Scapegoat: Brigadier George Taylor DSO and Bar Part I

A British Centurion tank similar to those used at Maryang San

George Taylor, C.O of 5/DCLI seen here as a Major with the Worcester Regiment.

The Battle of Maryang San

October 1951

‘Am writing these notes in a special aircraft. Felt very important when it was sent until I remembered that the last special aircraft was to remove a Brigade Commander who was getting the sack!’ Thus wrote Brigadier William Pike in a letter home from Korea on 10 November 1951. He was commander of the 1st Commonwealth Division artillery and had escorted Brigadier Taylor to Major General Cassels for his final interview, from which he did not return.

After the Second World War, Korea, a Japanese colony since 1910, was to be occupied north of the 38th parallel by Soviet Russia. The South would be under United States administration. In the North, the Soviets backed a Stalinist regime under Kim Il-sung and created the North Korean People’s Army, equipped with Russian tanks and artillery. The American-trained South Korean Army was limited to a lightly armed gendarmerie, with no tanks or combat aircraft and only a small amount of field artillery. After several years of frontier incidents along the 38th parallel, the Republic of Korea was invaded by the North Korean People’s Army on 25 June 1950.

As the North Koreans swept south, overwhelming all opposition, the US successfully called on the United Nations Security Council to invoke the United Nations Charter and label the North Koreans the aggressors. Member states were urged to send military assistance. American troops were immediately deployed to stiffen the resolve of the South Koreans. The British responded similarly with ships of the Far East Fleet. The North Koreans advanced rapidly south, aiming to take the vital port of Pusan. American troops initially fared badly against the North Koreans, but General Walton Walker, commanding the Eighth United States Army, managed to hold the Pusan perimeter securely enough to allow reinforcements to arrive. In August 1950, the first British troops—the 1st Battalion The Middlesex Regiment and 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders—landed at Pusan and were immediately sent into action.

In mid-September, General MacArthur, in a spectacular indirect approach, landed two divisions behind enemy lines at the port of Inchon. The landing was a decisive victory, and X (US) Corps quickly overcame the few defenders and threatened to trap the main North Korean army in the south. MacArthur recaptured Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and the North Koreans, virtually cut off, rapidly retreated northwards. A few weeks later, following the landing at Inchon, UN forces broke out of the Pusan bridgehead and quickly advanced north. Joined by the 3rd Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment, the British units formed the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and took part in the pursuit of the enemy into North Korea. Meanwhile, a strong brigade had been mobilised in England and several thousand reservists were recalled to active service. The 29th Brigade set sail in October 1950, reaching Korea a month later.

The Eighth (US) Army, with the South Koreans, drove up the western side of Korea and captured Pyongyang in October. By the end of the month, the North Korean army was rapidly disintegrating and the UN took 135,000 prisoners. MacArthur ordered pursuit across the 38th parallel and deep into North Korea. As UN forces drew near the Manchurian border, there were strong indications that Communist China would intervene to defend its area of influence. The Chinese, with some justification, did not trust MacArthur to stop on the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China. Indeed, many in the West thought that spreading the war to China would be necessary and that since North Korean troops were being supplied from bases in China, they should be attacked. In October, MacArthur met President Harry Truman to persuade him that a massive UN effort would conclude the war by Christmas.

No sooner had this offensive been launched in November than the Chinese strongly reacted by invading North Korea on a massive scale. The 27th Brigade held them off from their positions on the river Chongchon but the Chinese broke through elsewhere. In freezing conditions, the UN forces carried out a fighting retreat across extremely difficult terrain. On 25 December 1950, the Chinese entered South Korea and in early January they captured Seoul. The 27th Brigade was now joined by the 29th Brigade, comprising the 1st Battalions, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, The Gloucestershire Regiment (Glosters) and The Royal Ulster Rifles, together with the tanks of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars and the guns of the 45th Field Regiment Royal Artillery. The two brigades acted as a rearguard until a defensive line was established on the river Han. The UN forces withdrew in disorder and, by New Year 1951, were defending a line well to the south of Seoul. Morale sank to a dangerous level but the new US commander, General Ridgway, revived spirits and, encouraging his army, advanced slowly north. In March 1951, a UN counter-offensive pushed the Chinese back and recaptured Seoul. As winter cleared, the UN forces dug in close to the 38th parallel and in early spring advanced a few miles north in order to create a buffer in front of Seoul. On 22 April, the Chinese counter-attacked, aiming to break through to the South Korean capital. They were held by the 27th Brigade near Kapyong and by the 29th Brigade on the Imjin River, where the last stand by the Glosters helped to break the Chinese advance but resulted in heavy casualties. The UN line held, then moved north again, the position stabilising in the general area of the 38th parallel.

Armistice negotiations began at Kaesong in July 1951. Largely static fighting then followed. British troops were deployed on a rotational basis, defending hill positions and carrying out patrols. However, set-piece operations did from time to time occur, as both sides sought to control key areas of terrain and win a success that might improve their negotiating position. On 28 July, the 1st Commonwealth Division, comprising the 28th Commonwealth Brigade, 29th Brigade and 25th Canadian Brigade, was formed under the command of Major General James Cassels.

Cassels was an inspired selection. He had fought during the Second World War in north-west Europe, being awarded a DSO for his leadership of a brigade in operations around Le Havre, the Ardennes, the Reichswald, the crossing of the Rhine and the advance into northern Germany. After the war, he commanded the 6th Airborne Division in counter-insurgency operations in Palestine. As a major general, he was appointed Chief United Kingdom Liaison Officer in Melbourne, Australia, in December 1949. With a tall, commanding presence, ‘Gentleman Jim’ got on easily with his Australian colleagues and soldiers, often through his love of and skill at cricket.

Despite his natural good manners, he found the Americans in Korea difficult, mainly through the differences in planning and procedures. Often the poor relation, his division lacked numbers of men, serviceable equipment and robust transport, much of which dated from the last war. Thus he was forced to rely on American largesse and boost his numbers with South Koreans. His relations with corps commander Lieutenant General John W. ‘Iron Mike’ O’Daniel were uneasy. Cassels once described him as a ‘“Two-Gun Patton” type . . . always wanting to undertake foolhardy stunts which had no serious military purpose. . . . On many occasions I was ordered, without any warning, to do things which I considered militarily unsound and for which there was no apparent reason. . . . I am being harassed and ordered by Corps to produce a prisoner every third day, regardless of cost. As we know quite well what enemy divisions are in front of us I cannot see the point in this and have said so.’ On 4 September 1951, O’Daniel addressed his divisional commanders and staff in the following terms, ‘Everyone must continue to be alert, sharp. Men must be made to eat, sleep, live “killing” so as to be able to destroy this barbaric, cunning enemy whose wish is to “distribute poverty”. This enemy will bring us down to his level if he can.’ O’Daniel was later reassigned to a less stressful appointment.

It was vital to deny the enemy access to ground strategically important to the armistice talks. Cassels’s orders were to ‘restore international peace and security in the area’. To do this he decided to establish patrol bases on the far side of the Imjin River. Once he had secured the crossings, he moved the division across and established defensive positions from which he could dominate no-man’s-land with patrols. Unfortunately, the Chinese 191st Division was able to maintain observation not only over the crossings and no-man’s-land but also all along the front held by the US I Corps. It became essential therefore to occupy the entire area up to and including the line of ridges from which the Chinese could overlook the area. This ridgeline contained two formidable hills—Kowang San at 355 metres (1,165 feet) and Maryang San at 317 metres (1,040 feet). To take these objectives, Operation Commando was planned with some urgency.

But what of the man who was to not only lead his brigade in this operation but also be sacked as a result? George Taylor was born on 17 September 1905, the fourth of six sons of Colonel Thomas Taylor. In 1929 he was commissioned in the West Yorkshire Regiment, then stationed in Northern Ireland. Taylor went with the West Yorks to the Caribbean, then Egypt and on to Quetta, where a massive earthquake occurred in May 1935. Throughout the 1930s Taylor, very fast for his bulk, played rugby for the army, for Lancashire and finally for the Barbarians, which brought him an England trial. At the outbreak of war in 1939, he joined the BEF in France. In 1940 he became embroiled in the ill-fated Norwegian operation. He was a staff officer in 1942 in Madagascar with the Combined Operations Reserve Force, which was soon sent to the North-West Frontier.

This was a frustrating period until, to his delight, he managed to get himself posted as second in command to the 1st Worcestershire Regiment in the 43rd Wessex Division, which landed on the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. He was still in his thirties, experienced but never having been under fire until then. His moment came after four weeks, when two commanding officers of the 5th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (5 DCLI) were killed and the battalion decimated. Taylor became their third commanding officer since landing in Normandy. His priority now was to absorb reinforcements, galvanise the survivors and create an effective fighting force from disorder. Taylor, an experienced trainer of men and a charismatic leader, set about the task with vigour and panache. He then led 5 DCLI with an outstanding record until the end of the war. The Wessex Division lost thirty-six commanding officers during that time, but he was never a day out of the line until the Armistice. Taylor’s intelligence officer, David Willcocks MC, who had been with 5 DCLI since 1940 described ‘not only his great courage and inspiring leadership, but also the care with which we reconnoitred and planned every attack or defensive engagement, in order to minimise casualties . . . his courage and concern called forth in all ranks a deep loyalty and affection’.

The first Tiger tank ever to fall into British hands was captured by 5 DCLI in one of Taylor’s initial night battles, conducted with cunning after careful daylight reconnaissance. German self-propelled guns, tanks and personnel fell into 5 DCLI hands. Taylor was awarded an immediate DSO and began to acquire a reputation for coolness under extreme stress, and for communicating that coolness to his men. Taylor’s second immediate DSO came through his actions in Arnhem in September. Working furiously to close the gap between its own column and the beleaguered parachutists, 5 DCLI ultimately linked up with the Polish Parachute Brigade, after being infiltrated by German Tiger tanks. Despite this, the Battalion managed to supply the Poles with much-needed rations, ammunition, petrol and medical stores.

Taylor was a man of drive and daring rather than caution but knew what he could ask of his men, and they responded to that. Interestingly, this was not just confined to his own battalion—his fellow commanding officers also held him in high regard and had great respect for him. His delightful autobiography of his wartime experiences, Infantry Colonel, demonstrates a straightforward, uncomplicated man with a love of soldiering and a deep respect for his men.

In 1950 Taylor was promoted temporary brigadier to command the 28th Infantry Brigade in Hong Kong; from there, in April 1951, he took the brigade to Korea where it became the 28th Commonwealth Brigade in the 1st Commonwealth Division. General Sir Brian Horrocks, Taylor’s old corps commander in the drive for the Arnhem bridges back in 1944, wrote to him on 17 July on being told of Taylor’s promotion to command the brigade, ‘I can think of no better choice, as nobody knows more about the sharp end of the battlefield than you.’ The brigade then consisted of the 1st King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (1 KSLI) (Lieutenant Colonel Barlow), the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers (1 KOSB) (Lieutenant Colonel MacDonald) and the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) (Lieutenant Colonel Hassett).

Taylor had an unusual relationship with Field Marshal Sir William Slim, then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, with whom he exchanged personal letters. Nowadays, senior officers might find it irksome to the chain of command for a commanding officer to write directly to the chief but no harm was done and Bill Slim, of course, being very much a ‘front line’ soldier himself probably relished the direct and unvarnished reports from the fighting edge. However, it might be relevant to what happened later. The following is an extract from a letter Taylor wrote to him on 18 May 1951:

My Dear Field Marshal,

I took over the Commonwealth Brigade in the closing stages of the Kapyong battle, when the 27th saved the day for the 9th Corps.

My two Battalions, 1 KOSB and 1 KSLI, have joined us from Hong Kong and we are now 28th British Commonwealth Brigade. Both Battalions are finding their feet and morale is high, and they will soon be as good, or even better, than the fine 3 Royal Australian Battalion, who fought like tigers in the last action (One Section killed 55 Chinese).

We are under command 24 Division and get on well with the Americans, but there is something the matter with them. They have as an Army lost confidence in themselves and it is rather pathetic to see the trust and confidence they have in our two small Brigades. Van Fleet seems a good man and a sound General, and there are other good fighting men in the ranks, but not enough. We seldom get a ‘Warning Order’ and they have little conception of the time and space factor. They are apt also often to be ‘Yes men’ and they do not query unsound orders from above.

As regards ourselves, these are some of the conclusions I’ve rapidly come to:

1.   No unit should be asked to serve more than nine months in this theatre, or an individual more than a year.

2.   Carriers are of little use, they are always having track trouble. The Jeep and trailer is the answer for this boulder strewn country.

3.   (a) The Sten is too unreliable to trust men’s lives to. The Australian Owen’s gun is a much better weapon.

(b) We require in defence an extra 4 Brens per company to meet the Mass Night Attacks. This is based on the Australians experience, who have extra weapons.

4.   I require a Deputy Commander. I am fairly fit and robust, but the physical strain, not to mention the mental side, is very great. I insist on seeing the forward companies and the ground in some detail. This means a lot of hill climbing, even though one tries to cut this down by flying in a light plane or helicopter. He should be on the young side, under 40, have been a Commanding Officer in World War II.

5.   Half of our transport inherited from 27 Brigade is in a very poor condition owing to hard usage.

We expect to fight a big battle in a few days time. There are signs of the enemy’s approach. He is about 10–20 miles to the north. I’m confident that the Brigade will do well. I am getting the Battalions to go in for night patrolling which people seem afraid of doing. With skill and luck hope to catch the mass night attacks forming up, with our artillery. The enemy put in a strong attack last night on the US Regt on our right.

With every good wish

Yours most sincerely

George Taylor

Field Marshal Sir William J. Slim GCB. GBE. DSO. MC.

Chief of the Imperial General Staff

The War Office

P.S. Please do not from the above remarks consider I’m Anti-American, far from it, my personal relations with them are good. In spite of expressing my opinions in an outspoken way, where operational matters are in dispute. We must as two Nations stick together. Aubrey Coad who arrives home early June would give you valuable information about the Korean campaign.

Characteristically, on 31 May, Slim replied: ‘I have heard excellent reports of your Brigade and am glad all goes well’, with assurances that he would take up Taylor’s points.

To return to Operation Commando, Cassels’s plan was to carry out the attack with the Commonwealth and Canadian Brigades, each reinforced with a battalion from the 29th Brigade, the remainder of which was to be kept in reserve. The Commonwealth Brigade would lead the assault on the northern flank to take the ridgeline including Kowang San (Point 355) on D day (3 October). The following day, the Canadians would take the lower-lying hills overlooking the Sami-chon valley. By having two phases, Cassels could support both brigades on each day with the complete divisional artillery. On D+3, both brigades would secure the remaining features which, for the Commonwealth Brigade, included Maryang San (Point 317). The Brigade was to be reinforced for Operation Commando by elements of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars (8 H) (Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Lowther) in Centurion tanks and the 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (1 RNF) (Lieutenant Col Speer). Indirect fire support was to be provided by the 16th Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery (16 RNZA) (Lieutenant Colonel Moodie).

In outline, Taylor’s brigade would take Points 210 (689 feet) to 355 on D day, with 1 KSLI on the left, 1 KOSB centre and 3 RAR on the right. On D+1, they would take Point 317.

On what was to become, as described by Professor Robert O’Neill, the official historian of Australia’s involvement in the Korean War, probably the greatest single feat of the Australian Army during the Korean War, it is instructive to hear the views of the Commanding Officer (CO) of 3 RAR prior to the attack:

I thought the Brigade plan was good tactically, if ambitious. I kept my reservations to myself as there was no point in disturbing others. Not so my fellow battalion commanders.

