Battle of Novi (15 August 1799)

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Battle of Novi by Alexander Kotzebue

Novi

A major battle between French and Austro-Russian armies near the town of Novi in the Italian Piedmont. As the Allies liberated Lombardy and Piedmont, the French Directory made a new effort to turn the tide of the war by appointing a new commander in chief, the young and energetic General Barthélemy Joubert, to the Armée d’Italie. The French advanced in early August from Genoa, and by 15 August they approached the Allied position at Novi. Joubert was surprised to find that he faced superior Allied forces, as Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov massed more than 50,000 men on the battlefield against 35,000 French and enjoyed a great superiority in cavalry. The French command spent the night vacillating, and, as a result, the French troops had no clear orders for the coming battle. On the Allied side, Suvorov was impatient to attack. At 8:00 P. M. on 14 August, he ordered Austrian Feldzeugmeister Paul Kray Freiherr von Krajova to begin movement during the night so that the troops could attack at dawn.

The Austrians (27,000 men) launched an assault on the French left flank at 5:00 A. M. Hearing the exchange of small arms fire, Joubert rode to observe the action and was instantly killed by a musket ball. His death was kept secret from the army, and General Jean Moreau assumed command in his place. An experienced commander, Moreau realized the dangers and kept his troops on the defensive. Meanwhile, as Kray continued his attack on the French left, generals Peter Bagration and Mikhail Miloradovich attacked the French positions in the center. For the next several hours, the Russians launched desperate charges on the town of Novi, where the French had established strong positions and expertly arranged their batteries on three levels. After seven hours of fighting, the Allies failed to break through the French positions but, around 3:00 P. M., Suvorov launched a flanking attack with General der Kavallerie Michael Freiherr von Melas’s troops, while Bagration attacked Novi and Kray assaulted the left flank.

Despite their stubborn defense, the French right flank was swept away, allowing Bagration to capture Novi and pierce the central positions of the French. The Allies now threatened to encircle the French left wing, which hurriedly withdrew toward Pasturano. The retreating French packed the narrow streets of the village, while Allied troops opened fire on them from the nearby heights. Moreau’s men fled in confusion, leaving their artillery and supplies. Generals Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy and Catherine Dominique Pérignon tried to organize some sort of resistance, but both were wounded and captured. Feldmarschalleutnant Michael Freiherr von Colli was surrounded and forced to surrender with 2,000 men and 21 guns. Only General Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr’s troops retreated in good order and covered the rest of the army. The exhausted Allied troops did not pursue the French and bivouacked on the battlefield.

The next morning, Suvorov intended to resume the pursuit, but his troops were still exhausted and could not move. Moreau exploited the Allied inactivity and successfully extricated the remaining troops to the Riviera. The Battle at Novi was a decisive Allied victory. The French army was shattered, having lost almost 6,500 killed and wounded, 4,600 captured, including 4 generals, 84 officers, 4 flags, and most of the artillery. The Russians lost 1,900 killed and wounded, while Austrian casualties amounted to 5,800 men.

References and further reading Clausewitz, Karl von. 1833. Die Feldzuge von 1799 in Italien und der Schweiz. Berlin: N. p. Duffy, Christopher. 1999. Eagles over the Alps: Suvorov in Italy and Switzerland, 1799. Chicago: Emperor’s. Gachot, Edouard. 1903. Les campagnes de 1799: Souvarow en Italie. Paris: Perrin. Longworth, Philip. 1965. The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Generalissimo Suvorov, 1729-1800. London: Constable. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, Alexander, and Dmitri Miliutin. 1852-1853. Istoriia voini Rossii s Frantsiei v 1799 godu. St. Petersburg: Tip. Shtaba voenno-uchebnykh zavedenii. Orlov, Nikolay. 1895. Suvorov na Trebbii v 1799 g. [Suvorov on Trebbia in 1799]. St. Petersburg: N. p.—,ed. 1898. Pokhod Suvorova v 1799 g.: Po zapiskam Gryazeva [Suvorov’s Campaign of 1799: Gryazev’s Notes]. St. Petersburg: N. p.

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Battle of Eylau (7–8 February 1807)

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“Napoleon on the field of Eylau” by Antoine-Jean Gros

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The Battle of Eylau, 1807 – Situation Early, 8 February

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The Battle of Eylau, 1807 – Situation About 1600, 8 February

Eylau has the dubious distinction of being one of the bloodiest and most futile battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Some 200 years after the inconclusive event, it is difficult for historians to calculate the true scale of the losses incurred by the participants. One thing remains clear: The figures involved would not look out of place in the attrition rates for the soldiers of World War I. Modern scholars put a figure of 25,000 men on French casualties, approximately one man in three. The opposing Russians lost some 15,000 men, including a number of Prussians. One officer described it as “the bloodiest day, the most horrible butchery of men that had taken place since the beginning of the Revolutionary wars” (quoted in Haythornthwaite 2001, 56). The grueling combat, which saw the forces under Napoleon pitted against Russian troops under General Levin Bennigsen, is also noteworthy for a number of other reasons. It gave rise to one of the greatest cavalry charges in history (spearheaded by Marshal Joachim Murat); it was fought in some of the most atrocious weather conditions; and was one of the few occasions when the Emperor himself almost fell into the hands of his enemies.

Following an indecisive action at Jankovo, Napoleon, on 7 February 1807, with 30,000 men under his corps commanders Murat and Marshal Nicolas Soult, met the Russian army of 67,000 near the small village of Preussisch Eylau in Poland. The Russians drew up in a line running roughly from the north to the east behind the town. The French were drawn up from just northwest of the town down to the southeast. Hostilities began when, probably ignorant of the enemy’s presence, Napoleon’s own baggage train entered Eylau in search of cover for the night. Bitter street fighting ensued, accompanied by intense combat in the town graveyard. Eylau changed hands several times until Bennigsen conceded the place to the French and pulled back to a ridge behind the town, leaving around 4,000 casualties on each side. With French supply wagons lagging behind the army and the Russian supply system on the verge of collapse, both sides suffered from severe shortages of food. Worse still for Bennigsen, loss of the village forced his men to spend the night in subzero temperatures. During the evening 15,000 French reinforcements arrived, with an equal number again expected on the following day under Marshal Louis Davout. To the northwest stood a corps under Marshal Michel Ney, operating independently to keep the 9,000 Prussians under General Anton Wilhelm Lestocq from uniting with the Russians, but with orders to join the main body on the eighth.

The size of the respective armies during the second day’s fighting remains unknown, but it is estimated that though Napoleon was clearly outnumbered in the morning, the successive appearance of troops over the course of the day increased the strength of each side until they stood about equal-perhaps 75,000 men, but with Bennigsen enjoying a clear superiority in artillery: 460 guns to about 200 for Napoleon.

The French, occupying heights slightly north of the town and only 1,200 yards from the Russian positions, stood in expectation of a frontal attack. At about 8:00 A. M. the massed artillery of the Russians opened the battle with a bombardment that left the village of Eylau ablaze, but in concentrating their guns at relatively short range they exposed themselves to counterbattery fire from the French, whose accuracy soon began to tell. Amid a shrieking blizzard, Soult, supported by cavalry under General Antoine Lasalle, carried out a diversionary attack against the Russian right to deflect attention from the arrival of Davout from the southwest, where Napoleon hoped the decisive blow would be delivered. At about 9:00 A. M., however, Soult was beaten off by the stoic Russians, and General Louis Friant’s division (the advance guard of Davout’s corps) was effectively stalled by an attack at about the same time by a large body of Russian cavalry.

The stage was set for even more carnage. With both his flanks seriously threatened, Napoleon ordered the 9,000 men under Marshal Pierre Augereau, on the French right, to counterattack the Russian center, with a division under General Louis St. Hilaire in support. Augereau’s ill health and the atrocious weather conditions ensured that the attack ended in grisly chaos. The columns became separated, and Augereau’s men-advancing blindly and losing their way-ended up walking directly into the mouths of seventy massed Russian guns. A withering bombardment ensued, while the beleaguered French troops were also subjected to fire from their own artillery, whose gunners could not make out anything through the swirling snow. By 10:30-in under an hour-Augereau’s corps had all but been destroyed, with over 5,000 killed and wounded, Augereau included among the latter, and St. Hilaire’s men had been halted in their tracks.

Napoleon’s fortunes were taking a turn for the worse as General Dmitry Dokhturov’s reserve infantry corps pushed into Eylau on the heels of Augereau’s reeling formations. With the appearance of something on the order of 6,000 Russians in the town, the Emperor himself only narrowly avoided capture, thanks to the self-sacrifice of his escort, who lost heavily until relieved by the arrival of Imperial Guard infantry. Characteristic of the carnage of the day’s fighting was the fate of the French 14th Regiment of the Line: Finding itself completely encircled by the enemy, it refused to surrender and was consequently annihilated near the cemetery.

