This French knight bears the Oriflamme, the sacred silk standard of France. The Oriflamme was traditionally dated to Charlemagne and only taken from St Denis Cathedral when facing heretics or rebels, the latter being the case in 1214. It was thought that when it was taken out in battle, God was with the French. The Oriflamme’s divine inspiration prompted more ferocious and heroic actions from the French soldiery, especially at Bouvines.

On 27 July 1214, at the bridge of Bouvines, west of Tournai, in the county of Flanders, a battle was fought that involved most of the major principalities of western Europe, Philip II Augustus (1165-1223), king of France, defeated an allied army led by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV of Brunswick (c. 1180-1218).

To the participants, the Battle of Bouvines was a worldwide conflict, for nearly every ruling magnate in northwestern Europe took part there, with Pope Innocent III, Prince-bishop Elugh de Pierrepoint of Liege, and King John of England anxiously awaiting the results. Except for the battles of the Crusades, no medieval battle can compare with Bouvines for its European scope and participation.

On one side fought Otto IV of Brunswick, the Holy Roman Emperor, with his barons – the Counts of Tecklemburg, Katzenellenbogen, and Dortmund – and their armies. Joining Otto was William, Earl of Salisbury, half-brother of King John of England. William Long Sword, as he was known, was there to command the troops sent from England, and to be in charge of the large amount of money donated by King John to the allies. Ferrand of Portugal, Count of Elanders and Elainault, also fought with his large force of knights and footsoldiers, and he was joined by several other rebellious nobles of Prance, including Reginald of Dammartin, Count of Boulogne, and Hugo, Baron of Boves. Also present at Bouvines was Willem, Count of Holland, Hendrik I, Duke of Brabant, and the Counts of Limburg and Lorraine, with many lesser counts, dukes and nobles, `bellicose men, expert in military matters’, in the eyes of the contemporary English chronicler Roger of Wendover.

King Philip II of Prance, known to history as Philip Augustus, a cognomen given him by his biographer, Guillaume le Breton, opposed them. The historian Clarius would later eulogize Philip as `the most victorious king, who as a son of the Holy Mother Church stands as a defender and protector of Catholicism’. Philip and his army were supported by the pope and the Prince-bishop of Liege, who also sent troops to fight with the French. The Battle of Bouvines was a large battle, fought with sizeable armies on an extensive battlefield. Modern historians do not agree with the numbers recorded in early narrative sources – some of which place each side at 80,000 – but they do agree that it was fought by armies of between 10,000 and 20,000.

Both armies also fielded large cavalry forces, with perhaps as many as 1200 dubbed knights fighting with the French force and 1500 with the allies. However, the numbers of infantry greatly exceeded those of the cavalry; in the Flemish army, they may have totalled more than four times those of the cavalry. The allies’ forces also seem to have outnumbered the French, although not by a large amount. Nor did the allied generals use these larger numbers to any advantage.


Each of the allies seems to have had his own reason for opposing Philip Augustus in the war that ended with the Battle of Bouvines. King John’s reason was probably the most simple: Philip had been capturing English lands in France since he returned home from the Third Crusade in 1191. Trying to regain these lands had cost John’s elder brother, Richard the Lionheart, his life in 1199 at the siege of Chalus. A defeat of Philip would return these lands to the English crown.

Otto IV’s conflict was more with the pope than it was with Philip. Crowned by Innocent III as Holy Roman Emperor in 1209, confirming his election as King of Germany the year previously, Otto quickly earned Innocent’s anger by claiming and then attacking the Kingdom of Sicily. The pope promptly excommunicated the emperor, freeing the Germans from allegiance to him and inciting his enemies to rebellion. Innocent’s suggested replacement was his ward, Frederick of Hohenstaufen. The rebellion had gone increasingly against Otto for four years. Opposing Philip, who was supported fully by the pope, was a means for Otto to regain his credibility as ruler of Germany.

As for those French princes who opposed their king, it is difficult to locate a principal cause for their rebellion. Certainly Philip Augustus’ strength as a ruler limited the sovereignty of all his barons. Some of the more powerful ones felt independent enough to oppose their king. Ferrand of Portugal, despite being Count of Flanders and Hainault only since his marriage to the Countess, Joan of Constantinople, in 1212, was the strongest of these, and thus served as the rebels’ leader. His special disrespect for the king was shown in his refusal to accompany him on an invasion of England in 1213, since such a course would have been economically damaging to his counties’ cloth industries. Thus an alliance with King John of England, Otto IV of Brunswick, and other rebellious French lords was logical.


The day before the battle, Philip Augustus’ army was in Tournai, 20km (12.4 miles) east of Bouvines. Although Tournai was in the County of Flanders, the townspeople had chosen not to rebel against the king with their count, Ferrand of Portugal. (Throughout the Middle Ages, even during the Hundred Years War when enemies surrounded the town for several decades, Tournai would always remain faithful to the French king.) At Tournai, Philip Augusts and his military leadership held a council of war. They determined to march towards the allied army and to try to bring them to battle as soon as possible. But they also determined to find favourable terrain on which to fight.

The allies started the day of battle only about 12km (7.4 miles) to the southeast of the French, at Mortagne. According to the French chronicler known as the Minstrel of Reims, it was only at Mortagne that the allied leaders were informed of the proximity of the French army, and in hearing this news they rejoiced, as `they believed they had them in their net’. Confident that they could easily defeat the French, the allies were concerned only with fighting them and not with where the battle was to take place or if the terrain would favour them. “They marched in pursuit of the French army.

At Bouvines Philip found the favourable terrain he had been searching for. He stopped on the other side of the bridge over the Marcq River at Bouvines, next to the Roman road on which his army had been marching. At the small church in Bouvines, the king celebrated mass with his barons, `fully armed’ and prepared for war. Fie then addressed them, in words recorded by the Minstrel of Reims:

`Lords, you are all my men and I am your Sire … I have much loved you and brought you great honour and given you largely of what was mine. I have never wronged or failed you but I have always led you rightfully. For God’s sake, I beg you all today to protect my body and my honour, and yours as well. And if you think that the crown would be better served by one of you, I agree to it and want it with good heart and good will.’