In later years the Brigade Commander told me that each had separately protested, one claiming that the Brigade would suffer a thousand casualties. I thought the Brigade Commander to be an experienced infantryman and skilled tactician. If he set ambitious tasks then one had the comfort of knowing that he knew what it was all about and would not ask for anything that he was not prepared to do himself.

This is a good illustration of the isolation of command. The Brigadier had been told to take 355 (Little Gibraltar) and 317 (Maryang San). He had given his plan. Nobody came up with anything different. He had two concerned COs. The third, myself, was still a ‘new boy’, still under scrutiny. In the event, the matter was sorted out with the British COs. I was not involved.

At first light on 3 October, 1 KSLI moved to secure the ridgeline between Points 210 and 227 (745 feet). The battalion initially made good progress but their supporting tanks trailed behind due to the difficult going. Taylor told them to push on without them; they were always considered a bonus anyway. By the end of the day they had covered 12,000 yards in twelve hours. Taylor was disappointed but told them to go firm and complete their tasks the following day. In the centre, 1 KOSB was not so lucky in trying to capture two intermediate features to cover the eventual assault on Kowang San. This resulted in one of its companies having to withdraw in order to resume the attack later in the day. Well forward as was his style, Taylor visited both commanding officers in their command posts to give them direction and encouragement. Additionally, he managed to speak twice to Cassels on the telephone but not over the radio. By the evening the south-west spur of Kowang San had been captured and 1 KOSB was able to reorganise and rest before continuing the next day. 3 RAR had set off at three o’clock in the morning to capture Point 199 (653 feet) as a preliminary to assaulting Maryang San on 5 October. It took five hours to go 3 miles but success was achieved when it deployed its reserve company and could then support the KOSB attack on Kowang San with its heavy machine guns. The accompanying Centurions of 8 H could bring fire to bear on the two 220 Points (722 feet).

Taylor issued clear orders for operations on 4 October by signal at 6.20 that evening. But Kowang San was still in the hands of the enemy by D+1, making life difficult for the Canadian Brigade, so, at Taylor’s request, Cassels delayed their start time by five hours to enable his artillery to continue to support the Commonwealth Brigade in its final push onto its objective. Under pressure of time, Taylor ordered 3 RAR to take the twin Points of 220 on 4 October to assist 1 KOSB in its attack on Kowang San. This was not popular. Hassett wanted to preserve his battalion’s energies for the attack on Maryang San on 5 October, which he knew was going to be a struggle. However, he did not want to approach Maryang San with Point 355 still occupied by the Chinese artillery observation posts, which could bring fire down on his assault troops. So at three in the afternoon on 4 October, the Australians advanced to the north-east to the first of the two 220 Points and, having taken that, moved onto the second.

Meanwhile, one company of 1 KOSB had pushed up the spur south-west of Kowang San by first light on 4 October. Unknown to them, the Australians having successfully dealt with Points 220 had established themselves on the eastern slope of Kowang San and cleared the enemy from there by 1215. So, although not entirely planned like that, the outcome was a highly successful pincer movement. 1 KSLI had taken Point 210 by 1010 hours and Point 227 by the evening. Taylor thought it was slow but said, ‘after the battle I let the cloak of victory obscure this stickiness’. The Commonwealth Brigade’s occupation of Kowang San (Point 355) was now complete. At the same time, the Canadian Brigade had a relatively easy time in the Sami-chon valley.

Maryang San (Point 317), as everyone anticipated, was going to be a very difficult task. The feature was steep, riddled with spurs and ravines and false crests. The Chinese had dug themselves in well, making much use of reverse slope positions, in order to catch their enemy coming over the crest. They had considerable artillery and mortar support and were known to have brought up large quantities of ammunition. This, clearly, was going to be too much for one battalion, so Taylor reinforced 3 RAR with 1 RNF.

Dawn on 5 October was heavy with mist, making direction-finding difficult, and life was made more stressful by unreliable radios. The two leading companies of 3 RAR came under heavy effective fire and, at one stage, when he could get through to his commanding officer, one company commander had to admit he was lost. Hassett realised the threat to his men and reinforced with his reserve company. This enabled the exhausted battalion to get onto a feature about 1,000 yards east of the objective, which finally fell to the Australians at five in the evening.

The Chinese were still in possession of the south-west spur, however, and forced 1 RNF back under heavy fire onto its original start line, carrying its casualties with it. Consequently, the men had to reorganise themselves and Taylor ordered them to take Point 217 (712 feet) on 6 October. He then instructed Speer to pass one company through 3 RAR and exploit to the head of Point 217 spur from the north. The commanding officer realised this would mean a very difficult approach through deep gullies and ravines and raised his objections. Taylor accepted his view and the order was rescinded.

The Chinese put in strong counter-attacks onto the Australian positions on 6 October and early the following morning Hassett ordered an attack on the Hinge, a feature directly above Point 217. This achieved success, with heavy artillery and tank support, by 0920 hours. One Australian was heard to comment, ‘I’ll never be rude about Gunners again.’ Possession of the Hinge was vital—without it the Chinese would not be able to recapture Maryang San.

1 RNF again had a go at Point 217 but was forced back without success, sustaining heavy casualties when caught in the open once the mist cleared. While the least effective of the battalions in the brigade in this particular operation, the Fusiliers had been in Korea a long time and were on the point of going home which may have made them, understandably, more cautious. Nevertheless, they had, although repulsed, occupied a significant number of Chinese for two days, who, without their attacks, would have been deployed elsewhere. On 9 October, 1 KOSB relieved the weary 3 RAR on Maryang San and then realised the Chinese had abandoned Point 217, so sent a company to occupy it. The final tally was 58 killed and 257 wounded against the Chinese of 474 killed, 241 wounded and 93 taken prisoner.

Scapegoat: Brigadier George Taylor DSO and Bar Part II

Maryang-san (right), Korea

Enemy positions overlooking the Imjin River, October 1951

Operation Commando had been extremely hard-fought and was a great success. Taylor was rightly proud of his troops and issued a congratulatory letter on 9 October to all ranks of the brigade. This was endorsed by the American corps commander in a fulsome letter to Cassels. Like many battles though, as time goes on, it has become forgotten. American commentators do not mention it and some British historians reduce it to a mere footnote. For the Australians however, it became the Battle of Maryang San and a significant battle honour that has gone down in legend and a lesson in how to fight this sort of war. The commanding officer of 3 RAR, Frank Hassett, was awarded an immediate DSO in the field and much later became the Australian Chief of the General Staff.

On 22 October, both the American corps commander and divisional commander, Cassels, visited Taylor’s headquarters. Was there any indication from either of them that they were in any way dissatisfied with Taylor after what was, by any standards, a resounding victory? Yet, on 25 October, Brigadier Taylor was relieved of his command and replaced by Lieutenant Colonel MacDonald, CO 1 KOSB. MacDonald was not even a full colonel, let alone a brigadier. The Australians were sorry to see ‘this fine soldier fall victim to the intrigues and undermining of a few British officers within the Brigade. . . . This unforeseen change of command could not have come at a worse time for the Brigade.’ Maryang San was shortly recaptured by the Chinese. To add insult to their disgust over the loss of what they had fought so hard for, the Australians learnt that the new brigade commander had issued a Special Order of the Day, effusively praising his old battalion, the KOSB, without a mention of anyone else.

What prompted Cassels to make this emergency appointment with no reference to the Army Board or Military Secretary’s department? If the problem (of Taylor continuing in command) necessitated this immediate action, why did Cassels not put Brigadier Pike, the highly experienced artillery commander, in to command the brigade? Pike had all the confidence of the Commonwealth allies and, although a gunner, that did not preclude him from commanding an infantry brigade.

Then, as now, an officer receives an annual confidential report, initiated by his immediate superior and then commented on by the next rank up. It grades the officer, comments on his performance and recommends him for promotion, or not, and future employment. He sees it and initials it. When an officer is removed from his appointment for misconduct or inadequacy, an interim ‘adverse’ report is raised. The officer can appeal against this right up to Army Council level. Unsurprisingly, this is what happened here. On 24 October, Major General Cassels wrote the following adverse report on Taylor:

When I first visited 28 British Commonwealth Brigade in May ’51 I found Brig Taylor in the middle of a battle. It struck me at the time that he did not have real control of his battalions and his plan and explanations were somewhat vague. It was also clear that his Brigade H.Q. was not a happy one. However as I was not his commander at the time I said nothing. When I assumed operational command of the Division on 28 July ’51, 28 Bde was in a static defence role and the only operations were patrols and small raids over the IMJIN. Therefore, during this period, I had no opportunity of judging whether my previous impressions were right. At the same time, I still got the feeling that he was vague in his plans and, though he may have known exactly what he wanted, he could not clearly explain it. I could not pick a specific instance and therefore did not talk to him about it.

It was not until October that I really had a chance to see him in action when his brigade took part in a divisional attack. The brigade played its part extremely well but I felt at the time, and have since had confirmation of this, that this was due to the coordination and planning of three first-class battalion commanders aided by an excellent Brigade Major and Field Regiment commander. Brig. Taylor did not really make or coordinate the plan and, in the battle, he spent far too much time out of touch with the big picture and his H.Q., and interfered with the battalion commanders. Meanwhile the Brigade was virtually being commanded by the Bde Major and the gunner C.O.

After the battle it was quite clear that all was not well in the Brigade and many rumours came to my ears which I have now investigated. I have found that the three battalion commanders, the affiliated Field Regt. C.O. and many other officers have no confidence in Brig. Taylor as a brigade commander. From all I have heard and from my own impressions I confirm this. In my opinion he is militarily stupid but at the same time he is vain and either pays no attention to advice or brushes it aside. He lacks forethought and, though personally very brave, is liable to make illogical and unthinking decisions in a crisis. He is determined and knows what he wants to do but cannot produce clear and intelligible plans or orders to his subordinates who have to guess what he wants. I consider he is not capable of commanding a brigade.

I wish to emphasise that he is a most gallant, sincere and good-hearted officer who is well liked by everybody. Nevertheless he has not got the characteristics required in a brigade commander and I must reluctantly recommend he be replaced.

This was supported by the Australian Lieutenant General Sir Horace Robertson, the Commander-in-Chief British Commonwealth Forces in Korea, in a letter of 30 October:

A very gallant officer with plenty of drive, enthusiasm and likeable qualities. In view of his previous record, had there been another Division available, I must have considered posting him there for confirmation of this report. I feel and I felt before the Division was formed that a very gallant and forceful Battalion Commander had been moved past his sphere but I was careful not to prejudice the Division Commander as I wanted him to decide for himself. The type of operations at present in progress in Korea demands a careful and skilled planner in all grades of command, for there is scope for and need for good planning and manoeuvre with carefully worked out co-operation of all arms. Without all this disaster is almost inevitable and casualties can be overwhelming. I believe that Brigadier Taylor’s qualities might enable him to command a brigade in trench warfare where plans in meticulous detail were made at Army and Corps level, but I do not consider he has the planning capacity to command a brigade in any war of manoeuvre.

He is a staunch man, afraid of nothing and would die gallantly rather than give up an inch of ground to the enemy, and his personal example to the rank and file would be inspiring. However, I am convinced the Division Commander took the right decision.

Taylor initialled the report on 25 October and forwarded an appeal to the Army Board through the Military Secretary. Cassels then commented on the appeal on 28 November:

I would like to make clear the circumstances immediately prior to my decision to write an adverse report on Brig Taylor. Immediately after the battle I naturally congratulated Brig Taylor and his brigade having won it, but some time later it came to my ears, NOT through RA channels, that all was not well and that the three infantry COs were not happy. This was most disturbing news but, as the COs themselves had not said anything, I had no positive proof one way or the other. I was considering what to do when, the next morning, Lt Col Moodie, OC 16 NZ Fd Regt, saw Commander Royal Artillery [Brigadier William Pike] and told him categorically that he knew that the three infantry COs had no confidence in their Brigadier and were even contemplating asking that they should be relieved of their commands. The CRA, naturally and rightly, told me.

It seemed to me that the first thing I had to establish was whether Lt Col Moodie’s statement was, in fact, correct. After considerable thought I ordered the CRA to go and see Lt Cols MacDonald and Barlow and find out. He did this and brought back full confirmation of Lt Col Moodie’s statement.

It was then clear that either the Brigadier or the COs would have to go. I did not think that any useful purpose would be served by ‘putting the cards on the table’ with Brig Taylor as, whatever happened at any such discussion, the result would still have been that one or the others must go.

On the other hand, if the CRA had found that Moodie’s allegations were quite wrong then I would of course have told Brig Taylor of all the facts and would have removed Moodie. In this case I maintain that Brig Taylor’s stock would have risen with his COs and not fallen as he suggests.

I had a high opinion of the COs and, as stated in my report, I already had my doubts of Brig Taylor’s capacity to command a brigade. I therefore decided that he must go and, as the current state of affairs was obviously unsatisfactory, that it must be done quickly. After personally talking to Lt Cols MacDonald and Barlow to confirm what I heard, I wrote an adverse report on Brig Taylor.

Since Brig Taylor has left I have taken particular pains to confirm all I said in his report because I wanted to be quite certain that I was not doing him an injustice. My inquiries included a discussion with Lt Col Hassett, OC 3 RAR, to whom I had not previously spoken on this subject. I regret to say that everything has been fully confirmed, and there is nothing in Brig Taylor’s appeal which causes me to change my opinion.

The papers now went the rounds of three Army Council members: the Adjutant General (AG), Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff (VCIGS) and the Quartermaster General (QMG). They commented:

Clearly the removal of this officer from Command of 28 British Commonwealth Brigade must be confirmed.

The more I read the case, however, the less I am certain as to why the Divisional Commander relieved Brigadier Taylor of his Command. Taylor’s background is excellent and his record as a soldier should have made him in every way fit to Command his Brigade. The Brigade which he, Taylor, has trained and commanded for some time appears to have put up a first-class performance in its first major action in Korea, and as Taylor was in command during this action, to him must go the major share of the credit.

His methods may not have appealed to General Cassels but they would seem to have been effective.

Apart from all this I am not entirely happy in regard to General Cassels’ handling of the case. I should have thought that the simple and correct approach was for Cassels to have told Taylor of what he, Cassels, thought Taylor was doing wrong and to have told him to put it right. If after a reasonable trial Taylor failed to put it right then there would have been a case for removal.

It is impossible not to feel that some clash of personalities has been at any rate a contributory cause to the incident.

I consider that the report should stand and the appeal fail insofar as it is against that report, but that Brigadier Taylor should be given Command of another brigade (not in Korea) at the earliest possible date.

17 Dec 51

General Sir John Crocker AG

I agree with AG’s view. I suggest that he should, if possible, be appointed to command a Regular brigade, where he will have an opportunity of proving his worth.

20 Dec 51

Lieutenant General Sir Nevil Brownjohn VCIGS

I agree with AG’s minute but not the last paragraph. I am very unhappy at the way Cassels has handled this case. Quite apart from the fact that he says he had misgivings, unsupported by any specific instances, in May 1951, it seems to me inconceivable that during, anyway the first day and perhaps the whole of an important engagement a Div Comdr should only speak to his leading Brigadier on the phone. Cassels ought to visit his Brigadiers during a battle, and doubly so if he suspects their abilities. I deduce this from [the papers], and from the absence of any mention of a visit. Here, apparently, Cassels thought the Brigade HQ were ‘unhappy’ over a period of some five months (even though he states that the Brigadier is ‘good hearted and liked by everybody’), and yet he did nothing about it.

You cannot handle, and dismiss, Brigadiers on rumours, hearsay and enquiries. You must go and see for yourself.

I know Brigadier Taylor very well indeed. He is the finest type of fighting soldier—and that type will always repay a little ‘stringing along’ from their more intellectual seniors.

