To Rorke’s Drift I

Painting of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift by Alphonse de Neuville which took place in Natal during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. De Neuville based the painting on eyewitness  accounts and it depicts several events of the battle occurring at once. Defenders depicted in the painting:
Lieutenant John Chard (to the right at the barrier in pale breeches with rifle)
Corporal Scammell of the Natal Native Contingent incorrectly shown in the uniform of the 24th or Corporal William Allen (handing cartridges to Chard)
Corporal Ferdinand Schiess (wearing a bandoleer and stabbing a Zulu at the barrier with his bayonet)
Chaplain George Smith (bearded man handing out cartridges from a haversack)
Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton (sat in foreground with a wounded shoulder)
Surgeon James Reynolds (attending to Dalton’s wound)
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead (stood in the centre  of the painting pointing to his left)
Private Frederick Hitch (stood behind Bromhead)
Private Henry Hook (carrying Private John Connolly on his back away from the burning hospital)
Assistant Commissary Walter Dunne (to the left holding a biscuit box)

Any British soldier on foot at Isandlwana was doomed. Only those scouts who had managed to keep hold of their horses had any chance of reaching the Tugela River and with little doubt, many of the survivors, with the exception of Lieutenants Coghill, Melvill and Curling, left Isandlwana before the main battle got under way. Based upon information from his spies, Cetshwayo had ordered the Zulu army to concentrate on red-jacketed soldiers in the mistaken belief that only they were the imperial troops. The majority of the survivors were wearing blue jackets, including Coghill and Curling. The 24th’s officers had a choice of regimental jackets to wear in the field so there is no special significance in Coghill and Curling’s jackets being blue, other than the fact that Zulu warriors may have paid them less attention. It may have saved their lives on their desperate ride along the fugitives’ trail from Isandlwana to the safety of Natal.

The surviving disciplined troops still in camp, those under Durnford and some of the 24th Regiment, probably no more than 200 men in all, made a hopeless but gallant stand in the area of Isandlwana wagon park. Durnford and his men were forced into a back-to-back struggle next to Black’s Koppie, the small hillock next to the camp’s wagon park; all died making their final stand. The 24th’s survivors similarly fought against overwhelming odds that increased with every moment. The last few soldiers then tried to effect a fighting retreat following the earlier fugitives. A few individuals managed to get as far as a mile to the rocky ledges overlooking the Manzimyama stream but all were cut down and died in the attempt. An unknown number of other fugitives were killed in the Buffalo River under the hail of Zulu gunfire or spears. Curling later wrote to his mother:

I saw several wounded men during the retreat, all crying out for help, as they knew a terrible fate was in store for them. Smith-Dorrien, a young fellow in the 95th Regiment, I saw dismount and try to help one. His horse was killed in a minute by a shot and he had to run for his life, only escaping by a miracle.

The NNC and auxiliaries who had managed to flee Isandlwana fared no better. Those that reached the riverbank found themselves trapped against the raging torrent of the Buffalo River, now 100 yards across, fast-flowing and dangerously swollen from the torrential rain of the previous week. Several hundred tried to make a stand against the overwhelming Zulus but to no avail as they were no match for them as they caught and systematically killed them. In the midst of this slaughter the last of the escapers, including Coghill, Melvill and Curling, independently reached and swam cross the raging river, though of these three, only Curling would survive to write an illuminating but terrible account of what he had witnessed that day.

At the small Rorke’s Drift garrison, just 5 miles further upstream, and out of sight from the dramas witnessed by Curling, most of the soldiers were lazing in the sun, unaware that a 4,500-strong Zulu force was heading in their direction. To a number of observers on the top of the Oscarsberg behind the camp, a long Zulu column could be seen in the distance, slowly approaching from Isandlwana. They were led by Prince Dabulamanzi, a half-brother of the king, and included the uThulwana, iNdlondlo and uDloko ibutho. They had crossed the river about 3 miles below Rorke’s Drift and, once across, divided into several raiding parties. One group advanced along the Natal bank and moved onto the plateau behind Rorke’s Drift, where they rested and took snuff before closing in on the mission station. At the river crossing point the king’s younger brother, Prince Ndabuko kaMpande, had urged his uMbonambi warriors to join Dabulamanzi’s force crossing into Natal. Because of their casualties, or because they were reluctant to cross into Natal, they declined and returned to plunder Isandlwana.

Whether or not Cetshwayo had ordered his generals to stay out of Natal is open to conjecture. Addressing his assembled army only days earlier, the king had ordered his army to drive the British back, if necessary, to the Drakensberg mountain range well into Natal. It must also be remembered that only three hours earlier, the whole Zulu army had attacked Isandlwana, a defended camp and in direct contravention of the king’s orders. The Zulus’ decision to enter Natal is perfectly understandable as the Zulu reserve had not been called upon to participate in the battle and faced national derision for missing the action. Their potential ignominy would have been offset by them swiftly crossing into Natal, where they could murder a few farmers and their workers and by seizing food, burning farms and plundering cattle. With this in mind, it becomes apparent that the small mission station at Rorke’s Drift was not necessarily an objective; few Zulus even knew of its existence. They would certainly not have been aware that it was defended by a company of British infantry and, had they known, it is unlikely they would have considered it an obstacle after the earlier Zulu victory at Isandlwana. Indeed, once across the river, the Zulus divided into four raiding parties, which suggests that they were free-ranging and unaware of the mission station. It was one of these groups moving several miles into Natal that intercepted Major Spalding’s Relief Column marching from Helpmakaar to strengthen the garrison at Rorke’s Drift. The Zulus’ very presence forced the column to retire back to Helpmakaar, even though they were close enough to hear gunfire and see smoke rising from the mission station. Another group of Zulus went south and then inland, while others followed the river northwards towards Rorke’s Drift, where they came across an abandoned farm belonging to an absent local farmer, Edward Woodroffe, which they burnt to the ground. Still following the course of the river, this column continued towards Rorke’s Drift.

The two buildings at Rorke’s Drift were originally built by a border agent named Rorke, but had recently been purchased on behalf of the Swedish Church for occupation by a Swedish missionary, the Reverend Otto Witt. Witt’s stone-walled and thatched house, now converted by the soldiers into a temporary hospital, included three rooms. Adjacent was another similar-sized building, once used as a church and meeting house, now being used as a commissariat store. These two buildings were 20 yards apart and not connected. With Lord Chelmsford’s instructions to fortify camps during the British invasion in mind, Commissary Dalton had already fortified and entrenched the site together with its two buildings, the bulk of the work having been completed by 11 January.

The tiny Mission Station was overlooked on its south side, at about 200 yards distance, by a hill, the Oscarsberg, so called in honour of the King of Sweden. The terrain around the buildings was broken with clumps of bush, gulleys, caverns and boulders, giving excellent cover to the advancing Zulus. To the south-west of the hospital stretched thick bush, through which a wagon track and garden had been cleared. This scrub and a taller clump of trees, along with the garden wall, gave shelter to the first Zulus to approach the Mission Station, just as the Oscarsberg and a group of outbuildings did to the south side of the two buildings. With less than an hour’s warning of the pending Zulu attack, Dalton used additional stores to reinforce the previously built protective wall around the two buildings. These stores were ready for moving to Isandlwana and therefore luckily at hand and in some abundance – sacks of mealies (Indian corn), bags of flour and potatoes, biscuit boxes, and such other materials as were readily available.

Enclosing the right-angle of the hospital and running in front of the bush and garden, along the top of a broken ridge that fell steeply for about 6 feet, was a barricade of mealie bags about 3 feet high. This, the first line of defence, was continued from the left of the hospital to the commissariat store, which was fortunately divided by a shallow ravine from the broken ground of the Oscarsberg. Besides these defensive lines, both buildings were loopholed and barricaded. In the hospital a guard of four men was stationed along with all the sick fit enough to stand and use a rifle. Some of the rifles had recently been patched up for service with tacks and strips of hide, rifles that were probably as damaged as their users.

The first Zulu scouts were from the iNdluyengwe, whose main force was working its way along the riverbank towards the drift looking for plundering opportunities. Having detected the Mission Station, the warriors gathered about 500 yards from the two buildings to assess the situation. They then advanced at a slow run, darting behind their shields to confuse the soldiers’ aim. In the midst of the initial attack, one of the two mounted Zulu chiefs, Prince Dabulamanzi’s deputy, was shot from his horse.

The Zulus were skilled at hunting but had received no training for warfare against an enemy armed with accurate rifles. Instead they were indoctrinated with a lifetime of parade-ground rituals, which included imitating giya tactics, and they therefore approached the British position using the only tactic known to them. They made a number of prancing attacks at the slow run, showing they cared nothing for the slaughter awaiting them, and each time they would advance, then halt for a moment, and then advance again quietly, but running quickly, taking advantage of every bit of cover. Local Zulu folklore suggests they attacked in a very deliberate manner, more akin to their traditional dancing, by prancing and high kicking as they attacked. It is Zulu belief that the Zulu chiefs had expected to surprise the camp and that their melodramatic approach would scare the British into fleeing back to Natal. Instead the soldiers opened fire at about 200 yards. Numbers of Zulus fell at once; the battle for Rorke’s Drift had started.

By using this tactic, many Zulus got to within 50 yards of the first barrier until organized volley fire forced the surviving attackers to retreat and take refuge among the many boulders littering the lower slope of the Oscarsberg. The remainder hesitated, broke ranks, and the greater number scattered to their left and occupied the garden and orchard, where there was plenty of cover. As more Zulus arrived, many took refuge behind a long 5-foot high garden wall directly in front of Witt’s house, now being used as a makeshift hospital, and crept to within 20 yards of the British wall of mealie bags. With darkness falling, the Zulus made several attempts to charge the British perimeter but failed to make any headway due to the steep incline capped with a 4-foot high wall of boxes. From British accounts, supported by Zulu folklore, it appears that the first Zulu assaults were initially conducted by single groups of twenty or so warriors who repeatedly attacked the end room of the hospital.