The French barons answered: `Sire, for God’s sake, we do not want any King but you. Ride bravely against your enemies, we are ready to die with you.’ They then left the church, unfurled their banners, including the Oriflamme, only to be unfurled against enemies whom the king regarded as heretics or rebels. To the French, the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne and the Baron of Boves were rebels. They were also heretics, as Otto IV of Brunswick had been excommunicated by Innocent III, and it was forbidden to side with an excommunicant.


The Relatio Marchianesis de pugna Bouvinis, likely the earliest account of the battle and written by either an eyewitness, or from eyewitness accounts, reports that Philip demonstrated an important characteristic of good generalship, humility, a trait that was not duplicated in the leaders of the enemy forces: `Seeing that his adversaries were pursuing him terribly, like enraged dogs, and also bearing in mind that he could not retreat without too much dishonour, [Philip] put his hope in the Lord and arranged his army into military echelons as is customary for those who are about to fight.’

His was a calculated strategy. The king realized that the terrain at Bouvines – a large, flat area surrounded by river and marshes – offered him several advantages, and he ordered his army in three large divisions, cavalry and infantry in each division. They were impressive warriors. Again, the author of the Relatio Machianensis writes:

`The knights and the auxiliaries, armed and arranged into ordered echelons, prepared in all haste for the battle. The horses’ bridles were tightened by the auxiliaries. The armour shone in the splendour of the sun and it seemed that the light of day was doubled. The banners unfolded in the winds and offered themselves to the currents; they presented a delightful spectacle to the eyes.’

The allied army was pursuing the French at a very fast pace. Of course, the cavalry rode in front. When their leaders heard that the French had stopped at Bouvines, their pace picked up even more. This stretched the allied army out for quite a distance. One modern historian, J. F. Verbruggen, estimates that the length of the allied column might have reached as much as 10km (6.2 miles).

Military wisdom would have suggested that the Flemish vanguard halt their march and wait for the rest of the allied forces to catch up. This would have united the whole allied army, thereby allowing them to exploit their numerical superiority. But those in the van did not follow this more cautious path. Instead, they formed their own units and marched onto the field. A second part of the army joined them at Bouvines before the battle began, but throughout its course further allied soldiers continued to arrive, some not reaching the field until the fight was over.

The left wing of the allies, filled mostly with Flemish and Hainaulter cavalry, under the leadership of Ferrand of Portugal, faced a French right wing composed of heavy cavalry supported by lighter horsemen, led by the Duke of Burgundy and the Count of Champagne. In the centre of the allied forces was Emperor Otto, his German barons, and their cavalry and infantry – in almost equal numbers. They faced Philip Augustus’ main body, also both cavalry and infantry, commanded by the king himself. Finally, on the allies’ right wing, Reginald of Dammartin and William Long Sword commanded a division of their own soldiers and also several hands of mercenaries whose services had been purchased with English money. Although it is known that there was cavalry in this division, it seems to have been primarily composed of infantry, the numbers of which increased throughout the battle as allied infantry soldiers arrived, this wing being closest to the road. These soldiers faced a French left wing composed of both cavalry and infantry and led by the Counts of Ponthieu and Dreux and the Bishop of Beauvais, among others.


The Battle of Bouvines began with a clash between the allied left and French right wings. This was in the form of a simultaneous cavalry charge – horse against horse, lances couched – as if a tournament melee was being fought. Again, the Relatio Marchianensis provides the best account: `The first French echelon attacked the Flemings with virility, breaking their echelons by nobly cutting across them, and penetrated their army through all impetuous and tenacious movement.’

As was the case often with such horse-on-horse combats, the fighting was over quite quickly; the Relatio Marchianensis continues: `The Flemings, seeing this and defeated in the space of an hour, turned their backs and quickly took to flight.’ In this phase of battle, the experienced French cavalry appears to have faced little competition from their counterparts. No infantry are recorded as having been involved in this combat.

While the cavalry battle was being fought on his right, Philip Augustus delayed his own attack. Once more one can see in this only his military experience and leadership expertise. He had ordered his infantry in front of his cavalry and, as such, he knew that a defensive posture was preferable to an offensive charge. Flowever, the emperor who faced him was not willing to await the outcome of the fighting next to him. He charged recklessly into the centre of the French line. Initially, the Germans pushed the French troops back, the energy of the charge even knocking the king from his saddle. But, the French lines held; they did not break or flee. Guillaume le Breton, who was probably also an eyewitness to the battle, recounts what happened:

`While the French were fighting Otto and the Germans, German foot soldiers that had gone on ahead suddenly reached the King and, with lances and iron hooks, brought him to the ground. If the outstanding virtue of the special armour with which his body was enclosed had not protected him, they would have killed him on the spot. But a few of the knights who had remained with him, along with Galon of Montigny who repeatedly waved the standard to call for help and Peter Tristan who of his own accord got off his steed and put himself in front of the blows so as to protect the King, destroyed and killed all those sergeants on foot. The King jumped up and mounted his horse more nimbly than anyone would have thought possible. After the King had remounted and the rabble that had brought him down had all been destroyed and killed, the King’s battalion engaged Otto’s echelon. Then began the marvellous fray, the slaying and slaughtering by both sides of men and horses as they all were fighting with wondrous virtue.’ Eventually, the German attack petered out, with the French infantry, supported by the cavalry who were lined up as their reserve, regaining their lost ground and then pushing their opponents hack. In the midst of the engagement, Otto’s own horse was wounded and, turning away from the fighting, it fled, taking the emperor with it. The second phase of the battle had also gone to the French.

