Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of Mohács

It was in 1526, the traditional invasion road that led into the Balkans was taken once again by the Ottomans. Most such annual campaigns had culminated in the siege of some Danubian fortress town, but this year was to be different. For the Hungarian army composed of King Louis II, his bishops, magnates, nobles and knights, had advanced to give battle.

The opposing forces

In the 1526 campaign the Ottoman army may have numbered some 60,000 provincial cavalry (the Rumelian and Anatolian troops) and standing forces (janissaries [the sultan’s elite infantry troops], cavalry and artillery) and perhaps a not her 40,000-50,000 irregulars and auxiliaries. Due to the long, four-month march, rainy weather and sieges, a good portion of this army must have been lost by the time it reached Hungary. Thus the estimate of Archbishop Pál Tornori, commander-in-chief of the Hungarian army, who, based on intelligence he received, put the whole fighting force of the sultan’s army at about 70,000 men, seems more realistic than the exaggerated figures of 150,000 to 300,000 men suggested by later historians. However, even this more modest estimate suggests a considerable Ottoman numerical superiority. Since the Croatian and Transylvanian forces, numbering some 10,000 to 15,000 men each, could not join the king in 1526, the Hungarian army that met the Ottomans south of Mohács – near the intersection of modern Hungary, Croatia and Yugoslavia – was only about 25,000 to 30,000 strong. A similar Ottoman superiority can be seen with regard to firepower: whereas the Ottomans deployed some 200 cannons, mainly small-calibre ones, the Hungarians had only about 80 cannons.

The Fall of Petervarad and Ujlak. The Ottoman Army Reaches the Drava

As already mentioned, on June 19, during the advance along the valley of the Morava, Grand Vezir Ibrahim was instructed by the sultan to capture Petervarad. According to Ottoman sources the castle was a “stumbling block” along the “highway of the holy struggle” by which we must understand that it closed off access to the Danube, hampering the movements of the fleet. Moreover, it could endanger the supply lines if by-passed and left in the rear of the Ottoman armies. Thanks to reconnaissance conducted by Bali Beg, the Ottoman high command obtained the following correct information about the Hungarians: on July 8 the king was still in Buda, over 1,000 troops were stationed at the castle of Petervarad, and the “accursed priest”, Tomori, was in the vicinity with 2,000 soldiers.

Ibrahim launched the siege of the castle on July 14 with the Rumelian army, the 2,000 janissaries assigned to him, the 150 artillery pieces, and the flotilla. Once under the castle they immediately started constructing the siege trenches and battery positions and soon, together with the artillery, launched a barrage. On July 17the Anatolian army joined the besiegers. The garrison of the castle held out bravely and made a few sallies. It repelled the assaults of the Ottomans repeatedly and inflicted on them significant losses. The Ottomans were able to take the castle on July 28 only after undermining and blowing up one of the bastions and storming it through the breach. With only a handful of men on the northern bank of the Danube Tomori could not come to the rescue of the defenders. By this time the troops of the bishop of Pecs, of the chapter of Esztergom, and of the abbey of Szekszard were all in his camp, to be joined later by Peter Perenyi and his banderium; yet his forces still numbered no more than 4,000.

It seems the Ottoman command wanted to present the union of the forces from Croatia and Transylvania with the royal forces by dispatching the army of Ibrahim with extraordinary urgency from Petervarad to Ujlak, the siege of which was launched as ear]y as August 1. It was undertaken with the same generous expenditure of materiel as that of Petervarad. The defenders of this much weaker castle were compelled to surrender in a week.

In the meantime, smaller units captured the castles of the Sremone by one, sometimes even without a fight, because the garrisons fled rather than await the arrival of the enemy. Thus the road towards the Drava lay open. Touching upon Sotin, Vukovo, and Borovo, the army reached Eszek on August 14. The ships arrived there at the same time or shortly thereafter, as we know from one of Burgio’s reports. The fact that the Ottomans began to build the bridge “in a great hurry” as soon as they reached Eszek also indicates important it was for the Ottoman command to advance as rapidly as possible. The bridge was ready by the 19th; the crossing began on the 21st, went on continuously, and was completed by the23rd. The bridge was dismantled or burnt down while the army was on its way to the river Karasso.

After the fall of Petervarad Tomori moved to Bacs. A few days later he proceeded to the mouth of the river Karasso and, crossing the Danube, stopped somewhere in the area of Baranyakisfalud and Hercegszollos, sending only smaller patrols on detail to the Drava.

Where to Fight the Battle? Conflict between Court and Notability

We have already mentioned that since the Hungarian government was well aware that it would not be able to hold up the Ottomans either at the Sava or at the Drava, it decided to fight a pitched battle. It may be assumed that Mohács had been selected as the battlefield from the start. The letters of Louis II indicate that he wanted to move further southward, leaving Tolna behind, and we also know that in the last week of June the palatine asked the king to send money and troops to Mohács.

It is possible, however, that the king accepted this p]an only under pressure from the military council; in reality, along with his immediate entourage, he wanted either to avoid battle altogether, or to fight it much further to the north, awaiting the arrival of the forces from Croatia and Transylvania and of the foreign mercenaries. Naturally this line of thinking implied that the southern parts, or an even larger portion of the country, would have to be forfeited. It is impossible to arrive at a precise assessment of these different intentions because of the contradictions and the chronological inaccuracies in the sources available to us. At any rate all signs indicate deep divisions between the court and the nobility.

To begin with, the king’s decision to wait so long in Buda needs tobe explained. He left on July 20, according to Burgio, on the 23rd, according to Brodarics. He was supposed to have reached Tolna three weeks earlier. Presumably the reason for the delay was not merely that it took a long time to form the royal banderium because of a lack of funds, as Burgio maintains, or that the nobility likewise reached Tolna with considerable delay, but also the fact that the king and his entourage were becoming increasingly convinced that no battle must be fought before uniting all possible forces. Some nobles seem to have got wind of this dilatory plan, which caused unrest in their ranks. After describing the king’s lack of preparedness, Burgio’s report of July 5 read:

My opinion is rather that His Majesty will retreat, and we will end up by losing even the areas on this side of the Drava…. It cannot be denied that His Majesty’s life is in danger. If they do not go down to the battlefield he will fall into the hands of his own subjects, and that could end only badly, for no one would hesitate to blame him and his advisers for the fall of the country. But if His Majesty does go down to fight all the way to the Drava, he would be poorly equipped and ill prepared and I dare say that in addition to the dangers from the enemy his own subjects would also present a threat, because everyone is dissatisfied with him. Especially the voivode Szapolyai and his followers are against him and–it is strongly suspected–they are in cahoots with the Turks. So his Majesty will have no other recourse than to flee the country.

It is curious that Burgio wrote this report after the session of the diet at which the nobility unanimously backed the king, granting him plenipotentiary powers and leaving 0lerboczi in the lurch. Either Burgio was wrong or, if not, there was a sudden change in the mood of the nobility. The only thing one can think of is that the court’s military projects had aroused the distrust of the nobility. Incidentally, there is no foundation to Burgio’s remark about Szapolyai’s attitude and intentions. From our point of view what matters were the hesitations of the king: should he remain in Buda or go to war?

Nor can we know which party, the court or the nobility, was responsible for the delay of the assembly at Tolna. Brodarics wrote that the king advanced towards Tolna slowly, hoping that others would “join him along the way.” This, however, seems most unlikely, if only because most of the nobility, coming from different regions of the country, would not use the Buda-Tolna road. We also know from Burgio that the Palatine himself told the king that the nobility would go to war only once the king was on his way. In Burgio’s report of July 8 we again find hints that the court wanted the king to remain in Buda. Although the royal banderium was not yet outfitted, in Burgio’s opinion, “it would be better for the king to proceed than to await the arrival of the Turks in Buda.”

These clues jibe with the reluctance shown by the king to get involved in battle, and the fantastic project of a campaign against Bulgaria and Serbia which he entertained during these very weeks; only in the days immediately preceding his departure from Buda did he definitely give up on this project. Some light is shed upon the secret intentions of the king by Burgio’s report of August 5:

The king told me he will go down to Tolna and will prevent the Turks from crossing the Drava. Failing this he would like to withdraw to Slavonia, for two reasons: first, because the bishop of Zagreb and the ban of Croatia, Ferenc Batthyany, are in Slavonia and he considers them his most loyal men, and because this is where he has least to fear from the intrigues of his subjects, moreover, because in this province he and Archduke Ferdinand have a good many castles….

The king reached Tolna on August 6 and remained there until the 13th. .According to Brodarics, “they held protracted debates” there. Once again the palatine was instructed to hurry and to reach the Drava before the enemy to prevent his crossing. Some magnates, however, refused, while others referred to their privileges and their right, as great lords, to fight only under the banner of the king; in short, the idea of defending the Drava line was dropped. The palatine had already reached Mohács, while the others remained behind talking about privileges. Brodarics tells us that the king declared in the general assembly:

“I can see that everyone is using my person as an excuse…. I accepted this great danger personally exposing my own life to all the fickleness of fortune, for the sake of the country and for your welfare. So that none may find an excuse for their cowardice in my person and so that they would not blame me for anything, tomorrow, with the help of God omnipotent, I will accompany you to that place w here others will not go without me.” Then the king issued orders to set off on the following day, although there were some who, well aware of the dangers involved, tried to dissuade him from this undertaking, but in vain.

Burgio, on the other hand, provides the following account:

the king sent Ambrus Sarkany from Tolna to Eszek to defend the castle and prevent the Turks from throwing a bridge across the Drava, by way of troops he ordered part of the papal infantry to accompany him. His Majesty also sent down Count Palatine Istvan Bathory, along with some lords, their banderia, and the soldiers from the provinces, while the archbishop of Kalocsa, who is now at Bacs, is to cross the Danube and join Sarkany and Bathory as well.

Two days later he wrote: “The only news since the thirteenth, when I wrote my last letter, is that His Majesty ordered those lords and noblemen from the provinces he had dispatched to Eszek previously, but had not gone, finally to get on their way; and now indeed they are moving.”

There is diametrical contradiction between the accounts provided by Brodarics and by Burgio; according to the latter the noblemen finally agreed to go–although almost certainly they did not go to the Drava, as we shall see. The problem common to both accounts is that there could have been no serious intent of defending the line of the Drava: as we have seen, at this time the Ottomans were much closer to the Drava than the Hungarians at Tolna. Thanks to his reconnaissance, Tomori knew with almost hourly precision where the Ottoman forces were and which way they were heading. Of course the court was kept duly informed.

While it is true that Brodarics knew precious little about military affairs, he was surely not that inept at comprehending military discussions. The debate must have been about whether or not to fight the battle. After all, in his very first sentence Brodarics states that the “king’s continued advance” was also mentioned. The last sentence of the king’s outburst–“I will accompany you to the place here others will not go without me”–points clearly to the fact that the main issue was whether to advance to meet the enemy, and not whether to defend the Drava. The contradiction is so blatant that one cannot help suspecting that Brodarics was silent about the essence of the debate because by describing the scene in such pathetic tones he meant to erect an immortal monument to the tragic fate of the young king.

Whatever was debated in Tolna, major decisions were not made until the discussions at Bata on August 16. The king summoned Tomori, who was stationed at the Karasso, and appointed him together with Gyorgy Szapolyai as commanders-in-chief, with the proviso that should Janos Szapolyai and Frangepan arrive, they would take over. The council also reached final decision about fighting the battle at Mohács. We know this partly because, according to Brodarics, “the leaders left” right after the debate “in order to designate a camp site near the town of Mohács.” Here we must add that it was probably not just a matter of finding a camp site, but rather to reconnoiter thoroughly the prospective battlefield and its vicinity. We also know, from Ottoman sources, that it was at Batathat they decided to fight the battle at Mohács. Suleyman’s clerk noted on August 19: “A scoundrel came here [to Eszek] from Buda, and brought the news that ‘at the fifth stage after crossing the Drava, you will meet with the evil king.” The battlefield was actually five days’ march from the Drava, and the Ottomans indeed reached it five days after their crossing.

