Raid on Medway II

De Zeven Provinciën was a Dutch ship of the line, originally armed with 80 guns. The name of the ship was also written as De 7 Provinciën. The literal translation is “The Seven Provinces”, the name referring to the fact that the Dutch Republic in the 17th century was a confederation of seven autonomous provinces. The vessel was originally built in 1664-65 for the Admiralty of de Maeze in Rotterdam, by Master Shipbuilder Salomon Jansz van den Tempel.


The ship served as Admiral Michiel de Ruyter’s flagship during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, taking part in the hard fought Dutch victory in the Four Days Fight, the bitter defeat at the St. James’s Day Battle, and acting as a command post as well as blockading the Thames during the Raid on the Medway. The vessel gave a good account of itself throughout the war, although it was partially dismasted during the Four Day’s Fight.

De Ruyter used De Zeven Provinciën as his flagship during the Third Anglo-Dutch War of 1672-1673. The ship served in all four major battles against the combined English and French fleet, fighting in the Battle of Solebay, the first and second Battle of Schooneveld and, in possibly its greatest moment, at the Battle of the Texel.


In 1692, the ship, now armed with only 76 guns, fought at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue during the War of the Grand Alliance. The vessel was severely damaged during the fight and, in 1694, De Zeven Provinciën had to be broken up.
De Zeven Provinciën measured, in English Feet, approximately 151 ft long by about 40 ft (12 m) wide by a little over 15 ft (4.6 m) deep. It was originally armed with 12 36-pdrs and 16 24-pdrs on the lower deck (although this had been changed to an all 36-pdr battery by the time of the Third Anglo-Dutch War), 14 18-pdrs and 12 12-pdrs on the upper deck, and 26 6-pdrs on the forecastle, quarterdeck, and poop deck.

The positions of Charles V and Matthais, both captured Dutch merchantmen, just above the chain were adjusted to enable them to bring their broadsides to bear. Monmouth was also moored above the chain, positioned so that she could bring her guns to bear on the space between Charles V and Matthias. The frigate Marmaduke and the Norway Merchant were sunk off above the chain; the large Sancta Maria foundered while being moved for the same purpose. Pett also informed Monck that the Royal Charles had to be moved upriver. He had been ordered by the Duke of York to do this on 27 June, but as yet had not complied. Monck at first refused to make available some of his small number of sloops, as they were needed to move supplies; when he at last found the captain of the Matthias willing to assist, Pett answered that it was too late as he was busy sinking the blockships and there was no pilot to be found daring enough to take such a risk anyway. Meanwhile the first Dutch frigates to arrive had already begun to move the Edward and Eve away, clearing a channel by nightfall.

Van Ghent’s squadron now advanced up the Medway on 12 June, attacking the English defences at the chain. First, Unity was taken by Van Brakel by assault. Then the fireship Pro Patria under commander Jan Daniëlsz van Rijn broke through the chain (or sailed over it according to some sources). She then destroyed the Matthias by fire. The fireships Catharina and Schiedam attacked the Charles V. The Catharina under commander Hendrik Hendriksz was sunk by the shore batteries but the Schiedam successfully set the Charles V alight. The crew was captured by Van Brakel.

The flagship Royal Charles, with only thirty cannon aboard and abandoned by her skeleton crew when they saw the Matthias burn, was then captured by the Irish flag captain Thomas Tobiasz. Only the Monmouth escaped. Seeing the disaster, Monck ordered the 16 remaining warships farther up to be sunk off to prevent them from being captured, making for a total of about 30 ships deliberately sunk by the English themselves. As Andrew Marvell observed: ‘Of all our navy none should now survive, But that the ships themselves were taught to dive.’ The Dutch anchored in the Medway when the tide turned.

The following day, 13 June, the whole of the Thames side as far up as London was in a panic as a rumour spread that the Dutch were transporting a French army from Dunkirk for a full-scale invasion. Many wealthy citizens fled the city, taking their most valuable possessions with them. Samuel Pepys, secretary of the Naval Board, wrote on the 13th:

No sooner up but hear the sad newes confirmed of the Royall Charles being taken by them, and now in fitting by them – which Pett should have carried up higher by our several orders, and deserves, therefore, to be hanged for not doing it – and turning several others; and that another fleete is come up into the Hope. Upon which newes the King and Duke of York have been below [London Bridge] since four o’clock in the morning, to command the sinking of ships at Barking-Creeke, and other places, to stop their coming up higher: which put me into such a fear, that I presently resolved of my father’s and wife’s going into the country; and, at two hours’ warning, they did go by the coach this day, with about L1300 in gold in their night-bag. … never were people so dejected as they are in the City all over at this day; and do talk most loudly, even treason; as, that we are bought and sold – that we are betrayed by the Papists, and others, about the King; cry out that the office of the Ordnance hath been so backward as no powder to have been at Chatham nor Upnor Castle till such a time, and the carriages all broken; that Legg is a Papist; that Upnor, the old good castle built by Queen Elizabeth, should be lately slighted; that the ships at Chatham should not be carried up higher. They look upon us as lost, and remove their families and rich goods in the City; and do think verily that the French, being come down with his army to Dunkirke, it is to invade us, and that we shall be invaded.