Clearly, his removal from command of 28th Brigade must be confirmed, and to that extent the appeal must fail. But I believe that the circumstances of his removal demand that the report should be expunged from his record. He should be given command of a Regular Brigade.

21 Dec 51

General Sir Ivor Thomas QMG

As there was disagreement between the members, the Military Secretary forwarded the papers to the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff (DCIGS) and the senior civil servant on the Army Board, the Permanent Under Secretary (PUS). The DCIGS agreed with the last paragraph of the QMG’s note, without further comment and the PUS minuted the following:

I restrict my remarks to the point which is not agreed, i.e. whether the report should stand or be expunged.

In a case of this kind, I cannot see how the report can be effectively expunged even if it were considered desirable to do so. The officer has been removed from command and if his records do not show why, they will be incomplete. It is hardly in the officer’s interest that the facts recorded in the Report should not go on record. Indeed I personally regard the report with the discussion of it that has followed as on balance to his credit and I do not agree that it should be washed out.

Generally I have assumed that a report which is an honest expression of opinion ought to stand even though we do not agree with it; and that we only expunge records which are untrue or grossly unfair.

1 Jan 52

Sir George Turner PUS

In cases of disagreement such as this, the Military Secretary forwards the papers to the Secretary of State for War (in this case, Sir Anthony Head) for a decision. Here, the Miliary Secretary reminded him that there were two issues: the officer’s future employment and whether or not the adverse report should be expunged from his record. He also added that Sir Anthony Head might like to discuss the case with the CIGS, ‘who knows about this case’ before giving a final decision. Sir Anthony Head responded, on 23 January, that Taylor should be given another brigade and the report should not be expunged, and Taylor was informed by letter on 28 January. Taylor was subsequently appointed to command the 49th Infantry Brigade, which went on to deal successfully with the Mau Mau in Kenya.

Clearly, in the view of Army Council members, Taylor had been badly and unfairly handled by Cassels and, although the report remained on his record, they saw to it that his career was not ruined. Indeed, after retirement he became a sought-after lecturer on leadership in battle to up and coming army officers. His subject covered his experiences in the Second World War rather than Korea.

So why did this happen? If Taylor was a scapegoat, who was to gain? First of all, Cassels. He behaved uncharacteristically badly in his handling of Taylor. He acted against all the conventions of warning an officer as to his future conduct by sacking him without any prior indication of dissatisfaction. There is no record that he even spoke to him about it, let alone gave a formal, recorded rebuke, which should have happened. He failed to give proper reasons for doing so and his response to the challenge in Taylor’s appeal was weak and relied on hearsay, rumour and innuendo. He utterly misunderstood and misjudged Hassett, who, if anyone, would have made his views abundantly clear if he thought Taylor was inadequate. Cassels only spoke to Hassett after he had sacked Taylor. Cassels’s last paragraph of his response to Taylor’s reaction is simply not true.

In a letter to Taylor on 14 May 1987, Hassett wrote:

I thought we got on well together and I was very sorry when we said goodbye. To have to leave when the Brigade had just achieved a resounding success was a shattering experience for you.

The Brigade plan for Operation Commando was a very good one. Moreover, the Brigade and Divisional support given my Battalion was excellent. Most noteworthy were the artillery and tank support (which you controlled) and the supply trains bringing up ammunition and carrying out the casualties. Had the attack failed, you would have been blamed. Since it succeeded brilliantly, you must get the credit.

I think one of your senior officers was very ambitious. Perhaps that was part of the trouble.

I shall watch out for any information about anyone making allegations about you and speak up for you, if it is necessary.

On 12 June 1991, Hassett wrote to Captain Eaton who was writing a history of 3 RAR:

The Korean chapters are quite the best I have read so far. I was particularly pleased to note they demonstrated well the tactical skill of Brigadier Taylor. Of course, the whole Divisional action was extremely well planned and executed. The timing of the attacks in series so as to make maximum fire support available to battalions at any given time, is one example. As a battalion commander it was comforting to go into an attack with the knowledge that over 120 guns and mortars, as well as tanks, were in support and that any administrative or other back up would be quickly forthcoming. I particularly appreciated the senior commanders being well forward, fully in touch with progress of the battle and able to make the right decisions quickly.

I also suggested, and I understand it is agreed, that the History include the comment ‘George Taylor was a most able tactician’.

Hassett then wrote to Taylor on 27 February 1992:

Here is the 3RAR version of the battle of Maryang San by Lt Col Breen, drawn on Eaton’s writings.

There is criticism of some British units, the KOSB in particular. Much of this flows from the KOSB having MacDonald as its CO. He disliked Australians, a sentiment they returned in full measure. I consider him a poor CO and a worse Brigade Commander.

I have taken pains to ensure that your own part in Commando is recognised as a valuable contribution from an experienced and able commander. This may be some belated consolation for the harsh treatment given you and the enormous hurt you must have felt. Of course, it is a 3RAR view as seen by junior officers and soldiers. Always forthright, they have called the shots as they saw them! Mostly, they were not in a position to appreciate the enormous support the Battalion was given at the Brigade and Divisional level. I recognised it and have said so.

When Taylor returned to England, he was given lunch at the House of Lords by his old friend General Horrocks, now Black Rod, who was dumbfounded when he learned what had happened. Horrocks told him that Cassels, as a brigadier before the Rhine crossing, was at the point of being sacked but his divisional commander was killed by a mortar bomb and Cassels was saved.

Cassels was not the sort of man to enhance his own career by stepping on the necks of others. He did not need to; he had a good record, was eminently capable and went on to great things later, including becoming Chief of the General Staff. Was he frightened of a rebellion by his battalion commanders? Were they anxious that Taylor was too robust for them? Peace talks had already started so no one wanted to expend life unnecessarily at this stage. Hassett was the star but, contrary to what Cassels thought, he had no problem with Taylor. With the possibly inadequate and unpopular New Zealand artillery commander, Moodie, did Cassels fear a falling out among the Commonwealth allies? Cohesion was important, particularly under intense American scrutiny. Cassels found the Americans difficult yet had to rely on them for much materiel. They would have been quick to drive a wedge into the fledgling Commonwealth Division if they thought it was not up to it.

Cassels then made MacDonald the brigade commander. Was it he who fomented disloyalty and distrust among his fellow commanding officers to further his own ambitions? Hassett had no time for him but he did appear to achieve that ambition, if that is what it was, by commanding a brigade as a lieutenant colonel. Barlow was a pessimist and possibly thought he would have an easier ride under a softer brigadier. He had to be pushed and prodded, so would have been no friend of Taylor’s. Possibly he resented Taylor’s earlier criticisms. Speer was at the end of the road, having completed a gruelling tour with his battalion in Korea. They had not done well on the operation and all he would have wanted was to return home as intact as possible; not for him a possibly gung-ho brigade commander.

Clearly, a key figure was Brigadier William Pike, the divisional Commander Royal Artillery. He was a fine officer and would have undoubtedly been Cassels’s closest confidant. As we have seen, he was charged by Cassels to find out what was going on and then escorted Taylor to Cassels for his final interview. Sadly, the family papers, well researched by his son, Hew, in his excellent From the Front Line are silent on the matter.

So there was a nasty brew in the cauldron and Taylor was thrown out. Whether he satisfies the definition of a scapegoat as the price to be paid for the cohesion of the 1st Commonwealth Division, or was more the victim of some disruptive disloyalty by his subordinates and blatant mishandling by his commander, we shall probably never know. If, however, he was a scapegoat, there must have been another or others to benefit.

‘Cui bono?’1 Cassels possibly; easier for him to sack a brigadier than all the commanding officers, if that was the alternative? Or was it to demonstrate his strength in the face of the Americans? The commanding officers? Taylor was not popular, except with the Australians, so they would have been glad to see him go. MacDonald? He certainly boosted his career by Taylor’s dismissal but Regimental Headquarters of the KOSB was unable to throw any light. What is not in doubt, as agreed by the Army Council, was that Taylor was wrongly dismissed. If he was not a scapegoat, then why? The reader must decide.

The weight of responsibility on the shoulders of the battalion commander is enormous. Only he can make the decision where to move his men and when. His superiors can give him orders to do so, but he has to make them work. In the next chapter, Lieutenant Colonel Bevan receives orders, but very late—they are so delayed, in fact, that he arrives at his objective too late to catch the French. But should he have moved earlier? What were the problems in doing so and would it have made a difference?

Alternative Kursk I

Using hindsight, it is obvious that Operation Citadel should never have been launched, but even in mid-1943 after several delays many of the generals were against the operation. Von Manstein, Guderian, von Mellenthin, Kempf, Jodl and Heinrici are just a few. The aerial photos showed the massive defensive measures that were taking place in the salient. Hitler, Zeitzler and his staff should have known the Soviets were alerted and preparing and would be ready for the assault, but the dictator would not listen to his generals, believing his new panzers would overcome every obstacle. In addition to political considerations, he was obsessed with his heavy armor, despite the fact that the Panther had never been in battle and was already showing major mechanical problems or that the Ferdinand did not have a machine gun to protect itself from infantry and would be tremendously handicapped as the front runner in the assault.

Knowing his armies would be up against superior forces, Col General Kurt Zeitzler scraped together every possible man, gun and panzer from the rest of the Eastern Line, but it still was not nearly enough. It was not enough to take Prokhorovka in the south or Olkhovatka in the north, let alone have the two armies link up at Kursk and destroy the pocketed Soviets trapped in the salient as ordered. An over-reliance on the new panzers and an extreme underestimation of the Soviet defensive preparations and subsequent response were the two major reasons for German failure in this campaign. It can also be argued that the German strategic plan was flawed as well. They were abandoning the virtues of Blitzkrieg and using their armor as battering rams and General Hoth made the situation worse by deploying the Panther Brigade in the worst terrain sector possible for armor, placing his new panzers at a larger disadvantage. This difficult situation was made even worse when 2nd SS PzC was directed toward Prokhorovka, further weakening their primary axis of advance when 48th PzC was allowed to continue its trek toward Oboyan. While there was good reason to move toward Prokhorovka, Hoth should have abandoned his attack toward Oboyan, contracting 48th PzC sector to the east and allowed this corps to support 2nd SS PzC in its drive across the Psel River and through the corridor. Clearly 4th PzA did not have the resources to continue an assault on both Oboyan and Prokhorovka. To make matters worse, the 3rd PzC on the other flank had to launch from a start line further south than the other two panzers corps, cross the Donets River, head further east toward Korocha, enlarging their attack sector needlessly to catch up to the SS and do it with a deficiency of infantry and air support.

It is difficult for me to view the German perspective without the benefit of hindsight but it is clear that Hitler, and especially Hoth, had already forgotten the defensive stance the Soviets were capable of, as at Stalingrad, or the costs incurred by a bad strategic move. An objective became too difficult, too costly, too time consuming yet efforts continued to capture it, allowing the Soviets to wear down the German forces and affording them time to concentrate forces for a counter-attack such as that which resulted in the loss of 6th Army or the subsequent drubbing AGS received as they were pushed back to the Donets River. Even without hindsight, knowing large concentrations of Soviet forces were assembling in the Orel and south of Kharkov areas, as well as the fact that for this operation to be successful the two German armies would each have had to travel close to 70 miles to link up while maintaining flank protection on both sides of their assault spearhead, it seems over ambitious and an unreasonable risk at that stage of the war. Field Marshals von Manstein and Kluge knew their opponents, had gone up against Rokossovsky and Vatutin before and knew them as smart and aggressive commanders that would put up a difficult and costly defense. Ironically, it seems the Stavka has a short memory as well. Operation Uranus was so successful, why did not the Soviets attempt an encirclement of 4th PzA in a similar manner? With both Voronezh and Steppe Fronts properly deployed and attacking at the proper time, it seems highly likely that 4th PzA would have been destroyed or at least fatally wounded and with no German reserves available the Soviets had little to fear of a counter-attack on the scale that had occurred at Kharkov the previous two springs.

If you extend your thinking beyond actual events, it is probably a good thing 4th PzA did not get beyond Prokhorovka or 9th Army past Olkhovatka, for that would have extended their lines of communications and flanks thus weakening their defenses on both eastern and western flanks of the corridor that they were developing. When Operation Kutuzov launched, Lt General Walter Model would not have had as many panzer divisions to deploy to Orel and when Operation Rumyantsev launched in early August, Hoth probably would have been unable to fight his way south to Kharkov, let alone send forces south to 6th Army to defend against the major assault by Southwestern Front.

I would argue Col General Heinz Guderian was right when he strongly defended his position that the German Army should have stayed defensive during the summer of 1943 and waited for Stalin to make the first move. The Wehrmacht would not have gone up against such formidable defenses at Kursk which levied such a heavy toll, the bugs of the Panther and Ferdinand could have been worked out and new supplies of panzers could have helped restore the panzer divisions as well as give the infantry a little more time to refit and train.

Let us replace the pessimism and say Hoth and Model had a chance to succeed and the operation should have launched as planned, but when it got off to an unsatisfactory start for the two flanks, I submit, von Manstein and Hoth did not do enough to resolve the existing battlefield conditions. Going against von Manstein’s wishes, Hoth, favoring 48th PzC, allowed 3rd PzC to languish in the east. The original plan for Kempf to fight his way to Korocha to provide flank protection also seems unreasonable after seeing how the campaign started for General Kempf. For Hoth to continue to ignore this corps as the days passed and as the corps continued to fall behind, leaving a critical gap in the German line and the subsequent problems it caused for the 2nd SS PzC, was truly an error of judgement.

On the western flank, Col General Hoth could see 48th PzC struggling to reach the Psel River in the Oboyan sector, which was predominately caused by an over-extended front line when the 2nd SS PzC shifted to the northeast away from 48th PzC. The situation worsened when Hoth wanted 48th PzC to drive further west to control the Berezovka-Kruglik road. It was potentially an important road and one that should be kept from the Soviets (but less so with the shift toward Prokhorovka) but when you do not have enough forces to get the job done without interfering with your primary objective then you should back away. With the combined stiff resistance in the north as well as on the western flank General Hoth should have pulled his forces back to east of the Pena River line, but did not and this was another error of judgement.

Starting on the afternoon of 7/8, GD had to shift assets to the west to assist 3rd PzD in protecting and expanding the flank. By the next day, most of the division had been diverted from the northern assault and for the rest of the campaign GD had little to do with the northern advance. At this point, the chance for the 48th PzC to cross the Psel in force was unattainable and there were no clear alternative solutions to 4th PzA’s problems, but it could clearly be seen that 48th PzC had failed their mission as planned and remedial action needed to be taken immediately. With the far eastern flank also failing their mission, it is reasonable to consider a restriction of the flanks, to between the Pena River line in the west and the Lipovyi Donets River or Northern Donets River line in the east, as a plausible alternative. If these restrictions had been in place earlier, or better still from the beginning of the campaign, it would appear SSTK could have fought alongside LAH through much of the campaign, while allowing 3rd PzC to safeguard the flank with the help of the natural barrier of the Lipovyi Donets River. Here again, there are no guarantees and despite the increase in traffic congestion, my supposition is that it would have fostered greater results than the original way. I believe this narrower attack axis should have been part of the original plan, not an after thought. Having the entire SS Corps driving north and having the Panther Brigade as their backup, while the two other corps covered the flanks of a smaller area, the chances would have been good that the SS could have reached the Psel River and the Prokhorovka corridor before 5th GA and 5th GTA arrived. To avoid road congestion within the smaller attack zone, the 3rd PzC could have been phased into the battle along the Lipovyi Donets as the SS advanced northward. If battlefield conditions warranted it, once the SS reached Teterevino South or more likely the Kalinin line, the 3rd PzC could have shifted eastward beyond the Lipovyi and expanded their attack zone to the Invanovka-Zhilomostnoe axis or even to the western bank of the Northern Donets in preparation for the attack on Pravorot, Iamki and Prokhorovka. This expansion would reduce congestion and place an extra tactical burden on the Soviets while reducing the pressure on the SS as the 3rd PzC headed north, but under this scenario the German line between the two corps would be unified and the entire 2nd SS Corps would be advancing in step toward Prokhorovka, its corridor and the Psel River. If conditions were not conducive to expansion the 3rd PzC could stay behind the Lipovyi River line and protect the SS’s flank, as its been doing since the start of the campaign. Extending this scenario, if the 3rd PzC had advanced with the SS, it would have been even harder for the 5th GTA to launch an attack from where they did, causing 5th GTA to be more disadvantaged than they actually were. With all three divisions of the 2nd SS PzC advancing northward and allowing the 3rd PzC to handle the eastern flank from west of the river, advancement should have achieved a more dramatic pace, which would have given General Vatutin a whole new set of problems to contend with. With his plate already full, it would have been interesting to see how Vatutin handled this scenario; this extra burden with 4th PzA already across the Psel and into the corridor past Prokhorovka, probably as far as Kartashevka, without the aid of his two reserve armies could be traumatizing even for a man like Vatutin. Plus, how would 5th GA and 5th GTA have attacked the Germans from their new positions and how would Stavka have reacted to this situation? The possibilities are intriguing.

