Operation Blücher

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Operation Blücher proposed a three-army attack along the Chemin des Dames: another frontal offensive, this one across the same terrain that had contributed so heavily to the French debacle in 1917. Ludendorff nevertheless approved as a means of drawing French reserves from a British front that he still expected to rupture decisively somehow at some future time.

Mounting Blücher required the transference of significant infantry and artillery from Rupprecht’s army group. Even then German strength was insufficient to replicate March 21 with a single coordinated attack. Results would have to be sought in a sequential series of attacks. That meant in essence using the same resources again and again, shifting their positions rather than relieving them to rest and prepare for the next round. Blücher succeeded in replicating Michael in the secrecy of its preparations—aided, according to some accounts, by the nightly croaking of thousands of frogs in the marshes and on the river banks. Thirty-nine divisions, two-thirds of them assault formations, were available. If the number of guns was fewer than optimal, Bruchmüller was in charge of them and supplemented tube artillery with over twelve hundred trench mortars. The Allies were taken by surprise when the German barrage, three million painstakingly coordinated and devastatingly effective rounds, opened on May 27. To make matters worse, the French sector commander insisted in front-loading his positions, at the rate of one division per five miles of front-line trenches. Finally, the initial weight of the attack fell on four British divisions badly mauled in the earlier fighting and sandwiched into this quiet sector to recover.

Tactically the attack was a virtuoso performance, even compared to Michael. Planning and serendipity enabled the Germans to advance as much as fourteen miles on the first day—the war’s largest single-day ground gain on any front. As the offensive attack continued to progress, Ludendorff applied the by now shopworn principle of following up tactical success with a set of operational objectives as vague as they proved ephemeral. He wrote of threatening Paris. Instead, Blücher devolved into an offensive to nowhere in particular as Allied reserves shored up the line and exhausted, disgruntled Germans found solace in captured supply dumps and their stores of liquor. Material results were impressive: 127,000 Allied casualties including 50,000 prisoners; 600 guns; an advance of almost forty miles in four days. But the vital northern French railway network was still uncut, its centers uncaptured. Blücher and its subsidiary operations had cost over a hundred thousand Germans dead, wounded, missing—replaceable in neither numbers nor quality. And a new player was making an appearance: the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

The improvised American Army had the obvious and predictable shortcomings: inadequate training, ineffective equipment, inappropriate doctrine, inefficient officers, inflexible organizations, inexperienced men. Two further factors exacerbated the Yanks’ initial difficulties. One was the strained relations between the Americans and their war-experienced mentors, the French in particular. A sense of saving the day at the last minute reinforced frequent dismissal of the poilus as burned out, prone to panic and reluctant to fight. In fact, as German casualty lists attested, the French remained on the whole first-rate combatants, skilled alike in minor tactics and larger combined-arms operations, making up in craft what they had sacrificed in élan. The confidence of inexperience limited the Americans’ ability to benefit systematically by observing their veteran allies. And that inexperience was red meat to the Germans who faced them.

In the “little war” of patrols, raids, and small-scale attacks that characterized the Americans’ early tours on the front line, the Germans consistently set the pace in battlecraft, initiative, and effective courage. The Americans were more than willing to fight. They simply did not know how, even against the third- and fourth-rate German divisions holding down the relatively quiet sectors that were the AEF’s test beds. The AEF’s higher commands and staffs were no less caught up in the higher mechanics of combat and logistics on scales heretofore unimagined at West Point or Leavenworth. The divisions were on their own. From Seicheprey and Château-Thierry through Belleau Wood to Soissons, Americans learned by experience, observation—and sometimes pure serendipity. Their learning curves could be steep, but too often the lessons learned were in a context of two steps forward, one sideways, one back. Their tactical deficiencies remained: poor cohesion and worse liaison, ill-defined objectives, misplaced initiatives. Their casualty rates were swingeing—on the scale of 1914–15. Too many officers in too many positions were still not up to their jobs. Tactical cooperation with the French was, if anything, growing worse. Nevertheless, the doughboys passed their first tests with credit, given where they had begun eighteen months earlier. They would play significant roles in checking the final German offensive and the resulting Allied counterattacks.

That, however, lay in the future. Present reality was Ludendorff’s reaction to the huge salient Blücher had created. Almost forty miles across, over sixty miles long, difficult to defend and more difficult to supply, it offered a stark choice as either a magnet for a major Allied counteroffensive or a springboard for another German attack. An initial effort in early June failed for the first time in months to achieve anything worthwhile tactically, to say nothing of operationally. The Allies were increasingly able to cope with storm troop tactics. The storm troop principle of infiltration, bypassing strong points in the way water seeks the easiest path, led to a downward focus that negatively complemented Ludendorff’s strategic principle of “punching a hole and seeing what happened.” In both cases there were no objectives—just processes, ultimately leading nowhere in particular. The result, as casualties mounted and reinforcements dwindled, was the reduction of assault divisions and storm battalions to isolated combat teams that could be frustrated, destroyed—or stopped in their tracks.

At command level, Ludendorff’s next operational decision was easily made: an attack towards the Marne, with the initial objective of—finally—capturing the railroad hub of Reims, and with Paris on the horizon as a prospect. There were more or less vague thoughts at OHL about using this offensive as a preliminary to a final, decisive blow against the BEF in Flanders. But what the Allies called the Second Battle of the Marne had first priority. If this was not an all-or-nothing effort, it was as close as the German Army could come. Forty-eight divisions, 900 aircraft, 6,300 guns, and Georg Bruchmüller were committed to the attack that began on July 15. This time the initial successes were limited, the offensive was stymied, and a series of well-coordinated Allied counterattacks retook almost all the ground lost during Blücher. Lossberg, a supreme realist and sufficiently junior to escape the predictable consequences, set the war’s “precise” turning point as July 18: the first day of the final Allied offensive on the Western Front. There might be errors and misunderstandings along the way, but from that date the Allies never looked back and the Germans always fought on the back foot, ever closer to home.

English-speaking historians remain prone to give the palm of decisive victory to the BEF’s attack on August 8, “the black day of the German Army” according to Ludendorff. It is more accurate to credit the empirical British with developing the first modern combined-arms team: a doctrinal, institutional, and technological synergy among infantry, artillery, tanks, and air power, coordinated by radio systems. The artillery sealed the flanks of an attack, conducted counter-battery fire against German gun positions, and provided an initial creeping barrage. Within the “artillery zone” the tanks sought targets of opportunity while the infantry probed for soft spots, each supporting the other as needed. Aircraft provided reconnaissance, artillery observation, and, increasingly, ground support: by August 1918 the Tank Corps had an RAF (Royal Air Force) squadron attached.

The complex interaction of these arms could not be controlled in any modern sense with the communication technology of 1918. Radios, still bulky and unreliable, were impractical below brigade level. Above all, even in the war’s final stages, technique and technology could not significantly reduce casualties. The Third Republic had the doctrine and possessed the tools for modern combat. French staff officers proclaiming “the battle of 1919 will be a battle of aviation and tanks” were, however, less expressing principled conversion to high-tech war than recognizing that their army had finally run out of men. By the time of the Armistice, “the emptiness of the battlefield” was more than just a metaphor in French sectors. The Americans were still chewing their way through the Argonne Forest on what amounted to a rifle-and-bayonet basis, suffering in under seven weeks the largest number killed of any battle in America’s history. They learned as they died, impressing the Germans with a fighting spirit long since eroded in their own ranks. But the AEF was still a long way from being able to implement smoothly the “semi-managed” battle, with attacks only able to move forward in a lurching progress that grew steadier with practice. It is similarly appropriate to speak of a “semi-mobile” battle, with men, vehicles, and firepower pushing back the German front as opposed to rupturing it. The initial gains of August 8 were in a sense deceptive. Neither the tactics nor the technology of 1918 was quite up to breaching even improvised defensive positions at acceptable cost. What they could do was maintain a steady pressure that compelled an eroding army to fall back steadily, never giving it time to recover.

Relative to its opponents, moreover, the German Army was demodernizing. The Fokker D-VII had acquired a reputation as the best fighter on the front, but the Jagdstaffeln were being whittled down by growing Allied numbers and increased Allied skill. A new generation of French and British air superiority fighters was coming from the factories to the front. Manfred von Richthofen had been killed on April 21, probably by ground fire. By mid-August his famous Fighter Wing 1 had been consolidated into a single squadron due to its heavy losses, the first of several times it would similarly be bled white. In May and June alone the Luftstreitkräfte used twice the amount of fuel that reached the front, and subsequent introduction of rationing limited some fighter squadrons to ten sorties a day. Whether a unit was fighter, attack, or observation, old hands carried the main burden and were making fatigue-related mistakes that too often proved fatal, even with the episodic introduction of parachutes in the war’s final stages. On the ground, the few tanks available achieved nothing in particular. Their numbers were too limited. Their technical shortcomings were too many. The overhanging chassis was vulnerable even to slight obstacles and irregularities. In operational contexts, officers of other arms had no serious idea of what tanks should or could do. Nor, indeed, did the tankers themselves. Armor doctrine, insofar as it existed, emphasized maintaining close contact with the infantry, using surprise when possible, avoiding rough or heavily shelled terrain. On one occasion a single cannon-armed A7V prevailed against no fewer than seven British Whippets carrying only machine guns. On another, the tanks encountered a river reported as fordable that in fact proved too deep to cross. On a third an Abteilung of A7Vs drove into an artillery position and was constrained to beat a hasty retreat. It was a far cry from June 1940.

