South Mountain I

Ultimate General Civil War– (South Mountain)

On September 4, 1862 Lee readied the army for the movement into Maryland. He reduced the number of wagons to those absolutely needed for each regiment. In the artillery unfit horses were removed, crews reassigned to other batteries, and battalions transferred to Jackson’s and Longstreet’s commands. In all, seventy-eight regular batteries and three horse artillery batteries accompanied the army. Lee appointed Lewis A. Armistead to command of the army’s provost guard, with the duty of rounding up stragglers. In the same order Lee warned stragglers that they would be punished and enjoined “the gallant soldiers” to aid “their officers in checking the desire for straggling among their comrades.”

The main body of the army, led by Jackson’s veterans, began crossing the Potomac at White’s Ford on September 5. “The water being limestone,” wrote a soldier, “it was as clear as crystal. The men removed their shoes, socks, and ‘britches.’” Staff officer Thomas G. Pollock watched as the men, in ranks of four, waded into the river. “I never expect as long as I live to witness such a spectacle.” “No body spoke,” he explained, because “it was a time of great feeling.” Pollock rode into the current, then turned in his saddle and looked to the rear. The column of marchers stretched as far as he could see. He confided to his father, “I felt, I was watching what must be the turning point of the war.”

When the men reached the Maryland riverbank, they cheered. A band played “Maryland, My Maryland.” Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s topographer, boasted to his wife in a letter, “The passing of the Rubicon was not more memorable for we were really advancing.” Jackson, wrote Hotchkiss, was “more than usually attentive to all that passed.” Writing the day before, a Virginian had observed, “Jackson next to Lee is the favorite here and I think Jackson inspires more enthusiasm in the men than Lee.” Hotchkiss thought that there was “fewer straggling than I almost ever saw.”

In Leesburg, meanwhile, at the residence of Henry T. Harrison, a distant kinsman of Lee, the commanding general had a letter prepared for Davis. “As I have already had the honor to inform you,” he stated, “this army is about entering Maryland, with a view of affording the people of that state an opportunity of liberating themselves. Whatever success may attend that effort, I hope, at any rate, to annoy and harass the enemy.” A local physician visited the Harrison home and attended to Lee’s injured hands, applying new splints and giving him slings for his arms.

The next morning, September 6, Lee, Longstreet, and the wing commander’s troops headed toward the Potomac crossings. “You may expect to hear of wonders performed by the consolidated, veteran armies of Longstreet and Jackson,” predicted a soldier with the column. In his memoirs Longstreet affirmed that the army “was then all that its leaders could ask, and its claim as master of the field was established.” A Georgian noted, however, “Many of our men did not cross the river for want of shoes.”

By September 7 the campsites of the Army of Northern Virginia sprawled south and east of Frederick, Maryland, by the Monocacy River. Farther to the east Jeb Stuart’s three cavalry brigades and three batteries of horse artillery, about 4,500 officers and men, strung a cordon of vedettes, or picket posts, from New Market on the army’s left flank, through Hyattstown in the center, to the Urbana-Barnesville area on the right. Stuart had orders to confuse the Federals by threatening Baltimore and Washington and closely watching their movements. The horsemen remained on the broad arc until September 11.

Lee had established army headquarters at Best’s Grove, a stand of oak trees about two miles south of Frederick. The Confederate commander issued a proclamation to the people of Maryland, announcing that his army had entered their state to assist them “in throwing off the foreign yoke” of Federal authority. In this pro-Union section of the state, however, the reaction was decidedly mixed. Some of the soldiers purchased shoes and clothing with Confederate money, but many Marylanders “turned the cold shoulder every where,” in the view of one officer. The hoped-for a influx of recruits from the state amounted to fewer than 200.19

Stonewall Jackson arrived at army headquarters on the afternoon of September 9; most likely Lee had requested a meeting with the subordinate. An artillerist who saw the famous Stonewall in Maryland remarked, “Jackson looks as if wading the Potomac and other streams has in no wise improved his appearance.” Three days earlier Jackson had been “stunned and severely bruised” when he spurred a “gigantic gray mare,” given to him by a Marylander, and rider and horse fell to the ground. The general’s favorite mount, Little Sorrel, had been stolen recently and was not yet recovered. The injury forced Jackson, like Lee, to use temporarily an ambulance.

Lee informed Jackson that the army would march west, cross South Mountain, and operate in either the Hagerstown or Cumberland valleys. His intent was to draw the Army of the Potomac farther away from the Federal capital before possibly engaging his opponent in a battle. The Confederates’ supply line would be relocated from east of the mountains to the Shenandoah Valley, with its base at Winchester. To secure the flow of supplies Lee proposed the capture of the 13,000-man Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. He had expected the isolated enemy force to withdraw from the indefensible town, which lay at the bottom of a bowl formed by three heights. In Washington, however, it had been determined, over the opposition of George McClellan, to defend Harper’s Ferry.

Lee proposed dividing the army, assigning a force to the Harper’s Ferry movement, while the remaining units crossed South Mountain and halted around Boonsborough. Jackson objected to the plan. “At the council held at Frederick,” he told Harvey Hill months later, “I opposed the separation of our forces in order to capture Harper’s Ferry. I urged that we should all be kept together.” Jackson argued further that the army should remain east of the mountains. Evidently Jackson had asserted to Hill days earlier that the Confederates should advance into Pennsylvania and “give them a taste of war.”

Whether Lee explained his reasoning to Jackson is unknown, but the commanding general presented his thinking in his report: “The advance of the Federal army was so slow at the time we left Fredericktown as to justify the belief that the reduction of Harper’s Ferry would be accomplished and our troops concentrated before they would be called upon to meet it.” Lee expected that the capture of the Union garrison could be completed by September 12 or 13.

The two generals discussed the details of the operation. When they completed the work, Lee heard the voice of Longstreet outside the closed headquarters tent and asked his other wing commander to join them. During their march together to Frederick, Lee had broached the plan to Longstreet. “I objected,” Longstreet later recounted, “that the move would be very imprudent as we were then in the enemy’s country, that he would be advised within ten or twelve hours of our movement, and would surely move out against us in our dispersed condition.” Both of them left it at that for the present.

Once inside the tent, Longstreet heard the specifics of the plan. “They had gone so far,” he wrote of Lee and Jackson, “that it seemed useless for me to offer any further opposition.” Instead he suggested that the entire army be used in the movement to Harper’s Ferry. When Lee rejected the recommendation, Longstreet countered that Richard Anderson’s division be added to the five divisions assigned to the detached force and that his two divisions and Harvey Hill’s command be kept together. Lee agreed to this and said written orders would be issued. The meeting—one of the most momentous in the army’s history—concluded.

The commanding general incorporated his operational ideas in Special Orders No. 191, distributed to the army later, on September 9. The orders directed Jackson, with three divisions and artillery, to recross the Potomac upriver from Harper’s Ferry and to close the western approaches to the town. The divisions of Lafayette McLaws and Richard Anderson were ordered to march down Pleasant Valley and to seize towering Maryland Heights, across the river from the site of John Brown’s failed October 1859 raid. Like Jackson’s command, John G. Walker’s division was to reenter Virginia and occupy Loudoun Heights, east of the Shenandoah River. Longstreet’s two divisions were to cross South Mountain with the reserve, supply, and baggage trains and halt at Boonsborough. Trailing Longstreet, Harvey Hills’s five brigades were to act as the army’s rear guard. Stuart’s cavalry would cover the route of march and gather up stragglers. The army would move the next day, September 10.

In a postwar article Longstreet asserted, “The division of the army to make this attack on Harper’s Ferry was a fatal error.” The old warrior went even further in another piece, declaring that Lee’s decision was “not only the worst ever made by General Lee, but invited the destruction of the Confederate army.” Longstreet’s criticisms benefited from the clarity of hindsight, but the operation was a potentially dangerous gamble, predicated on a timely capture of Harper’s Ferry and a ponderous advance of McClellan’s army. Unquestionably the discovery of a copy of Special Orders No. 191 by the Federals altered the campaign’s course. Nevertheless, Lee compounded the boldness of the advance into Maryland with the dispersal of his divisions, based on an optimistic, and ultimately unrealistic, timeframe for the “reduction of Harper’s Ferry.” In his fine campaign study Joseph Harsh concluded: “The decision Lee made on the 9th put at risk his campaign in Maryland and possibly even the safety of his army. It did so at the time he wrote Special Orders, No. 191, and long before events prevented these orders from a timely execution—or before they fell into the hands of his enemies.”

Before daylight on September 10, coming from the north, east, and south, the Confederates started passing through the streets of Frederick, heading west. Jackson’s troops led the march on National Road, followed by the veterans of Longstreet, McLaws, Anderson, and Harvey Hill. “Much speculation as to our destination,” jotted an officer in his diary. When Longstreet’s men filed past the civilian onlookers, a regimental band played “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” With the entire army, except for Walker’s division and the main body of Stuart’s cavalry, on the single road, the column stretched for thirteen miles.

Throughout the next two days the various commands marched toward their assigned destinations. By nightfall on September 12 units of the army lay scattered, dozens of miles apart, with Lee’s timetable in shambles. His orders anticipated the capture of Harper’s Ferry on this day, but none of the three columns had closed on the Union garrison. After swinging farther west in an attempt to bag a Federal detachment at Martinsburg, Virginia, Jackson had halted several miles west of Harper’s Ferry. On Maryland Heights McLaws’s advance had stalled before enemy defenses and the rugged terrain. After marching and countermarching, Walker’s small division had bivouacked eight miles from Loudoun Heights.

In Maryland, meanwhile, Harvey Hill’s five brigades guarded Turner’s Gap in South Mountain and rested at the mountain’s base around Boonsborough. To the east, across the mountain range, Stuart’s cavalrymen were receding before mounting Union pressure. “I do not wish you to retire too fast before the enemy,” Lee instructed Stuart on this day, “or to distribute your cavalry wide apart.” But it was too late, as the Federals had entered Frederick. Finally, a report of an enemy militia advancing from Pennsylvania toward Hagerstown had brought Longstreet’s two divisions north from Boonsborough. During the march to Hagerstown Lee and Longstreet rode together. At one point, with evident frustration, Longstreet grumbled to Lee, “General, I wish we could stand still and let the damned Yankees come to us!”

Time pressed against the Confederates, they were behind schedule, and the vanguard of McClellan’s army had reached Frederick. Most critically the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia had been thinning with each successive mile during those three days. While in Frederick Lee had written to Davis: “I need not say to you that the material of which it [the army] is composed is the best in the world, and, if properly disciplined and instructed, would be able successfully to resist any force that could be brought against it. Nothing can surpass the gallantry and intelligence of the main body.” He noted, however, “One of the greatest evils, from which many minor ones proceed, is the habit of straggling from the ranks. The higher officers feel as I do, and I believe have done all in their power to stop it. It has become a habit difficult to correct.”

The straggling had begun during the Seven Days, worsened on the roads to Second Manassas, and swelled into a flood in Maryland. As Lee indicated, the efforts of officers could not stanch the bleeding. Hunger, exhaustion, and illness pulled men from the ranks in droves, human eddies flowing away from the marching columns back across the Potomac into Virginia. Their letters at the time and memoirs later were frank in discussing “a great curse of the army.” Officers and men foraged and even plundered for food. A South Carolinian recalled that he and his comrades chewed tobacco to alleviate hunger pangs. For barefoot men, claimed a Virginian, the state’s rocky roads were “more than most of us were used to.” A North Carolinian believed that every regiment in the army lost soldiers to the “curse.”