The Dutch continued their advance into the Chatham docks with the fireships Delft, Rotterdam, Draak, Wapen van Londen, Gouden Appel and Princess, under English fire from Upnor Castle and from three shore batteries. Cannon boomed and musketry rattled from Upnor. Dutch frigates suppressed the English fire, but suffered about 40 casualties in dead and wounded. The exposed structures of three of the finest and heaviest vessels in the navy, already sunk to prevent capture, now perished by fire: first the Loyal, set alight by the Rotterdam, then the Royal James and finally the Royal Oak. The latter withstood attempts by two fireships but succumbed to a third. The English crews abandoned their half-flooded ships, mostly without a fight, a notable exception being army Captain Archibald Douglas of the Scots Foot, who personally refused to abandon the Oak and perished in the flames. The Monmouth again escaped. The raid thus cost the English four of their remaining eight ships with more than 75 cannon. Three of the four largest ‘big ships’ of the navy were lost. The fourth, the Royal Sovereign, was safely but uselessly in Portsmouth. De Ruyter now joined Van Ghent’s squadron in person.

Pepys wrote:

Late at night comes Mr. Hudson, the cooper, my neighbour, and tells me that he come from Chatham this evening at five o’clock, and saw this afternoon ‘The Royal James,’ ‘Oake,’ and ‘London,’ burnt by the enemy with their fire-ships: that two or three men-of-war come up with them, and made no more of Upnor Castle’s shooting, than of a fly.

Cornelis de Witt, fearing that the English would finally get themselves organised and counter-attack, on 14 June decided against further penetration and withdrew, towing the Royal Charles along as a war trophy; the Unity was also removed with a prize crew. Dutch demolition teams rowed to any ship they could reach to burn her down as much as they could, thus ensuring their reward money. One boat even re-entered the docks to make sure nothing was left above the waterline of the Oak, James and London; another burnt the merchantman Slot van Honingen, ruining a precious salvage opportunity. The Dutch failed to completely destroy the Chatham dockyard, another missed opportunity. Such destruction could have put back the rebuilding of the English navy by decades.

The Dutch fleet, after celebrating by collectively thanking God for ‘a great victory in a just war in self-defence’ tried to repeat its success by attacking several other ports on the English east coast but was repelled each time.

On 27 June an attempt to enter the Thames beyond Gravesend was called off when it became known that the river was blocked by sunken ships and five fireships awaited the Dutch attack. On 2 July a Dutch force landed near Woodbridge north of Harwich, aiming to take the port, a position of immense strategic importance. But first they had to take the newly constructed Landguard Fort. What happened next did something to restore battered English military pride. Four officers and around 100 men, with 18 heavy cannon, were determined to fight. So, too, were the town militia.

Initially the Dutch fleet, due to unfavourable winds, was forced to sail north off Lowestoft before turning south to launch the attack. As they sailed northwards, the British militia, assuming another raid, marched along the coast shadowing the enemy fleet. When the Dutch turned south again, with a now favourable wind, so did the militia. De Ruyter’s fleet was joined by five troop transports sent out from Holland especially for the Harwich raid, commanded by the experienced Colonel Count van Hoorn. That took the attack force to about 850 infantrymen and 400 marines. The infantry commander was Colonel Thomas Dolman, the Medway veteran who had earlier served in the British army under Cromwell.

On Sunday 30 June, 70 Dutch ships anchored behind the shelter of a large sandbank known as the Gunfleet. The landing force embarked in a small fleet of around 20 small flat-bottomed sailing barges, known as galiots, At noon de Ruyter gave the signal and the galiots started for the shore.

Marines commander Colonel Francois Palm leaped out onto the gently sloping shingle, the first man to land, followed immediately by his men. To their right the infantry also poured ashore, led by Dolman. On the beach, the troops formed up as though on parade, while van Hoorn sent out a scouting party to ascend the low cliffs by a narrow track. Within two hours the Dutch were ashore safely, in good order, and without a shot being fired at them. The scouts brought back two civilian prisoners who told them that the fort’s garrison had been heavily reinforced and that 60 guns faced the raiders. Van Hoorn refused to believe them and ordered the attack.

While the Dutch soldiers of the assault group moved under cover of a large sand dune at around 1400 hours, the footsore English militia were on the wrong side of the River Deben. The river was swift-flowing with a surging tidal current. The militia cavalry trotted eight miles upstream to cross at Woodbridge while the infantry crossed in a tiny ferry-boat capable of carrying barely a dozen men at a time. It was agonisingly slow work in the face of immense danger. De Ruyter ordered forward a few of his galiots, each carrying a small cannon to bombard the 250yd crossing. The part-time British militia were attempting that most difficult military manoeuvre – a river crossing under artillery fire. The crossings were halted when just a few had reached the Dutch side of the estuary. They buried themselves in marsh ditches and waited for the ebb of the tide. As the water receded, the galiots that had been plaguing them were forced farther and farther from the shore until out of range. The river crossing started again at about 1600 hours.

The Dutch troops of the assault group were also forced to wait. The same tidal rush frustrated the Dutch admirals sent to bombard Harwich and Landguard Fort from the south and east. Their arrival in the selected firing positions with their squadrons coincided with the fall of the tide, and they too were forced out of range – even the largest cannon on the ships could barely reach the walls of the fort. The Dutch assault force was denied the flanking fire designed to keep the defenders’ heads down. The English had also removed all the marker buoys from the Harwich channels, so that the Dutch sailors had to navigate by memory and guesswork. Admiral van Nes’s flagship, the Delft, ran aground and had to be laboriously towed off later. The Dutch ships withdrew and most of their sailors were sent to reinforce the soldiers on land.

Soon after 1600 hours – just as the falling tide allowed the militia to the north to resume their interrupted river crossing – the Dutch soldiers, marines and sailors started their attack. The soldiers were organised in 18 infantry half-companies of about 48 men each, disposed in four sections, each with four grenadiers, the rest being musketeers and pikemen. The marines were all armed with carbines – short flintlock muskets much like the old firelocks.

