The Battle of White Mountain

The coming battle was the first major action of the war and proved to be the most decisive. Anhalt’s position was relatively strong. The White Mountain ridge, taking its name from chalk and gravel pits, ran north-east to south-west for about 2km, rising about 60 metres from the surrounding area. It was strongest at the northern (right) end where the incline was steepest. This end of the ridge was covered by a walled, wooded game park containing the Star Palace, a small pavilion where Frederick and his wife had stayed prior to their triumphal entry to Prague a year earlier. The marshy Scharka stream lay about 2km in front of his position, but was deemed too far from the hill to be defended.

Anhalt had 11,000 foot, 5,000 cavalry and 5,000 Hungarian and Transylvanian light cavalry. He wanted to entrench the entire length of the ridge, but his mutinous soldiers were exhausted and said digging was only for peasants. Frederick went on to Prague, persuading the Estates to find 600 talers to buy spades, but it was too late and the soldiers managed to make only five small sconces. Most of the artillery had not caught up, and the ten cannon with the army were distributed along the line. Johann Ernst of Weimar held the Star Palace with his infantry regiment, while the rest of the Confederate army drew up along the ridge in two lines in the Dutch manner, interspersing cavalry squadrons in close support between the infantry battalions. The light cavalry were dispirited, having been surprised earlier that night and most were positioned fairly uselessly as a third line in the rear, while some covered the extreme right. Despite obvious shortcomings, Anhalt remained optimistic, believing the enemy would simply stall in front of his position as at Rakovnic, and Frederick remained in Prague to eat breakfast.

Thick fog obscured the imperial-Bavarian approach on the morning of Sunday 8 November. The advance guard secured the two crossings over the stream, followed by the rest of the army that deployed from 8 a.m. The Liga regiments drew up on the left opposite the northern end of the ridge, while Bucquoy’s Imperialists took station on the right. Together, they had 2,000 more men and two more cannon than their opponents, and they were in better spirits. Both halves of the army deployed in the Spanish fashion, grouping the 17,000 foot into ten large blocks, accompanied by small cavalry squadrons.

The commanders conferred while their men took up their positions and heard mass. Bucquoy wanted to repeat the earlier trick and slip past to Prague, but Maximilian and Tilly were convinced it was time for the decisive blow. The dispute was allegedly resolved by Domenico bursting in and brandishing an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been poked out by Calvinist iconoclasts. If this is true, it was a calculated act, because the Carmelite had found the icon in a ruined house over three weeks before. The Catholic troops were elated when they received the order to attack; they were tired of chasing the Confederates across Bohemia and savoured the prospect of plundering Prague.

The artillery had been firing for some time to little effect. At about fifteen minutes after midday all twelve guns fired simultaneously to signal the advance. The Imperialists had less ground to cover to reach the ridge than the Bavarians who also faced a steeper climb. Anhalt decided on an active defence, sending two cavalry regiments down the slope to drive off the imperial cavalry screening the flanks of the Italian and Walloon infantry spearheading the assault. Thurn’s own infantry regiment then moved down to engage the enemy foot as they laboured up the slope. Seeing their own horsemen retiring, the Thurn regiment fired a general salvo at extreme range and fled. Anhalt’s son tried to retrieve the situation with his own cavalry regiment from the Confederate second line, his men using their pistols to blast their way into one of the imperial tercios. For a brief moment it looked as if the Confederates might yet snatch victory, but more imperial horse came up, and even Bucquoy arrived, despite his earlier wound, to rally the infantry. Anhalt junior was captured and within an hour of the main action starting the Confederate horse were in full retreat, many units pulling out of the line without even engaging the enemy. The Bohemian foot followed soon after, while the Hungarians fled, some dismounting in order to escape through the vineyards covering the way to Prague. Despite claims of their being spooked by Domenico’s sudden appearance through the smoke, the panic stemmed from reports that Bucquoy’s Polish Cossacks had ridden round the south-west end of the ridge and were already at the rear. Schlick’s Moravians on the right lasted longer, largely because of the time it took Tilly to reach them, but they too gave way around 1.30 p.m. A few survivors resisted for another half hour in the Star Palace before surrendering.

Frederick stayed in Prague all day and was tucking into lunch when the first fugitives arrived. Many drowned in the Moldau in their desperation to escape. The imperial-Bavarian army lost 650 killed and wounded, mostly to young Anhalt’s brave attack. The Confederates left 600 dead on the field, with a further 1,000 strewn on the way to Prague, as well as 1,200 wounded. The losses were severe, but most had escaped. Prague was a large, fortified city and it was unlikely the enemy could besiege it with winter approaching. It was here that Tilly’s strategy of relentless pressure paid dividends, transforming a respectable battlefield success into a decisive victory. Already weakened by Tilly’s vigorous campaign, Confederate morale collapsed. Even Maximilian was surprised at the extent of the enemy’s demoralization, expecting defiance when he summoned Prague to surrender. Confederate leadership was utterly pathetic. Tschernembl and Thurn’s son, Franz, tried to organize a defence on the Charles Bridge to stop the Bavarians crossing the river. Frederick hesitated, but Anhalt and the elder Thurn thought the situation hopeless. Queen Elizabeth, heavily pregnant with her fifth child, left early the next morning. Her husband feared angry citizens might prevent him escaping if he took the crown with him, so he left it behind, along with his other insignia and numerous confidential documents, and joined the refugees streaming eastwards out of the city.

Collapse of the Confederation

Imperialists were already entering the western side of the city, catching the tail of the royal baggage train. Many Confederates were still loitering, demanding their back pay, but they dispersed once Maximilian granted them amnesty on 10 November. Those foolish enough to remain were murdered over the next few days. The city was stuffed full of valuables, cattle and other property brought there for safekeeping prior to the battle and now abandoned in the precipitous retreat. Along with empty mansions and houses, it was too tempting for the victorious troops who began seizing what they found in the streets, then breaking into homes, and finally robbing with violence. ‘Those who have nothing, fear for their necks, and all regret not taking up arms and fighting to the last man.’

Under these conditions, further pursuit was impossible. The winter was also exceptionally cold, with even the Bosporus said to have frozen over. Mansfeld still held most of western Bohemia, while Jägerndorf was in Silesia and Bethlen in Hungary. Yet nothing could slow the collapse of Frederick’s regime as moderates distanced themselves from the revolt. The Moravian Estates already paid homage to Ferdinand at the end of December. Frederick fled east over the mountains into Silesia in the middle of November, but was given a frosty welcome by a population angry at his perceived Calvinist extremism. Fearing the Saxons would block his escape to the north, Frederick hurried on down the Oder into Brandenburg in December, leaving the Lusatians and Silesians to surrender to Johann Georg after prolonged negotiations completed in March 1621.