The extent of the straggling and desertion was staggering. Before the army had crossed into Maryland, thousands had abandoned the ranks. A newspaper correspondent with the army described the situation beyond the Potomac, “Candor compels me to say that the straggling and desertion from our army far surpasses anything I had ever supposed possible.” An Alabamian believed that “the army then was little better than a mob.” Writing in early September, a soldier averred, “I would not have believed without actual experience, that flesh, blood and muscle could stand what we have stood.” In fact too many could no longer withstand the marching in bare feet, the lack of food, and the cumulative strains of weeks of campaigning. At least 20,000, probably closer to 30,000 Confederates either remained behind in Virginia or returned there during the campaign. Their absence put at risk the entire army.

The consequences for a depleted and divided Confederate army loomed graver on Saturday, September 13. At Harper’s Ferry Jackson’s troops approached from the west and deployed before Union defenders on Bolivar Heights. To the east, across the Shenandoah River, Walker occupied Loudoun Heights with infantry but needed another day to haul artillery to the crest. After an all-day struggle McLaws’s veterans wrested Maryland Heights from the Federals and closed the road from the town at its eastern end. Like Walker, McLaws could not place cannon on the 2,000-foot-high Loudoun Heights until September 14. The operations against the garrison at Harper’s Ferry took on the characteristics of a siege.

At Frederick meanwhile George McClellan rode into the community. On September 6 Lincoln had restored him to command of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia. McClellan then integrated John Pope’s corps into the Army of the Potomac and assigned dozens of new regiments to brigades. Within days of his reappointment to command, he started his 95,000-man army in pursuit of the Rebels. When he entered Frederick, throngs of civilians cheered him, even holding up children for him to kiss. Before noon an officer handed the general a copy of Lee’s Special Orders No. 191, which had been discovered by a soldier in the 27th Indiana in a field outside of town. The copy was addressed to Confederate Major General D. H. Hill and wrapped around three cigars. Who lost the copy remains unresolved.

When the Union commander received the copy, he was addressing a group of local citizens. He stopped to read it and then exclaimed, “Now I know what to do.” One of McClellan’s staff officers attested to the document’s authenticity; having served with Robert H. Chilton in the antebellum army he was familiar with the handwriting of Lee’s chief of staff. McClellan wrote to Abraham Lincoln: “I have the whole Rebel force in front of me but am confident and no time shall be lost.… I think Lee has made a gross mistake and he will be severely punished for it. The Army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for great success if the plans of the Rebels remain unchanged.… I have all the plans of the Rebels and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency.… Will send you trophies.”


South Mountain II

The orders did not reveal either the strength of Lee’s army—McClellan’s cavalry commander had put the number at an unrealistic 120,000—or whether the Confederates had followed the routes specified by Lee. Consequently, McClellan spent the afternoon seeking further corroboration of the order’s details. He directed Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, the cavalry commander, “to ascertain whether this order of march has thus far been followed by the enemy.” The sound of gunfire from Harper’s Ferry indicated that the garrison had not surrendered. It was in the early evening when Pleasonton reported that the evidence indicated that the enemy had complied with Lee’s orders.

To relieve the troops at Harper’s Ferry, McClellan decided to advance on Turner’s Gap, Boonsborough, and Crampton’s Gap, eight miles south of Turner’s Gap. Eighteen hours passed, however, from the time McClellan was handed the copy of Lee’s order until his units marched on the morning of September 14. His efforts to obtain additional intelligence on the afternoon of September 13 were reasonable, but the situation clamored for aggressiveness. He should have, with minimal risk, pushed his infantry columns closer to the gaps. At no time, however, could McClellan have struck a contingent of the Confederate army unless Lee chose to stand and give battle. Although fortune had given McClellan the strategic initiative, Lee could still dictate whether there would be an engagement at a time and place of his choosing.

It was past nightfall when a courier delivered a message from Jeb Stuart to Lee at Hagerstown. Hours before, a Southern sympathizer had found Stuart at the eastern base of South Mountain. Stuart’s cavalrymen had been skirmishing with their mounted opponents in the valley around Middletown since early morning. Approaching Stuart, the Marylander related that he had been standing outside of McClellan’s tent when the Union general read a document and exclaimed that he now knew what to do. It remains uncertain whether Stuart surmised that McClellan possessed a copy of Special Orders No. 191. Although his message to Lee has not been found, Stuart apparently concluded that the Federal commander had learned that Lee had divided his army and that the enemy was moving to the relief of the Harper’s Ferry garrison.

Shortly after Lee received Stuart’s dispatch a message arrived from Harvey Hill at Boonsborough, reporting that the entire Federal army appeared to be bivouacked on the valley floor east of Turner’s Gap. Lee had spent the day waiting anxiously on news from either Jackson or McLaws on the seizure of Harper’s Ferry. Now the threat to his dispersed army was critical. Lee admitted later that McClellan’s change in tactics had surprised him.

Lee summoned Longstreet to the headquarters tent, gave him the messages from Stuart and Hill, and then stated that they would defend the South Mountain gaps. He wanted Longstreet to march at daylight with his two infantry divisions and artillery to Boonsborough, thirteen miles to the south. Longstreet disagreed, arguing that his command and Hill’s should withdraw to Sharpsburg, where they could threaten the flank and rear of the Federals as they marched down Pleasant Valley toward Harper’s Ferry. Lee “would not agree,” said Longstreet, and ordered the advance. Returning to his tent Longstreet put his argument in writing and sent the note to army headquarters. Lee did not reply.

Sometime after midnight on September 14 a second message from Stuart arrived at army headquarters. In it (the dispatch is missing) Stuart either implied or stated positively that McClellan had obtained a copy of Special Orders No. 191. The dispatch confirmed for Lee why his opponent was acting with unaccustomed aggressiveness. Whether or not McClellan possessed a copy of the orders, the campaign turned against the Confederates when the Union army reached Frederick. Lee could not abandon the campaign and retreat into Virginia, as he believed he had come too far to do so. He was thus left with one choice: buy time for the completion of the Harper’s Ferry operations and the reuniting of his army by slowing the Federal passage through South Mountain.

Lee’s instructions to Stuart and Hill were unequivocal: “The gap must be held at all hazards until the operations at Harper’s Ferry are finished. You must keep me informed of the strength of the enemy’s forces moving up by either.” Although “the gap” was unspecified, Lee meant Turner’s Gap, where he expected Stuart and Hill to conduct its defense. The cavalry commander was convinced, however, that the main Federal thrust would be at Crampton’s Gap and the road into Pleasant Valley in the rear of McLaws’s and Anderson’s troops. Soon after daylight on September 14, Stuart rode south toward the mountain defile, apparently without notifying Hill. The defense of Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap, a mile to the south, fell to Harvey Hill, of whom Porter Alexander said, “There is not living a more honest fighter.”

Hill rode to the crest of South Mountain before sunrise on September 14. Colonel Alfred H. Colquitt’s brigade of Georgians and Alabamians had spent the previous day and night on the mountain at Turner’s Gap. Hill ordered them down the eastern face to the mountain’s base and into line. Before long Brigadier General Samuel Garland Jr.’s North Carolinians arrived and were deployed at Fox’s Gap. Hill’s other three brigades were miles to the rear. In all, Hill commanded fewer than 5,000 officers and men.

A North Carolinian wrote of Hill, “The clash of battle was not a confusing din to him, but an exciting scene that awakened his spirit and his genius.” One of his veterans observed in a postwar letter to the general, “If you had a fault as a division-commander, it seems to us to have been the fortunate one of excess of determination and pugnacity in the face of appalling difficulties and danger.” The former soldier did not specify a particular engagement, but this day on South Mountain fit the description.

Union Ninth Corps troops advanced on Fox’s Gap at about nine o’clock, clashing with the 5th Virginia Cavalry and a battery of horse artillery, left behind by Stuart, and Garland’s North Carolinians. South Mountain rose 1,300 feet in elevation, and its scarred face, with wooded hollows and knolls, thick underbrush, and entangled patches of mountain laurel, aided the defenders. But the Federals kept pushing back the beleaguered Rebels. While standing with the 13th North Carolina on the front line, Garland was struck and killed. Hill described the brigadier in his report as “the most fearless man I ever knew.” The attackers scattered the North Carolinians and reached the crest, where the Old Sharpsburg Road passed through the gap.

Fortune intervened for Hill. The Union attack stalled on the crest before the fire of the horse artillery and a pair of cannon sent in by Hill. A patchwork force of Rebels supported the guns. Amid the smoke and tangled underbrush the Federal officers, believing they had encountered another battleline, asked for reinforcements. To the north, at Turner’s Gap, Colquitt’s men awaited a slowly developing assault by the Union First Corps.

With Garland’s ranks broken and Colquitt’s line facing an overwhelming enemy force, Hill ordered forward his three brigades from Boonsborough. Brigadier General George B. Anderson’s North Carolinians arrived first and were shifted to the right. Behind them the Alabama regiments of Brigadier General Robert E. Rodes moved over the crest in support of the left flank of Colquitt’s troops, who were now engaged in a fierce struggle along National Road. When Brigadier General Roswell Ripley’s brigade came up, Hill directed it toward Anderson’s command. In Hill’s words, he had “played the game of bluff” until these units reached him.

After a grueling march from Hagerstown in which hundreds of men fell exhausted in the heat and dust, the two leading brigades of Longstreet’s divisions arrived at Turner’s Gap at midafternoon. Hill sent them toward Fox’s Gap and assigned Ripley to overall command of the action. The fighting there dissolved into a bungling, confusing affair. The Yankees renewed their attacks, piercing a gap in the Confederate ranks and driving them rearward. Ripley’s brigade became disoriented in the wooded terrain and angled away from the combat. Hill declared to Longstreet in a postwar letter that Ripley “was a coward and did nothing.” A Georgia colonel stated, “Ripley gave himself but little concern about what was going on.”

The situation at Fox’s Gap stabilized at last with the appearance of John Hood and his redoubtable fighters. Hood had been placed under arrest by Longstreet in a dispute with Shanks Evans over captured ambulances at Second Manassas. When Hood’s men reached the western foot of South Mountain, they saw Lee, who had preceded the troops in an ambulance, and shouted to the commanding general, “Give us Hood!” In response Lee temporarily suspended the brigadier’s arrest. When the Texans heard the news, they yelled, “Hurrah for General Lee! Hurrah for General Hood! Go to hell, Evans!”

Hood’s presence on the crest solidified the Confederate right flank. To the north, at Turner’s Gap, Colquitt’s and Rodes’s veterans clung to the ground against mounting odds. The fighting lengthened into the night, the opposing lines marked by musket flashes. A Yankee attested that the “sides of the mountain seemed in a blaze of flame.” The enveloping darkness ended the clash. Longstreet had joined Hill on the crest and informed Lee that he could not hold the position another day without reinforcements. Lee had none and ordered a withdrawal. According to Moxley Sorrel, it was “a bad night” on the mountain as the Rebels filed down the western face, leaving behind their dead and wounded. Confederate cavalry formed a rear guard and remained on the mountaintop.

The defense of Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap had cost the Confederates 1,950 in killed, wounded, and captured; the Federals, about 1,800. In his report Hill praised his troops’ stand “as one of the most remarkable and creditable of the war.” He deserved blame, however, for not sooner ordering forward the brigades of Anderson, Rodes, and Ripley. The Federals’ hesitation to press the advance on the crest at Fox’s Gap and their slowly developing attack at Turner’s Gap spared Hill from a likely defeat. The stubborn fighting by Colquitt’s and Rodes’s men and the timely arrival of Longstreet’s troops salvaged the day for the Confederates.

Longstreet, Hill, and Hood rode off the mountain ahead of the troops and met with Lee. Almost certainly they discussed the condition of the officers and men and the likely enemy movement across South Mountain in the morning. “After a long debate,” in Hood’s words, Lee decided that the retreat should proceed through Sharpsburg to the Potomac River and into Virginia, the campaign in Maryland would be abandoned. After the meeting Lee sent messages written by Robert Chilton to Jackson and McLaws, dated 8:00 P.M., September 14. In them Lee directed Jackson to withdraw from Harper’s Ferry and to proceed to Shepherdstown, where he could cover the retreat of the units with Lee across the Potomac. The dispatch to McLaws read: “The day has gone against us and this army will go by Sharpsburg and cross the river. It is necessary for you to abandon your position to-night.”