About the time the first phase of the battle was ending, and shortly after the second phase had begun, the third phase began. Once more, the allies took the initiative, charging their right wing into the French left. And, reinforced by their constantly arriving infantry, they continued to fight long after the other two allied divisions had broken and run. The fighting here was much more evenly balanced, causing Guillaume le Breton to admire the allied leaders there:

`Count Reginald of Boulogne who had been in the fray continually was still fighting so strongly that no one could vanquish or overcome him. He was using a new art of battle: he had set up a double row of well-armed foot soldiers pressed closely together in a circle in the manner of a wheel. There was only one entrance to the inside of this circle through which he went in when he wanted to catch his breath or was pushed too hard by his enemies. He did this several times.’ However, eventually, as these French soldiers began to gain reinforcements from the other two victorious divisions, the remaining allies left on the field – some cavalry with a lot more infantry – began to tire and weaken. Yet, only after the Count of Boulogne’s horse was killed under him, trapping him in the fall, did they finally cease fighting. According to Guillaume le Breton, at this time only six knights remained hy his side. The other allies had fled or surrendered.


Surprisingly, despite the length of the encounter and the numbers who fought at the Battle of Bouvines, only 169 allied and two French knights are reported to have been killed, suggesting the strength of the armour of their time. Contemporary sources record no figures for infantry deaths, but it is suggested that they, equally well armoured, also lost only a few. Many more were captured and would see the inside of Philip’s dungeons, including five barons – Ferrand of Flanders, William, Earl of Salisbury, Reginald of Boulogne, Willem of Holland, and the unnamed Count of Tecklemburg – 25 other nobles, and 139 knights. Ferrand was not freed until 1227. Emperor Otto IV of Brunswick, Hendrik of Brabant, and Hugo of Boves managed to escape, but for Otto IV and Hugo of Boves it was but a short respite. With his defeat at Bouvines, Otto IV had lost all credibility as emperor. Innocent III and the German princes who opposed the Otto had been proven right in an `ordeal by battle’.

Although he attempted to regain his former position, Otto quickly found that his erstwhile German allies had turned against him. Frederick II now found no opposition in ascending the German throne. Knowing that he would be summarily executed if caught, Otto IV lived on the run for four years, harboured by friends, until he died of natural causes in 1218. Hugo of Boves did not live even that long. Trying to reach the safety of London after the battle, he is reported to have fallen overboard during a storm in the Channel and drowned. English losses were more geographical. Of the once large Angevin Empire in France, John was only able to hold onto Gascony, and then just barely, thus setting the stage for the Hundred Years War, which began more than a century later.



The Battle of Brunkeberg not only saved the nascent Swedish nation state from being submerged in a Danish-dominated Scandinavian Union but saw a modern, professional army defeated and routed by a committed and well-organized peasant militia.

In 1397 the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden – with the Grand Duchy of Finland – created a union, with Queen Margaret of Denmark (1353-1412) as head of state. Due to the mutual suspicion and antagonism of the Danes and Swedes the union functioned poorly and when Margaret died in 1412 the Swedes broke away. They chose their own ruler, Charles VIII (Karl) Knutsson Bonde (1408-70), as their king, but when in May 1470 he died after a series of disjointed reigns. King Christian I of Denmark (1426-81), the legitimate ruler of Sweden, saw his chance to wrest back his throne.

In Stockholm, however. King Charles VIII’s nephew, Sten Gustavsson Sture (1440-1503), was elected by the Swedish grandees as Riksfdrestdndare (Lord Protector or Regent); he was supported by the old king’s followers and his relatives, such as Nils Sture (1426-94). But Christian I was determined to assert his legitimate claim and during the early summer of 1471 set about mobilizing his army. He secured shipping to transport his force to Stockholm by making a deal with the Hanseatic League, which was granted a monopoly on trade with Sweden once it had been forced back into the union with Denmark.

The two armies were fundamentally different. Both militarily and economically, the Danes were the stronger of the two peoples, coming from a more prosperous, populous and fertile country. The king’s army consisted of 3000 Danish troops that varied from mounted knights to regular infantry and armed peasant levies – the latter contained a small Swedish contingent loyal to their legitimate ruler. In addition there were 2000 or so German infantry – hardened professional mercenaries. The Danish army liked to fight regular battles in the open field where their material preponderance, military experience and superior discipline could he used to best effect. If the Swedes faced the Danes and Germans in the open they would be, or so the Danes believed, cut to pieces and slaughtered wholesale.

By contrast Sten Sture’s Swedish army consisted of lightly armed yet mobile peasants in arms, some tough professionals, and a handful of mounted knights (about 400). The core of the army, nine-tenths of it, would be made up of peasant levies armed with swords, pikes, axes, crossbows and longbows. The favourite tactic among the Swedish peasants – put to good use in the wooded, hilly Swedish countryside – was the ambush, and at Brunkeberg, Sten Sture would use that peasant tactic, but on a far greater scale, to good effect.


In late July 1471 the Danish fleet of 76 ships with the army on board set sail from Copenhagen harbour heading east towards Stockholm. To reach the city the Danish fleet would have to navigate through the treacherous, shallow waters of the vast archipelago that blocked the entrance to the Swedish capital. The archipelago consisted of literally hundreds of low-lying islands and underwater rocks sitting just beneath the surface. This made the Stockholm archipelago a navigator’s nightmare but it says something for the Danish admiral’s skills that the entire fleet sailed safely into the harbour of Stockholm without losing a single ship. No doubt a well-paid Swedish pilot had been recruited!

The Danish fleet anchored between the islands of Kapplingeholm and the larger, wooded island of Vargo (Wolf’s Island), just across the water from Stockholm Castle. The city, located on an island, could not be stormed by a conventional army nor assaulted properly by a fleet. Its approaches from the easterly side, facing the Baltic, were protected by a strong wooden palisade that protruded out of the water and blocked off Stockholm from a naval assault. It could only be attacked by an invader on the landward side from either the north or south. Both approaches were blocked by powerful turreted drawbridges and fortified gates. In the north Stockholm Castle gave added protection should the Danes attack.