As an alternative to the Pena River to Lipovyi River attack zone, the Vorskla River to Ramzumnaia River or the Vorskla to Koren River attack zone could have been used. They had the disadvantage of having two rivers between the 2nd SS PzC and 3rd PzC but would have given the German forces more room to work while avoiding the worse parts of the original western attack zone. They would also have allowed the Panther Brigade, or at least half of it, to fight on favourable terrain east of the Donets. With the Panthers divided between the three panzer divisions, it would have allowed the Tiger Battalion, the sPzAbt 503, to stay intact. A spearhead of 45 Tigers could have been successful in clearing a path to Rzhavets. Both the Ramzumnaia River and Koren River run parallel to the Donets River. The Ramzumnaia is about seven miles east while the Koren is about 14 miles east of the Donets.

While there are pros and cons to a narrower attack zone, several advantages of a reduced attack zone come to mind. The reduced land area would mean fewer strongpoints would have to be fought over and that includes fewer mines to avoid and clear as well as fewer tank traps and dug-in Pak fronts to overcome. The men and weapons in those strongpoints would have to leave the relative safety of their defenses and advance on the Germans, giving the Germans greater parity. Also, with too few planes to support the ground assault, a smaller attack area would allow the available planes a better chance to cover the battlefield and when those Soviet forces left their prepared defenses to attack the German line, those planes could exploit the situation to the fullest. On the western front, strongpoints at Cherkasskoe, Korovino, Rakovo, Berezovka, Kruglik and a number of fortified hills could have been avoided. On the far eastern flank, strongpoints including Staryi Gorod, Iastrebovo, Blizhniaia Igumenka, Miasoedovo, Melikhovo, Shliakhovo, Kazache, Aleksandrovka and Rzhavets, to name a few, could have been avoided. The above battle sites cost the German forces dearly in time and many casualties of men and armor. When the garrisons of these sites were forced to leave their defenses and attack the enemy, it would have naturally cost the Germans time and casualties to defend themselves but most likely not as much as actual results and correspondingly would be more expensive to the Soviet side. By June the Germans had photographed the entire battlefield and should have known the areas of difficult terrain, useable road networks and of course the many difficult strongpoints to overcome and yet they made no appreciable changes to their existing attack plan, forging ahead to have Oboyan their primary axis of attack. The only practical way for 48th PzC to reach Oboyan en masse, especially with all the rain and subsequent muddy conditions, was by way of the Belgorod-Oboyan Road and General Vatutin had amassed so many reserves on this route that it would have been impossible for 48th PzC in its present condition to breakthrough, cross the Psel and enter the town. I find it hard to accept that with all the aerial reconnaissance Hoth received in addition to the stiff resistance of the enemy that he did not take major remedial actions concerning the Oboyan axis and 48th PzC’s deployment. The photos the German Command received clearly showed the 48th PzC sector had the worse terrain for armor and even with the extra punch of the Panther Brigade to compensate this was not the best axis to take. Add the fact that the corps would also have flank duties and one can clearly see this section should not have been the main axis of attack. In conjunction with the corps placement, the German strategy was not well thought out. Although I do not believe it was the case, let’s assume the attack axes of the three corps were well chosen for the beginning of the offensive. However, it does not appear the battle plans once past Oboyan and Prokhorovka were ever seriously considered. By the time the Germans crossed the Psel River line the salient that had been carved out had expanded greatly in both width and certainly in length; it makes you wonder what the Germans were thinking of when they chose this operation. When one adds in the difficulties of crossing the Psel and having two corps separated by the two Donets rivers besides giving the enemy months to prepare, the odds of success drastically plummeted. With the expanded line to defend plus the already considerable attrition and with no reserves what was Hoth planning to do? How could Hoth allow the two divisions of the SS attempt to fight their way into the corridor, even as far as only the Kartashevka road, with his two flanks completely stymied and fending off flank attacks, preventing any appreciable flank protection for the SS while in the corridor? Again, a battle plan based on a narrower front from the start had its advantages and probably would have given the 4th PzA a deeper penetration toward Kursk.

FM von Manstein wanted to continue the campaign on 7/13 when Adolf Hitler canceled it. In this circumstance, I would argue that Hitler was correct and von Manstein wrong. The chance to encircle the bulk of 48th RC, which had already fallen back, was practically gone and to attempt to chase it down afterwards with the remains of General Konev’s Steppe Front close enough to intercede if necessary, was too dangerous considering the condition and disposition of 2nd SS PzC and 3rd PzC at the time. It could also be argued that Hitler waited too long to cancel the operation. With the attrition, both German Armies suffered by 7/10 and the fact that Soviet resistance was still strong, it could clearly be seen that the original plan to meet at Kursk and destroy the trapped enemy was never going to happen. And though 69th Army had fallen back from their original defense line, the new defense line south of Prokhorovka was still strong enough to prevent Das Reich from providing strong support to LAH in its attempt to take the rail village on 7/12. As it turned out, the tank battles of 7/12 favored the Germans, but 4th PzA was at an offensive end by the end of 7/12 and cancelation of the operation was the right action. The worse results of 9th Army only fortifies the position that Operation Citadel should have been canceled earlier.

Col General Vatutin made some mistakes as well; he made enough mistakes that Stalin felt compelled to send Marshal Zhukov to Kursk to oversee the battle zone. He had built an impressive defense system that included Pak fronts, dug-in tanks, an effective maze of mutually defending trenches, many anti-tank trenches and huge minefields and yet he made numerous redeployments and numerous counter-attacks, forcing his tank brigades to launch offensives prematurely, before they were ready or coordinated with each other. The results on several occasions were costly. Vatutin forced General Rotmistrov’s 5th GTA to attack practically as soon as it arrived in sector from an area that was not well suited for an offensive against the strongest part of the German line. Considering where the German line was at the end of day of 7/11, I submit that if 5th GA and 5th GTA had had a defensive posture for the next few days, say to 7/14, to wear down the SS Corps even further after the Germans resumed their advance on 7/12, then the Germans could have been eventually pushed back enough to allow 5th GTA to gain a better launch point. This would have probably resulted in losing fewer tanks and valuable tank crews when Rotmistrov’s offensive was finally launched. I know that a passive defense was looked down on by Vatutin, Zhukov and Stalin but in this case, waiting a day or two before counter-attacking would have been beneficial. Vatutin felt compelled to attack as soon as possible to avoid allowing 3rd PzC to reach Das Reich and solidify the eastern line, but that threat was not as large as he thought. The entire Kempf detachment had less than 100 working panzers on 7/12 and these panzer groups were spread out over much of the sector. Elements of 69th Army and all of 7th GA were constantly resisting and in fact, in a few areas of the line, were nearing penetration. Though the 7th PzD, with about 35 working panzers, was Kempf’s strongest division by this time, it still could not concentrate enough strength to be able to reach and then assist the 2nd SS PzC in time to take Prokhorovka.

It could also be said that Vatutin’s use of his tank corps was ill-advised. From July 7th onwards these tank corps made repeated attacks to slow or stop the Germans from driving through the second defensive belt or reaching the third belt. By July 7th it was too late to stop the enemy from breaking through the second belt and to attack the leading Tigers companies on the flats leading to the third belt was foolhardy. By the 12th, these Soviet corps were, for the most part, at half strength. With the third defensive belt’s many advantages – the high northern banks of the Psel, numerous hills critically located plus the prepared defenses – these tank corps at or near full strength could have had a more destructive impact from behind these defenses when the Germans attacked on the morning of the 12th than going head to head in open ground. This is especially true in preventing SSTK in crossing the Psel and establishing a bridgehead on the northern banks of the river.

David Schranck

Alternative Kursk II

Proposed alternate offensive, Southern Salient, July 12th 1943.

Several other alternative attack plans that Vatutin could have tried, that probably would have worked better, resulting in fewer casualties for him and greater destruction of 4th PzA, seem feasible. Here is one crazy idea that might have worked: While the terrain in parts of the Belenikhino sector was rugged and not conducive for major tank offensives on the scale of 5th GTA, the terrain east of the Donets in the 7th GA sector was better. What if the 18th TC and 29th TC, along with adequate air cover, had struck 3rd PzC or even 11th IC on its eastern flank? The 5th GTA could probably have rolled Kempf’s forces fairly easily for they were spread out, exhausted and not prepared for a major flank/rear armor attack. By the end of 7/12, Kempf had his less than 100 working panzers and assault guns already engaged and having a difficult time in securing their objectives. It does not seem possible that General Breith could have created a new shock group while maintaining his current defenses to either reach Das Reich or combat this new attack spearhead. After reducing 3rd PzC, the tankers could have continued west, penetrated the 167th ID line and got behind the 2nd SS PzC, cutting off communications and crushing Hausser’s corps between itself, 7th GA, 69th Army and 5th GA. It may be a novel idea, but it was certainly feasible. I do not suggest that this flank assault would be easy. Though there were clear avenues of attack, there were not any major paved highways and there were several rivers to cross, but with the proper bridge equipment the assault could still have been effective. The 5th GMC would have been detached from 5th GTA and sent to the Kartashevka-Prokhorovka road area to stop SSTK from accomplishing their objectives. In fact, with the support of elements of the 32nd GRC and 33rd GRC of 5th GA, the three recently arrived corps had a good chance to prevent the SSTK’s bridgehead from reaching Kartashevka road in any meaningful way. In this scenario, when it was discovered that the 5th GTA had attacked and penetrated the 3rd PzC eastern and or northern line, the entire 4th PzA would have to go on the defensive, eliminating the chance for further gains to the north.

Another alternative attack plan also deals with the SSTK bridgehead but as the primary assault, not secondary. Instead of attacking LAH as they did on 7/12, the 5th GTA (18th TC, 29th TC) should have attacked SSTK in their northern bridgehead. The defenses of SSTK were not nearly as elaborate or as well defended as LAH’s, plus the Soviet tanks, though still having to cope with a ravine or two, had greater freedom of movement within the bend of the Psel River. When SSTK advanced northward from Hill 226.6 toward Hill 236.7 which straddled the Kartashevka road, the division was spread out and became vulnerable to a massive counter-attack. If General Rotmistrov, supported by a coordinated air attack and the many guns deployed along the river, had waited until SSTK was approaching Hill 236.7 before attacking, he had an excellent chance to isolate and destroy much of Priess’s division north of the river, which by this time was vulnerable. Much of 5th GA was already deployed in the area and the combined strength of the two armies against SSTK in its own mini-salient should have been overwhelming. With SSTK losing many men and panzers as well as their bridgehead in this offensive, it seems reasonable that the entire northern German line from Novoselovka to Prokhorovka would soon become untenable, as 5th GTA / 5th GA crossed the swollen Psel River, forcing 4th PzA to fall back within days to save itself. As a precautionary measure, the 5th GMC would have deployed near Hill 252.4 to make sure LAH did not advance too much or in case 69th Army needed help against Das Reich or 3rd PzC. Generals Vatutin and Rotmistrov had wanted to destroy the entire 2nd SS PzC in this single attack, but that battle plan had been too ambitious, especially from the improvised launch point. Vatutin had anticipated what SSTK was going to do on 7/12; Priess had to drive north to screen LAH’s left flank as it drove on Prokhorovka. General Vatutin should have seen the vulnerability of SSTK in the salient that they would develop and taken advantage of it, but he was over confident and impatient, wanting to destroy the entire 2nd SS PzC in one morning. He should have allowed the panzers of SSTK become extended north of the Psel and separated from their grenadiers before launching a major assault.

Generals Vatutin and Rotmistrov defended their actions by saying that perhaps the main objective of destroying the 2nd SS PzC had failed but at least the Germans were stopped from advancing further north. While there is some truth behind their defense, it is also true to say that a golden opportunity to destroy a good deal of 4th PzA was wasted by poor planning. It is no wonder Stalin was considering sacking both of his generals.

I saved my favorite scenario until last. It is similar to one of the above-mentioned alternatives, but it is on a larger scale which was probably necessary, as while the German force had taken many casualties by 7/12, it was still a force to be respected. Here is the last alternative:

It can also be argued that Stavka made a strategic mistake by waiting too long to launch Operation Rumyantsev. Ideally, if this counter offensive had started between 7/12 and 7/15, while 4th PzA was still deployed along the Novoselovka-Prokhorovka line, then there was a very good chance of pocketing much of the 4th PzA. As it was, Stavka waited another several weeks and by that time the 4th PzA was backing away from their vulnerability.

Let me suggest that the ideal offensive would have been a two-prong pincer attack, on the order of Operation Uranus, that would drive behind the German front line from the east and west, but that assault would have taken months to plan and deploy. It was not done, but an operation of lesser dimensions and complexity could have been put together in less time that could have resulted with a major upheaval against the Germans.

Briefly this multi-army attack could have come from the east not north, attacking the vulnerable east flank of 3rd PzC where 198th and 106th IDs were defending. If Steppe Front’s 47th and 53rd Armies, which also had attached the 4th GTC and 1st MC (400 tanks), had deployed and been ready to attack not far from the Koren River by 7/12 and if Vatutin had used the 18th TC and 29th TC of 5th GTA along with these other two armies, there would have been an excellent chance of penetrating the eastern line defended by the German infantry (11th IC and 198th ID) and overwhelming the 3rd PzC which by 7/12 had been widely deployed for the most part along the Donets River from Krivtsovo to Ryndinka and along the Rzhavets-Aleksandrovka-Kazache line. With the resources of the three new armies, plus the remains of 69th and 7th GA along with a massive artillery preparation and competent aerial support, the Soviets could have finished off 3rd PzC and then driven west into the Shishino-Petropavlovka-Khokhlovo area to take on the 168th ID and then the 167th ID. The southern flank of the advancing 5th GTA could have driven west between Staryi Gorod and Shishino. With 3rd PzC gone and 167th ID threatened, 4th PzA would have had to immediately react and probably fall back. With the 1st TA, 6th GA, 5th GA and the new 27th Army, which should have deployed just north of Prokhorovka-Kartashevtka road and northwest of Veselyi as well, driving south at the same time the 48th PzC and 2nd SS PzC would have been pressured to breaking point and in their desperation to fall back many men and heavy equipment would have been lost against the onrushing hordes of new armies that had just arrived in sector. One can extend this scenario to include the trouble the German line would have faced if the 4th PzA/3rd PzC suffered devastating losses and a gap of 30 to 50 miles had opened in the line but I’ll stop here for now. Admittedly, for this scenario to work, Stavka would have had to plan, prepare and deploy weeks in advance. I submit that this counter-offensive could have been more beneficial and with fewer casualties for Vatutin than the actual offensive, due to the extended position 4th PzA had carved out by 7/12. This counter-offensive could also have been fitting retribution, under similar circumstances, for Timoshenko’s loss at Kharkov (May 1942), where his initial gains were cut off and his forces isolated and destroyed by a dual pincer counter-attack by Col General Paulus’s 6th Army and FM Kleist’s 1st PzA.