More prosaically, artillery horses were dying in their traces by the score, limiting when not crippling the guns’ mobility, increasing the problem of providing effective fire support in what was becoming increasingly a war of movement. The deeper penetrations Allied tactics and technology enabled not only left more front-line units isolated, but made retreat an increasingly high-risk option. The result was a growing number of “ordered surrenders.” Three hundred forty thousand German soldiers surrendered between July 18 and November 11, 1918. These were mostly group capitulations, organized by company officers or senior NCOs, often brokered in part or accompanied by providing detailed information on a sector’s defenses and strong points as a good will gesture and to avert any later misunderstandings. It was a long way from August 1914.

The Germans’ fighting retreat was predictably tenacious and predictably skillful. They inflicted more casualties than they suffered. But in David Zabecki’s words, “they were truly burned out.” Hunger, influenza, typhus, and traumatic stress shredded the ranks at the front and in the rear. By default it was becoming an infantryman’s war that the infantry could not sustain indefinitely. Over 400,000 more men were dead or wounded. More ominously, almost 350,000 were counted as prisoners or missing. By early October an army corps with seven divisions in its order of battle was reporting its infantry strength at less than 5,000 men—less than 10 per cent of authorized tables of organization. One regiment could count only 200 men. Another mustered 120, organized in four companies instead of the regulation twelve. Units with such low strengths fell far below the critical mass necessary to sustain cohesion as a combat force. Battalions and companies depended increasingly and disproportionally on the remaining alte Hasen and the Korsettenstangen, the “old hares” and the “corset stays”—the machine gunners in particular—that the front’s artisan groups continued to produce. But as summer gave way to autumn the combat effectiveness of these groups eroded in favor of their survival aspects. Getting home alive became a primary objective of the Korporalschaften that in the course had become Kameradschaften as well as Kampfgemeinschaften. Wilhelm Deist describes the result as a “camouflaged strike,” with the “proletariat” of the war machine downing tools in a Marxist model of behavior. One might refer as well to Robert Darnton’s model of pre-industrial protest: challenging a system by defying its norms. Even before the army fell back towards its own frontiers, its rear areas contained increasing numbers of men who had drifted away from the front war. The will to enforce more than the minimum forms of discipline eroded, less from fear of a bullet in the back than a sense that it no longer mattered.

The German Army did win final victory—over its own government. Since August Ludendorff’s behavior had grown increasingly erratic. He blamed the continuing sequence of defeat on the failures of subordinates. He insisted deserters be executed out of hand and officers enforce orders with handguns. He had not, however, entirely lost touch with reality. On October 1 he presented a general review of the military situation. The war, he declared, was lost. The only way to save the army from disaster was for the government to request an immediate armistice. His auditors broke into fits of sobbing as the quartermaster-general finally confirmed the long-standing aphorism that “Prussia was an army with a country.” Two days later, Prince Max von Baden became chancellor. His first official act was to request an armistice on the basis of Woodrow Wilson’s call for “peace without victory.” He received a dusty answer. Wilson demanded that any terms make German resumption of hostilities militarily impossible. He insisted on refusing to negotiate with the emperor and the generals. The protests of Ludendorff and Hindenburg amounted to spitting into the wind. William’s last imperial act was to replace Ludendorff as first quartermaster-general with Wilhelm Gröner. It would be Gröner the problem-solver who would negotiate William’s abdication as the Second Reich collapsed into mutiny and disorder in a matter of days. It would be Gröner who silenced the fire-eaters demanding an all or nothing end game on German soil. And it would be Gröner who arranged the compromise with an embryonic republican government that committed the army, what might remain of it, to maintain law and order if the republic restricted revolution to the political sphere.

Those, however, are stories for another time and another book. The generals’ rebellion that deposed the emperor and the domestic revolution that ended the monarchical order are alike remarkable for the limited influence they exercised on the army as an institution. Conscript national armies are held together by a complex interface between front and home, military system and civil society, incorporating varying combinations of compulsion, patriotism, and ideology. Underlying all of them, however, is an implied contract between the soldier and the system. When the nature or the conduct of a particular conflict breaks that contract, soldiers are likely to respond negatively. To speak of a “strike” is to minimize the emotional factors, especially the sense of betrayal that accompanies the process. One might be better advised to talk of alienated affection. By November 1918, the German High Command could count no more than a dozen or so of its divisions as able and willing to fight anyone. Its storm troop battalions were increasingly used as headquarters guards. Far from being “stabbed in the back,” the German Army was beaten in the field, beaten to a degree sufficient to break its social contract and erode its cohesion.

For the most part, the desires of the disaffected soldiers were expressed in the counterpart to a joke common among American GIs in World War II. A suitably edited version is “when I get home, I’m going to do three things. First I’ll have a beer. Then I’ll make love to my wife. Then I’ll take off my pack.” Such a mind-set may not make revolutions, but it can halt wars. The Imperial German Army ended its existence with a collective sigh of relief.

Storming the “Halls of Montezuma”

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After the Mexican War battle of Churubusco on August 20, 1847, Mexico’s General Santa Anna tricked U.S. General Scott into two unfavorable maneuvers. First, he agreed to declare a truce to establish peace negotiations, but this was a ruse. Even while Santa Anna sold supplies to the American invaders, he quietly reinforced his army to 18,000 men while the American force was down to 8,000 effectives.

The second trick was passing false intelligence to Gen. Scott. Santa Anna led Scott to believe that at Molino del Ray, the stronghold west of Mexico City and one mile west of the Hill of Chapultepec, housed a cannon foundry where they were melting brass church bells into heavy cannon. The Americans attacked Molino, and it turned into a costly victory where 750 Americans were killed, and every remaining wounded American was murdered by the Mexicans. After inspection, Scott discovered that there was no foundry there. The heavy losses at Molino brought the six companies of U.S. Marines into battle.

Mexico City was a formidable target. Surrounded by marshes and with approaches via eight causeways, Scott faced obstacles similar to those Cortez had experienced 329 years earlier. Since the southern approach to the capital was heavily fortified, the American plan was to attack from the west at the two garitos or gates to the city. Each garito bristled with cannon positioned to rake the roadway. Scott’s line then was Molino, then Chapultepec, then the two gates leading into the city. One causeway was the Garita de Belen, another headed north two miles to the Garita de San Cosme.

The Hill of Chapultepec, 200 feet above the surrounding plain, was 600 yards wide, surrounded by a ditch and a 12-foot wall, and topped by a palace that had been made into a military school. It was fortified into a makeshift fortress as the Americans advanced on the capital.

The castle had once been a resort of the Aztec princes. The hill was steep all around except for a slope on the west where the Marines decided to attack. It had a sand-bag barricade at the entryway, and the hillside was mined with charges that were fused to be set off from the fortress.

Generals Scott and Worth regarded the fortress as impregnable. Even though it was vulnerable to American bombardment, both officers were grim on the prospect, and Gen. Worth thought, “we shall be defeated.” The hill was a fearsome objective to assault—but if taken, the army would then be able to move onto the causeways leading into the capital.

Two storming parties of 250 men each were assembled. The Marines were assigned to the 4th Division commanded by Army Brigadier General John Quitman, a Mississippian. The Americans moved out of the tree cover and faced the mined hillside that led to the retaining wall of the castle terrace.

At 8 a.m. on Monday, September 13, the attack began. Quitman’s men attacked the southern side of Chapultepec. Captain Silas Casey led an assault party of 120 hand-picked soldiers and Marines under Marine Major Levi Twiggs, and 40 Marines commanded by Marine Captain John Reynolds. They faced 1,000 Mexican troops inside the fortress.

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U.S. Marines storming Chapultepec castle under a large American flag.

The Halls of Montezuma

Chapultepec, also known as “the castle,” was an ancient Mexican shrine as well as a recent fortress. Three hundred years before the U.S. war, this had been the summer palace, replete with fountains, of Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor. In 1783, a Spanish viceroy built a new citadel on top of the ruins of the old palace. Surrounded by a huge retaining wall was a broad terrace that made for excellent cannon placement.

Around 1840, the Mexicans made this structure into their National Military Academy. Like at West Point, the young cadets learned military arts in their gray uniforms and tasseled blue caps. About one hundred of the cadets, though ordered to evacuate their school, stayed on and proudly fought to defend this memorial to Mexican history.