It was also decided that the troops along the Karasso would be brought up to Mohács. After Tomori and Perenyi explored the field at Mohács they went to the Karasso. A strange scene took place there. It is reported by Brodarics as follows:

After he arrived here and called together his soldiers and the commanders of his units, he informed them about the king’s wish to pull back the camp, which was also his own wish. The soldiers, however, grumbled and objected to pulling back just when they were within reach of the enemy. They felt they had to confront the enemy and fight bravely, as true men ought…. They also insisted they knew that the formerly courageous and invincible army of the Ottomans had perished, first at the battle of Belgrade and then at the siege of Rhodes…. Let them isolate the king and all the brave warriors from the cowardly mass of priests and other war-dodgers bent on softening the king, so outstanding in body and in spirit, whom they wanted to spoil with their cowardice and their unmanly advice, in order to turn the brave youths into their own image.

Several insights may be gained from this scene. First, it shows the lack of discipline among the soldiers, a lack, one should point out, which mirrored the anarchic conditions prevailing in society at large. Second, the soldiers, inspired resolve to fight is noteworthy. We already spoke of the high morale of the troops, especially those fighting in the border areas, and how superior they felt to the Ottomans. This morale was not due to lack of self-criticism or to overconfidence, but rather to an awareness deriving from the successful skirmishes fought in the border areas over several generations. The reference to the losses suffered by the Ottomans in the battles of the preceding year is also striking. Burgio’s report of May30 had already made the same claim, almost word for word:

The archbishop of Kalocsa advises the king to leave for the border areas immediately, and he encourages everyone by saying that the Turkish army is large in numbers only, but is not well trained, the troops being too young and inexperienced in war because the Turks lost the flower of their soldiery on the island of Rhodes (where they had been fighting against the Knights of Saint John), as well as in other wars.

This assessment must have originated with Tomori, the very Tomori who had felt that the struggle against the overwhelming power of the Ottoman Empire was hopeless and tried to talk the kinginto signing a peace. Most likely he meant to compensate for the news regarding the might of the Ottomans; while he could not increase the effectiveness of the Hungarian forces or improve its equipment, at least he could enhance its morale. We shall see that he would try to do so again at a critical moment.

From all this follows that the debates at Tolna centered not on the defense along the Drava, but whether or not to engage the enemy in a decisive battle, and, if so, when and where. We have seen the negative effect the court’s hesitation had on the mood of the nobility. The reports on the discussions at Tolna only exacerbated matters. The troops knew about the proposed delay, for–as we know from Brodarics’s communication–the discussions were held in a “populous assembly.” Thus when Tomori tried “to persuade them”—as Brodarics puts it–to draw back further, the troops were convinced that the king’s point of view had prevailed in the discussions and, even when Tomori assured them of his own commitment to the order, refused to follow.

Hence the forces under the command of Tomori and Perenyi remained by the Karasso, while the other part of the army marched southward to the field at Mohács, where more and more units were gathering. The king himself remained at Ujfalva, immediately to the north of Mohács. Then late one night the camp at Mohács, and eventually the king himself, received a report from reconnaissance that the bulk of the Ottoman forces had already crossed the Drava;at the same time the lords at the Mohács camp requested the presence of the ruler in order to discuss what was to be done. All this must have taken place in the night of the 23rd to the 24th, for we know the army of Rumelia and the janissaries of the sultan were onthe northern side of the river by the dawn of the 23rd; only the army of Anatolia and the baggage train had yet to cross. The person bearing the news must have left at this time; since his path was difficult, often across the swampy terrain, even a good horseman must have needed 12-14 hours to cover the distance of 70 km separating the Drava from the Karasso, and from there 20-25 km more to Ujfalva.

The battle

The battlefield was bordered by the marshes of the Danube from the east and by a plateau 25 to 30 m (82-98 ft) high from the west and south. The Hungarian command planned to charge against the much larger Ottoman army in increments as it descended from the steep and, given the heavy rainfall in the weeks before the battle, slippery plateau.

Facing southwest, the army lined up in two echelons. On the right and left wings of the first echelon stood the Hungarian heavy cavalry, facing the Rumelian and the Anatolian timariot cavalry of the sultan respectively. The 10,000strong Hungarian infantry stood ten ranks deep in the middle facing the janissaries. Louis II stood in the second echelon behind the Hungarian infantry, whereas Süleyman, guarded by his central cavalry, stood behind the janissaries. Ottoman cannons were placed in front of the janissaries.

However, this battle order evolved only gradually. The Hungarians initiated the combat when only the Rumelian army was on the plain. Süleyman and his cavalry were still descending from the plateau and the Anatolian troops of the right flank were further behind. The skirmishes of the light cavalry forces were already underway when the Hungarian artillery opened fire at the Rumelian army about to camp on the plain. It was followed by the cavalry charge of the Hungarian right flank that broke the resistance of the Rumelian cavalry. But instead of chasing the fleeing enemy, the Hungarians set out to loot. By then, the janissaries had arrived at the bottom of the terrace and inflicted major destruct ion on the Hungarians with their volleys. Although the Hungarian infantry and the left wing fought bravely, they were unable to break the obstacles erected in front of the cannons and janissaries and were slaughtered by janissary volleys. Contrary to general belief, it was not the Ottoman cannons (which shot beyond the Hungarians) but the insurmountable wall and firepower of the janissaries that figured decisively in the Ottoman victory.

The consequences and historical significance of the battle

Such a grave defeat had not been inflicted on the Hungarian armed forces since the battle of Muhi in 1241 against the Mongols. The king, most of the magnates and prelates, about 500 noblemen, 4,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantrymen perished. Hungary also lost its century-and -a-half-old struggle to contain the Ottoman advance into central Europe, More importantly for Europe, the battle led to the direct confrontation of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, for a group of Hungarian aristocrats elected Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, younger brother of Charles V, as their king (1526-64). However, Ferdinand was able to control only the north-western parts of Hungary, for the middle and eastern parts were under the rule of Janos Szapolyai, also elected king of Hungary (1526- 40), whose pro-Ottoman policy temporarily postponed the clash. Szapolyai’s death in 1540 and Ferdinand’s unsuccessful siege of Buda in the spring and summer of 1541 triggered the sultan’s campaign which led to the Ottoman occupation of central Hungary, and turned the country into the major continental battleground between the Habsburgs and Ottomans.

The political vacuum caused by the slaughter of the Hungarian nobility on the field of Mohács would take some six years to sort itself out. The Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand (Charles V’s younger brother) and Sultan Suleyman each tried to absorb chunks of the ancient kingdom of the Magyars. This dispute over Hungary would culminate in the Ottoman siege of Vienna, which still echoes through the European subconscious, although the essential truth was that the two opponents were geographically too far apart to do each other much damage. It took the Ottoman army four months to march from Istanbul to Vienna in 1529, so there were only two weeks left for the actual siege. When you compare this with the six months that it took the Ottomans to reduce the city of Rhodes, the seriousness of the attack on Vienna is put in perspective. There was, however, another time for the Ottomans to show the Austrians how efficient they were as an army of engineers. The siege trenches were cut in double-quick time and artillery batteries established, but then it was time to pack up tools and return home. Nor was there any great disparity in armaments or siege-craft between the two sides. If anything, the Germans alone had a slight technical edge over the Ottoman janissaries, for they were the acknowledged world leaders in mining and smelting.

From ‘Neptune’ to ‘Market’ II

The task of the 82nd was to take and hold bridge over the Maas outside the village of Grave five miles southwest of Nijmegen, at least one four bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal between Grave and Nijmegen and the bridge over the Waal at Nijmegen itself. Success in holding the crossings was dependent on possession of the Groesbeek heights; a ridge thirty feet high about two miles southeast of Nijmegen. This ridge was the only high ground for miles around and dominated the whole region. Nijmegen, a town of 82,000 population on the south side of the Waal was reported to have around it least 22 heavy anti-aircraft guns and 86 light pieces and was thought likely to contain a large garrison. South of the town between the canal and the ridge the country was wooded, so drops to take objectives other than the Nijmegen Bridge would have to be made west of the canal or south east of the ridge. Units put down near Nijmegen on `D-Day’ might suffer heavily from flak on the way in, would be quickly engaged by fairly strong enemy forces and would have to deal with those forces for many hours in isolation from the rest of the division. Furthermore, without the ridge and crossings over the Maas and the canal, the Nijmegen Bridge would be worthless. Brigadier General Gavin and his staff therefore determined to put first things first and leave Nijmegen to be taken by ground attack after the other objectives were secured. This decision was later confirmed in very explicit terms by General Browning.

Gavin chose to bring in most of the division in a belt of drop and landing zones between three and four miles southeast of Nijmegen on the far side of the Groesbeck heights so that he could attack the ridge as quickly as possible with maximum force and then set up a defensive perimeter including both ridge and zones. This seemed to minimize the risk of an enemy occupation of the landing area such as had happened in Normandy. At the northern end of the belt was DZ `T’, an oval 3,000 yards long from east to west and three-quarters of a mile wide, framed in a neat triangle by a railway along its south side and by two roads which intersected at the village of Wyler a few hundred yards north of the zone. Approaching serials would pass close to the bridge at Grave about seven miles short of the zone and over the Maas-Waal Canal about three miles before reaching the zone. Three thousand yards southwest of DZ `T’ was a slightly smaller oval, DZ `N’, bordered on its western and northern sides by the woods of the Groesbeek Ridge. The junction of the canal with the River Maas a mile and a half east of DZ `N’ made an excellent landmark on the line of approach.

Between and overlapping both DZs was a rough oblong averaging 3½ miles from north to south and l½ miles from east to west, which had been selected for glider landings. This was split into a northern half, LZ `T’ and a southern half, LZ `N’. The latter had small fields averaging 200 yards in some sections. However, there were few high obstacles and the Germans did not seem to be erecting any. Experts calculated that by daylight the two zones could receive between 700 and 900 gliders, all the 82nd would need. LZ `N’ was also selected as destination for parachute resupply missions to the 82nd Division. Its zones would have a particularly distinctive network of waterways, roads and railways south of Nijmegen. If a pilot could come within sighting distance of Grave, he would have an abundance of landmarks thereafter. One regiment had to be put within striking distance of the bridge at Grave and for this purpose DZ `O’, an oval drop zone over 1½ miles long from west to east and almost a mile wide, was marked out on flat, open land astride the Eindhoven-Nijmegen road halfway between the Grave bridge and the Maas-Waal Canal. The troops dropped there were to attack both the Grave Bridge a mile to their west and three bridges over the canal between one and two miles east of them. Having had the horror of men being cut off on an earlier mission, Gavin laid great stress on taking at least one bridge over the canal to ensure contact between this outlying regiment and the main force in the Groesbeek area. Convinced that the big bridge at Grave would be defended and prepared for demolition, Colonel Reuben Tucker, commander of the 504th Parachute Regiment, which was picked for the mission to DZ `O’, urged that the proper way to attack the structure was to drop men on the south bank of the Maas and rush the bridge from both ends. Just 36 hours before `Market’ began, Tucker’s proposal was accepted and orders were given that a company of his paratroops be dropped on a special DZ on the south side of the river half a mile from the end of the bridge. The ground there was low, marshy and heavily ditched, a bad drop zone, chosen deliberately to achieve quick access to the objective.