Criticism can be levied in the north as well. Even though Model opened his campaign using nearly 300 panzers and assault guns, he should have used more. Rokossovsky was only truly vulnerable on the first day. He held back heavy reserves in second echelon to see where the main attacks would take place. He intended to see how the German assault unfolded and then quickly send reserves to the assault areas. The two biggest formations being held in reserve for Rokossovsky were the 17th GRC and 2nd TA, which both eventually played pivotal roles in stopping 9th Army. If Model had used the 2nd PzD, 9th PzD and 18th PzD with the opening assault in the 41st PzC and 46th PzC sectors and attacked toward Ponyri and Samodurovka respectively, there was an opportunity to reach and penetrate the second defensive belt before the 17th GRC and 2nd TA were called up. There was no guarantee this alternative action would have gotten 9th Army to Kursk, but it seems plausible that if Model could have controlled the high ground around Olkhovatka by the end of the first day, his chances for reaching Kursk would have greatly improved. At the very least it would have cost Rokossovsky many more men, tanks, ammunition and time to push 9th Army off the high ground and if the casualties had been great enough, it could have made a difference during Operation Kutuzov.

During the campaign, General Model made a practice of leaving his HQ for the whole day, visiting the front line. There were many instances where he would be out of touch with his staff and several events occurred that desperately needed his attention and he missed them. The biggest incident occurred when 4th PzD was attached to General Lemelsen’s 47th PzC. Lemelsen, on his own responsibility, decided to separate the panzer regiment from the rest of the division in order to fight the division in two separate sectors. Without proper armored support that first day, 4th PzD went into battle disadvantaged: the two infantry regiments suffered heavy casualties, including its division commander. If Model had been at his headquarters, he could have prevented this costly error and others that occurred during the campaign.

General Rokossovsky probably made fewer mistakes than the other three commanders but he was also up against an enemy with slightly fewer combat soldiers, panzers and aircraft as compared to the southern salient as well as a commander, though a master at defense, who was partially restricted with his order of battle by von Kluge, besides being a little too cautious. To his credit, Model’s handling of the Orel defense was superb and saved AGC from practical destruction. Continuing with Rokossovsky for a moment, I believe that there are several distinct reasons why Central Front did so much better in stopping 9th Army than Voronezh Front did in stopping 4th PzA. The first reason is battlefield defenses were more evolved, providing better coverage for man and machine. Rokossovsky had more guns than Vatutin and he made sure his gun crews used them, consuming many more tons of ammunition than the southern batteries. German survivors of 9th Army all complained of the horrendous wall of fire that they faced.

Mistakes were made at German Group level as well, and fall directly on von Manstein’s shoulders. During the campaign he questioned certain of Hoth’s decisions, mostly pertaining to the flanks. Hoth neglected air support and refused to send elements of the 167th ID to General Kempf as well ordering the 48th PzC to expand its western border beyond the Rakovo-Kruglik road at a time when the northern advance had stalled and 11th PzD and especially 3rd PzD were in trouble. Manstein discussed the issues with his subordinate but did not take any action to correct these issues when Hoth failed to respond. This reluctance to take corrective action seems unfathomable from such a noted strategist and commander and had a clear impact on the final outcome.

More importantly, errors were being made prior to the launch that would have a profound impact on the campaign, and consequently revisiting the German High Command one last time seems appropriate. While Hoth and von Manstein did not have complete freedom of command, they did have a lot of control over their destiny. They also had plenty of time before attacking to study the battlefield in order to make major changes or receive permission to make those changes. It should be emphatically stated that the German attack plan was flawed and Hoth and von Manstein should have seen it, especially when one takes into account the fact that Soviets had months to prepare, that the new panzers and assault guns were unreliable or flawed and that von Manstein had only three panzer corps to advance along mostly rugged terrain that sported five major rivers, few highways and only a few narrow off-road avenues for his armor. To make the situation worse the distance needed to travel to reach Kursk was relatively large, and the further north the army traveled the front would expand.

And if that was not bad enough, Hoth was asking the 48th PzC to advance along the primary axis and also deploy along the western flank which means the advance would be twice as hard. To confirm this theory is true, the 48th with the inclusion of the Panther Brigade and the GD division could not keep up or go as far as the 2nd SS PzC. Just from this aspect alone, its seems more logical to have the primary axis from the very start of the campaign to have been in the center, allowing the two outer corps provide the necessary flank protection.

As 48th PzC veered slightly to the northwest, the 2nd SS PzC was heading to the northeast and the 3rd PzC, which was starting the campaign as much as 20 miles further south of the other two corps, had to immediately cross the Donets, head east before pivoting to the north with at least two major rivers between itself and the SS. Having the weakest corps traveling the greatest distance while being separated from 4th PzA and having it advance northward and defend itself along both expanding flanks with inadequate air support was a recipe for failure. To provide that timely protection 3rd PzC needed at least half of the available Panthers to assist the Tigers attached to the 3rd PzC in penetrating the difficult defense located near the Belgorod sector.

In the later planning stage, by the time the three German corps (assuming the 3rd could have caught up) reached the Psel River line, the front would have expanded approximately another ten miles or more from their start positions. Once past Prokhorovka the front might have been reduced a little but by the idea that by then the exhausted vanguard of five weakened corps would continue to carve out and maintain a corridor at least thirty miles wide all the way to Kursk seems a gross misjudgement, and this does not even take into account the need to reduce the pocketed Soviet 38th and 40th Armies in the south and the 60th and 65th Armies in the north that were deployed to the west of the corridor after Hoth reached Kursk. If AGS had three full strength panzer divisions, three infantry divisions in reserve plus greater air support (at a minimum) the plan might have worked initially but reserves were not realistically available and it was doomed to fail. Hitler demanded and Hoth complied with supplying daily casualty figures for armor and men. By the 10th or even earlier, it should have been patently obvious to Hoth and von Manstein, as it was to Model, that Citadel would fail to reach Kursk and that drastic remedial action was required.

If the 48th PzC had the good fortune to cross the Psel en masse while the 2nd SS PzC entered the Prokhorovka corridor while the 3rd PzC continued to struggle, lagging far behind the other two, then serious gaps would have formed which Vatutin would have exploited by bringing up reserves. With two corps north of the Psel River and the 3rd PzC east of the Lipovyi River, Kemp’s forces would have been dangerously isolated and in dire trouble. But realistically by the 10th, bearing in mind the troubles the 48th and 52nd Corps were actually having, it made no sense for Hoth to expand westward and continue to concentrate efforts on the Oboyan route. The open flanks on the 2nd SS PzC and 3rd PzC sectors were causing a greater long term disruption to success yet Hoth continued to obsess about the 48th PzC expanding its sector.

I have already suggested an ideal German disposition but the following scenario had a better chance for acceptance for it was closer to the original yet diverted the main focus away from 48th PzC. After studying the aerial photos plus situation reports from patrols, along with the experiences gained in 1941 and 1942 when the area was originally cleared and occupied, it could clearly be seen that the central and eastern sectors were best suited for armor and therefore should be used for the primary attack axis. The western sector, which had the shortest route to Kursk but the worse terrain, and was the most obvious sector to be protected by the Soviets, should have been reduced in scale and importance and used as flank protection for the 2nd SS PzC. The Panther brigade should have redeployed to the eastern sector to support 3rd PzC and Prokhorovka should have been the primary axis from the beginning. With all three divisions of 2nd PzC along with the 167th ID devoted to the northern front along with the reinforced 3rd PzC (includes the Panthers), it seems very plausible that the two corps could have cleared the ground between the Donets River and the Prokhorovka railroad forming a unified front within days of the launch.

It also seems plausible that these two corps would have captured Prokhorovka and the southern portion of the corridor before the arrival of 5th GA and 5th GTA and have done so suffering fewer casualties. The 3rd PzC along with the Panthers could have erected a defense that would have stopped the 5th GTA if it attacked from the east. If Rotmistrov had mannuvered his tanks to the north so that it defended the Seim River line, the full force of the SS Corps would have been in position to engage. That is not to say von Manstein would have successfully reached Kursk and liquidated the 38th and 40th Armies but I believe the 4th PzA could have had much better results that would have inflicted far more Soviet casualties and caused a definite disruption to the enemy’s plans.

It is hard to know for sure whether the Germans would have been better off staying on the defensive and preparing for the eventual Soviet offensive on the Orel salient – Operation Kutuzov. However, after studying the Belgorod-Kursk-Orel sector it seems plausible that the Germans would have been better off by never launching Operation Citadel. It seems obvious that when the Germans did not attack in July Stalin, who was anxious to attack in June, would have prepared to attack Orel in August or September to eliminate the last major bulge situated less than 350 miles south of Moscow. The Germans could have used this time to good use. In the interval, the Germans could have improved defenses, repaired the Panthers, trained their crews as well as installed machine guns on the Elefants. Having a month or two to work on the Panthers could have made an appreciable difference to their dependability. Deploying the new panzers in the Orel salient where the terrain was more suited to armor as compared to the muddy Pena River valley, the German defense could have been greatly enhanced, inflicting even greater casualties on the Soviets while suffering fewer casualties and delaying the inevitable. Routine maintenance on the other vehicles and rest for their exhausted men as well as restore logistics were also in order. With dilligent intelligence, the Germans should have been fairly prepared to take on the assaults when launched along the line.

After months of being on the defensive, the tactical victory at Kharkov earlier in the year was just a brief respite, not an indication or omen to Hitler that the German onward march had resumed. It would have taken a blunder by the Soviets of unimaginable scale for the Germans to scratch their way up to parity, but that would not happen in 1943. The Soviets had just about completed tranforming their war doctrine and organization and by July 1943 the massive aid delivered by the Western Allies would help to see that those improvements put in place would be efficiently carried out. Considering what the Stavka had planned for the last half of the year, especially in the south, the war of attrition would have continued unabated, keeping the Germans constantly off balance.

By carefully expanding one’s view to the entire front in the middle of 1943, after the huge losses at Stalingrad and North Africa and the loss of hundreds of miles of territory, a leader who less of a gambler than Hitler could see that Germany no longer had the capability to launch a major offensive that would have strategic significance. Without launching Operation Citadel, the German forces had just enough strength to defend the entire shortened line (after pulling back from Orel) and if their intelligence was dilligent they could slow their retreat. However, they did not have enough strength to gain ground in any meaningful way through an offensive and Operation Citadel’s poor results clearly proves that point. Despite having a winning ledger on destroying many more enemy tanks and inflicting many more casualties on the enemy, this campaign had knocked the Germans down another peg in this war of attrition that would force the Wehrmacht on the strategic defensive for the rest of the war.

David Schranck

Battle of Novara (Ariotta)

The French invasion of Milan, 1513

By the time this treaty with Venice was concluded, Louis XII, King of France (1498–1515), was rid of one of his most determined opponents. Julius II died during the night of 20 February 1513. The new pope was Giovanni de’ Medici, who took the title Leo X. Much younger than Julius, he was not so belligerent and was far more subtle and changeable in diplomacy. Those who dealt with him would find him hard to read, except they soon discovered his fixed purpose to elevate the Medici into a princely dynasty: domination over Florence was not enough. Inevitably, his elevation to the papal throne strengthened his family’s position in Florence, and Leo would effectively dictate Florentine foreign policy.

As he prepared to try to recover Milan, Louis could not be sure what the new pope would do, nor count on the Florentines as allies. He might have hoped to have neutralized at least one opponent in Italy, making a truce with Ferdinand in April for a year. But the truce covered the border war between France and Spain, not Italy, so Ferdinand could still oppose the French there. Nevertheless, Cardona had already been ordered to return to Naples with the army, leaving the infantry behind in the pay of others, if possible.

Cardona had not left before the French invaded Milan. Under the command of La Trémoille and Giangiacomo Trivulzio, the French troops – 1,200-1,400 lances, 600 light horse and 11,500 infantry – crossed the Alps and mustered in Piedmont in mid-May, with 2,500 Italian troops. In late May Massimiliano was reported to have 1,200 Spanish and Neapolitan men-at-arms, 1,000 light horse, 800 Spanish infantry, 3,000 Lombard infantry and 7,000 Swiss. But Cardona, having sent troops to help Massimiliano defend the north-west of the duchy, quickly withdrew them, thus facilitating the rapid French advance. He kept his men at Piacenza, which he had taken over with Parma for Massimiliano after the death of Julius. In order to secure the pope’s support against the French, Massimiliano agreed to give them up to Leo, but no papal troops were sent to help him. The duke was left with the Swiss and what Lombards rallied to his defence. On the other side, d’Alviano was under orders from Venice to join up with the French only if the Spanish joined up with the Swiss. The Venetians were confi dent that, lacking men-at-arms, the Swiss alone should not pose much of a problem for the French, and the campaign would soon be over.

By early June, the French had overrun much of the west of the duchy. In Genoa, with the aid of a French fleet, the Adorno and Fieschi deposed Doge Giano Campofregoso and Antoniotto Adorno became governor there for Louis. In the east, the Venetian army under Bartolomeo d’Alviano took Cremona; Lodi and the Ghiaradadda rose against Massimiliano. The city of Milan, where a French garrison still held the fortress, was in confusion, waiting to see the outcome of the campaign. Only the areas around Como and Novara, where the Swiss were concentrated, still held for Massimiliano, who was at Novara.

The Battle

Throughout the winter, Louis had been trying to come to an accord with the Swiss. The seriousness of his intent was signalled by his sending La Trémoille and Trivulzio to Lucerne to conduct the negotiations, and his ordering the surrender of the fortresses of Locarno and Lugano to the Swiss. Happy to have the fortresses, but not to have the French back in Milan, in response to the invasion the Swiss rapidly organized and despatched several thousand reinforcements. These headed for Novara; news of their approach made La Trémoille decide on 5 June to raise the siege of the city that had just begun. A column of 7,000-8,000 Swiss skirted the French positions and entered Novara that day, to join the 4,000 already there with Massimiliano.

By nightfall, the French had travelled only a few miles, and the units made camp where they halted, dispersed as they were for the march. Consequently, they were ill-prepared for the attack launched by the Swiss before dawn. The Swiss had little artillery and only a few light horse with them, and the terrain, divided by ditches bordered by bushes, could have favoured the defenders had they had time to take position behind them. But the Swiss kept their disciplined battle order under fi re from the French artillery and overcame the infantry. The stiffest resistance they encountered was from about 6,000 landsknechts, who took the heaviest casualties when they were left to fight alone after the French and Italian infantry were routed. The French men-at-arms made little effort to defend them; the ground was not suited to the deployment of heavy cavalry. Nearly all the French horse escaped unscathed, abandoning their pavilions and the baggage train to the Swiss. Their artillery was captured too, and the elated Swiss dragged it back to Novara, with their own wounded men.

The battle of Ariotta (Novara) marked the zenith of the military reputation of the Swiss during the Italian Wars. Around 10,000 men, the majority of whom had reached Novara only hours before after several days’ march (and without waiting for 3,000 further reinforcements who were hard on their heels), with virtually no supporting cavalry and very little artillery, had routed a numerically superior French army, including a contingent of landsknechts almost as large as the main battle square of around 7,000 men the Swiss had formed, over terrain ill-adapted to manoeuvring such a large formation in good order. It was a tribute to the training and discipline, as well as the bravery and physical hardiness, of the Swiss infantry. The element of surprise had of course helped them, together with the fact the French army had been so widely spread out and had not prepared a defensive position, but this did not detract from the achievement of the Swiss or the humiliation of the French.