Bethlen had finally renounced his truce with the emperor on 1 September, advancing again with 30,000 horsemen to overrun Upper Hungary and retake Pressburg, where he intended to hold his coronation with the St Stephen’s crown he had captured the year before. Most of the Polish Cossacks arriving during 1620 had been attached to Dampierre’s command and deployed to cover the harvest against Transylvanian raiders. A Liga regiment arrived at the end of September 1620, as well as Croats and the private retainers of Magyar magnates tired of Bethlen’s depredations. The Inner Austrian Estates mobilized 2,500 men, while their Lower Austrian counterparts sent a Protestant regiment that had not joined the Confederate army. Dampierre advanced to disrupt Bethlen’s coronation, and though he was to be killed on 9 October he had managed to burn the Pressburg bridge, denying access to the south side of the Danube. Bethlen sent another 9,000 troops to help Frederick, but these arrived too late for White Mountain and retreated rapidly through Moravia in November.

Though the grand vizier ratified the alliance agreed with Frederick in July, it became clear that the sultan was only using this to pressure Ferdinand to adjust the 1606 truce. News of White Mountain reached Constantinople in January, removing any doubts about the wisdom of avoiding a breach with the emperor. Meanwhile, the Ottoman pasha of Buda seized the Hungarian border town of Waitzen long claimed by his master. This alarmed the Magyar nobility, exposing the consequences of their internecine struggle and Bethlen’s inability to protect them from the Ottomans. The leading families either declared for Ferdinand or at least joined the French ambassador in pressing Bethlen to reopen talks at Hainburg in January 1621.


Minatoga: A Missed Opportunity

One of the still-unexplained puzzlers of the Battle for Okinawa is why Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner allowed two veteran Marine divisions to stand idle in the north—the First for a month, the Sixth for nearly two weeks—instead of using them to relieve one or two Army infantry divisions badly battered in his three-division assault on the Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru line. The answer, unpleasant though this speculation may be, seems to be that Buckner wanted the Army infantry to have the honor of crushing the Japanese Thirty-second Army.

There is nothing especially biased or prejudiced in such an attitude, and it is actually much more common among commanders of rival services than is generally understood. A similar decision by a Marine general occurred when Major General William Rupertus, commanding the First Marine Division at Peleliu, hesitated much too long before relieving his crippled First Regiment with a regiment from the Eighty-first Infantry Division. He did it only after ordered to do so by Major General Roy Geiger, who was commander of the Third Marine Amphibious Corps. But Buckner’s reluctance was somewhat more surprising in that the First Marine Division was probably the most experienced fighting formation in the American Armed Forces; 70 percent of the Sixth—though new to battle as a unit—was composed of veterans from other divisions in other campaigns.

It was not until April 28 that Buckner decided to put fresh troops into his renewed down-island offensive. The Seventh would remain in place on the left, and the Ninety-sixth would be relieved by the Seventy-seventh. The First Marine Division would relieve the Twenty-seventh Infantry Division on the Seventy-seventh’s right with the Sixth Marine Division holding the western flank. Thus the line, Seventh, Seventy-seventh, First, Sixth: Twenty-fourth Corps, Third Corps.

Almost simultaneously with this realignment there arose a dispute over a proposal made by Major General Andrew Bruce of the Seventy-seventh. Just before Cho’s counter-attack, Bruce had suggested that his division envelop Ushijima’s rear by storming the Minatoga Beaches below him. On Leyte, Bruce’s Seventy-seventh had made a strikingly successful landing behind the Japanese line at Ormoc—where “the 77th rolled a pair of sevens”—and he was confident he could do the same on Okinawa. Once ashore, his division could either move inland to take Iwa, a road and communications center on the island’s southern tip, or push north to join the Seventh near Yonabaru.

Buckner gave no serious consideration to the suggestion after his supply officer, Brigadier General David Blakelock, reported that though he could supply food for the operation, Tenth Army had not enough ammunition to spare for it. On the last count, Blakelock’s analysis was correct; for even Tenth Army’s splendid service of supply had not yet been able to compensate for the loss of those two ammunition ships on April 6. Buckner was also aware that Tenth Army planners had rejected the Minatoga Beaches before L-day: the reefs were too dangerous, the beaches inadequate, and the area exposed to strong enemy counter-attack. Beach outlets also were commanded by a plateau, and Bruce’s landing would be too far south to receive support from Hodge’s corps in the north and was also out of range of his artillery.

These were indeed daunting considerations, although hardly more formidable than the drying reef and seawall at Tarawa or even the reefs and seawall at Hagushi. Other division chiefs besides Bruce supported his proposal, although not necessarily to be executed by his division. Major General Pedro del Valle of the First Marine Division believed a Minatoga landing was advisable, although it should be made by the more experienced Second Marine Division, still in Third Corps reserve. Major General Lemuel Shepherd of the Sixth said later he had suggested use of the Second several times to Buckner, pointing out that the logistics argument did not apply to this formation because it had enough beans and bullets of its own to sustain a thirty-day assault. A landing by the Second, he wrote later, “would have seriously threatened Ushijima’s rear and required him to withdraw troops from the Shuri battle or employ his limited reserve to contain the landing.”

Army historians of Okinawa in their book on the campaign were agreed that Minatoga would have produced logistical difficulties and might have failed, but only if it were attempted before the end of April. If made after May 5—the date that Cho’s abortive counter-strike was shattered—it could not have been opposed by more than two or three thousand men. Colonel John Guerard, Tenth Army operations officer, had learned by late April of Ushijima’s order for the Japanese Twenty-fourth Division and Forty-fourth Brigade to move north into Shuri, where they joined Cho’s assault. This left Minatoga lightly defended, and Guerard, who had originally opposed a landing there, now strongly recommended it. So did General Hodge, who went to Tenth Army headquarters to urge Buckner to envelop the enemy there. But the Tenth Army commander did not agree, again basing his rejection on the logistics argument even though he now knew that the Second Marine Division could operate for a month on its own supplies.

Buckner’s decision became highly controversial in the stateside press even before the Okinawa campaign had ended. Such influential newspapers as the Washington Star and the New York Herald-Tribune, probably at the urging of Admiral King, flatly stated that the secondary landing should have been made. Some historians in defense of Buckner have suggested that if the Tenth Army commander had even suspected that the Okinawa fighting would continue through May, and then for almost another agonizing month in June, he might have preferred to risk a quick end to it by landing in Ushijima’s rear. This is a specious argument, the purest conjecture apparently based upon nothing more substantial than a desire to exonerate the Tenth Army commander for having failed to take what can only be described as a gamble with little risk. All the odds after May 5 were in Buckner’s favor: an inferior foe defending against his own superiority in the number and quality of his troops, as well as in supply and in control of the air above and sea surrounding Okinawa.