With the battle reaching a critical phase and with only one major formation still uncommitted, Napoleon ordered the 10,500 men of his reserve cavalry into the fray. Around noon, Murat deployed his eighty squadrons into two vast columns before launching them against the Russian center in a maneuver that has become almost legendary. It gave rise to the oft-quoted vignette in which General Louis Lepic exhorted his men as they waited for the charge with the rejoinder: “Heads up, by God! Those are bullets, not turds!” (quoted in Lachouque and Brown 1997, 88). With inexorable momentum, Murat’s massed horsemen smashed through Bennigsen’s infantry and rode over a seventy-gun battery before reforming, facing about, and returning to friendly lines as a single column through the wreckage left by their initial advance. The charge cost the French 1,500 men, but it brought the relief Napoleon’s infantry desperately needed, allowing him to restore order among his hard-pressed formations. Historians have pointed out that Murat’s feat validated the cavalry as an independent (and useful) fighting force in its own right rather than as a mere adjunct to the artillery or infantry.

While Lestocq’s Prussians had meanwhile arrived around 11:00 A. M. to bolster their beleaguered Russian allies, Davout’s corps was not far behind and by 1:00 P. M. was applying pressure against Bennigsen’s left, which had to shift its position by 45 degrees to maintain a solid front against ever-increasing numbers of French troops. Nevertheless, so determined was Russian resistance that despite the continuous increase of French troops on the field as the day wore on, they still found themselves unable to wrest ground from dogged Russian infantry who preferred to die where they stood.

Ney’s corps did not arrive until dusk, by which time the bulk of the fighting had ended. That night Bennigsen withdrew from the field, leaving Napoleon in possession of Eylau. Despite Napoleon’s subsequent claims in Le Moniteur, the government’s official newspaper, the battle was far from a great victory and is now generally viewed by historians as a costly draw at best, with losses estimated at 15,000 Russian casualties and as many as 25,000 French, whose exhausted state rendered pursuit impossible. Both sides, severely mauled, went back into winter quarters to recover from the bloodletting, but with the certain expectation of renewed fighting in the spring. Eylau’s significance cannot be underestimated because, as David Chandler points out (Chandler 1966, 551), it was one of the first occasions when the chinks in Napoleon’s considerable armor were exposed for all his contemporaries to see.

References and further reading Chandler, David. 1966. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan. Davidov, Denis. 1999. In the Service of the Tsar against Napoleon: The Memoirs of Denis Davidov, 1806-1814. Trans. and ed. G Troubetzkoy. London: Greenhill. Haythornthwaite, Philip J. 2001. Die Hard: Famous Napoleonic Battles. London: Cassell. Lachouque, Henry, and Anne S. K. Brown. 1997. The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard-A Study in Leadership. London: Greenhill. Petre, F. Loraine. 1989. Napoleon’s Campaign in Poland, 1807-07. London: Greenhill. Summerville, Christopher. 2005. Napoleon’s Polish Gamble: Eylau and Friedland, 1807. London: Leo Cooper.

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Map of the second day’s fighting showing the charge of the French cavalry

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Murat’s Cavalry charge at Eylau

With his centre almost broken, Napoléon resorted to ordering a massive charge by Murat’s 11,000-strong cavalry reserve — aside from the Guard, the last major unbloodied body of troops remaining to the French.

Thus began one of the greatest cavalry charges in history. Somewhat obscured by the weather, Murat’s squadrons charged through the Russian infantry around Eylau and then divided into two groups. The group on the right, Grouchy’s dragoons, charged into the flank of the Russian cavalry attacking St Hilaire’s division and scattered them completely. Now led by Murat himself the dragoons wheeled left against the Russian cavalry in the centre and, joined by d’Hautpoult’s cuirassier division drove the Russian cavalry back on their infantry. Fresh Russian cavalry forced Murat and the dragoons to retire, but d’Hautpoult’s cuirassiers broke through everything and the broken Russian were cut to pieces by fresh regiments of cuirassiers. D’Hautpoult then rode through the Russian guns chasing off or sabering the gunners and burst through the first line of Russian infantry trampling a battalion of infantry that attempted to stand. The cuirassiers forced their way through the second line of Russians and only after 2,500 yards did the charge finally expend its force in front of the Russian reserves. A second wave of cavalry consisting of the Guards and Grouchy’s dragoons now charged the Russians as they attempted to reform and also rode through both lines of infantry. Another group charged into the Russian infantry in the area where Augereau’s corps had made its stand. Not content with these heavy blows, the cavalry reformed, wheeled, and charged back again, finally retiring under the protection of the Guard cavalry. Murat had lost 1,000 to 1,500 well-trained troopers, but relieved the pressure on Augereau, Saint-Hilaire, and Soult paralyzing the Russians long enough to allow Davout to deploy in strength. Rarely had French cavalry played such a pivotal part in a battle. In part this was because, for the first time, Murat’s men were now mounted on the best cavalry horses in Europe, freshly requisitioned in the aftermath of the conquest of Prussia.

Tulagi Part II

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ADVANCE ALONG TULAGI was executed during the morning of 7 August by Col Edson’s 1st Raider Battalion.

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FINAL ASSAULTS ON TULAGI were delivered by elements of 1st Raider Battalion and 2d Battalion, 5th Marines.

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The islands of Tulagi, Tanambogo, and Gavutu are located in the southern Solomons. Control of these small islands was deemed critical to the success of U. S. landings on Guadalcanal and subsequent ability to resupply the Marines ashore.

The 1st Raider Battalion performed well during its baptism of fire on Tulagi. Both officers and enlisted men exhibited daring, bravery, and individual initiative. Major Kenneth D. Baily demonstrated the type of leadership commonly found in the unit. When an enemy machine gun held up his company, he personally circled around the offending weapon, well placed in a coconut log bunker, crawled on top, and shoved a hand grenade into the firing aperture. He was wounded in the thigh.

Colonel Edson established his reputation for courage by spending most of his time on the front lines, where he contemptuously exposed himself to the enemy’s heaviest fire. More importantly, he aggressively employed his command in battle, taking the fight to his adversary and steadfastly defending his positions when attacked.

While the fighting raged on Tulagi, the 1st Parachute Battalion, under Major Robert H. Williams, was tasked with capturing Gavutu and Tanambogo. The attack was to commence four hours after the landing at Tulagi. Insufficient numbers of landing craft to conduct both the Tulagi and Gavutu oeprations dictated that the landings could not occur simultaneously. As a result, the defenders of Gavutu and Tanambogo were prepared for their enemy’s assault.

Each of those islets was dominated by a single elevation, Hill 148 on Gavutu and Hill 121 on Tanambogo. The islands were surrounded by coral reefs that allowed an approach only from the east. The terrain channeled any attacker into a narrow funnel dominated by high ground on two sides.

Defending Gavutu were about 240 men, mostly laborers from the 14th Construction Unit, buttressed by a 50-man platoon of the 3rd Kure SNLF. On Tanambogo were the 303 crew and maintenance personnel of the Yokohama Flying Boat Air Group under Captain Miyazaki. Only the SNLF members were equipped and trained to fight as ground troops. However, the constricted terrain and well-placed defensive positions greatly aided the other defenders, allowing them to give a good account of themselves. The Japanese on both islands were entrenched in bunkers and caves, and each spit of land was within mutual machine-gun fire support of the other.

As the parachutists approached Gavutu Harbor at noon, the island was rocked by a five-minute naval bombardment carried out by the light antiaircraft cruiser USS San Juan and the destroyers Monssen and Buchanan, followed by a 10-minute air assault by dive bombers from the aircraft carrier Wasp. The efforts did little damage to the Japanese defenses except for eliminating an 75mm gun on Hill 148. The seaplane landing ramp on Gavutu was damaged to such an extent that the Marines could not disembark on it. The Marines were forced to land on a more exposed part of the dock.

After getting ashore, the attackers of the first wave, Company A, pushed 75 yards inland but were met by withering fire from the Japanese on Hills 148 and 121. The second and third waves, made up of Companies B and C, landed on the dock and immediately came under Japanese rifle and machine-gun fire, so heavy that in a few minutes 10 percent of both units were cut down, including the battalion commander.

By 2 PM, elements of Companies A and B had taken Hill 148 after extensive use of grenades and improvised explosive charges, as well as close-quarter fighting to clear the many fortified positions on the heights. Unfortunately, this hard-fought Marine triumph was marred by the arrival of American Douglas SDB Dauntless dive bombers responding to an earlier call for air support. The Marines had no sooner taken control of Hill 148 than the planes attacked the summit, killing several Marines and wounding others. This tragic accident would not be the only such friendly fire incident during the struggle for Gavutu and Tanambogo. When night fell on the 7th, Gavutu was still not secured and Tanambogo had yet to be taken. The acting battalion commander, Major Charles A. Miller, who had replaced the injured Major Williams, requested reinforcements.

General Rupertus responded to Miller’s appeal by sending Captain Crane’s Company B, 2nd Marines, then on Florida Island, to subdue Tanambogo. After landing under heavy fire and suffering severe losses, Crane evacuated his wounded on boats and had them sail back to Gavutu while he and a dozen men sprinted along the causeway back to Gavutu. The Japanese lost only 10 men in the aborted assault on Tanambogo that day.

Throughout the night, the Japanese staged persistent attacks against the Marines on Gavutu under the cover of heavy rain and thunderstorms. Hoping to get his attack on Gavutu moving, General Vandegrift ordered his last reserves, Lieutenant R. G. Hunt’s 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, to land there. Hunt’s men assisted the paratroopers in exterminating the last Japanese defenders on Gavutu, enduring machine-gun fire from the Japanese on Tanambogo. During these mopping-up operations, a second American naval air attack killed four Marines and injured eight.

