Battle of Kirchholm 1605

The Battle of Kircholm, one of the major battles in the Polish-Swedish War, was fought on September 27, 1605, (or the 17th according to the Old calendar then in use in Protestant countries). The hussars launched a devastating charge against the enemy which ended the battle in the decisive victory of the Polish-Lithuanian forces. It is remembered and celebrated to this day as one of the greatest triumphs of the Polish Hussars.. The battle was decided in all of 20 minutes!

On the eve of battle Swedish forces and that of the Commonwealth assembled near the town of Kircholm (which is about 18km SE of current day Riga, Latvia). The Swedish forces under the command of Charles IX numbered 10,800 men and 11 cannons, and were reinforced by several thousand German and Dutch mercenaries, as well as a few hundred Scots, greatly outnumbering the Commonwealth forces.

The Polish-Lithuanian army, led by the Great Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, consisted approximately of 1,300 infantry, that is, 1,040 pikemen and 260 musketeers, in addition to 2,600 cavalry, and only 5 cannons. Incidentally, the Polish Crown refused to finance its army, the funds having been obtained from the personal fortune of Chodkiewicz.

Even with numerical superiority the Swedes were at a severe disadvantage. Their troops were less well-trained (though armed with pistols and carbines), had a poorer breed of horses, and were tired after having marched throughout the night in torrential rains.  Other the other hand, the Polish-Lithuanian forces were well-rested, confident that their cavalry was superbly trained and were heavily armed with lances.  Most came from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and about 200 from the Polish Crown, the remainder of which were either mercenaries or close personal allies of Chodkiewicz.  Among these forces were also a small number of Tatars and Polish-Lithuanian cossack horses used mostly for reconnaissance.

The Swedish soldiers were deployed in a checkboard formation in which infantry assembled into 7 or 8 widely spaced blocks, with intersecting fields of fire while the flanks were covered by Swedish and German cavalry, and cannons positioned ahead of the cavalry. In contrast, the Polish-Lithuanian forces were deployed in the traditional format: the left wing, commanded by Dabrowa, was significantly stronger, while the right wing under the leadership of Pawel Jan Sapieha consisted of a smaller number of Hussars while at the centre were 300 Hussars led by Chodkiewicz, as well as a powerful formation of reiters dispatched by the Duke of Courland. 

Despite the 1:3 disadvantage of Chodkiewicz forces, he used a feint to lure the Swedish forces from their high position. Thinking that the Commonwealth forces were retreating, the Swedish army was ordered to attack and began to give chase, spreading out their formations as they advanced. This is precisely what Chodkiewicz had planned and at the precise moment, the Commonwealth infantry launched a full-blown attack on the approaching enemy. At this point the Hussars assumed battle formations and charged on the Swedish left flank. At the same time about 300 Polish-Lithuanian Hussars charged the Swedish infantry in the centre  to prevent them from interfering with their cavalry action on both of their flanks. Chodkiewicz then ordered his left wing and all reserves to attack the opposing right flank of the enemy.

The Swedish reiters were driven back on both wings and the infantry in the centre was attacked from three sides simultaneously. The Swedish forces turned and ran off in a panic, their whole army having collapsed. It was at this point that the Swedes had suffered their heaviest casualties. Defeat was devastating and complete. Swedish forces had lost more than half, and perhaps as much as two-thirds of their men. Their largest number of losses occurred while retreating in the dense forests and marshes: 8,000 dead or wounded, and 500 captured. The Poles and Lithuanians were fierce warriors and spared few opponents. Commonwealth losses were only about 100 dead and 200 wounded, though the Hussars had lost many of their trained battle horses. That they suffered fewer casualties was largely due to the incredible speed of their victories, not to mention that their horses had also been a shield and protection to the riders.

The Swedish king henceforth abandoned the siege of Riga, relinquished his control of northern Latvia and Estonia, made a complete withdrawal and sailed back to Sweden across the Baltic Sea.  Irregardless, the Commonwealth was not capable of exploiting their victory to the fullest owing to the limited financial resources at hand. There was not enough money for military supplies, and for incidentals such as food and fodder for their horses, nor to replace the many horses killed in battle. As a result their military campaign faltered.  In 1611 a truce was signed, but by 1617 war broke out again and four years later Gustavus Adolphus, the new Swedish king, succeeded in retaking the city of Riga after a brief siege.

First Polish-Swedish War for Livonia, (1600–1611)

Long an area of contention among Sweden, Poland, and Russia, the Baltic became the locus of fighting yet again when Sweden invaded and occupied most of Estonia and Livonia in 1600. They were halted by the Poles at the fortress city of Riga, where Herman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz (1560-1621) launched a counterattack, driving the Swedes out of most of Livonia with victories at Dorpat (Tartu) and Revel (Tallinn), but failing to secure complete control over the disputed region.

Then, in 1604, Charles IX (1550-1611), the newly declared and ambitious Swedish king, landed a fresh army of 14,000 in Estonia and marched on Riga to try his fortunes against Chodkiewicz. The two armies met at the battle of Kirchholm, where the Poles mustered only some 3,500 men-although 2,500 of them were horsemen in Poland’s heavy cavalry, hailed as the best in Europe. They mounted a savage, reckless charge that swept the Swedes from the field and themselves forever into Polish history. They not only won the battle, they came very close to capturing Sweden’s warrior king himself, and Polish chroniclers would soon be claiming that the bodies of some 9,000 Swedish soldiers littered the abandoned battlefield. Afterward, the war fizzled, and continued only in sporadic fighting until ended by truce in 1611.

Polish-Lithuanian Forces

Polish-Lithuanian Constitutional development ground to a halt. The extreme libertarian position of the nobility was not redressed. The great Rokosz of 1606-9 ended in a stalemate. The King could do nothing to enlarge his powers. The problem of the succession was not resolved. Although Zamoyski failed to limit the succession to certain named candidates, so, too, did all subsequent attempts to arrange it vivente rege. The elections of 1632 and 1648 were unmemorable. The great officers of state were awarded lifelong tenure. Finance remained firmly in the purview of the nobility.

Some changes were made in military organization. Although the traditional use of massed cavalry brought some success, particularly at Kirchholm in 1605 and at Klushino in 1610, the prestige of the Swedish example led to important modifications designed to increase the army’s firepower. In 1618, the kwarta tax was doubled in order to support improved gunnery, which in 1637 was organized in a separate Corps of Artillery with its own General. The army was divided into two separate formations. One, the so-called ‘National Contingent’, included regiments of Hussars, Cossacks, and Tartars, and was drawn from private retinues and from the noble ‘comrades-in-arms’. The other, the Foreign Contingent, included the regiments of infantry, dragoons, and rajtars, and was freely recruited ‘by the drum’, that is, by colonels who paid and equipped the men themselves. The over-all size of the infantry was much increased, the traditional ‘Hungarian-style’ regiments armed with muskets and halberds being supplemented with new and larger ‘German’ regiments of musketeers and pikemen. In peacetime, the standing army made up of the Royal Guard, the Registered Cossacks, and the Kwarciane numbered some 12,000 men. In wartime, it could be quadrupled without difficulty. Much work was done on fortresses especially at Zamosc in the Italian style, at Danzig, Brody, and Wisnicz in the Dutch style, and at Kudak on the Dnieper by the French engineer, Beauplan. A school of theoretical writing flourished, associated with the names dell’Aqua, Freytag, and Siemienowicz. In Stanistaw Zolkiewski (1547-1620), Crown-Hetman from 1613, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz (1560-1621), Lithuanian Hetman from 1605, and Stanislaw Koniecpolski (1593-1646), Field Hetman of the Crown from 1618 and Grand Hetman from 1632, and Stefan Czarniecki (1599-1665), the Republic saw its most brilliant generation of field commanders. The Royal Fleet, never of much significance, was liquidated in 1641.

Further reading: Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland, 2 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); O. Halecki (with additional material by A. Polonsky and Thaddeus V. Grommada), A History of Poland, new ed. (New York: Dorset Press, 1992); W. F. Reddaway, et al., eds., The Cambridge History of Poland, 2 vols. (reprint, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971).

The Battle of Cromdale, 1690 Part II

Mackay learnt that Buchan was ‘taking the field’ and ordered Livingstone to monitor his progress. His command, based in Inverness, consisted of three regiments of infantry, his own regiment of horse and an unquantifiable number of dragoons. He was also instructed to ‘labour, by a detachment of the best of his men, to get a catch of them, or at least to hinder the grouth of their number: However, although Livingstone was able to learn of their whereabouts (apparently by threatening to torture a captured Jacobite agent, which then in Scotland was a lawful tactic) and to march to that vicinity, his problem being that of supplies. It was only with ‘great difficulty’ that the cavalry could find forage and the infantry their victuals. As soon as Buchan retired to the hills, he was obliged to return to Inverness. Livingstone gave Mackay ‘nothing but III News: Upon hearing this news, Mackay gathered 3,000 troops from Stirling, Dundee and Glasgow, to march to Perth. This was so that they could then march to counter any further Jacobite support that might accrue to Cannon and Buchan.

Livingstone discovered that despite the difficulties of coming to blows, he must act as soon as possible. Many of those who appeared to be supportive of the government were now intimating that they intended to join the Jacobites. Livingstone wrote that the Jacobite march ‘increased as a snow ball daily … affrighted and discouraged the country: He wrote to Mackay to tell him what his plan was and that many in the north were planning to join the Jacobites.

Jacobite forces

Jacobite officers claimed their force numbered between 1,400-1,500 men; Mackay that they had ‘much the same’ as Livingstone. Mackay also wrote that they had ‘800 of their worst men’ and had been reinforced by ‘some Badenoch men: The force included several companies of MacLeans, judging by later lists of prisoners. It also numbered many Camerons, too. The two forces were roughly the same number. Neither possessed any artillery to slow them down.

Livingstone marched his men eight miles from Inverness on 27 April in search of the Jacobites. They reached Brodie and remained there for two days, waiting for the slow-moving baggage trains carrying crucial supplies. They also waited for an additional three troops of dragoons and Captain Burnet’s Troop of Horse. Patience was also necessary to gain additional intelligence. Mackay ordered further troops and supplies to march towards Livingstone; Ramsay’s regiment of infantry, Angus’ battalion and five troops of cavalry.

The Jacobite forces were in Strathspey, ‘threatening to slay and Burn all that would not joyn’, according to Livingstone. On 30 April he learnt where they were: eight miles from Strathspey. This was in the land of the laird of Grant, a supporter of William III and a Scottish privy councillor. A captain of a company of Grant’s regiment which held a castle in Strathspey had reported that the Jacobite force had left Badenoch to march for Strathspey and had marched to within two miles of the castle.

On 30 April Livingstone marched his forces through the night, and given that his men were tiring and were negotiating a difficult pass he considered halting to stop for the night, but an officer who knew the lie of the land convinced him to proceed. The Jacobite encampments became visible by its campfires. This was probably just to the west of the hills known as the Haughs of Cromdale and about a mile to the south-east of the Spey. Some men were above Dellachaple and some near the castle of Lethendry. Scouts discovered the lie of the land, how deep the river was and that ‘the Ground was somewhat boggish: Livingstone’s force was two miles from his enemy and had been marching through the evening and night. Livingstone wrote, ‘I forma a Design to attack them by surprise, for they did not know of our being arrived, but my Men and Horse being so extremely wearied, I gave them about half an hour to refresh themselves: Furthermore, the land was boggy and the nature and depth of the River Tay was unknown.