A few got up close to the two buildings by hiding behind the nearby field oven and kitchens, which had previously supplied the small garrison. Others came on in a continuous stream, gradually encircling the two houses. Only a handful of the Zulus had Martini-Henry rifles, weapons that had earlier been taken as loot from Isandlwana. These warriors were stationed on the hillside and kept up a continuous but highly inaccurate fire on the garrison just 200 yards distant and below them. This sporadic fire occasionally caught the soldiers in their backs as they were guarding the garden side, and five men were thus shot dead. Had the Zulus been good marksmen the whole garrison’s position would have been untenable. But they were untrained in the use of the weapons and were further hindered by darkness, and so they fired wildly and badly for the most part, as if the noise had as much effect as the bullets.

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To Rorke’s Drift II

Lieutenant Chard’s famous drawing of the Rorke’s Drift battle, showing the main thrusts of the Zulu attack.

ANGLO ZULU WAR HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Under cover of the dark, the bushes and the long grass, the Zulus were now able to get within 25 yards of the hospital without being seen. From this point, in parties of fifteen to twenty, they again attacked the end room of the hospital. Many times, seven or eight at least, they began to be a dangerous nuisance to the defenders. Lieutenant Bromhead, collecting a few men together, had to drive one persistent group off with a bayonet charge. Then the Zulus would retire, and in chorus would shout and strike their shields. The soldiers cheered in answer and kept up a steady rate of fire. Initially, there was plenty of ammunition but it was quickly realized by the officers that too much was being wasted.

The Zulus at last smashed their way into the far end of the hospital but only after some thirty of the patients were rescued by their able-bodied colleagues. Most of the escaping patients were pushed and pulled through a window at the far end, which opened onto the yard next to the main British defensive wall. The Zulus now set fire to the hospital, probably from one of the houses’ many oil lamps used to illuminate the hospital after dark. The roof thatch was still damp from the earlier rain, though it would burn steadily for several hours. By its light the soldiers were enabled to see the Zulus better, and many were shot down before they retreated to better cover. After a pause, encouraged or commanded by a chief who shouted his orders from the hillside, the Zulus repeated their attack. The fighting in places became hand-to-hand over the mealie sacks, with the Zulus using their assegais as stabbing weapons against the soldiers’ bayonets. Directly a soldier showed his head over the parapet to get a shot, he was thrust at. On several occasions the leading Zulus actually seized the bayonets and tried to wrench them off the rifles.

The defenders then fell back on an inner defence consisting of another 4-foot high wall of biscuit boxes stacked upon each other that extended across the yard from the commissariat store, and formed part of a second line of defence, including the store and an open space round it, and extending as far as an adjacent cattle kraal, all of which formed part of the final defence position. This second line of defence was not resorted to until the fire from the Oscarsberg, which took the defenders of the mealie-bag barricade in flank and rear, together with the burning of the hospital, had rendered the first line of defence untenable. This second line of defence was never assaulted by the Zulus at close quarters, unlike the outer barricade of mealie bags. From this small fortified position, about the size of a tennis court, the soldiers would hold their positions until morning.

As the night wore on both sides were aided by the light of the burning hospital. This guided the Zulus’ fire from the Oscarsberg until Chard gave the order to fall back upon the second line of defence. To avoid hand-to-hand fighting, they established themselves behind the outer wall of the cattle kraal within 10 yards of the inner wall still being held by the soldiers. The rifle fire from the mealie-bag redoubt and the biscuit-box rampart was fatal to any Zulu standing still, even for a moment; thanks to the light from the burning hospital they presented the soldiers with an easy target.

After midnight the sporadic but forceful Zulu attacks slackened, but continued intermittently through the small hours until 4.00 am. The last British shot was aimed at a Zulu who was trying to fire the thatch of the store. The Zulus were clearly more exhausted than the British; not only had they run from Isandlwana, they had been without food for two days and had last drunk water when they crossed the river some nine hours earlier. Their attacks had stopped but their marksmen continued to fire into the British position from the safety of the Oscarsberg. The final flickering from the remains of the burning hospital died out at about 5.00 am and thereafter there was nothing to indicate a Zulu presence. Not knowing what the Zulus were doing under the cover of darkness and fearing an attack at any moment, Chard ordered his weary men to remain at their posts. Shortly after 5.15 am, the early dawn lightened the sky and the British realized that the only Zulus in sight were the dead and wounded. The main Zulu force had vanished.

The defeated Zulus had steadily made their way back to the drift and after quenching their thirst had assembled on the far bank of the Buffalo River. It was at this stage that they first noticed, some 2 miles off, the approaching column led by Lord Chelmsford. The column was retracing the route it had taken a few days earlier and was approaching the drift from the direction of Sihayo’s stronghold. Not wishing to engage the British, either as soldiers or ghosts, the Zulus turned right and followed the riverbank, presumably to avoid further conflict. It is uncertain whether the Zulus knew that Chelmsford and a portion of his force had survived. Zulu folklore explains that the distant column ‘looked like ghosts’ coming through the early morning mist thrown up by the river. The departing Zulus genuinely believed the whole of Chelmsford’s column had died at Isandlwana and many would have thought they were seeing the ghosts of vanquished British soldiers returning to Rorke’s Drift. The theory is credible. In any event, Chelmsford’s direct approach surprised the retreating Zulus; indeed, both groups passed each other at a distance of 400 yards. Chelmsford’s men had but twenty rounds of ammunition each and the Zulus were exhausted, so neither side had any enthusiasm for a fresh fight.

It was not until dawn that the lookouts at Rorke’s Drift could confirm the disappearance of the Zulus from the hill, and it was not for another two hours that Chelmsford’s column could be seen approaching from the drift. The sight was greeted by a ringing round of cheers. Within the outpost, the scene was disturbing. The whole area was awash with pools of congealed and smeared blood, which bore witness to the death throes of both British and Zulu warriors. The area was littered with dead and dying Zulus; empty ammunition boxes were strewn around along with torn cartridge packets and piles of spent ammunition cases. The remnants of discarded red army jackets lay in the dust. They had been torn apart by the soldiers as improvised binding for their red-hot rifle barrels in the desperate attempt to save their hands from burning as they fired. The whole inner area was covered in trampled maize that had poured from the damaged sacks along the walls, walls that had successfully borne the brunt of the Zulu attacks. The heat from the burnt-out hospital gradually abated and, not deterred by the smell of cooked human flesh, the defenders found the charred bodies of the patients who had died within its walls. As there were many more charred bodies than the defenders had expected, they naturally presumed that these were Zulus, killed either by the defenders or by the hospital fire. During that same day, Lieutenant Curling RA returned to Rorke’s Drift, and that night he wrote:

The farmhouse at Rorke’s Drift was a sad sight. There were dead bodies of Zulus all round it, in some places so thick that you could hardly walk without treading on them. The roof had been taken off the house as it was liable to be burnt and the wounded were lying out in the open. A spy was hanging on one of the trees in the garden and the whole place was one mass of men. Nothing will now be done until strong reinforcements arrive and we shall have much bloodshed before it is all over.

The killing of seriously injured Zulus around the mission station then commenced. It was an act reciprocated by the Zulus, who killed any British soldiers left wounded at Isandlwana. Indeed, it was a fate well understood by both sides. Regrettably, the subsequent British action of killing exhausted Zulus or those who had gone into hiding well away from the mission station was to be more disturbing, even in the climate of such total warfare. Comment on the Zulus’ fate was deliberately omitted from official reports to prevent the gruesome details being published in the British press. Such merciless mopping-up operations were, nevertheless, deemed necessary by those present and would be repeated as a matter of military policy by the British after each of the remaining battles of the Zulu War, especially after their victories at Gingindlovu, Kambula and Ulundi. The total number of Zulu dead from Rorke’s Drift will never be known. The most likely figure of immediate Zulu casualties would tally at about 500, with probably another 300 or more being accounted for during the subsequent securing of the surrounding area. By comparison, British casualties were comparatively light, with fifteen men killed and one officer and nine men wounded (two mortally). The subsequent publication of details of indiscriminate and wholesale killing of Zulu survivors in hiding or fleeing from the battlefield was later to cause the military authorities much embarrassment.

The engagement at Rorke’s Drift was initially viewed by the British military in South Africa as nothing more than a skirmish, and, in military terms, they were correct; it was obvious to those present that a single concerted attack by the Zulus would easily have overwhelmed the small garrison. The praise and fame immediately heaped on the defenders increasingly rankled with many who saw the unexpected status of those present elevated to that of popular heroes. Even General Wolseley wrote on the matter:

It is monstrous making heroes of those who saved or attempted to save their lives by bolting or of those who, shut up in buildings at Rorke’s Drift, could not bolt, and fought like rats for their lives which they could not otherwise save.

Major Clery was one of Chelmsford’s staff officers who commented on the action:

Reputations are being made and lost here in almost comical fashion.

The homecoming for the Zulus was no better. It was as a result of their failed action at Rorke’s Drift that Dabulamanzi’s returning warriors were chided and mocked. Zulu folklore holds that it was said that ‘you marched off, you went to dig little bits with your assegais out of the house of Jim, that had never done you any harm.’ Zulu folklore also relates that the surviving warriors who had attacked Rorke’s Drift were seriously dejected by their failure and worse was to come. The retreating warriors were jeered and mocked by the villagers through whose homesteads they passed. The gist of the baiting calls included ‘shocking cowards’ and ‘you’re just women – running away for no reason at all, just like the wind’.