Two hours later Lee learned of the Federal’s seizure of Crampton’s Gap and their advance into Pleasant Valley. As noted, Jeb Stuart rode to the defile, where he had sent Wade Hampton’s cavalry brigade on September 13. On that day the gap had been manned by Colonel Thomas Munford with 400 troopers, 300 infantrymen, and six cannon. When Stuart arrived, he learned “that the enemy had made no demonstration toward Crampton’s Gap up to that time.” The inactivity by the Federals persuaded him that they were marching directly along the Potomac River, bypassing South Mountain, to Harper’s Ferry. He dispatched Hampton’s 1,200 horsemen to cover the roads along the river and instructed Munford to “hold it [the gap] against the enemy at all hazards.” Once again Stuart had misjudged the Yankees’ intentions. Leaving the defense of Crampton’s Gap to Munford’s small force, he rode on to Maryland Heights.

The Federals were marching, however, to Crampton’s Gap. They did not reach Burkittsville, east of the gap, until after midday. McClellan had instructed Major General William B. Franklin, Sixth Corps and acting wing commander, “to attack the enemy in detail & beat him.” McClellan expected Franklin to act energetically; instead he halted the march in violation of orders until a trailing division joined his corps. When they appeared before the gap, one of Munford’s men noted: “As they drew nearer, the whole country seemed to be full of bluecoats. They were so numerous that it looked as if they were creeping up out of the ground.” Only a few hours of daylight remained when Franklin’s infantrymen attacked.

For two hours the Confederates valiantly resisted the enemy assaults. Munford described the fighting as “the heaviest I ever engaged in, and the cavalry fought here with pistols and rifles.” When McLaws heard the sounds of battle, he sent Brigadier General Howell Cobb’s brigade to Munford. Cobb’s Georgians and North Carolinians arrived in time to be swept to the rear with Munford’s broken ranks. McLaws and Stuart rode toward the gap and tried to rally the men. Darkness prevented a Union pursuit, giving McLaws time to patch together a defensive line across Pleasant Valley. McLaws did not like Stuart personally, and he remarked to the cavalry commander, “Well General, we are in a pen, how am I to get out of it?”

The news from Crampton’s Gap temporarily altered Lee’s plans. Instead of Longstreet’s and Hill’s divisions, one-third of the army, marching through Sharpsburg to the Potomac, now they would halt at Keedysville, a small village three miles southwest of Boonsborough on the road to Sharpsburg. From there they could move against the enemy flank if the Federals crossed South Mountain and turned south toward McLaws’s and Anderson’s position on Maryland Heights. The security of those two divisions was foremost in Lee’s plans.

The withdrawal from Boonsborough began minutes past midnight on September 15. The bone-weary Confederates stumbled through the morning’s darkness. Overcome with exhaustion, uncounted numbers lay down in the fields and slept. Some managed to rejoin their comrades; others were captured hours later by the trailing Yankees. While en route Lee received a dispatch, dated 8:15 P.M., September 14, from Jackson, who wrote that he expected “complete success to-morrow.” With the morning’s light Lee saw that the terrain around Keedysville provided no good, natural defensive position. He ordered the column on to Sharpsburg.

As the Southerners crossed Antietam Creek, less than a mile east of Sharpsburg, they filed to the north and south, deploying into line on a string of ridges and hills. When Lee in his ambulance passed a group of soldiers, he reportedly said to them, “We will make our stand on those hills.” He stated in his report that the halt and deployment on the western side of Antietam Creek “reanimated the courage of the troops.” A staff officer said likewise, noting in his diary on this day, “Men in a grand humor for a fight.”



The Untold Story of the Falklands War

April 2nd 1982 – the day that the Falklands War erupted. Just sixty Royal Marines stood in the way of an armada of Thousands, 8,000 miles from home and with no support. The story that followed was one of a shameful defeat and ignominious surrender. A story which has lasted for 35 years. Now, with first-hand accounts from the Royal Marines themselves, from the Argentine Marines who fought against them and from the people of Stanley who watched the battle rage on their very doorsteps, a new history has emerged. It is the story of an epic and heroic defence on a scale with Rorke’s Drift; a story which neither the British nor the Argentine governments wanted told. It is a battle denied; the battle of Stanley, a battle which, we are told, never happened. In 2017, history is about to change.

The First Casualty is now available on pre-order for delivery in April 2017. It has been decided by both the author and the men concerned to launch this through a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign. We want YOU to be a part of changing this history as much as we all are and have been, and we want this story to carry far and wide. Kickstarter provides the perfect medium for not just pre-order, but for a number of other special deals and exclusive offers as well as well-wishers and supporters who can even donate anonymously to ensuring the greatest coverage of this story around the world. From our first exclusive print run, provided by YOU, we aim to take this story back and make it what it should be. Not the story of cowardice and defeat, but the true story of the battle and the heroism you were no meant to know about. Order your copy of The First Casualty and be a part of a movement which is changing history.

A gripping story of action and heroism

Ricky D Phillips has kept the faith with the Royal Marines of NP8901 and given them a voice. Let us hope that the British people and indeed all people of goodwill will now value the efforts made by this band of brothers in 1982 to defend the democratic rights of Falkland Islanders in the face of overwhelming force, without any guidance or military support whatsoever. In all, a gripping story of action and heroism, denied for political convenience and which, I hope, shall change the face and the history of this fascinating conflict for good.’

Declan Power

Author of ‘Siege at Jadotville’

SARDINIA – Second Punic War

In the war’s first years Sardinia had a small role to play. Its peoples had not taken kindly to Roman rule since 237 BCE. Once Roman forces went over in 235, several years of fighting and a good few consular triumphs were needed before peace more or less reigned. Even at the time, some Romans may have entertained suspicion that Carthage was behind the Sardinians’ unfriendliness to their new masters. Cato the Elder, born in 234, would later claim that several Punic treaty breaches occurred before 219 (though his details are missing); and, as noted earlier, the Gallic invasion looming in 225 sent Roman forces not only to Tarentum and Sicily but to Sardinia as well-a consular army, in fact.

After Hannibal’s opening victories in the war, it again made sense to send a legion to the island as a precaution against the Carthaginians. No doubt it helped too with enforcing the heavy payments of tribute and grain that Rome imposed on the locals. These demands naturally increased Sardinians’ discontent. After Cannae, restive chieftains led by one Hampsicora invited Carthage to aid them in a planned rebellion. As some communities stayed loyal to the Romans, based at Carales on the south coast, while the folk of the island’s mountainous interior were largely independent, and as the rebels’ main stronghold was Cornus on the west coast, the rebellion may have arisen in that region. Old Phoenician colonies there such as Cornus, Tarros, and Othoca probably kept in touch with their former hegemon more easily than others nearer Carales could. Hampsicora’s contact at Carthage was an aristocrat named Hanno, influential enough to win the city’s backing for the revolt and no doubt a Barcid supporter, though not a kinsman. He and one Mago, who was related to Hannibal, were appointed lieutenants to Hasdrubal ‘the Bald’, who with about 12,000 troops sailed for Sardinia in 215.

Everything went wrong. Their fleet was so thoroughly deranged by a storm that it fetched up in the Balearic Isles 500 kilometers away, needing repairs. Hampsicora’s rebellion could not wait, but Titus Manlius Torquatus (the first consul to campaign in annexed Sardinia, twenty years before) had already landed at Carales with reinforcements and soon inflicted a defeat on the Sardinians. When Hasdrubal finally arrived and joined them for another effort, Manlius smashed the combined armies. Hampsicora’s son Hostus was killed, all three Carthaginian leaders were taken prisoner, and with Hampsicora’s own suicide and the fall of Cornus the rebellion collapsed. The island continued to be garrisoned by Roman legions (two until 207, a single one thereafer) but caused no further alarm except in 210, when an enterprising commodore named Hamilcar raided first Olbia’s countryside on the northeast coast and then Carales’s, to sail home laden with plunder.


In Sardinia, the Roman presence was small and its control of the island was tottering. A certain local magnate, Hampsicora, was stirring up revolt and beckoning to Carthage. Hasdrubal the Bald was sent there with a force of about 12,000 foot and 1,500 horse, but the fleet was damaged and they were delayed by bad weather. On the other side, the Romans sent 5,000 foot and 400 horse under Titus Manlius Torquatus, who now controlled a total force of 22,000 foot and 1,200 horse. He marched upcountry and encamped near the position occupied by Hampsicora. Shortly afterwards Hasdrubal arrived, causing Manlius to withdraw to Carales [Cagliari], Hasdrubal joined forces with Hampsicora and together they advanced toward Carales but were met and engaged by Manlius. The action lasted for four hours during which numerous Sardinians were either killed of fled. The Carthaginians put up a stiffer resistance but eventually they too turned and started to flee, only to find that their retreat was cut off by the Roman wing which had routed the Sardinians. What followed was butchery. The enemy lost a total of 12,000 men killed and 3,700 captured. Among the prisoners were Hasdrubal himself and two other commanders, Hanno and Mago. Hampsicora, learning that his son was dead, killed himself.


La Bataille De France, Phase Deux: Dunkerque

As the first of the Swallows that herald the English summer arrived, so began “Operation Dynamo”, on 26th May. The beleaguered BEF and surviving allied soldiers had now to be hurriedly evacuated from the beaches and port of Dunkerque and Vice Admiral Ramsay RN, based at Dover in Kent, was the man upon whose shoulders the task had been placed.

At first, the British public were not exactly kept informed of what was happening across the Channel. British newspapers had reported some of the reverses and setbacks suffered by the BEF and their allies during the German offensive of course; but the true picture of just how grave a situation it really was, had been carefully kept from the public, for fear of panic.

Time was now so obviously of the essence, but initially, only naval vessels were employed in ferrying the allied troops back to Britain. It was thought that the speed of the Royal Navy’s destroyers made them the ideal evacuation vessels. This was fine, except for three key points. Point one proved to be that the sleek destroyers simply couldn’t carry a worthwhile number of evacuated troops. Point two was that the destroyers could not get close enough to the beaches without running aground. The third point of course, was that the Germans were not about to sit quietly by, whilst the ships of the Royal Navy went about this herculean task.

It was at this point however that Hitler, in a roundabout way, could almost be said to have come to the aid of the British and French Allies. At first, the German artillery pounded the beaches mercilessly and German troops gradually closed the narrow corridor through which the allied soldiers were retreating to Dunkerque. After consulting with his field commanders, Hitler uncharacteristically allowed himself to be persuaded by the somewhat vainglorious leader of the Luftwaffe, Reichsmarschall Herman Goring, to order the German army to halt. Goring, in a monumental display of his own personal bombast, faithfully promised his Fuhrer that the Luftwaffe would be more than capable of destroying the remaining allied armies on the beaches and Hitler took him at his word. To their chagrin, the German army were virtually forced to stand by and watch, as the Luftwaffe went about their self-appointed task.

The respective tasks for both sides, was not easy. From Goring’s self-elected point of view, the Luftwaffe actually had too many important targets spread over too large an area. Should they concentrate on destroying the ships that were trying to evacuate the troops, the troops waiting on the beaches, the troops queuing in the water in lines to be ferried to the destroyers, or port installations and facilities that might enable more rescue ships to come in? The German army continued to close the corridor, thus cutting off the route to the beaches from within France and shrinking the pocket, but they would most certainly have been far better employed in taking the allied beachhead in the first place. But the rotund Reichsmarschall had got his way.