Captain Grant at Balla Castle knew of Livingstone’s advance and kept the castle gates locked in order to prevent any of those who had taken shelter there from leaving it and letting the Jacobites know of their peril. Livingstone’s forces were ready at two in the morning on the first day of May. Captain Grant met Livingstone and showed him where the Jacobites were. He offered to guide him there himself.

A council of war was held for Livingstone to brief his officers prior to the attack. He was still not certain whether an attack should take place. He asked his subordinates to see to the condition of their men to ascertain ‘if they were able to do it: The officers declared ‘they would stand by me to the last man and desired earnestly to go on: Fortunately for them, the Jacobite camp was on the plain, a mile and a half from any strong ground, for they did not know that their enemies were so close. Mackay later wrote, it was ‘just as if they had been led thither by the hand, as an ox to the slaughter:

A night attack is extremely risky, as would have been well known to soldiers in 1690. Only five years previously, Monmouth’s forces had marched through the night to surprise James Ifs army at Sedgemoor. It was a bold plan and a necessary one in order that irregular troops had a chance of defeating regulars. The attack failed because the attackers were unable to achieve the crucial surprise necessary for success. Monmouth’s army was decisively defeated the following morning.

Livingstone’s force marched by a covered way, the glen of Auchnarrow, to conceal their approach until the last moment and arrived by the river. It is presumed that no man pulled a trigger by accident as one of Monmouth’s had in 1685, and so surprise was achieved. There was a ford on the river Spey, near to the church, guarded by two companies of 200 Jacobites led by Captains Grant and Brody. It was now three in the morning. Livingstone had some infantry and dragoons skirmish with them, to distract their attention from the main assault, whilst the bulk of his forces marched a quarter of a mile towards another ford, guided by the knowledgeable Captain Grant. This thrust was spearheaded by two or three troops of Livingstone’s Dragoons, a troop of Tester’s Horse and Captain Mackay’s Highlanders. None of Grant and Brody’s men seem to have been assigned to give their comrades in the main camp warning and none defended the other ford, below Kyle-na-fhithich (Raven’s wood) as all rushed to the scene of action, leaving the other ford undefended.

Two troops of dragoons and Mackay’s company crossed the river without being noticed and they were able to advance unnoticed further by riding along a road concealed by birchwood. The rest of the infantry ‘ [ran] up to us, yet they marched after us with all diligence possible: Security must have been slack, with officers reliant on the men near the church being able to give ample warning in case on an attack. The Jacobites were asleep in tents and houses. Livingstone later wrote, ‘and then we do see them run in parties up and down, not knowing which way to turn themselves, being surprised: The Jacobites ‘take the alarm as moving confusedly as irresolute men: He then ‘commanded all the Horse and Dragoons to joyn, and pursued them, which affrighted them so. Apparently 100 Jacobites were killed ‘in the first hurry’.

The Jacobite account of the battle has it that , as soon as they recovered themselves, they formed into partys, made head against the enemy, and fought with that desperate resolution in their shirts with their swords and shields . These were the Camerons and the MacLeans. This stand may have occurred because they saw the Highlanders arrive at the hills before the cavalry, and so seeing him so weak, resolved to stand, but upon the sight of the rest of the party, which was following with all speed they could make, they began to run for it. Some ran to Tom Lethendie and some to the hills the MacDonalds had camped near Dellachaple and Garulin, escaping up the slopes of Tom Uird Luckily for him, Dunfermline had left the Jacobite camp on the previous day.

However, Livingstone wrote that they took themselves to the hills, at the foot of Combrel we overtook them, attacked them, killing betwixt three and four hundred upon the place and took about one hundred prisoners, the greater part of them officers. Killing confused and virtually defenceless men would have been easy for the cavalrymen, just as the slaughter of fleeing redcoats had been to the Highlanders at Killiecrankie. Livingstone stated that the Jacobites only escaped because mist descended so we could scarcely see one another, otherways the slaughter should have been greater’. Apparently few would ha lave escaped them, had not a sudden fog favoured the enemy’s flight. The retreat was successful for the pursuers horses were ready to collapse and the force was drawn up on low ground. Yet according to a Jacobite, ‘Sir Thomas was glade to allow them to retreat without attempting to pursue them.

The Jacobite leaders had been caught napping. On the first alarm Buchan sent away his nephew and some officers and men, though they later surrendered. Buchan escaped, though, he ‘got of, without hat, coat or sword: He was later seen, in a state of exhaustion, at Glenlivet, at a cousin’s house. Cannon also escaped; in a nightgown Dunfermline had, providentially, left the day before the fighting. Buchan and Cannon fled in different directions, the former looking for Cannon’s men. Livingstone had nothing but praise for his men, ‘The resolution and forwardness of the Troops was admirable’ and though most ofthe fighting had been by the cavalry, the infantry, unable to get to the front line, yet they ‘marched after us with as great Diligence as possible.

About 50 of the Jacobites, mostly gentlemen, went to the nearby Lethendy Castle with the intention of holding it to the last. Livingstone sent a messenger to them to offer them mercy if they surrendered. The Jacobites opened fire during this attempt at parley. Two grenadiers were shot dead and another was wounded. Lieutenant George Carleton of Leslie’s Foot had experience of using grenades from campaigning abroad, or so he claimed. Putting four into a bag he crept towards the castle by using an old ditch to reach an old house near to the castle. He intended to be close enough in order to throw his missiles into the castle.

He threw the first, which ‘put the enemy immediately into confusion’. The second grenade fell short. The third one exploded just after it had been thrown and so likewise was ineffectual. The fourth went through a window in the castle ‘so it increased the confusion, which the first had put them into; that they immediately called out to me, upon their parole of safety, to come to them: Carleton went to the barricaded main door, which had been reinforced by great stones. The Jacobites inside were ready to surrender if mercy would be granted.

Carleton returned to Livingstone to relate his account and pass him the news of the wish for a conditional surrender. Livingstone told Carleton to return to inform them that ‘He would cut them all to pieces, for their murder of two of his grenadiers, after his proffer of quarter: Carleton left, full of these melancholy tidings: but as he did, his commander came towards him. He said, ‘Hark ye sir, I believe there may be among them some of our old acquaintances (from the Dutch service). Therefore, tell them, they shall have good quarter: Carleton ‘very willingly’ took this news back and delivered it. The Jacobites immediately threw down their barricade and one Brody, who had earlier fought at the ford, came out from the main door. Apparently he had been wounded by having part of his nose blown off by one of the grenades Carleton had thrown. The two men went to Livingstone, who confirmed Carleton’s message and then all the Jacobites surrendered. Carleton wrote, ‘the Highlanders never held up their heads so high after this: Lady Roxburgh’s brother Alexander, an officer in the government army, was sorry that he was not there.


Cameron stated that ‘the loss on both sides was pretty equall: However, Livingstone stated that between 300 and 400 Jacobites had been killed; 20 officers and 400 others. A government report claimed that 900 were dead and 100 captured; surely an exaggeration. Another account states there were 400 Jacobite dead and 200 prisoners. John Cameron wrote that ‘Our Clan had a considerable loss at that unhappy business of Crombdale: The prisoners were sent to Inverness by 17 May, with the rank and file being accommodated in the castle and the officers allowed their liberty in the town but under guard. Yet there was not accommodation for them there. Most of the latter were soon sent to Edinburgh, guarded by 90 dragoons. By 26 May, 54 prisoners were there; including Sir David Ogilby and Archibald Kennedy. Their lot was not a happy one, as one Francis Beatton, in Edinburgh’s Tolbooth, complained to Argyll, ‘being taken at Crombdaill and ever since kept upon a very small allowance (2d per diem) which we could not subsist upon had it not been supplied by the charity of some tender hearted Christians.

The Jacobites also lost all their baggage, provisions, 1,000 arms and ammunition. The standards of King James and Queen Mary were captured. There was plunder for the victors, too, as Livingstone noted. Healths were drunk with wines taken from the Jacobite camp. Livingstone believed that he had had three men wounded, but none seriously, as well as having had a dozen horses killed and a greater number disabled. This ignores the two grenadiers killed at the castle.

A government report was that this was the ‘Entire Defeat of the most considerable Force of the Highland Rebels. Mackay wrote, ‘the news whereof did very much good to the King’s affairs both in Scotland and England, by abating the confidence of their Majesties’ enemies in both Parliaments. Carleton wrote that ‘The Highlanders never held up their heads so high after this defeat.

Mackay concluded that the victory had been due to numerous reasons. Firstly, Livingstone had procured intelligence that the Jacobites were in close proximity to him. Secondly that his troops were led in silence towards the enemy, thirdly that the inexperienced captain of the troops in the castle concealed his march. That Buchan camped his men in a vulnerable position contrary to usual Jacobite procedure. Mackay lastly wrote ‘tha’ Sir Thomas Livingstone did all that could be expected of a carefull diligent officer, the captain of the castle, altogether a novice, seemed to have had the greatest share in this favourable success.

The Jacobites dispersed: they had been on campaign for six weeks, had been defeated, scattered and had lost their supplies. They also wanted to see their families again. A government newssheet from Edinburgh, published a week later told that the Jacobites had told James that they could not hold out any longer, that they were in a starving condition and how ‘the rebels are in a great consternation, faring they shall have no relief from Ireland and doubts not but the common people will yield at the first approach of any of the King’s forces.

As with the fighting at Dunkeld, the results were as much moral than physical. Cameron wrote, ‘the ill conduct of General Buchan so discouraged the Lowland gentlemen, that not a man of them thought fit to joyn with him: Some Highland chiefs began to submit to the government; MacDonald of Largo and McAlastair of Loup did so on 16 June.

May 1943: Climax in the Atlantic I

Cobb, Charles David; The 1943 Climax of the Atlantic Convoy War No.2; National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth;

Before examining the May convoy battles, it is worth noting another result of the ORU’s work. (Blackett had become Director, Naval Operational Research.) It was appreciated that the number of escort ships with a convoy reduced the loss rate and that air cover of about eight hours a day decreased ship losses by a third. However:

Since it was by no means safe to rely on the increase of air support to stop the crippling ship losses of the autumn of 1942, an energetic search was made for some other measures which could be put into operation quickly. Detailed attention was given, therefore, to the organizational aspects of the Atlantic convoy system. Perhaps some alteration in the organization of the convoys might conceivably improve the situation.

Hitherto, organization of convoys and escorts had been ‘a matter of chance’. The Admiralty had defined some broad principles, including the belief that large convoys were more dangerous and that, therefore, the optimum was about forty vessels. Sixty was the maximum and larger convoys were not permitted. A rough guide to escort numbers was also in place; known as the 3 + N/10 rule, this stipulated a minimum of three escort vessels for a very small convoy with an additional ship for every ten merchantmen in the convoy: a convoy of twenty would have the minimum three escorts plus two; in this case the value of N was twenty. Likewise, the largest convoy, of sixty, would have nine escorts: three plus six, the value of N.