Six cadets became the boy heroes of Chapultepec. Those who died were: Vicente Suarez, age 13; Francisco Marquez, 14; Fernando Montes de Ora, 17; Agustin Melgar, 18; Juan de la Barrera, 20; and Juan Escutia, 20.

Cadet Escutia reportedly took the Academy flag from its staff, wrapped it around his body, and valiantly plunged to his death on the rocks below the castle rather than see the flag surrendered to the Americans.

 

Two of Chapultepec’s guns were soon disabled by American battery fire, and the disheartened Mexican soldiers began to desert. From the terrace came a murderous rain of grapeshot and musketry. General Pillow was struck in the ankle, but the whole American force flowed over the redoubt. The Americans were able to cut the canvas powder line that led to the mines and none exploded.

The Marines struggled up the steep southern side, fighting hand-to-hand with bayonets and clubbed rifles. Corporal Hugh Graham and five Marines were killed.

Casey and Twiggs fell wounded, the latter fatally, and they stopped 200 yards short of the guns. Scaling ladders finally reached the Americans. They bridged the ditch and their first wave was mowed down by the Mexicans. So many ladders rose, seemingly at once, that 50 men were up abreast. “And with a shout of victory, the great body of troops rushed over” the walls and gained the castle.

The Americans turned the Mexican guns around, relieving the pressure on Quitman’s column. The Mexicans fell back and the Americans charged the castle’s main gates. The Mexicans fled so hastily that they “jumped down the eastern side of the rock, regardless of the height.”

The young cadets who had refused to desert the school fought to the end. The six boys were killed, as an American correspondent put it, “fighting like demons.” They were to be called Los Ninos Heroicos—the heroic children.

Mexican officers watching their defeat from a distance said, “God is a Yankee,” as Americans from both sides reached the castle. At 9:30 a.m., an American flag was raised over the fortress.

Marine Captain George Terrett led First Lieutenant John Simms, Second Lieutenant Charles Henderson (son of the Commandant), and 36 men to skirt the heights and pursue the retreating enemy northeasterly towards the city itself. Terrett and his Marines raced up the road under heavy fire. Twenty infantry, led by Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, the future General and American President, joined them as they fought their way up the San Cosme causeway. They were the spearhead of the army contingent.

Casualties were severe until the Americans remembered the tactic they used at Monterey—breaking their way through the walls of buildings and hauling their guns through them. This tactic also enabled them to fire from the roofs.

General Worth’s bugles sounded recall. Terrett went back to report, but Simms and Henderson attacked with 85 men. The gate was too heavily defended to rely on a frontal assault alone, so Marine Lieutenants Simms and Jabez Rich led seven marines to attack from the left. Four were hit. Henderson, wounded in the leg, attacked from the front. Two more men were hit, but together, the two groups seized San Cosme gate as darkness fell.

Worth again sounded recall and the Marines and soldiers withdrew. Six Marines had been killed. Once Chapultepec fell, Quitman moved his division under fire east on the Belen causeway with the Marine battalion right behind a South Carolina regiment. At the Belen gate, they were stopped by enemy fire and Marine Private Tom Kelly was killed. Finally, at 1:20 p.m., the Marines and infantry carried the gate. At dawn on the 14th, Quitman and Worth prepared to assault the city through the two entrances—but Santa Anna had already pulled out.

Though Scott was angry at Quitman for the costliness of his attack on Belen, he felt the Mississippian and his Marines had earned the honor of formally taking the city. Within hours, he would appoint Quitman Mexico City’s military governor.

The Americans hardly looked the part of a conquering army. The victorious General Quitman wore only one shoe as he marched at the head of his ragged, blood-stained troops. Only about six thousand Americans remained on their feet—little more than half of those who had left Puebla.

Quitman’s men walked through the crowded streets into the Grand Plaza and took the National Plaza, where before had stood the halls of Montezuma. The Marines were stationed to guard the Palace. The U.S. Marines were now patrolling the halls of Montezuma. In the spring, the veterans were joined by a new 2nd Marine battalion of 367 men commanded by Major John Harris.

On February 2, 1848, the Mexicans accepted peace as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. Even though the U.S. was victorious, they agreed to pay Mexico 15 million dollars in cash for the land they coveted. Mexico had lost half her territory—an area larger than France and Germany combined. The American boundary with Mexico would run from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Rio Grande, to the New Mexican border. Then it would continue west to the Pacific at a point one league, or three miles, south of San Diego.

The outspoken Duke of Wellington called Gen. Scott “the greatest living soldier.” It had been Scott’s flexibility and imagination, his attention to reconnaissance, and his tendency to strike from an unexpected side that supplied the tactics that won the war. In addition, he had the support of solid officers like Thomas (later Stonewall) Jackson, Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant, P.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis. Only 13 years later, all of these men would become major players in the American Civil War.

With this victory, the expansion of the continental United States from coast to coast was now complete. And, in addition to Mexico, the Marines had also captured the opening words to their future Marine Hymn.

SBS in the Aegean – Late-1943

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Colonel Ian Lapraik of the SBS being welcomed on Cos.

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Greek caique Armadila leaving Co.

There is little doubt that the announcement of the Italian armistice had surprised the German Balkan Command in Salonika just as much as it had the British GHQ in Cairo, and if the latter did have a few extra hours’ notice, the former had the enormous advantage of a system of efficient military formations already developed throughout the Aegean. Moreover, the commanders of those formations had not long to wait for clear directions, for Hitler, faced with a threat to an area which provided him not only with bauxite, copper and chrome but also protection from Allied bomber attack on the Ploesti oil-fields, hardly hesitated for a moment. The whole Aegean area and especially the Dodecanese would be held, he proclaimed, either by a continuation of co-operation between the Italian and German troops in the area, or, if the Italians showed signs of obeying the orders of the renegade Badoglio government, then by German forces alone, who would not hesitate to use force to take and exert command. Within hours, German officers were interviewing their nearest Italian counterparts in the islands and requesting specific assurances of loyalty from them.

It is impossible not to feel some sympathy for the Italian garrison commanders. Most of them were middle-aged or even elderly senior officers whose service careers had been rewarded during recent years by appointments to these pleasant and sometimes delicious islands, where danger had been minimal, supplies from the homeland regular and of good quality, and duties easy enough hardly to disturb the even tenor of what resembled a happy retirement.

Suddenly they were faced with real danger and the necessity to make hard choices. Many of them, given the chance, would have been only too ready to welcome the British for whom they felt regard and indeed some affection, in place of the Germans for whom they felt only respect tinged with fear — but few of them knew for certain the attitudes of their subordinates (Samos was not the only island which held a contingent of Blackshirts), and for many of them there were even more urgent reasons to temporise. The British and American armies might be ashore on the foot of Italy, but their own wives and families lived far away up in the north in such places as Bologna or Milan — and how long would the Allies take to get there?

Even more urgently, how long would it take the Allies — in this case the British alone — to arrive here in these islands in sufficient strength to beat off not only the German forces already present with their abundant transport, excellent weapons and efficient organization, but also the reinforcements which would undoubtedly arrive from Greece should German control of the area appear in doubt? Admiral Campioni’s actions might in the eyes of history appear equivocal and pusillanimous compared with those of some of his compatriots, say in Cos or Leros, but how great a distance separated them, when the choice had to be made, from the nearest German military formation?

This was the main consideration which affected control of the Aegean immediately following the Italian armistice. Those islands which previously had held only an Italian garrison — Cos, Leros, Samos, Simi, Stampalia, Icaria — fell easily under the British influence once they had been visited by men of the quality of Lassen or Lapraik; Lemnos and Mytilene to the north, Chios, Kasos, Kythira, the northern Sporades, the Cyclades except Icara and, most significantly, Crete and Rhodes remained firmly in the Axis camp under German control. And once the situation stabilized and the battle-lines could be drawn, Admiral Fricke in Athens and General Klemann on Rhodes could see quite clearly that they held the strongest cards and that if they played them well they could win the whole pack.

The first essential for them was to secure control of the air above the Aegean by occupying every island which contained a practicable airstrip. Extra Me 109 fighters and Ju 87 dive-bombers had quickly been flown into Marizza and Calato, and on September 17th the Jus had begun a programme of attack on the nearest of the airstrips, Antimachia on Cos. Cos by this time had already received substantial Allied reinforcement — more South African Spitfires, more ground crew, a large contingent of the RAF Regiment, and a battalion of the Durham Light Infantry as main garrison troops. These last had spent months in Malta and thus knew all about shelter from air-raids, and if their spirits were somewhat cast down by so rapid a reappearance of the sights and sounds of siege warfare, they nevertheless set about propping up damaged buildings with dour goodwill and efficiency, and helping the RAF ground staff to fill in craters.

Their presence had also allowed the withdrawal of the paratroop company to Cyprus, and of the SBS, some of whom had gone back to Castelorizzo, while the bulk had gone to Kalymnos in preparation for a series of raids against German-held islands, especially, as has been mentioned, the one against Rhodes.