With Gavutu pacified by noon, Hunt ordered an attack on Tanambogo at 3:30 PM after a 30- minute naval bombardment by San Juan and Buchanan, the latter firing at close range. At 4:15 PM, Company I, in conjunction with two M5 Stuart Light tanks under Lieutenant R. J. Sweeny (who was killed in action later that day), reached the island by water. One tank assailed Hill 121 from the south, while the other did the same from the east. Both metal monsters were closely supported by Marines. However, one of the tanks moved too rapidly ahead of its accompanying infantry. As the tank approached its target, Captain Miyazaki and other Japanese officers swarmed over the vehicle, setting it ablaze with gasoline-soaked rags, killing three of its crewmen and savagely beating a fourth. An immediate hail of American small-arms fire soon killed the captain and 41 of his comrades, who fell around the burnedout American tank.

Meanwhile, the second armored fighting vehicle was able to knock out enough enemy bunkers using its 37mm main gun to allow a platoon from Company K of Hunt’s battalion to charge across the causeway onto Tanambogo at 4:40 PM. This provided the needed muscle to finally break the Japanese hold on the islet. Although the island was declared secure by 9 PM on August 8, isolated night attacks by the Japanese continued. It was not until the next day, after savage fighting with bayonet, rifle butt, and hand grenades, that the remaining defenders on Tanambogo were completely eliminated.

Of the 1,300 men committed, 70 Marines were killed and 87 wounded during the fight for Gavutu and Tanambogo. The Japanese lost 516 killed and 20 prisoners, 15 of whom were Korean laborers who had fought alongside their Japanese masters.

American deaths sustained in the capture of Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo totaled 122, while 863 Japanese perished in the three engagements. The 1st Marine Division’s after action report noted: “The combat assumed the nature of a storming operation from the outset, a soldier’s battle, unremitting, and relentless, to be decided only by the extermination of one or the other of the adversaries engaged. Soldierly behavior was manifest wherever the enemy was encountered.”

Shortly after Tulagi was taken by the Marines, Gavutu anchorage began serving as a giant naval base and refueling station. Purvis Bay assumed a significant role as a center for light naval forces operating in the middle and upper Solomons. Tulagi’s harbor also functioned as a temporary repair center for vessels damaged in the many naval battles that occurred in the Guadalcanal vicinity between August and December 1942. Later in the campaign for Guadalcanal, Tulagi became a U. S. PT Boat base.

After Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo were firmly in American hands, the majority of the Marines who wrested these islands away from the Japanese were transferred to Guadalcanal to help defend Henderson Field, the key to the victory in the Solomons, from repeated attempts by the Japanese Army to recapture it.

Battle of Friedland, the decisive battle of the campaign of 1807.

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Napoleon Watching The Battle Of Friedland 1807

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A major engagement between French forces under Napoleon and the Russian army under General Levin Bennigsen Friedland was the decisive battle of the campaign of 1807. Following the bloody stalemate at Eylau in February, the Russian and French armies spent the spring recuperating and preparing for a new round of fighting. The Russians launched their offensive on 5 June, threatening Marshal Michel Ney’s corps around Guttstädt. However, the Russian attack was poorly executed, allowing Ney to make a fighting retreat to the Passarge River. Napoleon quickly concentrated his forces at Deppen on the Passarge and counterattacked on 7 June, driving the Russians out of Guttstädt. Three days later, the French attacked the Russian fortified camp at Heilsberg and suffered heavy casualties. However, Bennigsen feared a flanking maneuver by Napoleon and ordered further retreat toward the Russian frontier.

Late on the afternoon of 13 June, the Russian advance guard approached Friedland and found it already occupied by the advance guard of Marshal Jean Lannes’s corps. After a cavalry skirmish, the Russians carried the town and established a cavalry screen on the left bank of the river Alle. The French prisoners indicated that only Lannes’s advance guard was some 2 miles from Friedland waiting for the rest of V Corps to arrive. The leading units of the main Russian army arrived after 8:00 P. M., and Bennigsen moved General Dmitry Dokhturov’s 7th and 8th Divisions to the left bank to support the Russian Imperial Guard and cavalry already deployed there. During the night, the rest of the army concentrated on the right bank. Bennigsen initially did not intend to give battle around Friedland but wanted to secure his march northward to Wehlau, whence he planned to attack Napoleon’s flank and rear if the French advanced to Königsberg.

Bennigsen was exhausted and in poor health, so on the evening of 13 June he left the army to spend the night in a town house in Friedland. He had barely received any rest when, at 11:00 P. M., he was informed that General Nicolas Oudinot’s troops were deployed near Postehnen. Concerned about his positions, Bennigsen moved additional troops across the river and took up positions near the forest of Sortlach. By late evening there were some 25,000 Russians on the left bank of the Alle. Furthermore, that same evening two pontoon bridges were constructed, and additional forces moved to the left bank to secure the flanks. Ataman Matvei Platov’s Cossacks, supported by the Preobrazhensky Guard, the cavalry of the Guard, Finnish Dragoons, and Oliovopol Hussars, were dispatched northward to seize crossing sites at Allenburg and on the Pregel River. Bennigsen moved most of his cavalry to the left flank and posted Prince Peter Bagration with his advance guard on the left. Thus, the Russian troops were deployed in a half-circle around Friedland. This position was extremely unfavorable for several reasons. First, a deep ravine, Muhlen Teich, in the center divided the Russian forces into two parts and complicated communications between them. Second, the troops were deployed on marshy terrain with their backs to the Alle. In case of defeat, the Russians could escape only through the narrow streets and across one small wooden bridge and three pontoon bridges at Friedland. No attempt was made to reconnoiter the river for fords or to examine the terrain on the flanks.

Late on the night of 13 June, Lannes learned about the Russian occupation of Friedland. He instructed Oudinot to reconnoiter the Russian positions and to recapture the town if he found himself faced only by small Russian detachments. Oudinot reached Postehnen, where he encountered a Russian cavalry screen and observed the enemy main columns in the distance. As he was reading Oudinot’s report, Lannes also received instructions from Napoleon to prevent Bennigsen from crossing the Alle and was told that General Emmanuel marquis de Grouchy was en route with his dragoon division to reinforce V Corps for this mission. Around midnight, Lannes received reinforcements, increasing his forces to some 13,000 men. He deployed these troops between Postehnen and Heinrichsdorf, with the light cavalry deployed on the right flank and Grouchy’s dragoons kept in reserve near Postehnen.

Some time after 2:00 A. M., Oudinot, supported by General François Ruffin’s troops, reached Postehnen and engaged the Russian outposts in the woods of Sortlach. The fighting rapidly grew intense, and an hour later Grouchy arrived with his cavalry; he was initially driven back by the numerically superior Russian cavalry, but new French reinforcements (Dutch cavalry of General Adolphe Mortier’s corps) arrived and forced the Russians back. Simultaneously, General Andrey Gorchakov’s troops advanced toward Heinrichsdorf, forcing Lannes to shift part of his cavalry to the right flank. The fighting continued for the next three hours, in the course of which Heinrichsdorf changed hands several times.

On the Russian left flank, Bagration arrived at Sortlach shortly after 3:00 A. M. and deployed his infantry in two lines. In addition, he deployed most of his Jäger regiments (some 3,000 men) as skirmishers in the woods of Sortlach; two battalions, five squadrons, and four guns were placed behind them as reserves and another two battalions, five squadrons, and four guns were placed at Sortlach. As the French attacked, the fighting on the left flank was particularly violent as the French tirailleurs (skirmishers) and Bagration’s Jäger regiments stubbornly contested the ground in the woods. Bagration launched a series of attacks against Oudinot, but French grenadiers repulsed him each time. The 9th Hussars and the Saxon cavalry also counterattacked but suffered heavy losses.

Lannes skillfully used the terrain and protected his troops with a dense screen of skirmishers in the woods. He had mobile columns moving between the lines to create the illusion of arriving reinforcements. He was already told that Napoleon was hurrying with the rest of the army, so he had to pin down Bennigsen for as long as possible. Bennigsen ordered more troops to cross the Alle to support forces already there. The Russian troops crossed the river and, by 9:00 A. M., Bennigsen had most of his cavalry deployed on the right flank, supported by the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Divisions; Gorchakov commanded these forces. On the left flank, the 1st and 2nd Divisions reinforced Bagration. The 14th Division and the Imperial Guard were kept in reserve.

Around 7:00 A. M. Bagration launched another assault. He spread General Nikolay Rayevsky’s 20th Jägers in a skirmish line and arranged the Life Guard Jäger Regiment, with the Rostov Musketeers in reserve, in two columns behind them. A battalion of the 20th Jägers, spearheaded the attack. In hand-to-hand combat, the Life Guard Jägers captured three officers and forty-eight men, but lost two officers and six men themselves. As the French counterattacked, Bagration committed the Moscow Grenadiers, the Pskov Musketeers, and the Alexandria Hussars and deployed Colonel Aleksey Ermolov’s horse artillery battery. The 3rd and 7th Jäger Regiments were ordered to hold their ground in the center while the 5th Jägers remained at Sortlach. Bagration also instructed Rayevsky to disengage the 20th and Life Guard Jägers and rally them in the valley behind the forest. The Jägers slowly retreated, pursued by the French, who stopped on the edge of the woods and continued harassing the Russian lines.