But Christian had no intention of subjecting this formidable fortress city to a regular siege. He wanted his enemy, Sten Sture, to come to the relief of Stockholm, where the king hoped to defeat the `rebel’ Swedes in a regular battle he was sure his modern and well-equipped army would easily win. The Danes began to land their troops on Kapplingeholm on 18 August and immediately began to build a fortified camp atop the southern end of Brunkeberg. They built earthen ramparts topped by earth filled wicker baskets, wooden palisades and a strong stockade. The Swedes were shocked at the speed of construction and the defences. At regular intervals were openings for cannon – a new form of weaponry that came as a unpleasant surprise to the Swedes. This Brunkeberg camp was pivotal to Danish strategy. Had King Christian kept on the defensive he might have secured a victory by attrition. Sten Sture would have had to relieve Stockholm and this would have forced him to attack if the Danes remained on the defensive.


Both sides were quietly confident that they would win. The Danes had skill, better weapons and a fortified camp to bolster their chances, the Swedes, however, were fighting on home ground and knew the terrain far better than their enemy. On the high, wooded and boulder-strewn ridge of Brunkeberg, knights in armour, artillery and regular infantry would not be in their element. Swedish chances of winning were heightened by Christian I’s dispositions. In the face of an enemy of unknown strength an army should be kept together and not divided up.

The king, however, split his far smaller army into three parts to defend vital strategic points on the battlefield. Should things go badly wrong for the Danish side then their retreat back to the fleet had to be secured by a detachment of cavalry and some infantry. Furthermore the Stockholm garrison had to be prevented from joining up with the Swedish field army – so Christian placed another detachment to defend the pivotal position around the convent of St Klara. The main part of his army remained in the Brunkeberg camp.

The Swedes and Danes agreed to a truce that was to last until late September in order to make crucial preparations for a battle that could prove decisive. While Sten Sture went south to recruit more peasant troops and provincial knights, his cousin. Nils Sture, went to central Sweden for the same purpose. If Sten Sture wanted to win against King Christian then he had to secure the support of the belligerent anti-Danish population of Darlecarlia and Bergslagen. It took Sten and Nils what remained of the month of August and the whole of September to recruit the vast host of armed peasants that would make up the Swedish army at Brunkeberg. But on 9 October their contingents were finally assembled and united into a single army at Järva, north of Stockholm. In total the Swedes numbered some 10,000 men, or twice the number that Christian had at his disposal. This numerical preponderance would prove crucial and more than make up for the enemy’s higher troop quality.

During the following day Sten Store’s army marched from Järva and took up position, under cover of darkness during the night of 9/10 October, just northwest of St Klara. On the morrow not only his but his entire country’s fate would hang in the balance, but he was sure that his strategy would work. Christian’s plan was to lure the Swedes into fighting in the open, to be annihilated by a modern European-style army. But Sten Sture had no intention of doing what the king wanted. Instead he would use a simple but shrewd plan to trap, overwhelm and defeat the Danes.

While his army attacked the Danes from the front against the slopes leading up to their camp and the St Klara convent. Nils Sture would take his Darlecarlians around the ridge to the north. Once they had crossed it and made their way east they would regroup on Ladugardslandet, where the inhabitants of the capital grazed their cattle. As quickly as possible. Nils would then attack the vulnerable rear of the Danish position from the east and hopefully overcome the Danes through a combination of surprise and sheer numbers.

To make doubly sure that this strategy would work, Sten Sture had ordered Knut Posse, the Commandant of Stockholm, to put his troops and armed Stockholm burghers into boats, row across the narrow canal separating the capital from the mainland and land on the opposite shore. Posse was to attack the Danes holding St Klara in the rear and give Christian a nasty surprise. Now if everything went according to Sten Sture’s plan the Danes would be attacked on three sides giving them two simple options: fight to the death where they stood or flee for their lives towards their anchored fleet. Only the unfolding battle the following day would show if Sten Sture’s clever plan would work.


By early morning the Swedes were in position. The battle began at 11.00 a. m. and would continue for four gruelling and bloody hours. The Swedes fired volley after volley of arrows at the Danish camp and positions. The Danes, better equipped and with modern weaponry, answered with cannon fire. Sten Sture launched his first attack that was met by the Danes. Seeing his exposed corps around St Klara threatened bv this second Swedish offensive, Christian committed his troops. They left the safety of the camp and counter-attacked in the open to save the St Klara position. Danish self-confidence soared as their flanking attack against the Swedes seemed to take effect. The battlefront was now one long chain of fighting men stretching for almost a kilometre (0.6 miles) through partially open fields and rocky woodland. It was close-quarters lighting, man against man with axes, pikes, swords, spears, cudgels and daggers. The continuing battle had distracted the Danes as Sten Sture’s strategy of encirclement began to take shape. Finally, by the afternoon. Nils Sture’s Darlecarlians were in position to the east while the Stockholm garrison rowed as silently as they could for the opposite shore.


Nils Sture signalled for his men to advance. ‘The Danish outposts were swiftly and brutally dealt with, then, when they reached the Danish camp the Darlecarlians, the most feared of the Swedes, launched themselves at the poorly defended ramparts facing east with a roar. Meanwhile, led by Posse and Trolle, the Stockholm troops had landed on the shore and regrouped rapidly for an attack towards the convent, where they hoped to surprise and overwhelm the Danish defenders. It worked. The Danes were taken completely by surprise by Posse’s attack. Here the training and superior arms of the king’s troops were of little avail as wave after wave of snarling Swedes poured in on them from all sides.

The Danes were no weaklings and as professional troops fought back with controlled ferocity and great skill. But there were too many of the enemy as the infantry fought a hand-to-hand battle while the mounted Danish knights were unhorsed one by one. As they came crashing down, the knights were bludgeoned or stabbed to death by the peasant soldiers they had held in such contempt at the beginning of the battle. Christian shared his knights’ contempt for the enemy and the usurper rebel Sten Sture, and had thus expected an easy triumph once the Swedes were committed to battle. Instead it was his army that had walked blindly into a trap. Now, as the horrified king saw his men dying and his proud army buckling under the enemy’s onslaught, the question was how much, if any, of his army could be saved?