But that enemy convoy mentioned in David Sutherland’s diary for October 2nd had not, as he and his companions had thought, been ‘Bound for Rhodes’ at all. It had been bound for Cos, and it constituted the transport for Kampfgruppe Mueller which, by 0500 on the morning of October 3rd, had put a battalion of the 65th Panzer Grenadier Regiment ashore to drive across the neck of the island and meet the 16th Panzer Grenadiers, who had been landed near Cape Foca. Then German Fallschirmjäger from the Brandenburg Regiment dropped around Anti-machia, heavy Stuka attacks blew apart the defence posts, Me 109s shot up the Spitfires while they were still on the ground or taking off — and chased away the Beaufighters which came across from Cyprus in an effort to bring succour to the hard-pressed defenders.

These by the evening had almost all been overwhelmed by Kampfgruppe Mueller in a series of brilliant but violent actions, and by midnight the Germans controlled all of Cos except the dock area, upon which they focused searchlights and sniped and bombed everything that moved. Small parties of British and Italian soldiers sneaked their way out of town to climb the hills and make for a rendezvous at Cardamena with the admirable intention of carrying out their last orders, which were to try to continue the fight in guerilla fashion — but most of them were to be rounded up after a very short time.

Meanwhile, all day long Sutherland, Milner-Barry and the men of the SBS on Kalymnos had been horrified spectators of the battle, watching its inexorable progress: the silencing of one defensive position after another, the continuous arrival by sea of German reinforcements, and the unending flights of Luftwaffe aircraft overhead, both virtually uninterrupted. During the morning they had prepared themselves and their weapons to undertake some form of interference in the onslaught taking place only a mile away across the water, but by the time orders arrived for them to land and aid the defenders of Antimachia it was quite obvious that they were already too late; and against the heavy weapons of the Panzer Grenadiers the small arms of a raiding force would in any case have been inadequate.

When the more violent sounds of battle died down and only the occasional crack of rifle shot pierced the night, Milner-Barry and his patrol put to sea aboard a caique of the Levant Schooner Flotilla. They crept around the eastern end of Cos and went ashore on the south coast in a small bay where they immediately ran into a party of RAF men from Antimachia, who told them in detail of the events of the day. After sending the RAF men away in the caique and arranging for its return on the night of 7th/8th, Milner-Barry and his men found a small wadi a little way inland and took up residence there, the rest of that night and the early hours of the morning being spent bringing up from the beach the rest of their own gear, the wireless set and its infernal batteries.

During the following day watch was kept from a high point at the end of the wadi and a dozen assorted army and RAF men were found and brought in, but during the afternoon Private Watler vanished and search parties failed to find him. Then at dusk German infantry were seen approaching in line, driving Italian troops in front, and soon the wadi was full of ‘hysterical Italians who attached themselves to us, and the Germans began to mortar the wadi at both ends.’

In desperation, Milner-Barry moved away with his own men, all the British he had collected and about fifty Italians whom he could not shake off, and a short distance along the coast he found some rafts, built apparently by either British or Italians but then abandoned. As there was no hope of a ship coming in that night to take anyone off, Milner-Barry and a dozen of the more stout-hearted boarded the rafts and for three hours paddled eastwards along the coast in the direction of Turkey; but in time the rafts became waterlogged and they had to abandon their equipment and swim for the shore.

They spent the next three days making contact with the men who had prudently elected to remain behind and collecting more refugees from Cos and Antimachia — a process made more difficult than it might have been by the fact that after the débâcle aboard the rafts, the party had only three pairs of boots between them. However, Lieutenant McLeod’s caique duly arrived on time, made two trips to the Turkish mainland and deposited most of the SBS men (who joined one of their own patrols busily setting up a clandestine raiding base in one of the bays in that deeply indented coast) and the bulk of the refugees.

But there were still British soldiers and airmen at liberty on Cos, and on the night of October 8th/9th Milner-Barry accompanied by Lance-Corporal Watson and Gunner Geddes, returned to the island in McLeod’s caique. They immediately found and sent off another batch of eighteen men who had gathered in the bay, and then began looking for yet more stragglers — a gratuitously generous action which proved very fortunate for Lieutenant-Colonel Browne and nearly forty other officers and sappers of his unit, all of whom, plus a Greek peasant whose bravery and help during this time would have placed his life in jeopardy if ever he was caught, were brought out on the night of October 12th/ 13th.

Altogether, McLeod’s crew and Milner-Barry’s patrol rescued sixteen British officers and seventy-four NCOs and men, together with a very large number of Italians and a few brave Greeks. It had been a nerve-racking operation, and at the end of it Milner-Barry was flown back to Alexandria to go into hospital suffering from exhaustion and a bad case of ‘desert sores’, while the rest of his patrol went to Castelrosso — for Kalymnos and the ‘Sponge Queen’ had been reluctantly abandoned to the Germans.

So had Private Watler — though this was not a decision which he, as a man who had already wandered about behind enemy lines in the desert for eighty days, had been prepared to accept.

Watler had been seen by two Germans during his period of guard duty at the head of the wadi, and realizing that to open fire on them would attract unwelcome attention while to return towards safety would betray the position of the rest of the patrol, he had moved away further inland. He had quickly succeeded in shaking off his pursuers but was then captured when approaching the only water-supply, and two days later he found himself with about 1,000 other British prisoners in Cos Castle, about to be shipped off to Greece — a fate he avoided by feigning the symptoms of malaria. A week later he was out of hospital and back in the castle, which now held only some forty prisoners among whom was a signals corporal who helped him obtain a long length of electric Hex, down which they both slid the following night.

They were only at liberty for five hours, but six days later they were out again — down the same length of flex, which the Germans had unaccountably failed to find — to creep through the darkness down to the sea and swim out some 200 yards. They then turned and made their way along the coast until they were beyond the outskirts of the town, whereupon they returned to land and climbed to a small Greek village where they were well looked after. From there they made short forays in search of other strays like themselves, and on one such search they found a dump containing 100-octane petrol in forty-gallon drums, one of which they pierced with nails, though in view of the uncertainty of their own future, they refrained from setting alight the resultant puddle.

They then heard that British small craft were stealing nightly into a nearby bay to find people such as themselves, and, their luck improving, they were picked up and Watler soon found himself back at Castelrosso, where, having reported the position of the petrol dump, he promptly volunteered to go back and help destroy it. But three weeks later when he and his patrol went ashore to search the area, the petrol had gone — and much else besides, for the Germans were preparing for another operation.

Gratified by their success on Cos, they had turned their main attention to the next important island still in British hands: Leros, with its naval port and fortress, long proclaimed by the Italians to be the crucial base from which naval command of approaches to Salonika and the Dardanelles could be exercised. But first, there was a flank to be cleared — a small matter of a wasps’ nest close at hand which might prove a nuisance. The island of Simi must be occupied, the threat it posed eliminated, and a radio station installed there with which to monitor and exercise control over communications in the southern area.

Fighting Pirates at Quallah Battoo

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Quallah Battoo Artist: Colonel Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR

Less than ten degrees north of the equator, on the island of Sumatra, lies the rich pepper-growing region of Acheh. Beginning in the 1790s, New England trading ships would stop along the island’s western coast to exchange Spanish silver for the spice, needed not only to flavor and preserve food, but for the lucrative trans-Atlantic trade with Europe.

American ships, based primarily in Salem, had made nearly a thousand voyages carrying away 370 million pounds of pepper worth 17 million dollars at wholesale—almost half the pepper produced in Acheh during this period. A pound of pepper then sold for $13.

The American ships were faster, and the Dutch and British disliked their competition in this lucrative business. They pressured the Sultan of Acheh, Muhammed Shaw, to detain American ships in violation of trading laws. The British went so far as to try to entirely exclude American trade from Acheh. It is unclear how much of the piracy on American ships was pure robbery and how much was influenced by the colonial power games of the period.

In January 1831, one of these American merchant vessels—the Friendship—dropped anchor off the Sumatran town of Quallah Battoo to take on a load of pepper. A band of Malay pirates in three proas, or ships, boarded the Friendship, murdered a large part of the crew, looted the cargo and drove the craft ashore. Their plunder included four chests of opium which was used in medicine, and 18,000 Spanish dollars.

The Malay pirate fleets along the Straits of Malaka were considered the “Vikings of the East.” Their proas were 50 feet long, fast, and nimble, using both oars and light sails, and were armed with swivel guns mounted on bulkheads. The pirates, dressed in scarlet and chain-mail, brandished krises—a sword with a wavy blade—two-handed swords, and flintlocks. They were famous for either murdering every soul on board, or selling the few survivors to slavery.