The basic assumption was that every convoy, irrespective of size, was equally safe or, at least, likely to suffer the same percentage rate of loss. Where the 3 + N/10 rule originated, no one seemed to know, but Blackett points out that it ‘could be shown to be not consistent with the view that small convoys were safer than large’. That inconsistency is demonstrated by his theoretical example of running three twenty-ship convoys, each with the five escorts of the 3 + N/10 rule, against pooling those convoys and their escorts. By applying the rule, a sixty-ship convoy should enjoy only a nine-ship escort whereas pooling the three convoys and their escorts would produce an escort of fifteen.

Examination of records of ships lost in differing-sized convoys over the previous two years showed clearly, and surprisingly, that larger convoys had suffered relatively smaller losses.

The figures were startling. Dividing convoys into those smaller and those larger than forty ships, it was found that the smaller convoys, with an average size of thirty-two ships, had suffered an average loss of 2.5 per cent, whereas the large convoys with an average size of fifty-four ships, had suffered only a loss of 1.1 per cent. Thus large convoys appeared to be in fact over twice as safe as small convoys.

Although the calculations appeared reliable, Blackett knew that the Admiralty would be reluctant to introduce larger convoys, and so ORU began gathering evidence to strengthen the case for a change. Accounts by captured U-boat personnel proved very enlightening, and after several weeks of intensive work sufficient evidence had been gathered. It was discovered that the chances of any individual merchantman being sunk during any voyage depended on three factors:

(a) the chance that the convoy in which it sailed would be sighted; (b) the chance that, having sighted the convoy, a U-boat would penetrate the screen of escort vessels around it; and (c) the chance that when a U-boat had penetrated the screen the merchant ship would be sunk. It was found: (a) that the chance of a convoy being sighted was nearly the same for large and small convoys; (b) that the chance that a U-boat would penetrate the screen depended only on the linear density of escorts, that is, on the number of escort vessels for each mile of perimeter to be defended; and (c) that when a U-boat did penetrate the screen, the number of merchant ships sunk was the same for both large and small convoys – simply because there were always more than enough targets.

The researchers concluded that, given the same linear escort strength, the same absolute number of sinkings could be expected, irrespective of convoy size, and the percentage of losses would be inversely proportional to size. Thus the number of convoys sighted should be reduced by decreasing the number of convoys run, which could be achieved by increasing convoy size. After ‘some weeks of earnest argument’ new orders were issued in spring 1943; before long convoys of up to a hundred ships were crossing the Atlantic.

Coastal Command was receiving ASV III for its aircraft towards the end of 1942 and aircraft so fitted became operational early in 1943. Terence Bulloch, who was resting from operations, took part in testing ASV III and was impressed with its quality which ‘was many times easier to interpret and presented the information in a readily acceptable form, the Planned Position Indicator’. ASV III’s beams could not be detected by Metox and so the advantage conferred by that equipment waned. Boats crossing the Bay by night had felt much safer with Metox to warn of the presence of an ASV II-equipped aircraft, but, once again, they found themselves being attacked without warning. Surfaced U-boats elsewhere were taken by surprise when a Coastal Command aircraft appeared from low clouds. Although U-boats had been fitted with anti-aircraft armament, the conning tower and deck of a submarine was not a steady gun platform, but U-boats that fought it out on the surface could inflict serious damage, often bringing down aircraft.

With more VLR and LR aircraft available, the air gap was being reduced steadily. The advent of escort carriers and MAC-ships finally removed it completely. During May the U-bootwaffe would learn that there was no safe area in the North Atlantic. Land-based aircraft and flying boats operated from Newfoundland, Iceland and Northern Ireland, and the US Navy had opened bases in Greenland, from which some B-24s could operate in favourable conditions; the Greenland Fleet Air Group included detached elements of US Navy squadrons which, in April 1943, included two PBY-5A Catalinas from HQ Squadron Fleet Air Wing 7, and three Lockheed Venturas and three Catalinas from VB-126.7 Coastal Command disposed almost thirty squadrons, including four-engined Liberators, Halifaxes, Fortresses and Sunderlands, and twin-engined Catalinas, Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hudsons. The Handley Page Halifax was one of Bomber Command’s ‘heavies’ but some had been lent to Coastal and proved excellent long-range aircraft.

Some of these aircraft were called into action again in support of B7 which, having fought HX231 through to the UK, left Londonderry to escort ONS5 to North America. The convoy, forty-two ships, left Liverpool on 21 April with B7 joining next day. HMS Duncan, Gretton’s own ship, was back and he also had Tay and the corvettes Loosestrife, Pink, Snowflake and Sunflower. Although Vidette remained with the group, she had sailed earlier for Iceland to escort three ships joining the convoy. As well as two rescue trawlers, Northern Gem and Northern Spray, there were two tankers to refuel escorts; one would prove of no use since its hose system was canvas rather than rubber. Initially the voyage was uneventful but for the weather, which was so bad that two ships collided with one making for Iceland for repairs.

Apart from a false alarm on the 24th there were no signs of U-boats until four days later when HF/DF intercepted a signal from straight ahead and close to the convoy. In between, in the afternoon of the 24th, a Fortress from Benbecula-based No.206 Squadron attacked and sank U-710, which was lying ahead of the convoy on its course. It appeared that ONS5 might escape interception but the boat from which the signal was heard on the 28th proved to be U-650, which shadowed the convoy all day, awaiting another fourteen boats which had been ordered to join her and attack that night. With inclement weather preventing aircraft interdicting the gathering wolfpack, it became obvious that a battle loomed.

The other boats being called up were U-533, U-386, U-231, U-532, U-378, U-192, U-258, U-552, U-954, U-648, U-209, U-413 and U-710, forming the Star wolfpack, which included the boats of the former Meise group and six that had deployed with Meise two days earlier. They had been patrolling between Iceland and Greenland, just south of the amended course Western Approaches Command had advised the convoy to take that morning, a course intended to keep the convoy as far as possible from known U-boat concentrations. Oberleutnant Ernst von Witzendorff, of U-650, could only see six ships and, from his sighting report, U-boat headquarters assumed that he had spotted part of ONS6, which had yet to leave Liverpool. Since von Witzendorff was forced to submerge several times by Catalinas of VP-84 from Iceland, his failure to see more ships can be understood. Nonetheless his signal brought four boats to join him that day; escorts attacked the U-boats that night.

HMS Sunflower depth-charged U-386, damaging her, while U-532 and U-650, having launched torpedoes at Snowflake and Duncan, were also depth-charged. During the 29th U-532 was attacked again, this time by Tay, while U-258, in a daytime attack, sank an American merchantman and U-528, damaged by a Catalina of VP-84, had to make for home. Both U-386 and U-532 sustained such serious damage that they also had to break off. The destroyer Oribi was ordered to leave SC127 to augment B7 while 3rd Support Group, with the destroyers Offa, Impulsive, Penn and Panther under Captain James McCoy DSO, an Irishman with an Italian wife, was ordered from St John’s to support ONS5. The weather was so bad that McCoy’s group had difficulty finding the convoy and did not make contact until 8.00pm on 2 May.

With poor weather and reduced visibility on 30 April and 1 May, the U-boats lost contact after an unsuccessful night attack by U-192. Conditions were such that the convoy had to heave to in gale-force 10 winds, which resulted in some ships becoming separated from the main body; escorts could not refuel due to heavy seas, the threat from icebergs, and pack ice. Six ships straggled, but Northern Spray tried to keep them together, while a further half dozen were gathered together to be shepherded by HMS Pink.

After 3rd Support Group joined, the convoy came out of the ice but scattered widely. Had the weather been good the stragglers would have fallen victim to U-boats but these had also suffered and had been ordered to break off operations late on the 1st.14 On the 3rd Duncan, short of fuel and with another gale raging, had to make for St John’s and Lieutenant Commander Sherwood of Tay assumed the duties of senior officer B7. Next day, two of McCoy’s group, Penn and Panther, had to leave to refill their tanks. Western Approaches Command then ordered 1st Support Group to reinforce the escort; this group, under Commander Godfrey Brewer, included the sloop HMS Pelican, the cutter Sennen and four Rivers, Rother, Spey, Wear and Jed.

German attention switched for a time to SC128 with boats of the Star and Specht groups forming a patrol line across its expected route. This patrol line, Fink, was augmented by another, Amsel, formed by boats newly-arrived from France and further divided into Amsel 1 to 4. In total, more than forty boats deployed. The German plan was foiled, thanks to an Ultra decrypt that allowed SC128 to be re-routed away from the waiting wolfpacks. Allied aircraft also deployed and a Royal Canadian Air Force Canso (the RCAF name for the Catalina) attacked and damaged U-209; another Canso damaged U-438. U-209 subsequently disappeared and may have sunk as a result of the damage. At the time a Canso was believed to have sunk U-63016 but this boat was actually destroyed by Vidette on 6 May.

While SC128 escaped the planned ambush, ONS5 ran into the concentration, meeting the patrol line from the other side. Weather conditions meant that the convoy had only progressed by twenty miles. When U-628 made its sighting report the Fink and Amsel 1 and 2 groups were ordered to attack ONS5. ‘The real battle was joined after dark on the 4th’. By then the weather had improved, allowing some thirty ships to re-assemble. Pink and Northern Spray were still escorting stragglers, one of which, the SS Lorient, became the first victim of the renewed assault. Lorient was torpedoed and sunk by U-125 which was destroyed two days later by gunfire from Snowflake, having been rammed by Oribi.

That night Oribi, Snowflake and Vidette depth-charged and damaged three boats, which withdrew, although U-514 resumed its patrol some days later. The U-boats pressed home their attacks with U-707 attacking from the front, diving under, passing below, and attacking and sinking a straggler. U-628 penetrated the screen to fire five torpedoes at five targets but only damaged a single ship, which the same U-boat subsequently finished off. At much the same time, U-264 made a similar attack with five torpedoes, four of which found targets: the American West Maximus and the British Harperley were sunk. After that U-358 fired three torpedoes sinking Bristol City and Wentworth.

Attacks continued next day. Dönitz had taken command, exhorting his commanders to seize any opportunity. Serial submerged daylight attacks followed, putting considerable pressure on the escorts. U-638 sank the steamer Dolius but, hunted down by Sunflower and Loosestrife, was sunk by the latter. Another multiple-torpedo attack, by U-266, claimed three ships with four projectiles, the Norwegian Bonde and the British Gharinda and Selvistan. Offa damaged U-266 which was sunk ten days later by a Halifax of No.58 Squadron. An American steamer from the stragglers with Pink was torpedoed by U-584 in the afternoon while Pink was engaging U-358, which had made the first attack on the stragglers, thus allowing U-584 a clear run. U-358 had to return to France.