From the point of view of the British, the prospect of trying to evacuate more than half a million men under near constant air attack was proving to be difficult in the extreme. The waiting destroyers were being bombed and sunk because it simply took too long using small rowing boats ferrying a handful of troops out to them, to get anything like a full load. The stationary warships were of course sitting targets for the Luftwaffe’s Stukas, just as the lines of patiently waiting soldiers were sitting targets for the strafing actions of low-flying Me 109’s. Chaos, death and destruction reigned supreme.

RAF Fighter Command, seriously depleted in strength as they were, nevertheless flew countless sorties and patrols in their attempts to cover the evacuation, but despite flying an average of more than 250 fighter sorties per day over the Dunkerque region, they simply couldn’t be everywhere at once. Inevitably, there were sizeable gaps in the RAF’s fighter cover and the Luftwaffe exploited them to the full.

From the point of view of the battle-weary Tommy waiting in the endless line of soldiers for a place in a boat and being constantly strafed by German fighters, the RAF should have been over the beaches at all times. From the point of view of the strained British fighter pilot, he wanted to prevent the German aircraft from reaching the beaches in the first place, so naturally their fighting, for the most part, started inland, behind the constantly changing lines, often at high altitude and out of sight of the troops on the beaches. Whilst a number of British soldiers later berated “the Brylcreem boys” for their perceived absence over the beaches, other soldiers saw in full the fierce dogfights taking place high above them and more than a few witnessed an RAF pilot making the supreme sacrifice on their behalf. In the end, which viewpoint a British soldier eventually took merely depended upon where in the confusion and chaos of the beachhead he was located at the time and what his individual experience of that time was.

Day of the Defiant

On 29th May however, an RAF fighter unit, 264 Squadron, who were equipped with the Boulton-Paul Defiant, that curious retrospectively designed fighter aircraft mentioned somewhat earlier, had an unexpectedly successful day over Dunkerque. Believing the aircraft of 264 Squadron to be Hurricanes, a large formation of Messerschmitt 109’s attacked them from above and behind. For the gunner in the Defiant, this was precisely the type of attack for which his aircraft had been designed and he’d been trained. In that one action, the Luftwaffe lost over thirty 109’s. It was a costly mistake for the Germans, but it was one that they would not repeat. It did not take the Luftwaffe’s fighter pilots long to find and exploit the Defiant’s inherent weakness.

For the British, what was evidently needed if there was to be any hope at all of saving a worthwhile number of men, was a greater number of large ships and a faster means of getting the waiting men out to them; but larger ships could not even get as close to the beaches as the Navy’s destroyers could without running aground.

There were two piers, or moles, at Dunkerque and of course it made sense to use them as boarding points for the troops being evacuated. Unfortunately, the Germans saw this too and repeatedly singled them out for strafing by low flying fighter aircraft. But amazingly, no determined attempt appeared to be made by the Luftwaffe toward bombing them, so the British suffered the innumerable German fighter attacks and continued to embark troops from the moles, but it was still a painfully slow and supremely hazardous operation.

As many of the port’s bombed oil storage tanks discharged the thick, acrid, billowing pall of black smoke that came to symbolise Dunkerque into the sky, Churchill decided that it was time to trust the British public. The lid was lifted off the secrecy pot, the public were told more of the desperate situation in France, and were actively asked for their help in the rescue of the stranded troops from the very jaws of Hell. So was born the legend of the “little ships”.

The Admiralty requested or requisitioned just about anything that would float. The response was immediate. The Southern Railway sent their cross-channel ferries, light cargo ships and their Isle of Wight ferries, as the Navy were of course, particularly interested in large, shallow-draught vessels. Other owners of smaller, shallow-draught vessels could either surrender them to the Royal Navy, or take them over to Dunkerque in person with their own crew and at least one naval rating. All crews who volunteered for the operation would receive naval pay at the appropriate grade, for the duration of the operation; or until said vessel was sunk, of course.

One such “other” vessel was a former Admiralty steam Pinnace. Though fairly small, this customised Bermudan-schooner rigged craft, named Sundowner, was the property of a former First World War naval officer, Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller. Prior to his naval service in the Great War, Lightoller had been a Merchant Navy officer and in 1912, he had in fact been the Second Officer aboard the ill-fated White Star liner RMS Titanic. He was the most senior officer to survive the Titanic disaster. Upon being told of the desperate situation and of the Admiralty’s intention to requisition his boat, Lightoller unhesitatingly volunteered his vessel, crewed by himself, his eldest son Roger, who was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, and a young Sea Scout named Gerald Ashcroft. Although she was now minus her original steam engine and rigged as a Schooner, Sundowner had a modern diesel engine. Also, her owner/skipper was no stranger to action; Lightoller sank a German U-Boat when he was in command of a destroyer during the First World War and he was certainly an expert navigator.

On the morning of 1st June, in company with 5 other little ships, Sundowner set out from Ramsgate across the Channel. Sundowner didn’t stay in company for long though. Being slightly faster than her consorts, she soon left them behind. The outward voyage looked likely to be uneventful at first, but as they gradually neared their objective, Charles spotted something sinister in the water. Realising what it was, he shouted to Roger to put the helm hard over, pointing to starboard. Sundowner’s response was quick because Roger’s had been. The floating mine that Charles had spotted, now bobbed away on Sundowner’s port side, barely a few feet away.

Soon afterwards, they came across a casualty, the small motor cruiser Westerly, which had stopped and was on fire. Moving swiftly alongside, Lightoller quickly took Westerly’s crew and the three naval ratings that Westerly had rescued, aboard his own boat and then proceeded on, toward Dunkerque.

Just as Sundowner left the scene, Westerly’s stock of petrol blew up. The huge fireball drew the attention of two of the Luftwaffe’s Stuka pilots, high above. Seeing Sundowner heading rapidly away from the burning wreckage, both dive-bombers came screaming down toward her. Once again that combination of Charles’ diligent observation and timing, coupled with Roger’s quick responses to his father’s orders, meant that they were able to dodge the bombs that were aimed at them. Sundowner had arrived at the scene of Operation Dynamo.

Lightoller had initially planned to take his vessel right up to the beach to pick up troops, but the chaotic scene presented to him upon his arrival at Dunkerque made it clear to him that to do so would be the utmost folly. The whole area was literally full of vessels of every description, busily to-ing and fro-ing, whilst the waters near the beach itself were strewn with the half-submerged wrecks of bombed warships, other loose wreckage and corpses. Lightoller headed for one of the moles and began embarking troops from there. Loading proved to be the easiest part of the whole trip.

Sundowner embarked 130 men, literally packing them in like sardines. On the way back, with his vessel dangerously low in the water, Lightoller found himself dodging more determined attacks, this time from enemy fighter planes. On arrival back at Ramsgate, Sundowner was nearly capsized by the weight of the troops hurriedly moving to one side of her to disembark. Roger shouted to them all to lie down and not to move. He then organised a more stately disembarkation. Charles and Roger were eager to return to Dunkerque, but by then only ships capable of making 20 knots were permitted to go. However, in that one twelve-hour round trip Charles Lightoller, the 66-year old former Second Officer of the RMS Titanic had, with the help of his son and a sea scout to crew his sixty-foot Sundowner, succeeded in rescuing a total of 133 people under near constant fire. Lightollers it seemed, were born survivors.

Medway Queen at Dunkirk. From a painting by Roy Gargett

The exploits of another of the Dunkerque ships also need to be singled out for attention here. Already serving with the Royal Navy since the Admiralty requisitioned her earlier in the war, was a former Thames and Medway paddle steamer, the Medway Queen. She was based at Dover as part of the Dover Patrol, and was then in service as a minesweeper, commanded by Lieutenant Cook RN. Gone from her now was the gay black, white and yellow paint scheme of the “New Medway Steam Packet Company”. Now she was “battleship grey” all over and bore the number N48 on her bows. She was also armed.

On her first trip over to Dunkerque, her gunners had shot down a German aircraft that was intent upon sinking her. On her first return trip, the heavily laden Medway Queen encountered another former pleasure steamer, the equally overloaded Brighton Belle.

Unfortunately for those aboard the Brighton Belle, she was sinking, having sustained mortal damage in an earlier encounter with the Luftwaffe. Although his own ship was heavily laden with rescued troops, Lieutenant Cook brought Medway Queen alongside the foundering vessel and her entire compliment of rescued troops as well as Brighton Belle’s crew, were swiftly transferred before the stricken steamer sank. Now dangerously low in the water, Medway Queen headed slowly back to Dover, where she arrived safely, offloaded her desperately weary human cargo, and was then refuelled and readied for another return trip to the evacuation scene.

Medway Queen, like Charles and Roger Lightoller, also seemed destined to be a born survivor. As the Germans closed in and the situation at Dunkerque grew more and more desperate, it was decided that 3rd June would be the last day of Operation Dynamo. Over the past few days, daylight evacuations had been curtailed, due to the high loss rate among the ships evacuating the beleaguered troops. The final evacuations were taking place under the cover of darkness.

The evening of 3rd June found Medway Queen moored at one of the moles in Dunkerque harbour, which itself was being subjected to a rather belated bombardment from German artillery. She was in the process of embarking French troops when a destroyer moored astern of her was hit by a shell and thrown forward. With a sickening crunch, the destroyer rammed Medway Queen , badly damaging her starboard paddle-box and the paddle wheel’s outer bearing holder. The starboard paddle wheel was now apparently out of action and so Medway Queen appeared to be trapped.

Not to be defeated, Medway Queen continued with the embarkation whilst her engineering crew worked frantically into the night, cutting the twisted steel and splintered wood away in order to clear the starboard paddle wheel. They then had to make a temporary repair to the bearing holder.

At 01:00 on 4th June, Lieutenant Cook gingerly eased his battered ship away from the mole with just over 400 French soldiers aboard, and a somewhat battle-weary Medway Queen began limping slowly home across the Channel toward Dover, at a greatly reduced speed. On the way home, her crew heard the BBC Home Service list the Medway Queen as being one of the ships that had been lost in the previous day’s action. When she finally limped safely into Dover harbour, it was to a tumultuous welcome from all the other ships in the port. Vice Admiral Ramsay sent her a signal that simply read: “WELL DONE MEDWAY QUEEN!” and the BBC were more than happy to correct their earlier news bulletin.

Thus did Medway Queen well and truly earn for herself the title “The Heroine of Dunkerque” for of all the ships that had taken part in Operation Dynamo, she had in fact rescued the greatest number of allied troops all told; she brought back over 7,000 in her seven return trips, and she had shot down a German aircraft in the process. Bruised and battered from her Dunkerque ordeal, Medway Queen was duly dry-docked for repairs before eventually resuming her role as minesweeper N48 with the Dover Patrol.

Once the rescued troops were safely landed, it fell to the Southern Railway to transport them all away from the ports to whichever destinations the military authorities decided they were subsequently bound for. This inland exodus proved to be almost as monumental a task as the seaborne evacuation was.

Although the Southern Railway was quite used to laying on special services such as those required in peacetime for gala events like the Naval Review, the Schneider Trophy races, the Derby, or Ascot, etcetera; there was simply no precedent for the sheer scale of train services that the Dunkerque evacuation called for.

Anyone looking at such a mammoth logistical problem might well be forgiven for thinking the task would produce nothing but chaos. In the event, all was in fact quite calm and fairly orderly. Initially, organised improvisation seemed to be the way it was largely carried out. At first, Engine drivers were typically given such instructions as “Stop at Guildford (or Ashford, or Paddock Wood, or Tonbridge, or Haywards Heath, or Maidstone, or Strood) and ask where you go next.” This soon stopped as the organisation kicked in.

The managers at Southern had previously set up sub-control offices at all major rail junctions as soon as Operation Dynamo had started. They had to plan a non-stop rotation of trains, all of which had to be cleaned, coaled, lubricated and watered. The rotation was essentially a clockwise loop around the region to the London termini, stopping only at major junctions with other cross-country lines or actual destinations.