After the rout of the French army, the Spanish finally joined the Swiss to drive them out of Italy. Cardona sent 400 lances under Prospero Colonna to support Massimiliano. He also sent Ferrante Francesco d’Avalos, marchese di Pescara, with 3,000 infantry and 200 light horse to Genoa to assist the Fregoso faction in deposing Antoniotto Adorno on 17 June and replacing him with Ottaviano Campofregoso as doge. This displeased the Swiss, who had already made advantageous terms with Adorno. The Swiss took Asti, advanced in Piedmont and pillaged much of Monferrato.

It was evident that Louis could not send another expedition to Italy that year. In France, he was facing an invasion in the north by Henry VIII of England and Maximilian; Henry took Thérouanne and Tournai, and in August inflicted another humiliating defeat on the French at Guinegatte. That month the Swiss invaded Burgundy, laying siege to Dijon. La Trémoille made a treaty with them promising large payments and renouncing the king’s claim to Milan. The Swiss withdrew, but Louis would not ratify the treaty.

More than ever, the Swiss dominated the duchy of Milan. Massimiliano acknowledged the debt he owed for the blood they had shed to secure his rule, and agreed extra payments and compensation to those who had fought for him, totalling 400,000 Rhenish florins. But he did not have the money to satisfy them, nor could he afford to pay them to attack the Venetians, as Cardinal Schinner suggested.

Swiss and Landsknechts – Rivalry and Blood-Feud

Swiss fighters were responding to several interrelated factors: limited economic opportunities in their home mountains; pride in themselves and their colleagues as world-class soldiers; and, last but not least, by a love of adventure and combat. In fact, they were such good fighters that the Swiss enjoyed a near-monopoly on pike-armed military service for many years. One of their successes was the battle of Novara in northern Italy 1513 between France and the Republic of Venice, on the one hand, and the Swiss Confederation and the Duchy of Milan, on the other. The story runs as follows.

A French army, said by some sources to total 1,200 cavalrymen and about 20,000 Landsknechts, Gascons, and other troops, was camped near and was besieging Novara. This city was being held by some of the Duke of Milan’s Swiss mercenaries. A Swiss relief army of some 13,000 Swiss troops unexpectedly fell upon the French camp. The pike-armed Landsknechts managed to form up into their combat squares; the Landsknecht infantrymen took up their proper positions; and the French were able to get some of their cannons into action. The Swiss, however, surrounded the French camp, captured the cannons, broke up the Landsknecht pike squares, and forced back the Landsknecht infantry regiments.

The fight was very bloody: the Swiss executed hundreds of the Landsknechts they had captured, and 700 men were killed in three minutes by heavy artillery fire alone. To use a later English naval term from the days of sail, the “butcher’s bill” (the list of those killed in action) was somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 men. Despite this Swiss success, however, the days of their supremacy as the world’s best mercenaries were numbered. In about 1515, the Swiss pledged themselves to neutrality, with the exception of Swiss soldiers serving in the ranks of the royal French army. The Landsknechts, on the other hand, would continue to serve any paymaster and would even fight each other if need be. Moreover, since the rigid battle formations of the Swiss were increasingly vulnerable to arquebus and artillery fire, employers were more inclined to hire the Landsknechts instead.

In retrospect, it is clear that the successes of Swiss soldiers in the 15th and early 16th centuries were due to three factors:

• Their courage was extraordinary. No Swiss force ever broke in battle, surrendered, or ran away. In several instances, the Swiss literally fought to the last man. When they were forced to retreat in the face of overwhelming odds, they did so in good order while defending themselves against attack.

• Their training was excellent. Swiss soldiers relied on a simple system of tactics, practiced until it became second nature to every man. They were held to the mark by a committee-leadership of experienced old soldiers.

• They were ferocious and gave no quarter, not even for ransom, and sometimes violated terms of surrender already given to garrisons and pillaged towns that had capitulated. These qualities inspired fear in their opponents.

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The British at Gallipoli, August 1915 Part I

In April 1915, when the Allied armies in France and Flanders were already experiencing the frustrations of trench warfare that were to render them practically immobile for the next three years, some 70,00 British, Australian, New Zealand, and French troops were launched against Turkey in an attempt to circumvent the bloody deadlock on the Western Front. Their destination was the Gallipoli Peninsula, where they were to help the Royal Navy force a passage through the Dardanelles against Turkish guns; the prize was Constantinople and, beyond it, access to the West’s beleaguered ally, Russia. As well as knocking Turkey out of the war and unlocking a supply route to the massive but underequipped Russian armies, the Gallipoli campaign, if successful, also seemed to offer the chance of gathering useful allies from among the Balkan states and so, in Lloyd George’s celebrated phrase, “knocking the props from beneath Austria-Hungary.” Two years later, during the post mortem into the failure at Gallipoli, the former prime minister H. H. Asquith lamented a lost opportunity. “If we had succeeded . . . in my judgment it would have produced a far greater effect upon the whole conduct of the war than anything that has been done in any other sphere of the war.”

After the venture had ended in failure, the disgraced commander of the expedition, General Sir Ian Hamilton, opined that the fate of his force had always hung in the balance. “No man in Europe could have foretold whether the landing of April 25th was to be a success or a dreadful disaster,” he wrote. “Too many of the factors were unprecedented under modern conditions for any forecast to be made.” The poet John Masefield, who saw action at Gallipoli, took a somewhat different view of the failure at Suvla Bay in August 1915. He believed that success had been almost within the Allies’ grasp but that, in the words of the nursery rhyme, “for want of a nail, a battle was lost.” “In war, as in life,” he wrote, “the unusual thing, however little, betrays the unusual thing, however great.” In this case what could have turned a defeat into a victory were “two fresh battalions and a ton of water.”

Hamilton’s somewhat gloomy assessment contrasts strongly, however, with the mood of buoyant optimism that predominated at all levels before the first landings took place, a mood that owed much to a failure to consider exactly what an amphibious operation might entail and not a little to a deeply entrenched attitude of racist superiority toward the Turkish people in general and the Turkish army in particular. The notion that British troops—any British troops—must be superior to their Turkish opponents was the counterpart of the notion of prestige as the basis of British imperial rule. It was widespread throughout all levels of British society, and the expedition’s commander was deeply impregnated with it. “Let me bring my lads face to face with Turks in the open field,” he begged his diary some three weeks before Suvla Bay. “We must beat them every time because British volunteer soldiers are superior individuals to Anatolians, Syrians or Arabs and are animated with a superior ideal and an equal joy in battle.”5 Hamilton valued each British soldier as worth several dozen Turks; at Suvla Bay the cold statistics suggest that every Turk was the equal of ten Britons.

At its outset the Gallipoli campaign lacked a clear operational design. Adopted to solve a variety of diplomatic and strategic problems and launched largely as a result of the passionate advocacy of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and political head of the navy, it was first to be an attempt by battleships to rush the narrows at Gallipoli and break into the Sea of Marmora. When the admiral on the spot was asked his advice, however, he recommended a longer-drawn-out operation to force the straits by means of methodical bombardment and mine-sweeping combined.

Overwhelmed by Churchill’s persuasive oratory, and imprisoned by a concept of service that made them passive instruments of naval administration rather than active participants in naval policy, the senior admirals in Whitehall endorsed the plan although the serving head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir John Fisher, had gone on record ten years earlier opposing any such venture. “Any naval officer who engages a fort worthy of the name fort deserves to be shot!” he had declared. “Nelson said this!”

The Gallipoli Peninsula

Attempts to demolish the Turkish forts guarding the straits by a mixture of shell fire and demolition by landing parties during February were a failure; a second attempt to knock out the forts on March 18 was halted when three battleships were sunk and three more badly damaged. At this point the weight of the operation shifted from sea to land, and the long path to Suvla Bay began to open up.

When the idea of attacking Gallipoli was first discussed by the War Council on January 8, Kitchener intimated that at least 150,000 troops would be necessary. Gradually, as the weeks passed and the excessive hopes placed in the efficacy of naval bombardment were revealed to be far too overoptimistic, the role of ground troops in the operation expanded from being “in support” of the navy to joint operations and then to seizing the peninsula if the navy proved unable to get through the straits. Given the situation on the Western Front, troops were hard to come by, but after some hesitation Kitchener released a division for the expedition, and on March 12, 1915, he appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command the military forces.

A brilliant commander who was also a first-rate trainer of men and a good organizer, Hamilton seemed to combine all the qualities necessary to make the expedition a success. Although an infantryman, he had “all the brilliance and dash usually associated with the cavalry leader.” He had made his reputation in the first Boer War (1880) and on the Northwest Frontier of India and cemented it during the South African War (1899–1902), which he ended as an acting lieutenant general coordinating thirteen mobile flying columns. During the years of peace that followed he revised British infantry tactics, breaking up rigid lines of advance into smaller flexible groupings; in his writings he stressed the overriding importance of attacking the enemy. In short, Hamilton must have seemed the ideal choice for the new venture.

Hamilton had at his disposal some 70,000 troops—less than half the number Kitchener had thought necessary, but the demands of the Western Front made it impossible to release any more. They also meant that the Gallipoli expedition went short of artillery and ammunition; British divisions should have had 304 guns but Hamilton’s had only 118, and there was an almost total lack of howitzers, trench mortars, grenades, and high-explosive ammunition. Had he landed his force on the peninsula in mid-March, it would have faced perhaps 25,000 Turks. But on March 26, alarmed by the second British attempt to force the narrows, the Turks had given the German general Liman von Sanders overall responsibility for the defense of the peninsula and some 60,000 troops. Liman split his forces into three equal parts. One, at Besika Bay, protected the Asiatic shore; a second guarded the Bulair Lines; and the third was posted on the Gallipoli Peninsula. On the eve of the landing, Hamilton reckoned that he faced 40,000 Turks.

Lacking adequate resources, Hamilton also lacked adequate guidance and even up-to-date information. No general plan of operations was worked out by the general staff in London, on the assumption that Hamilton and his naval opposite number, Vice Admiral Sackville Hamilton Carden, would do that on the spot, thereby leaving much to extemporization between staffs which were uncoordinated. When Hamilton’s chief of staff, General Walter Pipon Braithwaite, asked the War Office for information about his foes and his destination, the Intelligence Department gave him “an out-of-date textbook on the Turkish army and two small guidebooks on western Turkey.” Later Hamilton bewailed both the lack of a plan of operations and the lack of lucidity in Kitchener’s orders; but at the time he accepted the situation uncomplainingly.

The Gallipoli landings took place on April 25, 1915. A successful deception operation in the Gulf of Saros, involving a naval bombardment of the coast and the presence of transports loaded with troops, kept Liman’s attention away from the southern end of the peninsula for twenty-four hours—though the Turks later claimed that only one of the three Allied landings (by the Australians, at what became known as Anzac landing) took them by surprise.

Due to the narrowness of the beaches, a shortage of boats from which to land the troops (primitive landing craft had been constructed but were not available), and the lack of room to maneuver troops from a single point, Hamilton chose to attack the peninsula at three different points near its southwestern tip. The attack was based on two assumptions, both of which turned out to be unwise: that the only really difficult part of the operation would be getting ashore, after which the Turks could easily be pushed off the peninsula; and that the main obstacles to a happy landing would be provided by the enemy.

When the day dawned, and the sun shone straight into the eyes of the attacking troops, dazzling them and thereby giving the Turks a small but important advantage, British inexperience and Turkish resilience confounded both these expectations. Ships lost their way; troops were landed in the wrong place; arrangements for soldiers to land by way of improvised temporary wharves failed; and supporting firepower proved either inadequate or nonexistent. The enemy posed yet more obstacles. The Turks defended and counterattacked with unexpected ferocity. Against the Anzac landing, which they estimated at 12,000, the Turks launched regiments totaling 4,000 men. After twenty-four hours they had suffered 50 percent casualties.

Fierce Turkish resistance stopped the Anzacs’ progress; and it also put up what proved to be an impenetrable barrier in the south, where general Hunter-Weston had put the 29th division ashore at four different landing places. But at the third landing site—“Y” beach—2,000 men embarked without a hitch, meeting no opposition. What happened next was—with hindsight—a pointer to the fate of the whole expedition, for a golden opportunity went begging. Aylmer Hunter-Weston, preoccupied with the stiff fight going on at the toe of the peninsula, ignored “Y” beach. The troops there, lacking any order to press forward at all costs, first dug themselves in and then, next morning, began to drift back down to the beaches. Hamilton saw what was happening, but did not intervene. His passivity—so great a contrast with his reputation for boldness—resulted from his conception of command, which we shall explore later. The consequence was a minor tragedy: Bereft of any clear orders, and discovering that an extemporized embarkation had already begun, the local commander permitted it to gather pace. After twenty-nine hours of unfettered freedom, during which they could have carved a sizable hole in the improvised Turkish line, the British troops pulled out.

When the first day at Gallipoli ended, the Allies had toeholds in three places on the peninsula and faced the task of expelling a ferocious opponent from one of the finest natural fortresses in the world. Hamilton, showing the mixture of overoptimism and misunderstanding characteristic of his entire period of command, cabled the Anzac commander on the evening of April 25, “You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig until you are safe.” Short of sufficient strength from the outset, his forces had suffered some 12 percent casualties in the first three days. The deficiency could not immediately be made good because Kitchener had refused to supply the extra troops normally allotted for wastage. Over the next three months the Allied troops struggled to enlarge their foothold against the opposition of Turkish machine guns and the difficulties of the terrain, while their commander telegraphed home for more divisions and more artillery ammunition. Men were easier to find than shells, and with them Hamilton planned to make a major effort at the start of August to surge to the crests of the hills which dominated the Gallipoli peninsula. Once held, they would put the Allies in a commanding position from which to bombard the Turkish positions, support the navy against Turkish batteries strung out along the narrows, and clear the peninsula. All that would remain would be a triumphant advance on Constantinople, already terrorized by the appearance of Allied battleships off the Golden Horn. Excitement at the prospects offered by success, and frustration at the failure of the April landings, added a heavy burden of hopes to the new venture.

A LOST OPPORTUNITY

The battle that took place on the peninsula from August 6–9, 1915, provides one of the most striking examples in modern military history of the failure of an organization to seize and secure a success that, to both contemporaries and subsequent historians, looked to be there for the taking. Confronted by what seems to have been a golden opportunity to achieve a local success of major dimensions, the result of taking the Turks completely by surprise at Suvla Bay, British troops failed to see and to take full advantage of an opportunity presented to them by considerable enemy weakness. Thus the Suvla Bay landing presents exactly those major characteristics we have identified as indicative of true military misfortune: the failure of one party to do what might have been reasonably expected of it, and widespread shock at the outcome once the true scale of the lost opportunity became known. Winston Churchill, deeply involved in the genesis of the campaign and with much to justify—as well as much to conceal—allowed his pen free rein when he came to write his personal account of the war.

The long and varied annals of the British Army contain no more heartbreaking episode than that of the battle of Suvla Bay. The greatness of the prize in view, the narrowness by which it was missed, the extremes of valiant skill and of incompetence, of effort and inertia, which were equally presented, the malevolent fortune which played about the field, are features not easily to be matched in our history.