The initial tasks of the 101st Division were to take a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon five airline miles north of Eindhoven, a bridge over the Dommel River at Sint-Oedenrode four miles north of Zon and four bridges over the Aa River and the Willems Canal at Veghel, which was five miles northeast of Sint-Oedenrode and thirteen miles southwest of Grave. After that, but before nightfall if possible, the 101st was to take Eindhoven and four bridges there over the upper Dommel. Of these objectives the two canal bridges were much the most important, since the canals were sixty feet across and too deep for tanks; none of the rivers were over 25 feet wide and the Dommel at Eindhoven was a mere creek. Faced with the problem of taking objectives strung out over more than fifteen miles of road General Maxwell Taylor decided to bring in most of his division to a single area midway between Sint-Oedenrode and Zon from which he could strike quickly against both places and then move readily against Eindhoven. Available for his purpose was a large open tract on the west side of the north-south road about l½ miles north of Zon. South of the open land lay a belt of woods, known as the Zonsche Forest, extending to the Wilhelmina Canal running east and west from Zon. A road and a railway running northwest from Eindhoven crossed the canal about a mile southwest of the tract and a mile southeast of the little town of Best. On the open area the divisional staff marked out an oblong 4,000 yards long and 2,800 yards wide, which it split longitudinally into two equal drop zones, DZ’s `B’ and `C’. The long axes of these zones ran east-northeast. Troop carriers approaching them by the southern route would be on a heading of north-northeast. A landing zone, LZ `W’, was drawn to include most of the oblong but was slightly narrower from north to south and extended 1,000 yards further west. The zone was considered more than sufficient for 400 gliders and most of its fields were over 300 yards in length.

One parachute regiment would have to be dropped farther north for the taking of Veghel, at DZ `A’, a potbellied oval about two miles long from east to west, up to 2,000 yards wide and about a mile southwest of the town. North of the zone was a railway running east to Veghel. Southeast of the zone was the Eindhoven-Arnhem road. The bridges over the Willems Canal were only a few hundred yards northeast of DZ `A’, but the Aa River was a mile further on. Thus the paratroops would have to secure a crossing over the canal and move through a populated area before attacking the road and railway bridges over the river. Lieutenant Colonel W. O. Kinnard, a battalion commander, proposed that his unit be dropped north of the Willems Canal in position to move against the river bridges immediately after assembling and his battalion was given a new zone DZ `A-1′, a flat, open area on the northeast side of the canal about a mile north of DZ `A’.

Even though `Market’ was to be flown by day previous experience indicated a need to provide navigational aids. `Eureka’ beacons and M/F (CRN-4) beacons for use with radio compasses were placed at the wing assembly points, `Eureka’s, M/F beacons and the aerial lighthouse known as occults were put at the points of departure from the British coast. About halfway between England and the Continent on both the northern and the southern route were stationed marker boats code named `Tampa’ and `Miami’ with `Eureka’ beacons and green holophane lights. All the beacons except the occults were operated by troop carrier personnel. No beacons were to be provided on the northern route between `Tampa’ and the zones because that 150-mile stretch was all over water or enemy territory.

The American aircraft in `Market’ were equipped with radio compasses and `Rebecca’. As in `Neptune’, only flight leaders were to operate `Rebecca’. However, this time if formations broke up, the lead ship in each element would operate its set. IX TCC had asked on 18 June that half its aircraft be equipped with both SCR-717 and either `Gee’ or Loran. Its request for SCR- 717 was considered excessive, but its quota was raised to two and then three sets per squadron. The command had also won authorization to install `Gee’ equipment on all its aircraft. However, so long as a serial held together only its leader would have much occasion to use SCR-717 or `Gee’. The aircraft of 38 and 46 Group were equipped with both `Rebecca’ and `Gee’ (but not radio compasses or SCR-717) and all crews were authorized to use them. Under the RAF system of flying in column the risk of interference was small enough to permit such general use of sets. The bombers employed for resupply had radio compasses, but no `Rebecca’ sets.

The Americans planned to employ six `sticks’ (a number of paratroops carried in one aircraft) of pathfinder troops. A pair of teams with one officer and nine enlisted men apiece was to be dropped on DZ’s `O’, `A’ and `B-C’ respectively. Each pair was to be responsible for setting up a `Eureka’, an M/F beacon, panel `T’s and letters and smoke signals. Each zone had its distinctive colour combination of panels and smoke. By the 16th the pathfinder drop was scheduled for 1245, 15 minutes before the main force arrived. The RAF were to dispatch a dozen modified Stirling bombers of 38 Group to drop pathfinder teams twenty minutes before `H-Hour’, half on DZ `X’ and half on LZ `S’.

Eighth Air Force and Air Defence of Great Britain would fly escort and cover for the missions and protect them from anti-aircraft. If desired, Ninth Air Force would help with the latter task. Between missions the Second Tactical Air Force RAF, whose aircraft lacked staying power for escort work, would protect the airborne troops from enemy aircraft and be available for close support missions. At night Second TAF would be assisted by night fighters of ADGB. Measures were also prescribed to neutralize in advance, as far as possible, those enemy flak batteries and air bases which were in a position to endanger `Market’. For this purpose Eighth Air Force was directed to reconnoitre the troop carrier routes to locate flak positions and to bombard those positions with its heavy bombers at the latest possible time before `H-Hour’ and RAF Bomber Command was to attack enemy airfields on the night of `D-1′.

`Market’ would be the first major test of resupply by air. Resupply by parachute avoided the difficulties of a glider tow and the hazards of a glider landing, but it was inefficient and wasteful. A C-47 capable of carrying about three tons could deliver little more than a ton by parachute from its pararacks (large cylinders containing supplies slung under the belly of the aircraft) or in bundles pitched out its side door. Installation of conveyor belts in the cabin was helpful in handling bundles but such conveyors did not go into production in the United States until the spring of 1945. Moreover, the bundles had to be small to get out the door or fit the pararacks. Even the 75mm howitzer had to be broken down into several parts to be dropped. Approximately 200 C-47s were required to carry the 265 tons a day of automatic supply set up for the 82nd Division. Stirlings could carry three tons apiece, but 38 Group had scarcely enough of them to meet the needs of one British division. Plans were made for a resupply mission by about 250 B-24 Liberators of Eighth Air Force 2nd Bomb Division on `D+1′ after a request by the troop carriers to free their aircraft from resupply work in order that they might be devoted to bringing in more airborne troops. Though practicable, it would prove both inefficient and hazardous and beset with unsolved problems and the 8th Air Force felt its participation in `Market’ seriously interrupted its bombing programme and could not be expected to loan its B-24 groups frequently or for long.

On 15 September escort and flak-suppression on the northern route between England and the IP was entrusted to ADGB. Beyond the IP, Eighth Air Force would perform those tasks. On the southern route Eighth Air Force was to fly escort between the Belgian coast and the zones. It also agreed to provide perimeter patrols to intercept enemy air-aircraft approaching the `Market’ area from the east or north. Airborne Army asked that four groups of fighter-bombers be provided to neutralize flak and ground fire on the southern route between the IP and the DZ during the missions. That responsibility was given to Ninth Air Force. Another request by Airborne Army was for rocket-firing aircraft to break up possible attacks on the 82nd Division by tanks reported lurking in the Reichswald Forest, which lay two or three miles southeast of the zones of that division. On 16 September Ninth Air Force was asked to provide a group of rocket-equipped fighters, but it was unable to make them available in time for use on `D-Day’.

At `H-Hour’ Eighth Air Force was supposed to deal with German garrisons in Arnhem and Nijmegen but objected to employing its high-level heavy-bomber formations over towns with friendly populations, so medium bombers of Second TAF were given the job of attacking German barrack in those towns on the morning of `D-Day’. Dummy drops were to be made from forty aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of `D-Day’ at point west of Utrecht, east of Arnhem and at Emmerich to delay, if only momentarily, the movement of German ground reinforcement from Holland and the Rhineland against the air-heads at Arnhem and Nijmegen. Weather permitting, the resupply mission on `D+1′ was to be undertaken by 252 B-24s with ball turrets removed.

Almost without exception the troop carrier units in `Market’ had flown missions before. The Ninth Troop Carrier Command had the same three wings, fourteen groups and pathfinder unit that it had had in `Neptune’ and all wings and all groups but the 315th and 434th had participated in at least one other airborne operation, either in 1943 or during the invasion of southern France. The RAF had in 38 Group the same ten squadrons which they had used in June but had increased 4 Group from five to six squadrons. In most cases the troop carriers were located at good bases, at which they were well established and were teamed with troops which were stationed nearby and had flown with them before from those bases. The RAF had made no changes of station since June. Their squadrons were located in pairs at eight bases, six of which were bunched about eighty miles west of London and thirty miles northwest of Greenham Common. The others, Keevil and Tarrant Rushton lay respectively thirty and sixty miles south of the rest. From these eight airfields would fly the glider echelon of the 1st Airborne Division, which had been in readiness with gliders loaded since the marshalling for `Linnet’ on 2 September. The 53rd Wing and its groups still held the bases at and around Greenham Common that they had occupied during `Neptune’. Once again they were to lift the 101st Division, which was in its old billets nearby. The 442nd Troop Carrier Group was attached to the 53rd Wing on 11 September for `Market’, moving that same day from Fulbeck to Chilbolton in Hampshire and making large-scale supply flights from there on the 12th. The 442nd were to tow 65 gliders containing 252 men, 32 jeeps and 32 trailers with platoons of the 326th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion engineers over the Groesbeek Heights.

The 52nd Wing and its groups remained at the same bases around Grantham which they had held since March. The only change needed was the addition of pierced steel plank for glider marshalling on muddy ground at Cottesmore, Fulbeck and Barkston Heath. Besides carrying the 82nd Division, the wing was also to lift the British paratroops of First Division and the Polish Brigade. The 50th Wing was to assist it in carrying the American troops. This Wing and the 439th, 440th and 441st Groups had been moved to Balderton, Fulbeck and Langar in the Grantham area in preparation for that operation. However, on 8 September, they had been ordered to France to concentrate on air supply operations for the ground forces. By 10 September the air echelons of the 439th and 441st Groups and a detachment of wing headquarters were actually in operation in the Reims area5 and most of the wing’s equipment and all its refuelling units were either already in France or in transit to France. At 2330 on 10 September the wing was alerted for `Market’ and ordered to be at its British bases ready to operate by 2400 on the 11th. The bases were then being closed out for release to the British. Strenuous efforts by supply and engineering officers of the wing and IX TCC set Balderton, Langar and Fulbeck functioning again and provided necessary unit equipment, including refuelling units borrowed from the 52nd Wing.

On 16 September IX TCC had 1,274 operational aircraft and 1,284 assigned and available crews. The RAF had 321 converted bombers in 38 Group and 164 Dakotas in 46 Group. The supply of gliders had increased despite the loss of almost all of those used in Normandy. On 1 July IX TCC had had 1,045 operational Wacos. These were only enough to lift the glider echelon of one division, so on 8 August in anticipation of operations involving several divisions a new glider assembly programme had been inaugurated at Crookham Common with the objective of producing at least forty completed Wacos a day. This time IX AFSC employed 26 officers and over 900 men under direction of the 26th Mobile Repair and Reclamation Squadron. Well organized and adequately equipped, they proved capable of assembling sixty (and once even 100) gliders in a day. By the end of August IX TCC had 1,629 operational Wacos and by 16 September it had 2,160 of them. Plans called for the employment of about ninety percent of these gliders in `Market’. The British had 812 Horsas, the Americans only 104 of them. In addition to its Horsas 38 Group possessed 64 of the huge Hamilcar gliders, which were capable of carrying tanks. About 1,900 American glider pilots were on hand at the end of August, but the arrival of 200 more by air a few days later gave IX TCC a total of 2,060 on the eve of `Market’. Since Williams and Brereton had decided not to use co-pilots on American gliders, they had enough glider pilots for the proposed missions, but they would have virtually no reserves. The British glider pilots, who were organized as ground troops in a special glider pilot regiment, would make a much better combat showing in `Market’ than the American glider pilots, who were simply an element within the troop carrier squadrons. Proposals were that the American glider pilots be put under the command of the airborne divisions to make good soldiers of them but Lieutenant General Ridgway decided that since the primary duty of glider pilots was to fly gliders, they belonged with the troop carriers.