At the same time, Oudinot moved part of his division to seize Sortlach on Bagration’s left, but he was beaten back by the 5th Jäger Regiment. Simultaneously, Rayevsky rallied his troops (20th Jägers and Life Guard Jägers) on the plain behind the Sortlach woods. The French cavalry soon charged him there, but a squadron of the Life Guard Horse Regiment drove them back. Early in the morning, Bagration called up General Karl Baggovut’s detachment. He wanted to make a decisive attack to clear and secure the woods, where Oudinot’s grenadiers had found good positions from which to harass Bagration’s troops. Bagration deployed the 26th Jägers in line, followed by the 4th and 25th Jägers in column. The Russians overwhelmed Oudinot’s troops and drove them out of the Sortlach. To secure his position in the forest, Bagration reinforced Baggovut with a battalion of Olonetsk militia.

Hearing of this success, Bennigsen ordered the rest of his army to adjust the line with the front held by Bagration’s troops. As a result, the Russians advanced 1,000 paces. At the same time, several major cavalry actions took place around Heinrichsdorf, where regular cavalry under General Fedor Uvarov and the Cossacks threatened to envelop the French flank. However, the cavalry of I and VI Corps arrived in time to repulse the Russians and secure the flank. Shortly after 9:00 A. M., Mortier’s corps also arrived on the battlefield near Heinrichsdorf in time to counter a new Russian attack.

It was an important moment in the battle. Unable to defeat Lannes’s corps, Bennigsen could have recalled his army and safely retreated across the Alle before Napoleon’s entire army arrived. However, he decided to remain at Friedland, though he took no precautions to protect his exposed army.

The Russian troops, already exhausted by the previous days’ marches and the early fighting, lapsed into a brief lull between 2:00 and 5:00 P. M. Both sides exchanged artillery fire, but no major actions took place. Bagration, meantime, met Bennigsen in Friedland and turned his attention to the arrival of the French corps. He urged Bennigsen to take measures to strengthen the positions around Friedland. Furthermore, Bagration anticipated that Napoleon would direct a main attack against his flank, so he requested more reinforcements; his appeals were all turned down. Finally, shortly after 4:00 P. M., Bennigsen observed the French corps taking up new positions from which to attack and realized the danger to his exposed army. He ordered a retreat, but Gorchakov argued it was better to defend the current positions until night. Bagration disagreed with this suggestion and began preparing his troops to withdraw to Friedland.

Napoleon, meanwhile, was rapidly concentrating his corps at Friedland. He personally arrived near the town shortly before noon, declaring to his troops “Today is a happy day-it is the anniversary of Marengo” (Chandler 1966, 577). Examining the Russian positions, he realized that he had a chance of destroying the Russian army in a single battle. He urged Ney, General Claude Victor, and the Imperial Guard to accelerate their march to the battlefield as he prepared new dispositions for the battle. He rested his troops in the woods of Sortlach and made sure they had enough ammunition. He then placed Victor’s troops and part of the cavalry in reserve near Postehnen. On the left flank, Mortier’s corps, supported by most of the French cavalry, defended Heinrichsdorf and the road to Königsberg. However, Mortier was instructed not to advance, as the movement would be by the French right flank, pivoting on the left. Napoleon had two corps designed for this flanking attack. Ney was ordered to move to the right flank, passing Postehnen toward the woods of Sortlach. Lannes would form the center in front of Postehnen, while Oudinot’s troops were to turn to the left in order to draw upon themselves the attention of the enemy. Napoleon’s planned maneuver was aimed at destroying the bridges at Friedland and cutting the Russian line of retreat.

At 5:30 P. M. a salvo of twenty French guns signaled the renewal of battle. Ney’s corps advanced from Postehnen to the woods of Sortlach, where Bagration had posted his Jägers. After an hour of vicious fighting, Bagration had to withdraw his exhausted Jägers, allowing the French to occupy the woods and open fire on his main forces. Ney organized his troops in columns in three broad clearings in the forest; General Jean Gabriel Marchand’s division was on the right, General Baptiste Bisson on the left with the cavalry of General Marie- Charles Latour-Maubourg following them behind. The superior French forces drove Bagration’s Jägers out of the woods and carried Sortlach, which was partly abandoned on Bagration’s orders. As the French advanced, several Russian batteries on the right bank opened fire at them, while Bagration deployed his troops in new positions. He then moved the Life Guard Ismailovsk and Semeyonovsk Regiments forward.

The advancing French came under fire from Bagration’s troops and from the batteries on the opposite bank. General Alexandre Antoine Senarmont, chief of artillery of Victor’s corps, later recalled that the Russian batteries, deployed on the opposite side of the Alle, fired on the French flanks and decimated them. Bagration initially counterattacked with the Life Guard Horse Regiment and then moved the Pavlovsk and St. Petersburg Grenadier Regiments forward. The Russians drove the French columns back and captured the eagle of the 69th Line in the process. Ney’s troops fell back in confusion but were quickly rallied when General Pierre Dupont moved his division with the cavalry under generals Armand Lahoussaye and Antoine Auguste Durosnel closely behind. The Russian cavalry continued its attack but came under fire from Dupont’s batteries and was counterattacked by Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry. As the Russians fell back, Dupont changed the direction of his troops to the right and covered the gap on Ney’s left.

Simultaneously, Senarmont moved his twelve guns forward and organized two companies of fifteen guns, with six pieces in reserve, and placed them on both flanks of Dupont’s division. As the French advanced, Senarmont outpaced the infantry and opened fire on Bagration’s troops from close range. The fire was very effective because the Russians were massed in a narrow defile between the Muhlen Teich and the Alle. Realizing the danger of these batteries, Bagration directed his artillery against them. Senarmont disregarded the Russian artillery and concentrated his fire on the enemy infantry. His guns initially fired at 600 paces, then moved to 300 paces; Senarmont’s guns operated with remarkable intensity, firing over 3,000 rounds into the Russian troops. Bagration sent his cavalry to destroy the French guns, but Senarmont calmly awaited their advance before ordering canister fire, which in the event literally mowed down the enemy ranks. The Russians then attacked with the Life Guard Izmailovsk and Pavlovsk Grenadier Regiments, but the French fire virtually wiped out these regiments as well; the third battalion of the Izmailovsk Regiment lost some 400 men out of 520. Realizing the utter futility of his orders, Bagration finally fell back to Friedland, where he unsuccessfully attempted to delay the French advance. By 8:00 P. M. Bagration had withdrawn into Friedland and had the houses in the southern suburbs set on fire to slow down the French. At the same time, as he approached the river, Bagration found the bridges had already been set ablaze by the Russians.

On the Russian right flank, Gorchakov made a desperate assault with his four divisions on Lannes and Mortier. The French contained General Dmitry Golitsyn’s efforts with the support of the cavalry of the Imperial Guard. However, senior French commanders did not exploit their numerical superiority in cavalry (forty squadrons against twenty-five) and allowed the Russians to retreat. The French artillery on the left bank of the Muhlen Teich soon engaged Gorchakov’s forces in flank. The arrival of Gorchakov’s troops in the crowded streets of Friedland created havoc at the bridges, which were already on fire. Bagration and Gorchakov dispatched numerous officers to look for fords along the river, which were quickly found.

The Battle of Friedland was the final engagement of a long campaign. The Russian army had suffered a crushing defeat and could not field another army. The casualties were staggering, as the Russians lost some 20,000 killed and wounded; the French lost 7,000-8,000. Bennigsen had undertaken some effective operations in the early months of 1807, but he committed a fatal blunder at Friedland. Furthermore, the Russian high command played virtually no role in the battle, since Bennigsen was in poor health, his quartermaster general, Fadey Steingeldt, and his duty general, Ivan Essen, were wounded and unavailable for duty, and the Russian headquarters were full of incompetent officers and observers.

Friedland was a decisive military and diplomatic victory for Napoleon. It proved the superiority of French military organization: A single corps had repulsed attacks of the Russian army and allowed the rest of the French to concentrate for a counterattack. It put an end to the Fourth Coalition and led to rapprochement between Russia and France. The meeting between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander at Tilsit and the subsequent treaty of alliance was a direct result of this victory. In addition, Napoleon spread his sphere of influence to the territory between the Oder and the Niemen rivers and found eager supporters in Poland.

References and further reading Both, Carl von. 1807. Relation de la bataille de Friedland le 14 juin 1807. Berlin: Schropp. Chandler, David G. 1995. The Campaigns of Napoleon. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Derode, M. 1839. Nouvelle relation de la bataille de Friedland. Paris: Anselin et Laguionie. Grenier, E. 1911. Etude sur 1807: Manoeuvres d’Eylau et Friedland. Paris: Lavauzelle. Horne, Alistair. 1979. Napoleon, Master of Europe: 1805-1807. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Lettow-Vorbeck, Oscar von. 1896. Der krieg von 1806 und 1807. Berlin: Mittler und Sohn. Michel, Lt. Col. 1909. Etude sur la période du 5 au 14 juin de la campagne de 1807. Paris: Berger-Levrault. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, Alexander. 1846. Opisanie vtoroi voini Imperatora Aleksandra s Napoleonom v 1806-1807 godakh [Description of the Second War of the Emperor Alexander against Napoleon in 1806-1807]. St. Petersburg: N. p. Petre, F. Loraine. 2001. Napoleon’s Campaign in Poland, 1806-07. London: Greenhill. Summerville, Christopher. 2005. Napoleon’s Polish Gamble: Eylau and Friedland, 1807. London: Leo Cooper.