Though they lacked his magisterial powers of self-expression, others shared Churchill’s view. One officer who was present at the battle held that Suvla Bay “will always remain one of the great failures of the war, and a black page in the history of the British Army.” And Alan Moorehead, a later historian, set out very clearly the two sides of the puzzle to be solved:

Somewhere, one feels, there must be some missing factor which has not been brought to light—some element of luck neglected, some supernatural accident, some evil chain of coincidence that nobody could have anticipated. And yet it was quite unlike the April landing. One does not have the feeling that it was touch and go at Suvla, that some slight shifting of pattern would have put things right again. There is instead a strong sense of inevitability; each event leads on quite inexorably to the next. . . .

To understand what went wrong, and to be able to chart the pathways to misfortune such historians as Moorehead have perceived, we shall first examine what was expected to happen and then test the contemporary explanations for the failure. Only then shall we be in a position to construct our matrix and identify the root causes of the failure to cope with a golden opportunity.

Suvla Bay is a long, curved stretch of sand backed by a flat plain from which rise several low hills. Some four and a half miles north of the main Allied positions, it lies at the end of the chain of mountains that command the center of the Gallipoli Peninsula. It was for the possession of this chain, and particularly of the heights of Sari Bair, that Hamilton was about to launch his main attack from the Anzac landing. Until the beginning of August, Suvla Bay had escaped the fury of battle, neither side perceiving its importance in the struggle to escape from the fringes of the peninsula and gain control of the commanding high ground. The idea of operating in the bay area was first raised at the end of July when General Sir William Riddell Birdwood, commanding the Anzac landing, proposed attacking Sari Bair with two divisions and added that if he had a third he would send it to Suvla Bay. Herein lay the first seed of failure: Always perceived as a secondary operation, Suvla Bay never got the full attention it merited from Hamilton’s headquarters staff.

The difficulties inherent in the kind of operation Lieutenant General Sir Frederick William Stopford was about to undertake were sadly underrated. On the eve of the April 25 landing, Hamilton had been forcibly struck by “the amount of original thinking and improvisation demanded by a landing operation.” Twenty-seven years later, when American marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, they had expected six months’ grace to train for their first Pacific operation but were given only six weeks. However, unlike Stopford’s men, they had the benefit of such prewar innovations as combat loading to ease their task. Stopford’s force lacked any such body of doctrine and technique; it lacked experience; and it lacked time.

To command IX Corps, which was to be entrusted with the landing, Hamilton asked for an experienced general from France. He requested General Sir Julian Byng or General Sir Henry Rawlinson, but was denied either by Kitchener and left with a choice between two senior but retired generals—“dug-outs,” in the parlance of the day. His choice fell on Stopford. The novelist Compton Mackenzie, meeting Stopford shortly before the attack, was forcibly struck by his shortcomings:

He was deprecating, courteous, fatherly, anything except the commander of an Army Corps which had been entrusted with a major operation that might change the whole course of the war in twenty-four hours.

This assessment of Stopford may well have benefited from the wisdom of hindsight; but the new corps commander certainly did not have a high reputation inside the army, where he had made his career chiefly as an administrator, and Hamilton chose him only because he had the necessary seniority over one of the divisional generals he would have to command, Lieutenant General Sir Bryan Mahon. A less passive commander might have pressed harder for an officer he felt suited to the difficult task at hand; but Hamilton can certainly be faulted for failing to take steps to keep a close watchful eye on a general he suspected was not up to the job.

The British at Gallipoli, August 1915 Part II

Stopford first learned of the Suvla Bay plan on July 22, fifteen days before he was scheduled to carry it out.28 His orders laid down the main objective as the “capture and retention of Suvla Bay as a base of operations for the northern army”; to do this he was to capture the low hills in the basin behind the bay quickly and then take the heights on its northern and eastern sides. Subsequent moves would “depend upon circumstances which cannot at present be gauged,” but it was “hoped” that Stopford’s troops would then be able to move southeastward to give flanking assistance to Birdwood’s main attack on the heights of Sari Bair. These instructions were faulty in that they insufficiently emphasized the primary importance of cooperating with the offensive on Sari Bair; nor did they alert the commander to the vital need to take every advantage of opportunity. A more aggressive commander might not have needed to be told so bluntly what to do—but Stopford was not such a commander, and Hamilton had good reason to suspect as much. As the task of planning passed down the chain of command, Stopford now began to take a personal hand, yet further closing down the opportunities to profit from surprise and success.

Within four days of receiving his orders, Stopford began to emphasize nonexistent difficulties. Leaning heavily on current experience in France—which bore little resemblance to Gallipoli—he argued that without a large number of howitzers, troops could not be expected to attack an organized system of trenches.30 Hamilton did not have the howitzers—but neither did the Turks in the bay area enjoy the luxury of a Western Front-style organized trench system. Rather than point out what aerial photographs showed to be the weak positions occupied by the few Turks in the area, Hamilton’s staff officers left IX Corps to discover for itself that these fears were groundless. Revised instructions issued by Hamilton on July 29 emphasized that the primary objective of Stopford’s force was to secure Suvla Bay as a supply base for all forces operating in the northern part of the peninsula; this might require all the troops at Stopford’s disposal, but if he had troops to spare they should be used to help the main Anzac attack.

In view of all the charges subsequently leveled at Hamilton, Stopford, and others for failing to capitalize on a golden opportunity, we may pause to note that the commander in chief—the source of all direction and authority—apparently never perceived the Suvla Bay landing as playing any more than a subordinate role in the push for Sari Bair and made no provision to expand it if circumstances favored such a course. For him, the greatest possibility held out by possession of the bay was that a light railway could be run up to the troops on Sari Bair more effectively from there than from the narrow and crowded beaches at Anzac Landing. Looking further ahead to operations in 1916, he saw Suvla Bay as an ideal winter base for the troops on the northern part of the peninsula. Hamilton had failed to develop a scheme that accommodated the idea of capitalizing on local success, thereby putting a heavy burden on the troops when opportunities later presented themselves.

Hamilton’s failure to perceive and emphasize the broader possibilities inherent in the operation encouraged Stopford to give further vent to his naturally pessimistic frame of mind. Writing to his commander on July 31, he warned that attaining “security” in the bay was likely to be so demanding a task as to make it “improbable” that he would be able to give Birdwood any assistance; if, however, the opposition was sufficiently slight as to allow him to free some of his troops, “you may rely upon my giving him [Birdwood] every assistance in my power.” This attitude bespoke a reluctance or inability to perceive opportunities that boded ill. It was magnified as orders were passed down from general headquarters through corps and divisional staffs to the brigades that would do the fighting. The urgency of seizing key positions quickly was watered down; the lack of precision in the orders was magnified; and what were perceived as important geographical positions simply disappeared from the orders put out to the fighting units as they filtered down the chain of command. A combination of pessimism in command and deficient staff work—evident in the chaotic arrangements for unloading water, stores and equipment on the beaches—resulted in Stopford’s taking command of a battle for which his troops were inadequately prepared.

The landings on the shore of Suvla Bay, which began just before dawn on August 7, quickly bogged down in confusion. Mistaking the shoreline in the dark, the navy landed one brigade in the wrong place; the direction of attack was altered by one of the divisional commanders not once but several times; and men began to pile up on or near the beaches in confused masses. The early omens looked good; one member of the naval landing party recorded hearing

intermittent firing accompanied by some cheering going on ashore, so that already some of our troops were in action and judging by the slackness of the fire, it looked as if we had taken the Turks by surprise.

More ominously, the same eyewitness noticed that troops met little opposition until they had penetrated about a mile inland, where they began to be held up by snipers. The demoralizing effect on the troops of a handful of Turkish sharpshooters was exacerbated by the growing heat of the day; eventually temperatures mounted until they stood at 90°F. in the shade. Over the next forty-eight hours thirst began to determine the attitudes and then the actions of many of the troops.

During the first day Stopford put some 20,000 men ashore. His force enjoyed a massive ten-to-one superiority, for it faced an opposition that amounted to no more than 2,000 Turks under the command of a determined Bavarian, Major Willmer, backed by eleven guns. Willmer’s men fought well, using to full effect the advantage of defending ground that was clothed in dense, thorny ilex scrub. The odds were heavily against them; the outcome of the battle depended on one commander reacting faster and more effectively than the other to the unexpected.

A general Allied attack on the enemy line, which had started the previous day, distracted the Turks’ attention from Suvla for a while, but on August 7 Liman von Sanders decided—wrongly—that Suvla Bay was the main British objective. By misunderstanding his enemy’s plan, he put himself in a position to snuff out the unexpected opportunity offered to Stopford. But his quick mental reaction was not matched by physical action: Turkish reinforcements were 30 miles away at Bulair, and the local commander, Feizi Bey, was listless and incompetent. On August 8, Liman replaced him with the energetic but as-yet-unknown Mustafa Kemal (later, as Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey) and ordered an attack the following morning. Reinforcements were ordered up on the double, and meanwhile Kemal prepared to defend to the last. For forty-eight hours, though, the way to the heart of the Gallipoli peninsula was there for the taking, barred only by a handful of resolute Turks.

On August 7, the British lines should have been alive with movement and activity. Instead, they were a picture of tranquility. An anonymous artillery officer recorded being “struck by the restfulness of all around. There appeared to be little going on, a good many infantrymen sitting about or having a bathe.” Stopford lay off shore on board the Jonquil and there he stayed throughout the day. He sent one telegram to Hamilton at 7:30 A.M. reporting that one of the hills in the plain behind the bay—Hill 10—had not yet been captured, ending his message “As you see, we have been able to advance little beyond the edge of the beach.” Hamilton—one hour’s steaming away on the island of Imbros—received this message about noon; some four and a half hours later his chief of staff replied to Stopford: “Chief glad to hear enemy opposition weakening, and knows you will take advantage of this to push on rapidly. . . . take every advantage before you are forestalled.” At the front, his commanders were getting into a hopeless tangle. Major General Frederick Hammersley of the Eleventh Division ordered one of his brigadiers, W. H. Sitwell, to support an attack on another of the objectives that had originally been labeled vital—Chocolate Hill—by Brigadier General Hill. Sitwell promptly began to dig in. Hill arrived and failed to get any support from Sitwell for his attack. After a dispute between the two brigadiers over Hammersley’s orders, Hill began the weary trudge back through the sand to divisional headquarters in search of a ruling. When, at length, an attack was launched on Chocolate Hill, none of the three units involved was accompanied by its brigadier.

On the evening of August 7 Stopford wanted to press on but was told by his two divisional commanders that their men were exhausted and short of water and that any further movement was impossible for the time being. Accordingly, he postponed any further attack for twenty-four hours. His troops, far from being in a position to seize the hills surrounding the bay, were barely masters of the plain. Stopford lacked the resolution to push them forward. His first priority was the safety of the landing place, and he issued orders early the following morning to select and entrench the best possible covering positions; his intentions were first to consolidate his position and then to land much-needed stores and supplies. Later that same morning he urged his troops to “push on as far as possible” but not to launch frontal attacks on positions held in strength. As yet, no enemy position confronting him was held in any strength.

On the second day of the Suvla Bay landing, after first dispatching an unjustifiably optimistic congratulatory telegram to the Jonquil, Hamilton began to grow perturbed at the lack of progress and sent a staff officer—later to become the official historian of the campaign—to find out what was going on. The scene that met Colonel Aspinall’s eyes was later summed up by Churchill thus:

the placid, prudent, elderly English gentleman with his 20,000 men spread around the beaches, the front lines sitting on the tops of shallow trenches, smoking and cooking, with here and there an occasional rifle shot, others bathing by hundreds in the bright blue bay where, disturbed hardly by a single shell, floated the great ships of war. . . .

Seeing Stopford still aboard the Jonquil and little happening on shore, Aspinall sent an urgent wireless message to GHQ: “Feel confident that golden opportunities are being lost and look upon the situation as serious.” At last Hamilton decided to go and see for himself, but by one of the many malevolent twists of fate that seemed to scar the face of this battle, the ship the navy had allotted him had to put out her boilers to make repairs and was unable to take the commander in chief anywhere.

At 4:30 P.M., after a five-hour wait, Hamilton finally found a ship to take him to Stopford. Once there, he learned that Stopford planned to attack the following day but felt unable to get his troops moving any sooner due to a lack of water and of artillery. Pressed by Hamilton to attack that day, he demurred. Hamilton then went ashore—unaccompanied by Stopford, who excused himself on the grounds that he had a bad knee. Once there, Hamilton heard the divisional commander, Hammersley, report that no advance was possible until the next day; his troops were too scattered, the ground in front of them was unreconnoitered and bad, and orders could not be passed around in time for junior officers to be able to study them. “Hammersley’s points,” Hamilton recorded,

were made in a proper and soldierly manner. Every general of experience would be with him in each of them, but there was one huge danger rapidly approaching us . . . we might have the hills at the cost of walking up them today; the Lord only knew what would be the price of them tomorrow.

In a belated attempt to impose a sense of drive and purpose on a battle that had so far been conducted without either, Hamilton ordered Hammersley to attack the heights of Tekke Tepe that night with one of his brigades. No one told Stopford of this change of plan. In the event, it took the brigade selected for the task most of the night to sort itself out, and when it finally launched its assault on the hill early on the morning of August 9, it was too late; Kemal, reinforced by troops who had carried out an exhausting forced march, attacked first. Seizing the heights, he caught the advancing British troops spread out below him on the steepest part of the hillside. The British attack was easily broken, and with it went all hopes of levering the Turks off the commanding heights of the peninsula. A major attack at Suvla launched twelve days later in an attempt to redeem the situation proved totally fruitless. The “outstanding opportunity of the whole campaign,” which had presented itself on August 7 and 8, had been wasted.

PROBLEMS

Shortage of Water

Both at the time and afterward the commanders actively involved in the Suvla Bay landings laid great stress on the shortage of water as a major cause—some tried to suggest the major cause—of the failure to take the heights before the Turks occupied them in force. An eyewitness recorded on the second day of the battle:

The water question is acute, the whole corps having to be supplied from lighters and the arrangements are at present hopelessly inadequate and it is most pathetic to see men down from the firing line having to wait in the sun for sometimes as long as four hours before they can get their water bottles filled. Everything has to be improvised and why it wasn’t thought of before, I don’t know.

The scenes that occurred at the beaches certainly suggest that lack of water was a major factor in determining the fate of the battle: Troops rushed into the sea and cut the hoses from the water lighters to the shore in order to slake their thirst, while further inland some units undoubtedly went very short of water. Stopford believed that want of adequate water supplies was severely restricting his troops’ capacity to fight; on August 8, as has been seen, he accepted without demur his divisional commanders’ reports that their men were too exhausted by fighting and thirst to push on that day, and afterward he claimed that the want of water was so bad that men were reduced to drinking their own urine.

After the campaign Hamilton held that shortage of water had not been a problem, and his view was backed up by evidence from Hammersley and his two brigade commanders, Sitwell and Haggard. Sitwell, who had lived in Rhodesia, pointed out that there were Turkish wells in the area and that with a little effort water could be found. However, no proper arrangements had been made to look for it. To some extent the shortage of water suffered by the troops was their own fault; it is unlikely that Australian or New Zealand troops would have allowed such conditions to develop without doing something. One of the witnesses to the Dardanelles Commission of Inquiry, Lieutenant Colonel A. J. A. Hore-Ruthven, V.C., put the contrast in attitudes between the two armies well:

if there is any water to be got anywhere they [the Anzacs] will get it. The English soldier, till he has had a bit of experience on active service rather waits till the water is brought to him, and if it is not he says “I have no water.” It is just those little things that make the difference.