The Captain of the Friendship, Charles Endicott, had been ashore during the attack. When he made a complaint to the local chieftain, Mahomet, insult was added to injury for Mahomet then put a price on the head of both the Captain and his officers. With the help of a friendly native chief, Po Adam, Endicott enlisted the help of three other merchant captains who agreed to help him recover his vessel. Although the ship was recaptured and returned, her owners sent a vigorous protest to President Andrew Jackson demanding retribution.

President Jackson declared that “a daring outrage” had been committed on the seas of the East Indies involving the “plunder” of one of its merchantmen engaged in the pepper trade at a port in Sumatra. There appeared to be no room for diplomatic action, as Jackson believed that “the piratical perpetrators belonged to tribes in such a state of society that the usual course of proceedings between civilized nations cannot be pursued. I forthwith dispatched a frigate with orders to require immediate satisfaction for the injury and indemnity to the sufferers.”

At New York, the frigate Potomac, equipped with forty-two 32-pounder cannon, was rigged and ready to sail for the punitive expedition. The frigate had orders to “inflict chastisement” and carried a detachment of Marines and three detachments of seamen under Commodore Downes to punish the natives for their treachery.

Originally under orders to proceed to China via Cape Horn and the Pacific, the Potomac’s route was changed to the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean as a result of the protest by the Friendship’s owners and the outcry from the general public. On Feb. 5, after sailing for five months, the Potomac, disguised as a Danish East Indiaman, anchored five miles off Quallah Battoo.

At 2 a.m. the next day, 282 Marines and sailors embarked on the ship’s boats and hit the beach for the attack. Divided into groups, the men were assigned to each of the four forts guarding the town. At dawn, the column led by Marine Lieutenants Alvin Edson and George Terrett moved forward. The Marines heading for Tuko de Lima nestled in the jungle behind the town.

Within minutes of the Marine approach, the Malays were alerted and the fighting became intense. The enemy met the Marines with cannon, muskets and blunderbusses (early shotguns). Charging forward, the Marines’ “superior discipline and ardor seemed fully to compensate for their want of numbers.” They broke through the outer walls, blew up the stockade gate, and captured the fort. Edson, with a small guard, pushed through the town to join in the attack on the remaining fort.

As smoke from the other forts drifted overhead, Edson, his Marines, and a detachment of sailors smashed through the bamboo walls of Duramond’s fort and engaged the kris-wielding Malays. Dressed in full blue uniform, Lt. Edson parried the lunge of a defender with his Mameluke sword while a Marine at his side parried with his bayonet. In this hand-to-hand combat with the Marines, the Malays fought to the death. Within minutes, the fort was taken, with only a few Malays left to flee into the jungle.

With the forts dismantled, the town ablaze, a few Malays hiding in the jungle, and the surf rising, the Marines and sailors were recalled. Over 150 Malay pirates, including Mahomet, were killed, with the Americans suffering just one sailor and two Marines killed and 11 wounded.

This successful attack would deter the Malays and others from similar aggressions for quite some time. In addition to their skill with cold steel, the Americans had emerged victorious due to their long-range, light-caliber cannon and their ability to deliver rapid rifle fire.

Under cover of a Marine guard, the boats embarked for the Potomac. Later in the day, all hands gathered on deck to witness the burial of their three shipmates killed in the attack.

Other rajas from nearby states sent delegations to the ship pleading that Downes spare them from the same fate they had suffered at Quallah Battoo. Downes informed them that if any American ships were attacked again, the same treatment would be given to the perpetrators.

The next morning, the Potomac moved within a mile of Quallah Battoo, ran out her long 32-pounder cannon and bombarded the town, killing another 300 natives before raising sail and heading for sea. This was the first-ever official U.S. military intervention in Asia. This was the second time—after Tripoli—that the Marines had been called in to protect American business and retaliate for the murder of American citizens.

It is interesting to note that 180 years later, American forces are once again engaged in similar situations with modern-day pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Clinton and the Southern Strategy

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A 1926 map reconstructing the tactical movements in the battle. No contemporary maps of the battlefield have been found.

General Sir Henry Clinton launched the new strategy in November 1778 by sending a force of about three thousand Redcoats, Hessians, and Tories from New York to Savannah. The Tories—New York Volunteers, two battalions of De Lancey’s New York Regiment, and a battalion from Skinner’s New Jersey regiment—totaled 855. British Regulars stationed in Florida were to enter Georgia and link up with the New York force.

Clinton landed near Savannah on December 29, rolled over outnumbered Rebel troops, and swiftly took the city. The Rebels’ stunned commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Howe of the Continental Army, crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina, leaving behind some five hundred dead, wounded, or captured.

The invasion rallied militant local Tories and awakened the vengeance of Thomas Brown, a powerful Tory leader. His East Florida Rangers joined the British invaders in Savannah and on their march to Augusta, about 125 miles up the Savannah River. Along the way Brown was wounded in a skirmish that he stirred up while trying to free some jailed Tories.

Brown was an unlikely revolutionary. He had started life in America as a young man of privilege, seemingly destined to be like many wealthy Loyalists who supported the king but did not shoulder a musket. Brown’s father, a British merchant, outfitted a ship for his son, who, at twenty-four, persuaded more than seventy people from Yorkshire and the Orkney Islands to become indentured servants and sail with him to Georgia. His enterprise won him a royal grant of a large tract of land near Augusta, which he named Brownsborough. In August 1775, while he was in his home on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, dozens of Sons of Liberty confronted him and demanded that he support the Revolution. Brown refused, and, in the uproar that followed, shot the ringleader in the foot.

Rebels pounced on him. One struck him with a musket butt, fracturing his skull. Others partially scalped him, tarred his legs, and held them over a fire. He lost two toes to severe burns, and became known to Rebels as Burntfoot Brown. Seething for revenge, he became an obsessed Tory, determined to lead Loyalists in a personal war against the Rebels. Two weeks after he had been attacked, he was in South Carolina challenging the authority of the Patriots’ Council of Safety and beginning to recruit hundreds of men for a Loyalist force.

Brown and his supporters later fled to Florida, where, commissioned as a lieutenant colonel, he recruited the East Florida Rangers from settlements along the Georgia-Florida border. He convinced Patrick Tonyn, East Florida’s royal governor, that the Rangers couldstage over-the-border raids and act as a home guard against invaders. When General Howe began his southern campaign, Brown saw it as a signal for backcountry warfare against the Rebels and a chance for what a British official called “retributive Justice.”

Brown had seventy-two Rangers in the mixed force heading for Augusta under the command of British Army colonel Archibald Campbell. Most of the expedition’s one thousand men were British Regulars. The rest, besides Brown’s men, included New York Volunteers and a recently raised unit, the Carolina Royalists, also known as the Carolina Loyalists. The quick fall of Savannah was to be followed by an easy takeover of Augusta. But Campbell, realizing he was entering territory that was more hostile, moved cautiously.

Mounted East Florida Rangers, sent ahead, reported that about one thousand Rebel militiamen held Augusta. But as Campbell neared the town, most of the Rebels crossed the river into South Carolina. He entered Augusta and began taming the area by having residents swear an oath of loyalty to the king. After taking the oath, about fourteen hundred men received pardons for their previous Rebel allegiance. Georgia, the youngest colony, was to become the first to return to royal rule. Or, as Campbell put it, he was taking “a stripe and star from the rebel flag.”

Campbell was to manage the next phase in the southern strategy: the mass recruitment of Loyalists into military units that would help the royal government restore control of Georgia. That would start with the arrival of a British agent, James Boyd, and his Loyalist recruits.

Boyd, a South Carolina Tory, had landed with the invaders but had gone off on his own mission. Given a colonel’s commission, he was sent by Campbell into South Carolina to raise a large force of Loyalists and lead them over the border to rendezvous with Campbell in Augusta.

Boyd’s first stop was near Savannah, at Wrightsborough, a Quaker and Tory settlement named after the governor. There he picked upguides who took him to an isolated site in South Carolina, where he recruited about 350 Loyalist militiamen and headed back to Georgia. Joining Boyd along the way were 250 members of the Royal Volunteers of North Carolina, a Tory military unit formed specifically to aid Campbell in his occupation of Georgia.

Rebels who had been trailing Boyd’s band struck as the Tories were about to cross a ford of the Savannah River. In a brief firefight about twenty Patriots were killed and twenty-six captured; Boyd lost about one hundred men to Rebel gunfire and desertion but kept moving. Living off the land by plundering Rebels’ farms and getting help from Tories, Boyd made his way to Augusta. He did not know that Campbell, facing a growing Rebel presence, had retreated back to Savannah.

On February 14 Boyd set up camp at Kettle Creek, some fifty miles northwest of Augusta. Again, Rebels were on his trail. About 340 South Carolina and Georgia militiamen came upon Boyd’s men as they were slaughtering stolen cattle. In a surprise attack a bullet felled Boyd, who died a few hours later. Nineteen other Tories were killed; Rebel losses were seven men killed and twenty-two wounded. Most of the Tories fled. About 270 escaped to British lines. Some 150 other Tories were eventually captured either near the scene of battle or back in their own communities. Seven were hanged.