Caught between four American divisions to his front, with another in reserve and a garrison division also available behind them; and in his rear a seventh veteran division; pounded from land, sea, and sky; hopelessly isolated and cut off from reinforcement or supplies, with the kikusui attacks of no help on land, Ushijima’s Thirty-second Army could either be starved into submission or—if surrender was still so unthinkable to Samurai such as Ushijima, Cho, and Yahara—compelled to make a final “glorious” sally that would be broken in blood ending in mass suicide.

Stoke – Last Battle of the Wars of the Roses

In recounting how Lady Margaret had wept at her son’s coronation, Fisher makes it clear that she did so from foreboding rather than joy. Many people in the north and in Wales, who had done very well under Richard, disliked the new regime. So did the English-speaking Irish of the Pale, traditionally loyal to the House of York. In the Low Countries the late King’s sister, Margaret of York – ‘mine old lady of Burgundy’ – was ready to welcome any of his former supporters who were in need of a refuge or who required a base from which to launch an invasion of England.

During April 1486 Sir Humphrey Stafford tried to raise his native Worcestershire against Henry VII while Lord Lovell, once King Richard’s Lord Chamberlain (‘Lovell our Dog’), attempted a rebellion in the North Riding. However, their candidate for the throne, the Earl of Warwick – Clarence’s son – was a prisoner in the hands of Margaret Beaufort, and they failed to win any significant support. Sir Humphrey Stafford was dragged out of sanctuary and beheaded, though Lovell got away.

On 19 May Lady Oxford wrote to her husband’s old ally, John Paston, in his capacity as Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk.

I am credibly informed that Francis, late Lord Lovell is now of late resorted to the Isle of Ely to the intent, by all likelihood, to get him shipping and passage in your coasts, or else to resort again to sanctuary if he may. I therefore heartily desire . . . that ye in all goodly haste endeavour yourself that such watch or other means be used and had in the ports and creeks . . . to the taking of the same late Lord Lovell. And what pleasure ye may do to the King’s Grace in this matter I am sure is not to you unknown.

The Countess had good reason to dislike Yorkists, but despite all her precautions Lovell succeeded in escaping to Burgundy.

Early in the spring of 1487 a priest brought an Oxford organ-builder’s son called Lambert Simnel to Dublin, pretending that the boy was the Earl of Warwick. Lambert was immediately hailed as king by the Irish Chancellor, Sir Thomas FitzGerald of Lackagh, a brother of the Earl of Kildare who was the most powerful man in Ireland. The FitzGeralds quickly contacted the Yorkist dissidents who had taken refuge in Flanders. Their leaders were Lord Lovell and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard III had recognized as his heir presumptive. The Yorkists and the FitzGeralds agreed that they should invade England together as soon as possible. They were warmly encouraged by Margaret of York who, according to Vergil, ‘pursued Henry [VII] with insatiable hatred and with fiery wrath never desisted from every scheme which might harm him’. She gave them money and troops.

On Whit Sunday 1487 (24 May) Lambert, after having been recognized formally as its sovereign by the Irish Parliament, was crowned and anointed as ‘King Edward VI’ by the Archbishop of Dublin in Christchurch Cathedral. No proper crown was available so a diadem was borrowed from a statue of the Virgin. Another important Irish prelate, the Dominican Bishop of Meath, preached the coronation sermon.

Always on the alert, despite conflicting information from his many spies, Henry VII had already begun to suspect that a Yorkist invasion was imminent. His first concern was for the safety of the Queen and his mother. ‘We pray you that, giving your attendance upon our said dearest wife and lady mother, ye come with them to us’, he wrote urgently to the Queen’s chamberlain, the Earl of Ormonde.7 On 13 May the King summoned Lord Oxford to Kenilworth Castle, to discuss how they should prepare for the looming campaign.

By that time Lord Lovell and the Earl of Lincoln had landed at Dublin with a band of Yorkist diehards. They were accompanied by 2,000 Swiss and German mercenaries under the renowned Colonel Martin Schwarz (once an Augsburg cobbler), who had been hired by ‘mine old lady of Burgundy’. Reinforced by the FitzGeralds, they sailed across to Lancashire, landing on the Furness peninsula, not far from Lancaster, on 4 June.

The Yorkist strategy seems to have been to march as far south as possible after crossing the Pennines before giving battle. Although the citizens of York failed to respond to a letter sent to them from Masham by ‘Edward VI’, and beat off an attempt to occupy their city by the two Lord Scropes, the Earl of Lincoln was surprisingly confident. Probably he was counting not only on the excellent quality of his troops but on the intervention of secret allies as at Bosworth once the two armies were engaged. Nothing else can explain his extraordinary optimism. Vergil was convinced that Lincoln (who may have planted Lambert Simnel on the Irish) was planning to seize the throne for himself as soon as Henry VII had been defeated. But Lambert was far too unconvincing a pretender to win much support, and no more than a score of knights and squires joined the Yorkists. Moreover, as a commander Lincoln was scarcely in the same league as the Earl of Oxford.

Christopher Urswick brought King Henry the news that the Yorkist expedition had landed in Lancashire. Although no overall figures are available, it is clear that the King had sufficient support from his magnates to be able to assemble an impressively large army. Vergil names more than sixty gentlemen of substance who served in it, and afterwards an unprecedented number of knights were created. It included 6,000 men provided by the Stanleys alone, the King’s stepfather sending every retainer and well-wisher he could muster under his son, Lord Strange. Among the other peers who rallied to the King was William Hastings’ son Edward, who had been restored to his father’s barony and estates. Archbishop Morton, accompanied by his nephew, the Bishop of Worcester, brought a substantial force of retainers and of tenants from his wide estates. So did the Courtenay Bishop of Winchester.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Worcester and Winchester were the first prelates to bring troops to a battle during the Wars of the Roses. However, it will be remembered that Dr Morton was no stranger to battlefields and might even be described as a veteran campaigner. He had been present at the second St Albans and Towton, had been besieged in the grim Northumbrian sieges of the 1460s, had been taken prisoner at Tewkesbury, and had been amid the collapse of the Duke of Buckingham’s disastrous rebellion four years before. Although nearly seventy by now, John Morton was leaving nothing to chance – he did not underestimate the danger from the Yorkists. He rode with his troops as far as Loughborough in Leicestershire before handing over command to his nephew, Robert. They were going to fight in the front ranks, in Lord Oxford’s contingent.

As Professor Ross stresses, the battle about to take place could have gone either way. Treachery might have lost it for Henry VII just as treachery had lost Bosworth for Richard III. Obviously the King suspected some sort of plot. There can be no other explanation for his ordering Oxford to place the Marquess of Dorset under arrest before he could join the royal army.