That evening a Liberator of No.120 Squadron from Iceland spent a short time overhead but was at the limit of its endurance and could not loiter, even though it was a VLR machine. Undeterred by the Liberator, the U-boats continued gathering. Before the light faded Tay had spotted seven boats but there were no fewer than fifteen already in contact. Dönitz continued encouraging commanders to greater efforts as he ‘anticipated that the night would bring some hard fighting, but also considerable success’.

With the escorts running low on depth charges, it threatened to be a very bad night. However, as evening was falling, ONS5 sailed into a thick fogbank, which worked to the advantage of the escorts and merchantmen since the former could still find the U-boats with their radar, which Metox could not detect. Nonetheless, attacks continued throughout the night, about twenty-four being made from every direction except ahead, before the attackers eased off at 4.20am on the 6th. In a very confused situation the escorts, well trained and very experienced, had gained the upper hand. Dönitz’s headquarters’ war diary reads:

A golden opportunity had thus been ruined by fog; no further success was scored by any U-boat. During this fog period alone fifteen boats were attacked with depth charges and six of them were located by destroyers, surprised on the surface and engaged with gunfire. The lack of any means of counteracting this radar location undoubtedly left the boats in an inferior and, indeed, hopeless position.

Seven U-boats were lost, including U-531 and U-630, both sunk by Vidette. Loosestrife depth-charged U-575 without success before obtaining a radar fix on U-192. As the corvette loomed out of the mist at about 500 yards, the U-boat launched two torpedoes at her, both of which missed. A pattern of depth charges, set for shallow detonation, destroyed the still-surfaced submarine. Snowflake chased off U-107 with depth charges before beginning a search for another four boats that had appeared on her radar. While Snowflake was engaging some of those with gunfire, Oribi appeared from the fog and rammed U-125 which the corvette then sank with gunfire. Offa, which had made five attacks before midnight, damaged U-223 with gunfire and depth charges. Also damaged was U-533 but both escaped destruction; U-223 was damaged again on the 11th when she was depth-charged to the surface by Hesperus which then rammed her; she survived the encounter and limped home. While escorts and U-boats were fighting, Brewer’s 1st Support Group arrived and joined in the fray. Pelican found U-438 by radar and closed to within 300 yards before being spotted. The boat crash-dived too late as a fusillade of shallow-set depth charges sent her to the bottom. Meanwhile Sennen raced to join Pink and her charges, en route attacking both U-650 and U-575 with depth charges and Hedgehog. Neither sustained serious damage. Spey fell into station behind the convoy and drove off U-634 with gunfire; the boat was hit by two rounds but not damaged seriously.

Success, let alone ‘considerable success’, had eluded Dönitz. When he realized the scale of his losses he called off the engagement. Although twelve merchantmen had been sunk, not including the vessel on 29 April, he ‘regarded this convoy battle as a defeat’. He writes that the 10-centimetre radar with which the escorts were equipped had ‘a direct and extremely adverse effect on the fighting of the individual U-boat’. For the Royal Navy, the ONS5 battle was remarkable in that most defensive work had been done by surface escorts who, in spite of what looked like overwhelming numbers, fought off a very large wolfpack; in all, as many as fifty-five U-boats deployed against ONS5. The US Navy Intelligence Service estimated that, on the evening of 5 May, fifteen boats were in contact with the convoy while another ten to fifteen were no more than fifteen nautical miles away. Captain James McCoy stated that ‘the convoy was threatened with annihilation’. ONS5 was also memorable as the last time so many merchant ships were lost in convoy.

Dönitz had not given up the fight and when B-Dienst provided details of the next two eastbound convoys, HX237 and SC129, he ordered thirty-six U-boats to attack. The convoys were to take more southerly routes, passing not far from the Azores. HX237 was protected by C2 under Lieutenant Commander Evelyn Chavasse DSC, which included HM Ships Broadway, Lagan and Primrose and HM Canadian Ships Chambly, Drumheller and Morden with HM Trawler Vizalma and a tug. Thus half of this RCN group was made up of British ships and the Irish Chavasse was a Royal Navy officer. For its journey across the Atlantic HX237’s escort was reinforced by 5th Support Group with Biter and the destroyers Opportune, Obdurate and Pathfinder; commanding the group was Captain Conolly Abel Smith, whose maternal grandfather was the Irish VC John Augustus Connolly.

At first Abel Smith refused to place his carrier within the convoy from where his destroyers could ‘reinforce the very sketchy close screen’ and act as a striking force. Instead, he planned to operate between twenty to fifty miles from the convoy. That was not the only friction that Chavasse had to face at the start of the journey:

On 6 May C2 … sailed from St John’s [although] the Vizalma, the tug and one merchant ship sailed late to intercept, and Biter and his boys sailed from Argentia. The usual thing happened, as so often in May: fog closed down. The convoy itself, unknown to me, became almost completely scattered and disorganized …, and we had the greatest difficulty in finding it. Most of the Local Escort had lost touch, and the situation was most confused. Homing on to them by radar was useless, and we had to resort to a lot of chatter by R/T (radio/telephone) in an effort to make contact. No doubt U-boats were avidly listening and licking their chops in anticipation …; and in fact I was rebuked from shore for using too much wireless. But there was no alternative. At dusk on the 6th we did find a few ships of the Western Local Escort … but no convoy, and throughout the night we chugged along together on convoy course and speed.

As dawn broke, on the 7th, the weather was clearer. The Biter, who was to the northward of us, put up an air search, found the convoy, and signalled to me a course to steer, which turned out to be wildly wrong. I put all my ships on an extended screen at visual distance from each other and, by the greatest good fortune, the ship at the extreme end of the screen sighted the convoy on a totally different bearing. … By afternoon we were in touch.

Abel Smith’s refusal to bring the support group, including Biter, into the convoy was causing problems. On 8 May, a slightly misty day, Biter flew off aircraft which failed to find the convoy ‘and were therefore quite useless’ to Chavasse in detecting and reporting U-boats since the Swordfish crews did not know the convoy’s position. Since the position of Biter and her destroyers relative to the convoy had not been established, the carrier could not be used to ‘fix’ any high-frequency signals that might be intercepted. With deteriorating weather on the 9th, Biter was unable to fly off any aircraft. That was the day the first U-boat appeared. At the time Broadway was refuelling.

Broadway received what was called a ‘close-range B-bar’, in other words a wireless transmission from a U-boat, dead astern of the convoy, and not far away. We were temporarily connected by hosepipe to the tanker, and while we were hastily disengaging I ordered Primrose, who was stationed astern of the convoy, to search and, if possible, attack. At the same time I informed Biter, but she could not do anything useful, as she didn’t know where we were. Primrose, however, actually spotted the U-boat, which hastily dived, but she did not make asdic contact and she later regained her station on the screen astern of the convoy.

By this stage, the Admiralty had recognized the folly of Biter operating so far from the convoy and, on 10 May, Abel Smith was told to take 5th Support Group into the convoy, placing himself under the orders of the escort commander. The commodore made space for the ships in the heart of HX237. From that point on, ‘we never looked back’ as Biter did magnificent work, flying off aircraft in spite of foul weather and never once refusing a request to send aircraft out on a sortie; the carrier’s embarked unit was No.811 NAS, with a mix of Swordfish bombers and Wildcat fighters, still known as Martlets in British service. In a series of ‘superb feats of sea-plus-airmanship in the most difficult conditions imaginable’, Biter made a tremendous contribution to the safety of HX237. C2 and Abel Smith’s group had become that most valuable asset, a co-ordinated team as Swordfish kept watch over the seas around the convoy while the fleet destroyers, each capable of over 30 knots, chased down any submarine spotted near the merchantmen and C2, ‘perhaps a little more experienced in these matters’, provided the final close protection.

The Battle of Dover (also called the Battle of Sandwich) (August 1217)

It was on St Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August 1217, that a French fleet of around eighty vessels sailed before southerly winds ‘in a formation so tight and orderly’ up the Kentish coast towards the Isle of Thanet and the Thames estuary. It was bound for London, held by the Dauphin Louis of France. ‘That day was a very fine and clear one and it was possible to see far out to sea,’ said the poem dedicated to the deeds of William the Marshal. So there can be little doubt that the French flotilla was observed from the White Cliffs north of Dover – perhaps not by William himself, as the thirteenth-century English chronicler Matthew Paris suggests, but certainly by someone. According to the poem, William had made sure of it as soon as he had learned of the convoy’s imminent departure from Calais a few days before, ‘for he knew beyond any doubt that, if that French fleet out there was able to put to shore, then the game would have disastrous results and England would be lost’.

The outcome of the First Barons’ War and the concomitant invasion of England by Louis, heir to the throne of France, was very much in the balance. While Louis had suffered a devastating setback when his forces lost Lincoln in May, he remained entrenched in London with his army still intact, including ‘the majority of the barons’. Moreover, King John’s heir, Henry III, was only nine. William, his protector, needed time to garner support and shore up the young king’s grip on government – something that significant reinforcements from France would likely curtail. The northern nobility and the so-called ‘Barons of the Cinque Ports’ had already demonstrated a dismaying propensity to support whichever side seemed to be winning – and, with reinforcements, that could be Louis and the rebel lords. William understood that the best chance for the royalist cause was to preclude the French fleet from ever reaching its destination. To that end, he had beckoned the ‘Barons of the Cinque Ports’ to Romney on 19 August and bade them face the French fleet in return for the restoration of their privileged status and all the plunder they could win. Although still bitter over King John’s overbearing treatment in the past, they agreed, and a watch was set.

That said, when the French armada first appeared, the sailors of the Cinque Ports were daunted. The Dauphin’s wife, Blanche of Castile, had gathered a formidable fleet. The History of William Marshal estimated it at 300 vessels, but the figure of eighty given by both Roger of Wendover, a contemporary English chronicler, and the anonymous thirteenth-century Histoire des Ducs de Normandie et des Rois d’Angleterre (‘History of the Dukes of Normandy and of the Kings of England’) is probably closer to the truth. Of these, ten were great ships, containing most of the knights (around 125, estimates English historian Henry Cannon) and men-at-arms. The remainder were smaller transports, carrying equipment and provisions. ‘Their pilot and commander’ was the almost mythical mercenary mariner Eustace the Monk. A former friar at the Benedictine Abbey of St Vulmer at Samer near Boulogne, he had renounced his vows in order to fend for his family when his father was murdered. He served as seneschal for Count Reynaud of Boulogne until false accusations from his father’s murderer prompted him to flee, eventually reaching England, where he took up employment with King John. For a number of years, basically between 1205 and 1212, he commanded a small flotilla which ravaged French interests in the English Channel, ultimately setting himself up in the Channel Islands. He switched allegiance to King Philip II Augustus over John’s alliance with Reynaud of Boulogne just before the First Barons’ War broke out. He then raided the south and east coasts of England, including the Cinque Ports, earning the reputation cited by Roger of Wendover as ‘a most disgraceful man and a wicked pirate’. He was also a highly competent commander, for which the sailors of the Cinque Ports realized they had no counterpart – that is, at least until Hubert de Burgh showed up at Sandwich with ships from Dover to stiffen their resolve.