The Swedes were not having everything their own way, however. Knut Posse – in contrast to Sten Sture – led his men from the front and paid a terrible price for his bravery. Danish crossbowmen hit him in the legs and then a Dane or a German infantryman hit him over the head with an axe. He was carried, dying from his wounds, back to Stockholm. Nevertheless, his demise did not dampen the resolve of the Swedes, who scented victory and redoubled their efforts to destroy the enemy. Christian had committed a series of blunders and he may have had his faults as a commander but cowardice was not one of them. He ordered his personal guard to join him at the very centre of the fighting to drive back the Swedes and rally his faltering men. Perhaps the king was courting death, preferring to meet an honourable end in battle rather than survive a defeat. His bravado ended abruptly as he was hit by a small cannonball, leaving him badly wounded. His place was taken by one of his toughest and bravest commanders. Count Strange Nielsen, who tried to rally the troops carrying the Dannebrog (the white and red Royal Danish flag). He was killed outright.

The Danes and Germans began to waver and break. A handful of fleeing men became a hundred and then the flow of retreating soldiery became a torrent of panic-stricken and terrified humanity with only one thought on their mind: to flee. There was now no pretence of a well ordered retreat – it was a rout and it ended in tragedy as the rickety bridge between the mainland and the island of Kapplingeholm collapsed under the enormous weight of fleeing men and horses. Danish boats, sent out from the fleet, rowed up to shore and picked up survivors. Once those that could be saved had been taken aboard, the fleet sailed back to Copenhagen. King Christian had lost half his men – some 900 had drowned, another 900 had capitulated to the triumphant Swedes at the camp and the rest lay dead on the battlefield.


Sten Sture had saved Sweden’s fledgling statehood and independence but it had been a dearly bought victory for the Swedes. For the next 250 years Denmark and Sweden fought a series of bloody wars against each other with all the hatred and ferocity showed at Brunkeberg.

The Second War of Villmergen

Catholic Wil is bombarded on 21 May 1712 by Protestant artillery from Zurich and Bern during the Second War of Villmergen.

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Swiss Catholics vs. Swiss Protestants

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Villmergen, Switzerland

OBJECTIVES: The Protestant cantons sought to restore the power they had lost as a result of the First Villmergen War.

OUTCOME: The Protestants regained control over most of Switzerland.

TREATIES: Peace of Aarau, 1712

The Land Peace of Baden, which ended the First VILLMERGEN WAR in 1656, endured until 1712, when the Catholic abbot of Saint Gall, Leodegar Bürg Isser (1640-1717), decided to help the needy Protestants of the Toggenburg build a much-needed road. This gesture of brotherly love violated the intra-canton religious unity guaranteed by the Land Peace, and although efforts at reconciliation were made, the Protestant forces of Zürich and Bern invaded and occupied the Catholic cantons of Toggenburg, Thurgau, Aargau, and Rheintal. Bernese forces met the Catholics in the Second Battle of Villmergen on July 25, and this time, in contrast to the first battle in the first war, the Protestant forces prevailed. The defeated peasantry agreed to the Peace of Aarau of 1712, which supplanted the Land Peace of Baden by guaranteeing religious toleration between Protestants and Catholics. The agreement diminished the power of the Catholic peasantry and restored it to the urban, wealthy Protestant cantons-the situation prior to the First Villmergen War.


At the beginning of 1712 the population of the Toggenburg was turning against its own leaders, and tension was rising between Catholics and Protestants. The Abbot was able to exploit the situation to re-establish his authority in several areas of the predominantly Catholic Unteramt or lower Toggenburg, where his supporters, aided by some of his own troops, had begun a military takeover. In their Easter sermons, priests incited Catholics to take up arms against his opponents, and the church bells were rung for a general mobilization.

The Toggenburgers’ response was to occupy by force two religious houses belonging to the Abbot, the convent at Magdenau and the monastery of Neu Sankt Johann, during the night of 12-13 April. This action, which may be said to have marked the outbreak of war, had been sanctioned by Zurich and Berne, who the following day issued a famous declaration  supporting the Toggenburgers. The Landrat of the Toggenburg had issued its own ‘Manifest’ the day before. The Catholic cantons produced a counter-declaration. The local militia occupying Magdenau and Neu Sankt Johann were ill-disciplined, and highly-coloured reports of their ‘excesses’ were soon circulating in the Catholic cantons, inflaming public opinion. Zurich and Berne subsequently published a denial of the rumours.

As soon as they learned of these developments, the so-called Fünf Orte or Five Cantons (Lucerne and Uri, supported by Schwyz, Unterwalden and Zug) moved to occupy the Freiamt and County of Baden. These territories stretched northwards from the borders of Lucerne down the valley of the Reuss and on to the Rhine. They formed a wedge between Zurich and Berne and, ever since the Reformation, had represented an obstacle to the union of military forces of the two most powerful Protestant cantons. It was such a union which the Five Cantons now sought to prevent. They already had a share, along with Zurich, Berne and Glarus, in the government of both territories; they were now abusing their power by invading them unilaterally.

Meanwhile Zurich had despatched troops eastwards under the command of Johann Heinrich Bodmer. (As the owner of a well-known printing firm, he is a figure of bibliographical as well as historical interest.) Their aim was to unite with the Toggenburg militia, commanded by Nabholz, and attack the town of Wil, close to the Toggenburg border, where the Abbot had concentrated his forces to support his designs on the territory. As early as 15 April both forces reached the outskirts of Wil independently, but in the small hours of the 16th Bodmer received an order from Zurich to retreat. Nabholz had no choice but to do the same.

The significance of this fiasco was not lost on the other side. In the nearby Thurgau in particular, the Catholic element of the population was jubilant. It was partly to restore its credibility in the area that Zurich embarked on a full-scale occupation of this ‘joint dependency’; at the same time it could deal a blow against the Abbot of St Gall, who enjoyed feudal rights, including that of calling up men for military service, in many Thurgau parishes. The invading forces met with little resistance; on 25 April Frauenfeld, the chief town, opened its gates to them.