CARPIQUET AIRFIELD I

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A Sherman tank of the Fort Garry Horse

Operation Windsor

Operation Windsor

Both Carpiquet airfield and village were held by the 12th SS (Hitlerjugend) Panzer Division, which had proven a tenacious and ruthless foe during the June 7–12 fighting. All SS divisions were fierce and fanatical, but the 12th SS was uniquely comprised almost entirely of teenaged soldiers commanded by older, veteran officers and NCOs. The youths had been indoctrinated to believe they were Aryan “supermen.” The 12th SS was commanded by the extremely capable, thirty-three-year-old Standartenführer Kurt Meyer.

Its thick stone-walled buildings bordered by the Caen-Bayeux railway to the north and the airport to the south, Carpiquet was a typical Norman farm village. On the other side of the railway was a series of iron quarries. To the east and west were grain fields.

In front of the village, fifty panzer grenadiers from 26th Regiment hid in trenches and bomb shelters. Another 150 of Meyer’s men were mostly sheltered in thick concrete bunkers.

The June fighting had scythed through Meyer’s infantry strength. Lacking reinforcements, his only hope was to break the Canadian attack with heavy weapons. The troops in front of Carpiquet were intended to lure the Canadians into a series of minefields and then suck them into the village by executing a rapid withdrawal. All available artillery and mortar units had the village zeroed in. Chief among these was an 88-millimetre battery next to Saint-Germain, a village to the east. Five Panzer Mark IV tanks lay in ambush position inside the southern hangars. A dozen-strong company of Panther Mark V tanks nearby could also be brought into play. Meyer had several unique 50-kilogram rockets [Nebelwerfers]filled with either explosives or flammable oil.

Meyer never doubted his young soldiers would fight like lions. They had done so during the attacks on the beaches—and events during those days left many fearful for their lives should any decide to surrender. During that fighting, 156 Canadian prisoners had been brutally murdered by the 12th SS.

Although most execution sites, such as the Abbaye d’Ardenne, remained behind German lines, enough bodies had been recovered for the atrocity to be known. Without orders being issued, it was understood among the Canadians that they should show “little mercy in subduing the German defenders” of Carpiquet.

Brigadier Ken Blackader knew his 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade would aim “at the heart” of the 12th SS and “the fanatical youth of this division” would fiercely defend it. A forty-six-year-old World War I veteran, who had won a Military Cross during that war, Blackader had a rock-solid reputation for competent leadership and personal courage. Quickly realizing his three battalions were insufficient to win both airport and village, he acquired 7th Brigade’s Royal Winnipeg Rifles as reinforcement. Two Fort Garry Horse tank squadrons would help the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment and Régiment de la Chaudière gain the village, while a third supported the Winnipeg advance on the hangars. Once these two objectives were taken, the Queen’s Own Rifles would clear the control and administration buildings on the airfield’s northern edge. A squadron each of the 79th British Armoured Division’s specialized tanks, known as “funnies,” were also on hand. One squadron mounted Petards—short-barrelled guns that fired a heavy charge intended to destroy concrete bunkers. The Flail squadron’s tanks were fitted with rotating drums to which long chains were attached that slapped mines into harmlessly detonating. The third was a Crocodile squadron, its tanks equipped with flame-throwers.

A lavish artillery plan included every gun within range—428 from one heavy, eight medium, and twelve field regiments. There were also six 16-inch guns of battleship HMS Rodney, two 15-inch guns of monitor HMS Roberts, and nine 6-inch guns of cruiser HMS Belfast. A total of 30,250 shells would provide a creeping barrage for the troops to advance behind while also concentrating on specified strongpoints. The entire complement of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (MG) 4.2-inch mortars and Vickers medium machine guns were ranged on village and airfield. Two squadrons of tank-busting Typhoon fighter-bombers were also available.

In the North Shore’s perimeter on the night of July 3–4, four men huddled in a slit trench. Lieutenant Chester MacRae was upset when Lieutenant Hector “Hec” MacQuarrie and Company Sergeant Major Joe Murray both confessed to premonitions that they were sure to die in the fight. Neither McRae nor Lance Corporal Wes McDavid could offer meaningful reassurance, because it was clearly going to be a rough attack.

At 0300 hours, the North Shores, Chauds, and Queen’s Own moved to starting positions in front of La Villeneuve, while the Winnipegs formed up outside Marcelet. To avoid being seen, the men lay down in the wheat fields. Major Lochie Fulton walked over to greet Major Alex Christian, whose Fort Garry Horse ‘B’ Squadron had just rumbled up. Intelligence staff reported that the airport was “a very strong defensive position” with many “concrete strong points, barbed wire, communication trenches, gun positions of all types and even extensive underground tank hangars and tunnels … Also many infantry trenches with machine guns and mortars and anti-personnel and tank minefields.” Yet, because 8th Brigade’s main thrust was directed towards Carpiquet and the control complex on the northern side of the airport, the tanks supporting the Winnipegs were not accompanying the infantry. They would instead remain on the edge of Marcelet to serve as an armoured reserve that could be sent towards Carpiquet if required. Christian’s Shermans would fire their 75-millimetre guns over the advancing infantry’s heads—scant help on a battlefield boiling with blinding smoke and dust raised by the massive artillery bombardment.

At 0500 hours, North Shores’ Major Clint Gammon, commanding ‘D’ Company, looked over his shoulder in amazement as “the whole horizon in a semi-circle behind us became a blaze when the artillery opened up.” Major J.E. “Ernie” Anderson at the head of ‘A’ Company thought the barrage “awe-inspiring.” One minute he was “in a quiet and peaceful countryside with dawn just breaking; the next, the ground … was shaking from the bursts of shells.” When the great naval guns on Roberts and Rodney joined in, the noise rose “to a crescendo.” Anderson’s men were on the battalion’s right, Gammon’s on its left. They were to secure the first half of the village, and the two following would clear the rest. Gammon had two platoons out front, the third hanging in reserve. As the advance was not to begin until ten minutes into the bombardment, Gammon decided he had time to check on the rear platoon. He had covered just fifty yards when the start line exploded with shell bursts. Through burning and smoking wheat, Gammon ran back to the company front and discovered that “a lot of my men were dead or wounded.”

German artillery and mortar units had deliberately struck at this moment to catch the Canadians on their start lines. Increased wireless traffic the day before had warned Meyer that a Canadian strike was imminent, and past experience led him to expect a dawn attack. So he arranged a coinciding fire plan. Perfectly timed, it had devastating results.

The bombardment and counter-fire came as Meyer was scrambling over the rubble of destroyed airfield buildings. A salvo of 50-kg rockets flashed overhead, “leaving their long, fiery trails behind them.” Dashing into the concrete bunker of the infantry battalion’s headquarters, Meyer was unable to hear Sturmbannführer Bernard Krause’s report. There “were crashes and shrieks all around us. We crowded together in the bunker entrance. The bunker shook as the … rounds from the battleships exploded nearby … The naval rounds spun entire hangars into the air. The village could not be identified … Thick clouds of smoke lay to the west.”

German casualties were heavy. “Many … survivors had to dig themselves and their weapons out of the rubble,” the 12th SS historian recorded. Every building in Carpiquet and at the airport was either destroyed or damaged. While most exterior walls of the stone houses in the village withstood the shellfire, their roofs were torn open.

Lying in the dew-drenched wheat field had left Rifleman Alex Kuppers of Fulton’s ‘D’ Company soaking wet. He was watching the fall of the incoming shells. Kuppers poked the guy beside him. “I think we should move—either right, left or back,” Kuppers shouted. “The way these are coming, the next one’s going to be here.” The soldier refused. Kuppers scrambled back about four yards to where a sunken road afforded some shelter. Then the signal to advance sounded. When Kuppers reached his previous spot, he saw that “the shell had landed right beside [the other soldier] and the only thing missing was that half his foot was gone. Blood was running from his eyes.”

As the Winnipegs crossed the start line, Fulton thought the artillery was falling short, “but then I realized we were under German barrage, which had been waiting for us. Their locations made it possible to direct their fire with deadly accuracy. Casualties were immediate, and in the waist-high wheat, the stretcher-bearers had difficulty finding the wounded and in giving first aid. Jeeps usually used to evacuate casualties to the regimental aid post (RAP) could not be used because, as soon as a vehicle appeared on the airfield, it was knocked out by the German guns.

“We kept moving ahead but soon all the Platoon officers were hit. The last one to go was [Lieutenant] Jack Mitchell. He came over to … say that he was hit in the arm and would go back to the RAP to get fixed up and would be right back. Jack was a stout-hearted individual, but his wounds were more severe than he realized, and his war was over.”

‘A’ Company led the Winnipeg advance in arrowhead formation with Lieutenant Richard Moglove’s No. 9 Platoon at the front and the other two platoons behind and out on opposite sides. Rifleman Arthur Davey was on No. 9 Platoon’s point. Davey was packing bolt cutters, his task to cut a hole through the eight-foot perimeter fence. To his relief, the artillery had ripped the fence asunder. The platoon dashed through great gaping holes and Davey threw the cutters aside.