Agesilaus and the Spartan Army II

When the Peace broke down in a matter of months, Spartans found themselves confronting an unstable alliance of Athens, Thebes, and Thessaly. Thebes’ capture of Plataea and Thespiae in 373 put Theban relations with Athens under great strain, but the alliance held, for the moment (Diod. Sic. 15.46.4–6). By 371, however, Athenians were so nervous about the intentions of their ambitious ally that they joined in sending ambassadors to Sparta to hammer out another general peace agreement (Diod. Sic. 6.3.1–2). All went well until a dispute broke out at the signing ceremony between the Theban representative Epaminondas and Agesilaus, now back on the scene, over the touchy matter of autonomy. Epaminondas refused to sign for Thebes alone rather than for the Boeotians as a whole unless Agesilaus did the same as Sparta’s representative. To Agesilaus’ angry question whether he would allow Boeotian cities to be independent, Epaminondas asked the same question of Sparta and the Laconian cities. An intelligent politician, Epaminondas must have been prepared for Agesilaus’ reaction: he struck Thebes off the treaty and soon declared war (Xen. Hell. 6.3.2–20; Plut. Ages. 28; Diod. Sic. 15.50.4). For the moment Thebes stood alone, as the rest of Greece implemented the terms of the new Peace. In the debate over what to do with Cleombrotus and the army, still in Phocis, Spartans rejected the advice of one Prothoos, perhaps an ephor, that they disband the army and forge a coalition specifically to deal with Thebes, in favor of immediate action (Xen. Hell. 6.4.2–3). Reluctantly, Cleombrotus marched his allied army of some 11,000 into Boeotia, where he encamped in sight of the Thebans and Boeotians in the territory of Thespiae, near a place called Leuctra (Xen. Hell. 6.4.4).

Cleombrotus was an unwilling battle commander; only by threats of dire punishment awaiting him should he not engage the enemy, did his “friends” persuade him to join battle with Epaminondas (Xen. Hell. 6.4.5). He was not alone in his ambivalence, for it was rumored that the Spartans drank until noon on the day of the battle to sharpen their courage (Xen. Hell. 6.4.8). When the battle lines were drawn, Cleombrotus chose a standard arrangement of Spartan hoplites in columns twelve deep on the right, with allied troops to the left. He unwisely positioned his badly trained cavalry in front of his hoplite phalanxes, to protect them and screen their movements. He took the usual commanding position on the right wing surrounded by his bodyguard of three hundred elite young troops. Epaminondas, on the other hand, threw the rule book away. Opposite the Spartans and their king he massed his 4,000 Theban troops on the left at an astonishing depth of fifty men, led by Pelopidas and the newly instituted Sacred Band. The Boeotians he lined up eight or twelve deep on the right facing the Spartans’ allies. He countered the placement of the Spartan cavalry by putting the battle-hardened Theban horse in front of his own lines (Xen. Hell. 6.4.10–12; Diod. Sic. 15.55.1).

Cleombrotus sent his cavalry forward to engage the enemy while units from his left wing redeployed to his right to meet the Theban danger opposite. This maneuver was never completed. The Theban cavalry quickly repulsed the Spartan and pushed it back into the hoplite lines. Confusion broke out. Meanwhile, Cleombrotus’ attempt to stretch his line to the right to outflank his enemy had opened up a gap between the Spartan and allied ranks that no one could now fill. The Thebans and Boeotians advanced, but not in the expected way. Epaminondas had got his troops to move forward as if they were a massive hammer, the head of which comprised the Theban columns. As the fifty-deep Theban phalanxes readied themselves to strike against Cleombrotus and his Spartans, the Boeotian troops advanced in a diagonal line with those on the right hanging back somewhat from those on the left. Pelopidas and the Sacred Band rushed forward from the Theban columns. Cleombrotus ordered the Spartans to counterattack, but many did not receive the order because of the confusion caused by the cavalry. Pelopidas’ onslaught broke the Spartan front ranks, allowing Epaminondas to apply the full force of the Theban left in smashing through those behind. When the dust cleared, the Thebans were in control of the field and 1,000 Lacedaemonians lay dead, including Cleombrotus. Casualties among the Peloponnesian allies were relatively light since the Boeotians in their diagonal advance had scarcely engaged them. The disaffection of Sparta’s allies was well known – some were even said to have been not displeased with the outcome – and Epaminondas clearly hoped to win them over by showing that Thebes’ quarrel was with Sparta alone (Xen. Hell. 6.4.13–15; Diod. Sic. 15.55–6).

The news reached Sparta on the last day of the Gymnopaediae, while the men’s chorus was performing. The ephors allowed it to finish before they announced the defeat and the names of the fallen. Xenophon tells us that the relatives of the dead walked about with smiles on their faces while those of the considerable number of survivors were dejected (Xen. Hell. 6.4.16). A politically convenient recurrence of Agesilaus’ infirmity meant that the relief force was dispatched to Leuctra under his son Archidamus. That army never engaged the Thebans, as a truce was negotiated through the agency of Jason of Pherae (Xen. Hell. 6.4.17–19, 22–6). At Sparta, the survivors of Leuctra precipitated a constitutional crisis. Sparta had sent 700 citizens to the battle, where 400 had been killed, among them the 300-strong royal bodyguard of the best soldiers aged twenty to thirty (Xen. Hell. 6.4.15). Of the 300 survivors, many had fled the battle and so were guilty of cowardice. As “tremblers” (tresantes) they would normally have been subject to a range of social and economic sanctions, but Sparta could hardly afford to alienate so sizeable a chunk of its Spartiate population now that the total citizen body numbered only slightly over a thousand. Agesilaus, restored to health, was vested with supreme constitutional authority and announced that on this occasion alone, “the laws must sleep for a day” (Plut. Ages. 30.5–6).

But there were bigger problems than a few hundred less than enthusiastic hoplites. Leuctra shattered the illusion of Spartan invincibility. In 371/0 Mantinea dared to re-amalgamate under a democratic constitution, the Tegean oligarchy was forced out, and a federal league was founded to embrace all Arcadians (Xen. Hell. 6.5.3–9). To meet this new threat and to punish the Tegeans, Agesilaus led troops into Arcadia. True to form, he captured a minor city, laid waste some land, and returned to Laconia without any major engagement (Xen. Hell. 6.5.10–21). The Arcadians, however, were no longer willing to allow their land to be used as the Spartan army’s dancing floor, and so approached the Thebans for help. This appeared in the form of a massive army of Thebans and their new Peloponnesian allies. As the Theban army marched south, perioecic communities began to defect (Xen. Hell. 6.5.25, 32). Epaminondas then struck straight down into the Eurotas valley, destroying fields and houses as he went. The unimaginable had happened. An invading army was in the Laconian land. So alarmed were the Spartans that they offered freedom to any helot who would take up arms against the invader. Six thousand answered the call, to the considerable unease of the remaining Spartiates. Two separate conspiracies were uncovered: one among the perioeci and inferiors, and another, more worrying, among full Spartiates. Agesilaus successfully repressed both, resorting to extra-judicial killing in the case of the Spartiate conspiracy (Plut. Ages. 32.6–11).

Despite the Spartans’ fears, however, Epaminondas had no intention of destroying their city, just their military and political power. So, after ravaging the land around Sparta and down to the port of Gytheum, he took his army north and west into Messenia, where he inflicted a more damaging blow than burning Sparta’s temples and dwellings could ever have been (Xen. Hell. 5.6.31–2). He liberated Messenia from Spartan rule and recalled the exiles to found their city anew (Diod. Sic. 15.66). Stripped of their most productive land and a large part of their helot workforce, Spartans would be forever reduced to the status of a second-rate power. In a second invasion of the Peloponnese later in 369 (Xen. Hell. 7.1.14–25; Diod. Sic. 15.69–70.1), Epaminondas managed to detach several more states from their alliance with Sparta. Even the Spartan victory in 368 over an allied army of Arcadians, Argires, and Messenians in the Tearless Battle, so named because supposedly no Spartan died, resulted simply in the Arcadians founding the city of Megalopolis to be yet another obstacle to a resurgence of Spartan power (Xen. Hell. 7.1.28–32; Diod. Sic. 15.72.4).

Needless to say, Agesilaus and the Spartans never accepted the loss of Messenia. Spartans refused to be party to any agreement that recognized Messenian independence, explicitly or implicitly. Their intransigence alienated the Great King, whose 367 decree calling for the renewal of the Peace guaranteed Messenia’s independence and effectively repudiated his alliance with the Spartans (Xen. Hell. 7.1.33–7). When Spartans allowed the Corinthians and any remaining allies who wished to make peace with Thebes in 365, they refused to renounce their claims on Messenia (Xen. Hell. 4.7–11), causing the final dissolution of the Peloponnesian League. For his part, Agesilaus spent many of his final years trying to gather funds to hire the now-necessary mercenaries that would enable Sparta to regain its lost possession. Mercenaries sent by Dionysius of Syracuse had comprised the overwhelming bulk of Archidamus’ army in the Tearless Battle, which for the time being had revived Spartan confidence (Plut. Ages. 33.3–5). But Sparta could not rely simply on the generosity of strong men like Dionysius; money was needed, and so Agesilaus’ own career as a mercenary began, with a discreet mission to the Hellespont sometime between 366 and 364; he returned richly rewarded for services rendered to the rebellious satrap Ariobarzanes and the dynast Maussolus of Caria (Xen. Ages. 2.26–7).

Agesilaus commanded a citizen army one last time, in 362. The Arcadian League had split into democratic and oligarchic camps, and each called on the appropriate outside power for support. On the side of democratic Tegea, Epaminondas led an expeditionary force into the Peloponnese and, when he learned that the Spartan army had left the city undefended as it marched to meet him, launched a lightning raid into Laconia. Splitting his forces, Agesilaus hastened back and was just able to deploy his men as Epaminondas attacked the city. After some street fighting, the Thebans withdrew to Arcadia. The two sides met near Mantinea. There, Epaminondas and his vast allied army won a resounding victory over oligarchic Mantinea, Sparta, Athens, and Elis, but his death in battle robbed Thebes of the ability to capitalize on his success (Xen. Hell. 7.5.27; Diod. Sic. 15.85–7). Wearied by war, the combatants drew up a Common Peace, the first without Persian involvement, to end the pointless interstate conflicts that had exhausted Greek resources for decades (Diod. Sic. 15.89.1–2). Like other recent treaties, it recognized Messenia, making it unacceptable to Agesilaus and his still (inexplicably) powerful supporters, who effected yet another Spartan refusal to participate and kept the city in a state of war with its western neighbor (Plut. Ages. 35.3–5).