Elsewhere Zurich was impatiently awaiting the arrival of Bernese reinforcements. Because the Catholics had occupied the crossings of the Reuss, the Bernese were obliged to make a detour, but on 25 April 1,400 of them forced the passage of the Aare near the Stilli (literally: the place where the river flows quietly), a few miles south of its confluence with the Rhine, and joined 2,000 of their allies. One thing immediately became apparent: the men of Berne were a far more effective fighting force than the men of Zurich. By the end of April the Bernese had also occupied Klingnau (further down the Aare), Kaiserstuhl and Zurzach (both on the Rhine); all three belonged to the Prince-Bishop of Constance, under the sovereignty of the Swiss Confederation.

The beginning of May was taken up with attempts at peace-making in which the French ambassador played a prominent part. A Diet was held in Baden but Zurich and Berne declined to attend as long as the town was occupied by Catholic troops. They also had reason to seek a speedy military resolution of the conflict. Zurich now had 20,000 of its citizens under arms; its countryside was denuded of able-bodied men; agriculture and commerce were almost at a standstill, and the longer the war lasted the greater the cost would be. In the middle of May Zurich ordered the resumption of the siege of Wil, whose garrison had been steadily reinforced and now numbered approximately 4,000. Military operations, involving both Bernese and Zurich forces, commenced on 17 May, but it was only after an artillery bombardment that began on 21 May and resumed the following morning. Trinity Sunday, that the town was compelled to surrender.

The Abbot of St Gall was at Rorschach, anxiously awaiting the outcome of events; when news of the fall of Wil reached him, he took ship across Lake Constance en route for his Swabian territory of Neuravensburg, a few miles north of Lindau. The rest of his domains were now at the mercy of the invaders. Ignoring the pleas of the Protestant free city of St Gall, whose inhabitants viewed their approach with mixed feelings, Zurich and Berne took possession of the abbey on 25 May; their troops also reached Rorschach on the 26th, only to find the population had vanished.

In the days which followed, the victors ransacked the deserted abbey ‘from the wine cellars to the belfries’, not sparing its magnificent library, which explains why some of its books are still to be seen in the Zentralbibliothek in Zurich. The librarian of Zurich, Johann Jacob Scheuchzer – whose son Johann Caspar was for a time secretary and librarian to Sir Hans Sloane, and thus played a part in building up our own collections – was embarrassed by these new acquisitions, whilst from Vienna the great Leibnitz wrote to express his concern. Fortunately, some of the library’s greatest treasures from the early Middle Ages had already been removed to safety; furthermore, Zurich later gave back some of what it had taken. The two victorious city-states also took control of all the Abbot’s sources of income, justifying their action by the need to defray the expenses of war.

Meanwhile the Protestants had scored further military successes in another theatre of war. On 22 May, the day that Wil surrendered, the Bernese captured Mellingen in the Freiamt, and thus secured an important crossing of the Reuss. The garrison had already fled. The other key crossing-place was Bremgarten, but while marching towards it the Bernese forces were ambushed in a sunken lane on a densely wooded hillside. Fighting back from a very difficult position, they managed to win a decisive victory. This was the second most important engagement of the whole war; it took place on 26 May.

With the Freiamt securely in their hands, the victorious allies turned their attention to the town of Baden. Besides being the traditional meeting place of Federal Diets, this town was a bastion of Catholicism in northern Switzerland, and yet it lay a mere fifteen miles’ journey from Zurich down the valley of the Limmat. Ever since the Middle Ages, and more particularly since the Reformation, it had been politically and economically a thorn in the side of Zurich, which now saw its opportunity to settle old scores. The town was strongly fortified, and overlooked by the castle of Stein. It was defended by a garrison of 1,000 men and sixty cannon. However, they were unable to withstand the onslaught of the heavy Zurich artillery, which had been placed under the command of an expert officer. On 31 May, when the bombardment was at its height, the Imperial Resident, Count Trautmannsdorf, demanded a cessation of hostilities so that he could leave the town in safety by boat. This was granted; the bombardment was not resumed, because the town surrendered unconditionally the following morning. There was much gloating by the other side over the fall of Baden. Its citizens were humiliated by being made to swear the oath of allegiance to Zurich and Berne – see the ‘Huldigungs-formale, abgelegt in der Kirchen der Statt Baden, von gantzer Burgerschafft daselbsten’ in manuscript no. 30* -and the town’s fortifications, symbol of its pride, were demolished with indecent haste.

The victors had now achieved their war aims, and were willing to talk peace. It was the neutral cantons that initiated the process. At first the Protestants met in Aarburg and the Catholics in nearby Olten, but it was not until the venue was changed to Aarau that discussions began in earnest on 8 June. The delegates met in three separate rooms – Zurich and Berne in one, the Five Cantons in another, and the neutrals in a third. There were three issues: the Toggenburg, the joint dependencies, and war reparations. The first had been solved de facto for the time being, and the third could perhaps be thrown into the equation of a satisfactory deal on the joint dependencies.

Negotiations dragged on for several weeks. Eventually it was agreed that the Freiamt would be divided by an east-west line; everything north of it, and also the County of Baden, would be removed from the control of the Five Cantons, whose share in the administration and, more important, the revenues would henceforth be divided between Zurich and Berne. Glarus, which had stayed neutral, would continue to enjoy an eighth share of the cake. Meanwhile a formal settlement of the Toggenburg dispute would be deferred until the Abbot of St Gall was willing to enter into meaningful negotiations.

Peace was signed on 18 July by Zurich and Berne with Lucerne and Uri. The smaller Catholic cantons delayed their approval, but it was expected to be only a matter of time. The delegates of Lucerne and Uri had repeatedly sworn ‘before God’s countenance’ that their intentions were peaceful. Zurich and Berne were relying on them to bring the others into line, and were therefore totally unprepared for what happened next.

When the people of the Five Cantons learned the terms of the peace, their indignation knew no bounds. How could they accept such humiliation, when they had not been defeated on their own territory? They were persuaded that their enemies were aiming at nothing less than the extermination of Catholicism in Switzerland. Egged on by the Papal nuncio, their priests threatened them with hell-fire and damnation if they did not defend their faith; now, if ever, was the time to trust in the God of miracles.