As in June, the aircraft of IX TCC were without armour or self-sealing fuel tanks. While in England on a tour of inspection in the latter part of June, Robert A. Lovett, Assistant Secretary of War for Air, promised that IX TCC would get at least enough for its pathfinders. However, the tanks were then very scarce; AAF Headquarters was unwilling to reallocate them; and the troop carriers got none. Some were shipped in September but did not arrive in time for `Market’. Only about 400 of the Wacos had nose reinforcements of either the Corey or the Griswold type and only about 900 had parachute arrestors. Large orders for arrestors and protective noses had been sent to the United States long before `Market’, but delivery had been slow. One cause of delay had been disagreement and vacillation in the United States as to which type of nose should be produced.

`Market’ is unique as the only large American airborne operation during World War II for which there was no training programme, no rehearsal, almost no exercises and a generally low level of tactical training activity. In the month before `Market’ only two paratroop exercises, totalling 288 sorties were flown and no glider exercises at all. Less formal tactical training was also on a very low level. Only 306 airborne troops were carried during the two weeks before `Market’. From 12 August to 17 September there were only five days on which FAAA did not believe that an airborne operation was just around the corner. This belief made training plans seem superfluous and realistic exercises a rash commitment. On 14 September the troop carrier units were alerted and restricted and American airborne troops began moving into bivouac at the bases. Early in the evening on the 15th wing commander and key members of their staffs were fully briefed at Eastcote. On their return that night they briefed the wing staffs and the group commanders. About the same time field orders for the operation arrived at the wings from troop carrier headquarters. Early next morning rigid restriction and security measures, such as had been in force before `Neptune’, were imposed at all bases. During the day group staffs were briefed and win] and group field orders were issued. In the afternoon and evening of 16 September `D-1′, the groups briefed their combat crews. The briefings were generally regarded as well organized and comprehensive. However, detailed maps (1:50,000 and 1:25,000) were in such short supply that there were hardly enough for the group staffs and as usual there was an acute lack of low level photographs of the zones and run-in areas The final briefings, held on the morning of the 17th just before the crews went to their aircraft were short and were concerned mainly with weather conditions.

While General Brereton was the final judge of the routes and timing for `Market’, the verdict really lay in the hands of the Staff Weather Officer of IX TCC and the Senior Meteorological Officer of 38 Group, acting at Ascot as joint weather officers for Airborne Army. `Market’ needed three days in a row of good flying weather to give it a reasonable chance of success. Every day at 1630 the weather officers issued a four-day forecast for use by the commanders and their operations staffs at Ascot and Eastcote. They also issued daily 24-hour forecasts which were sent to all troop carrier wings and groups by teletype or telephone. Actual conditions over Belgium were checked before each day’s operations by three flights by aircraft of the 325th Reconnaissance Wing of the Eighth Air Force, timed so that telephone reports could be made to Airborne Army and Eighth Air Force at H-8, H-6 and H-4. This was intended to prevent such unpleasant surprises as the cloud bank which upset operations in Normandy. At 1630 on 16 September (`D-1′) the experts delivered a favourable report on the coming four-day period. A high-pressure system was approaching Belgium from the southwest and would be over it next day. Fair weather with little cloud and gentle winds would prevail until the 20th. The forecast did predict fog on and after `D+1′, but only during the early morning. With auspices so favourable Brereton gave orders at 1900 hours that next day the airborne carpet would be laid along the road to Arnhem.

Twenty-one-year old Private Edward John `Johnny’ Peters, a sniper in the 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment, had been billeted with his unit in pig stys on a farm close to Burford in Oxford since August. Born on 12 February 1923 in Liverpool, he had three sisters and one brother. His father served on the Western Front during World War I. Before he volunteered to join the army on his 18th birthday on 12 February 1941 `Johnny’ had been an apprentice blacksmith. He remembers with distain, `We were called the `stillborn Army’ because for three weeks nothing happened.

`Then it did.’

Soviet People’s Experience WWII

Defeating the Nazis became the animating force for everything in Soviet society for the next four years. The need to defend Mother Russia became everyone’s duty in the face of Hitler’s barbarism, and the building of socialism, so long trumpeted on the pages of the Soviet press, faded away. The result was the rapid development of a mosaic of moods among the Soviet peoples. Russian historians have recently argued that the events of June 1941 awoke in the Soviet people the ability to think about variants, to critically evaluate a situation, and not to take the existing order as immutable. The effort to repel the Nazis also meant that, at least at the local level of Soviet life, the democratic centralism of Lenin and Stalin’s party was no longer tenable. The key criterion for becoming a Soviet leader was no longer a person’s party loyalty, but rather his or her contributions to the work of the front. Out in the provinces, the Communist leaders were told to train their subordinates in the following fashion: the party is interested in having people think, and stop instructing the masses and learn from them.
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That life in the Soviet Union would now be shaped by the real interests of ordinary people was a big change from the 1930s, when life had been shaped by their imaginary desires, and Stalin’s terror squads had made sure the elites worked to meet them. Meanwhile, Hitler’s armies were well on their way toward Leningrad, Moscow, and central Ukraine by July 1941. Leningrad was soon surrounded and would be under siege for the next three and a half years as 1.5 million Leningrad residents starved to death in the process. The main reason Moscow did not suffer the same fate was Hitler’s decision to concentrate his efforts on capturing Ukraine with its fertile fields, coal mines, ferrous metals resources, and strategic access to the oilfields of the Caucasus. Although the Red Army’s successful counterattacks were another major reason for tl1is diversion to the south, there can be little doubt that Ukraine was also the area that Hitler prized most as the perfect lebensraum for the German people. And such strategic and racial motivations also help explain why Hitler did not take advantage of his being greeted as a liberator by the peoples of western Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Baltic states who had suffered so much from the Nazi—Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.
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Although the Nazis treated these peoples as “lesser-beings” (untermenschen) from the start and would not allow them any rights whatsoever, what really convinced the Ukrainians and others of 1·litler’s malevolent intentions toward the Soviet people was the German army’s treatment of its Red Army POWs and the occupied Jewish population. ln places such as Kiev, where 650,000 Soviet troops were surrounded in September 1941 after a spirited defense of the Ukrainian capital and the Dnieper River region, perhaps two-thirds of the Soviet POWs died of hunger in Nazi captivity. lt was amid the euphoria of such victories in fall 1941 that the Hitlerites devised their Final Solution to rid these captured areas of their “great misfortune”—the Jews. ln the end, almost half the Jews who died in the Holocaust (some 2.5 million people) were Soviet citizens. Importantly, some of these people died in ways more ghastly than the gas chambers of Poland—mass machine gunning was the most popular method used—as the Nazis, the Wehrmacht (or German army), and a still unknown number of local collaborators experimented with methods of killing to find the most efficient way to achieve genocide. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the surviving Ukrainian and Belorussian civilian populations could only hope for the return of the Stalinists and an authoritarian rule that they understood and might be able to manipulate to their advantage.
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ln the face of such calamities, Stalin’s effort to maintain control over the Russian rear certainly did not show any relaxation of his coercive methods. Red Army men who surrendered, for example, were said to be traitors and were liable to court-martial. Meanwhile, Communist Party members who remained behind on occupied territory were automatically suspect, and if for some reason they crossed back into Soviet-held territory, they were subject to a rigorous check of their backgrounds. Workers who violated the 1940 labor legislation on tardiness, absenteeism, or the prohibition of movement from one job to another could be hauled before a military tribunal and the same eventually became true for those civilians who ignored compulsory labor mobilizations, responsibilities that impacted everyone but the elderly and the mothers of young children.
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Stalin’s epic mistakes on the battlefield were soon overshadowed by Hitler’s own bungling, and the Soviets found themselves with a second chance. The Nazi leader’s earlier decision not to take Moscow ensured that fighting for the Russian capital would take place in the winter, only after the Soviets had had enough time to prepare their defenses. Nevertheless, it was mainly the desperate resistance and simple patriotism of rapidly enlisted men and rearguard troops that saved Moscow in winter 1941-1942 from the Wehrmacht’s ”Army Group Center”  But the GKO’s incredibly centralized, command-and-administer system also allowed for the Ural and western Siberian economies to be quickly mobilized to meet the needs of the front. This was particularly important in winter 1941-1942 because the strategic Lend-Lease aid from the Soviet Union’s new American ally would not substantively help the Soviet war effort for another year. Even so, Stalin’s refusal to let his more able generals lead the efforts at the front resulted in yet more devastating defeats in spring 1942, with the Nazis now occupying all of Ukraine and moving toward their strategic goal of taking southern Russia and the Caucasus.
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Here again, though, the Soviets were saved from themselves by Hitler’s hubris. The Nazi leader’s greatest strategic mistake came with his decision to try to destroy the besieged city of Stalingrad in fall 1942 in order to deal a public relations blow to the “man of steel.” Hitler could have concentrated his efforts on occupying the Caucasus and Kuban (Russia’s own breadbasket) and exploiting their petroleum and agricultural resources in order to solidify his rule over his new eastern empire. But he went after Stalingrad in an effort to inflict a decisive blow against the Kremlin leader’s omnipotent presence in Soviet society. Stalin recognized the stakes too, and after a year of terrible retreat, he finally decided to listen to his generals and make a stand at this city lying along the Volga River The crucial point here is that the Wehrmacht was spread too thin by this time; Hitler did not have the resources necessary to continue his blitzkrieg. The Wehrmacht’s supply lines, for example, were stretched to the breaking point. Thus, the Soviets were eventually able to surround the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad and destroy it after Hitler stubbornly refused to let Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus retreat. This was the beginning of the end for the Germans—the crucial turning point in the war—where the logistics of what they were doing caught up with them. Hitler’s refusal to fully mobilize his own people and l1is murderous treatment of the untermenschen now meant the fighting initiative went over to the Soviet side.
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Meanwhile, Hitler’s refusal to demand sacrifice from his own population resulted in anger and embitterment among the occupied Ukrainians and Belorussians as their sons and daughters were shipped to Germany to become slave laborers (Ostarbeitery). As the Soviets loomed on the eastern horizon, the Germans liberalized their agricultural policy by dissolving Stalin’s hated collective farms; however, at the same time, they were also stripping these areas of anything of value. Not only did the Germans seize raw materials, but they also took tools and macl1ines from factories and valuables from the republics’ museums and private apartments as well. One result of all this was a huge expansion in the forest—based anti—Nazi guerilla movement during 1943. True, many of these partisan fighters were motivated by a desire to curry favor with the advancing Red Army; but in the westernmost regions of the Soviet Union’s post—1939 borders, many partisans were there to fight sincerely for their nation’s political independence as Europe’s two totalitarian empires clashed. These “forest brothers,” many of whom were as hostile to Moscow as they were to Berlin, would eventually be crushed by the NKVD after war’s end. However, their bravery and unhappy end deepened the hostility that many subject peoples felt toward Moscow.

Xanthippus of Carthage

Battle of Bagradas: Regulus’s defeat: Libya 255 BC.

255–245 BC Carthaginian Empire             

Spartan mercenary general hired by the Carthaginians to aid in their war against the Romans during the First Punic War. Credited for developing military tactics used by Carthage, he led Carthaginian soldiers into the battle of Tunis where the Roman expeditionary force was routed and the Roman consul Marcus Atilius Regulus was captured.