Most of Campbell’s fourteen hundred oaths of allegiance were not genuine. Faced with the choice of having their property confiscated or signing, people signed—and quickly found a Patriot leader to whom they denounced the pledge. Many signers showed their faith by joining Rebel militias and hunting down Tories. Campbell would later complain about “irregulars from the upper country [of Georgia] under the denomination of crackers, a race of men whose motions were too voluntary to be under restraint and whose scouting disposition [was] in quest of pillage.” The crackers, he reported, “found many excuses for going home to their plantations.”

The victory at Kettle Rebel Creek gave heart to the Rebels and, to the British, proof that a Loyalist call to arms would not produce an army big enough to suppress the rebellion. But the Patriot victory did not stop the southern strategy. A quixotic attempt in October 1779 to retake Savannah with a joint American-French operation ended with the French losing 635 men and the Patriots 457 while the British and Loyalist defenders saved the city at a cost of fifty-five lives. “Such a sight I never saw before,” a British officer wrote. “The Ditch was filled with Dead … and for some hundred Yards without the Lines the Plain was strewed with mangled Bodies.”

Next came General Clinton’s siege of Charleston, which ended on May 12, 1780, when Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln bowed to civilian pleas by surrendering his army of nearly six thousand Continentals and militiamen. Among the victorious Clinton troops were 175 Loyalists in a special temporary corps called the American Volunteers under the command of Capt. Patrick Ferguson of the 70th Regiment of Foot. Thirty-four of the Volunteers came from the Prince of Wales’s American Regiment. Only ten would still be alive or serving within fifteen months of their sailing to the South. Most of the replacements would be deserters from the Continental Army.

As Clinton was taking over Charleston, he asked James Simpson, the former South Carolina attorney general, how widespread and deep was the colony’s apparent euphoria over the surrender. Simpson made his own public opinion poll and reported that the population was divided into four classes: those, especially the wealthy, who were pleased to see South Carolina again under royal rule; those who had been duped by the Rebels, regretted their failings, and now supported the king; those who were repentant ex-Rebels; and those who were still Rebels and unrepentant. Simpson summed up by saying that “in drawing a comparison between the four Classes, the number and consequence of the two first by far exceed the last.” Loyalists in general, he said, were “clamourous for retributive Justice.”

Clinton set up a model for the governing of “conquered” territory: a military government that put trusted civilians in local offices, regulated prices on goods purchased by the army, and created militias for local defense. When Governor Wright returned he found he had little power. Clinton had, for example, appointed Simpson Charleston’s superintendent of police.

The militias included a home guard of older men and a regular militia of younger, unmarried men who would serve away from their homes in Georgia and North Carolina. They would be given the same pay and provisions as the king’s troops. All able-bodied free males, generally between the ages of fifteen and sixty, had to serve in a militia “any Six Months of the ensuing twelve” or provide a substitute. Militiamen were given ammunition, material for the sewing of a loose-fitting garment called a rifle shirt, and a musket if needed. Men could serve on horseback at their own expense. They were to be restrained “from offering violence to innocent and inoffensive People” and insulting or outraging “the Aged, the Infirm, the Women and Children of every denomination.”

The rules for establishing the Loyalist militias were developed by the deputy adjutant general of the British Army, the brilliant, newly promoted Maj. John André, and another new major, Patrick Ferguson, inventor of the Ferguson breech-loading rifle, which could fire four shots a minute. Ferguson, born in Scotland in 1744 and a soldier since the age of fifteen, fought in the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777. While he led a rifle company whose men were firing the weapon he invented, a Continental’s musket ball shattered his right elbow. He would never be able to bend that arm again. He returned to duty in May 1778 and learned to shoot, fence, and wield the saber with his left arm. He raised the American Volunteers, trained in the kind of ranger warfare developed by John G. Simcoe and Banastre Tarleton.

Ferguson was appointed inspector of militia, supervising the recruitment and training of the hundreds of Tories who were signing up to serve the king. He raised a regiment of 240 men at one outpost, teaching them to follow signals from his silver whistle so they could get orders even when he was not seen. “There is great difficulty inbringing the militia under any kind of regularity,” he wrote. “I am exerting myself to effect it without disgusting them.”

Tarleton, the brash young captor of General Charles Lee in 1776, earned fame as an aggressive leader of hard-driving cavalrymen on raids in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. As the commander of the Loyalist British Legion in the Carolinas, he fought fiercely and earned a reputation for showing no mercy in battle.

Under the terms of Charleston’s surrender each surrendering Rebel was made a prisoner of war. But only officers and men of the Continental Army would be confined; all civilian males and militiamen in Charleston were allowed to return to their homes after vowing not to take up arms again. Surrendering militiamen in backcountry garrisons, such as Ninety Six, were treated the same.

Throughout the South, the war between Tory and Rebel had been pitiless from the beginning. Letters, diaries, and petitions for pensions are studded with casual references to hangings. A militiaman from Rowan County, North Carolina, in his petition for a pension, for example, says “the company took several Scots Tories and there hung one of them.” He also tells of a Tory who was shot after a hasty courtmartial. The life of another was spared. But he was “condemned to be spicketed, that is, he was placed with one foot upon a sharp pin drove in a block, and was turned round … until the pin run through his foot. Then he was turned loose.”

In a rare event, a Loyalist was put on trial and accused of running his sword through wounded Rebels on a South Carolina battlefield. When a judge who had recommended mercy left the courtroom, “fathers, Sons, & brothers and friends of the slain prisoners” seized the accused, took him on horseback “under the limb of a tree, to which they tyed one end of a rope, with the other round his neck, & bid him prepare to die; he urging in vain the injustice of killing a man without tryal, & they reminding him, that he should have thought of that, when he was slaughtering their kinsmen. The Horse drawn From under him, left him suspended til he expired.”

Tories executed countless Rebels, whether or not they strictly came under Cornwallis’s order that “every Militia Man who has borne Arms with us and afterwards joined the Enemy shall be immediately hanged.” Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, commander of the Continental Army’s Southern Department, found in the South a war in which “the Whigs and Tories pursue one another with the most relent[less] Fury killing and destroying each other wherever they meet. Indeed a great deal of this Country is already laid waste & in the utmost danger of becoming a Desert,” in which the fighting “so corrupted the Principles of the People that they think of nothing but plundering one another” and committing “private murders.”

The intestine war was stoked by the kind of combat that Banastre Tarleton waged—a slashing, burning, ruthless crusade that knew no mercy. Tarleton’s American Legion grew out of the green-uniformed Queen’s American Rangers, founded by John Graves Simcoe, a young

English officer. Simcoe, wanting a mounted strike force, melded the Pennsylvania Light Dragoons, the Bucks County Light Dragoons, and a band of Scotch-Irish Tories, the Caledonia Volunteers, into the British Legion, which soon became known as the Tarleton Legion.

Loyalists of North and South Carolina eagerly joined the legion, swelling its ranks at times to a force of nearly two thousand men. Among the recruits were two sons of Allan and Flora MacDonald. The legion galloped off on numerous raids, destroying Rebel supply caches, foraging for food and horses, and earning fame and loathing.

When Major General Lincoln surrendered Charleston, the largest Continental force in the South was a detachment of about 350 Virginians commanded by Col. Abraham Buford. He was ordered to go to an American outpost at Camden, South Carolina, carry off what he could, destroy the rest, and then take his men to North Carolina.

Tarleton and 270 men pursued Buford. On May 29, 1780, they caught up with him at the Waxhaws, as the settlement near Wax-haw Creek was called, about twelve miles north of Lancaster, South Carolina. Tarleton, claiming to outnumber Buford, asked him to surrender under terms similar to what Lincoln had accepted. Buford refused, and the battle began, possibly before Tarleton’s flag of truce had been withdrawn. Tarleton’s horse was shot from under him as he and his dragoons rode down on Buford’s men. Undaunted, Tarleton jumped on another horse.

Exactly what happened in the battle and afterward will never be known. Buford and eighty or ninety men—most of them mounted—escaped, meaning that the killed and wounded may have totaled more than three hundred. This would be an unprecedented battle casualty rate of 70 to 75 percent. The outcry against Tarleton—” Bloody Tarleton,” “Butcher Tarleton,” “Bloody Ban”—was inspired by what Rebels believed happened after the battle.

Dr. Robert Brownfield, a surgeon attached to Buford’s regiment, later wrote that a request for quarter was refused and survivors said that “not a man was spared.” Tarleton’s men “went over the ground plunging their bayonets into every one that exhibited any signs of life.” One man had his right hand hacked off, suffered twenty-twomore wounds, and was left for dead; he lived to report the bayoneting. News of the massacre swept through the South, and Rebels’ retaliatory savagery was accompanied by the cry “Tarleton’s Quarter” or “Buford’s Quarter.”