Surprised by the sheer volume of musket fire poured at them, the vast majority of Dutch soldiers and sailors simply refused to leave the shelter of the dunes. Their musketeers, trying to fire from behind cover, tended to fire high. Some did make several gallant assaults against the walls, using their fascines to fill the ditch and their ladders to scale the walls. None made it to the top. At around 1730 the Dutch began to melt away, but officers rallied sufficient of the braver men for a second major assault. That, too, failed. At 1800 the attack on Landguard Fort was called off and the Dutch retreated towards the beaches.

Part of the volume of fire which had so surprised and dispirited the Dutch troops came from a tiny galiot the British had sailed to the harbour mouth. This vessel used grapeshot to great effect on the retreating Dutch. Having run that gauntlet, Colonel Dolman’s men made it to the beach, only to confront another threat. The English militia had come together and a mixed force of 1,500 infantry and cavalry were on high ground to the north challenging the Dutch flank guard. A separate two-hour battle now ensued as the Dutch used their musketeers to keep the British at bay, with small groups of men from both sides creeping around trying to out-manoeuvre each other. The British attempred to lure the Dutch forward from their lines by feigning a withdrawal, but instead the Dutch maintained the fire of their small portable cannon, using grapeshot against the infantry and round-shot against the cavalry. This harassing artillery fire was so effective that the British cavalry were unable to form up for a charge. Sunset ended the battle. At about 2030 hours the Dutch used the deepening darkness to disengage in a display of professional skill and they were all re-embarked by around 2200.

The casualties were never recorded properly by either side. One Dutch report listed ‘7 dead and 35 wounded in the whole fleet’, which does not accord with a British eye-witness account of ‘boat-loads of Dutch dead’ being rowed out to the ships. More believable is that the Dutch casualties were seven dead and 35 wounded in the ships themselves, while the soldiers and marines ashore suffered perhaps eight dead and 30–40 wounded at the fort. British casualties were very precisely numbered at the fort as one dead and four wounded, including their commander, Captain Nathaniel Darell, who received a musket ball through his shoulder. But, like the Dutch, there was no record of casualties during the withdrawal or in the battle with the enemy flank guard. The best guesses, given the nature of the battle, are 12–15 British killed and 20 wounded, and eight Dutch dead and 20 wounded. For the British it was a small price to pay for repelling the last opposed seaborne invasion of England.

Despite that Dutch failure, panic still ruled in London amongst the ruling class. Samuel Pepys noted in his diary on 19 July 1667: ‘The Dutch fleete are in great squadrons everywhere still about Harwich, and were lately at Portsmouth; and the last letters say at Plymouth, and now gone to Dartmouth to destroy our Streights’ fleete lately got in thither; but God knows whether they can do it any hurt, or no, but it was pretty news come the other day so fast, of the Dutch fleets being in so many places, that Sir W. Batten at table cried, By God, says he, I think the Devil shits Dutchmen.’ And on 29 July 1667: ‘Thus in all things, in wisdom, courage, force, knowledge of our own streams, and success, the Dutch have the best of us, and do end the war with victory on their side’.

Wharf official John Norman estimated the damage caused by the Medway raid at about £20,000, apart from the replacement costs of the four lost capital ships; the total loss of the Royal Navy must have been close to £200,000. Pett was made a scapegoat, bailed at £5,000 and deprived of his office while those who had ignored his earlier warnings quietly escaped any blame. The Royal James, Oak and Loyal London were in the end salvaged and rebuilt, but at great cost and when the City of London refused to share in it, Charles had the name of the latter ship changed to simply London. For a few years the English fleet was handicapped by its losses during the raid, but by around 1670 a new building programme had restored the English navy to its former power.

Total losses for the Dutch were eight spent fireships and about 50 casualties. In the Republic, the populace was jubilant after the victory; many festivities were held, repeated when the fleet returned in October, the various admirals being hailed as heroes. They were rewarded by a flood of eulogies and given honorary golden chains and pensions by the States-General and the lesser States of the Provinces; de Ruyter, Cornelis de Witt and Van Ghent were honoured by precious enamelled golden chalices depicting the events. Cornelis de Witt had a large ‘Sea Triumph’ painted, with himself as the main subject. This triumphalism by de Witt’s States faction caused resentment with the rival Orangist faction; when the States regime lost power in 1672, Cornelis’s head was to be ceremoniously carved out from the painting, after Charles had for some years insisted the picture would be removed.

The Dutch success in the Medway had a major psychological impact throughout England, with London feeling especially vulnerable just a year after the Great Fire. This, together with the cost of the war, of the Great Plague and the extravagant spending of Charles’s court, produced a rebellious atmosphere in London. Clarendon ordered the English envoys at Breda to sign a peace quickly, as Charles feared an open revolt.

On 31 July 1667, the Treaty of Breda sealed peace between the two nations. The treaty allowed the English to keep 27 possession of New Netherlands, which they renamed New York, while the Dutch kept control of the valuable sugar plantations of Surinam they had conquered in 1667.

The Raid on the Medway was a serious blow to the reputation of the English crown. Charles felt personally offended by the fact the Dutch had attacked while he had laid up his fleet and peace negotiations were in progress, conveniently forgetting he himself had not negotiated in good faith. His resentment was one of the causes of the Third Anglo-Dutch war, as it made him enter into the secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV of France. In the nineteenth century, jingoistic British writers expanded on this theme by suggesting it had been the Dutch who had sued for peace after their defeats in 1666 – although in fact these had made them, if anything, more belligerent – and that only by treacherously attacking the English had they been able to gain a victory.

The Republic was jubilant about the Dutch victory and the peace was generally seen as a personal triumph for de Witt. He consolidated his political power at home and reduced the powers of difficult provinces. But de Witt’s success would sow the seeds of his eventual downfall and nearly that of the Republic with him. Charles and Louis, both humiliated in turn, intensified their secret cooperation and would, joined by the bishop of Münster, attack the Dutch in 1672. De Witt was unable to counter this attack, as he could not create a strong Dutch army for lack of money and fear that it would strengthen the position of the young William III. That same year de Witt was assassinated and William became stadtholder.