Despite being outnumbered, Lord Lincoln, the enemy commander, was only too eager to give battle. At 9 a.m. on 16 June the Yorkists, about 9,000 strong, engaged the royal army which was in three columns drawn up in echelon (one behind the other) outside the village of Stoke, a few miles from Newark. Schwarz’s landsknechts were obviously professionals to their fingertips, while Lincoln’s followers and the Irish gentlemen were well armed. However, the barefooted, saffron-shirted Irish kern who formed the bulk of their force were a different matter, being without any form of armour and equipped merely with axes, long knives and javelins.

The Earl of Oxford commanded the King’s vanguard or front column, which alone engaged the enemy. Clearly Lincoln’s men fought with great courage, but the unarmoured Irish suffered appalling casualties, one report saying that 4,000 of them were killed. Eventually Oxford won the day with a final determined charge. Schwarz’s men fought to the death by the side of their colonel. Among the many other casualties were Lincoln and Sir Thomas FitzGerald. Lord Lovell – King Richard’s old friend – was last seen swimming his horse across the River Trent.

The Yorkist diehards would never again dare to challenge the Tudors in armed confrontation, and they went underground. Yet their cause was far from dead. Nor had Henry’s victory been a foregone conclusion. Northern noblemen had joined the rebellion, such as the two Lord Scropes, while the Bishop of St Asaph, Dr Richard Redmayne, was suspected of involvement. Significantly, when a mistaken rumour that Henry had been defeated reached London, riots broke out in favour of the Earl of Warwick. A City chronicler tells of ‘false Englishmen . . . which untrue persons said that the king was lost and the field was lost’. Yorkists emerged from their sanctuaries to attack royal officials, shouting that Warwick was King. If the Earl had been old enough and of the same calibre as his uncles, he could have escaped from the Tower of London, and there might easily have been another Yorkist restoration.




Operation ELSENBORN Part I

3–12 November 1944

During the month of October, the Allied Army was at a standstill along the German border. One place where the Americans were taking a great number of casualties was the wooded and hilly area known as the Hurtgen Forest. There the 9th Infantry Division was slowly moving forward against strong German defenses. To get his army moving again—across the Roer River into Germany—General Bradley proposed Operation QUEEN to clear the plain between the Roer and Wurm Rivers. This called for the largest amount of air support for any ground operation in WWII. Part of his plan to press forward into Germany involved a fresh division suddenly making an appearance in the Hurtgen Forest for a surprise attack.

In late October, the V Corps discussed the idea of the 23rd notionally keeping a division in a rest camp, while the actual division was secretly moved into the front lines. This would be known as Operation ELSENBORN, named after Camp Elsenborn, a military barracks area one and a half miles southwest of the town of Elsenborn, used as a rest center for units pulled off the front line.

The V Corps was convinced there were enemy agents operating in the Elsenborn area keeping an eye on troop movements. Just across the front lines to the east were three German divisions and their corps headquarters. This caused the Americans to feel certain that there would be some German radio interception units in the immediate area.

The 28th Infantry Division, resting up in Camp Elsenborn, was scheduled to replace the 9th Infantry Division in the Hurtgen Forest on 1 November. That left no time for the 28th Division to be used in setting up a deception operation. Plans were then made to set the stage for ELSENBORN with the arrival of the battered 9th Infantry Division in the rest camp, and to make the main focus of the operation the simulation of the next unit to move into the camp. This would be the 4th Infantry Division, which was occupying the front lines just to the west of Elsenborn.

The 4th was to be replaced in the front lines by the 99th Infantry Division. While the 4th was being simulated in the rest camp, it would secretly be shifted roughly thirty miles north, where it would hopefully make a surprise appearance in the Hurtgen Forest. The deception operation was to last no longer than four days, by which time the Germans would have discovered the real location of the 4th.

The 23rd was involved in two other missions during this same time (CASANOVA and DALLAS), so only a third of the deception unit was available to take part in ELSENBORN. Due to the multiple operations, no decoys or sonic troops would participate in ELSENBORN, only radio deception and special effects. Task Force ELSENBORN, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Edgar W. Schroeder, consisted of thirty-six officers, four hundred and thirty-one enlisted men, and one hundred and eight vehicles. Due to the heavy demand for radio operators in this mission, one hundred and ninety-three of the men were from the 23rd Signal Company. On 3 November 1944, Task Force ELSENBORN headed to the camp to prepare for the operation.

One of the problems for ELSENBORN was that the 23rd had previously only simulated units in the field. They had no information on how a division appeared in a barracks area. To prepare for the operation they sent out teams to reconnoiter the 9th Division once it had been pulled out of the line. Careful notes were taken on such items as signage, distribution of military policemen, local patrols, and water distribution points. Other teams were sent to the 4th Infantry Division to make sure the poop sheets for that unit were up to date.

One of the other problems with this operation was that while in a rest camp a unit’s radios were normally silent. This meant that either the 23rd would have to forgo one of its greatest tricks, or else come up with a reason for radios to transmit while in camp. Thus the signalmen of the 9th Division had expected a chance to rest and clean up, but instead were presented with an order mandating a daily test of all CW radio sets and operators.

Going out over the name of William C. Westmoreland, chief of staff of the 9th Infantry Division (and later Commencing at 1400 on——October 1944 the following messages (enciphered by means of the M-209 Converter) will be transmitted on your –——net. The net control station will divide the traffic as equally as possible among the subordinate stations.

  1. commander of U.S. forces in Viet Nam), was the order for a radio operation test:
  2. All stations will turn in their logs and files covering these transmissions to the Division Signal Officer.

What followed was a list of sixteen messages ranging from (message #1) “Patrols third Bn have taken seven enemy prisoners,” to (message # 16) “Activity slight. Baker and Charlie reported nothing and Able reported only slight patrol action. Dog Company had some trouble in their sector but OK now.”

What this did was set the stage for the Germans to see that American divisions in a rest area might be called upon to test their equipment and operators’ competency with transmissions and cipher machines. When the 9th moved out, the Germans would not suspect anything when 4th Division radios began sending the same type of test messages. It was even possible that a German agent might hear some grumbling from signalmen who had to give up some of their free time to take part in some ridiculous radio test.

With the stage set for radio transmissions from a rest camp, the signal experts of the 23rd had to begin preparations for the next phase. They had to assume the guise of the 4th Infantry Division radio net so that the Germans would have no question about the authenticity of the notional radio network operating in Camp Elsenborn. The radio experts of the 23rd were dispatched to the 4th Division at Bullange to observe the idiosyncrasies of their transmissions.

On 27 October 1944, ten radio teams from the 23rd arrived at the 4th Infantry Division. Message center personnel of the 23rd were instructed by their counterparts in the 4th Division on how they actually wrote up messages to be sent. The 23rd radiomen took notes on the style of the 4th Division radio operators. The division had a distinctive way of using the SLIDEX code, and the 4th Reconnaissance Troop message center had their own TPC (Troop Prearranged Code). Records indicate that the 4th Division gave their full cooperation and understood that a successful deception operation could save the lives of their men.