After two disastrous defeats of the Continental Army in South Carolina—Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s mass surrender at Charleston in May 1780 and the rout of Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates’s large force at Camden in August—Cornwallis planned a march to Virginia. Georgia was under royal rule, and vast tracts of the Carolinas were controlled by a British-Loyalist regime. By September there was no large concentration of Continental Army troops anywhere in the South. John Rutledge, the Rebel governor of South Carolina, was trying to govern his state from Hillsborough, North Carolina. And some timid Rebels were suggesting that the time had come to simply let all three of those states go back to colony status under their conquerors. From the British viewpoint the king’s forces and friends were snug in the South, their flanks covered by the sea to the east and the mountain barrier to the west.

Beyond the mountains was the domain of the Overmountain men, colonists who had defied King George’s 1763 proclamation that prohibited settlement west of the mountains. The Overmountain men, most of them Scotch-Irish, had not paid much attention to the Revolution until the British and their Tory allies began fighting southern Rebels. Now, as General Cornwallis was advancing northward, Overmountain Rebels were attacking British and Loyalist outposts.

Ferguson and his Volunteers were protecting the western flank of Cornwallis, who was mounting an invasion of North Carolina. Deciding to challenge the Overmountain men, Ferguson sent a Rebel prisoner into the mountains with a warning: If the Rebels “did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”

In outraged response, at a frontier outpost on the Watauga Rivercalled Sycamore Shoals, the mountain Rebels quickly assembled a makeshift mounted army that grew on the trail until it numbered about one thousand men from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, with officers elected on the spot. There was no military structure or wagon train of supplies, though the group was at its core an authorized Virginia militia. The men carried what they needed and prodded cattle along the way for food on the hoof. Most of them did not have muskets, but long-barreled, small-caliber American rifles, for they were more hunters than soldiers. Setting off not to fight for a nation but to defend their cabins by the streams and their patches of cotton and corn, they headed across the mountains in search of Ferguson.

Fulford Gate 1066

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King Harold’s subsequent elevation to the throne, his brother Tostig’s banishment and alliance with Harald Sigurdsson of Norway are the stuff of history. It all led to the invasion of Northumbria by Harald and Tostig and the opening battles of the tumultuous year of 1066. After Harald and Tostig’s victory over Earls Edwin and Morcar at Fulford Gate outside York on 20 September 1066, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that York gave hostages to the two victors, with the chronicler John of Worcester noting that 150 were exchanged on either side. If this is the case, it would seem Harald Sigurdsson, despite his victory, was in a mood to do business with Northumbria in his quest for the English throne. The need for further hostages was to be satisfied by a rendezvous at the junction of roads to the east of York.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge has garnered plenty of attention over the years. Its immediate predecessor, the Battle of Fulford Gate, has received less. Nevertheless, Fulford Gate is just as important a battle. The political events leading up to the campaigns of 1066 are very well documented. Suffice it to say that on the one side was the newly crowned King Harold of England, supported locally by his new brothers-in-law Earls Edwin and Morcar, and on the other was Harold’s by now estranged brother Tostig, whose loss of his earldom of Northumbria had all but consumed him while he was in exile. Tostig had found himself an ally, a man already a legend in the Viking world. Harald Sigurdsson (later named ‘Hardraði’ or ‘ruthless’) had been in the Varangian Guard serving the Byzantine emperor and was now the Norwegian king. He was a man of extraordinary physical stature. His claim to the English throne was based on a promise made by King Harthacnut of England to King Magnus of Norway that who ever died first, the other should inherit his kingdom. It was Harthacnut who died first, but Magnus never really prosecuted his claim and so now in 1066, very much at the request of an insistent Tostig, Harold Sigurdsson of Norway sailed to the Humber Estuary with a colossal fleet of up to 500 ships. His wars with Swein Estrithson the king of Denmark were getting him nowhere, and now would be the time he would take the English throne instead.

It is probable that Sigurdsson came to England via the Orkneys where he picked up Earls Paul and Erland and probably Tostig and his Flemish mercenaries, who were by now in Scotland. Scarborough was ransacked on the journey around the coast to the south, after which the combined fleet sailed up the Humber Estuary and then up the Ouse to Riccall where they moored ready to take York. This was on or around 16 September. Edwin and Morcar sent to King Harold the news of the landing and raced to York. The brothers got to York and gave battle to the south of the city at Fulford on 20 September. They appear to have formed up along the Germany Beck, a water feature feeding into the river, pinning one of their flanks on the river itself. It was an ideal defensive position in that this was where route ways into York from the south converged. The Vikings knew they had to defeat the brothers to get to York. On the west flank nearest the river the Norwegians had most of their muscle and it was here they prevailed in the end. Earl Edwin’s forces suffered greatly as they were retreating with their backs to the river in places. Morcar’s men seem to have recoiled as far as Heslington, a mile away to the north-east. The way was open now for Harald and Tostig to take York. Edwin and Morcar, although defeated, would later play a part in the campaign, but for now the speedy response of the new king of England would bring on the next stage.

It seems that after the initial hostage exchanges, Tostig may have prevaricated at York. Northumbria after all was an earldom Tostig had recently held and there must have been room for some negotiation. A total of 150 hostages were exchanged and supplies given to the allied army. Harald and Tostig then returned to their ships at Riccall. By Sunday 24 September, King Harold had arrived at Tadcaster, 8 miles south-west of York. Here he is said to have ‘marshalled his fleet’, a possible reference to some English deserters from Tostig’s fleet who would have found themselves hemmed in by the allies at Riccall. Alternatively, it is just possible that the ships might have been crewed by the Danes sent by the king of Denmark to aid the English against Harald Sigurdsson. Nevertheless, Harold of England swept into York on Monday 25 September apparently unopposed.

History would show that here at Stamford Bridge on the crossing of the Derwent the English King Harold and his men would be ahead of the allies and achieve a famous victory, but once again the issue of the hostage exchange plays centrally in the story. After the crushing and total defeat of the Norwegians at the hands of the English, the remnants who were allowed to sail away by King Harold included Earl Paul of Orkney, who dutifully left hostages behind promising, along with the son of the Norwegian king, never to return.

82nd Airborne Division and the Hürtgen Forest

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The 82nd Airborne Division was about to enter the Hürtgen Forest—the meat grinder that had chewed up so many US Army divisions during the previous fall. By this time virtually the entire area was one of almost complete devastation, reminiscent of the battlefields of the First World War. The towns were ruins, the trees were stumps, and the ground was churned up with countless craters from the terrific number of artillery and mortar rounds fired by both sides during the earlier fighting.

The remainder of the division moved by truck to the area on February 8. That same day the 505th jumped off from positions southeast of Vossenack. The regiment advanced twenty-five hundred yards to the southeast to the town of Kommerscheidt against almost no opposition, except for sporadic artillery firing from the east side of the Roer River and minefields, which caused a few casualties. This movement took the 505th through the Kall River valley, named “Death Valley” by GIs that had fought there earlier. It was the scene of the destruction of most of the 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, the previous November.

It was an unforgettable experience for Christensen, who had seen just about everything during his time with Company G, 505th. “As soon as it got light the next morning we moved out. Most of the snow had melted and we were now plowing through a muddy mess. We were entering an area where some terrific fighting had taken place. The first indication of this was when we noticed the shell holes, plus the havoc the artillery had done to the trees. These in places looked as if someone had taken a giant scythe and mowed them down.

“Proceeding farther down the trail, things got progressively worse. The trees here had been destroyed with a vengeance. Most had been blown to ribbons. Also, scattered among this debris were countless bodies or parts of [bodies]. By their shoulder patch, ‘The Red Keystone,’ you knew they were the remnants of the 28th Infantry Division. The sickening part was they had lain there all winter covered in a blanket of snow. Just a short distance farther in, we came to what had been an aid station. Hundreds of bodies stacked like cordwood along with heaps of amputated arms and legs. Many of the bodies were still lying on litters. These were probably being attended to when Jerry unleashed this massive barrage wiping out this aid station. By the amount of shell holes and destruction centered in this one area, this was no accident. Jerry must have had direct observation. Some of these bodies were just beginning to appear through the melting snow, and a more gruesome sight you wouldn’t believe.

“On the trail until now, we had been enclosed in the forest on both sides. All at once we approached a break in the trees on the left side. Here we had a good view of the valley floor below, which was loaded with wrecks of burned out US tanks. I would say there were well over a hundred in this small area. I couldn’t say a tank battle had taken place there, as I did not see one destroyed Kraut tank. The Krauts were probably sitting back with their 88s and artillery, and annihilated them. Just about all of these tanks had burned, so it would be safe to assume the charred bodies of the crews were still inside.”

As Lieutenant Joe Meyers, with Company D, 505th, moved down the trail with his company, the sights that they witnessed made many of the troopers physically ill. “There was a considerable amount of retching and vomiting going on in [Lieutenant John] Cobb’s platoon.”