The Royal Charles, her draught too deep to be of use in the shallow Dutch waters, was permanently drydocked near Hellevoetsluis as a tourist attraction, with day trips being organised for large parties, often of foreign state guests. After vehement protests by Charles that this insulted his honour, the official visits were ended and Royal Charles was eventually scrapped in 1672.

In 1676 de Ruyter took command of a combined Dutch-Spanish fleet to help the Spanish suppress the Messina revolt and twice fought a French fleet. At the Battle of Agosta a cannonball mangled his left leg. He died on 29 April 1676. He was given a full state funeral and buried in Amsterdam.

The Medway debacle, a humiliation for Britain’s military might, led to a major overhaul of coastal defences. Over 15 years, enormous sums were spent in both the Medway and the Thames, and in Portsmouth, Plymouth, Hull and Tynemouth. Many fortifications were designed by the country’s famed chief engineer, Sir Bernard de Gomme. Squat forts bristling with ordnance covered the main estuaries and waterways. In military circles, the lessons were learnt and never forgotten.

During the Second World War, on 14 December 1941, the Dutch minelayer Jan van Brakel hit the anchor buoy of one of the vessels protecting the entrance to the Medway. The commander reported this incident to the port authorities, signalling: ‘Van Brakel damaged boom defence Medway’. The instant reply was: ‘What, again?’

THE BATTLE OF THE GRANICUS RIVER

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Arsites, satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, had hastily summoned various generals to the town of Zelea (Sarikoy), about 20 miles from the Macedonian camp. Everyone present had an opinion about how to defeat the Macedonians, but the most prudent advice came from Memnon of Rhodes, the leader of a contingent of Greek mercenaries in the employ of the Persians. Memnon had once visited Pella and had experience of Macedonian military tactics. He knew that once Alexander ran out of the provisions he had brought with him he would have to forage for more. Therefore Memnon proposed to devastate the area by burning the crops and demolishing towns if need be, which would severely impede Alexander’s ability to feed his men and force them back to Macedonia.

Arsites naturally had no desire to bless Memnon’s scorched earth policy in his satrapy, nor did he take too kindly to his blunt warning that the Persians should not do battle against Alexander because their infantry was nowhere near as well trained and was outnumbered by the enemy. Alexander had perhaps 40,000 infantry to the Persians’ 30,000 or less. However, the Persians had 20,000 highly trained, tough Greek mercenaries, and they could also field 16,000 or so cavalry, compared with the Macedonians’ 6,000. Taking these factors into consideration Arsites decided that he had the edge over the invaders, especially as his men would be fighting on familiar terrain. Ignoring Memnon’s counterarguments, perhaps even because he looked down on Memnon as a Greek, Arsites gave the order to do battle.

The Persians took up a position west of Zelea, above the plain of Adrasteia, through which ran the Granicus River. Probably this was near the modern Dimetoka. There they encamped on the river’s east bank. Alexander took 13,000 infantry and 5,100 cavalry and marched to the west bank of the river either later in the afternoon or as dusk fell. The Granicus River was fast flowing and about three feet deep, but the entire riverbed was 80 feet wide. The topography of the area has changed little since Alexander’s time, so the river’s western and eastern banks were very steep and around 12 feet high, most likely covered in the same woodland and scrub as today. Crossing the river would have been a struggle at the best of times, let alone when an enemy army was ranged along the opposite bank, ready to take advantage of any Macedonian slips. That was why Parmenion tried to persuade Alexander to wait until he found another way around the enemy line. Parmenion’s advice was sound, but it was not what Alexander wanted to hear: he sarcastically retorted that he would never be able to live down the shame of halting at a stream like the Granicus after crossing the Hellespont.

At this point our major ancient writers for the battle disagree. Arrian states that Alexander engaged the Persians the same evening as he arrived at the river, while Diodorus has it that he waited until the next morning when he could lead the army across undetected. Most likely Arrian is correct because Alexander characteristically took an enemy by surprise. Besides, it is highly unlikely that the Persians would not have seen thousands of Macedonians making their way across the river as day broke. Diodorus further says that Arsites positioned his cavalry slightly back from the water’s edge and stationed his infantry on the hill above them, whereas Arrian puts the cavalry right on the water’s edge with the infantry behind. Diodorus’s account is more likely to be correct because the Persian infantrymen atop the riverbank would be able to bombard the attackers with missiles and disrupt their line rather than trying to charge it from behind their cavalry.

The odds of the Persians preventing Alexander’s advance were therefore excellent. He had to lead his army down the western bank and across the river, neutralize the enemy cavalry, and force his way up the opposite bank while at the mercy of spears and arrows launched from its heights. A stumble by any part of the phalanx would cause instant disruption to his line, and the ensuing chaos would practically hand victory to the Persians. On the other hand, Alexander was well used to rivers thanks to growing up in Macedonia, and he may well have been eager to fight the enemy here rather than somewhere else as Parmenion had suggested. He saw that the various bends of the river gave rise to bluffs that had more gentle slopes of gravel running down to the water, which were virtually opposite one another, and decided to take advantage of these natural ramps. His strategy was to lead his men down one of the gravel slopes to the riverbed. Then, with the cavalry protecting both flanks of the phalanx, the men would cross the river in a diagonal line, no doubt because of the current, to the nearest gravel bed on the opposite side to attack the Persian army. From Philip’s time the Macedonian phalanx had been trained to cross all manner of terrain, including flowing water, and Alexander was banking on it not missing a beat now.