By 360, Agesilaus was in Egypt selling his services to one rebel against the Persian Empire before deserting him for another more likely prospect, all the time representing himself and the other mercenaries as an officially sanctioned Spartan military expedition (Plut. Ages. 36–9). He died on the coast of Libya on his way back to Sparta with his fee of 230 talents, a tiny fraction of his booty from Asia Minor in 394. His body encased in wax, Sparta’s twenty-sixth Eurypontid king was brought home for burial in the family plot in Limnae (Xen. Ages. 2.30–31; Plut. Ages. 40.2–4). A competent but not brilliant general, he had spent his talents over the years in a single-minded effort to promote Sparta’s interests, unfailingly choosing short-term benefits over long-term gain. His obsession with Thebes brought his city to disaster and ensured its continuing isolation. Domestically, Agesilaus built a reputation for liberality and loyalty, helping his friends profit whenever he could and sheltering them at all costs and in the face of clear evidence of their wrongdoing (Xen. Ages. 5.1–3). His political techniques at home were sophisticated, but Spartans paid dearly for Agesilaus’ management of international relations, limited throughout his reign only to confronting Thebes.

At this point, with Sparta’s dream of reconquering Messenia fading and the city’s proud military tradition in tatters, we have an opportunity to trace the development of the Spartan army over time and to see what sort of military forces were available to Agesilaus during his reign. There are three traditional “fixed points” around which discussions of the army have centered – Herodotus’ account of the battle of Plataea in 479, Thucydides’ description of the battle lines drawn up at Mantinea in 418, and the data that can be gleaned from Xenophon’s Hellenica and Constitution of the Lacedaemonians on the army of his own time, the first decades of the fourth century down to the battle of Leuctra in 371. No two authors use precisely the same terminology nor, in fact, do they seem at first sight to be describing exactly the same military structure.

Before the Persian Wars, matters are very hazy indeed. From the few surviving scraps of Tyrtaeus, we can infer that the Archaic army was organized in sections according to the three Dorian tribes, Hylleis, Dymanes, and Pamphyloi (F19 West2, lines 8–9). It may have fought in hoplite phalanx formation, though this is far from clear, and certainly included light-armed soldiers (P Oxy. 3316, line 14). In the Battle of the Champions (c. 545) the first inconclusive phase involved the selection of 300 warriors from each side to fight it out in Homeric style. Although victory in the end had to be determined by a normal, full-scale battle, the Battle of the Champions shows how fluid combat formations could be, even at such a relatively late date (Hdt. 1.82).

Only with the battle of Plataea do we finally have some real troop numbers, as well as names for units and officers, though naturally none are beyond dispute. The Spartan force at Thermopylae the previous year – 300 Spartiates out of 3,100 Peloponnesians plus 1,100 Boeotians and maybe a total of 2,000 from Locris and Phocis – was anomalous for its size and unique in the (possible) absence of any perioecic troops (Hdt. 7.202–203.1). To meet the Persians in Boeotia, on the other hand, Herodotus writes that the ephors dispatched 5,000 Spartiate warriors, each accompanied by seven helots, for a total of 40,000 men. Next day, the astonished Athenian envoys were sent to meet them with an additional 5,000 elite perioecic troops (9.10.1, 11.3). When combined with warriors, both hoplite and lightly armed, from the other members of the Hellenic Coalition, the Greek army at Plataea totaled 110,000, according to Herodotus, including an oddly unarmed contingent of 1,800 Thespians (9.26.2–9.30). As often with ancient calculations of military strength, however, even this apparently straightforward set of numbers holds problems. Herodotus seems here to have forgotten about the 5,000 perioecic hoplites sent out after the Spartiates. Not just that – when they do reappear implicitly in his numbers for the Lacedaemonian and Tegean troops isolated later in the battle, they are joined by a hitherto completely unmentioned contingent of 5,000 light-armed troops (9.29.2, 31.2). Sparta thus fielded an army of 50,000 men at Plataea, of which only 5,000 – one in ten – were full citizens. The small (and declining) proportion of Spartiates in the Spartan army was a constant throughout the fifth and fourth centuries, symptomatic of an increasingly serious demographic problem as Sparta literally began to run out of Spartan citizens. The Spartiates at Plataea were organized into lochoi (9.53.2, 57.2), apparently under officers Spartans called lochagoi (9.53.2; cf. Thuc. 5.66.3–4; Xen. Lac. 11.4). Most historians believe that there were five Spartan lochoi at Plataea, each recruited from one of the five constituent communities (ôbai) of the city, because Herodotus identifies one of the lochoi as “the lochos of Pitane” (9.53.2).

In contrast to Herodotus’ sketchy allusions, Thucydides offers a detailed analysis of the Spartan-led army at the Battle of Mantinea in 418 (5.66.2–67.1, 68.1–3). The Spartans had raised a full levy of their available troops (pandêmei) which they dispatched post-haste under King Agis’ command into Arcadia to prevent Tegea and the rest of Sparta’s still loyal allies from defecting to the Argives. Upon reaching Orestheion to wait for his allies, Agis ordered home one-sixth of the army, comprising the oldest and youngest, to provide homefront security (5.64). The army at Mantinea represented five-sixths of Sparta’s total military assets. On the left wing were the Sciritae, a unit of perioeci who held this as a traditional privilege; next were the Brasideioi, the helot hoplites freed after their service in Thrace, and with them the Neodamodeis, the other newly liberated helot warriors. In the center were the Lacedaemonians arranged in lochoi, then Arcadians from nearby regions (Thuc. 5.67.1). On the right wing were the Tegeans and “a few” (oligoi) Lacedaemonians. Cavalry was stationed on both wings. Opposite these forces stood the Argives, Athenians, and their various allies in an army whose total manpower has been calculated at approximately 8,500 to 10,000.

The problem lies in Thucydides’ numbers. Thucydides admits his inability to obtain accurate figures for the Spartans at Mantinea because the size of the Spartan army was concealed “as a matter of state secrecy” (dia tês politeias to krupton), an often quoted phrase (5.68.2). Yet he claims to have been able to reach an estimated total by calculating from the disposition of the Spartan forces that were present. He then proceeds to describe the organization of the army on that day: apart from the 600 Sciritae, seven lochoi fought, in each of which there were four pentakostyes (“fiftieths”?), each of them comprising four enômotiai (“sworn bands”). Four men fought in the front rank of each enômotia, and the enômotiai were, on average, eight ranks deep. Thus, concludes Thucydides, the front rank of the Lacedaemonian part of the army was 448 men strong, excepting the Sciritae on the left wing (5.68.3). From this, historians have deduced that the lochoi held about 3,584 men. With the Sciritae added, along with Agis and his 300-strong bodyguard of hippeis, forgotten here but mentioned later (Thuc. 5.72.4), the Spartan portion of the army totaled 4,485. Since Sparta’s Arcadian allies probably could have contributed no more than 3,500 troops at the very most, the whole army would have been about 8,000 men strong. But Thucydides twice states that the Spartan army appeared to be and was actually larger than the enemy’s (5.68.1, 71.2). The only way for this to be true is if the cavalry stationed on both wings and the “few” Lacedaemonians on the right numbered anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 troops. Scholars therefore reject his numbers as being too small.

The most commonly accepted solution is that Thucydides made an error in military terminology. Instead of lochoi, he should have called the largest units morai, which are known to have existed at least from 403 B.C.E. onwards (Xen. Hell. 2.4.31). Each mora comprised two lochoi, one of Spartiates and one of perioeci. Not only does this expedient effectively double the number of Lacedaemonian soldiers at Mantinea, it also accounts for the curious absence of perioeci in Thucydides’ narrative. A further benefit relates to the Spartan officers: in his account of how orders pass quickly down from the king, Thucydides mentions four ranks – polemarchoi, lochagoi, pentekonteres, and enômotarchai – but only three levels of unit (Thuc. 5.66.3–4), leaving the polemarchs with no troops to command. Although they might have been the equivalent of general staff officers, it seems better to consider them as commanders of morai in 418, as they were in the fourth century (Xen. Lac. 11.4). A simple textual emendation removes the objection that Xenophon in the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (Lac. 11.4) states that there were four lochagoi for every mora.

The Brasideioi and Neodamodeis almost certainly fought in a single combined unit (Thuc. 5.67.1), which may have been called a lochos, but actually had a strength equivalent to a mora. This unit would not have been affected by Agis’ orders that one-sixth of the army return home, because it would not have been structured along year-class lines, as were the other units. No Brasideioi were recruited after the Thracian campaigns, and Neodamodeis could hardly have been recruited from the helots strictly according to age-cohort. The Spartan troop-strength can then be calculated as follows: 600 Sciritae + c. 1,200 Brasideioi and Neodamodeis + c. 6,144 Spartiates and perioeci in 6 morai comprising 12 lochoi of c. 512 men each + 300 hippeis, for a total of c. 8,544, not including cavalry and the few Lacedaemonians on the wings. With the Arcadian troops added, Agis would have led an army of over 12,000, easily justifying Thucydides’ claim that it was the larger.

Lee Divides and Conquers at the Second Battle of Bull Run

Outnumbered two to one, Robert E. Lee and his corps commanders Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet outgeneraled the Union’s pompous and unpopular John Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The reputations of three Confederate generals rose to mythic proportions as yet another Union military leader—Lincoln’s latest candidate for top command—suffers not merely defeat but humiliation. The outcome was another blow to Northern morale and a grave political threat to Abraham Lincoln. At this point, the Union was losing the Civil War.