By the end of 257 the Romans had confined the Carthaginians to the western third of Sicily, they had neutralized the Carthaginian forces in Sardinia and Corsica, and they were ready to invade Africa. They organized a fleet of 300 ships with crews of 300 oarsmen and 120 marines each (a total of about 100,000 men) and two legions of about 15,000 men. The invasion force of 256 B.C. was commanded by Marcus Atilius Regulus. Regulus had to fight for his passage against a Carthaginian fleet lying off Cape Ecnomus. The Roman “ravens” worked again, and the Romans captured fifty Carthaginian ships and sank thirty.

The Romans landed in Africa, seized the coastal city of Aspis, and ravaged the neighboring area. Regulus advanced into the Carthaginian hinterland (apparently he intended to cut Carthage off from its allies and revenues and force it to come to terms). When he was confronted by a much larger Carthaginian army, well supplied with cavalry and elephants, he feigned retreat, lured the Carthaginian army after him into rugged terrain (where their cavalry could not operate), and smashed them. Regulus then went into winter quarters at Tunis, from which he ravaged Carthaginian territory and persuaded Carthage’s Numidian allies (or subjects) to join him in ravaging Carthaginian territory. Regulus had every reason to be confident. The Romans outside Africa had won all but two (minor) engagements against the Carthaginians, he himself had defeated them in Africa, and he expected to defeat them again in the spring. Consequently, when he offered them terms, he named terms so harsh that he seemed to be goading them to further resistance rather than trying to settle the war.

During the winter, therefore, the Carthaginians sought, and found, help in a mercenary general, Xanthippus of Sparta; Xanthippus retrained and reorganized their army to fight the legion, and in the spring he met Regulus in battle.

The Battle

When campaigning began again in spring 255 they had the sense, too, to continue following his advice-it was hardly revolutionary-to operate on level terrain, bring the enemy to battle, and exploit their cavalry superiority and elephants. The Carthaginian army numbered only 12,000 infantry, which must have been roughly the same as Regulus’s, but its 4,000 cavalry vastly outnumbered his, and he had nothing to counter its ninety-odd elephants.

Regulus chose not to fight in the hilly country around Tunes or to undergo a siege there. He marched away to find open ground. Somewhere between Adyn and the Cape Bon peninsula, sometime in late May or in June 255, the clash took place. Here Xanthippus’s tactics were strikingly inventive. The elephants and elite mercenaries side by side formed the first line, the rest of the infantry stood behind in phalanx formation, and the cavalry as usual were on the wings, this time with the other mercenaries. Regulus deployed his legions in two closely packed divisions side by side-supposedly he thought this was how to cope with elephants- with the light-armed rorarii in front and his exiguous cavalry forming the usual wings. The infantry that clashed with the mercenaries made good headway, but the elephants’ charge against the other division bowled its leading ranks bloodily over. After the Carthaginian cavalry routed their opponents, they swung round to attack this division in its rear; at the same time the main Carthaginian phalanx moved into action against the wearied other Roman division.

Regulus’s army, trapped on every side on the open fields, was virtually annihilated. Two thousand did escape to make a perilous journey back to the bridgehead at Aspis; a mere 500 were captured-the consul among them. The rest had been slaughtered. Xanthippus’s tactics, to keep the Roman center occupied while its wings were swept away and then use his own wings to break it up, were essentially what Hamilcar had tried to do navally at Ecnomus. His tactics even more closely resemble Hannibal’s at Cannae forty years later and Scipio’s at Zama. A more immediate outcome was that the skillful Spartan was thanked by his employers and then dismissed: Carthage’s appreciation at being saved by a foreigner was not unalloyed. Romans later liked to visualize him being secretly murdered by Punic perfidy, but in reality he seems to have gone to work for the king of Egypt.

The defeat was severe but need not have been decisive; the Romans still held Aspis and their fleet of 350 ships defeated a Carthaginian fleet off Aspis and captured, or destroyed, over a hundred ships, but chance, and the Roman unfamiliarity with the sea, wrecked their plans. As their fleet was returning to Rome by way of the Messana strait, an enormous storm struck, hurled almost 300 of their ships on the rocks, strewed wreckage for fifty miles, and drowned the crews, perhaps as many as 100,000 freeborn Italians, a large number of whom were Roman citizens.

What Xanthippus did with the Carthaginian army is unclear. Despite what some modern writers claim, perhaps following Vegetius’ lead, there is no evidence that Xanthippus reorganised the Carthaginian army on Greek lines. It is impossible to ascertain what form Xanthippus’ `orthodox’ commands took, for instance. Assuming they were oral, rather than visual or horn signals, were they in Greek or Punic? The former might seem more likely in the context of a Spartan officer commanding a Hellenistic-era army, but Greek was at most a `language of command’ in this army. Diodorus records Xanthippus speaking with the Carthaginians through interpreters (Diod. 23.16.1) and, according to Polybius’ account of the Mercenaries’ War, Punic seems to have been something of a lingua franca for the army; he describes the Celtic chief Autaritas rising to prominence in the insurgent mercenary army through his fluency in Punic, a tongue with which all veterans were to some degree familiar (Polyb. 1.80.6). It is also significant that Xanthippus seems to have had no particular difficulty in manoeuvring the Celtic and Spanish elements in the army, neither of which were spear-armed; this perhaps suggests that it was not necessary for the Libyans or Carthaginians to serve as a spear-armed phalanx under him either. It therefore seems that the Carthaginian army was nowhere near as `Hellenistic’ as it might first appear.

Hannibal did not lead his army without assistance but, as one would expect, had help in planning and carrying out his decisions. Polybius refers to Hannibal consulting his `council’ on a number of occasions (Polyb. 3.71.5, 85.6, 9.24.4-8), and there are many instances of Hannibal delegating command of army sections, whether in battle or to conduct individual operations, to his officers (Gsell, 1928, p. 393). It is perhaps not surprising that there should have been a military council and a definite chain of command in the Barcid army-if Xanthippus had any long-term effects upon the Carthaginian army it is likely that the Carthaginian command structure was remodelled on something like Spartan lines. 21 The Spartan army had a clear chain of command, and Spartan commanders tended to be accompanied by their subordinate officers, who could offer advice and act upon orders (Anderson, 1970, pp. 69 ff.).

Carthaginian use of Elephants

Carthaginians first became acquainted with war elephants fighting against Pyrrhus of Epirus on Sicily between 278 and 276 BC. Having experienced the effect of this new weapon, Carthage quickly realized that she, too, could acquire it, as African forest elephants inhabited North Africa in great numbers. It was much easier to hire professionals to catch this variety of elephants rather than importing elephants from India. Soon Carthage had the most powerful elephant corps in the Mediterranean world, with stables housing up to 300 elephants located in the capital. At first drivers were Indians hired through Egypt, but later drivers were also recruited from other regions including Syria, Numidia and some other African states. Elephants now replaced chariots as the Carthaginians’ main striking power.

During the First Punic War (264-241 BC), the Carthaginians were only beginning to master this new arm of warfare and paid a high price for their lack of experience on the battlefield. In 262 BC, when the Romans besieged the Carthaginian city of Agrigentum on Sicily, Carthage dispatched to Agrigentum an expeditionary corps of 50,000 infantrymen, 6,000 horsemen and 60 war elephants. The Carthaginian general stationed his elephants behind the first infantry line. When the Romans destroyed this vanguard, the fleeing soldiers frightened the elephants into running away. The integrity of the combat formations was completely broken and victory cost the Romans little effort.

In spite of this bitter experience, the Carthaginians did not give up on the use of elephants. When Marcus Regulus, a Roman general and consul, landed in Africa in 256 BC, a large army was sent to prevent the Romans’ advance on Carthage, but the elephants’ contribution to the battle of Adys was slight. The Carthaginians realized that the commander of the elephant corps should be replaced and hired a Greek named Xanthippus. Xanthippus had participated in the defence of Sparta from Pyrrhus of Epirus in 272 BC and met with war elephants there. In the battle against Regulus on the Bagradas River in 255 BC, Xanthippus put nearly 100 Carthaginian elephants in file in front of the infantry lines, as was common. Although the legionaries `fell in heaps’, according to Polybius, they bravely fought elephants in the centre. On the wings, however, a larger Carthaginian cavalry force put Roman horsemen to flight. The Romans were effectively encircled and a Carthaginian victory was assured. Only a small part of the Roman army forced its way back, but `the greater number were trampled to death by the vast weight of the elephants, while the remainder were shot down by the numerous cavalry in their ranks as they stood’ (Polybius, I. 34).

This experience, and the tales of the Roman legionaries who survived, ensured that Rome did not dare to confront elephants for several years. Conversely, the Carthaginians began patently to overestimate war elephants’ abilities and soon paid a high price for it. Caecilius Metellus, Roman commander on Sicily in 251 BC, resorted to a ruse to counter the war elephant threat. He hid a considerable army in the well-fortified city of Panormus and ordered a deep ditch dug out in front of the walls. Then Metellus sent a detachment of light-armed warriors to harass the Carthaginian troops incessantly. This provocation finally forced the Carthaginian general to draw his army up in a combat formation with elephants in front, as was expected. The detachment continued to worry the elephants, without really clashing with them, ready to hide themselves in the ditch if attacked. Hopeful of gaining an easy victory before their commander’s eyes, elephant drivers were thus provoked into assailing the Romans. But the elephants failed to cross the ditch, and a hail of arrows and javelins poured onto them from the fortress walls. Injured, they rushed back, scattering their own troops. At that moment Metellus brought his main forces out of the city and completed the rout. This battle restored the Romans’ self-confidence and they were no longer afraid of facing war elephants.

THE PLAINS OF ABRAHAM I

It will already be clear that 1759 was a good year for literature. Apart from the classics that have endured, there was a host of now forgotten works that made an impact in their day. To take the example of Britain alone the Scots cleric Alexander Gerard made what was then considered an important contribution to aesthetics and the debate about the sublime in his An Essay on Taste, while the English clergyman Richard Hurd in his Moral and Political Dialogues, using the conceit of quizzing literary figures from the past on various subjects, was taken seriously at the time, even though for posterity he was totally eclipsed by Hume and his Essays Moral and Political. Sarah Fielding produced a kind of proto-Gothic novel, The History of the Countess of Dellwyn, in some ways anticipating the motifs that Horace Walpole would make famous five years later in The Castle of Otranto. The Irish actor and dramatist Charles (‘Mad Charlie’) Mack lin was hard at work on two plays, The Married Libertine and Love à la Mode.

Yet another figure almost totally forgotten today was the poet Edward Young, who in 1759 penned his Conjectures on Original Composition – his last significant writing. As with so many other productions of this year, one can almost discern the first shoots of the Romantic movement breaking through. Young was the first to articulate fully the now familiar notion of artist as genius – his work was a case of ‘what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed’ – and to stress that the author is creative artist, not a mere craftsman with technique. Young popularised the idea of the genius as a kind of transmission belt for divine inspirations – what a later age would call the workings of the unconscious:

Nor are we only ignorant of the dimensions of the human mind in general but even of our own. That a man be scarce less ignorant of his own powers than an oyster of its pearl or a rock of its diamond; that he may possess dormant, unsuspected qualities, till wakened by loud calls, or stung by striking emergencies, is evident from the sudden eruption of some men, out of perfect obscurity, into public admiration, on the strong principle of some animating occasion; not more to the world’s great surprise than their own.