The first trains went straight to the major ports, places such as Ramsgate, Dover Marine, Folkestone, Portsmouth, Newhaven, Southampton etc. The other empty trains were held in North Kent at places such as Queenborough, Faversham, Margate and Ramsgate. As the first trains were loaded and began their clockwise journeys, the empty trains were fed into the loop behind them, to take their places at the port stations, whilst other empty trains moved into the holding stations. Eventually the first trains delivered their human traffic and then went back into the holding stations as empties, there to begin again the round the clock rotation that was to last twelve days.

The hub of this rotation was Redhill Junction on the London to Brighton Line, as a lot of the Southern Railway’s network could be easily accessed through there. In fact, an amazing eighty percent of all the Dunkerque evacuation trains from the south coast ports were routed through there. Being a major junction station, it had facilities for coaling, watering, lubrication and locomotive cleaning and changing. Over 300 tons of ashes were accumulated from locomotive cleaning at Redhill Junction alone over the Dynamo period!

It wasn’t just the engines that needed provisioning of course, as there was the human freight these trains were hauling as well as the train crews, station staff, military officials and the army of volunteers who’d turned out by the hundreds to help. Platforms were turned into Army field kitchens supplying thousands of cups of tea, sandwiches and cakes. There were nowhere near enough cups to go round so tea was served in tin cans. On the Mid-Kent main line, as each train came to a halt at Headcorn Junction, there was a four-minute break whilst teas and munchies were quickly served to the soldiers, the Engine driver, fireman and Train Guard. Nobody got off the train during this time. Four minutes later, at the Guard’s whistle, the platform staff shouted “Chuck ‘em out!” and as the train slowly pulled out of the station, the tin cans (and any remaining tea contained therein!) were thrown out of the windows onto the platform, where the station staff and the volunteers quickly gathered them all, washed them up and refilled them, as the next train was due in eighteen minutes.

At Tonbridge (next brief stop after Headcorn), chocolate bars were provided. At Penge East, (not far from Crystal Palace in London), it was music that was provided, by the local Salvation Army Band, as well as further refreshments to help speed the troops on their way and to welcome them home. This same sort of routine was carried out at many of the other junction stations on the Southern’s network. Everybody just wanted to let the returning troops know that they were with them in heart and mind. Such is the indomitable spirit of the British people!

So, after eight days, Goring’s promise to his Fuhrer had proved utterly worthless. His “leave it to my Luftwaffe” stance had permitted a total of 338,226 allied soldiers to be successfully evacuated from the beaches and harbour of Dunkerque alone. For the British, it was nothing short of a miracle of deliverance, though Churchill quite rightly pointed out that whilst offering thanks for the success of the operation was in order, it should in no way be hailed as a victory. Wars, he said, were not won by evacuations.

With the conclusion of the main part of Operation Dynamo, the Allies abandoned Dunkerque. The BEF had also been forced to abandon most of their equipment and nearly all of their wounded. Having finally taken Dunkerque, the Germans pressed on with the Battle of France. Weygand certainly gave the Germans a run for their money, and what remained of the British and French armies on French soil gallantly fought on; but at best it was forlorn hope that kept them going during what inevitably remained a fighting retreat toward a “mini-Dunkerque” situation at other ports such as Cherbourg.

As Dunkerque itself was being abandoned, Winston Churchill made one of his momentous speeches to the British public. He rose in the House and told the nation:

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!

For France however, despite Churchill’s stirring words, the writing was clearly on the wall. Gamelin’s earlier “sit and wait” policy, followed by his indecisive running around in all directions like a headless chicken, had cost his country; literally. It is to their credit that the French fought on in the face of such adversity and Weygand certainly made the Germans fight for every last kilometre of French soil. Their continued actions bought more in the way of extremely valuable time; time during which a further 220,000 British and French troops were ultimately successfully evacuated from the other northern French ports such as Cherbourg, Saint-Malo, Dieppe, Brest, and Saint-Nazaire. This brought the final total of Allied troops evacuated from France to just over 558,000; but the success of Operation Dynamo had come at a heavy price.

Throughout the whole of the evacuation, the Luftwaffe had attacked whenever the weather allowed. Luftwaffe bombs had all but reduced the town of Dunkerque to rubble. On the water the Luftwaffe had succeeded in destroying 235 British vessels. The Southern Railway alone had lost seven of their twenty cross-channel ferries, three of their nine light cargo ships and two of their Isle of Wight ferries; twelve out of their fleet of forty-two vessels, to enemy action.

In the air, the German fighters had shot down 106 RAF fighters during the Dunkerque period alone. On the ground, at least 5,000 British and French soldiers had lost their lives on the various beaches and almost one million men were ultimately taken prisoner by the Germans, to face the next four years in captivity.

The End at Verdun

Raymond Abescat took part in the offensive against Douaumont and was lucky to come out of it alive. Eighty years after, as one of the last of the Verdun veterans, he recorded his memories of 24 October 1916 and they were as vivid as if they had happened the day before. He recalled ‘a particularly disturbing moment’ quite unrelated to the military achievement of that day:

There were a few of us in some shell holes. About four in each crater. In one of these hollows there were only three men, whereas the one that I was in held five along with the sergeant. As it was a bit of a squeeze the sergeant said to me: ‘Look, get in with the other three!’ I was about to do so when a comrade volunteered and went there in my place. A moment went by. Suddenly, a German plane flew over us… ‘A bad sign, that!’ And in fact, a few minutes later a whole artillery discharge rained down on our heads and a shell landed right in the hole where I ought to have been. Of the four who were there three were killed and the fourth – the one who had taken my place – was buried under the earth. We got him out gravely wounded. Because of that I have always felt that survival depends on factors that are completely arbitrary.

He was in action again on 16 November:

On that occasion I got a piece of shrapnel in my ankle. It was between nine and ten in the morning and there was no question of moving a muscle because everything that did move was shot down! I had to wait till night-time to get myself as best I could to the first-aid post. My war ended there. The time that had elapsed between being wounded and getting medical care had brought on the beginning of gangrene. I almost had to have my leg amputated. When I got over it, I wasn’t sorry to have left that hell behind me without meeting a tragic end…

Abescat’s reference to the fighting of 16 November shows that the battle did not end with the reclaiming of Douaumont. Nivelle and Mangin were eager to inflict more defeats on the now discomfited Germans. Fort Vaux was added to the tally of success on 2 November, the Germans having abandoned it as being not worth defending; to the French this low-cost seizure helped to cancel out the easy taking of Douaumont that had rankled ever since February. But a more positive flourish was required before the fighting could be closed down. It came in mid-December with a three-day battle on a six-mile front, in which Mangin’s troops advanced two miles beyond Douaumont and took 115 guns, a mass of machine guns and mortars, and 11,000 prisoners. Though only a right-bank offensive it was seen as an unambiguous triumph, and was acknowledged as such by the German Crown Prince. He wrote in his memoirs:

At dawn on December 15th our artillery positions and all the ravines north of the line Louvemont-Hill 378-Bezonvaux redoubt were heavily bombarded with gas shells. The French infantry advanced shortly before 11 a.m., after two hours’ drum-fire on the whole front from Vacherauville to Vaux. On our side the co-operation between infantry and artillery again left much to be desired, and our barrage came down too late.

In the centre of our front in Chauffour and north of Douaumont part of the 10th Division and General von Versen’s 14th held their positions with great stubbornness till late in the evening. In the sectors to the right and left of them, however, the enemy broke through on a wide front. On our right wing Vacherauville, part of Poivre Hill, Louvemont and Hill 378, and on our left the whole Hardaumont and Bezonvaux redoubt ridge were lost. During the latter part of the day the enemy extended his large initial gains, and enveloped the positions still held by our troops in the centre from either flank and in rear. Fighting went on till late in the evening, but all our struggles were in vain… This second defeat before Verdun was marked by a disproportionately high total of prisoners lost, exceeding even those taken on October 24th. The enemy’s communiqué claimed 11,000 prisoners, mostly unwounded, from all five of our divisions engaged…

The spirit of our troops had declined to a marked degree… to a considerable extent their morale and power of resistance was unequal to the demands placed on them by their onerous task…

The mighty drive of the battles for Verdun in 1916 was now at an end! To the bold confident onslaught of the first February days had succeeded weeks and months of fierce, costly and slow advance; then the gradual diminution of our forces had led to the cessation of the offensive, and finally two regrettable setbacks had wrested back from us much of the blood-soaked ground we had so dearly won. Small wonder if this ill-starred end to our efforts wrung the hearts of the responsible commanders.

I knew now for the first time what it was to lose a battle. Doubt as to my own competence, self-commiseration, bitter feelings, unjust censures passed in quick succession through my mind and lay like a heavy burden on my soul, and I am not ashamed to confess that it was some time before I recovered my mental balance and my firm confidence in ultimate victory.

That confidence too, it is scarcely necessary to add, would also end in disillusion.

This final stage of the campaign, spectacularly conducted under new management, was bound to cause casualties in the structure of the French high command. Nivelle and Mangin were so much in the ascendant that they had to be rewarded. Pétain slipped back somewhat into the shadows, to return in a vital role some months later, but the more significant victim was Joffre. On 13 December, two days before the final attack began, he was appointed technical adviser to the government and deprived of direct powers of command. On the 15th Nivelle was summoned to G.Q.G. to take over the post of Commander-in-Chief. On the 26th Joffre effectively fell on his sword by resigning. Some honour was retrieved when he was made Marshal of France on the following day, but the die was cast and he began his journey into an obscurity from which he would never emerge. An embarrassing scene took place at Chantilly in which Joffre, appealing for loyalty among the staff who had worked under him since August 1914, found only one officer prepared to stay with him as he relinquished his command; the fact that he had ‘limogé’ numerous generals in his time did not make his own removal seem the less pathetic. He would still have duties to perform but they would be ceremonial only, such as heading a French military mission to the United States in 1917 or serving as figurehead president of the Supreme War Council in 1918.

Meanwhile Mangin celebrated the new regime with an Order of the Day that trumpeted greater glory to come: ‘We know the method and we have the Chief. Success is certain.’ Future events – though not this time at Verdun – would show that his claim was as empty as Nivelle’s ‘We have the formula’ assertion on the steps at Souilly all those months before. But for the moment Nivelle was the hero of the hour, and Verdun was his triumph. And if nothing else the long struggle was over.

What kind of a battle was it that had thus come to an end after 298 days? Where in its almost ten grim months had Verdun taken the concept of modern war?

The Germans seized the opportunity of a major campaign to try out certain technical innovations. Von Knobelsdorf’s use of phosgene in his June offensive added another name to the burgeoning list of noxious gases; curiously, or perhaps not in view of the way the secretive Falkenhayn was running the campaign, the Kaiser only heard about it from the newspapers. Flamethrowers, initially tested in the region in 1915, were also employed on a major scale here for the first time. In July the flamethrower units were given the insignia of the death’s head; this would later become the insignia of the Waffen SS. Steel helmets were first used en masse at Verdun; the British equivalent came into use roughly at about the same time. Additionally German Sturmtruppen – ‘Stormtroopers’, trained to break through at speed leaving other units to ‘mop up’ behind them – had their first trial runs at Verdun: they would wreak much havoc in the great German attacks of 1918.

