.

Immediately afterwards, two torpedoes struck Hornet’s starboard side, flooding the forward engine room and two boiler rooms and destroying all power and communications. Next, three more bombs found their mark, two of them penetrating deep into the carrier’s hull before detonating. Finally, a blazing Kate torpedo-bomber with a doomed pilot at the controls came charging on to dash itself into Hornet’s bow close to the forward elevator. The raiders had lost twelve Vals and half-a-dozen Kates, including that of their commander Lieutenant Jiichiro Imajuku, to AA fire, but in ten savage minutes they had left Hornet dead in the water, burning from bow to stern, with 111 of her crew dead and 108 others wounded.

The American airmen continued to have ill luck, particularly those from Enterprise. On the way to their target they sighted and were sighted by the original Japanese strike force. The Zeros from Zuiho attacked out of the sun and at a cost of three of their own aircraft downed four Avengers, including that of the leader, Lieutenant Commander John Collett, and four Wildcats. The survivors attacked Abe’s Vanguard Group, as did the Avengers of Hornet’s first wave that had lost their dive-bombers in cloud, and the whole of Hornet’s second wave. Heavy cruiser Chikuma was damaged by bombs.

Only the fifteen Dauntlesses in Hornet’s first wave located Nagumo – at 0930. They were engaged by some twenty Zeros that shot down one, damaged two more so badly they had to head back to their mothership, one failing to reach her, and forced the Air Group Leader, Lieutenant Commander William Widhelm to ‘ditch’. He and his gunner scrambled into their life raft, from which they watched subsequent events, rather like Ensign Gay at Midway. They were rescued by a Catalina two days later.

Lieutenant James Vose, who now succeeded to the command of the remaining eleven dive-bombers, pressed on unflinchingly. Since lucky Zuikaku, as at Coral Sea, had found a rain squall to shelter under and Vose could see that Zuiho was still burning, Shokaku received the full weight of the Dauntlesses’ attack. Four 1,000-lb bombs struck Nagumo’s flagship, wrecking flight deck, hangars and elevators, starting fires, reducing her speed, causing about 100 casualties and, best of all, putting her out of action for nine months. Not one of Vose’s aircraft was lost.

At this point, honours might be considered even, but the Americans had now struck all their blows, while the Japanese still had two formations airborne. Of Nagumo’s second wave, one Kate had to turn back with engine trouble and one Val became separated from its fellows and attacked Hornet ineffectually, but the remaining warplanes targeted Enterprise on which by further ill fortune, all attention had been directed to a different danger. At 1002, a Wildcat pilot, Lieutenant Albert Pollock, suddenly saw a torpedo, fired by I-21, racing towards destroyer Porter. He dived down, firing, in the hope of detonating it or at least warning the destroyer, only to be shot at by her ungrateful AA gunners. It was a misunderstanding that cost Porter dearly. The torpedo found her boiler room and caused so much damage that the Americans had to sink her.

Consequently, when the Japanese dive-bombers plunged down at about 1015, they caught the Combat Air Patrol by surprise. The anti-aircraft fire, however, especially that from Enterprise and South Dakota, was devastating. At least fifteen Vals were destroyed and their leader, Lieutenant Sadomu Takahashi, was engaged by a Wildcat as he withdrew and subsequently ‘ditched’; he and his gunner were later rescued by a Japanese tanker. Nothing, though, could prevent the Vals from scoring two direct hits and one very near miss; one bomb striking near Enterprise’s forward elevator that it put out of action.

Happily for Enterprise, Takahashi’s men, in their eagerness, had not waited for their torpedo-planes. By the time eleven dark-green Kates appeared the Wildcats were ready – and annihilated them. Lieutenant Stanley Vejtasa alone was credited with having downed six, including that of the veteran Lieutenant Commander Shigeharu Murata who had led the torpedo-bombers at Pearl Harbour. It was one of his victims, however, that achieved the raid’s only success; it flew on into the forecastle of destroyer Smith, turning this into a mass of flames. Fortunately these were mastered by her damage control personnel, aided by the initiative of Lieutenant Commander Hunter Wood who put his ship’s bow close behind South Dakota, where the battleship’s foaming wake helped to subdue the fires. At 1121, the raiders from Junyo also attacked. They made bomb-hits on South Dakota and light cruiser San Juan inflicting little damage, achieved only one near miss on Enterprise, and lost twelve Vals including their leader Lieutenant Masao Yamaguchi.

Nonetheless, Enterprise was still in a vulnerable position. Aircraft from both US carriers returning from their own raids had to land on her and the resulting confusion, aggravated by her inoperative elevator, made future operations very difficult. Since it was known that the Japanese still possessed two undamaged carriers, Kinkaid had little choice but to withdraw to the south-east, which he did at 1400.

Meanwhile, Hornet, her fires brought under control and most of her crew taken off, was being towed slowly towards safety by heavy cruiser Northampton. Her plight had become known to her enemies and Rear Admiral Abe’s Vanguard Group was heading towards her at high speed, ready for a surface action. Yamamoto even hoped that she might be captured as reassuring evidence of the Imperial Navy’s superiority. And at 1515, nine Kates and five Zeros from Junyo renewed the air-attacks on her. Seven of the Kates, including their leader Lieutenant Yoshiaki Irikiin, were lost but a torpedo, tearing open her starboard side, sealed Hornet’s fate. The remainder of her crew was ordered to leave her.

Though this decision was unquestionably correct, Hornet now proved embarrassingly durable. The bulk of her escorts retired but left a couple of destroyers to finish her off. They put nine more torpedoes into her but at this stage of the war American torpedoes were not famed for their effectiveness and she remained afloat. They then fired 430 5-inch shells at her, reducing her to a furnace, but she was still afloat when at 2040, the approach of Abe’s ships forced them to retire. At least there was now no question of her falling into enemy hands and at 2100, she was finally sent to the bottom by four ‘Long Lances’.

It cannot be disputed that Santa Cruz was an American defeat and one that left them with only a single crippled fleet carrier ready for service. Such was their concern that, in response to urgent requests, HMS Victorious was sent to Pearl Harbour. Here, though, she had to re-equip with American machines and train her airmen in their use, as otherwise she would have been unable to make good any losses suffered, and by the time this had been completed, the crisis had passed.

Yet if the Americans had lost more ships, the Japanese had lost more airmen – a reversal of the situation after Midway. While seventy-four US aircraft had been destroyed most of these were the victims of accidents caused by inexperience; only twenty had fallen in combat. By contrast, sixty-nine Japanese warplanes had been shot down, twenty-three more had ‘ditched’ and about 140 irreplaceable veteran airmen were dead, among them, as will have been noticed, almost all the Val and Kate formation commanders. So great were the losses that Zuikaku, as after Coral Sea, was temporarily inoperable for lack of aircrews to man her.

It seems indeed that while the Imperial Navy in general was lifted by its victory, those concerned with its naval aviation were much less elated. Nagumo was not asked to bring his carriers into action again and like his old antagonist Fletcher, he would be found later only in less important posts. Though carrier Junyo was still fit for action and was now joined by her sister-ship Hiyo, they remained well to the north-west of Guadalcanal and accordingly, unlike Enterprise for all her jammed elevator, they had no influence on the next, most decisive of the six savage sea-fights that were the highlights of the campaign.