Alexander’s line stretched for a little over a mile. He stationed the Thracian, Thessalian, and other Greek cavalry on his left flank, commanded by Parmenion. The right flank comprised the Macedonian cavalry, which Alexander formed into two groups, one under the command of Philotas on the extreme right and the other, immediately next to the massed phalanx at the center, under Amyntas. Next to him Alexander took up his own position. The cavalry was arranged 10 horses deep, and the infantry line, eight men deep.

The Battle of the Granicus River witnessed Alexander’s introduction of the stratagem of a pawn sacrifice. He ordered Amyntas and a small strike force of fast cavalry (prodromoi) to cross the river ahead of the main army, thereby drawing the enemy’s fire. As Alexander had anticipated, the Persian cavalry charged Amyntas’s soldiers and even forced them back. In the meantime Alexander and the right wing began their move across the river, followed by the center and left flank, in a planned left-to-right diagonal line toward the opposite gravel beds. At that point the Persians realized that Amyntas’s brave action had merely been a distraction. Unable to regroup in time, the Persian cavalry fell victim to Alexander’s massed counterstrike, and as more of the Persian commanders were killed in the fighting when the two sides met, the cavalry lost heart and fled.

Now the battle became an infantry one. Parmenion had brought his left flank successfully across the river and regrouped into one continuous line that easily made its way up the west bank of the river to face the Persian infantry and Greek mercenaries. The Persian line became a bloodbath as the sarissas tore into the Persian troops, who were armed only with light javelins that were no match for the enemy’s long, deadly weapons. Thoroughly demoralized, and in an effort to cut their losses, they made their getaway after the cavalry. Alexander expected the Greek mercenaries under Memnon, who had not yet taken part in the fighting, to offer tougher resistance. Memnon at first sought terms, but Alexander was in no mood for leniency-he was also angry that Greek mercenaries were prepared to fight other Greeks. Without delay the king regrouped his line into its usual wedge formation and with the cavalry on the wings attacked the mercenaries head-on. It was said that Alexander’s men fought harder against Memnon and his men than against the Persians, and in one clash Alexander’s horse (evidently not Bucephalas) was killed under him. Eventually the king’s shock-and-awe tactics paid off, and 18,000 of the mercenaries were cut to pieces. Memnon managed to escape, but the surviving 2,000 mercenaries, including a contingent of Athenians, were captured and sent back to Macedonia to work in chains in the mines. Arsites, who had fled into Phrygia, took responsibility for the entire defeat and committed suicide.

“Of the Barbarians, we are told, 20,000 infantry fell and 2,500 cavalry. But on Alexander’s side, Aristobulus says there were 34 dead in all, of whom 9 were infantry”: These numbers were very likely exaggerated to magnify the Macedonian victory, but nevertheless the battle was a triumph of Alexander’s strategic planning, bold tactics, and daredevil courage. It was his first victory on Asian soil, and he had proved the fighting superiority of his army against a numerically greater enemy. Granicus began sounding the death knell of the Achaemenid dynasty.

Flers-Courcelette 15 Sept 1916

IWM-Q 5574 THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME 1 JULY - 18 NOVEMBER 1916 MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION PRODUCTION DATE: 15 September 1916 MAKER: Brooke, J W (Lt) DESCRIPTION: The Battle of Flers Courcelette 15 - 22 September: A 'C' Company Mark I (C19 Clan Leslie) in Chimpanzee Valley preparing for action. Haig had 49 tanks available but due to mechanical problems only 18 went forward in small groups with the advance. Other Description: A 'C' Company Mark I tank (C. 19 "Clan Leslie") Chimpanzee Valley, 15 September 1916. Tanks first went into action on this day.

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On 1 July 1916 the British began a massive offensive against German positions along the Somme. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig unleashed this offensive prematurely, in large part to respond to a desperate appeal by the French for a diversion to draw off German forces from Verdun. The Battle of the Somme developed into the deadliest engagement of the entire war. In fighting from July to November it claimed some 1.2 million men on both sides.

Despite the horrific casualties of the first day on the Somme, Haig continued the offensive in the belief that his men could indeed break through the German lines and end the war. Desperate for anything that might tip the balance, Haig called on the tanks, even though but few were available. Swinton opposed their deployment before they were available in sufficient numbers and the crews could be properly trained. But he was promptly overruled and replaced, not the last of the tank pioneers to be thus treated.

The men of the new force operated under the cover of the Armored Car Section of the Motor Machine-Gun Service. Many of those who were recruited to operate the new machines had little knowledge of soldiering. Training in driving (first with Little Willie), gunnery, and rudimentary tactics went forward, but one tank commander who took part in the subsequent attack on the Somme later wrote:

I and my crew did not have a tank of our own the whole time we were in England. Ours went wrong the day it arrived. We had no recon naissance or map reading . . . no practices or lectures on the compass . . . we had no signalling . . . and no practice in considering orders. We had no knowledge of where to look for information that would be necessary for us as Tank Commanders, nor did we know what information we should be likely to require.

Some of the men and their machines were then shipped to France. As a consequence of the feverish efforts to prepare for action, many of the crewmen were completely exhausted before they even got into battle. On the night of 13 September, the drivers, guided by white tape on the ground, with the tanks creating considerable amazement for those who watched them, moved into their assembly areas.

Shortly after first light on 15 September 1916, a new chapter in warfare opened when the tanks went into action. Of 150 Mark I tanks, only 59 were in France when Haig made the decision to employ them, and of these only 49 actually reached the front. Plagued by mechanical problems abetted by nervous crewmen, only 35 tanks reached the line of departure; 31 crossed the German trenches, and only nine surmounted all problems and pushed on ahead of the infantry.

The Tanks on the Somme. 15th September 1916.