“Davey, get up on the tarmac and dig me a slit trench for OP[Observation Post] purposes,” Moglove yelled.

“Why me?” Davey replied.

“Because you have the pick.” True enough. It was slung across Davey’s back. “I crawled up and took one swing with the pick when a sniper shot ricocheted between me and the handle of the pick. I moved out of there fast,” leaving the pick “stuck in the tarmac.”

All three battalions were taking heavy casualties. Private Abraham Feldman, a young wireless operator assigned to Major Hugues Lapointe of the Chauds’ ‘A’ Company, weighed 122 pounds and stood just five feet, five inches tall. The No. 18 set weighed 35 pounds, his rifle 11 pounds. Feldman figured he carried at least 70 pounds of equipment.

Walking out from the start line in reserve position behind the two leading companies, ‘A’ Company was “clobbered.” Feldman saw Carpiquet “inundated with bombs, shells and bullets. You just had to keep going. It’s hard to describe. You’d move, advance two feet at a time, drop down, get up again and bingo you hear the 88s. It was a slow advance with men dropping like flies.”

To indicate the location of a wounded man, the nearest soldier would drive the man’s rifle bayonet into the ground so the butt was visible above the wheat. The rifle markers also helped prevent tanks and Bren carriers from running over the fallen. On the extreme left flank, the North Shore’s carrier platoon rumbled along in their Bren carriers next to the railroad. Their commander, Captain J.A. Currie, thought the “dust and smoke made it like a night attack … and during the clear spots, we could see men going forward, but had no idea so many had been hit. Padre [R. Miles] Hickey was right among them, giving the last rites and so was Doc [John Aubry] Patterson with his medical kit. No other unit had a pair to match them.”

Hickey had waded into the midst of ‘B’ Company, shredded even as it advanced towards the start line. “Everywhere men lay dead or dying,” Hickey wrote. “I anointed about thirty right there.”

‘A’ Company’s Major Anderson thought the “advance through the grain field was little short of hell.” He kept his bearings in the boiling smoke by taking constant compass readings. Behind him, one platoon wandered off at a right angle to the line of advance. Lieutenant Darrel Barker had been mortally wounded, and, unable to see the rest of the company, the platoon drifted out of sight into the smoke before Anderson could bring it back on course.

Many of the fifty 12th SS soldiers deployed in the field west of Carpiquet had been killed or so badly dazed by the shelling that they meekly surrendered when overrun. But a few remained defiant. Their fire added to the casualty toll. “I am sure at some time during the attack,” Anderson recalled, “every man felt he could not go on. Men were being killed or wounded on all sides and the advance seemed pointless, as well as hopeless. I never realized until the attack on Carpiquet how far discipline, pride of unit, and above all, pride in oneself and family can carry a man, even when each step forward meant possible death.”

‘B’ Company’s Lieutenant Charles Richardson had only twenty of the thirty-five men in his platoon left. Lieutenant Paul McCann’s platoon was on his right. Both men were using compasses. When the smoke lifted momentarily, Richardson saw that McCann’s men were now to his left. He had no idea how that had happened. His men emerged from the smoke in an extended line and suddenly faced a field that had been burned to stubble by artillery fire. Charging forward, they wiped out a slit trench defended by five Germans. Richardson saw a pinwheeling stick grenade land in front of him. “I felt a hot stinging in my right side and left hand, then thought it didn’t matter too much.” Suddenly alone, Richardson took on the German position single-handedly and killed its defenders. His batman and two runners had all been seriously wounded by the grenade.

“My side started to bother me badly and my left hand was peppered with shrapnel. I had a long cigarette case in the inside pocket of my battledress and a towel wrapped around my waist. In order to look at my side, which was throbbing, I unbuttoned my tunic and the towel was full of shrapnel. I reached for a cigarette and found the case bent almost double by a large piece of shrapnel. I felt I was not hit too badly but out of nowhere appeared our beloved colonel and I quickly had orders to get back to the first aid post—which marked the finish of my first month in action.”

CARPIQUET AIRFIELD II

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A soldier of the Hitlerjugend carrying an MG42 machine gun near Caen.

Victory-10

Two Fort Garry Horse squadrons were riding right on the heels of the North Shores and Chauds. One Sherman rolled up and spun in a full turn that buried Sturmmann Karl-Heinz Wambach to the chest in the sandy soil of his slit trench. He was trying to free himself when a voice yelled, “SS bastard, hands up!” Two North Shores dragged him free and tied his hands. One then punched him in the face. He was taken to the rear, urged along by rifle butt blows, and tied to a fence post for some hours in an area subjected to frequent shelling by German 88-millimetre guns.

Wambach’s complaints about his treatment led the North Shore’s historian to comment that “given the way Canadians felt about the 12th SS, he got off lucky.” During its advance across the field, the North Shores took thirty-five prisoners and killed an equal number.

At 0625 hours, almost ninety minutes after the attack began, the North Shores reached the shelter of a stone wall in front of Carpiquet and reported being on their first objective. The Chauds signalled brigade a few minutes later that they had men on the village edge and among the nearby hangars. Carpiquet was still being heavily shelled, forcing a twenty-minute pause. More casualties resulted when shells burst in the tree canopy next to the Canadian positions. When the artillery ceased firing, both battalions plunged into the village. Most of the small garrison actually deployed within either surrendered, were already dead, or quickly fled. The North Shores sent back twenty more prisoners. In the Chaudière sector, a handful of hard-core 12th SS in the hangar complex were burned out of concrete pillboxes by Crocodiles. At 1056, the Chauds reported their grip on the hangars secure.

Surprisingly, there were French civilians still living in the badly damaged village. Some, who emerged from bomb shelters and basements, had been wounded, and most seemed to be “in a state of severe shock,” Lieutenant MacRae wrote. “One old couple passed me going to the rear with their few possessions in a wheelbarrow. They looked too dazed to know what was going on.” While most of the civilians immediately fled towards the Canadian lines, a few were driven back into hiding when the Germans slammed Carpiquet with heavy and continuous mortar and artillery fire.

Private Feldman manned his wireless in a concrete bunker the Chauds were using as a battalion headquarters. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Mathieu, Major Lapointe, the battalion padre, and Feldman felt pretty secure there until “we heard this big noise and knew it was coming close. I was facing one way and the shell … hit the HQ in another place. I was in the ‘dead zone’ or I’d have been killed by the concussion … I was knocked flat into the bunker and the officers looked at me and thought I’d died … I had landed on my set and that really prevented me from getting hurt, but the set was damaged. We got it going again and it was a miracle.”

To the south, as Fulton’s ‘D’ Company had closed on the first of the three hangars, it began taking heavy small-arms fire in addition to being shelled and mortared. All three platoons were shredded. Fulton was the only officer still standing. “We made a final rush and got into the hangar, taking over the extensive network of deep weapon pits and trenches developed by the Germans to guard the hangars. It was then that the heaviest bombardment I experienced throughout the whole war was brought down upon us. If it hadn’t been for the excellent German trench system, I believe none of us would of survived.”

Fulton radioed Lieutenant Colonel John Meldram. His company held the hangar but was too weak to go any farther, Fulton reported. However, he believed it could repel the likely counterattack. ‘A’ Company had been forced to ground a hundred yards short of the hangars. Meldram decided to feed ‘B’ Company through to the hangar held by Fulton. He also requested that 8th Brigade release some of ‘B’ Squadron’s tanks to accompany it.

Blackader reluctantly agreed to release one troop along with four Crocodiles. ‘B’ Squadron was Blackader’s only armoured reserve, and he intended to have it support the follow-on assault by the Queen’s Own Rifles to clear the control and administration buildings in the northeast corner of the airfield. Because the Winnipegs had failed to clear the hangars and remove the German threat to the Queen’s Own from that flank, Blackader had delayed this phase. He also ordered the Queen’s Own to form up inside Carpiquet for the launch of their attack.

‘B’ Company met the same murderous hail of German shells the two leading companies had endured. Only about half the men reached the hangar Fulton held. Captain Jack Hale had been wounded. Fulton combined the survivors with his own. But the Winnipegs were still unable to clear the Germans out of the concrete pillboxes and trench systems defending the other hangars. The Crocodiles, the Winnipeg war diarist wrote, “proved useless.” As for the Fort Garry troop, its four Shermans met deadly fire from hidden anti-tank guns. Lieutenant Arthur Edwin Rogers and Sergeant Alastair James Innes-Ker were both mortally wounded when their tanks burst into flames. The demise of those two tanks prompted the remaining two to flee.

Wireless contact between battalion headquarters and the forward companies was so erratic that Meldram ordered Fulton to come back for a briefing. “I had no desire to make my way back across the airfield again, a target for the German guns; mine not to reason why, however.” As Fulton ran back, he spotted Rifleman Leonard Miller calmly lying in a slit trench and reading a pocket-sized New Testament. Meldram ordered the lead companies pulled back to a small, sparse wood a few hundred yards ahead of the original start line. Artillery would then plaster the hangars, and a new attack would go in with ‘B’ Squadron alongside. As Fulton passed Miller’s s lit trench on his return run, he saw the man had been killed by a mortar round.