George B. Mccellan, the vaunted “Young Napoleon” on whom Abraham Lincoln relied to redeem the Union Army from the humiliation of the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), had promised to capture Richmond in what he called the Peninsula Campaign, a name that echoed Napoleon’s “Peninsular War,” fought for possession of the Iberian Peninsula in 1807–1814. It was not the best Napoleonic parallel to evoke. The Peninsular War was one of the defeats from which Napoleon could not recover.

McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign spanned March to July 1862, culminating in the so-called Seven Days Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862), the last of which was Malvern Hill (July 1). That battle ended in a tactical victory for McClellan, but a victory fought not on ground to which he had advanced, but to which he had retreated. Having set out to capture Richmond, the Young Napoleon ended up farther from the Confederate capital than he had been at the start of his endeavor. Moreover, while McClellan defended his high ground position expertly at Malvern Hill, bombarding Robert E. Lee’s attacking forces with fire from massed cannon that were positioned nearly wheel to wheel, he refused his field officers’ pleas to seize the initiative, hold Malvern Hill, and counterattack Lee. This might have revived and redeemed the Peninsula Campaign. Certainly, it would have taken a greater toll on Lee than the mere defense did. But George B. McClellan was completely cowed by the Confederate general, even when, as now, Lee committed a great blunder in fruitlessly attacking uphill. No sooner did Lee break off his attack than McClellan completed his withdrawal from the campaign against Richmond by returning to Harrison’s Landing, the location on the James River from which the Army of the Potomac had originally embarked.

Commanding a larger army than Lee, McClellan had failed in his mission. Nevertheless, his 16,000 casualties (killed, wounded, captured, or missing) were 4,000 fewer than what he had inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Tactically, the Union forces had come out ahead. Strategically, they were humiliated. As if to certify his failure, Major General McClellan sent an abject telegram to the War Department on July 2, 1862: “I now pray for time. My men have proved themselves the equals of any troops in the world—but they are worn out. Our losses have been very great. I doubt whether more severe battles have ever been fought—we have failed to win only because overpowered by superior numbers.”

The telegram did not appease Abraham Lincoln. Astoundingly, McClellan assessed Lee’s strength at almost 200,000 men. It was actually between 55,000 and 65,000. Feeling that McClellan was not just making poor use of the magnificent army he had built, but virtually no use of it, Lincoln summoned Major General John Pope to a conference. He assigned him to command a force to be known as the Army of Virginia. It would consist of numerous units in and around Virginia that had been slated for incorporation into the Army of the Potomac. As if this weren’t a sufficient demonstration of Lincoln’s loss of confidence in McClellan, who seemed not only unwilling but incapable of leaving Harrison’s Landing, Lincoln ordered him to return to northern Virginia and detach three Army of the Potomac corps to be put under Pope’s command and used in coordination with the Army of Virginia.

From today’s perspective, few would argue that Lincoln was wrong to shift the initiative away from McClellan; however, he could hardly have chosen a less popular officer to turn to. Pope had shown a certain brilliance as commanding general of the Army of the Mississippi against Confederate General Sterling Price in Missouri and in the capture of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River (February 28-April 8, 1862). His far greater military talent, however, was his unerring ability to alienate virtually everyone in the army, both officers and enlisted men. When he assumed command of the Army of Virginia in July 1862, he addressed his soldiers with a level of condescension that makes one cringe even to read it:

Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our Western armies in defensive attitude. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you

Amazingly, Pope also provoked a special outrage from the enemy. The Army of Virginia occupied a sliver of northern Virginia. Instead of trying to win over the populace there, Pope tyrannized them. He seized from the people whatever food supplies he wanted, and he repeatedly threatened to hang civilians as well as prisoners of war and traitors. Robert E. Lee found Pope’s conduct so unbecoming a military officer that he condemned him as no better than a “miscreant” in need of being “suppressed.”

It was not idle trash talk. Lee saw Pope as an inept and bombastic commander who was supplanting a timid one, McClellan. This made both the Army of Virginia and at least the three corps of the Army of the Potomac that were assigned to Pope’s command especially vulnerable—provided that Lee could strike before those three corps could link up with the Army of Virginia. Accordingly, on August 9, 1862, Lee dispatched Stonewall Jackson to attack a portion of the Army of Virginia at Cedar Mountain, near Culpeper. The resulting Battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862) was a minor Confederate victory that did no more than force Pope to withdraw to the north bank of Rappahannock River. But that was precisely where Lee wanted him. Lee could now attack before the reluctant, petulant, and slow-moving McClellan arrived with his three Army of the Potomac corps.

For the first time in his military career, Lee decided to violate a very basic tenet of military practice in the field. He put half the Army of Northern Virginia under Major General James “Old Pete” Longstreet, charging him with the mission of occupying Pope’s front. The other half Lee gave to Stonewall Jackson, ordering him to lead his wing on a roundabout march to the northwest, so that he could hit the rear of the Army of Virginia with a surprise attack as Longstreet attacked Pope’s front. It was a strategy Lee would use again in the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30–May 6, 1863). The idea was to hold the enemy by the nose while kicking him in the rear.

Pope observed the movement of Longstreet and Jackson, but he did little enough about it, except to launch a harassing raid on the encampment of Confederate cavalryman Jeb Stuart. The aim of the raid was to capture or kill Stuart. While the raiders did manage to bag the cavalryman’s adjutant, Stuart himself got away. In his haste to leave, he forgot to take with him his trademark ostrich-plumed hat and crimson-lined cape. Pope’s raiders took these items as prizes—something that delighted them almost as much as having captured Stuart himself.

Jeb Stuart was outraged. Bad enough that his adjutant had been taken, but the raiders went too far when they stole that hat and cape. Duly provoked, on August 22, Stuart and a small raiding party rode full gallop into Major General Pope’s headquarters camp at Catlett’s Station. They captured 300 prisoners and “appropriated” $35,000 in Union army payroll money. Worse, perhaps, they rifled through Pope’s personal baggage, taking his dress uniform coat and also his battle plans. Four days later, on August 26, Stonewall Jackson attacked and destroyed Pope’s supply depot at Manassas Junction, Virginia, very near the site of the First Battle of Bull Run. As serious as the loss of supplies was, Jackson’s raid did far worse by severing Pope’s telegraph and rail lines. This partially cut off rapid communications to and from the field and greatly limited Pope’s ability to transfer large numbers of men rapidly. The Union commander pursued Jackson, but was unable to locate him—at least until Jackson wanted to be found.

On August 28, Stonewall suddenly materialized. He attacked a Union brigade under Brigadier General Rufus King at Groveton. The skirmish was intense. Not only were two of Jackson’s division commanders seriously wounded, but King’s “Black Hat Brigade” (later called the “Iron Brigade”) fought with a fervor Jackson had never before seen in a Union military unit. While King took a toll on Jackson, however, he also suffered heavy losses. Nearly a third of his brigade were killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

Together, the Manassas raid and the Battle of Groveton were overtures to the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862). For all the problems Jackson had caused him, Pope was actually given an important advantage. The Confederate commander had revealed himself and thereby sacrificed the element of surprise. Pope knew exactly where he was, and he began concentrating his forces accordingly, deploying near Groveton with the intention not only of defeating Stonewall Jackson, but boasting that he would “bag the whole crowd.”

Pope did what McClellan seemed unable to do. He took the initiative, and he attacked Jackson on August 29. The trouble was that the attacks came piecemeal. I Corps, under Franz Sigel, started in on Jackson, and then the Pennsylvania Reserves under John Reynolds joined in. Pope ordered Major General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, Army of the Potomac, to get between Jackson’s Corps and Longstreet’s—but it was too late. Longstreet had already made contact with Jackson on his right. Porter was stymied, not knowing where to attack.

Another of Pope’s commanders, Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, bore down on Jackson with his corps, as did elements of Major General Jesse L. Reno’s IX Corps and two divisions under Irvin McDowell, the Union commander defeated at the First Battle of Bull Run. Despite this impressive array of forces, Pope proved utterly unable to coordinate them. Individual Army of Virginia and Army of the Potomac units made inroads against Jackson’s line here and there, but, lacking effective overall command, were unable to consolidate any of their gains. Each Union attack was repulsed in turn, and, after heavy fighting, Jackson remained in control of his position by the end of the day on August 29, while Longstreet, on his right, actively extended the Confederate line. Noting Longstreet’s advantage, Lee urged him to attack, but, always cautious, Longstreet declined, protesting that he had no idea of Pope’s strength to his right and front. Longstreet did launch a reconnaissance in force to ascertain what lay ahead. This resulted in some confused nighttime skirmishing, which prompted Longstreet to recall his brigades to their starting positions.

Although Longstreet had not intended this withdrawal to deceive Pope, Pope was nonetheless deceived. At daybreak on August 30, he assumed that both Jackson and Longstreet were in full and final retreat. He assumed that the Second Battle of Bull Run was over and that he had won. When it became evident that the Confederate commanders were not giving up, Pope was confused. Unsure what to do, Pope launched a massive attack against Jackson’s front. Porter’s V Corps attacked just after three in the afternoon. Although the attack was bold, it discounted the presence of Longstreet, who used his artillery to enfilade the attackers, firing along the length of Porter’s advance and cutting his men down like reaped wheat.