One of the findings was that each message center of the division had its own style of partially encoding their messages. The division headquarters habitually left a few words in clear (not encoded) while the staff of the 8th Infantry Regiment coded every word. The signalmen also discovered that the 8th Infantry Regiment operators dragged out an “R” to indicate a message received. Division artillery always repeated the all-clear text words in their SLIDEX messages, and the transmissions of the 4th Recon Troop were slow and methodical in style. To ensure that this style remained consistent throughout the operation, the actual 4th Division message center personnel coded the proficiency test messages in advance. Once they were familiar with the 4th Division operations, the 23rd signalmen slowly took over operation of the division’s radios and began to handle the actual transmissions of the 4th Division while still in the front lines.

On 5 November, the 4th Division’s radio net was operated by 23rd signalmen only. At 0100 on 6 November, the division was ordered to observe radio silence, as it normally would during a move. The 23rd signalmen moved to Camp Elsenborn and set up their radios to prepare for the notional radio proficiency test. The genuine 4th Division radio operators were instructed to only listen in to their assigned frequencies in case of an emergency call. Under no circumstances were they to transmit unless they received a message classified as urgent.

The radio deception teams at Camp Elsenborn briefed the rest of their comrades on what they had learned about the 4th Division’s style of operation from 6 to 8 November. From 8 until 11 November, the notional 4th Division radio net in Camp Elsenborn transmitted the prepared messages of the radio test. All radios were physically dispersed throughout the camp area in a pattern similar to that used previously by the 9th Division. Transmissions were made using the 4th Division’s SOI (Signal Operation Instructions), authenticators, and frequencies.

To simulate the division, twenty-two radio sets and over one hundred operators were used. Special care was taken to make sure that each operator transmitted only on a specific radio. This was to prevent the Germans from identifying an individual by his “fist” and discovering him transmitting from two different units. Each radio transmission was monitored both by an officer and the man who was to send on that radio the next day.

Major Yocum, the 23rd signal officer, was so pleased that he wrote, “It is recommended that this operation be used as a guide in the future, both for BLARNEY and for the units with which we operate. The time allowed for planning and coordinating, the cooperation given by all headquarters involved, were the best encountered so far.”

The one element of the 4th Division not simulated on the radio net was the 12th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. By the time the preparations were under way, the 28th Infantry Division had taken such a beating in the Hurtgen Forest that the 12th was sent across the corps border to help out. This infantry regiment, plus attached artillery, engineer, and medical troops, was desperately needed to bolster the line in the Hurtgen. Sending this part of the 4th Division ahead to the battle may have helped the situation temporarily, but in the long run it may have compromised the entire deception operation.

The special effects aspect of the mission called for close cooperation with the 4th Division. 4th Division patches were sewn on 85 percent of the deception troops’ uniforms, and vehicles were marked with correct 4th Division bumper markings. Starting on 6 November, the men put on raincoats to conceal the patches and covered over the bumper markings as they drove singly to the 4th Division area. Everyone was given a briefing on the history and commanding officers of the 4th Infantry Division so the men could play their parts.

Operation ELSENBORN Part II

Over the next few days, the deception troops would work closely with the genuine 4th Division in a series of moves to make any enemy agent think the 4th was being pulled back to Camp Elsenborn. The 4th Division made sure that during the upcoming move every bumper marking, helmet insignia, and shoulder patch was hidden. To assist in the shift north, the 4th Division was to use the code name RED WING. Combat elements were to move only at night, while the support units were to move during the day in a strictly controlled fashion. Some groups would travel in a standard column while others would move individually with roughly two-minute intervals between them.

Men assigned as road guides, to be left at key junctions along the route to direct traffic, were ordered to put a four-inch cross of one-inch white tape on their helmets for increased visibility. At night, traffic was directed by using a flashlight with half of the lens covered by a blue filter and half by a red filter.

Signs directing the way were to bear no relation to what was normally used by the 4th Division. A new system of signage was created, based on a cross with a symbol in one of the four quadrants. A mark in the upper right quadrant indicated the route for the 8th Regiment, the lower left quadrant for the 22nd Regiment, and all other troops used a specific letter in the upper left quadrant. (M was for the division command post, J for the 70th Tank Battalion, B for the 4th Medical Battalion, and so on.)

While preparing for the mission, the 23rd troops discovered that trying to hide their bumper markings with mud was not practical. This tended to smear the fresh paint. The solution was to use canvas bumper covers to hide the markings. The men, however, then discovered that wet roads caused the tape used to hold the covers in place to loosen and fall off. Finally the men learned to use wire or string to tie the covers in place until the time came to remove them.

On 6 November, a detachment of deception troops in fifteen vehicles infiltrated into the 4th Division Command Post area. There they assumed the guise of the 4th Division headquarters. While a great show was made of the newly formed 4th Division convoy heading to Elsenborn, the genuine vehicles of the divisional headquarters made their way via a circuitous route north to an assembly area behind the Hurtgen Forest.

The following day, another group of fifteen vehicles quietly entered the 8th Infantry Regiment area and took on the appearance of a convoy from that unit. They headed back to Camp Elsenborn while the genuine 8th, with their identity concealed, headed north. On 8 November, twenty-three vehicles assumed the guise of a convoy containing troops from the 22nd Regiment, 44th Field Artillery Battalion, plus the 4th Engineers, and made the journey to their assigned area in Camp Elsenborn. They shared the road with another convoy of eight vehicles playing the role of the 4th Quartermaster Company. The move was marred only by a road accident that demolished one of the message center vehicles. No one was hurt, but an appropriate show was made to make sure anyone watching could see that the wrecked vehicle was from the 4th Division.

One of the 4th Division men making the secretive journey north was Lieutenant George Wilson from the 22nd Infantry Regiment. As he recalled, “Long after darkness on about November 10, 1944, the 4th Division leapfrogged some thirty miles further north along the German–Belgian border. This was to be a highly secret maneuver, so elaborate that pains were taken to erase all signs of our identity. Divisional and regimental numbers were blocked out on all vehicles, and the green, four-leafed ivy shoulder patches, of which we were so proud, were removed from our uniforms… . Our blacked-out trucks took long confusing detours to the rear to mislead enemy agents.”

Once the notional convoys arrived at Camp Elsenborn, they were directed to the area of the camp where they were to set up a display of the unit at rest. On the night of 9 November it began snowing, which added an extra element of difficulty to the operation. Just driving vehicles around the area became increasingly difficult as the military tires were designed for off-road use and provided little traction on a slippery road. Chains had to be put on to increase traction, and the men hoped that the noise made by the chains added a new element of reality to their show.