Perhaps the one thing lacking in English literature this year was any first-class poetry, with Pope and Thomson dead, Young declining and the Romantics still some way over the horizon. In 1759 Oliver Goldsmith, whose Deserted Village was still a decade away, was then a hack with aspirations, writing ruefully to his brother in February: ‘Could a man live by it, it were not unpleasant employment to be a poet’ With a background as erratic Trinity College, Dublin, scholar, failed emigrant, failed parson, failed physician, sometime pharmacist’s assistant, amateur flautist, Grub Street hack and now apprenticed and penurious scribbler, Goldsmith hardly seemed destined for fame and fortune. The one quality he did have was energy. In 1759 he not only contributed prolific ally to Smollett’s British Magazine and even founded his own publication The Bee but wrote an angry treatise entitled Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe, in which he documented the decline of the arts in Europe as a result of a lack of enlightened patronage and the bad influence of dry criticism and academic scholarship. Although critics dismissed it as too short an essay to do justice to its broad ambit, it was undoubtedly fresh, invigorating and convincing when it dealt with the London Grub Street scene.

Goldsmith had seen for himself the bitter disappointment of hungry would-be novelists, the poverty of poets, the slow or non-existent rewards of genius, the mercantile greed and low standards of London publishers and booksellers. He upset David Garrick with his attack on genteel, sentimental comedy – ‘a kind of mulish production with all the defects of its opposite parents and marked with sterility’ – and evinced a delight in epigrams and saws that drew him, inevitably, to the circle of Samuel Johnson. To be ‘dull and dronish’, he observed, was ‘an encroachment on the prerogative of the folio’ and he inveighed particularly at the straitjacket or cul-de-sac into which society forced poetry. ‘Does the poet paint the absurdities of the vulgar, he is low, does he exaggerate the features of folly to render it more ridiculous, he is very low. In short, they have proscribed the comic or satirical muse from every walk but high life, which, though abounding in fools as well as the humblest station, is by no means so fruitful in absurdity.’

The greatest living English poet was Thomas Gray, but his masterpiece had appeared eight years earlier. There are probably more famous tags from his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard – ‘paths of glory’, ‘far from the madding crowd’, ‘wade through slaughter to a throne’, full many a flower is born to blush unseen’, ‘some village Hampden, etc, etc – than from any other poet but Shakespeare. Gray was singularly unlucky in love: his schoolfriend Richard West died young, he was snubbed by fellow homosexual Horace Walpole and spent the last years of his life in a fruitless passion for the young Swiss traveller Charles Victor Bonstetten. Celibate and depressive, Gray was particularly interested in the progress of the Seven Years War and quizzed his friend George Townshend (Wolfe’s deputy) about the campaign in Canada. In January 1760 he reported the result of his conversation to Thomas Wharton: ‘You ask after Quebec. General Townshend says it is much like Richmond-Hill, and the River as fine (but bigger) and the vale as riant, as rich and as well cultivated.’ There is much more evidence of Gray’s interest in military affairs. On 8 August 1759 he commented as follows on the Battle of Minden:

The season for triumph is at last come; I mean for our Allies, for it will be long enough before we shall have reason to exult in any great action of our own and therefore as usual we are proud for our neighbours. Contades’ great army is entirely defeated: this I am told is undoubted, but no particulars are known yet; and almost as few of the other victory over the Russians, which is lost in the splendour of this great action.

Yet there are even more intimate links binding Gray to the world of military action, for possibly the best-known story about General Wolfe at Quebec involves the Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. John Robison, later Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University, was in 1759 a young midshipman on the Royal William. He told Robert Southey (who passed it on to Sir Walter Scott) that on the night of 12 September during the British army’s night passage on the St Lawrence, Wolfe pulled a copy of Gray’s works from his pocket and began declaiming the Elegy. When the reading was received in silence by his officers, Wolfe upbraided them: T can only say, gentlemen, that if the choice were mine, I would rather be the author of these verses than win the battle which we are to fight tomorrow morning.’ In another version of the story, one of Robison’s students, James Lurie, remembered the Professor saying that someone else recited the Elegy from memory and that Wolfe then said: ‘I would rather have been the author of that piece than beat the French tomorrow’ – a giveaway remark that led the company to infer that there would be a battle next day, since Wolfe had so far confided in no one. The story became widely known after William Hazlitt repeated it in the Literary Examiner in 1823. The severest, most straitlaced scholars have always affected to disbelieve the story, on three main grounds: there is no mention of this anecdote in eighteenth-century literature; it does not fit what we know of the character and personality of Wolfe; and lines like those about the flower blushing unseen and wasting ‘its sweetness on the desert air’ scarcely square with the mentality of a self-publicist. But it is known that Wolfe’s fiancée Katharine Lawler had given him a copy of Gray’s poems just before he left England. The consensus is that the story is probably true in its main outline. The prime irony was that Gray never knew that one of Britain s great military heroes had made this most famous tribute to his most famous poem.

Cast down and depressed by the debacle at Montmorency, Wolfe contemplated the likelihood that he would soon have to depart for Louisbourg, Halifax or even London, leaving a holding force on the île-aux-Coudres against his return with another army in the spring of 1760. But his anger with the French found expression in a third proclamation in early August (the first had been on 27 June) which made it clear that, since they had spurned his earlier offer of amnesty, the full fury of war would now be visited on them. The Canadians, he alleged, ‘had made such ungrateful returns in practising the most unchristian barbarities against his troops on all occasions, he could no longer refrain in justice to himself and his army from chastising them as they deserved’. What particularly infuriated Wolfe was the behaviour of Montcalm’s Indians, particularly the Ottawas and Micmacs, and their habit of scalping and mutilating prisoners or the sentries they often overpowered in the darkness in the remote British outposts. There were suspicions, too, that the French Canadians did their own scalping and mutilating and passed it off as the work of their benighted Indian allies, whom ‘unfortunately’ they could not control. But when Wolfe officially remonstrated to Vaudreuil, the Governor gave him short shrift. Since both sides had always used Indians as allies in their struggle for mastery in North America, it was arrant humbug for the British to raise the issue now just because Wolfe had scarcely a native man in his ranks. Indian atrocities, though regrettable, were part of the ‘fortunes of war’ that both sides had to suffer stoically in this increasingly bitter conflict.

It may be that Wolfe had the Indians particularly on his mind at this juncture through an association of ideas with another enemy. By the beginning of August his relations with Townshend had deteriorated alarmingly, but meanwhile Townshend had added to his portraiture portfolio by proving the first authentic sketch of an Ottawa warrior in full fighting fig. In the small hours of 8 August 1759 this brave swam the ford below Montmorency Falls, making landfall where he hoped to pick off an unwary British sentry. But luck was against him; the Ottawa found himself staring down the muzzle of a redcoat’s musket; within minutes the warrior was hauled before Brigadier Townshend. The Indian pretended not to understand anything said to him, even though there were many in the encampment who spoke the Ottawa tongue. Regarding with aristocratic hauteur ‘a very savage looking brute and naked all to an arse clout’, Townshend was sufficiently intrigued to make a quick sketch of his prisoner. This initial sketch became the first of a series of watercolours that Townshend completed during the campaign – invaluable as the only known images of North American Indians produced by an eyewitness during the Seven Years War. The would-be scalper was manacled and stowed on board a British warship, with the intention that he should be taken back to England as a present for George II, but the nimble Ottawa slipped his chains a few nights later and slid into the dark waters of the St Lawrence. Search parties were launched but no trace of the escapee was found, and the natural inference is that such an intrepid swimmer made his way safely back to the French lines.

According to Wolfe’s interpretation of the rules of war, the French use of Indians and the masking of their own atrocities as the uncontrollable actions of the painted savages gave him the justification he needed to harry the inhabitants of the St Lawrence with fire and sword. Although he had given the Canadians until 10 August to change their ways, he decided to get his reprisals in first and on 4 August sent a company of Rangers to put the settlement of St Paul’s Bay to the torch on the ground that the people there had fired on British boats. The man he chose to lead the group – one of Rogers’ Rangers named Joseph Gorham – was an Indian-hating fire-eater who went about his work with a relish that Wolfe would have recognised from his time in Scotland with Cumberland and ‘Hangman Hawley’. Wolfe’s standing order of 27 July prohibited the Rangers from scalping (one of the Indian customs they had taken over with avidity, unless the enemy comprised Indians or Canadians dressed as Indians). But the Rangers simply scalped whomever they pleased, then claimed that the enemy had been ‘masquerading’ as Ottawas. Two days later Wolfe told Monkton that if any further shots were fired at his boats, he intended to burn every single house in the village of St Joachim, although ‘churches must be spared – I shall give notice to Vaudreuil obliquely, that such is my intention’. The scorched-earth policy is a measure of Wolfe’s desperation, for he clearly hoped that a reign of terror would force the French out of their entrenchments to defend their own kith and kin. Civilians in the St Lawrence were caught in a horrible dilemma: Vaudreuil had already warned them that if they collaborated with the enemy, he would unleash his Indians against them, and now here was Wolfe warning that if they did not collaborate, he would burn hearth and home down around their heads.

After gutting Baie St Paule, Gorham and his marauders moved on to Malbaie (Murray Bay) where he burned down forty houses and barns, then crossed the river to Ste Anne de la Pocatière, where he torched fifty more. Throughout August the sky over the St Lawrence was blackened as if by a mighty forest fire, as smoke from burning farmhouses blotted out the sun. On both sides of the river the inferno raged, as Gorham’s Rangers fired every sign of human civilisation. By the middle of the month they had completed the destruction of all houses, farms and barns between the Etchemin river and la Chaudière. On the 23rd it was the turn of the villages on the north shore between Montmorency and St Joachim to taste the pyromania of Wolfe’s arsonists. The Ile d’Orléans was swept into the conflagration. At the beginning of September Major George Scott, commanding a mixed force of regulars, Rangers and seamen, proceeded downriver and began destroying all buildings, flocks and harvests on the south shore, following Wolfe’s threat to ‘burn all the country from Camarasca to the Point of Levy’. In a fifty-two-mile march, Scott and his destroyers burned 998 buildings (Scott kept a precise count), took fifteen prisoners and killed five Canadians for the loss of two killed and a handful wounded. The final tally of destruction in Wolfe’s campaign of terror was more than 1,400 farmhouses which, a New England newspaper gloatingly reported, it would take half a century to rebuild. Nor was this all. British sources kept quiet about the accompanying atrocities but the modern historian Fred Anderson sums up with terse under-statement: ‘No one ever reckoned the numbers of rapes, scalpings, thefts and casual murders perpetrated during this month of bloody terror.’

The terror tactics were probably counter-productive as they solved the Canadians’ dilemma for them. They now had little choice but to oppose the British, since Wolfe allowed them no way out. Ferocious guerrilla warfare was the inevitable upshot, with particularly bitter fighting on the north shore below Montmorency. The principal guerrilla leader was a priest named Portneuf, whom the sources confusingly refer to as both the Abbé de Beaupré and the Curé de St Joachim. Evidently a confidant ofVaudreuil, Father Portneuf tried to mitigate the worst savagery in the guerrilla warfare and deal with the British officers opposing him in a civilised way. His chivalry and gallantry were brusquely rebuffed by officers who were under orders from Wolfe to wage war to the knife. Frustrated at the priest’s able defence, Wolfe sent reinforcements to the north shore and on 23 August 300 fresh troops and field artillery arrived on the scene. A ferocious artillery barrage on Portneuf’s position at Ste Anne drove the defenders into the open, where they were butchered mercilessly. Thirty men and Portneuf himself were killed and scalped; the British used the lame excuse that the defenders had disguised themselves as Indians. No quarter was given or prisoners taken. Ensign Malcolm Fraser of the Highlanders had already promised two of the men their lives but he was overruled by the bloodthirsty local commander Captain Alexander Montgomery, who ordered all captives slaughtered in cold blood. Montgomery celebrated his hecatomb of Portneuf’s guerrillas by gutting all the houses in Ste Anne and gratuitously reducing the Château Richer to ashes.