Artillery dominated the battle, and was by far the greatest killer. It was used on a massive scale. In White Heat, specifically devoted to ‘the new warfare 1914–18’, John Terraine wrote about Verdun: ‘The statistics of the artillery war… are staggering. For their initial attack the Germans brought up 2,500,000 shells, using for the purpose some 1,300 trains. By June the artillery on both sides had grown to about 2,000 guns, and it was calculated that in just over four months of battle 24 million shells had been pumped into this stretch of dedicated ground.’ But artillery on both sides was often massively inefficient and wasteful. Heavy guns were not always the super-weapons they were thought to be; some had to be re-bored after firing 50 to 100 rounds; moving them meant rendering them ineffective for many hours at a time. There were innumerable instances on both sides of casualties by ‘friendly fire’; thus the infantry could find themselves hating their own apparently careless or uncaring gunners more than the enemy. Communications were primitive and vulnerable; telephone wires were constantly being cut by shell fire; runners with vital messages often took hours to get through or never got through at all. Any assumption that one might have of cool Teutonic precision or brilliant Gallic inspiration and dash should be put to one side. This was for much of its time a monster of a battle in which gallantry had little meaning and glory was only in the eye of the distant beholder.

The cost in human terms was enormous. Estimates vary but one much quoted is that total French casualties, dead, wounded, missing, or taken prisoner, were around 377,000 while the Germans lost about 337,000, a very high proportion of these figures being fatalites.

The concept and conduct of the battle attracts few approving nods from military historians. Summing up the campaign Peter Simkins has written:

The French Army had come through major crises in February and June and had saved Verdun, but nobody had gained any strategic advantage from the bloodletting, certainly not the Germans. Falkenhayn’s fatal irresolution and failure to match the means to the end had merely resulted in the German Army being bled white along with the French. Neither side ever fully recovered from the hell of Verdun before the end of the war.

Adding together the casualty figures as given above, and noting some of the collateral consequences of the battle, Richard Holmes has commented:

700,000 and for 1916 alone: rather more than half the casualties suffered by Britain and her Empire in the Second World War. Nine villages, which had stood on those uplands for a thousand years, were destroyed and never rebuilt. Woods and fields were so polluted by metal, high explosive and bodies that they were beyond cultivation. Declared zones rouges, red zones, they were cloaked in conifers and left to the recuperative powers of nature.

A distinguished scholar of the German Army in the twentieth century, Michael Geyer, has written:

More than any other battle, Verdun showed the military impasse of World War I, the complete disjuncture between strategy, battle design and tactics, and the inability to use the modern means of war. But most of all, it showed, at horrendous costs, the impasse of professional strategies.

Alistair Horne has been honourably referred to, and frequently quoted, in these pages, so that it is perhaps superfluous to include him in this brief gathering of opinions. But there is one passage towards the end of his book which sums up so much so pertinently that it virtually demands its place, if offered here in slightly abbreviated form:

Who ‘won’ the Battle of Verdun? Few campaigns have had more written about them (not a little of it bombastic nonsense) and accounts vary widely. The volumes of the Reich Archives dealing with it are appropriately entitled ‘The Tragedy of Verdun’, while to a whole generation of French writers it represented the summit of ‘La Gloire’…

[I]t suffices to say that it was a desperate tragedy for both nations. Among the century’s great battles, Verdun has been bracketed with Stalingrad (no more tellingly so than by Hitler, as quoted in this book’s first chapter.) However, Antony Beevor, in his book Stalingrad, gives that battle the palm, stating: ‘In its way, the fighting in Stalingrad was even more terrifying than the impersonal slaughter at Verdun. The close-quarter combat in ruined buildings, bunkers, cellars and sewers was soon dubbed “Rattenkrieg” by German soldiers. It possessed a savage intimacy which appalled the generals, who felt that they were rapidly losing control over events.’ (One might add that, in common with the whole Russo–German war of 1941–45, Stalingrad was conducted with a racial-cum-ideological viciousness which would have appalled both sides at Verdun.) But if there was no ‘savage intimacy’, there was at Verdun a kind of terrifying loneliness. As the French historian Marc Ferro has written, ‘Each unit was on its own, often bombarded by its own guns, and told only to “hold on”… The only certainty was death – for one, or other, or all.’ It could be said that this was not so much a battle between victors and vanquished – such terms rapidly lost all meaning in so attritional an encounter – as between victims.

Robert Georges Nivelle (October 15, 1856 – March 22, 1924) was a French artillery officer who was briefly commander-in-chief of French forces during World War I.

Born in Tulle, France, to a French father and English mother, Nivelle graduated from the École Polytechnique in 1878 and served in Indochina, Algeria, and China as an artillery officer. He rose in rank from sub-lieutenant in 1878 to regimental colonel in December 1913, which he held at the start of the war in August 1914. A gifted artilleryman, the intense fire he was able to maintain played a key part in stopping German attacks during the Alsace Offensive early in the war, the First Battle of the Marne (September 5–10, 1914) – where he earned fame by moving his artillery regiment through an infantry regiment on the verge of breaking and opening fire on the Germans at point-blank range – and the First Battle of the Aisne (September 15–18, 1914). He received a promotion to Brigadier-General and command of a brigade in October 1914, then of a division early in 1915, then of a corps at the end of that year. A leading subordinate to Philippe Pétain at Verdun in 1916, he succeeded Pétain in command of the Second Army during the battle, and later in the year succeeded in recapturing Douaumont and other forts at Verdun.

Nivelle was an exponent of aggressive tactics, arguing that by using a creeping barrage he could end the war on the Western Front. His ideas were popular with the besieged Aristide Briand, the French Prime Minister and in December 13, 1916 Nivelle was promoted over the heads of the Army Group Commanders to replace Joseph Joffre as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army. He devised a grand plan to win the war in 1917. This involved a British attack to draw in German reserves, followed by a massive general French attack aimed at the Arras–Soissons–Reims salient. However, Nivelle was willing to talk about his plan to anyone who asked, including journalists, while the Germans captured copies of the battle plan left in French trenches; consequently the element of surprise was lost. When launched in April 1917, the Aisne campaign (Nivelle Offensive) was a failure. He continued with the strategy until the French Army began to mutiny.

Nivelle was replaced in early May by Philippe Pétain, who restored the fighting capacity of the French forces. Nivelle was reassigned to North Africa in December 1917, where he spent the rest of his military career before retiring in 1921.

Charles-Marie-Emmanuel Mangin, (1866–1925)

French Army general. Born on July 6, 1866, in Sarrebourg in the Moselle Department of Lorraine, Charles-Marie-Emmanuel Mangin was expelled with his family following the German occupation as a consequence of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. In 1885 Mangin joined the 77th Infantry Regiment and entered L’École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr the next year, graduating in 1888. Most of his early military career was spent in the French colonies. Known as an aggressive commander, Mangin was three times wounded in colonial service. His first assignment was in Senegal, and he led the advance guard of Colonel Jean Baptiste Marchand’s expedition across Africa to the Nile River at Fashoda in 1898. Admitted to the École de Guerre in 1899, Mangin was assigned to Tonkin in northern French Indochina before returning to Senegal during 1906–1908. Promoted to colonel in 1910, he carried out military operations in French West Africa

While in Africa, Mangin found time to write a book, La Force noire, which he published in 1912. In it he suggested that France could offset its population imbalance with Germany by utilizing troops from its African possessions. Such troops could be employed effectively in North Africa, freeing up French forces there. Mangin also believed that native soldiers, once they had completed their service, would form the nucleus of a new colonial elite who would be loyal to France. That same year the French Chamber of Deputies authorized the raising of several battalions of Senegalese troops. Under Mangin’s command, they carried out military operations in Morocco, seizing Marrakech in October 1912.

Returning to metropolitan France, Mangin was promoted to général de brigade on August 8, 1913. At age 47, he was the youngest general in the French Army. On August 2, 1914, Mangin took command of the 8th Brigade. Entering Belgium, he fought in the earliest battles of World War I near Charleroi. On August 31 he received command of the 5th Infantry Division. Mangin took part in the Battle of the Marne (September 5–12) and in the First Battle of Artois (December 17, 1914–January 4, 1915). He was promoted to général de division in early 1915. Mangin greatly admired African troops and used them whenever possible in his attacks.

Mangin was one of France’s more skillful commanders. His hallmarks were careful coordination and attacks launched on time and in an aggressive fashion. Utterly fearless, Mangin often inspected his troops at the front and was wounded several times. He was equally reckless with the lives of his men, winning him the sobriquet “The Butcher.”

In the spring of 1916, Mangin was ordered to Verdun with his 5th Infantry Division of Général de Division Robert Nivelle’s III Corps. Mangin’s division succeeded in recapturing from the Germans Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux, and Mangin soon became Nivelle’s favorite commander. Appointed commander of the Sixth Army, Mangin led it in the ill-fated Nivelle Offensive in Champagne (April 16–May 9, 1917) but failed to capture his objective of the Chemin des Dames. Attempting to shift the blame for his own failure, Nivelle relieved Mangin in May.

Absolved of any fault by a board chaired by Général de Division Ferdinand Foch, Mangin in December 1917 commanded VI Corps, the reserve of the First Army, which was in March 1918 assigned to reinforce the British Expeditionary Force. On June 16, 1918, he received command of the Tenth Army during the Second Battle of the Marne (June 15–18) and led it with distinction in helping to halt the last attacks of the German Ludendorff Offensive (March 21–June 18).

Foch then selected Mangin to launch the first counterattack. Mangin’s forces then drove toward Laon, which he seized in October. As part of Army Group East, Mangin’s Tenth Army was preparing for a major offensive in Lorraine in early November, but the armistice of November 11, 1918, superseded. The Tenth Army entered Metz (November 19) and then reached the Rhine at Mainz (December 11) and occupied the Rhineland.

Following the war, Mangin commanded French occupation troops in Lorraine in the Metz area. In this capacity, he supported Rhineland autonomy movements in an effort to detach that area from the rest of Germany. Made a member of the Conseil supérieur de la guerre (War Council), his last assignment, which he retained until his death, was the inspectorate of French colonial troops. He also wrote his recollections, Comment finit la guerre (1920). In 1921 he carried out a diplomatic mission to South America. Mangin died in Paris on May 12, 1925.

Anzio Beach-head (23 January-2 February) I


Smoke rises from the German lines during the fight for Anzio, 1944.


Mark Clark with reporters and troops at Borgo Grappa, May 25, 1944, during the [eventual] linkup of the Cassino and Anzio fronts.

Rome was throbbing with activity on the morning of Sunday 23 January. The peal of bells calling parishioners to mass was lost in the din of shouting German voices and hundreds of vehicle engines. Staff cars, armoured cars, half-tracks, tanks, and trucks all vied for space on the Corso D’Italia heading east, and there was a heady atmosphere in the capital as the Italians witnessed the Germans gripped by surprise. One witness spoke of German-occupied hotel foyers looking like ‘poorly directed mob scenes in provincial operas.’ The news of the landings at Anzio-Nettuno swiftly passed on from various German headquarters to their subordinate commands had also spread quickly amongst Romans after anti-fascist groups had been sent a message by the Allies: ‘Your aunt is ill and about to die.’ It was the code for the Allies having landed close to the capital. Kesselring was so worried that the attack might precipitate a popular uprising that Waffen SS Colonel Eugen Dollmann had been summoned from his boarding house by the Spanish Steps to an emergency meeting at Monte Soratte. Within the hour Dollmann (a liaison officer for General Karl Wolff, the head of the SS in Italy) was standing at Kesselring’s side. Did the Colonel think that the attack would lead to an uprising in the capital? ‘No,’ replied the astute officer, ‘the Romans are not brave enough and will not fight until Alexander’s army is on the city boundary.’ During the day there had been rumours that the Germans were preparing to withdraw from Rome; that the Allies were just a couple of miles away; that the Communists were about to seize power. But there had been no uprising. By the end of the day it was clear that the Allied arrival was not imminent and that the Germans were not leaving. Indeed, a spate of summary roadside executions, and an increase of heavily armed patrols was an obvious challenge to any dissension. The night passed without even the hint of an insurrection, and the following morning Dollmann drove down quiet secondary roads towards Anzio with his dog to see how the battle was progressing. Just outside Campoleone he pulled over by a bedraggled-looking collection of soldiers and spoke to their officer. The Major told him that yesterday morning he had been on convalescent leave in Rome enjoying the sights, and by the evening had been placed in command of 150 soldiers from a VD hospital. Only half possessed rifles, he complained, and several looked like dead men walking. Wherever this unhealthy horde was deployed would be an extremely lean part of the thin field-grey line that was building up around the Allied beachhead. Even so, the Germans used whatever was on offer to create a defensive line for they expected an imminent Allied breakout. As Siegfried Westphal later wrote: ‘an audacious and enterprising formation of enemy troops . . . could have penetrated into the city of Rome itself without having to overcome any serious opposition.’