William had wanted to assume command of the English fleet himself, but he must have been nearly seventy at the time and his entourage convinced him that the king would be better served if he remained ashore to direct the overall defence of the realm. Thus, it fell to Hubert de Burgh as Justiciar of the kingdom to command the fleet which comprised ‘sixteen well-armed ships, not including some small ones which accompanied them to the number of twenty’, reported Matthew Paris, to whom Hubert provided an eye-witness account many years later. With him were two prominent knights from the garrison at Dover: Henry de Turville and Richard Suard. They embarked upon what the History of William Marshal described as ‘a magnificent ship equipped with a fine crew’, which must have included sailors from the Cinque Ports. Richard FitzJohn, the bastard son of King John, took charge of another. Philip d’Aubigny apparently assumed command of one as well, while William had his own men-at-arms crew what his History specifically called a ‘cog’, probably fitted with at least a sterncastle. This may, in fact, have been Hubert’s ship, but the various accounts are confused in this regard. Both Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris claim the English also had galleys with ‘iron rostra’ or rams, but this surely was an imaginative invention based upon classical precedents.

The flagship of the French fleet was designated ‘the great ship of Bayonne’ by William’s History, which also said that ‘it housed the king’s treasury’. On board with Eustace were thirty-six highly placed knights; the most exalted was Robert de Courtenay, uncle to the queen of France. He actually held precedence over Eustace. In addition, there were Ralph de la Tourniele and William des Barres, two of Philip’s finest. Three other great ships carried the rest of the knights and the remaining six transported most of the men-at-arms. The History claims that the vessel from Bayonne was in the van, but this would have been highly unlikely. The History of William Marshal itself explained why: ‘the monk’s ship was greatly overloaded and could only sit so deep down in the waves that the water almost washed over her, the reason being that it carried the siege engine (a trebuchet) and a very heavy load besides, including the fine horses shipped for Louis’. In all probability, Eustace’s ship lagged last, a circumstance which would go a long way towards illuminating why the battle unfolded as it did.

As the French fleet streamed northwards with a following wind through the Downs past Sandwich, Hubert de Burgh led his squadron out luffing into the wind, seemingly to intercept it. Instead, he merely feigned an attack and continued due southeast towards Calais, passing astern of the French flagship. Eustace then assumed that Calais was the objective and dismissed it as a foolish assault on a well fortified port. By this time the French fleet, sailing in close order, had covered much of the distance to the Isle of Thanet and Eustace was inclined to simply stay the course. Unfortunately for the French cause, he was not in charge. Robert de Courtenay, believing the outnumbered and outmanned English vessels which had approached so slowly as they close-hauled into the wind were easy prey, ordered the ship to turn and engage. While Eustace’s morality and loyalty could be questioned, his seamanship could not. He must surely have sensed that his fate had been sealed the second his ship came about. What Hubert de Burgh was actually doing was acquiring the ‘weather gage’: the upwind position. Moreover, since it was morning, the sun must have been shining out of the east. Hubert now turned to put both the wind and the sun at his back. The crew of ‘the great ship of Bayonne’, on the other hand, found themselves in a ponderous, overburdened vessel stalled to windward with the sun in their eyes facing a line of English ships bent upon their destruction.

The first of the English great ships to reach the slow, barely manoeuvrable French flagship was evidently that of Richard FitzJohn. The French resisted desperately but three other English ships soon joined the fray, one of which was the cog containing William Marshal’s men-at-arms. Meanwhile, the rest of the French fleet, pushed by the southerly winds, must have continued on course to the north for some time before realizing that their flagship was engaged. The English cog, lightly loaded and high in the water, quickly turned the tide of battle. The usual fusillade of missiles included pots of quicklime hurled from the castle of the cog down onto the deck of ‘the great ship of Bayonne’. Several of the contemporary sources testified to the tactic, which makes perfect sense, given the wind and height advantage. Its crew blinded, the French flagship was easily boarded by William’s men, who jumped from the cog down onto the deck, scattering the now hapless and helpless French knights. It was probably all over quite quickly. All thirty-six French knights were taken prisoner.

Battle of La Malmaison, 23-27 October 1917

Red Poppies Campaigns: Volume 3 – Assault Artillery – La Malmaison

The Battle of La Malmaison, 23-27 October 1917, in which the French employed their Artillerie Spéciale (tank force) and creeping barrage to capture Pinon, Vaudesson, and the coveted Chemin des Dames ridge. The French victory confirmed their recovery from the mutinies spawned by the disastrous Nivelle Offensive fought over some of the same ground six months earlier.  

In a six-day preliminary bombardment, French guns, with a three to one advantage, silenced most of their German counterparts and smothered German rear areas with dense gas to impeded German reinforcements. At 0515 on October 23, (zero hour) six divisions of the French XI, XIV, and XXI corps attacked on a 7.5-mile wide front. French infantry advanced in the predawn twilight behind an elaborate creeping barrage with 63 Schneider and Saint-Chamond tanks in support. Twenty-seven of the 63 tanks bogged before reaching the front line. A combination of German fire and mud stopped 15 more in no man’s land.  Twenty-one French tanks (1/3rd of the starting total) actually made it to the German second position. The French 38th Division captured Fort de Malmaison and XXI Corps took Allemant and Vaudesson. From 24 to 25 October, XXI and XIV corps advanced while I Cavalry Corps came forward to exploit a hoped-for German collapse.

With specialized “eingreif” companies sprinkled all along the front, the Germans launched numerous local counterattacks. However, the French wave was inexorable.  Still, the German 7thArmy retired from the Chemin-des-Dames to the north bank of the Ailette in good order.

By October 26, the French had gained 3.5 miles in some places at a cost of only 12,000 casualties, far fewer than Germany’s 38,000 and a significant improvement over the 30,000 French losses suffered in the same area during April’s Nivelle Offensive. The French also bagged about 11,500 German prisoners. The Artillerie Spéciale proved its worth by smothering numerous German machine gun posts.

The first French tank. Based on the Holt Tractor design, the first were ordered beginning in February 1916. The Schneider Char d’Assaut 1 (CA1) went into action on the Chemin des Dames on 16 April 1917, during the Nivelle Offensive. Later the Japanese purchased a few. Designed primarily for infantry support, the CA1 had poor cross-country mobility and trench-spanning ability; gasoline tanks were vulnerable to enemy fire.

Although the British built the first tanks, the French actually built many more of them (4,800 French tanks to 2,818 for the British). The French first became interested in a tracked vehicle in 1915, as a means to flatten barbed wire. Then, that December, a French artillery colonel, Jean E. Estienne, wrote General Joffre suggesting that the French build caterpillar-type vehicles similar to the Holt tractors he observed in use by the British to move about their artillery. Estienne, who stressed the need for speed in development, proposed an armored box that would mount a quick-firing gun.

In February 1916, following an investigation of the possibilities, Joffre ordered 400 of these from the Schneider Company and, shortly thereafter, another 400 from the Compagnie des Forges d’Honecourt at Saint Chamond. The first Schneider CA1 was delivered to the French Army on 8 September 1816. It was not an innovative design. It basically consisted of an armored box hull mounted on a Holt tractor chassis. The chief changes from the original design were that the Schneider had a crew of six men rather than four and mounted a short 75mm gun instead of a 37mm main gun. The Schneider weighed some 32,200 pounds and had a vertical coil suspension system. Double doors at the rear provided access for the crew, and there was a ventilator attached to the top. The 75mm main gun was mounted on the right-hand side facing forward; the Schneider also had two machine guns, one to each side. Maximum armor thickness was 11.5mm and its 70-hp liquid-cooled engine could drive the tank at a maximum speed of 3.7 mph.

Ordered slightly after the CA1, the St. Chamond first saw action in the April 1917 Nivelle Offensive. At end of the war 72 of 400 were still in service. Later Lithuania and Spain secured some examples. Dual controls allowed the St. Chamond to be driven from either end, but like the Schneider it suffered from poor cross-country performance.

The St. Chamond was far bigger than the Schneider. It weighed 50,700 pounds and had a 90-hp engine that produced a maximum speed of 5.3 mph. Dual controls allowed the tank to be driven from either end, but it had poor cross-country maneuverability. Its crew of nine men manned a 75mm main gun and four machine guns. Its 75mm, unlike that on the Schneider, was a normal rather than short-barreled gun. Unlike the British, the French did not place great emphasis on trench-spanning or cross-terrain capability in their armored vehicles and thus their types were inferior to those of their ally in cross-terrain capability. The Schneider could only span a trench of 70 inches, a major shortcoming. The St. Chamond could span an 8-foot trench. As with all the early tanks, the St. Chamond was mechanically unreliable; and with the moving parts of the engine exposed inside the tank, the tank interior was a dangerous place for the crew. The St. Chamond seemed superior on paper to the Schneider because of its superior main gun, longer track, and an electrical as opposed to mechanical transmission, which made driving it far easier. But its greater weight made it less maneuverable over soft ground, and the front of its hull projected well over the tracks, greatly reducing its trench-spanning ability. It also was far less reliable mechanically than the Schneider.

By the summer of 1916 the British and French were producing numbers of tanks, but unfortunately for the Allied side, there was no design coordination or joint plan for their use. The British, who had the lead in their production, were also the first to employ tanks in battle.

Astonishingly, the French and British worked on the new war weapons quite independently. As with the British, the French endeavored to keep their work secret; but unlike their ally, the French resisted the temptation to use the new weapon before they thought they had sufficient numbers. One can thus imagine the chagrin of the French to learn that the British had employed their tanks first. The French did not deploy their tanks until seven months later, during the April 1917 Nivelle Offensive on the Western Front.

In July 1916 Colonel Estienne had been reassigned from his artillery command at Verdun and attached to Joffre’s headquarters in order to organize and command the French tank units, what became known as the “Artillerie d’assault.” Estienne organized the tanks into groups (groupes) of 16 tanks each, each of which was organized as the artillery into four batteries of four tanks. Organization of the Artillerie d’assault began in August 1916 at Marly near Paris (the first group was organized that October). Later the French established a training center at Cercottes near Orléans. Estienne also established his headquarters at Champlieu, where a tank camp was also located. By the end of March Estienne had assembled there 13 groups of Schneiders and two of St. Chamonds. The crews were drawn from the army and even the navy, but for the most part they came from the cavalry, which was steadily being reduced in numbers during the course of the war. As with the first British tank units, the crews for the most part lacked any technical expertise whatsoever, although the French assumed that two to three months’ training would be sufficient.

Much to Estienne’s profound disappointment, the British employment of tanks at the Somme the previous September ended the possibility of a surprise mass attack and caused the Germans to widen their trenches. His original plan had been for a surprise mass attack against the German trenches in which the tanks would precede the infantry. Upon crossing the first trench line, half of the tanks were to pin down the German defenders with fire, allowing the infantry to flow through the gaps opened and secure the German trenches.

Estienne now scaled down his ambitions and developed new tactics. Under these, the tanks were assigned the more modest role of serving as a form of “portable artillery” operating in support of infantry. Their task was to accompany the infantry and reduce those pockets of resistance not wiped out in the preliminary bombardment. This became stated French armor doctrine into World War II.