Wolfe had once again proved himself an able disciple of Cumberland. In Tacitus’s words he had created a desert and called it peace. Even Townshend, no bleeding heart, was revolted and wrote to his wife: ‘I never served so disagreeable a campaign as this. Our unequal force has reduced our operations to a scene of skirmishing, cruelty and devastation. It is war of the worst shape. A scene I ought not to be in, for the future believe me, my dear Charlotte, I will seek the reverse of it.’

Wolfe’s apologists, beginning with the intellectually dishonest Parkman, claim that his scorched-earth policy and his massacres were simply tit-for-tat retaliation for far worse war crimes meted out by Vaudreuil, Montcalm and their allies. This is scarcely convincing. The atrocities committed on the French side, as at Fort William Henry in 1757 and elsewhere, were the results of French inability to control their Indian allies, on whom they were forced to depend because of the massive superiority in numbers enjoyed by the British. There was no general guerre à outrance order of the kind that Wolfe issued in August and it is quite clear that his orders were regarded as egregious or received with stupefaction. Quite apart from the disgust evinced by those such as Malcolm Fraser and Townshend, there is Monkton’s querying of Wolfe’s draconian instructions and the British government’s censoring of Wolfe’s despatch to Pitt on the subject. The most that can be said in Wolfe’s defence is that warfare in North America in the eighteenth century was always a nasty and barbarous business. But is it not a logical implication of that, as Wolfe’s defenders seem to think, to accept that atrocity and barbarity should therefore be raised exponentially to new heights. If the Indians were benighted savages, what was it that justified supposedly civilised European officers behaving with equal savagery? Moreover, as was famously said of Napoleon’s murder of the Due d’Enghien, it was more than a crime, it was an error. Wolfe’s atrocities did nothing to advance his ultimate aims, since the Québécois could no more be drawn out by the sufferings of their compatriots than by the ‘strategic bombing’ of their fair city.

While this cruel devastation of the Quebec hinterland went on, Wolfe probed the area of the St Lawrence above the city for some foothold or landing place, trying also to make contact with Amherst and cut Montcalm’s communications. Brigadier Murray commanded this venture, and a game of cat and mouse developed with the French, the British making temporary landfall at various points, the French ponderously following them along the shore. Atrocity bade fair to follow Murray upriver for, after a repulse on the northern shore by Bougainville on 8 August, which cost the invaders 140 men killed and wounded, Murray switched to St Antoine on the southern shore, where he threatened to raze every dwelling to the ground if the inhabitants opened fire on him. On 18 August he re-embarked, gave Bougainville the slip, landed at Deschambault farther upriver on the northern shore and destroyed Montcalm’s spare baggage and equipment.

This raid was sufficiently worrying to Montcalm to draw him temporarily from Quebec. Fearing that his communications would be cut, he rushed to Bougainville’s assistance, only to learn that the British had already withdrawn. Montcalm confessed himself relieved, for if Murray had established a bridgehead in force at Deschambault, he lacked the forces to dislodge him. But he worried about the shape of possible similar things to come, unlike the bone-headed Vaudreuil, who could see no point in Montcalm’s sortie and thought he was merely panicking. The August probe upriver stuttered out in stalemate: Montcalm returned to Beauport and Murray to Point Levis, summoned back post-haste by an increasingly jumpy Wolfe. But Murray came back with something of infinite value: news that Fort Niagara had fallen and the would-be French counterattack beaten off. When Montcalm received this intelligence, he was justifiably alarmed and sent off the Chevalier de Lévis and 800 troops to reinforce the crumbling western theatre. These were men he could ill afford to spare for, as it was, defending a front that extended from the Montmorency Falls to the northern shore of the St Lawrence upriver from Quebec, he was stretched almost to snapping point even before he detached Levis.

Wolfe, unaware of Montcalm’s grave concerns, was himself undergoing a crisis in August, and perhaps we can understand the atrocities of that month as the fanatical actions of a man who had essentially lost sight of his aim. His problems were twofold: he was ill and he was at odds with his brigadiers. For most of August he was scarcely well enough to leave his sick-bed. Barely recovered from a grave attack of fever, he suffered from a steadily worsening tubercular cough and was weak from the constant blood-letting to which his physicians subjected him. High on opium and other painkillers, he could often not even urinate without terrible pain. Situated thus, he was scarcely able to deal with the accumulated hostility of all three of his brigadiers.

Wolfe had got off on the wrong foot with Townshend – admittedly not a difficult thing to do – and the cryptic diary evidence for 7 July indicates that there had been a stand-up row between the foppish aristocrat and his commander, with Townshend threatening to foment a ‘parliamentary inquiry’ into the behaviour of his commanding officer. There was further tension during the rest of July, and it seems clear that Wolfe gradually alienated Murray also during this period. The commander lost face considerably as a result of the Montmorency fiasco on 31 July, after which we find Deputy Quartermaster General Guy Carleton, previously a Wolfe favourite, joining the dissenters. Then, in the middle of August, Wolfe additionally fell foul of Monkton. The details are obscure, but on 15 August we find Wolfe apologising with ‘hearty excuses’ for any unintentional offence offered when the commander withdrew men from Monkton’s posts and thus weakened them. On 16 August Wolfe wrote again almost pleadingly to Monkton, saying: ‘I heartily beg you forgiveness.’ Captain Thomas Bell, whose diary is an important source for the Quebec campaign, relates that Wolfe destroyed his diary for the period after August but that this deleted section ‘contained a careful account of the officers’ ignoble conduct towards him in case of a Parliamentary enquiry’.

It was 27 August before Wolfe felt well enough to convene a council of war with the three brigadiers he had so seriously alienated. Wolfe almost certainly had no great opinion of their strategic abilities but consulted them, partly because such a council was a cultural norm in eighteenth-century military life and partly so that he could not later (maybe in a parliamentary inquiry?) be accused of having acted in a high-handed and authoritarian way. The council took place on 28 August. Wolfe began by outlining three possible courses of action, all of them involving an attack on the Beauport lines. The first idea was to catch the French forces between two fires, with both a frontal attack and an attack in the rear by a large force which would have crossed the Montmorency by the upper ford. The second was essentially a rerun of 31 July, with an attempt being made once more to recapture the upper redoubt, with Townshend’s men establishing a beachhead and Monkton’s crossing from Point Levis for the coup de grâce. The third was essentially a combination of the first and second scenarios. All the proposed actions were in effect simply variations on the old strategy that had failed so dismally on 31 August.

Wolfe’s apologists, anxious to rescue him from the obvious charge of bankruptcy of ideas, allege that he was simply ‘flying a kite’, that he had already decided on an alternative strategy but was determined to get his brigadiers to commit themselves in writing to a final rejection of all attacks on the Beauport front. The alternate and much more likely explanation is that Wolfe simply had no idea what to do next. Whatever the reason for his spectacularly unimaginative memorandum, it is certain that his brigadiers rejected it decisively. They suggested instead that Wolfe abandon all idea of forcing the Beauport-Montomorency front and concentrate instead on finding somewhere upriver to land the next blow. This would threaten Montcalm’s food supplies from the west and finally force him to emerge from his entrenched eyrie in Quebec. Landing at some location above Quebec would have the further advantage that the British army could concentrate, instead of, as hitherto, being vulnerable to French local superiority. Crucially, if defeated at Quebec, Montcalm would no longer have the option of being able to retreat west and continue the struggle there; the battle for Quebec would, under the new dispositions, settle the entire struggle for mastery in North America.

By the beginning of September the British had assembled a formidable naval force in the river above Quebec. On 28 August the frigate Lowestoft, the sloop Hunter and smaller vessels managed to slip past the French shore batteries and join the handful of ships already upriver. On the night of 31 August-i September five more vessels, including the frigate Seahorse, forced passage above Quebec. Wolfe thus had covering fire for any force he tried to land to the south-west of the city (i.e. upriver). His brigadiers now took in hand a skilful evacuation of the Montmorency camp, transporting the troops first of all to the Île d’Orléans. Leaving a holding force on that island to protect the base camp, hospital and stores, and another strong garrison on Point Lévis, where all the heaviest artillery was stationed, the British commanders conveyed the entire besieging army to the mouth of the Etchemin river on the south bank (south-west of Point Levis), ready for the eventual move upriver. The evacuation was another great success for amphibious operations. Monkton feinted towards the right of the French defences by the mouth of the St Charles river, while Wolfe dragged his feet about the final withdrawal of men from Montmorency, keeping five battalions there until 3 September in the hope of tempting the French commander to a rash sortie. Montcalm could not be tempted, but many observers on both sides thought he had lost a great opportunity to sow chaos during the intricate process of embarkation.

Both commanders had their problems. Wolfe was not sanguine about the outcome of the new strategy and confessed to Pitt that he had acquiesced in it with great misgivings. In his last letter to his mother, written on 31 August, Wolfe was equally pessimistic:

My antagonist has wisely shut himself up in inaccessible entrenchments, so that I can’t get at him without spilling a torrent of blood and that perhaps to little purpose. The Marquis de Montcalm is at the head of a great number of bad soldiers, and I am at the head of a small number of good ones, that wish for nothing so much as to fight him – but the wary old fellow avoids an action doubtful of the behaviour of his army.

In his last letter to Pitt, dated 2 September, Wolfe complained about the difficulty of campaigning in Canada where the terrain was against him and the St Lawrence river itself attenuated his superiority in numbers and matériel. He also stressed the growing casualty roster: since the end of June he had lost 850 men dead and wounded, including two colonels, two majors, nineteen captains and thirty-four subalterns, and now there were signs that disease too was lending a hand, further reducing his effective manpower. Wolfe admitted that he had only grudgingly accepted his brigadiers’ plan to cut Montcalm’s line of communications between the Jacques Carrier and Cap Rouge rivers and the subtext of all his final messages indicated a man preparing for ultimate failure, half-accepting his responsibility for this and half-wishing to slough it off onto others – though, to be fair, when he tried to blame the navy for some of the setbacks and Admiral Saunders vociferously objected, Wolfe agreed to remove the offending words. Referring to the debacle of 31 July, Wolfe even displayed magnanimity, for his letter to Saunders reads as follows: ‘I am sensible of my own errors in the course of the campaign; see clearly wherein I have been deficient, and think a little more or less blame, to a man that must necessarily be ruined, of little or no consequence.’

The Dessau Bridge

Dessau 1626 by Warlord156

The battle for the Dessau bridge in 1626, from the Theatrum Europaeum The legend to the small letters on the plan reads: A. Imperialist fortifications; B. Elbe bridge; C. Imperialist redoubts; D. Mansfeld’s camp; E. Mansfeld’s fortifications; F. Mansfeld’s approach trenches; G. Imperialist approach trenches and redoubts; H. Aldringer’s approach trenches; I. Position held against Mansfeld; K. Imperialist artillery; L. Mansfeld driven off; M. Imperialist sally; N. Friedland’s cavalry on the near side of the river; O. Mansfeld’s cavalry; P. Friedland’s cavalry; Q. Mansfeld’s flight; R. Friedland commences pursuit; S. Schlick’s and Aldringer’s infantry; Y. The village of Rosslau.