Far too concerned with defence, neither Rome nor the Alban Hills were troubling Lucas during the first two days of the operation. In some places the Germans had already launched local counter-attacks. The Hermann Goring Panzer Division, for example, lashed out violently against 3rd Division’s 30th Infantry Regiment necessitating the rapid development of defensive positions. The inexperienced replacement Private Norman Mohar was the member of an Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon and had soon found himself in the thick of the action:

The first night I was sent out with booby-traps and mines to lay in ‘No Man’s Land’. ‘NO MAN’S LAND’!! I couldn’t believe that I was only a few hundred feet away from German machine guns. Now and then the Germans would fire flares, which hung for what seemed like hours floating down on a small parachute . . . Sometimes the Jerries would open up with their machine guns at the same time as launching the flares. The German machine gun tracers were only a few feet above the ground.

In well co-ordinated attacks combining German tanks and infantry, General Paul Conrath’s division successfully pushed south of the Mussolini Canal in the darkness, taking most of its bridges. Conrath continued to apply pressure on Truscott’s men throughout 23 January with strong patrols, but the Americans hit back sharply that evening, recovering most of the lost ground. These were tit for tat actions that successfully managed to reacquaint the two formations after their previous encounters in Sicily and at Salerno and were ‘an ominous harbinger of the trial of strength that was shortly to take place.’ On that day there was only a small increase in the size of the beachhead as units consolidated the ground won the previous day. When patrols were pushed out to reconnoitre the ground ahead, however, they invariably reported increased enemy activity. Patrolling was one of the many aspects of soldiering that the 504th US Parachute Infantry Regiment excelled at. Commanded by the blond haired, barrel-chested Colonel Reuben H. Tucker, the 504th were hard men and good soldiers, as Ross Carter declared:

The thing that distinguished us from most other soldiers was our willingness to take chances and risks . . . Each man had supreme faith in his ability to take care of himself whatever the odds. For this reason paratroopers were at times quarrelsome because they could never believe that anybody could beat the hell out of them.

Lieutenant Toland of 2nd Battalion carried out a seven-man patrol on the night of 23 January ‘to look for trouble’. At 2000 hours, dressed in dark clothes with their faces blackened, the men crossed the Mussolini Canal and slipped into No Man’s Land. Deep inside enemy-held territory, a place that they called ‘Jerryland’, they dropped down into a ditch to check a map just as a tank across the road opened fire on the beachhead. Carter wrote of the incident:

The powerful whoosh of the projectile passing overhead set our heads ringing. A hundred yards to the left a truck drove up and unloaded a lot of men who went into the field and began to dig holes about fifty yards from us … a digging German left his group and had the bad luck to pass near the end of our patrol. Casey, tensely coiled like a giant snake, enveloped him, slit his throat with his eleven-inch dagger and silently crouched on the ground.

The patrol made their way back to friendly lines, passing German machine gun teams as they went, their ‘breasts bursting with excitement and thrilling with exultation.’ The experience had left their ‘nerves limp’ and they were so tired that they could ‘do no better than splutter in aimless conversation’, but their information was gratefully received and fitted cleanly into an intelligence picture that spoke of a rapid German response to the landings.

There was no attempt to take Aprilia, Campoleone Station and Cisterna on the second or even the third day despite the evidence that resistance was building. Kesselring later wrote that during this period the defence had been a ‘higgledy-piggledy jumble – units of numerous divisions fighting confusedly side by side’, and so this was the time to seize vital ground. Just a few thousand German troops had arrived on the 23rd, but their number had swollen on 24 January to 40,400. The incoherent force was developing into something capable of giving Lucas a bloody nose. Schlemm had managed to fashion a continuous, though slim, defensive line around the sixteen-mile long, seven-mile deep beachhead. His main line of resistance was centred on Campoleone and Cisterna, but outposts had been pushed five miles further forward for protection. Schlemm’s commanders had developed strong defensive positions utilising all of the advantages that the ground had to offer for tactical advantage. Barns, outbuildings and farmhouses had been fortified and connected by trenches. The armour had been camouflaged and everything was covered by carefully sited artillery. Denis Healey on his third and last day, out of curiosity, decided to drive to the front in his amphibious jeep: ‘But when I got there’, he says, ‘I saw our soldiers in trenches being bombarded and so turned round sharpish and headed back to the beach.’ Healey was convinced by what he had seen that the best opportunity for exploitation had already passed, although back in England The Times headlines proclaimed: ‘LANDING SOUTH OF ROME ESTABLISHED. ALLIED TROOPS SEVERAL MILES INLAND. SERIOUS THREAT TO GERMAN LINES OF COMMUNICATION’. On the following day the newspaper’s claim that the beachhead was ‘being rapidly increased in depth’ was still untrue. The Times seems to have been producing copy based on what it thought should be happening rather than what was actually happening. In reality VI Corps had been caught in an unseemly limbo between attack and defence. Defending the Mussolini Canal on the right (twenty feet wide with thirty feet high banks), was 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, to its left was 3rd Division holding a nine mile front along the west branch of the Mussolini Canal, with Ranger Force taking the American sector along the Lateral Road up to the Via Anziate. 1st Division straddled this important highway and continued the line down the western section of the Lateral Road and then along the mouth of the Moletta River to the sea. In reserve Lucas held the 3rd Brigade of 1st Division, two battalions of 7th US Infantry Regiment and 509th Parachute Battalion. The corps was still awaiting the arrival of a regiment of 45th US Infantry Division and Combat Command A of 1st US Armored Division before the end of the month, and Lucas was not tempted to try anything aggressive until they arrived. Frustration was growing, a feeling that Vaughan-Thomas picked up on as he toured the British front: As D-Day turned into D plus 1, then into D plus 2, a slight unease began to possess the Allied rank and file. The exhilaration of the Great Surprise had worn off. The men could not share the thoughts of the Corps Commander and knew nothing of the factors which had influenced him to consolidate on the Beach-head. They only sensed that for the moment there seemed to be no strong enemy before them.’ Why give the enemy the initiative and waste the initial surprise? Lieutenant William Dugdale of the Grenadier Guards could not understand it:

The only excitement was Lieutenant Michael Hargreaves and his Carrier Platoon who, sent on a recce, drove completely unopposed up the local minor roads to the south west suburbs of Rome. He finally turned round as he thought he could be cut off at a street corner.

Yet Lucas, secreted in his Nettuno headquarters close to the seafront, thought that he was doing rather well bearing in mind Mark Clark’s orders. He noted in his diary on 25 January, the same day that von Mackensen’s Fourteenth Army took over command of the beachhead from Schlemm: ‘I am doing my best, but it seems terribly slow. I must keep my feet on the ground and do nothing foolish.’ Something ‘foolish’ might have been a major offensive thrust to the Alban Hills, but on the 25th the agitated VI Corps commander did allow himself an attempt by 1st British Division to take nearby Aprilia, and 3rd Division to advance several miles towards Cisterna.

Aprilia was desirable to Lucas both as a stepping-stone towards the Alban Hills and a defensive anchor. The evacuated town was a potential fortress that sat on a slight rise beside the Via Anziate, dominating the boggy ground surrounding it. The troops called it the ‘Factory’ for although it was a small model Fascist town of two and three storey buildings, the geometric design and tower that rose out of the Fascist headquarters made it look like an industrial site. The attack on the Factory was to be ‘the first warning to the front line soldier that the Anzio adventure had lost its early bloom’. At dawn British armour began moving up the Via Anziate flanked by a marching Guards Brigade, spearheaded by the Grenadiers, stretching back as far as the eye could see. A smattering of local farmers standing on the frosty verge clapped nervously as the troops passed them, whilst Penney and his brigade commanders watched the spectacle from the Flyover. It was to be the last time in the battle of Anzio that it would be a safe place to do such a thing. The Grenadiers continued up the road for a further two miles, then deployed on their start line—the Embankment of the ‘Disused Railway Bed.’ Here they came under increasingly heavy German fire and Lieutenant Michael Hargreaves, the hero of The Rome Patrol’, was killed by one of the first shots fired that day. Their first task was to take Carroceto and to use it as a base from which to assault the Factory. An attempt to enter the village, however, led to the officer of the lead platoon, Lieutenant The Honourable V.S. de R. Canning, being wounded in the head and all of his section commanders, bar one, becoming casualties. It was not until a couple of Shermans provided covering fire that a second platoon managed to infiltrate the village and clear the buildings in vicious hand-to-hand fighting. The preliminary action had already cost the battalion dearly. As the historian of the Grenadier Guards has written: ‘Carroceto was in our hands. With how much less cost could it have been captured two days before!’ The main attack on the Factory began at 1415 hours. Two companies advanced across the open ground assisted by a barrage of smoke, high explosives and a low sun that was glaring in the faces of the defenders. Nevertheless, one of the company commanders was killed leading his men forward, and the other wounded. Sapper Stanley Fennell watched the attack: ‘I cringed at the sight, because I was sitting in an enormous armoured car, and they were completely soft-skinned, as it were. The shells burst amongst them, and they marched steadily forward in the attack … to see them go forward was awe-inspiring.’ The Grenadiers reached the town and immediately began clearing the buildings. It was an unpleasant task, ‘a deadly game of hide-and-seek, of sudden encounters at close quarters and of unexpected stumblings upon well-armed enemies. Shutters and doors had to be smashed in and grenades flung quickly into rooms where the Germans might be hiding, the Guardsmen ducking hurriedly to avoid the flying fragments. In some houses terrified civilians crouched in shallow cellars praying that the fight would sweep past them.’ Slowly the Germans were overwhelmed and the battalion took 111 prisoners that day. One Nazi officer, whilst being led through Carroceto under armed guard, pointed to a Sherman and said in English ‘if I had that, I would be in Rome by now’.

It rained heavily that night, weather which was to undermine the ability of the Allied forces to support VI Corps during the last week of January, and under its cover the Germans prepared to retake the Factory. At dawn on 26 January the panzer grenadiers opened fire on the Grenadiers with machine guns and five self-propelled guns from some large huts a couple of hundred yards to the north-east of the town. There was no infantry attack and the armour was stopped by anti-tank guns and the supporting artillery, but the huts continued to provide cover for the enemy. A platoon from Captain T.S. Hohler’s company was sent to relieve the Germans of the huts, and it succeeded, but two German tanks almost immediately forced its eight survivors out. The battle continued, however, as the Grenadiers’ historian has written:

There was no choice but to attack again, and there were no other troops available than Holder’s company, who by this time were extremely weak, their headquarters having received a direct hit from a shell while the wounded from the first skirmish were being treated inside. Capt. Hohler returned with his new orders, to find that a Guardsman who had been blinded some time previously in the huts, had had his leg blown off while lying on a stretcher; another had lost both legs; and several others, including the Company Sergeant-Major, were also wounded.