At 1600 hours, the new attack went in behind another bombardment. Rifleman Edward Patey, a Bren gunner in ‘C’ Company, had just started forward when mortar and machine-gun fire tore into his platoon. Three men went down. He recognized one as a man in his mid-thirties everyone had nicknamed “Pops.” The man lay “writhing on the ground, his whole stomach ripped with bullets.” Patey “was hit by a mortar piece in the eye and upper chest and … left deaf for a couple of days.”

‘B’ Company’s Sergeant Major Charles Belton suffered a chest wound. “I can remember when we were kids, we watched an Indian-cowboy movie and someone got shot and hit the ground and was dead. When I looked down and saw this blood spurting out of my chest, I thought I’d better lie down, so I did. I was fortunate. The shrapnel came through a book I had in my upper right breast pocket. Otherwise I would probably have had that shot go right through me. But the book stopped the shrapnel, although it took two pieces of cardboard and that book into the wound and that infected it and made it worse.”

As Belton started crawling to the rear, a German sniper in a nearby tree shot him in the leg. One of his men gunned the sniper down. Belton was evacuated to a field hospital. “There were so many of us in that tent that stretchers were only about [six] inches apart, just enough room for the nurses to walk in between … just row, and row, and row of us on these stretchers. I lay so long on this stretcher that my back pain was far worse than the wounds. I finally got back to England on a barge.”

While the infantry had gone straight for the hangars, the Shermans had executed a “sweeping attack” to get around the left flank of the Germans inside. Within minutes the tankers found their planned charge slowed to a crawl by thick bands of barbed wire and other obstacles, as well as anti-tank fire coming from in and around the hangars. Major Christian also reported the squadron was taking heavy fire from Panthers on the high ground behind the village of Verson to his right. The British were to have taken this ground but were stalled inside Verson.

‘B’ Squadron was completely out of contact with the infantry, which, having regained the first hangar, were again stuck there. Christian manoeuvred the squadron towards the hangars but found his tanks caught in a vise between a force of Mark IV and Panther tanks near Verson and other tanks at the hangars. A fierce shootout ensued. Soon burning tanks littered the airfield. ‘B’ Squadron had gone into the attack fifteen strong. When the tank battle broke off, nine remained operational.

The battle clearly stalemated, Meldram told Blackader at 1725 hours that “it would be impossible to hold on without increased [support]. Blackader had nothing more to send. When a mixed force of tanks and infantry approached the airfield from the east, artillery managed to scatter it. But the Germans only “dispersed and rallied” the moment the guns ceased firing. Blackader ordered the Winnipegs back to Marcelet. As the infantry withdrew, the surviving tanks joined them. At Marcelet the Winnipegs dug in. Blackader ordered his battalions to reorganize where they were.

“What had we accomplished?” Fulton wondered. “Possibly the Germans recognized our intention to take Carpiquet and that we would be back. But at what a cost!”

Blackader ordered the Queen’s Own to join his other battalions holding Carpiquet. To reach the village meant running the gauntlet of artillery and mortar fire through the wheat field. En route, ‘B’ Company’s Rifleman Alex Gordon was wounded and left behind. Rifleman J.P. Moore rolled up in his Bren carrier just as the men in Gordon’s platoon realized he was missing. They warned Moore that “the fire was so heavy that anyone in the wheat field would be killed.” Moore gave the carrier full throttle, drove like mad into the wheat field, grabbed up Gordon and threw him in the carrier, and brought him to safety.

As the battalion closed on Carpiquet, one carrier platoon section, operating as foot infantry, sought shelter beside a concrete bunker. Suddenly, a German inside it opened up with a Schmeisser, and Rifleman Art Reid was shot dead. The entire battalion went to ground and called for tanks and Crocodiles to destroy the position.

When the armour arrived, the Crocodiles blasted “with flame the walls about the entrances, which were set in a wide trench on the south side. This treatment merely blackened the [heavy] concrete walls and appeared to have no effect upon the enemy within. Nor were the tanks able to damage the structure,” Major Steve Lett, the battalion’s second-in-command, wrote.

Corporal Tom McKenzie noticed six ventilation shafts poking out of the bunker’s roof and dropped a Mills grenade down one of the pipes. When nothing happened, he realized the pipe was virtually the same diameter as the grenade and this prevented the firing pin from releasing. Flipping the pins free and then dropping the grenades down the pipe worked, but the explosions still failed to convince the Germans inside to surrender.

Because the Germans had killed Reid, McKenzie was getting “madder than hell.” So he stole a carrier’s four-gallon jerry can, emptied the gas down the pipe, and dropped a phosphorous grenade down after. A lot of smoke boiled out of the ventilation duct and there were some satisfying secondary explosions, but still no Germans appeared.

While McKenzie had been taking on the bunker, the battalion’s pioneers had unsuccessfully tried to blow the roof open with a 25-pound demolition charge. “Others tried to blow the steel doors set within the entrances, but here the approach was covered by fire from a sliding panel in the wall through which weapons could be pointed. Several men were killed in this attempt.”

McKenzie took the problem to an engineering officer, Lieutenant John L. Yeats from 16th Field Company, RCE, which was supporting 8th Brigade. When he explained the problem, Yeats showed him a shaped explosive 10-pound charge he had slung on his back. When detonated, this type of charge focused on a wall rather than dissipating the blast in all directions. With McKenzie providing covering fire, Yeats wriggled up to the bunker door, set the charge, lit its fuse, and then both men scrambled for cover. This time the explosion had the desired effect.

A German soldier “emerged from the outer door, announcing himself as spokesman for the remainder, who were afraid to come out, and asking permission to surrender.” Eleven 12th SS troops warily emerged. Several said they had been “told that Canadians take no PW. Consequently they [were] reluctant to surrender, preferring to fight to the last.” The youths admitted “a great hatred for our arty, which is far superior to their own, and never gives them rest.”

Inside the bunker, Lett found the corpses of an officer and sixteen other men, who had been killed by the grenades, burning gasoline, and detonation of the shaped charge. Having cleared the bunker, the Queen’s Own continued into Carpiquet. “Jutting into enemy territory at the tip of the newly-won salient, the village was open to hostile fire from three sides and the three battalions, huddled with their tank squadrons and other supporting arms under the shelter of battered walls, were now being severely shelled and mortared.”

Winning Carpiquet had exacted a dreadful toll. The North Shores lost more men than on any other day of the war—132, of which 46 were killed. The Chauds had 57 casualties, 16 killed. The Queen’s Own suffered 4 killed and 22 wounded. In its failed assault on the southern hangars, the Winnipegs lost more men than during the D-Day landings or when they were overrun at Putot-en-Bessin on June 7–8. Forty of its 132 casualties proved fatal. The Fort Garry Horse lost 8 men killed and 20 wounded—most from ‘B’ Squadron—while 16th Field Company, RCE, had 10 casualties, of which 3 were fatal.

North Shore’s medical officer, John Patterson, and Padre Hickey opened an RAP in a German dugout within the village because “there wasn’t a building left standing, even the trees were smashed to splinters.” Wounded poured in, and the medical teams worked frantically to stabilize people before evacuating them rearward to casualty clearing stations and field hospitals. When Major Blake Oulton was carried in on a stretcher with a bullet in his leg, Hickey said he was a “lucky dog” to have received such a “lovely wound” that would take him out of this hellhole. As dusk fell, Hickey and Major G.E. Lockwood led a burying party during a short lull in the German shelling. You “could fancy how the wheat field had been just like any of our wheat fields back home,” Hickey wrote. But “now the wheat was just trampled into the earth; the ground was torn with shell holes and everywhere you could see the pale upturned faces of the dead. That night alone we buried forty—Carpiquet was the graveyard of the regiment.”

Maarten van Tromp, (1598-1653)

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Dutch admiral. While at sea with his father on a Vereenigde Oostindische Compaagnie (VOC) ship to India, he was taken prisoner by an English pirate and made to serve as a cabin boy for two years. He saw his first naval action in 1617 against the Barbary corsairs. He signed on to a Dutch armed merchantman two years later, and was captured by pirates a second time in 1621. In 1624, he took command of a Dutch frigate in the war against Spain. Within five years, he rose to captain of the admiral’s flagship. He rose to admiral himself by the mid-1630s, after overcoming personal and political rivalries.

Over the rest of his career, Tromp emerged as one of the premier sea captains in any Navy during the 17th century. In 1639, he carried out a raid against Dunkirk pirates and privateers. That same year he led a squadron of 18 Dutch sail to victory over a huge Spanish invasion fleet off The Downs, capturing 13 galleons and 57 other prizes out of a convoy of 100 ships. It was an astonishing, decisive, crushing victory that helped decide the outcome of the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). In 1646, Tromp aided an attack on the privateer base at Dunkirk. He exchanged fire with Robert Blake off Dover on May 19/29, 1652, in defiance of the English claim to “sovereignty of the sea.” That action led directly to the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654).

Tromp lost half his fleet to a gale in July 1652, and was sacked upon his return to the Netherlands. He was restored after the disaster, for the Dutch suffered in his absence at Kentish Knock (September 28/October 8, 1652). He fought Blake twice in the Channel, driving him up the Thames at Dungeness (November 30/ December 10, 1652). He again fought Blake, but inconclusively, in a three-day battle off Portland (February 18-20/February 28-March 2, 1653). Tromp fought next at Gabbard Shoal (June 2-3/12-13, 1653). He and the Dutch Navy failed to adjust to the new English tactic of line of battle, as ordered in the fighting instructions. As a result, Tromp led and lost badly at Texel (July 31/August 10, 1653), where he was killed by a musket ball.