Behind the disagreements over the significance of the water shortage for the outcome of the battle lay a failure to exercise command responsibility adequately. Stopford assumed that his responsibility for water supply only began once water had been landed on the beach, as did Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General Major-General Poett. Until then, the two saw the problem as one to be solved jointly by Hamilton’s headquarters and the navy. Delays in landing the mules that were to carry the water to the front line, an inadequate supply of water lighters, a lack of receptacles to receive water once it had been landed on the beach, and the absence of any alternative arrangements in case the mules failed to arrive all bespeak a failure of foresight and coordination. Hamilton and Stopford failed to sort out the issue in advance, and at the front Hammersley took no steps to secure or even to ascertain the source of his supply. A cavalier attitude and incompetence combined to make the water problem appear much more serious than it really was—with unhappy consequences.

The way Birdwood prepared for the Anzac landing on April 25 shows how differently things could have been managed. He began to make arrangements to secure his water supplies nearly two months before the attack, buying 2,000 kerosene tins and a number of donkeys to carry them. He also ensured that special parties of field engineers were detailed to search the gullies for water as soon as the landing had taken place; the result was that within forty-eight hours twenty wells had been sunk and were providing 2,000 gallons a day. In his general plan for the attack on Sari Bair in August, Birdwood made equally careful provision to secure his water supply. His example could easily have been followed and his experience utilized, but his advice was never sought. British generals preferred to rely on their own blinkered interpretations of administrative responsibility at different levels in the military hierarchy. As a result, a difficulty was magnified until it assumed the proportions of a major setback—and, later, an explanation for failure.

The British at Gallipoli, August 1915 Part III

Shortage of Artillery

In March and May 1915, British attempts to break the German lines on the western front at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge failed. The official explanation for both of these failures was that the necessary quantities of heavy guns and high-explosive ammunition with which to pound the German trenches to pieces had been lacking. This experience produced an “artillery fixation” in the minds of British generals, who became convinced that success or failure—at Gallipoli and elsewhere—hinged on the possession and use of large amounts of artillery. In fact, conditions at Gallipoli did not demand a “Western Front” style of operations: This was a different theater, with different problems. But a preoccupation with the need for lots of guns and heavy preliminary bombardments to soften up enemy trenches blinkered local commanders so that they were unable to perceive and then follow up an opportunity when it occurred. In its analysis of the causes for the failure at Gallipoli, the Dardanelles Commission concluded that the absence of artillery “must have materially contributed to the failure at Suvla.” This conclusion reflected the opinions of many of their witnesses—and, no doubt, their own prejudices. Brigadier General R. P. Maxwell, commanding a brigade in Hammersley’s division, told the commission, “Even at the end I think if we had had enough howitzers we should have forced the Turks out.” In fact the shortage of artillery was probably not a critical factor on August 7 and 8; Stopford had more guns than the Turks who opposed him, but in any case the broken ground, thick cover, and scattered position of the enemy (whose lone snipers did much damage) suggest conditions artillery could have done little to ameliorate. However, the critical fact is that Stopford’s self-confidence—such as it was—was sapped by the belief that the means allotted to him were inadequate to the job.

From the moment of his arrival off the peninsula Stopford was afflicted by a tendency to compare conditions at Gallipoli with those on the Western Front, where it was believed that with heavier artillery bombardments the German line could be broken. Visiting Birdwood at the Anzac landing, Stopford was inclined to consider that a preliminary bombardment was necessary before any attack and disregarded his host’s suggestion that he trust to surprise. His orders of July 22 reflected a concern over the likely role of enemy artillery, which he believed was emplaced on the hills overlooking Suvla Bay; and his preternatural caution was fully evident in a letter he wrote to Hamilton on July 26, which led to a revision in his orders three days later. “The whole teaching of the campaign in France,” he wrote, “proves that troops cannot be expected to attack an organized system of trenches without the assistance of a large number of howitzers.”

Stopord’s conviction that the success of his attack required a massive artillery barrage was given more support by his chief of staff, Brigadier General H. L. Reed, V. C. Reed had been attached to the Turkish army in the Turco-Bulgarian war and had formed a very favorable view of the resistance that Turkish troops could put up on the defensive; and he came to Gallipoli from France, where he had been imbued with the artillery ethos being built up there. Aspinall later described Reed as

obsessed with the difficulty of fighting without lots of howitzers . . . he gave me the impression that he did not think the plan could succeed. He never said so, but he had the whole air of a man who does not think he is going to perform his task.

With such half-heartedness at the top, it is scarcely surprising that negative forces triumphed over positive ones during those hot August days at Suvla Bay.

Once again, however, as in the case of the water shortage, a minor problem—though one that exercised a strong psychological effect—conceals a different but related problem that posed a major threat to the chances of success. The real difficulty was summed up by a New Zealand soldier some three weeks before the attack on Suvla Bay; lamenting a failed attack, he added, “With a stock of mills bombs and trench mortars we could have gone to Constantinople.” What was desperately needed in the hand-to-hand combat amid the scrub, thorns, gullies, and ravines, were infantry weapons that could suppress local opposition quickly and accurately without needing a sighting. For this task rifles were all but useless and grenades essential, yet the troops were always short of them. At the end of May there were only twelve grenades per company, and in June only four trench mortars in the whole of the Anzac position. The mortar problem was never solved, and not until August 29 were there enough grenades to supply attacking troops with two per man. A week before this, one regiment had been ordered to attack “with bomb and bayonet” even though its commanders knew it possessed no bombs at all.

To enable the troops to do their job, the high command needed to equip them with the necessary means. The full value of bombs and mortars was not yet recognized by the generals—though it was by the troops themselves—but instead Hamilton took comfort from the fact that Stopford would have naval artillery to support his attack. In common with Vice Admiral John de Robeck, Stopford seems to have felt that naval guns were completely ineffective against deep trenches. The weapon he favored to crack this nonexistent nut—for there were no such lines of trenches facing his troops at Suvla Bay—was not available. Even more corps artillery might not have turned failure into success. A year later the real requisite was more readily apparent. “Had we had half the mortars (I mean trench mortars) we have here,” wrote Major General Sir A. H. Russell from France, “I am sure we could have won our way across the Peninsula without difficulty and the whole history of the war been altered.” Yet even without the missing weaponry Stopford and his men might have done better. The gap between success and failure was not one that only a particular item of equipment could have bridged.

Natural Obstacles

It is difficult now to grasp the extent to which contemporaries were ignorant of the physical problems the Gallipoli expedition would have to overcome. Maps of the peninsula were few and poor, were only gradually improved as better ones were obtained from Turkish prisoners, and marked only the main spurs across which the troops would have to fight. New Zealand troops expected to find “good grazing” land confronting them; but when the Australian war correspondent C. E. W. Bean saw the peninsula at firsthand on the morning of April 25, he realized at once how misleading the maps had been.

The place is like a sand-pit on a huge scale—raw sandslopes and precipices alternating with steep slopes covered with low scrub—the scrub where it exists is pretty dense.66

Facing what seemed to be an endless series of ravines and knife-edged ridges that often bisected each other like a maze and were clothed with scrub so thick that a man standing 5 yards away was invisible, the Anzacs’ attack halted at the end of the first day in “country which would have been well-nigh impassable even in peace manoeuvres.”

The hills surrounding Suvla Bay—up which Hamilton proposed to launch a night attack on August 8–9—were equally forbidding:

. . . rough stony ground, cut up into a tangled succession of steep ravines. Everywhere there was a strong growth of dwarf ilex of ancient growth, with limbs frequently as thick as a man’s arm, and with foliage through which it was impossible to force one’s way. Here and there were narrow winding openings forming natural paths, only broad enough to allow one man to pass at a time.

In country such as this a few determined snipers could put up serious resistance against attacking troops who could all too easily lose their way and wander out of reach of support: On August 12 the commanding officer of a battalion of the Norfolk Regiment together with sixteen officers and 230 men disappeared into this bush in an attack, and none of them were ever seen again.

Hamilton argued afterward that steep, broken ground such as that facing the troops at Suvla Bay was no easier to defend and no more difficult to attack than flat ground in France.69 He certainly did little to help his troops overcome these obstacles. Reconnaissance was ruled out because he wished to keep the Turks in the dark;70 and an excessive concern for secrecy meant that maps of Suvla Bay were only handed out after midday on August 6. As a result, on the night of the landing “many officers of the 11th Division had never seen a map of the area in which they suddenly found themselves.” This failure to provide the best possible information and intelligence was the more inexcusable because Hamilton knew well by then that maps were misleading, that mere visual reconnaissance from the bridge of a passing warship was inadequate, and that actual physical features often turned out to be quite different from the results of either.

Like Stopford and Reed, Hamilton saw the problems presented by the physical features of the Gallipoli Peninsula in terms of trench warfare. Despite the superficial similarities between the two theaters, attacking on the Gallipoli Peninsula was often more akin to hill warfare, and it is noticeable that the units that did best were those, such as the Gurkhas, who had combat experience in similar conditions and knew, for example, that attacking troops should avoid the apparent safety of the ravines and instead pick their way up the spurs, retaining control of the high ground. To do this successfully, the troops needed the most accurate knowledge they could get about the kind of ground over which they had to fight. This was denied them by their commanders, who thereby made a further contribution to the likelihood of disaster.

TRAINING AND INITIATIVE

Shortly after he had been sent out to Gallipoli by the prime minister and had witnessed the Suvla Bay attack, Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Hankey telegraphed a brief and pithy explanation of the failure to Asquith: “Troops lately sent from England unfortunately failed completely, owing partly to water difficulty, but mainly to bad staff work and want of dash and drive.” The latter feeling—that they had been let down by the quality—or lack of it—of the troops allotted to them was shared by a number of senior commanders. Stopford was very disillusioned with the territorial divisions he had been given; “they not only showed no dash in attack but went back at slight provocation, and went back a long way.” Hamilton shared the view that the troops, rather than their commanders, were at fault:

It was general want of experience and the youth of the men. The New Army were fine men but there was a want of savvy about the whole proceedings. They were all raw; there was no one to show them the way.

In his opinion, an Indian division or one with experience in France would have “walked on to the hills at once.”

Hamilton had been persuaded to use troops fresh from England for the attack—not the seasoned Twenty-ninth Division, which had taken part in the original landings on April 25—on the grounds that little opposition was likely, and that even if stiff resistance was encountered, a new division was likely to give as good an account of itself as one weakened by the effects of three months’ continuous fighting. This reasoning was mistaken; and the error was compounded by inadequate training and preparation, the ineptness of the timetabling for the landing, and the failure to pay sufficient attention to the need for good leadership by junior officers.

With no previous experience of amphibious landings against opposition, troop training in Britain in 1915 had no fund of experience on which to build. Divisions were trained with a view to fighting in France; in Hamilton’s opinion this predisposed them to dig in at the first opportunity.77 In any case peacetime training lessened the very sense of individual initiative that conditions on the Gallipoli Peninsula put at such a high premium. This imposed an extra burden on commanders, which, as we shall see, was not recognized and catered to. Training in Egypt would probably have done little to improve matters, being “frankly admitted to be Boer War stuff.” In any case, in the novel conditions of warfare on the peninsula, lack of training was compounded by lack of a prior taste of battle. “It was experience, not training, which we lacked,” remarked one of the Eleventh Division’s colonels. In France, newly arrived divisions were introduced to the rigors of the front gradually and were given time to accustom themselves to their task before being called upon to undertake a major offensive. At Suvla Bay, Hamilton committed raw troops to a task that required especially effective leadership if underlying deficiencies were not to prove insuperable. Such leadership was not forthcoming.

The likelihood that Stopford’s force would be able to cope successfully with the task confronting them was further diminished by the mismanagement that preceded the attack. Some troops had been kept on board ship since July 11 and had been given little opportunity to exercise and regain their full level of fitness. Other units were not rested before the attack; instead, normal duties were carried out until nearly midday on August 6, when the men were informed that they were about to take part in a major operation. Marched to the boats during a hot afternoon, they were unable to gather their strength for the task ahead; when the first troops reached the beach some had already been on their feet for seventeen hours. By the second day of the battle, besides being short of water and food, many of the men had had no sleep for fifty-two hours.80 In these circumstances even seasoned regulars might have found it difficult to summon up the reserves of energy and determination necessary to push forward. Stopford’s men found it impossible.

The problem of lack of training and experience was exacerbated by the fact that the new divisions lacked effective leadership at the lower levels of the chain of command as well as higher up. On the first day Turkish snipers took a heavy toll of officers. Losses among senior officers and company commanders were particularly heavy, and as a consequence, command fell on the shoulders of very young junior officers who often had less than a year’s military experience. As a result of the excessive secrecy of the high command, many junior officers found themselves leading attacks without knowing what their objectives were and unable to take the kind of elementary precautions that seasoned fighters would have. Some unwisely disdained to take cover under fire, adding to the scale of losses.

Lack of experience, coupled with the lack of energy and drive that command should have supplied, magnified the troops’ natural tendencies to sit down and wait for orders rather than using what initiative they had. Hore-Ruthven noticed this phenomenon: “An Australian, even if he did not get the order, if he thought it good business to go on, would go on.” Many contemporaries noted the combination of willingness and passivity that seemed to characterize the troops of the New Armies raised by Kitchener in 1914, and that contrasted so markedly with the Anzacs’ enterprise and boldness. The Australian official historian believed that his countryman was “half a soldier before the war.” Driving bullocks, gathering sheep for shearing, and particularly fighting bush fires had prepared him for combat; “fighting bush fires, more than any other human experience, resembles the fighting of a pitched battle.” By no means all the Anzacs were products of the Outback; but the social attitudes of the Australian soldier made him much better at overcoming the hostility of the battlefield than his inexperienced and undertrained British companion-in-arms.

EXPLANATIONS

Having examined the actual course of events and the reasons most frequently given for the failure at Suvla Bay, we are now in a position to return to our matrix and explore the “pathways” to this particular misfortune. The first thing to note is that errors made by the highest authorities, although important in general terms, had no direct role to play in contributing to disaster. Kitchener allowed Hamilton only half the number of men generally reckoned to be necessary to carry out the operation and denied him the customary 10 percent extra for wastage on the grounds that doing so would lock up troops needed in France. In practice this was irrelevant, because at Suvla Bay for some 48 hours Stopford enjoyed a ten-to-one advantage over his local opponent—ample time to have brought off what might have been one of the major victories of the war. Kitchener’s refusal to allow Hamilton the corps commanders he wanted probably did have a significant, but indirect, effect on the battle. However, once Hamilton knew they were not going to be released to him, it was his responsibility to take steps to compensate for this deficiency. He failed dismally to rise to this task.

As the matrix makes clear, critical failures by the expedition’s commander in chief contributed directly to the subsequent failure of the troops in combat. Hamilton’s failure to perceive the possibilities inherent in the operation, and his failure to insist that primacy of place in the action be given to the attack on the hills rather than the occupation of the bay area, magnified the unaggressive tendencies of his local subordinate, which in turn percolated down through the chain of command on the ground. The explanation for this lies in Hamilton’s hands-off concept of military command. The view that the commander’s role was to set the general objectives and then leave his subordinates and their staffs to work out all the details was well established in the upper echelons of the British army, and Douglas Haig adopted it throughout his period as commander in chief in France.84 Hamilton did show some inclination to intervene on the spot when he realized that things were not progressing as fast as he wished them to: At “Y” beach on the second day of the Gallipoli landing he felt “inclined” to take a hand when he saw troops drifting off the crest of a hill but was talked out of doing so by his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Sir Walter Braithwaite. Thereafter, following both his natural inclinations and the decided views of his staff, he lapsed back into quiescence. At the time of the Suvla Bay landing, his headquarters was located on the island of Imbros, some distance from the mainland. In a very revealing comment to the commissioners who conducted the inquiry into the Dardenelles venture, Hamilton justified the distance he had put between himself and his subordinate by explaining that “General Stopford was within an hour’s run of me and knew perfectly well that I should be delighted to see him at any time.”