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D Company, 2 section, with NZ Division, XV Corps, 3rd Army

D Company, 2 section intended to get 8 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

2 Section, Capt Nixon G

D8, 720, 2Lt Bown, HGF

D10, 535, 2Lt Darby H

D11, 547, 2Lt Pearsall HG

D12, 719, Capt Nixon G

Notes:

2 section also had two other tanks which were detached and operated with other units on the 15th September 1916.

Orders

2 Section was to support the New Zealand Division

Zero was 06:20. The tanks were to reach Switch Trench five minutes before the infantry and thus enable their advance. En route 535 and 547 were to turn right along Crest trench and help clear it of the enemy; 719 would turn right upon reaching Switch trench and clear the lower half of it of opposition, these three tanks would then rendezvous at the southern end of Fish Alley. Meanwhile 720 was to move right, cross Switch Trench and cover the infantry who would be consolidating in front of it.

The advance was to halt at Switch Trench until 7:20am, partially to allow the tanks to assist with mopping up.

Account of operations

The tanks arrived late and followed the infantry over the German front line, which had already been captured, the infantry making use of the lane left in the barrage to push forward.

The advance resumed, and despite enfilading fire dorm each flank the infantry swiftly capturing their second objective, Fat Trench and the upper part of Fish Alley. A further advance was now halted in front of the heavily wired and well defended Flers Line which lay in between the second and third objectives. 535 continued northwards in an attempt to support this attack but was hit and Knocked out at M36c.2.6.

547 and 720 advanced either side and probably a little to the rear of 535. At 10:30 547 advanced into the centre of the Flers Line and enfiladed the twin trenches with MG fire, the infantry rapidly advanced over the crushed wire and captured the position. 720 meanwhile, may have done much the same on the extreme left of the Division, all the while probably firing on the Germans on the Division left who had not been silenced by the unsuccessful attack of the 47th Division.

719 advanced on the extreme right of the division, catching the infantry up at the second Objective, where Fat Trench abutted Flers trench. At 9:15am, at the request of the infantry, the tank moved into the depression to the south west of Flers and silenced enemy Mgs ensconced in a farmhouse there. The tank then moved towards Flers, its steering was damaged by shell fire and then tank then ditched, at M36d.9.9, whilst attempting to withdraw. More shells hit the tank, it caught fire and was burnt out.

The New Zealanders, possibly with the assistance of 547 and two other tanks, were able to capture Grove Trench, and two field guns therein. The trench could not be held due to the failure of the attacks on either flank and the infantry withdrew and consolidated on the Blue Line, 547 ignored the general order for all tanks to withdraw and remained behind to cover the consolidation, eventually withdrawing into Flers after dark.

Summary

Intended: 4

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 4

Ditched / Broke Down: 0

Hit and Knocked out: 2

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

 

C Company, 1 section, with 2nd Canadian Division, Canadian Corps, 3rd Army

C Company, 1 section, intended to get 6 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

C Company, 1 section, Capt Inglis AM

C1, 709, “Champagne”, Lt Wheeler AGC

C2, 522, “Cognac”, Lt Bluemel FW

C3, 701, “Chartreuse”, 2Lt Clark SDH

C4, 503, “Chablis”, 2Lt Campbell GOL

C5, 721, “Creme de menthe”, Capt Inlis AM

C6, 504, “Cordon Rouge”, 2Lt Allan J

Notes:

Trevor Pidgeon gives C1 the number 721, this must be a Typo. Inglis’ report (in the Canadian Divisions War Diary) states it was number 709.

Orders

Northern Group, 709, 522, 504, were to cross the Canadian front line about R35a.0.3. and then follow sugar trench to R30c.5.3, immediately north of the factory. They were to help cover the left flank of the advancing infantry, assist in mopping up and, once at the Sugar factory, deal with any MGs therein or in Courcelette

Southern group 721, 701, 503, to start from near Pozieres Windmill, advance down the road to the sugar factory, one tank on the road and one 30 yards either side of it. The tanks were to proceed to R36a.5.5 where, at z + 43 mins a male tank was to detach itself and assit the infantry in capturing the ruins. The other two tanks, a male and a female, were meanwhile to continue down the road to Candy trench at R36a.8.7 then follow the trench down towards Martinpuich. Once the infantry had gained their final objectives the tanks were to return and rally.

Account of operations

522 and 709 both started on time, at Zero, and advanced along routes close to one another. 522 was faster and ditched at R35a.3.9 ten minutes before 709 ditched at roughly the same location. 522 was unditched but ditched again permanently at R29b.5.1. Both crews attempted to unditch their machines whilst under fire, 709’s crew gave up after four fruitless hours and abandoned the tank, the driver being killed in the unditching attempt. 522’s crew worked all day but were also unable to save the tank which was abandoned.

504 meanwhile entered no mans land and, under heavy fire, advanced along Sugar trench silencing several Mgs therein thus enabling the infantries advance. The tank reached R30c.5.3, north of the Sugar factory and joined in the latter part of the attack on the factory blocking the Germans escape route.

701 ditched and 503 threw a track, both thus failed to reach the start point.

721 reached the start point at 2am and started forward at Zero, having been joined by 2Lt Campbell but having lost one of its tail wheels to an enemy shell.

The tank was possibly photographed and filmed whilst advancing: IWM FLM 2044, X1.p129

The infantry advanced well ahead, the tank eventually catching them up in the Sugar Factory where it helped subdue the defenders with 6pdr and MG fire. The Germans in the factory surrendered, 721 and 504 returned down the Albert Road, 721 laying 400 yds of cable en route, both tanks rallied.

The infantry launched a further attack in the afternoon and captured Courcelette village.