Lee was quick to take advantage of Porter’s repulse. He ordered Longstreet to make a general advance, and, this time, Longstreet did so wholeheartedly and with absolute confidence. His troops surged forward, smashing into Union positions on much the same ground that had been contested at the First Battle of Bull Run. Still, two Union corps managed to hold out, and federal troops were able to hold a position on Henry House Hill. This made it possible that the tide of battle could still be turned in the Union’s favor. But Pope had lost both situational awareness and the will to fight on. He saw only that his forces were being mauled and generally driven back. He did not grasp the significance of the action on and around the high ground of Henry House Hill. Accordingly, he ordered a general retreat back across Bull Run. Longstreet rushed in to take over Henry House Hill, and Pope continued to fall back, withdrawing the combined Army of Virginia and Army of the Potomac to the outer defenses of Washington itself. Of the 75,696 troops under John Pope’s command, 1,724 were killed, 8,372 wounded, and 5,958 went missing. It was a devastating 21 percent casualty rate. Lee had a total of 48,527 men engaged, of which he lost 1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, and 89 missing, making for a casualty rate almost as heavy as Pope’s—19 percent.

President Lincoln wasted no time in disposing of a general he hoped could have effectively replaced McClellan. Three short days after the Second Battle of Bull Run, Pope was ordered to service in the Department of the Northwest, where he was tasked with battling the Santee Sioux, who had staged an uprising in Minnesota. In effect, Lincoln exiled him, altogether removing him from the Civil War. His Army of Virginia was dissolved, and most of its units and personnel incorporated into the Army of the Potomac, whose three corps were also returned, all under the command of George B. McClellan—at least for the time being. McClellan was apparently rehabilitated, but—at this point—the Union was losing the Civil War.

German Defenses of Paris 1944

General Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of German forces in Paris, seen shortly after he formally surrendered the city late on the afternoon of August 25.

At first Hitler’s assignment did not seem to be too much of a burden to the new Wehrmacht Paris Commander General of Infantry Dietrich von Choltitz. Choltitz’s main tasks in Paris were to maintain law and order, to eliminate any and all so-called rear echelon phenomena, and to comb out the various headquarters to find men who were still fit to fight. But the swift Allied advance introduced the problem of how the city could be defended against external attack. Initial guidance came from Kluge, the OB West at that time, who analyzed the situation correctly and assessed as unlikely any major Allied push to Paris. Kluge noted expressly that defensive efforts would have to be concentrated entirely on the barrier belt that ran to the west of the city.

Here was at least a chance of beating off enemy reconnaissance probes with the help of field fortifications and tank barriers along the outgoing streets, as well as with the 88mm batteries of the Paris antiaircraft artillery belt. Kluge wanted to avoid street fighting, and for that matter any fighting at all in the city. As for the initiation of the so-called “paralysis and demolition measures”-which were entirely customary during withdrawal operations to slow down the enemy’s pursuit-Kluge stipulated that any such actions in Paris would be initiated only on his specific orders.

To keep a handle on things at all times and to prevent any independent actions, Kluge had the Wehrmacht Paris Commander report to him directly. Even after Kluge was relieved, Choltitz continued to make every effort to conform to the intentions of the former OB West. Model, the new OB West who had just arrived in France, did not have the time to address in detail the rather secondary problem of Paris.

Thus the priorities were established. The main body of the twenty thousand men available in the Paris area was employed to the west of the city. Remnants of the decimated 352nd Infantry Division were also deployed to the front of the barrier ring. Given their heterogeneous and provisional makeup, neither those units nor the two regimental battle groups committed there under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hubertus von Aulock could possibly carry out a delaying defense along the approximately forty-five-kilometer long barrier belt.

The higher-level staffs were entirely familiar with these problems. As early as August 16 higher headquarters estimated that the enemy would at any time be in a position to penetrate the only lightly manned defensive positions. But the various headquarters in the west had no idea of what should be done in the case of an offensive. A telephone conversation between chiefs of staff Blumentritt and Speidel indicates clearly the existing doubt as to whether the city of Paris should be defended at all.

Once the barrier belt had accomplished its mission of gaining time, there was nothing to prevent any evacuation of the metropolis without a fight. The notion that Paris, like Rome, could be declared an open city might have been a factor, although there was no indication at the time that the Allies would honor any such declaration. Choltitz’s original mission to preserve stable internal conditions grew increasingly more difficult as the unrest bubbling beneath the surface of the city rose to the point of near eruption. Despite the Allied successes in Normandy, the population of the city initially had adopted a wait-and-see attitude. That mood was now changing, driven, among other things, by inadequate food supplies. Paris was now cut off from its sources of supply, which had been located to the west. And with the rail lines destroyed, food shipments reached Paris only irregularly by highway. The French Ravitaillement General (the general supply system), which until then had done the job of distributing the few arriving goods in coordination with the German military, collapsed or was put out of action by the Resistance. Paris was on the brink of starvation. Compounding the tensions were rumors that the entire male population of the city capable of working would be deported. Such a decision was actually under consideration in the Reich Chancellery, which estimated a labor force of some one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand men. Those rumors increasingly drove Parisians into the arms of the militant Resistance. Especially after the point when the defensive main effort was placed in the outer barrier ring, Choltitz had forces within the city with which to oppose the more than twenty thousand (albeit poorly armed) members of the FFI. The 325th Security Division, first organized in 1942, with the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 190th Security Regiments, was the force assigned to the Commandant of Greater Paris for maintaining internal control. The 325th Security Division, however, no longer existed as such. All Choltitz had was the 2nd Battalion of the 190th Security Regiment, the 17th Technical Battalion, two companies of the 5th Security Regiment, and remnants of the 317th Reserve Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. That meager force was supported by a few Panzers and World War I-era French-built tanks. That was the only tactical reserve Choltitz had available. The desolate situation of the defenders inside the city, totaling some five thousand men, was augmented by four so-called “Paris Alert Battalions,” patched together partly from Military Administration civilian officials, who were quickly put into Wehrmacht uniforms and placed in various buildings that were designated as strongpoints. In the event of any fighting, the decisive advantages would be with the FFI, which fought with guerrilla tactics. They had the ability to pop out from the population at any moment, execute their action, and then merge just as quickly back into the population. Thus restricted in his military options, all Choltitz could do was try somehow to defuse by other means the tense atmosphere. If he could do that, he could buy time until either the evacuation of Paris was authorized by the Führer Headquarters or adequate reinforcements arrived to put the resistance down. The possibility of reinforcements for Paris was something the various German headquarters in the west still considered a real possibility at that point. Such notions did not originate out of thin air. The First Army, in whose sector Paris was located, was supposed to receive control of not only the 48th Infantry Division but also the 47th and 49th Infantry Divisions from the Channel coast. Additionally, the remnants of three Panzer or Panzer Grenadier divisions were then refitting in the immediate vicinity of the city.

Reinforcements late August

Choltitz’s disastrous military strength situation was the basis of his actions, which were cautious in dealing with the French at least. Choltitz released three of de Gaulle’s captured representatives after they had assured him that they would urge compliance with the armistice. In the final analysis, however, Choltitz’s efforts to play the factions of the Resistance against each other were meaningless because the reinforcements he was hoping for never arrived. Choltitz’s hopes did not last long. Instead of the divisional-sized units he was hoping for, Choltitz received only an engineer and an artillery unit of battalion strength, plus the 11th Assault Gun Brigade with twenty combat vehicles. That was all Model was able to spare, because of the threat facing Army Group B. The 47th and 49th Infantry Divisions from the Channel coast were immediately deployed against the Seine River bridgeheads above and below the city; the 47th Infantry Division was halted dead in its tracks as Allied fighter-bombers shot up the locomotives of the trains moving the unit.

Various actions taken by Model indicate that the German command in the west had given Paris up as lost on August 23.

The reactions to the “Rubble Field Order”-as it was now mockingly called-from the Führer Headquarters were crystal clear. Hitler’s demands for resorting to “the severest measures upon the first indication of an uprising, such as demolition of residential housing blocks, public executions,” were based on an utterly wrong estimate of the situation. Choltitz had seen that immediately, with no little indignation. As he reported to Model in a telephone conversation that day, one had to expect “that Paris would soon be wrested from the German armies, possibly by the internal enemy, because the enemy has now recognized our weakness.” That evening Model advanced the same opinion in a telephone conversation with the chief of the Wehrmacht operations staff, and he urged that the existing directive be amended. In response to Jodl’s hesitant reply that “Paris would have to be held for the moment,” the OB West thundered that he did not want “provisional orders” but a clear directive in case of the loss of Paris. A city of millions of people, Model insisted, could not be defended internally or externally with the weak forces available. Model further insisted that “these situation assessments be reported to the führer clearly.”

It was all in vain; Hitler’s mind could not be changed. As a consequence, Choltitz lost the more promising and militarily significant opportunity of withdrawing from Paris and organizing the defenses along the eastern edge of the city without the permanent threat to his rear from the FFI. But now Choltitz’s position was exceptionally precarious because he had gone out on a limb by his actions and his harsh criticism of Hitler’s order. His only remaining chance of avoiding a rather somber fate while at the same time fulfilling his sense of duty as a soldier was to hold out at his post to the bitter end. To avoid exposing his men to the FFI with no protection and therefore leaving them to face the explosion of stored-up popular anger, Choltitz hoped that he would be able to continue fighting, at least until such time as he was facing regular Allied units.

The German Army in The Ardennes 1914

Strategy and Tactics

The defeat of the French 4th Army by the German 4th Army in the Battle of the Frontiers spelled the failure of the French war plan. Combined with the Russian defeat at Tannenberg, the Entente strategy for simultaneous Russian and French attacks against Germany had also failed. French losses were far higher than German, and the resulting disparity in combat power meant that the French were not even able to hold the last significant terrain obstacle, the Meuse.

These victories were not accomplished by superior war planning or by operational excellence. The French had anticipated the German advance to the north of the Meuse and had devised an excellent means defeating it. The German advance through Belgium was hardly the thing of wonder that it has been made it out to be. That the French plan did not succeed, while the German plan did, had nothing to do with strategy, but was solely the product of German superiority at the tactical level.