Hohler led another attack across the bare, flat ground during which five of his men were killed. But he managed to occupy the huts. Whilst organising his defences a tank opened fire with its machine gun and a stream of bullets smashed through the wooden walls. There were several casualties, including Hohler whose forearm was shattered. Alone and feeling faint he scrambled over to another hut where he joined another wounded man and a Guardsman whose Bren gun had jammed. Through the fug he heard shouting which indicated that the tank was now moving forward and rising gingerly to his feet saw the beast descending through a hole in a wooden panel. By the time he turned round, the German infantry were rounding up his men. The Bren gunner had been caught with his weapon in pieces and was being led away with a Schmeisser jammed into his ribs. Hohler knew that he would be next unless he acted quickly. ‘Captain Hohler rather carefully laid down’, the Battalion War Diary explains, ‘put his steel helmet over his face, turned up his toes, and lay as one dead. The wounded Guardsman was led off as well, but the ruse worked, and Captain Hohler was not disturbed by any German.’ He eventually reached safety, but the enemy retook the huts. The casualties had been heavy, 130 rank and file alone, but the battalion’s determination to hang on to the Factory was undiminished. The Grenadiers’ attention to detail remained as acute as ever, for even as their Commanding Officer lay wounded barking orders, Lieutenant William Dugdale, the junior officer who had been lambasted for his appearance by Alexander on D-Day, received another ticking off: ‘I found Col. Gordon Lennox lying on a mattress in the Factory compound directing the repulse of the counter-attack’, he recalls. As “Left Out of Battle” I was not in battle order or wearing a steel helmet. Col. Gordon Lennox beckoned me over and enquired why I was not properly dressed.’ Within minutes Dugdale was properly dressed and found himself in the front line under a German bombardment. Throughout the remainder of the day the Germans put the Brigade under such heavy artillery fire that it was largely responsible for the 119 casualties Irish Guards lodged at Carroceto. There were some enemy infantry attacks that caused the Grenadiers difficulties on their open right flank, but an advance by Ranger Force and 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion clinically eliminated the problem. The battle had been bloody, but Penney had secured a valuable objective.

The first battles of Carroceto and the Factory became a benchmark for the grisly tussles that were to take place in the Anzio beachhead. Father Brookes, the Irish Guards’ padre, who had served on the Western Front during the First World War, said that 26 January compared unfavourably to any of his wartime experiences. Brookes spent the day at the British Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) that had been established at a Yellow Bungalow close to the Via Anziate between the Flyover and Anzio. It was overwhelmed with wounded and as shells were falling all around, some had to be administered in the relative safety of a drainage ditch. The author of the Irish Guards history, D.J.L. Fitzgerald, a captain at Anzio, later wrote:

The patience and gratitude shown by the wounded men is one of the few things which it is worth being in battle to see. Not only on this occasion, but at all times, the silent courage of maimed, battered, bleeding Irish Guardsmen lying in the open or, if they were lucky, in some muddy ditch, was a living monument to the strength of the human will in the depths of human misery. A man drained of blood gets very cold, there is not much a man with a shattered thigh can do for himself; a man whose chest has been torn to ribbons by shell splinters would like to be moved out of the barrage. But they did not say anything, they didn’t ask for anything; they smiled painfully when the orderlies put a blanket over them or gave them a drink of water and a cigarette, and just shut their eyes for a moment when a shell exploded particularly close.

It was on that day that the field adjacent to the Casualty Clearing Station began to spawn wooden crosses.

Just as the Guards Brigade was blooded at the Factory, 3rd Division was carrying out its attack towards Cisterna. Standing on Route 7 and boasting a road that led to Valmontone on Route 6, the town guarded the supply routes to Tenth Army and so had been incorporated into the German main defences. The battle to move 3rd Division to within striking distance of Cisterna lasted for nearly four days and advanced front line by up to three miles, but ultimately left Truscott’s division another three miles short of the town. During the fighting, one of the most remarkable feats of heroism to be witnessed in the beachhead occurred. The unlikely hero was T/5 Eric G. Gibson, a cook from the US 30th Regiment who often volunteered for combat duties. On 28 January Gibson was part of a squad attack in which he had asked to be lead scout. Leading the men through an irrigation ditch, he almost immediately contacted the enemy:

The squad had proceeded only a few steps when a blast of machinepistol fire opened up from a clump of brush along the ditch bank. Gibson did not even take cover, but ran twenty yards up the ditch, firing his tommy gun from the hip as he went. He poked the gun muzzle into the brush and finished the Germans hidden there. Under a heavy artillery concentration the squad again moved out. Knocked flat under the concussion of one close shell, Gibson had no sooner risen than he was fired upon by a machine pistol and rifle. Again he charged down the ditch, to fire his submachine gun into another pile of brush.

With that threat dealt with Gibson then tackled two machine guns that had opened fire on the squad. He crawled toward the strong point as shells exploded all around him and got to within thirty-five yards before hurling two grenades into the position. Before the second grenade had exploded Gibson leapt up and charged, killing two Germans and capturing another. Quite unperturbed he returned to the ditch and continued in the lead. Within moments he rounded a corner and squad following heard a machine pistol fire followed by Gibson’s tommy gun. Rushing to the scene they found Gibson’s dead body lying beside the two Germans that he had killed. Eric Gibson was awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor. The 3rd Division, meanwhile, would have to try again to seize Cisterna. Truscott, who on 24 January had himself been wounded by a shell splinter in his foot, recommended a more concentrated attack on the town as ‘more power was needed’.

Alexander and Clark were also keen to see a more concentrated effort. When they had visited the beachhead on 25 January, they had been satisfied that Lucas was at least beginning to move forward. Both men wanted to see the main German defences broken. Alexander had become increasingly uneasy at Lucas’s lack of movement, and even Mark Clark had been surprised that the VI Corps commander had not put together an early offensive to take Campoleone and Cisterna. Lucas had not stuck his head out too far. He had not stuck it out at all. To calm Lucas’s fears that a major offensive would leave him without a reserve, Clark informed him that the remainder of 45th Division and 1st Armored Division would be sent to the beachhead, along with 168th Brigade of 56th British Infantry Division and First Special Service Force. Lucas was confused and seemed either unwilling or unable to ask Clark the obvious question. Why was the Fifth Army commander pressurising VI Corps into a major offensive? The pressure was not appreciated and that night Lucas confided to his diary: ‘This is the most important thing I have ever tried to do and I will not be stampeded.’ He wanted to continue with his cautious, methodical advance just as originally instructed, rather than launch an impulsively premature strike before the German counter-attack. But if Lucas was under pressure from Alexander and Clark, it should be noted that Alexander was in turn under severe pressure from Churchill. On 26 January the Prime Minister cabled Fifteenth Army Headquarters: ‘I am thinking of your great battle night and day’, and so he was. He had already demanded to be informed why there had been no breakout at Anzio and was told that it was ‘not due to lack of urging from above’. As usual, Brooke was feeling the full force of the Prime Minister’s displeasure, noting in his diary on 28 January: ‘Churchill was full of doubts as to whether Lucas was handling this landing efficiently. I had some job quietening him down again.’ The Prime Minister’s mood was at least partly fuelled by a cable received that same day from Alexander saying that he was also unhappy at Lucas’s efforts. Clark, meanwhile, had been despatched to the beachhead in an attempt ‘to urge General Lucas to initiate aggressive action at once’.

Mark Clark was in a foul mood during the journey to Anzio, and was only to get worse. Initially he had been irritated by reports that the attacks by 1st and 3rd Divisions had proved so ‘challenging’, but by the time that he was nearly killed by an American minesweeper opening fire on his motor-launch, he was furious. One of the shells had hit Clark’s stool and although he was not wounded, there had been casualties amongst the crew. The subsequent meeting with Lucas was frosty, but he thawed a little when presented with the plan for a major attack that was to take place that night, 28-29 January. He was told that 1st Division were to take Campoleone Station, whilst 3rd Division was to seize Cisterna. The meeting broke up amicably, but Lucas still felt compelled to write that night:

Apparently some of the higher levels think I have not advanced with maximum speed. I think more has been accomplished than anyone had a right to expect. This venture was always a desperate one and I could never see much chance for it to succeed, if success means driving the Germans north of Rome. The one factor that has allowed us to get established ashore has been the port of Anzio. Without it our situation by this time would have been desperate with little chance of a build-up to adequate strength. As it is, we are doing well and, in addition to our troops, unloaded over 4,000 tons of supplies yesterday. Had I been able to rush to the high ground around Albano . . . immediately upon landing, nothing would have been accomplished except to weaken my force by that amount because the troops sent, being completely beyond supporting distance, would have been completely destroyed. The only thing to do was what I did. Get a proper beachhead and prepare to hold it. Keep the enemy off balance by a constant advance against him by small units, not committing anything as large as a division until the Corps was ashore and everything was set. Then make a co-ordinated attack to defeat the enemy and seize the objective. Follow this by exploitation. This is what I have been doing, but I had to have troops in to do it with.

Lucas’s preoccupation with resources can clearly be seen in this diary entry, and he certainly could not be criticised for lack of attention to the resupply of the beachhead. It was a sophisticated operation in which a convoy of six LSTs departed from Naples every day on the 100-mile trip to Anzio. Each vessel contained 50 trucks loaded to capacity usually with 60 per cent ammunition, 20 per cent fuel, and 20 per cent rations. These vessels were supplemented each week by 15 LCTs and every ten days by four Liberty ships, loaded with over 9,000 tons of cargo. There had been some poor weather in which ‘Liberty ships lay tossing and the LCTs rolled and pitched continuously’, but it was the Luftwaffe attacks that caused more concern. As the harbour was critical to the Allies, it was an obvious German target. Between 23 January and 3 February whilst Kesselring gathered his ground forces, he massed a substantial bomber force: 140 long range bombers had been moved to Italy from north-west Germany, France and Greece, and the anti-shipping force in the south of France was reinforced by an additional 60 aircraft. Torpedoes, bombs and radio-controlled glider bombs (a general purpose bomb which was rocket-powered and radio-controlled) were all dropped in and around the harbour. The first major raid came on 23 January when the medium bombers launched glider bombs against a Landing Ship Tank. On this occasion their weapons failed to respond to the radio controls, but the anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons and smoke screens failed to deter future attempts. Allied fighter patrols ruled the skies during the day, and so most German bomber raids were launched after darkness. Lucas wrote on 26 January: ‘8.45 p.m. The biggest yet. The Hun’s determined to ruin me and knows that if I lose Anzio harbor I am in a hell of a fix. I went to look at the mess. Trucks are burning and the town is in a shambles, but ships are being unloaded. Casualties have been heavy I am afraid.’ Ross Carter watched the show with grim fascination from the Mussolini Canal: ‘All night the enemy dropped long-burning parachute flares over the harbour’, he wrote. ‘Night after night we watched the awesomely spectacular fireworks and shivered at the sight of burning planes falling to the earth or into the sea.’ The navies soon got the measure of the bombers, however. Commander Roger Hill on HMS Grenville recalls:

With the glider bombs I found that if I started to turn, the bomb would start to follow me, but the bomb had a bigger turning circle than I did and they all missed us. I could see them sort of turning somersaults and landing in the sea and I had people on the Bridge who were spotting the next one that was roaming and when that was finished they left a plane over the top who was obviously taking photographs, so we made a very rude signal to them.

Before long the Task Force 81 destroyers had the means to detect and jam the Luftwaffe’s radio beams. The German pilot prowled the harbour looking for a likely target and then, staying high and clear of the heavy flak that poured from the anti-aircraft guns, released his bomb. From that point on this was a battle of wits between the pilot with his joy-stick trying to guide the bomb onto its target, and the jamming team. Often the navy managed to bring the missiles down into the sea – but not always. Before the end of the month the Germans had sunk the cruiser Spartan – ‘Spartan lies on her side, the bilge just showing . . . For miles the sea is full of blackened, bloated corpses’, the destroyers Janus – sunk in 20 minutes with the loss of its commander and 150 men – Jervis and Plunkett, the minesweeper Prevail, the hospital ship St David, and the troop transporter Samuel Huntington containing 7,181 tons of equipment and materials. But although these losses were disquieting, VI Corps had successfully taken delivery of 68,886 men, 508 artillery pieces and 237 tanks by 29 January, and Lucas was justifiably pleased with this effort.