Once the notional convoys had arrived in the camp they were directed to set up operations in their assigned buildings. Signs and sentries were posted in a manner similar to what the 9th Division had used during their stay there. Roving patrols of MPs moved about the camp and surrounding area. Signs bearing the name CACTUS (the code name of the 4th Division) were prominently displayed around the same building where the 9th had based its headquarters.

Military police posts were stationed in neighboring towns and manned night and day. Two jeeps marked as 4th Division MP vehicles were used to bring food to the posts and patrol the area. Water points continued to operate in the manner used by the 9th Division, but with 4th Division–marked personnel. Anyone observing their actions would see water being drawn for a full division, less the one combat team.

Vehicles were sent out in a pattern based on that previously observed. On the recommendation of the 4th Division, these movements were made by trucks marked according to individual regiments and battalions, since the quartermaster trucks of the genuine 4th Division were badly in need of maintenance. Messenger vehicles, wire patrols, and mail trucks made their rounds so as to conform to the normal practices of the 4th Division. Other trucks made runs to the garbage disposal point, shower point, and ration depot.

This did not always entail a large number of vehicles. On 10 November, the special effects section noted that the following vehicles were sent outside the camp: at 1000 one 2½-ton truck to the water point, 1000 one jeep sent to Malmedy, 1100 one truck sent to the ration depot, 1350 two trucks sent to nearby towns, and at 1500 one truck sent to the garbage disposal point. From 1300 to 1600 vehicles drove about the camp area to lay new tracks in the snow. This was done in the late afternoon so they would be ready for any German aircraft making a twilight reconnaissance run.

The snow posed an additional problem because an enemy agent could see from the tracks that only a few vehicles had actually passed by. Trucks were sent out specifically to increase the number of tracks in the snow. This would not only deceive an agent watching the roads, but also any German observation aircraft looking for activity in the area. A regimental headquarters was set up in the town of Elsenborn, properly marked as a 4th Division unit.

Most of the local population had been evacuated from the area before the operation, and the snow and cold weather kept the remaining few indoors most of the time. However, a number of American soldiers looking to visit friends in the 4th Division turned up at the notional divisional HQ, and a handful of men from the genuine 4th trying to find their unit ended up at the camp, totally confused by the familiar signs but the unfamiliar faces.

The display of a division at rest was slowly built up over three days as the new notional convoys arrived. Left out of the display were all the elements that had gone with the 12th Regiment to the Hurtgen. It would not do to try and simulate a unit that was already fighting in the front lines.

There was some confusion on 10 November when an advance party of the 9th Infantry Division arrived at the camp to prepare for their division’s move back. The camp could not house two divisions at once, so the return of the 9th would indicate that it had all been a deception. Calm heads prevailed, and it was eventually decided that the 23rd would shift their activities and signs to another area of the camp while the 9th prepared to move in.

Finally, at 1800 on 11 November, the word was received that the operation would end the following day and the 9th Division would once again take over the camp. All visual aspects of the 4th Division were slowly dismantled that night. Starting at 1000 the following morning, the now unmarked vehicles of the 23rd began infiltrating out of the camp, at three-minute intervals, heading back to Luxembourg City.

The radio aspect of the deception had gone off without any problems. It had been carefully planned out, so everyone knew exactly what he was supposed to do. To keep the radio aspects of the deception from standing out, the next unit to arrive at the camp, the 99th Infantry Division, was also requested to transmit radio proficiency test messages. This would also allow the Americans to use the same ruse of a radio test in a rest camp for any future operations without drawing attention to it.

Overall, the staff at the V Corps and 12th Army Group were happy with the operation. It was claimed in the 23rd’s records that a German intelligence document was captured shortly afterward indicating that the 4th was still in Camp Elsenborn. George Wilson, of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, however, recalled that the 4th Division had been welcomed to the Hurtgen Forest by Axis Sally, the German radio propaganda broadcaster, when they entered the area. This could indicate the operation was a failure, but also could have been only hearsay information obtained from other troops, or, more likely, a reference to the 12th Infantry Regiment that had previously been fighting in the forest. Thus a well-performed deception might have been ruined by the necessity to send part of the division on ahead. There is little use in trying to hide the movement of a unit if part of it has already been sent on ahead.

One of the lessons learned was that the 23rd could pull off appearing as a division in an enclosed rest area, but the officers realized that they could not have pulled off the same deception if the division had been bivouacked in a less controlled or more open area, due to the lack of men and vehicles. Nevertheless, everyone was very happy with the cooperation they had gotten at every level. The 4th Division’s quartermasters had happily handed over a supply of divisional patches when asked, and the 23rd’s signalmen had no trouble obtaining any information they requested.

This time, the problem of men looking for their friends had been anticipated. Anyone who came to the notional 4th Division area looking for someone was told that, while most of the division was in the camp, that specific unit was located elsewhere. This worked, with the exception of one time when a soldier came looking for his brother in the 4th MP Platoon. Since he was asking men dressed as 4th Division MPs, they could not claim the unit was elsewhere. At first they replied, “Never heard of him.” “Why, he’s your cook, you must know him,” argued the brother. The quick thinking MP replied, “Oh, you must mean ‘stinky.’ I didn’t recognize the name. Sure I know him. He just moved out with a bunch that went north.” On another occasion, a 23rd man replied that the reason he did not know many others in his unit was that he had been wounded in the infantry and had just arrived as a replacement.

Leuthen, 1757: Victory for Quality


…furthermore called his generals and senior field grade officers to his tent where he delivered a rousing speech, calling on them to do their duty and uphold their honour, explaining his basic plan to attack the Austrians at Breslau.






The summer and autumn of 1757 were not kind to Frederick. He had been forced to abandon his invasion of Bohemia after lifting his siege of Prague and had suffered a sharp defeat at Köln, before retiring to Saxony. Moreover, he found himself with more enemies when France, Sweden and Russia all declared war against him, and without his key ally, as Britain withdrew from the war in order to preserve her territorial interests in Hanover. Frederick was, however, able to stabilize the situation in Saxony with a decisive victory over a large force of French and Imperial troops at Rossbach on 4 November. The victory had tremendous implications internationally, bringing Britain back into the war and with her the cash subsidies to support Prussia, and the help of her troops in northern Germany.

But Frederick still had problems on his eastern flank. His forces in Silesia, the casus belli back in 1740, under the command of the duke of Bevern, were on the run. They had been defeated by an Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine and the veteran commander Field Marshal Leopold Daun outside of Breslau on 22 November and were driven back across the River Oder. Shortly thereafter Bevern himself was captured. Frederick had already begun moving to re-inforce his army in Silesia with 18 battalions of infantry and 23 squadrons of cavalry. He sent Hans von Ziethen, the commander of Prussia’s hussar regiments, to keep Bevern’s force together until he arrived. On 2 December, Frederick joined Ziethen and his troops. His original plan was to get Bevern’s forces ready for combat and attack the Austrians at Breslau, but the overall strategic situation forced Frederick to move almost immediately.