Estienne’s general order of January 1917 called for tank assaults to be mounted in early morning and in fog, if possible. Attacks were to be continuous with the tanks to be capable of moving at 2 mph for up to six hours to be followed by carriers transporting fuel and supplies. Estienne also stressed the need for thorough coordination beforehand with infantry, artillery, and aircraft. Infantry operating with the tanks were to be specially trained and would assist the tanks in crossing obstacles. Tanks were, however, free to move ahead of the infantry if unimpeded.

Although all 400 tanks ordered from the Schneider Works were to have been delivered by 25 November 1916, only eight were in army hands by that date. These were also of lighter construction, being built for training purposes. By mid-January 1917 there were only 32 training tanks. By April 1917, when their first tanks saw action, the French had 200 Schneiders ready, four times the number the British had used on the Somme. There were only 16 Chamonds available by that date, and the only ones to accompany the Schneiders were four unarmed vehicles used to carry supplies.


At 6:00 a. m. on 16 April 1917, following a 14-day bombardment by 5,544 guns, the French army commander, General Robert Nivelle, launched a massive offensive against the Germans in the Champagne area of the Western Front. Touted by Nivelle as a means to break the deadlock on the Western Front, the offensive is known as the Second Battle of the Aisne and Third Battle of Champagne and also the Nivelle (or Spring) Offensive. Unfortunately the plans had been so widely discussed as to be an open secret; the Germans even captured a copy of the French operations order in a trench raid before the attack. The Germans had built a defense-in-depth and pulled back most of their front-line troops, which meant that the effect of the preliminary French bombardment was largely wasted against a lightly held German forward defensive zone. On 16 April General Joseph Alfred Micheler’s 1.2 million-man Reserve Army Group attacked along a 40-mile section of front between Soissons and Reims, his objective the wooded ridges paralleling the front known as the Chemin des Dames. The brunt of the attack was borne by General Charles Mangin’s Sixth Army and General Olivier Mazel’s Fifth Army.

In the attack Mazel’s Fifth Army deployed 128 Schneider tanks. Although they went into action the first day, they contributed little to the outcome of the battle, their crews finding it difficult to negotiate the rough terrain. St. Chamonds first saw action several weeks later at Laffaux Mill on 5 May 1917, but they experienced similar problems and indeed did not perform as well as the Schneiders. Many broke down during the long approach march and did not even make it to the battlefield. From the group of 16, only 12 made it to the line of departure. Several more were unable to advance, and three were destroyed in action.

The Schneiders and St. Chamonds had little impact on the outcome of the offensive, which the French called off on 9 May with only minimal gains. Far from winning the war, the Nivelle Offensive turned into near-disaster for the French army, as it led to widespread mutinies among the French front-line divisions. New French army commander, General Henri Philippe Pétain, charged with restoring the army, sought to improve conditions for the men and address their concerns. He told them he would not spend their lives needlessly and that he would remain on the defensive until such time as a true war-winning offensive was possible. “I am waiting for the Americans and the tanks,” he declared.

Despite major battles along the Western Front in 1917 and attendant wastages of manpower and military equipment, the Western powers continued to build up their tank strength. Training and tactics also improved. By late November the French had some 500 Schneiders and St. Chamonds.


Battle of Kesselsdorf

Leopold von Dessau & Frederick Augustus Rutowsky


A map of the Battle of Kesselsdorf, fought on 15 December 1745 between the Prussian army, commanded by Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau (1676-1747) and the Austro-Saxon army, commanded by Field Marshal Frederick Augustus, Count Rutowsky (1702-64), resulting in a Prussian victory. War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). Oriented with north to top.

This topographical map, with its green woods and blue streams, the carmine-coloured buildings, does not convey the icy terrain of 15 December 1745. Dresden, on the eastern margin of the map, was to be the venue for the talks which led to the Treaty of Dresden, 18 December 1745, recognising the transfer of Silesia from Austria to Prussia. The defense of the city was entrusted to Count Rutowski with his Saxon army, with, theoretically, the 46,000-strong Austrian army led by Prince Charles of Lorraine. In the event, the conflict was between Prince Leopold’s Prussian army, which had advanced from the west, and Count Rutowksi’s forces. The loss of life was substantial.

The Battle of Kesselsdorf was fought on 15 December 1745, between the Kingdom of Prussia and the combined forces of the Archduchy of Austria and the Electorate of Saxony during the part of the War of the Austrian Succession known as the Second Silesian War. The Prussians were led by Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, while the Austrians and Saxons were led by Field Marshal Rutowsky. The Prussians were victorious over the Royal Saxon Army and the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Two Prussian columns, one led by Frederick, the second by the Leopold the ‘Old Dessauer’ were converging on Dresden, the capital of Saxony, which was then an Austrian ally. Interposed between Leopold and Dresden was Rutowsky with an army of Saxons. Rapidly marching towards Dresden and Rutowsky was prince Charles who hoped to be able to reinforce both. Leopold moved slowly and deliberately forward entering Saxon territory on 29 November and advanced on Rutowsky at Leipzig, whereupon Rutowsky retired towards Dresden. By 12 December, Leopold reached Meissen and joined with a corps under Lehwaldt. Rutowsky was reinforced by some Austrians under Grünne and took up a position at Kesselsdorf, 5 miles west of Dresden, that covered Dresden while leaving him closer to the advancing Charles than Leopold was to Frederick. The Saxons deployed along a ridge that ran from Kesselsdorf to the river Elbe and that was fronted by a stream and marshy ground. The 7,000 Austrians under Grünne formed on the right near the Elbe. The line was long and there was a considerable gap in its center between the Saxons and the Austrians. On the fifteenth, Leopold finally came up. There was much snow and ice on the field.


The Prussians were slightly outnumbered 35,000 to 32,000. Additionally, the Saxons and Austrians had the advantage of the ground. Dessauer, a long experienced general now sixty eight years old, perceived that by taking the town of Kesselsdorf the enemies flank could be turned and concentrated his efforts against the Saxon portion of the army. The Saxons had the town defended with twenty-four heavy cannons, [4] their engineers and carpenters enhancing its defensibility. Leopold made dispositions for an attack by an elite force of infantry and grenadiers, however the ground was very difficult and the first attack was repulsed with considerable loss, including the officer leading the attack, General Hertzberg. A second, reinforced attack was made and this too failed with the Prussians fleeing in disorder. The Prussians had suffered some 1,500 casualties from the attacking forces of 3,500.

The Saxon grenadiers seeing the flight of the Prussians left their strong defensive position and made an impetuous pursuit of the Prussians which exposed them to a massed charge by the dragoons of the Prussian cavalry. The shock of the charge sent the Saxons tumbling back and through their former position in Kesselsdorf, driving them from the field. At this same time, Leopold’s son, Prince Moritz, personally led an infantry regiment which broke through the Saxon center. The regiment, although isolated, held its ground while other Prussian regiments attempted but failed to link up with it due to the stubbornness of the Saxon defence. Eventually, Leopold’s success in taking Kesselsdorf bore fruit and the Saxon flank was turned causing the Saxon line to collapse and their army to flee at nightfall.

The Prussians’ losses amounted to over sixteen hundred killed and more than three thousand wounded, while the Saxon losses were less than four thousand killed and wounded with almost seven thousand Saxons taken prisoner as well as forty-eight cannon and seven standards. [5] During the battle, the Austrians on the right never fired a shot, while Charles, who had reached Dresden and could hear the cannon, failed to march to the aid of his ally.

The Saxons fled in a wild panic into Dresden. There, despite the presence of Charles and his army of 18,000 and the Austrians’ willingness to renew battle, they continued to flee. Leopold then linked up his forces with those of Frederick, who was so delighted by the victory that he embraced Leopold personally. The Saxons then abandoned Dresden, which Fredrick and Leopold occupied on the eighteenth after demanding its unconditional surrender. The Austrians subsequently began to negotiate the peace of Dresden immediately, ultimately ending the Second Silesian War and leaving Prussia’s ally, France, to conduct the rest of the war of the Austrian Succession alone.

Prussian Forces – Battle of Kesselsdorf

15 December 1745

Commanding Officer: Prinz von Anhalt-Dessau

Advanced Guard Division:

Soldan (Braun) Hussar Regiment

8th Hussar Regiment

Bonin Dragoon Regiment

Alt-Anhalt Infantry Regiment

Munchow Grenadier Battalion

Anhalt-Dessau Grenadier Battalion (10/22)

Aulack Grenadier Battalion (46/47)

Right Wing Cavalry Division:

Dragoon Brigade:

Alt-Mollendorf Dragoon Regiment

Holstein-Gottorp Dragoon Regiment

Jung-Mollendorf Dragoon Regiment

Cuirassier Brigade:

Liebgarde Cuirassier Regiment

Stille Cuirassier Regiment

Bredow Cuirassier Regiment

Lieb-Karabinier Regiment

Infantry Division:

1st Line:

Schoning Grenadier Battalion (8/30)

Prinz Leopold Infantry Regiment

Anhalt Dessau Infantry Regiment

Prinz von Preussen Infantry Regiment

Bonin Infantry Regiment

Bredow Infantry Regiment

Hertzberg Infantry Regiment

Prinz Moritz Infantry Regiment

Leps Infantry Regiment

Jeetze Infantry Regiment

2nd Line:

Polentz Infantry Regiment

Prinz Ferdinand Infantry Regiment

Alt-Württemberg Infantry Regiment

Jung-Darmstadt Infantry Regiment

53rd Infantry Regiment

Left Wing Cavalry Division:

Cuirassier Brigade:

Buddenbrock Cuirassier Regiment

Prinz Friedrich Cuirassier Regiment

Rochow Cuirassier Regiment

Kyau Cuirassier Regiment

Dragoon Brigade:

Stosch Dragoon Regiment

Bayreuth Dragoon Regiment

Total: 33 Bns infantry = 21,000 33 cannon

93 sqns cavalry = 9,000

Saxon Army – Battle of Kesselsdorf

15 December 1745

Commanding Officer: General Graf Rutowsky

Division: Generallieutenant von Birkholz

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Milkau

Sonderhaus Dragoon Regiment (2)

Rechberg Dragoon Regiment (2)

Königlicher Prinz Dragoon Regiment (2)

Division: Generallieutenant Graf Gru”nne

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister Wallbrunn (Austrian0

Hohenzollern Cuirassier Regiment (7)

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister Elberfeld (Austrian)

Wurmbrand Infantry Regiment (2)

Waldeck Infantry Regiment (2)

Keuhl Infantry Regiment (2)

Division: Generallieutenant Graf Renard

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Grankenberg

Allnpeck Infantry Regiment (2)

Bellegarde Infantry Regiment (2)

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister O’Meaghr

Cosel Infantry Regiment (2)

Rochow Infantry Regiment (2)

Division: Generallieutenant von Diemar

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Pirch

Brühl Infantry Regiment (2)

Weissenfels Infantry Regiment (2)

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Neubaur

Königin Infantry Regiment (2)

2nd Guard Infantry Regiment (2)

Leib-Grenadier-Garde Infantry Regiment (2)

Division: General Chevalier de Saxe

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Rex

Leibkurassier Regiment (2)

Karabinier Regiment (4)

Garde du Corps Regiment (1)

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Pol”tz

Plötz Dragoon Regiment (2)

Arnim Dragoon Regiment (2)


Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Münch

Grenadier Battalions (4)

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Allnpeck

Grenadier Battalions (3)

Division: Generallieutenant von Rochow

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Minkwitz

Rutowsky Dragoon Regiment (4)

Bentheim Dragoon Regiment (4)

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister Bethlehem (Austrian)

Bethlehem Regiment (4)

Stolberg Regiment (2)

Brigade: Generalwachtmeister von Wilster


Brigade: Generalwachtmeister Graf Bellegard

Niesmeuschel Infantry Regiment (2)

Franz Pirch Infantry Regiment (2)

N. Pirch Infantry Regiment (2)


Anonciade Cuirassier Regiment (4)

Ronnow Cuirassier Regiment (2)

Minkwitz Cuirassier Regiment (2)

Prinz Karl Chevauxleger Regiment (4)

Division: von Sybilsky

Bledowsky Uhlan Pulk

Rudnicky Uhlan Pulk

Ulan Uhlan Pulk

Bertuczewsky Uhlan Pulk

Warasdiner Grenz Regiment (1,000)

Sybilsky Chevauxleger Regiment (4)

Schuster & Francke, Geschichte der Sachsischen Armee fon deren Errichtung bis auf die Neueste Zeit


Kakazu-Nishibaru-Yonabaru front April 1945

On April 3, Emperor Hirohito, dissatisfied with what was happening on Okinawa, had directed the Thirty-Second Army to mount a counteroffensive and drive the Americans into the sea, or to make a counter-landing that would dramatically alter the strategic situation.