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Battle of Portland, (February 18-20/February 28-March 2, 1653)

“Three Days’ Battle.” A sea fight of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654).Maarten van Tromp, with 75 warships, was escorting a Dutch convoy of 150 merchantmen up the Channel when he was met off Portland by Robert Blake. The latter was lying in wait with a picket line of ships from Portland to the Cotentin peninsula, but he had neglected to post any scouts. Accordingly, Tromp struck as soon as he came upon one end of the English line, attacking an exposed wing before the rest of Blake’s fleet could close. Poor Dutch gunnery and still poorer discipline allowed the rest of Blake’s ships to beat close toward the end of the first day. The next morning, superior English broadside gunnery inflicted serious damage on the Dutch, but the skillful Tromp re-formed his escorts into a defensive shield at the rear of the convoy and fought well as he retreated up the Channel. During the third day, English frigates broke in among the merchantmen and began to take prizes, like wolves cutting individual sheep from a flock. Dutch escorts began to lose heart, even as they also ran low on powder and shot. Many ships were pressed hard against the French coast to await surrender at dawn of the fourth day. Instead, Tromp brilliantly escaped on the tide and was gone before the English noticed. Over three days, the Dutch had lost nine warships and 24 merchantmen, but the English had again failed to close a trap that had been improperly set.

The 'Gouden Leeuw' at the Battle of the Texel, 21 August 1673 *oil on canvas *149,8 x 299,7 cm *1687

Battle of Texel, (August 11/21, 1673)

A major sea fight of the Third Anglo- Dutch War (1672-1674). Admiral de Ruyter engaged an Anglo-French fleet of 86 sail mounting 5,386 guns with his much smaller Dutch fleet mounting just 3,667 guns. His fleet was also under-crewed, owing to the desperate need to man Dutch barrier fortresses against the invading French, who well prepared and timed the start of the Dutch War (1672-1678) to coincide with a secret alliance with England. The fight off Texel Island in the West Frisians lasted 11 hours. De Ruyter and the Dutch managed to inflict enough damage on their enemy’s ships that a long-planned Anglo-French invasion of Holland was denied.

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Cyrus the Younger – Bid for the Persian Throne

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Route of Cyrus the Younger, Xenophon and the Ten Thousand.

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Persian Immortals

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Battle of Cunaxa – First phase of battle

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Battle of Cunaxa – Second phase of battle

It all began with sibling rivalry. Darius II (r. 424-404 bc), Great King of Achaemenid Persia, had many children with his wife Parysatis, but his two eldest sons Arses and Cyrus got the most attention. Parysatis always liked Cyrus, the younger of the two, better. Darius, though, kept Arses close, perhaps grooming him for the succession. Cyrus he sent west to Ionia on the shores of the Aegean Sea, appointing him regional overlord. Just sixteen when he arrived at his new capital of Sardis, the young prince found western Asia Minor an unruly frontier. Its satraps (provincial governors), cunning and ruthless men named Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus, often pursued virtually independent foreign policies, and sometimes clashed with each other. There were also western barbarians for Cyrus to deal with. Athens and Sparta, now in the twenty-third year of their struggle for domination over Greece (today we call it the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 bc), had brought their fleets and troops to Ionia. The Athenians needed to preserve the vital grain supply route from the Black Sea via Ionia to Athens; the Spartans wanted to cut it.

The Achaemenids had their own interest in this war: after two humiliatingly unsuccessful invasions of Hellas in the early fifth century, they wanted to see Greeks lose. Hoping to wear both sides down, the western satraps had intermittently supported Athens and Sparta, but Darius desired a more consistent policy. That was one reason why Cyrus was in Ionia, to coordinate Persian efforts. He made friends with the newly arrived Spartan admiral Lysander. Persian gold darics flowed into Spartan hands; the ships and troops they bought helped put the Lacedaemonians on the way to final victory. In return, the Persians reasserted their old claims over the Greek cities of western Asia Minor. To safeguard their interests, Cyrus and the satraps relied on an unlikely source of manpower: Greek soldiers of fortune. Mercenaries were nothing new in the eastern Mediterranean, but by the end of the fifth century unprecedented numbers of Greek hoplites (armored spearmen) had entered Persian employment. Many of them garrisoned the Persian-controlled cities along the Aegean coast.

In the fall of 405 bc, as Sparta tightened its grip on Athens, Darius took ill. He summoned Cyrus home; the prince arrived at the fabled city of Babylon with a bodyguard of 300 mercenary hoplites, a symbol of what Ionia could do for him. On his deathbed, Darius left the throne to Arses, who took the royal name Artaxerxes II. The satrap Tissaphernes took the opportunity to accuse Cyrus of plotting against the new Great King. Artaxerxes, believing the charge, had his younger brother arrested. Parysatis, though, intervened to keep Artaxerxes from executing Cyrus, and sent him back to Ionia. Cyrus took the lesson to heart. The only way to keep his head off the chopping block was to depose Artaxerxes and become Great King himself. He set about making his preparations.

Across the Aegean, the Peloponnesian War was coming to a close. In May 404, Athens fell to Lysander. The city was stripped of its fleet and empire, its walls pulled down to the music of flute girls. For nearly a year following the end of the war a murderous oligarchic junta ruled the city, and with democracy restored the Athenians would begin looking for scapegoats; Socrates was to be one of them. The victorious Spartans faced other challenges. Having promised liberation from Athenian domination during the war, Sparta now found itself ruling Athens’ former subjects. The austere Spartan way of life provided poor preparation for the role of imperial master. Accustomed to unhesitating obedience at home, Lacedaemonian officials abroad alienated local populations with their harsh administration. Even wartime allies like Corinth and Thebes soon chafed under Sparta’s overbearing hegemony. Then there was the problem of Ionia. While their struggle with Athens went on, the Spartans had acquiesced in Persia’s expansionism, but now their attention began to turn eastward.

It was against this backdrop that, probably in February 401 bc, Cyrus, now an impetuous twenty-three-year-old, again set out from Sardis. His goal: take Babylon, unseat Artaxerxes, and rule as Great King in his brother’s stead. At the head of some 13,000 mostly Greek mercenaries along with perhaps 20,000 Anatolian levies, Cyrus marched east from Sardis across the plains of Lycaonia, over the Taurus Mountains through the famed pass of the Cilician Gates, through northern Syria, and down the Euphrates River valley into the heartland of Mesopotamia. Artaxerxes had been intent on suppressing a revolt in Egypt, but after being warned by Tissaphernes, he turned to face the new threat. Mustering an army at Babylon, the Great King waited until Cyrus was a few days away, then moved north against him.

In early August the two brothers and their armies met near the hamlet of Cunaxa, north of Babylon and west of present-day Baghdad. The heavily armed mercenaries routed the Persian wing opposing them, but to no avail: Cyrus, charging forward against Artaxerxes, fell mortally wounded on the field. In the days following the battle, the prince’s levies quickly fled or switched loyalties to the Great King, leaving the mercenaries stranded in unfamiliar and hostile territory. Their generals tried negotiating a way out of the predicament, but the Persians had other ideas. After a shaky six-week truce, Tissaphernes succeeded in luring the senior mercenary leaders to his tent under pretense of a parley; then they were seized, brought before Artaxerxes, and beheaded.

Rather than surrendering or dispersing after this calamity, though, the mercenaries rallied, chose new leaders, burned their tents and baggage, and embarked on a fighting retreat out of Mesopotamia. Unable to return the way they came, they slogged north up the Tigris River valley, then across the rugged mountains and snow-covered plains of what is today eastern Turkey, finally reaching the Black Sea (the Greeks called it the Euxine) at Trapezus (modern Trabzon) in January 400 bc. From there they traveled west along the water, plundering coastal settlements as they went. Arriving at Byzantium (today Istanbul) that fall, the soldiers then spent the winter on the European side of the Hellespont, working for the Thracian kinglet Seuthes. Finally, spring 399 saw the survivors return to Ionia, where they were incorporated into a Spartan army led by the general Thibron. In two years of marching and fighting, the mercenaries of Cyrus, the Cyreans, had covered some 3,000 kilometers, or almost 2,000 miles – a journey roughly equivalent to walking from Los Angeles, California, to Chicago, Illinois. Of the 12,000 Cyreans who set out with Cyrus, approximately 5,000 remained under arms to join Thibron. At least a thousand had deserted along the way; the rest had succumbed to wounds, frostbite, hunger, or disease.

The march of the Cyreans fascinates on many accounts. Cyrus’ machinations open a revealing window on Achaemenid dynastic rivalry and satrapal politics. His reliance on Greek mercenaries and Artaxerxes’ attempt to destroy them dramatically symbolize the convoluted blend of cooperation and conflict that characterized Greek-Persian relations between the first meeting of Hellene and Persian in mid-sixth-century bc Ionia and Alexander’s entry into Babylon some two centuries later. With its unprecedented mustering of more than 10,000 mercenaries, the campaign marks a crucial moment in the development of paid professional soldiering in the Aegean world.