The following day, February 9, the division began an attack at 10:30 a.m., in conjunction with the 78th Infantry Division on the left, which had the objective of capturing the huge Schwammenauel Dam, which controlled water flow of the Roer River. River crossings north of this point on the Cologne Plain could not take place until the dam was captured, because water released from the dam could flood the plains to the north. The objective of the 82nd Airborne Division was to reach the western shore of the Roer River, where an assault river crossing upstream from the dam would take place.

The 505th moved out toward the Roer River against only occasional artillery fire meant to harass their movement. Upon reaching the town of Schmidt, Sergeant Christensen found another scene of unbelievable devastation, almost as appalling as the previous day. “What I really saw was just a pile of rubble. The town had been flattened. Here a terrific battle must have taken place. There were bodies strewn everywhere. Some of these, tanks had run over and flattened.

“Charred bodies were hanging out of turrets where the crews had tried to bail out of these burning hulls. You could see an arm or leg lying around, but no body [that] it had been attached to. Had some wild animal been dragging this off to feast on later? You shook your head and wondered, ‘Is this Armageddon? Has the civilized world gone mad?’

“What I had witnessed in the Hürtgen would leave a lasting impression. This place must have been the closest to hell one could get without entering the gates.”

On the left flank, the 2nd Battalion, 508th, moved out from Bergstein, attacking east fourteen hundred yards through extensive minefields, with German artillery firing from across the river and from high ground to the south. The battalion was held up and ordered to dig in, while the 505th awaited ammunition in order to continue its assault and knock out a German artillery piece firing on the 2nd Battalion, 508th, from the high ground to their south.

The division attacked at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of the 10th of February to take the high ground up to the west bank of the Roer. The 1st Battalion, 508th, had as its objective Hill 400. This piece of high ground had been fought over and had changed hands many times during the past three months. Company C led the assault up the hill, but ran into heavy enemy machine gun fire, which was somewhat inaccurate due to the darkness, but it held them up, nevertheless. They attempted to call in artillery, but couldn’t register it accurately, also because of the darkness. The 1st Battalion then deployed Companies A and B on the right flank to envelop the hill from the south. As T/5 William Windom moved around the base of the hill in the Company B column, he heard an explosion. “[Private First Class Joseph G.] Joe Wise, ten yards in front of me, stepped on the first Schu [mine], jumped, hit another, fell, and rolled screaming into more. There was silence, we waited, and at dawn we found we’d been marched through an American minefield as well.

“I found Lieutenant Jones, a new replacement of two days, a West Pointer, with an enlisted man on flank duty, both missing a foot. I got the medics.”

The Germans pulled out before dawn, and the 1st Battalion was on Hill 400 before 9:00 a.m. The 2nd Battalion moved through enemy minefields, but otherwise there was no opposition, and they occupied the ridge to the south of Hill 400 before dawn.

The 505th had received information from patrols the previous night that there was no enemy to its front and moved out to take the high ground west of the river before first light. The 78th Infantry Division was able to secure the massive Schwammenauel Dam, although the Germans had disabled the floodgate valves, causing a steady flow of water to flow north, inundating the Cologne Plain.

Outpost lines were established along the low ground on the west bank to prevent enemy infiltration across the river. The outposts were relieved during darkness every night. The division remained in these positions, with individual units being rotated to allow men to get a hot meal and clean up. On February 15, the 1st Battalion, 325th, moved to a forward assembly area and began practicing along the fast flowing Kall River with tethered boats for an assault crossing of the Roer River. This crossing would be followed by an attack up a 300-foot slope that the Germans had fully prepared for defense, with bunkers, minefields, trenches, and artillery that had pre-registered coordinates for supporting fires.

On the night of February 17, a patrol crossed the Roer River and returned having encountered no opposition. As the 325th prepared for the river crossing, they received their best news in months: it was cancelled.

On February 18, the division was notified that it was being relieved by the 9th Infantry Division, which did so over the next three days. Except for organic transportation units, the division was put on trains and moved mostly in 40 and 8 boxcars, first to Aachen and then to its base camps in the Rheims, France area. The Sissone and Suippes base camps had been taken over by hospitals, and the 325th, 505th, and 508th were billeted in tents around the main posts, while the 504th was moved to accommodations at nearby Laon.

The skeleton force that was the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in France in terrible need of rest, new equipment, and replacements. When Sergeant Paul Nunan returned from a thirty day furlough to the United States, he found the Company D, 505th tents. “I walked around the company area for ten or fifteen minutes before I saw anybody I knew.”

The officers and men were given passes and a few days to rest, while replacements were brought in, many directly from the United States, where they had just graduated from jump school. Other replacements came from the disbanded 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry, and 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. These veterans were divided among the units, further embittering these fine combat veterans, who retained loyalties with their former units.

Men and officers wounded in Holland and Belgium and those fortunate enough to have been in the Unites States on thirty-day furloughs when the division was fighting in Belgium and Germany returned to the division and helped bring unit cohesion back to their respective outfits.

However, the personnel makeup of most of the rifle companies was almost unrecognizable from those who had jumped in Holland less than six months earlier. Most companies had new officers; many had enlisted men who were now non-coms, having assumed those responsibilities during the fighting of the last two months. Over the next several weeks, numerous promotions and changes in command took place. One example of this was the replacement of Lieutenant Colonel Krause, the 505th executive officer, who was rotated home. Major Talton Long succeeded him as executive officer, while Captain James T. Maness was promoted to major and took over command of the 1st Battalion, 505th.

Parades and reviews were held, where the decorations for individual and unit valor were awarded. General Gavin spoke to the assembled division and told them that they would be getting in on the fighting to finish the war in Europe.

The division began more training, working to rebuild teamwork in the units decimated in the earlier fighting. The veterans were tired of the repetitious training they knew by heart. But the young replacements had to learn the tricks and techniques that would not only keep them alive, but would help insure the success of the unit in combat.

Rumors swirled that the division would jump across the Rhine River to open the way into the heart of Germany and that the division would jump into Berlin to grab it before the Russians. The first rumor was dispelled on March 7, when the First Army seized the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine River.

During the next month there were several alerts for possible missions, and a couple of practice jumps were held. On March 14, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 508th made a practice jump to maintain their jump status. A tragic accident occurred that morning when the 1st Battalion jumped. As the troopers began jumping, one of the C-47s in the rear of the serial lost a propeller and began to lose altitude, flying down through the helpless paratroopers, catching the chutes of some of the troopers on its wings and tail. It crashed, bursting into flames upon impact. Seven paratroopers were killed, along with four members of the plane’s crew.

When Private First Class Lane Lewis, with Company G, heard about this disaster, he couldn’t help but be nervous when his battalion jumped the following day. “Everyone in our battalion had heard about what had happened yesterday. As I jumped out, I looked back at the planes that were in the rear of the formation. I was not anxious to have a repeat performance from yesterday’s jump. We all made it to the ground safely. It was so very sad, that this close to the end of the war, eleven men lost their lives to an accident.” It was particularly haunting for those who had made it through all of the combat and had to wonder if they might too die in a training accident.

On the morning of March 24, Private First Class Lewis looked up when he heard the sound of hundreds of planes. “A large formation of C-47s towing gliders was seen as they flew overhead. We wondered where they were headed. We later learned that [the 17th Airborne Division was] making a combat jump into Germany to secure a bridgehead over the Rhine River [Operation Varsity]. This river was the last major barrier to the interior of Germany. We were only too happy not to be going along. The war against Germany was coming to a close. The Russians were advancing to the city of Berlin. The British had crossed the Rhine River.”

The second rumor of a combat jump into Berlin was put to rest when, on April 2, the division was loaded on 40 and 8 boxcars once again for a combat operation somewhere in Germany. On March 30, General Gavin had been called to XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters where he received orders to move the division to a location southwest of Bonn, Germany. The following day the division was attached to the Fifteenth US Army and ordered to patrol the west bank of the Rhine River, across from a huge pocket of trapped German forces in the Ruhr industrial area.

However, the division would make the trip without the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was detached when division strength was reduced to the TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) level, which only authorized one glider regiment (the 325th) and two parachute regiments (the 504th and 505th). The 508th, as an attached regiment, had been a valuable asset of the 82nd Airborne Division, and they were missed. After everything the regiment had done as part of the division, the troopers of the 508th considered themselves to be an integral part of the 82nd and hated ending their association with the All Americans.

The 508th was detached for a potential special mission. On April 4, Private First Class Lewis boarded a truck that was part of a convoy that trucked the 508th to airfields near Chartres, southwest of Paris. “We were prepared to jump on as little as forty-eight hours’ notice to liberate any prisoner of war camps, should the Germans resort to atrocities.”

On the evening of April 2, the trains carrying the division began unloading at a single rail siding at Stolberg, Germany. It took all of the following day for the division to fully debark from the trains, but this was completed shortly before midnight on April 3–4.