The stage was set for the Battle of Leuthen, which was fought just three days later. In this battle Frederick demonstrated the effectiveness of the Prussian army when led by a commander who understood its capabilities. In the course of this battle Frederick used the great manoeuvrability of his infantry to execute his oblique order of attack and to concentrate his outnumbered troops against one wing of the enemy. It also demonstrated the firepower that the well-disciplined Prussian infantry could deliver in the attack. Frederick’s first task was to restore confidence to the officers and men of Bevern’s command. The king strolled through the Prussian camp, talking to the troops, offering encouragement, and giving promises of rewards for merit in the action that was ahead of them. He likewise told the officers that they could redeem themselves in the battle they were about to fight. Frederick also encouraged interaction between the forces that had been defeated in Silesia and those returning from Saxony, flushed with the victory of Rossbach the previous month. Frederick hoped that the veterans of Rossbach would help raise the morale of the rest. He also took particular care to look after the comforts of his men, distributing additional rations and spirits to the troops to fortify their strength and courage. He furthermore called his generals and senior field grade officers to his tent where he delivered a rousing speech, calling on them to do their duty and uphold their honour, explaining his basic plan to attack the Austrians at Breslau. But he also promised punishments for failure, noting that cavalry regiments that failed to charge would be dismounted and downgraded to garrison service, and infantry regiments that did not press the attack would be disgraced, losing their colours, swords and having the facings cut from their uniforms.

Frederick allowed his troops to rest on 3 December but the next day advanced on Breslau. While on the march Frederick learnt that the Austrians had left the city and had deployed their army around the village of Leuthen. Frederick had looked for a decisive battle to restore the situation in Silesia and was grateful to Charles and Daun for this move. The Austrians certainly had reason to be confident since they outnumbered the Prussians by nearly two to one, with great advantages in both infantry and artillery. The Austrians had some 66,000 men and more than 200 artillery pieces, compared to the Prussian’s 39,000 men and 170 guns. Moreover, about two-thirds of the Prussians had been part of Bevern’s force, which they had already defeated. Frederick seems mistakenly to have believed the Austrians were comparable in strength to his own forces.

The Austrians were encamped along a front about five kilometres (four and a half miles) long between the small hamlets of Nippern and Sagschiitz, with the village of Leuthen behind their lines. Charles and Daun seemed ready to give Frederick an open battle, relying on their numbers to give them the victory. The Prussians made their advance to the battlefield beginning about 4 AM, and were deployed in two large infantry columns each flanked by a column of cavalry. There was also a sizeable advance guard of light infantry, including some rifle-armed Jager, and hussars led by the king himself.

Battle is Joined

The action began with the Prussian advanced guard easily brushing aside a small force of Saxon dragoons and Austrian light horse, taking 200 captive. Frederick ordered these men to be paraded past the army as it advanced, to raise the morale of his troops. As Frederick viewed the long white lines of Austrian troops deployed in front of Leuthen the great size of the enemy’s army became clear to him and it was plain that they had the numerical edge. But, using the coup d’oeil for which he was famous, he noted two key features of the battlefield’s topography. The first was that the Austrian left had not taken advantage of some marshy ground to anchor their left flank, which was consequently left exposed, although they had hastily constructed some barricades and redoubts for their batteries there. Moreover, there was a small ridgeline that ran in front of the Austrian left, which could be used to conceal his movements in front of the Austrian left flank.

Frederick quickly determined to take advantage of the vulnerable Austrian flank and to use the low ridges to mask his manoeuvre. To keep the enemy occupied, the Prussian cavalry of the left wing supported by some of the Prussian foot would feign an attack to keep the Austrian centre and right wing distracted. The idea of splitting an inferior force and marching a large part of it across the length of the enemy’s line, all the while presenting the flank of advancing columns to musket and artillery fire, might have seemed suicidal, but because of the nature of the terrain and the speed and manoeuvrability of the Prussian infantry Frederick was willing to take the risk. By 11 AM Frederick had made his deployments, with his left-flank cavalry, supported by a small force of infantry, slowly advancing against the right flank of the Austrian line. The Austrian commander there immediately called for assistance, assuming that his flank was the object of Frederick’s main assault. Charles and Daun responded by shifting their reserves to support the right, and galloped over to the right wing to oversee the engagement in person. In the meantime, the bulk of the Prussian infantry and their right-wing cavalry had begun their movement across the front of the Austrian line. The infantry, formed in two columns, moved with amazing speed due to their disciplined cadenced marching. In less than two hours they had started to form a line of battle at right-angles to the Austrian left flank, with the right-hand units extended slightly behind the Austrian line. The assault troops consisted of three excellent line infantry battalions, supported by a column of four additional battalions, three of grenadiers and one more from a crack line regiment. There were also 20 heavy twelve-pounder guns in support. The majority of the remaining Prussian infantry were deploying en echelon behind the assault force and spreading out to its left. Frederick retained 53 squadrons and six battalions in reserve. What made this manoeuvre possible was the low ridgeline that obscured the Prussians’ movements. The position was strengthened by the fact that the Austrian commanders had moved over to their left flank, and so were even less likely to discern Frederick’s intent. Indeed, although they noticed the Prussians moving behind the hill, they could not determine numbers or directions and assumed them to be in retreat. By 1 PM Frederick’s forces were in position and ready to begin the assault.

Where the Prussian attack hit the Austrian left the troops were composed mostly of soldiers of varied quality from those minor German states whose contingents were combined to form the Reichsarmee. They were under the command of General Franz Nadasdy, a bold Hungarian hussar general. The Prussians advanced on the troops of the Reichsarmee and engaged them in a fierce firefight, routing the Württembergers and pushing them back into the Bavarians, who joined in the rout. The firepower delivered by the assault troops must have been crushing – they were running out of ammunition by the time the supporting units arrived. Fortunately Frederick had brought ammunitions wagons with him. These units drew more cartridges and remained in the battle line. Nadasdy tried to restore the situation by attacking the Prussian foot with his dragoons and hussars, but he was countered by the 53 squadrons of Prussians from Frederick’s reserve under the command of Ziethen. The Prussian cavalry overthrew the Austrians. Rather than pursuing the cavalry, they turned to complete the destruction of Nadasdy’s broken infantry, taking over 2000 Württembergers and Bavarians prisoner.