Albrecht von Wallenstein’s appointment as Imperial general had come too late for matters to be concluded in 1625, when a conjunction of his and Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly’s forces might have driven the isolated Christian IV back to Denmark and out of the war. Instead they united in time only for the armies to spend the winter skirmishing, looting the countryside, and eating the peasantry out of house and home, rather than achieving anything of military significance. Meanwhile Christian was involved in two contradictory negotiations, one taking place in Brunswick, where peace with the emperor was discussed, and the other in The Hague, where attempts were made to widen the anti-Habsburg coalition in order to continue the war. The peace conference was the first of many occasions upon which Wallenstein favoured a realistic approach in order to achieve a peace settlement, but the hardline Imperialist position was determined in Vienna and Munich, and no progress was made. Matters stood little better for Christian in The Hague as most of his prospective allies did not participate, even though they realised that Wallenstein’s new army completely altered the balance, and that if as a result Christian were defeated or withdrew from the war their interests would be seriously threatened. However England and the Dutch Republic agreed to provide him with money, Ernst von Mansfeld’s army was despatched to Lower Saxony, and contacts were re-established with Bethlen Gabor. The other Christian the Younger of Brunswick, the `mad Halberstädter’, also reappeared on the scene, albeit with a makeshift army of limited military value, while another German prince, Duke Johann Ernst of Weimar, contributed troops to the revived coalition.

There were predictable tensions between the leaders of these diverse forces, at least partly as a result of which their grand plan was based on independent rather than united action. Although this was making a virtue of necessity it was nevertheless a sound strategy, as by separating they prevented Tilly and Wallenstein from combining against them. Mansfeld’s task was to draw Wallenstein away by heading east into Silesia, forcing him – so the plan went – to follow because of the threat this would pose to Bohemia, Moravia and ultimately Austria itself. As in 1623 the intention was that this force from the west would join up with Bethlen Gabor invading from the east, when together they would be strong enough to face and defeat Wallenstein. Meanwhile Christian of Brunswick was to bypass Tilly and move south, before turning and threatening his rear while Christian of Denmark confronted him from the north.

It was not a bad plan, and it also exploited the equally predictable ten- sions between Tilly and Wallenstein, the old, experienced and successful general and the younger unproven leader of a new and unproven army. Rivalry over winter quarters had been the start, but Wallenstein had come off better by moving quickly into the rich lands of the Protestant- held secularised bishoprics centred on Magdeburg and Halberstadt. With Wallenstein thus ensconced by the Elbe, Tilly remained 80 miles to the west on the River Weser, a disposition which determined their respective roles in the campaigns of 1626. There were also differences over strategy. Wallenstein wanted their forces to join up for a decisive attack on Christian early in the year, whereas Tilly preferred to play a waiting game, hoping to trap the Danes between them later in the spring. Wallenstein, closer to Christian’s main army, was thus left at risk should the king move first and attack him in strength. The result was that while the generals were arguing the relative importance of possible lines of attack or defence, each seeking support and troops from the other, they lost the initiative and were forced instead to respond to the opening moves of their enemies. Tilly was soon under pressure, and when the `mad Halberstädter’ threatened the city of Goslar Wallenstein was obliged to assist by leading a large force against him, only to find that the enemy quickly disappeared. He then had to turn back to counter an advance south by a Danish division under General Hans Fuchs, which he chased off after a sharp skirmish but without being able to force a battle. Meanwhile Mansfeld was already across the Elbe.

Rivers were of great strategic importance, not only as the easiest line of advance or retreat using the relatively good roads alongside them, but also as supply lines for bringing up heavy guns, provisions and other necessities by water. However major rivers were also potentially dangerous obstacles, particularly to a retreating army, as bridges were few and far between as well as easily fortified or broken down. Hence over the winter Wallenstein had substantial defences constructed on both sides of the Elbe bridge at Dessau, 30 miles south-east of Magdeburg, and he placed Aldringer there with a garrison to defend it. Magdeburg and its bridge were in Protestant hands, while south of Dessau all the way to the Bohemian border the Elbe flowed through Protestant Saxony, so that securing the bridge was a prudent precaution as well as preventing the river being used as a supply line by the enemy. Nevertheless it was a surprise when in April 1626, after taking the town of Zerbst nine miles to the north-west, Mansfeld mounted an attack on the defences around the northern end of the bridge.

Despite the confident accounts given in many histories it is very difficult to describe accurately what happened at battles in the early modern period. Numbers are the first problem. Contemporary reports give large, round and probably exaggerated figures, and for want of anything better these often pass from one history to the next, eventually becoming accepted as though they were established fact. The starting point in the Thirty Years War was to list the units involved, which were known by the names of their commanders and were usually well recorded, and to tot up their nominal strength, 3000 for an infantry regiment, 300 for a company, and 1000 and 100 for the equivalent cavalry formations. The result was the maximum figure, although the one often reported, but units were rarely at full strength even in total, while after deducting the sick, wounded, missing and dead the numbers available and fit to fight could be very much lower, sometimes half or less. This may not matter, as the same applied on both sides, so that the relative strengths quoted may be somewhere near right even if the absolute numbers are wrong, but it helps to explain the frequent discrepancies between different reports of the same event. Numbers of casualties were even more arbitrary, as the dead were mostly buried in mass graves and perhaps not even counted, while those who failed to return for roll-call and were not known to be prisoners were simply struck off the company lists, so that there was no distinction between casualties and deserters. Prisoners were no better accounted for, usually simply being enrolled by the winning side, and here too the numbers represent the loosest of estimates or perhaps simply guesswork. The most accurate figures after a battle seem to have been the number of enemy standards taken – a particular point of military pride – and perhaps the number of cannon captured.

The course of a battle is often as unclear as the numbers involved. Two hundred years later the duke of Wellington noted `how little reliance can be placed even on what are supposed to be the best accounts of a battle. . It is impossible to say when each important occurrence took place, or in what order.’ There are good reasons for this. Battles were frequently confused affairs, and the participants themselves rarely had a full picture of events, so that subsequent accounts involve piecing together partial, impressionistic and often inconsistent reports to work out what might have happened. The term `battlefield’ is itself misleading, suggesting a conveniently open and something like level discrete area, whereas in fact troops, particularly cavalry, might range widely over territory broken up by streams, ditches, hills, woods, villages and other obstructions to both movement and vision; 10,000 infantry could well be spread out over two miles or more, so that a commander would often not have had a clear view of their disposition. Worse still, once action commenced the guns of the period quickly created `such an awful smoke. that we could scarcely see a pistol-shot in front of us’, as a Bavarian officer recorded after one such engagement.

The battle for the Dessau bridge is a good example of the numbers problem. Mann, in his biography of Wallenstein, puts Mansfeld’s army at 10,000 men, whereas Guthrie calculates less than 7000 in his study of the battles of the Thirty Years War. Of these Mann states that 3000 to 4000 were killed, against Guthrie’s estimate of somewhere over 1000. Conversely Mann reports 1500 taken prisoner against Guthrie’s 3000, so that according to Mann Mansfeld escaped with 5000 survivors while Guthrie says that it was only about 2000. Neither gives figures for Wallenstein’s forces, although Guthrie contends that he had at least twice as many men as Mansfeld, that is upwards of 14,000 by his calculation, whereas Diwald, in his Wallenstein biography, puts his strength at 21,000 infantry and six regiments of cavalry.

The Theatrum Europaeum, a major contemporary chronicle, made a speciality of elaborate copperplate illustrations, including detailed plans of battles commissioned from experienced military officers, and these give very helpful pictures of the terrain as it then was, together with such features as earthworks and other defences. A drawing in the Theatrum shows that the Dessau bridge, which was some distance north of the town, spanned both the Elbe and its wide flood plain. It is depicted as a narrow structure built on piers, with small Imperialist forts on the south side and a substantial defensive enclosure around the bridgehead on the north, and with protective wings and trenches securing a strip of land along the riverbank in both directions. The whole area to the south was heavily wooded, so that the road along which the Imperialist troops approached was well screened from Mansfeld on the opposite side. The fortifications would have largely hidden the bridge itself from him, and Aldringer had also covered it with tree branches, so that troops crossing could not be seen. The land north of the river where Mansfeld made his camp and positioned his forces was much more open, but he had thrown up temporary earthworks opposite and parallel to the Imperialist defences. To the east a belt of woodland started from the river close to the Imperialist right wing, extending northwards and then westwards so that it effectively bounded the whole of Mansfeld’s left flank.

Mansfeld’s initial probes in early April and a more substantial attack a week later showed that although Aldringer had only a small garrison the position had been too well prepared to be easily taken. Mansfeld accordingly brought up guns and set his men to digging approach trenching for a full-scale storm of the bridgehead. His reasons are not well established, but if his plan was to draw Wallenstein after him into Silesia he would have needed a head start so that he could reach Bethlen Gabor before Wallenstein caught up with him. Taking the bridge and leaving a rearguard to defend it would have helped to pre- vent the Imperial army following too hard on his heels. Christian of Denmark was also worried that Mansfeld’s departure would weaken his own position, so that he wanted him first to hamper Wallenstein by cutting his supply line along the river and opening up a potential threat to his rear. Fuchs was charged with supporting the action, but he was still recovering from his own clash with Wallenstein, so that he did not appear on the scene. Hence Mansfeld launched the attack on his own, perhaps tempted by the opportunity of an easy victory over the heavily outnumbered Aldringer. His career had been remarkable more for his ability to recover from setbacks and survive disasters than for any achievements in the field, and he may have wanted a triumph to register with Christian. Successive failed attacks seem only to have made him the more determined to persevere, and to have made him oblivious to the changing balance of forces around the bridge.

Mansfeld’s perversity was Wallenstein’s opportunity. It had been a frustrating winter, and he was well aware that critics in Vienna were saying that in the six months since the novice general set out with his new army nothing of consequence had been achieved. Now there was a chance of action. He could not move too early in case the attack on the bridge was a diversion as part of some larger plan, but once Mansfeld brought in artillery and his main army Wallenstein was ready to respond. The first step was to move up enough reinforcements to prevent Mansfeld gaining a quick success, and Colonel Heinrich Schlick was swiftly despatched with the necessary troops. Schlick managed to get his men over the bridge and into the northern defences either unobserved or with their numbers sufficiently hidden by the screening, so that when Mansfeld attacked on 23 April he encountered much stronger resistance than he had expected and he was obliged to withdraw. Meanwhile Wallenstein moved up his own artillery and a large force of both infantry and cavalry.

The key point in his plan was the wood on Mansfeld’s eastern flank, where the latter had not placed troops either for lack of men or because he did not think it important. On 24 April Wallenstein moved more units over the bridge, including heavy cavalry. Then under covering fire from an artillery battery south of the river, and assisted by a diversionary sally from the west side of the bridgehead defences, his men occupied the wood. Presumably Mansfeld again underestimated their number and strength, as he pressed on regardless, launching a heavy frontal attack on the fortifications early the following morning. Reports indicate that he made several unsuccessful assaults over the next three hours before Wallenstein ordered a counterattack, which was followed by heavy and evenly balanced fighting on the open ground. At the critical stage Wallenstein sent infantry reinforcements over the bridge, and the issue was then decided by a flanking cavalry attack from the wood. To add to the confusion of Mansfeld’s men some of their gunpowder wagons exploded in the rear, so that retreat quickly turned to flight. Mansfeld managed to escape back to Zerbst with many of his cavalry, but most of his surviving infantry were captured.

Wallenstein’s battle plan was well conceived and well executed, following a central principle of military strategy by concentrating superior forces before engaging the enemy. Nevertheless it was a bold undertaking, as getting large numbers of men and horses over a narrow bridge and into a small defended area in the face of the enemy had its own risks, while fighting with their backs to the river left little scope for an orderly retreat had Mansfeld proved the stronger. Wallenstein’s own report was brief and to the point:

Mansfeld and his entire army moved up to the fortifications at the Elbe bridge near Dessau, besieging and bombarding them, to counter which I led the majority of the Imperial army entrusted to me out to meet him, advancing against him from the aforementioned fortifications. Yesterday God gave us the good fortune to defeat him, cutting through his forces and putting them to flight.

He sent an officer to provide a fuller account to the emperor, who was delighted with these `impressive and knightly deeds’, as he enthusiastically wrote in congratulatory letters to Wallenstein and his principal officers.

Ernst von Mansfeld