Summary

Intended: 6

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 2

Ditched / Broke Down: 2

Hit and Knocked out: 0

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

The tanks were thus far from impressive in their debut, mostly because they were too widely dispersed and not used according to any plan. Their crews were also not well trained, and there was the spate of breakdowns. Regardless, the few tanks that did get into action had a profound impact on Haig; five days after the attack he urgently requested 1,000 more. Haig also demanded the establishment of a new central office charged with improving their fighting ability. Even before the end of the Battle of the Somme, Haig had created the Tank Corps Headquarters.

The Battle of Jankau

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Battle of Jankau 5th March 1645

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The first image above is the view of Chapel Hill looking over the battlefield on the day before the battle. As we can see both the Swedish and Imperial armies kindly burnt down a number of the local villages during their respective marches, and the Swedes are alleged to have pillaged and burnt down the rest after the battle.

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The second picture shows the closing stages of the battle as the Swedes pushed through the Hartmany wood. It actually captures a number of phases at the end, including the final unexpected Swedish attack as the light was falling, the capture of Hatzfeld and the rout of the Imperial army.

Denmark’s defeat and the destruction of Gallas’s army prompted Elector Maximilian to open new talks with France. With his position crumbling, the emperor summoned his closest advisers for their candid opinion at New Year.24 None thought victory was possible or believed in the Prague strategy of uniting the Empire to expel the foreigners. However, they were not yet prepared to relinquish the gains from 1635 and had little faith in achieving a satisfactory peace in Westphalia. They recommended renewed military effort to compel Sweden to agree more favourable terms, while remaining unrealistically hopeful that the election of Pope Innocent X in 1644 would assist a separate settlement with France.

The Austrian Estates had already been summoned and voted increased taxes and food supplies. The emperor sold part of the crown jewels and, following his example, the churches surrendered their silver, while nobles advanced loans. Ferdinand rejoined the army as part of a strategy to rally popular and divine support that culminated in his leading a religious procession in Vienna on 29 March. Here he announced his intention to build a monumental column dedicated to the Virgin like the one completed in Munich seven years earlier to commemorate White Mountain. Actual command was entrusted to Hatzfeldt who had spent most of 1644 in charge of the reserve army in Bohemia and Franconia. Maximilian was persuaded to despatch Werth with 5,000 Bavarian veterans despite the critical situation on the Upper Rhine, while Johann Georg sent 1,500 Saxon cavalry. This gave a combined field force of 11,000 cavalry, over 500 dragoons, 5,000 infantry and 26 guns that collected at Pilsen in January.

The Swedes were determined to exploit the unexpected bonus of the disintegration of Gallas’s army. They had 43,000 men in Germany at this point. Some were with Königsmarck completing the conquest of Bremen and Verden, while others garrisoned the Baltic bridgehead and positions in Silesia and Moravia. The main strike force under Torstensson numbered 9,000 horse, 6,500 foot and 60 cannon and was in western Saxony where it had arrived in pursuit of Gallas. Torstensson was already on the march by 19 January to deny the Imperialists time to recover. Hatzfeldt guessed correctly he was heading for Olmütz, but did not know whether he would go north or south of Prague to get there. Operations were disrupted by a February thaw that turned the roads to mud. Torstensson dodged south of Prague as it turned cold again and crossed the frozen Moldau. Hatzfeldt recovered quickly, and moved east to block him in the hills by Jankau (Jankov) on 6 March.

The imperial right was protected by steep, rising ground and thick woods. The left was more exposed, but the entire front was covered by the freezing waters of the Jankova stream and a network of ponds south of Jankau itself. Torstensson decided to feint against the enemy right, while going round their left to outflank them in a move that resembled Frederick the Great’s tactics at Leuthen in 1757. The Swedes set off at 6 a.m., around ninety minutes before dawn, heading for Chapel Hill, a small rise they had to secure to get safely past the ponds. Hatzfeldt had gone to reconnoitre, leaving Count Götz vague instructions to hold the hill. For reasons that remain unclear, Götz moved the entire left wing south into the valley leading to the hill. This move was constricted by thick woods either side of his route and Hatzfeldt returned to find the soldiers struggling across the very obstacles he intended to disrupt the enemís advance. It was too late to turn back.

The frozen ground gave the Swedes a firm footing and they were able to drag their heavy guns onto Chapel Hill, whereas the imperial artillery got stuck in the woods. Hatzfeldt moved his centre and right southwards in support as a fierce fight developed to prevent the Swedes advancing beyond the ponds. Werth and the Bavarian and Saxon cavalry overran two Swedish infantry brigades, before being compelled by artillery fire to retire. The Swedes then pushed east, gaining the high ground on the imperial flank and forcing Hatzfeldt to retire northwards. After an hour of musketry, Hatzfeldt disengaged and withdrew further across his original position towards Skrysov village, where he redeployed facing south with his right on the Jankova and left on Hrin. Torstensson followed, taking up position between Jankau and Radmeritz. He had expected Hatzfeldt to continue his retreat, but noticed imperial musketeers entrenching on a small wooded hill in front of Skrysov. Hatzfeldt intended this as an outpost while he waited until nightfall to slip away. Once the Swedes had dislodged the musketeers he grew concerned and launched a counter-attack, renewing the battle around 1 p.m.

Werth, now on the left, led another successful charge, this time routing the best Swedish cavalry that had deployed opposite him at Radmeritz. However, his comrades in the centre and right were dispirited after the defeat that morning and cracked under the strain of renewed fighting. The Bavarian cavalry had dispersed to plunder, capturing the Swedish armís loot and women, including Torstensson’s wife. The Swedes rallied and drove them off, rescuing the women. As the imperial horse on the right had also given way, the infantry in the centre were abandoned like the Spanish at Rocroi and their own comrades at both battles of Breitenfeld. They fought on till dark. Some escaped into the woods to the rear, but 4,500 were captured. Götz, along with several other senior officers, was killed, as were around 4,000 men, many during the pursuit. Hatzfeldt was caught because his horse was exhausted and, having been robbed, he was handed over to Torstensson.