Having realized that the attack on the right was a diversion, Charles and Daun tried to turn their centre 90 degrees to face the advancing Prussians. The Austrian line was to be anchored on the village of Leuthen itself. But there was little time to plan the redeployment and units were sent in piecemeal, not properly deployed into firing lines. The manouevre was much more difficult for the Austrians, who did not manoeuvre in the closed columns of the Prussians. As they performed it they were subjected to intense Prussian musketry and the fire of 40 twelve-pounders now moved up to the high ground overlooking Leuthen. At about 3:30 the Prussian infantry began their assault against the new Austrian position. After a sharp struggle they cleared Leuthen, which had been admirably defended by a few Austrian units and a Wiirzburg regiment of Reichsarmee troops. Another Austrian cavalry charge was made but was driven back by the Prussian cavalry. At this point, the Austrian army broke. Frederick attempted a pursuit but the weather, time of day and exhaustion of his troops prevented this being very effective.

Leuthen was a great victory for Frederick but it was also a costly one. Frederick lost 6000 men, nearly one-fifth of his forces. He in turn inflicted 10,000 killed and wounded, took more than 12,000 prisoners, and captured more than 100 cannon. A further 17,000 Austrians surrendered when Breslau capitulated later in the month. Leuthen demonstrated just what could be accomplished in the age of linear warfare with an army as disciplined as that of Prussia, especially when commanded by one of the ‘Great Captains’ of the period.

Battle of Trenton





December 26, 1776


Trenton, New Jersey, on the Delaware River (eastern United States)



[2]Hessian mercenaries


[1]General George Washington

[2]Colonel Johann Rall

Approx. # Troops




Restores confidence in Washington’s leadership and in the possibility of ultimate American victory in the war

Continental Army commander General George Washington’s first military campaign ended in disaster. In July 1776 British commander in chief Major General William Howe and 32,000 British troops (the largest expeditionary force in British history until the 20th century) landed in New York and proceeded to drive Washington’s troops from Long Island and Manhattan. Washington suffered one defeat after another; often his men simply broke and ran. Washington then left an isolated garrison at Fort Washington on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River. In mid-November, supported by ships in the Hudson, British forces cut off the garrison and captured it along with 3,000 prisoners, 100 cannon, and a huge quantity of munitions. The same thing almost happened a few days later to the colonials at Fort Lee, across the Hudson in New Jersey.

Washington fled to the interior. Howe pursued in dilatory fashion, ignoring the Hudson to go after the Continental Army. Washington got away, his army safely behind the Delaware River. On December 13, 1776, British forces caught up with Major General Charles Lee, who had rejected Washington’s orders to join him. The British captured him and some of his 4,000 men near Morristown, New Jersey. The British then went into winter quarters, their forces covered by a line of outposts. The most important was located at Trenton, New Jersey, and was held by Colonel Johann Rall’s Hessian mercenaries. What was left of Washington’s force was deployed across the Delaware River from Trenton.

Washington’s position was critical. Smallpox ravaged his force, and half of his 10,000 men were sick. To make matters worse, enlistments for most would expire in a few days, at the end of the year. Washington decided to risk everything and mount a surprise attack on Trenton. Everything depended on getting the men across the icy Delaware at night to achieve surprise. Crossings by 5,500 men, horses, and artillery were to occur at three separate locations, with the forces converging on Trenton. If circumstances allowed, they could then advance on the British posts at Princeton and New Brunswick.

The attempt was planned for Christmas night, December 25. The crossing was to start at 5:00 p.m., with the attack at Trenton scheduled for 5:00 a.m. the next morning, but weather conditions were terrible, and the troops were slow to reach their assembly areas. As a consequence, the men began loading an hour later than planned. Shallow-draft wooden Durham boats, 40–60 feet long by 8 feet wide, transported the men across the river. Perfect craft for such an operation, the Durham boats had a keel and a bow at each end. Four men, two to a side, used setting poles to push off the bottom and move the boats, which also had a mast and two sails. Horses and artillery went across the river in ferries.

All did not go smoothly, as a storm swept through. Of the three crossings, only the major one at McKonkey’s Ferry under Washington with 2,400 men occurred in time for the planned attack. That force was divided into two corps under major generals John Sullivan and Nathanael Greene. Colonel Henry Knox commanded 18 pieces of artillery. Conditions were horrible. The men had to contend not only with the dark but also with wind, rain, sleet, snow, and chunks of ice in the Delaware. The password for the operation, “Liberty or Death,” reflected its desperate nature.

Washington had planned for the crossing to be complete by midnight, but the last man was not across until after 3:00 a.m., and it was nearly 4:00 a.m. before the army formed and began to move. Washington’s men were poorly clad for such an operation; some actually had no shoes and wrapped their feet in rags. The men thus marched the nine miles to Trenton.

Washington was determined that the attack would succeed. When Sullivan sent a message to him that the storm had wet the muskets, making them unfit for service, Washington replied, “Tell General Sullivan to use the bayonet. I am resolved to take Trenton.” Washington’s will, more than anything, kept the men going. On nearing Trenton, Washington split his force into the two corps to follow two different roads for a converging attack on the British outpost.

The attack began at 8:00 a.m., with the two columns opening fire within 8 minutes of one another. The battle lasted some 90 minutes. The Hessian garrison consisted of three regiments, 50 Hessian Jägers, and 20 light dragoons—about 1,600 men in all—along with six 3-pounder guns. Continental Army forces soon drove the Hessians back. Artillery played a major role, and here Washington enjoyed a 6 to 1 advantage, with his guns deployed to fire down the streets of the town. The battle itself was a confused melee of men fighting in small groups or singly. Rall rallied his men, intending a bayonet charge down Queen Street, but was soon mortally wounded, and the Hessians were cut down by individual Americans with muskets and rifles and by artillery fire.

The Hessians lost 22 troops killed and 92 wounded; 948 were captured. The remaining Hessians would have also been taken had the other columns gotten into position in time. The Continentals also secured a considerable quantity of arms and booty. The Americans lost only 2 men, both frozen to death, and 5 wounded. With little food or rest for 36 hours, Washington’s men needed relief, and he was thus forced to suspend operations. On December 27 the Continentals were back across the Delaware.

Washington followed up Trenton by an attack against Princeton. Recrossing the Delaware on January 2, 1777, he routed 1,700 crack British troops at Princeton under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood. These two small Continental victories changed the entire campaign. Washington called Trenton “A glorious day for our country,” while British minister for the colonies Lord George Germain exclaimed, “All our hopes were blasted by the unhappy affair at Trenton.” Trenton helped end the Continentals’ fear of the Hessian troops. More importantly, the two battles of Trenton and Princeton added immensely to Washington’s prestige, which was at a low point a month before, establishing his reputation as a general and a leader of men. The battles also restored Continental morale, which had been at its lowest point since the start of the war. In two weeks Washington had snatched victory out of the jaws of death and fanned the dying embers of American independence into flame again.

References Fischer, David Hackett. Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Ketchum, Richard M. The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton. New York: Anchor Books, 1975. McPhillips, Martin. The Battle of Trenton. Parsippany, NJ: Silver Burdett, 1984. Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan, 1952.