Hirohito might have seemed a remote demigod to most of his subjects, but he in fact was deeply involved in military matters. On the second day of the Allied invasion of Okinawa, the emperor worried aloud that “if this battle turns out badly, the army and navy would lose the trust of the nation.” By the third day, Hirohito could no longer simply watch from the sidelines. When the emperor’s order to counterattack reached General Ushijima, he could only obey. “All of our troops will attempt to rush forward and wipe out the ugly enemy,” Ushijima replied.

Planning began immediately for a mass nighttime infiltration of the US lines all along the Kakazu-Nishibaru-Yonabaru front. The ebullient General Chō, the Thirty-Second Army chief of staff, was delighted by the opportunity to at last take the initiative. Some staff officers strongly objected—most prominently, Colonel Yahara, the Army’s operations officer. They advocated sticking to the Thirty-Second Army’s original attritional strategy.

The counteroffensive’s primary objectives after breaking through the American lines would be Yontan and Kadena Airfields. Admiral Matome Ugaki, commander of the 5th Air Fleet and former Combined Fleet chief of staff, wrote that it was essential to “nullify the enemy’s use of those airstrips.”

The attack was initially set for the night of April 6, but was moved back to April 8, and then postponed a second time because the Japanese feared an Allied landing on Okinawa’s southern beaches that night. The counteroffensive was rescheduled for the night of April 12.

The 272nd Independent Infantry Battalion of the 62nd Division would lead the attack on the 96th Division in the Kakazu area, and the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division would attempt to break through the American 7th Division in the east. Carrying 110-pound packs and bags of food, the 22nd marched for two days through the rain from Naha to the east coast, where it was to strike the Hourglass lines.

The infiltrators were to pass swiftly and silently through the American XXIV Corps positions in a “sinuous eel line” and conceal themselves in caves and tombs north of the battle lines. By daybreak, they were to be in camouflaged hiding places. At a predetermined time, they would strike the Allies’ rear and the two airfields. “The secrecy of our plans must be maintained to the last,” the Japanese instructions said.49

Colonel Yahara believed that the plan would squander the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of frontline troops. After losing the argument, Yahara acted to reduce the Thirty-Second Army’s inevitable losses by quietly trimming the number of battalions committed to the operation from six to four. In so doing, he ensured that the operation would fail.

Thirty minutes before the attack began, Japanese artillery fired three thousand rounds, concentrating on the western battle line, where the 272nd Infantry Battalion hoped to breach the Deadeyes’ positions at Kakazu and Kakazu West. It was the heaviest Japanese barrage of the Pacific war.

The Americans responded with deafening volleys of gunfire from four battleships and two destroyers. Star shells interspersed with explosive rounds brightly illuminated the battlefield and exposed the attacking Japanese soldiers. The opportunity to shoot scores of enemy troops in the open elated many XXIV Corps troops, frustrated by days of being under fire from an invisible enemy.51

At Kakazu and Kakazu West, sixty enemy troops nearly broke through the 383rd Infantry’s Company G, which momentarily mistook the Japanese for Americans. Company G killed fifty-eight attackers and stopped the attempted infiltration.

Finally able to turn the tables on the Japanese streaming out of their fortifications into the open, the Deadeyes punished them with the kind of intensive mortar, artillery, and machine-gun fire that they themselves had endured for a week.

The Japanese continued to attack even when badly wounded. Some of them charged ahead with tourniquets on their legs, groins, and arms, said Private First Class Charles Moynihan, a radio operator liaison between an artillery unit and the 381st Infantry. Shot down by the score, they were soon “stacked up like a bunch of worms,” he said.

“We were pinned down by concentrated mortar fire before we could cross the hill,” wrote a Japanese soldier in the 272nd Battalion, which bore the withering fire until dawn, when it withdrew after having suffered heavy casualties. “Only four of us [in his platoon]… were left… the Akiyama Tai [1st Company, 272nd] was wiped out while infiltrating.” Another company that suffered massive casualties literally disintegrated while it was attempting to withdraw, the soldier said.

The counteroffensive at Kakazu failed in large part because of the frenzied resistance of Americans such as Tech Sergeant Beauford Anderson of the 381st Infantry—still on the Kakazu line, which the 27th Division was in the early stages of taking over.

Anderson had wound up in a cave in the saddle between Kakazu and Kakazu West with fifteen unfired Japanese mortar shells, but without a mortar to fire the shells. He solved the problem by transforming himself into a launching device: tearing the mortar shells from their casings, pulling the safety pins, rapping them against a rock to activate them, and then hurling them like footballs into a draw teeming with approaching enemy soldiers. When he ran out of Japanese mortar rounds, he threw mortar shells from his own light mortar section.

The next morning, after the echoes from the last explosions had faded, Anderson counted twenty-five bodies, seven knee mortars, and four machine guns among the debris in front of his position. Three hundred seventeen enemy dead were reported in the 96th Division area.

The Japanese counteroffensive made no inroads in the 7th Division sector on the eastern battle line. The 184th Infantry’s 2nd Battalion repulsed two attacks on their positions at Tomb Hill, north of the Tanabaru Escarpment. About thirty Japanese were killed each time. Small infiltration parties that penetrated the American lines were wiped out, one by one. Colonel Yahara believed the attacks failed in the east because the terrain was unfamiliar to the Japanese 22nd Infantry, which had marched across the island from Naha.

The counterattack met the same result the next night when, illuminated by naval star shells, the Japanese were once more repulsed. By dawn on April 14, about half of the Japanese who participated in the counteroffensive, 1,594 men, had died. Fewer than 100 Americans were killed.

While the Tenth Army briefly savored its brief respite from high casualties, terror and death continued to hurtle from the skies at the Fifth Fleet.

Japanese Banzai on Okinawa

Assaults Along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, 1966-69

North Korea mounted numerous armed attacks directed against U. S.-ROK forces along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the latter half of the 1960s. With its sustained military operations along the DMZ, North Korea succeeded in diverting U. S.-ROK attention away from Vietnam, straining the U. S.-ROK relationship, and bolstering Kim Il Sung’s position both domestically and internationally.

Attacks and counterattacks

Armed attacks against U. S.-ROK forces

After North Korean leader Kim Il Sung announced in October 1966 that the U. S. forces should be “dispersed to the maximum everywhere and on every front of the world,” guerrilla-type assaults against U. S. and South Korean forces surged. North Korea started to use larger teams and more heavily armed operatives. Between October 15 and 19, 1966, 11 South Korean servicemen were killed in ambush. On October 21, a South Korean truck was attacked in the western DMZ, killing six South Korean soldiers. During the early morning hours of November 2, the last day of the U. S. President Lyndon Johnson’s visit to South Korea, six U. S. and three South Korean soldiers were killed in two separate clashes with North Korean troops south of the DMZ. On one occasion, a Korean People’s Army (KPA) squad attacked an eight-man U. S. patrol with hand grenades and submachine guns, about one kilometer south of the DMZ, killing six Americans and one South Korean soldier serving in the U. S. unit as Korean Augmentation to the U. S. Army (KATUSA). In another simultaneous attack, a KPA squad attacked a South Korean patrol, killing two soldiers. The November 2 attack on the U. S. patrol became a front-page story in the U. S. media, although the story itself did not attract sustained public attention. Between January and November 1966, six U. S. and 30 South Korean soldiers been killed in 40 such incidents.

The emphasis of North Korean assaults along the DMZ since mid-October shifted from intelligence collection and subversion to “harassment.” Before that, North Korean infiltration agents usually wore civilian clothes and rarely engaged in firefights except when challenged by the South Korean military or security services. In mid-October, North Korean infiltration teams started to seek out and attack South Korean forces. An intelligence memorandum produced by the U. S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), dated November 8, argued that (a) although there had been a marked increase in North Korean harassment attacks along the DMZ since mid-October, these actions probably did not reflect a decision to engage in wholesale violations of the Armistice Agreement, (b) there was no evidence that the North Koreans intended to open a “second front” in the Vietnam War, and (c) the North Koreans might have heightened tensions along the DMZ to warn the United States and South Korea against further deployment of ROK forces to Vietnam and to demonstrate North Korean support of Hanoi to other Communist states.

North Korea’s official position was that the United States was intensifying military provocations against North Korea and was creating tension on the Korean Peninsula. On November 5, the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) stated that “[o]n the occasion of Johnson’s visit to South Korea, the frantic armed provocations by the U. S. imperialist aggressor army and their puppet troops in South Korea” reached the “stage of foolhardiness,” and demanded that the United States “stop hostile provocations against the D. P. R. K. and quit South Korea at once, taking all their murderous weapons.” In June 1967, an MFA official said: “following U. S. President Johnson’s visit to South Korea in October last year various provocations have been staged in a more premeditated way” on the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), warning that a “grave danger of war breaking out again in Korea at any moment” had been created due to the “U. S. imperialists’ schemes for another war.”

North Korean attacks along the DMZ continued in 1967. In February, a U. S. soldier was killed when North Koreans fired upon his nine-man patrol south of the DMZ. In April, 40-60 North Korean soldiers crossed the eastern MDL. In the following six-hour engagement, the U. S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) side used artillery for the first time since the Armistice. It was in the midst of these events that the MFA issued a statement contending that the “ceaseless military provocations of the U. S. imperialist aggressors have increased tension in Korea to a higher pitch and led the situation to an unbearable, grave stage.” On May 22, North Korean intruders exploded satchel charges in the barracks of the U. S. Second Infantry Division in the first incident of the kind since 1953. Two U. S. soldiers were killed, 16 were seriously injured, and two U. S. army barracks south of the DMZ were completely demolished. On July 16, the KPA killed three U. S. soldiers south of the southern boundary of the DMZ.