There is a school of thought which maintains that the German ‘genius for war’ was the product of the excellence of the German Great General Staff, that is, German victories were due to superiority at the operational and particularly at the strategic levels. There is no evidence to be found for this proposition either in the Battle of the Frontiers as a whole or in the Ardennes on 22 August. The Chief of the General Staff, the younger Moltke, did nothing to give German planning operational coherence: the seven German armies acted virtually independently of each other. The German 5th Army attack plan for 22 August, written by a General Staff major general, left a corps-sized gap in the army centre that was not filled until late afternoon, and which nearly resulted in a French breakthrough, while the army right flank was hanging completely in the air. The 5th Army plan was not coordinated with the 4th Army. The 4th Army moved to the south on its own initiative at the last minute to cover the 5th Army right flank, in turn leaving the 4th Army’s own centre outnumbered and dangerously thin. Due to the 5th Army’s poorly thought-out attack, of the ten German corps in these two armies, two corps could only be brought into action late in the day and one not at all, while all the French corps were engaged. The only German senior officer to display sound operational ability in the Ardennes was the commander of the 4th Army, the Duke of Württemberg, a capable professional soldier but also the hereditary ruler of a German state and hardly the prototypical General Staff officer. But the real victors on 22 August in the Ardennes were the officers and soldiers of the divisions of the German 4th Army, which dealt the French 4th Army – the French main attack – the most stinging defeats in the entire Battle of the Frontiers.

The German Army

The German army’s 1906 infantry regulation presented an effective tactical doctrine based on the need to gain fire superiority as well as on offensive action based on fire and movement. German training in this doctrine was realistic and thorough, and concluded every year by several weeks of live-fire gunnery exercises and tactical problems conducted at MTA. French doctrine did not include the concept of fire superiority and the French did not have adequate training areas. German doctrine and training also emphasised the meeting engagement and individual initiative at the tactical level; the French, on the other hand, emphasised linear engagements tightly controlled at the division, corps and army levels.

The German army won the Battle of the Frontiers because of superior peacetime doctrine and training. German patrolling and reconnaissance were vastly superior to the French. In almost every instance, German reconnaissance provided excellent reports on French movements while blinding French cavalry reconnaissance. French air reconnaissance was largely ineffective in the forested Ardennes; the French senior headquarters formed an entirely erroneous impression of German movements and intentions. On 22 August none of the French divisions had any idea that major German forces were in their immediate vicinity.

On 22 August the two French armies were advancing to the northeast, while the two German armies were attacking to the west. All of the subsequent battles were meeting engagements. German units moved quickly and deployed smoothly. French movements suffered from friction and their deployment was slow and uncertain. Once engaged the Germans smothered the French with rifle, MG and artillery fire and gained fire superiority. If the Germans were on the defence, this fire stopped the French attack. If attacking, the Germans then closed with and destroyed the French infantry by fire and movement. Widespread myths notwithstanding, there were no trenches, and the only barbed wire encountered was that which the Belgian farmers used to fence in their livestock.

German Infantry

Prior to the war there had been considerable concern that the nerves of the troops would not stand up to the terrors of modern combat. As Otto von Moser noted, these battles proved beyond a doubt that the German troops were equal to the task. To Moser’s observations it must be added that the French troops were often not equal to the requirements of the modern battlefield; after a few hours of combat, most French units cracked. This was due to inadequacies in French training.

This was not to say that everything went flawlessly. In particular, the infantry often attacked without waiting for the fire support of MG and artillery to soften the enemy up. Losses were even higher than the most sobering peacetime projections: in Moser’s units more than a third of the officers and nearly a third of the enlisted men became casualties on 22 August. But French casualties were even higher. As The commander of the 25 ID, speaking of IR 116 and IR 117 at Anloy, said:

‘In spite of these (terrain) difficulties, in spite of the casualties and the intense enemy fire our troops worked their way forwards. As was characteristic of our men at this time, they got the bit in their teeth and pushed forward, which cost us a great many casualties … Nevertheless! Who would dare to criticise the wonderful aggressive spirit of our soldiers?’

In the battle the general was describing, the terrain was very close and the action was taking place at 400m range or less. Artillery support was practically impossible. Using fire and movement, the German troops pushed back the French, one terrain feature at a time. There were no ‘bayonet charges’. The German infantry simply kept on battering the French, undeterred by casualties.

The performance of the German infantry on 22 August 1914 was exceptional, the result of high morale, intelligent doctrine, effective training and excellent leadership.

German Artillery

The commander of the VI RK listed the common complaints about the performance of the German artillery. The infantry pushed quickly forward and the artillery was too slow to keep up. The German artillery was especially slow in occupying covered positions. The result was that the German artillery often fired into its own infantry. The French gun had a maximum effective range 2,000m greater than the German gun. The French artillery was better trained and more tactically proficient; the French operated flexibly, by batteries, the Germans employed clumsy three-battery sections.

Most of these criticisms seem to have been coloured by experiences later in the Marne campaign. During the French withdrawal, their artillery was very effective as a rear-guard. During the battle of the Marne the French emptied their magazines, firing prodigious quantities of shells that smothered the German infantry.

But during the meeting engagements on 22 August in the Ardennes the German artillery was almost always superior to the French. If it was sometimes slow to get into action, the French artillery was slower. The Germans were usually able to fight combined-arms battles; the French infantry was often destroyed before the French artillery got into action. The Germans frequently brought individual guns right into the skirmisher line, where they provided highly effective fire support at point-blank range; the French never did so. The German light and heavy howitzers proved their worth.

Both the German and the French artillery soon discovered that frequently the terrain did not provide observation of enemy positions. Rather than do nothing, both artilleries employed unobserved area fire (Streufeuer) against suspected enemy locations. This was not provided for in either the French or German pre-war artillery doctrines, because it was felt to be ineffective and wasteful of ammunition. However, both sides used it from the first day of combat on, and to good effect.

German Cavalry

German doctrine emphasised that cavalry needed to be aggressive during the battle in developing opportunities to both participate in the battle as well as to operate against the enemy flank and rear. Doctrine also stated that cavalry was the arm best suited to conduct pursuit.

While the 3 KD and 6 KD had been very effective in the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance roles before the battle, during the battle they accomplished nothing. The 3 KD commander decided that the terrain prevented the division from accomplishing anything and resigned himself to inactivity. 6 KD was used to guard the army left flank. Neither division conducted a pursuit, either on 22 or 23 August, although the Colonial Corps would seem to have offered a fine target for 3 KD and the right flank of the French VI CA an even better target for 6 KD.

It appears that the cavalry learned during the approach march that a mounted man presented a fine target and that even small groups of infantry were capable of blocking cavalry movement. By 22 August the senior cavalry commanders were thoroughly intimidated: they avoided serious contact and were unwilling to attempt to move large bodies of cavalry anywhere that they might be subject to small arms or artillery fire. Coupled with the unimaginative operations of the 5th Army headquarters, the timidity of the cavalry leaders cost the cavalry the opportunity to have made a major impact in the battle.

Command and Control

The German army discovered that modern means of communications were unreliable, an observation that would be repeated by practically every subsequent army. This included the telephones that connected army headquarters to OHL, which utilised the seemingly infallible civilian telephone net. As Crown Prince Wilhelm complained, the telephones became so overloaded with traffic that the command and control system at times broke down completely. Nevertheless, German reporting was good and with the exception of the breakdown between V AK and XIII AK German senior HQs kept each other informed.

Liebmann’s Evaluation of German Doctrine and Training

In his study of how German doctrine and training withstood the test of combat in 1914, Liebmann concluded that ‘In 1914, none of our enemies possessed a doctrine which was superior in combat to that of the German army, even though we must acknowledge that German doctrine had weaknesses’.

‘Foremost among these errors was a failure to recognise the effect of firepower, even though German doctrine was based on firepower … It must also be recognised that even the most conscientious preparation in peacetime does not insulate against similar errors.’

‘The German infantry proved itself to be superior to that of the enemy. Its high morale and discipline and its powerful offensive spirit, the product of its traditions and decades of training, allowed it in many cases to simply overrun the enemy infantry’. But Liebmann said that this superiority applied only to mobile warfare, and contended that attacks later in the war against a prepared enemy defence failed disastrously.

Liebmann said that conducting the firefight with thick skirmisher lines was effective and that the casualties incurred were acceptable as were forward bounds by individuals or by squads. Casualties only became serious when long lines bounded forward or entire fronts conducted assaults. And although the German army emphasised fire superiority, gaining and using it in actual practice proved difficult. A much more serious deficiency in German doctrine and training was the failure to recognise the difficulties in infantry–artillery cooperation. In German exercises the problem was glossed over. On the other hand, the German cavalry performed its reconnaissance function everywhere with distinction.

25th July-Operation SPRING

Infantrymen of The Royal Winnipeg Rifles advancing through fields during Operation SPRING near Ifs, France, 25 July 1944.

Operation SPRING was launched by the II Canadian Corps at 0330 hours on 25th July to coincide with a major US First Army offensive on the western flank codenamed COBRA. At this time Dietrich still had the 272nd Infantry Division, supported by elements of 2nd Panzer and 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, defending the left-hand section of his Corps area to the east of the Orne, the 12th SS Panzer Division HJ in defence in the Vimont sector and 1st SS Panzer astride the Route Nationale 158, the main Caen to Falaise highway. As an important reserve he had the balance of 9th SS in position to the north-west of Bretteville-sur-Laize. Dietrich had been told by von Kluge on 23rd July that both the LAH and HJ would shortly be relieved by infantry divisions; but before this was to happen the LAH, and indeed the 272nd Infantry Divisional Group, would have to withstand the onslaught of operation SPRING.