On 20 July a Catholic force of 4,000 fell upon the Bernese detachment guarding the bridge over the Reuss at Sins, opposite the territory of Zug. (Contemporary sources always use the name Seysser Brucke, though the spelling varies.) Heavily outnumbered, the Bernese were forced to withdraw northwards to Muri. On 22 July the men of Schwyz made a dawn raid on the territory of Zurich. Close to the south side of the lake the borders of Zurich were defended by a series of earthworks, traces of which can still be seen. The invaders carried out acts of savagery against the population as they lay in their beds, and succeeded in penetrating behind the Zurich lines. Cannon-fire could be heard in the city, fifteen miles away. By late morning the situation was critical, and was only saved for Zurich by the timely arrival of cavalry. The episode became known as the Wadenswil raid or attack on the Bellenschanze.

Meanwhile, in far-away Flanders, the French victory at Denain on 24 July saved Louis XIV from disaster, and changed the course of European history in a way that could only work to the disadvantage of the Swiss Protestants. However, the Swiss conflict reached its climax on 25 July, when the combined forces of the Five Cantons clashed with ± e Bernese close to Villmergen, the very place where the previous civil war had ended in a Catholic victory. On this occasion, after a bitterly contested day-long battle whose outcome was in doubt almost to the end, the Bernese triumphed. Three thousand of their enemies, almost a third of the total, lay dead on the field or drowned in the nearby river, and two centuries of Catholic hegemony were at an end.

Only now did Zurich dare to begin further offensive operations; on 26 July its forces invaded the territory of Zug, which signed an armistice at Blickenstorf on 28 July. Preparations were also made for the invasion of Schwyz; even the Zurich navy lent a hand by landing on the islands of Ufenau and Lutzelau; but on i August proud Schwyz, hitherto the most fanatical of the Catholic cantons, signed an armistice.

Since throwing off the Abbot’s yoke, the Toggenburgers had begun to dream of their own sovereign state, united with the neighbouring Uznach, Gaster and other territories in a Republic of Eastern Switzerland. Such a concept was nearly a hundred years ahead of its time, and received scant sympathy from the authorities in Zurich. None the less the County of Uznach, a joint dependency of Schwyz and Glarus, was invaded on 30 July in a combined operation: Zurich forces approached from the north-west, and the Toggenburgers, accompanied by Nabholz, from the north-east. An act of capitulation was signed the same day. The following day, 31 July, it was the turn of Gaster to surrender and receive a Toggenburg garrison. The Bailiwick of Gaster, with Weesen, extended up to the Lake of Walenstadt, and was likewise ruled by Schwyz and Glarus.

On the north side of Lake Zurich, towards its upper end, lay the ancient town of Rapperswil, strongly fortified and joined to the opposite shore by a bridge nearly a mile in length. The town was a joint dependency of four cantons, three of them Catholic. Often at loggerheads with Zurich in the past, it had successfully withstood a siege during the civil war of 1656. On this occasion, however, it surrendered without a shot being fired Since the Battle of Villmergen the Bernese had also entered the territory of the Five Cantons, invading Unterwalden from the south over the Brtinig Pass and Lucerne from the west and north. In the latter they occupied the monastery of Sankt Urban where they took sixty prisoners; the monks had already fled, taking all their treasures with them; doubtless these treasures included the magnificent silver reliquary of which some surviving fragments – panels by Urs Graf. By 31 July the main Bernese army was at Schwarzenbach on Lucerne soil.

The capitulation of Rapperswil on 1 August marked the complete end of hostilities. A new peace  was signed in Aarau on 9 and II August; it included the provisions of the old, but went further in favour of Zurich and Berne. The area of the Freiamt to be placed under their jurisdiction was extended; Rapperswil, together with its bridge and the strategic positions on the opposite bank, was to be subject to them; and Berne was to be admitted to the administration of further joint dependencies (principally the Thurgau and Rheintal). The Toggenburg dispute, for which ostensibly the whole war had been fought, was still not settled, because St Gall was unwilling to seek a compromise.

Further reading: Bruce Gordon, John Stevenson, Mark Greengrass, eds., The Swiss Reformation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003); Thomas M. Lindsay, History of the Reformation: Reformation in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Scotland and England (Belle Fourche, S. D.: Kessinger, 2003).

Battle of Lagos

Despite warnings from his confidante, La Pompadour, that the invasion plans might founder on the rock of finance rather than under the guns of British warships, Louis XV was determined to press ahead, well aware that the descent on Britain was the only card he had left to play. He ordered Silhouette to find the necessary money and Silhouette responded with an issue of seventy-two million livres, financed by tax farming. Spain under its new king finally decided to make a loan, and the Court Banker and Farmer-General Jean-Josephe de Laborde received four million livres in Portuguese money, specifically earmarked by Madrid to finance Thurot’s landing in Ireland. Doubtless behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by Pompadour on behalf of her protégé Soubise explains the sequel to the 14 July 1759 conference. At the next meeting of the Council of State, on 22 July, Louis XV decided to suspend the Soubise expedition and reinstate the cross-Channel coup by Chevert, who would now depart for Maldon from Ostend, thus making use of the Austrian Netherlands card. To ensure that d’Aiguillon’s invasion force got to Scotland, Admiral La Clue was ordered to sortie from Toulon, evade the British under Boscawen and join Conflans at Brest. There they would have temporary local superiority over Hawke, which would give them time to embark d’Aiguillon’s troops.