The battle was clearly a disaster for the emperor. A muster of 36 regiments outside Prague a week later revealed that only 2,697 officers and men remained. Another 2,000 fugitives were left stranded by the rapid Swedish advance through Moravia and lived as marauders in a running conflict with local peasants. The veteran Bavarian cavalry had been virtually destroyed, while the loss of so many senior officers left the army leaderless. It is a sign of Ferdinand’s desperation that he even recalled Gallas to help reorganize the army. However, comparisons with Rocroi or White Mountain are exaggerated, as the battle was not followed by military or political collapse.

Torstensson claimed he lost only 600 men, but the later Swedish General Staff history puts the casualties at a more realistic 3–4,000. The victory allowed him to widen his objectives beyond merely resupplying Olmütz. He swept on through southern Moravia and over the frontier hills into Lower Austria to arrive outside Vienna with 16,000 men on 9 April. The advance renewed the possibility that Transylvania might intervene for another combined siege of the imperial capital.

Augustus II of Poland (1670-1733)

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“Friedrich Augustus. Elector of Saxony (1694-1733); king of Poland (1697-1704; 1709-1733).” A member of the Wettin dynasty and an elector of the Holy Roman Empire (Saxony), Augustus was elected king of Poland in 1697, after deeming that Warsaw was worth a Mass, converting to Catholicism, and agreeing to permit extraordinary privileges to the szlachta, even beyond the broad powers the nobility already enjoyed. In time this deal fatally weakened the monarchy within Poland. In foreign policy, however, Augustus enjoyed an independence his Vasa predecessors never had. This was facilitated by his personal control of a separate Saxon Army of 26,000 excellent troops, along with a discrete diplomatic service and bureaucracy. Together, these resources permitted him to conduct diplomacy and even war without consulting the szlachta in Poland or the Sapiehas in Lithuania. In 1699 Augustus forged an aggressive alliance with Peter I of Russia and Fredrik IV of Denmark that aimed to take advantage of the immaturity and inexperience of the new Swedish king, Karl XII. He immediately besieged Riga, launching the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Like the other members of this rapacious anti-Swedish alliance, Augustus greatly underestimated Karl XII. He and they all paid a heavy price for that mistake: Augustus’ Polish territories were invaded by Swedish armies. He lost and fled Warsaw in early 1702. Augustus subsequently was soundly defeated and lost most of his army at Kliszow (July 8/19, 1702). After recruiting over the winter, he took to the field with a new but undertrained and poorly equipped force, only to be smashed again by the Swedes at Pultusk (April 10/21, 1703). Augustus was expelled from Poland in favor of Stanislaw I in 1704, when the “Warsaw Confederation” that opposed him was supported by armed Swedish intervention. Civil war ensued in Poland, in which Augustus had support from the “Sandomierz Confederacy” of anti-Stanislaw nobles. This drew Karl back into Poland, where he completely defeated Augustus and his Polish allies in two small but sharp battles. Early in the new year Augustus lost again at Fraustadt (February 2/13, 1706). That opened the door to a Swedish invasion of Saxony and the fall of Dresden and Leipzig. Their fall compelled Augustus to agree to the Treaty of Altranstädt (September 13/24, 1706), renouncing his claim to the Polish throne. What saved Augustus was no effort of his own but the disastrous decision by Karl to invade Russia, which resulted in decisive defeat of the Swedish army at Poltava (June 27/July 8, 1709). That catastrophe, along with Karl’s wasted years spent in Ottoman exile, permitted Augustus to reopen the Polish war with Stanislaw I. With help from Tsar Peter, Augustus was restored to the Polish throne in 1709. He held onto it through the remaining years of the Great Northern War and afterward, until his death in 1733.

The battle of Fraustadt (February 1706) was next to the battle of Narva the greatest Swedish victory in the Great Northern Wart. A Swedish army of 10 000 men commanded by Carl Gustaf Rehnsköld attacked and almost annihilated a two times larger Saxon-Russian army near Poland’s western border. The Swedish war effort in Poland was before the battle seemingly close to a complete collapse because the Swedish main army led by Charles XII had their hands full in the east. But thanks to Rehnsköld’s victory at Fraustadt and Charles XII’s encirclement of the Russian main army in Grodno the campaign instead ended in a complete Swedish triumph. Before the year was over would Saxony sue for peace and accept Stanislaw Leszczynski as Polish king. The Swedish army could thereafter direct all its effort on defeating the last remaining enemy, Russia.

The battle itself, which according to the Swedish calendar happened 3 February, but according the Gregorian calendar (used by the Saxons) 13 February and according to the Julian calendar (used by the Russians) 2 February, have often been called a Swedish variant of Hannibal’s pincer movement in the battle of Cannae 216 BC. But the battle was actually planned by Rehnsköld as a frontal attack in which the Swedish numerical inferiority would be countered by thrusting through the enemy line with cold steel weapons before the enemies superior fire power could make an impact. Circumstances in the battle resulted however in the cavalry wings moving around obstacles and attacking the Saxon’s flanks in classic Hannibal style. In any way the battle ended with a total victory for the Swedish army. Over 7 000 Saxons and Russians were killed and just as many were captured. The Swedes only lost 400 men.

Battle of Novi (15 August 1799)

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Battle of Novi by Alexander Kotzebue

Novi

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

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

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

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

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

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Battle of Eylau (7–8 February 1807)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Murat’s Cavalry charge at Eylau

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

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

Tulagi Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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