The aim of the operation, as defined by Montgomery, was to capture the area Fontenay-le-Marmion, Point 122 (also known as Cramesnil spur) and Garcelles-the exact area held by the Leibstandarte. To help in this task II Canadian Corps had been allocated the British Guards and 7th Armoured Divisions, giving it a total of four divisions, two of them armoured, and an additional armoured brigade. The successful conclusion of this operation was to be followed by a XII Corps attack west of the Orne on the 28th to capture Evrecy and Amayé, and finally VIII Corps was to attack through II Canadian Corps, down the Falaise road, to cover the capture by the British Guards of the large wooded area to the east of Garcelles. When all this had been achieved, Monty intended to launch several armoured divisions towards Falaise in a re-run of GOODWOOD. The role of the LAH in frustrating Montgomery’s plans would therefore be crucial.

How was 1st SS deployed to meet Operation SPRING? Starting on the east side of the Caen-Falaise highway, the area from inclusive Ia Hogue to just north-east of Tilly-la-Campagne (Tilly) was defended by Max Junge’s 2nd SS Panzer-Grenadier Battalion of Sandig’s 2nd Regiment, together with the 3rd SS (88mm) Flak Company. Tilly itself had been made into a strongpoint, with Dinse’s 3rd SS (SPW) Panzer-Grenadier Battalion, Wolff’s 7th SS Panzer (Mk lV) Company and a company of Scheler’s 1st SS Pioneer Battalion. To the west of Tilly, near the Caen-Falaise highway, Herford’s 2nd SS Grenadiers of the 1st Regiment were in position with the revamped 2nd SS StuG Company.

There were strong forces in depth-the 1st SS Panzer-Grenadier Battalion of Sandig’s Regiment was to the north of Secqueville, the 2nd SS Werfer Company just south of Tilly, the rest of Scheler’s SS Pioneers in Garcelles and, most importantly, Kling’s 2nd SS Panzer Battalion, less the 5th and 7th Companies, was in reserve just to the east of Garcelles.

The vital area from the Caen-Falaise road to and inclusive of Verrieres, was held by Fritz Lotter’s 1st SS Panzer-Grenadier Battalion less its 3rd Company, the 12th SS Heavy PanzerGrenadier Company of Graetz’s Battalion and the 15th SS (Pioneer) Company, all from Schiller’s 1st Regiment, together with SS Lieutenant Werner Sternebeck’s 5th SS Panzer Company and the reorganised 1st SS StuG Company. Forward of these main positions in Torteval there was a screen force provided by the 1st SS Reconnaissance Battalion and, in depth behind them at Rocquancourt, there was a strong reserve comprising four SS Grenadier Companies from the 1st Regiment and the 3rd SS Sturmgeschütz Company. The other two SS 88mm Flak companies were at Caillouet and St Aignan where the rest of Knittel’s 1st SS Reconnaissance Battalion provided yet another reserve.

On 25th July the 2nd SS Panzer Battalion had forty-one operational Mk IVs and the 1st SS Sturmgeschütz Battalion had been re-equipped with thirty-two StuGs. It is unclear whether Kuhlmann’s 1st SS Panzer (Panther) Battalion was still with the LAH at this time or had been pulled out to reinforce the Hitlerjugend. Hubert Meyer says that by 31st July it was part of a reinforced KG Wünsche reserve force but he does not say when it moved across. The Leibstandarte TV/I by Lehmann and Tiemann records it as part of the LAH armoured reserve to the east of Garcelles on 24th July and goes on to mention it taking part in a counter-attack on the evening of the 25th. However, this must be questioned since it says the Battalion had only ‘about ten Panzers’ when we know that in reality it had thirty-one operational Panthers on that day. Certainly Jochen Peiper’s 1st SS Panzer Regimental Head- quarters was located in the Chateau at Garcelles-Secqueville at this time.

With or without the 1st SS Panzer Battalion LAH, the whole defensive layout facing II Canadian Corps was typical of German military thinking and destined to cause major problems for the attacker. Lieutenant General Guy Simonds’s plan called for Major General Foulkes’s 2nd Canadian Infantry Division to take May-sur-Orne and Verrieres, and Keller’s 3rd Division to capture Tilly. Erskine’s British 7th Armoured Division was due to advance down the centre-line to seize the Cramesnil spur, whilst the 2nd Division pressed on to Fontenay-ie-Marmion and Rocquancourt and the 3rd Division to Garcelles. The British Guards Armoured Division was to clear the woods to the east of Garcelles once the 3rd Infantry had secured the village. It was an ambitious plan involving an advance of over 10km.

Although the Canadian plan for SPRING looked on the face of it reasonably simple and logical, in reality it left a lot to be desired. For example, it sounds perfectly reasonable for an Infantry Division to be given the task of capturing Tilly; the attack was however to be carried out, not by the Division, not even by one of its Brigades, but by just one Battalion-the poor North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Only after Tilly had fallen and the ‘Desert Rats’ had secured Point 122, was the Highland Light Infantry of Canada due to advance on Garcelles. The rest of Brigadier Cunningham’s 9th Infantry Brigade and the whole of Foster’s 7th were being held for the exploitation phase and the entire 8th Brigade of Brigadier Blackader was, inexplicably, to be in reserve. The only thing which can be said for this plan is that it was simple.

The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division’s plan was quite the opposite, over complicated and seriously flawed. In the first place the selected Start-Line for the attack, the St Andre to Hubert-Folie road, was not even in Canadian hands; and then, almost as if to ensure that there would be chaos, the three Brigades of the Division were muddled up. The 6th Brigade lost two of its battalions to the other Brigades so that they could secure the Start-Line, but then each of those two Brigades lost one battalion to Brigadier Young’s 6th Brigade in order to provide a reserve. The main attack was to be delivered against Verrieres by the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) and against May-sur-Orne by the Calgary Highlanders. A second phase, due to begin at 0530 hours, was to involve Lieutenant Colonel Cantlie’s Black Watch of Canada and a tank squadron of the 1st Hussars taking Fontenay-le-Marmion, with the Royal Regiment of Canada (Royals) and another Hussar squadron passing through Verrieres to capture Rocquancourt.

Perhaps to add even more flavour to this ‘cocktail’, ‘Looney’ Hinde’s 22nd British Armoured Brigade was to move forward from Ifs in a counter counter-attack role and to be ready to exploit to Point 122 and, just for good measure, the British 27th Armoured Brigade, from a different Corps, was to secure the left flank. If the reader is now thoroughly confused, he will know what it was like for those who attended General Simonds’s ‘O’ Group on 23rd July.

Although the Allied heavy bomber force was now required to support the American breakout attempt in the west, medium bombers were available to help the Canadians in SPRING, as was a powerful force of Canadian and British artillery.

On the evening of 24th July sixty medium bombers took part in a preliminary air attack on the German positions, but due to very effective German Flak only fifteen aircraft succeeded in attacking their targets.

The main night attack by the Canadians which began at 0330 hours was meant to be helped by what was termed ‘artificial moonlight’-light created by reflecting searchlight beams off clouds. According to the commanding officer of the North Nova Scotias, all it achieved when it did come on, was to silhouette his men as they advanced from Bourguebus towards Tilly. Despite heavy artillery support, his three attacking companies had little hope anyway against Dinse’s Battalion of SS Panzer-Grenadiers, supported by Pioneers and Wolff’s Mk IV Panzer Company. During the attack seventy-four medium bombers bombed the woods to the east of Tilly, around la Hogue, for two hours beginning just after 0600 hours, but it did nothing to help the Canadian attack, and even when the rest of the Nova Scotias were thrown in, together with their carriers and SP anti-tank guns, they could not prevail. The unit War Diary noted that A and C companies were pinned down when ‘the enemy opened the door, let them in and trapped them’ and the 9th Infantry Brigade Diary described the Battalion as being ‘decimated’. The squadron of Fort Garry Shermans allocated to support the attack complained that it was unable to help effectively ‘as Panther tanks remained between our tanks and the advancing infantry’. It withdrew at 1715 hours having lost eleven of its sixteen tanks. Eventually permission was given for the surviving Canadians to withdraw back to Bourguebus. About 100 made it under cover of darkness. The Battalion had suffered 139 casualties, including sixty-one killed. According to the Official Canadian History the LAH, ‘had fought with genuinely fanatical determination and skill.’ Considering many of its soldiers were much younger than their Canadian counterparts and had received less than three months training, this was praise indeed.

Manfred Thorn, the nineteen-year-old driver of one of Wolff’s Mk IVs in the 7th SS Panzer Company, described his part in the day’s events:

Our Panzer was well camouflaged, huddled up against the wall of a house. . . . the three [Canadian] tanks had not seen us yet. One shot from our gun would have brought us certain death. . . . I turned the motor on and put it in reverse . . . We wanted to fire at the three tanks, which were still standing in the same spot, from behind. . . . We moved along the road to the east, out of Tilly. . . . turned south again, back toward Tilly. . . . When we were about 20m from the tanks we opened fire. The first one burst into flames and the other two took some hits. The crews bailed out.  

A platoon commander in Wolff’s Panzer Company, SS Second Lieutenant Stiller, gave a wider picture.

The [SS] infantry crouched in their foxholes. The Panzer crews lay under their Panzers. Mortar and artillery shells rained down on us. . . . The sun was still low when Tommys’ tanks approached from the north-west. That was good for us; they had to aim right into the sun. Our orders were, ‘Let them get closer!’. . . . Finally the white flare went up! Fire at will! The tracer trajectories shot out of our ambush positions. Shell after shell flew out of the barrels, and more Panzers raced up to join our line. Five minutes of that and the Tommys [sic] stopped in their tracks. . . . Behind us, however, there was a thundering sound. Heavy Nebelwerfers pulled up, and for 500m in front of us the terrain turned into a hell. The Tommys fled from the field like rabbits. One of the tanks must have taken a direct hit, for it simply disappeared. Others stopped where they were and became smoking witnesses to the destruction. . . . We hunted down some more Canadians who had left their vehicles and hidden in the houses.  

The attack by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was over. It will not surprise the reader to learn that the commander of the 9th Infantry Brigade and two of his commanding officers were sacked.