Faced with the new developments, Gen. Charles Bonesteel III, Commander in Chief of the United Nations Command (CINCUNC), reported in July that:

Actions along DMZ are also continuing with increasing viciousness with more planned, small-scale attacks being made. Firefights are occurring almost every night. A few days ago three more U. S. soldiers were killed. This year’s score along DMZ to date: firefights 69; NKs [North Koreans] 64 KIA [killed in action], 2 captured; ROK/US 35 KIA, (including 6 U. S. KIA), 87 WIA [wounded in action]. Irritating factor is that in last few weeks NK along DMZ are improving their kill ratio.

North Korean attacks on UNC vehicles also increased. On August 10, a truck was attacked south of the southern boundary of the DMZ, killing three South Korean soldiers. On August 22, the KPA attacked a U. S. vehicle carrying straw, killing one soldier and injuring another. Then on August 29, three U. S. soldiers were killed and five were wounded when two U. S. vehicles were destroyed by mines planted by North Koreans.

During this period, there were also clashes in and near the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom where the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) meetings were held. On August 28, 1967, North Koreans attacked a U. S. Army Engineer Company working 200 yards northeast of the JSA advance camp, killing two U. S. soldiers and two KATUSAs and injuring 26 others. On September 8, a brief free-for-all, involving some 40 personnel from both sides, began when a KPA guard hit a UNC officer as he tried to take a picture. On November 29, three KPA guards attacked a UNC guard near the MAC conference building. A fist fight ensued but was stopped by Security Officers from both sides. There were also two sabotage attacks on trains near the DMZ in September. Of 114 North Korean infiltrations in 1967, 69 cases involved armed attacks.

In December, Kim Il Sung stated that the present situation required a “more enterprising, more revolutionary” approach to “accomplish the south Korean revolution. . ” This statement was followed a month later, in January 1968, with an attempted guerrilla raid on the Blue House, the South Korean presidential residence, aimed at assassinating South Korean President Park Chung Hee. The same month, a U. S. intelligence-collection vessel – the USS Pueblo – was captured off the North Korean east coast. North Korean attacks in the DMZ continued and even intensified after these incidents.

On January 22, KPA infiltrators attacked a U. S. guard post and wounded three U. S. soldiers. Two days later, two U. S. soldiers were killed by North Korean agents while in a blocking position to trap remnants of a group of North Korean infiltrators who had attempted to assassinate President Park. On January 25, KPA soldiers mounted raids in the DMZ in an area defended by the U. S. Second Division, killing one U. S. and two South Korean servicemen. On the next day, a U. S. soldier was killed by North Korean agents south of the DMZ.

After a temporary pause in February and March, North Korean attacks resumed in April. Interestingly, after the Senior Members meetings with regard to the Pueblo began in February in the MAC in the JSA, incidents in and near the JSA increased, and U. S servicemen became the preferred targets of North Korean assaults. On April 12, 15 KPA guards armed with clubs hit UNC Joint Duty Office personnel who were inspecting the perimeter on the northern edge of the MDL in the JSA. Two days later, North Korean intruders ambushed a UNC JSA security guard truck en route to the JSA, killing two U. S. soldiers and two KATUSAs. On May 2, one KPA security guard knocked down an unarmed UNC guard near a MAC conference room. On August 26, KPA guards dragged a UNC Security Officer off a UNC jeep and attacked him near KPA Guard Post No. 5 in the JSA. On September 2, some 15-20 North Korean workers assaulted U. S. officers in the JSA after they attempted to return a dropped hat to a North Korean guard. Then on December 1, one UNC officer and one enlisted member were attacked and beaten by at least 15 KPA security guards in the JSA.

There were also attacks along the DMZ. On July 20, two U. S. servicemen were killed in two separate incidents near the DMZ. On August 18, the KPA mounted a surprise raid on the U. S. Seventh Division area, killing two U. S. soldiers. On September 27, two U. S. soldiers were killed when North Korean intruders ambushed their jeep south of the MDL. On October 18, a U. S. vehicle was attacked and four were killed.

While attacks in the JSA drastically diminished after the crew of the USS Pueblo was released on December 23, attacks outside the JSA continued. On April 7, 1969, North Korean soldiers fired some 300 rounds in 40 minutes into UNC positions in the central sector of the DMZ. On September 22, North Korean howitzers and recoilless guns opened fire on a ROK Army guard post in the central sector of the DMZ. On October 18, a U. S. vehicle was attacked in daylight in the western DMZ, and four U. S. soldiers were killed.

South Korean counterattacks

Given North Korea’s statements, the attack on November 2, 1966, against a U. S. patrol unit seems to have been related to Johnson’s visit to South Korea. However, it might not have been the only reason for the particular timing. A less known factor was that some 30 South Korean troops had mounted a raid on October 26, a week before the November 2 attack, against North Korea. The South Korean attack team penetrated through the DMZ into North Korean territory to mount the raid, claiming some 30 casualties on the North Korean side. The United States assessed that by attacking American troops on November 2, the North Koreans might have sought to encourage the United States to take measures to prevent any repetition of the South Korean raid across the DMZ.

The South Korean raid caused some tension between the United States and South Korea primarily because it was executed without approval by General Bonesteel, who at that time exercised operational control over South Korean forces. The raid was thus a violation of the command relationship. After the incident, the CINCUNC and the U. S. ambassador to South Korea warned South Korean leaders against any repetition of such incidents.

Violations of the command relationship continued after the December 2 incident, nevertheless. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Sung Eun organized elite anti-infiltration units with 2,400 men under his command and by February 1968 had conducted on average two raids a month against the North. In particular, 11 such raids were mounted between October 26 and December in 1967. Among them was a raid mounted against a KPA division headquarters in November 1967. The headquarters was blown up and the 12-man South Korean strike team returned without any casualties. Most South Korean cabinet members did not know about these activities since the South Korean infiltration units were under the personal control of the Defense Minister and their activities were closely held secrets even within the South Korean government. South Korea had about 200 anti-infiltration troops in each division near the DMZ and was training an additional group. Also, there was one airborne battalion that could be parachuted in for guerrilla activity.

Cyrus Vance, who visited Seoul in February 1968 as a U. S. special presidential envoy, wrote on the possible unilateral military retaliations made by South Korea against North Korea:

If counter-actions by the Republic of Korea resulted in the outbreak of war with North Korea, the lives of some 12,000 American civilians (most of whom are located in the vicinity of Seoul) would be immediately endangered. Similarly, since American aircraft are parked wing to wing on the six ROK airfields and American military forces are deployed along a key portion of the DMZ – to the West and North of Seoul and across two of the most likely attack routes into South Korea – the prospects of American troops becoming immediately involved in combat with North Korean forces are extremely high. The outbreak of war in Korea could thus be ignited either by a serious North Korean incursion into the South or by a South Korean foray into the North.

The United States emphasized the “provocative nature” of the South Korean cross-MDL attacks directed by Defense Minister Kim, and suggested that some of the most serious North Korean incursions into the South in the past might actually have been launched in retaliation for the South Korean raids. The U. S. side also pointed out that there was no evidence that the South Korean raids had had dampening effects on North Korean actions, and refused to commit itself to an “agreed retaliation policy” suggested by the South Koreans that involved “instant, punitive, retaliatory action” against future North Korean violations of the Armistice Agreement. Moreover, Vance warned President Park that were the South Koreans even to consider removing troops from South Vietnam, the United States would pull its forces out of Korea. Defense Minister Kim was replaced by Choi Young Hee on February 28, 1968, shortly after the Vance visit.

The U. S. officials were also concerned that South Korean decision-makers might lose their temper and take irrational actions. They were particularly worried about President Park’s mental condition. This element compounded their concern about the possible unilateral retaliatory actions by the South Koreans. Vance wrote:  

the raid on the Blue House had unfortunate psychologic effects on him. He felt that both he and his country had lost face and his fears for his own safety and that of his family were markedly increased. Compounding this problem has been his heavy drinking. This is not a new development but it may be having cumulative effects. Highly emotional, volatile, frustrated and introspective, Park wanted to obtain from me a pledge for the United States to join his Government in instant, punitive, and retaliatory actions against North Korea in the event of another Blue House raid or comparable attack on some other important South Korean economic, governmental, or military facility. He wanted my assurance of an “automatic” U. S. response in the event of another serious raid against the ROK. I refused to give any such assurances. Park’s views were mirrored by almost every member of his Cabinet, who, while now civilians, are mostly retired colonels and generals.

Although the Vance visit improved U. S.-ROK relations in the short run, Vance was not optimistic about the long-term prospects. Specifically, Vance was concerned that (a) North Korea might try to get South Korea to take some unilateral action to further divide the United States and South Korea, (b) there was an unstable political situation with Park’s mood and attitude, (c) a serious problem could be raised with the possibility of South Korea’s unilateral action, and (d) Park might not “last.” The United States faced a dilemma in helping South Korea. While the help was certainly needed, there was a danger that the U. S. help might encourage the South Koreans to take unilateral, punitive actions, which could result in escalation.


The military actions against the U. S.-ROK forces produced unintended consequences as well. The most apparent and immediate repercussion was the strengthening of the defense in the DMZ. In this regard, particularly important was the North Korean attack on U. S. forces on November 2, 1966. As Daniel Bolger wrote, patrols in the DMZ had by then actually become “rather pro forma affairs.” However, the November 2 attack changed the situation, and the Americans started to pay serious attention to the North Korean infiltrations. As a result, General Bonesteel loosened the rules of engagement in early 1967 and gave the commanders of the I Corps (Group) and the ROK First Army the authority to use artillery and mortar against enemy elements in or south of the DMZ and against KPA units shooting from hostile territory. Furthermore, in July 1968, the UNC changed its rules of engagement and allowed ROK units in the DMZ to counter North Korean intrusions and ambushes at their own discretion. This change was an important departure from the previous arrangement with which military actions taken by ROK units in border clashes were subject to prior approval by the CINCUNC. Following the new rule, South Korean units used significant artillery and mortar fires along the DMZ three times by 1969. In addition, toward the end of 1967, General Bonesteel and President Park produced two documents on combined counter-guerrilla operations – the UNC Counterinfiltration-Guerrilla Concept Requirement Plan and ROK Presidential Instruction No. 18. According to these decisions, the ROK Army introduced infrared night-vision equipment, searchlights, and infrared gun-sights while it strengthened the protection of guard posts and command posts. In addition, the ROK Army replaced wooden fences with iron fences in the DMZ by mid- 1968. At the same time, the UNC developed a four-layer defense – patrols and guard posts in the DMZ, a barrier defense system just south of the southern edge of the DMZ, and mobile quick-reaction forces behind them – against North Korean infiltrations throughout 1967. By July 1968, the chain-link fence and the new barrier system were installed along the entire southern boundary of the DMZ. As a result, the capabilities of the U. S.-ROK forces in dealing with North Korean provocations had improved dramatically by the end of the 1960s.