In the Mediterranean, Boscawen had taken over from Rear-Admiral Thomas Broderick in May and had followed his predecessor’s policy of making audacious raids on the coast of France to disconcert the French and keep them guessing. With twenty-five ships (thirteen men-of-war and twelve frigates) under his command, he had official orders to maintain a close blockade of Marseilles and Toulon and secret ones making the safety of Gibraltar a priority, but nothing was said about an invasion. Boscawen’s unceasing activity made the French think that another descent in force on their coastline was envisaged by the enemy, so they deployed ten battalions of infantry between Toulon and Marseilles. Boscawen increased the fear and uncertainty by sending two frigates on a daring raid right under the shore battery at Toulon. In his seamanship and derring-do, Boscawen was another Hawke, but in personality no two more unlike commanders could be imagined. Where Hawke was socially and politically inept and gauche, Boscawen knew how to manipulate the Georgian elite system for maximum advantage. Still only forty-nine, he could count among his honours and achievements the following: Admiral of the Blue, Lord of the Admiralty, member of the Privy Council and General of Marines at a salary of £3,000 a year (roughly £200,000 in present-day terms). He enjoyed a happy home life, devoted to his intellectual wife Frances, who returned the compliment and bore him five children. The only attribute Boscawen did not possess was Napoleon’s essential: luck. He would die of a mysterious fever in January 1761, which his physicians ascribed to having spent too many years at sea.

At the end of June, Boscawen relaxed the blockade and headed west to the coast of Spain for water. On board his flagship, serving as a gunnery assistant, was one of the most remarkable figures of the eighteenth century, a black youth named Olaudah Equiano, later to be a notable writer and an inspiration for Afro-Americans. Equiano was the son of a chief in Benin, who had been captured by slavers when he was eleven. Having survived the notorious ‘Middle Passage’, he arrived in America where, in 1757, aged twelve, he was bought by a Royal Navy lieutenant named Michael Pascal. In 1759 Pascal was assigned to Boscawen’s command, and this was the reason for Equiano’s presence on the flagship. Equiano’s intellect and powers of recall were formidable and he memorably recollected the terrible gale that assailed Boscawen’s fleet at this juncture: ‘The sea ran so high that, though all the guns were well housed, there was great reason to fear their getting loose, the ship rolled so much; and if they had it must have proved our destruction.’

Since Boscawen remained in Salou Bay near Tarragona until the end of July, this would have been the ideal time for La Clue to clear from Toulon and head out through the Straits of Gibraltar to join Conflans at Brest. It was typical of the muddle, indecision and sheer bad fortune of the French that Louis XV’s order to this effect did not reach La Clue until the end of the month, by which time Boscawen had arrived at Gilbraltar for revictualling. For a whole month Boscawen took a huge risk and relied on ‘open blockade’: he left two frigates behind for surveillance duties, one off Malaga and the other cruising the Straits between Estrepona and Ceuta. His thinking was that La Clue might be tempted to sortie, and he (Boscawen) could then finish him off. On 3 August Boscawen received new orders, this time making the danger of invasion a priority and enjoining him at all costs to prevent the juncture of the Brest and Toulon fleets; he was expressly commanded to follow La Clue wherever he would venture, if he managed to get clear of the Straits into the Atlantic. As always the French took an unconscionable time to get to sea. It was 5 August before La Clue was finally convinced the British were not lurking in ambush outside Toulon and so set sail. He had twelve ships of the line and three frigates in his fleet, including his flagship, the eighty-gun L’Océan, the pride of the French navy. Although Louis XV had foolishly allowed his navy to decline during his reign, it was widely acknowledged that, in terms of shipbuilding, eighteenth-century French warships were the finest in the world, and L’Océan, a new warship launched at Toulon in 1756, was a prime specimen.

La Clue’s intentions were to approach the Straits of Gibraltar along the Barbary coast and then crowd on sail at night so as to pass through the narrow entrance undetected. At first luck was with him and he made good progress with the aid of a stiff easterly breeze. He was almost through the Straits undetected, east of Ceuta at nightfall, when a patrolling Royal Navy frigate spotted his ships and raised the alarm. La Clue had done well, since Boscawen’s fleet was still refitting, with his flagship Namur with sails still unbent and most of the crews on shore leave; Boscawen himself and his senior officers had so little sense of danger that they were away dining with the Governor of San Roque. But someone on the Admiral’s flagship, following previous orders, gave the signal to unmoor. The dinner party broke up instantly, and there was a stampede to get back to the ships. Boscawen’s speed of recovery was remarkable: by 10 p.m. eight vessels had got under way, and an hour later Boscawen was in full pursuit off Cabritra Point. This was a stunning feat of seamanship and it is hardly surprising that historians of the Royal Navy have always gone into rhapsodies about the achievement. In three hours an entire fleet, moored in a difficult harbour at night, with sails unbent and the Admiral absent, had set sail. La Clue had seen the British frigate signalling his presence and realised that his best-case scenario hopes were in vain. He was now involved in a race. He was confident that L’Océan could outstrip her pursuers. But what about the lesser ships in his fleet?

At midnight La Clue made a fateful decision. His standing orders had called for a rendezvous at Cadiz – a wise precaution in view of the differential speeds of his ships and the uncertain weather in the Atlantic, which might scatter them. So far he had been making way with all lights extinguished but now, with the wind set fair and confident that all his craft were tightly bunched around him, he signalled with his poop-lantern that the entire armada should instead make for Cape St Vincent. Why this signal was not seen by all is not clear, but no fewer than five men-of-war and three frigates (the Fantasque, Lion, Trito, Fier, L’Oriflamme, La Chimère, Minerve and Gracieuse) failed to obey the new signal and made for Cadiz, following the original instructions. Some have speculated that La Clue’s captains did not like the new order and deliberately ignored it, but the best testimony suggests that the hindmost vessels were too far away at midnight to read the signal and, by the time they caught up between 2 and 3 a.m., La Clue had extinguished the lantern for fear he was simply lighting the way for Boscawen. Once again Louis XV’s neglect of the French marine must take some part of the blame, for the French had no night-compass signals. The eight breakaway French ships spent the next day trying to find L’Océan, then gave up and put into Cadiz, convinced they would find the flagship there. Arriving on 19 August, they were at once bottled up by Admiral Brodrick and there they remained impotently until New Year’s Day 1760. When the French ships split up, Boscawen made the right decision: ignore the small fry and follow the flagship.

At 6 a.m. on the morning of the 18th, La Clue saw some ships toiling in his rear and, thinking they were his rearguard, stopped to let them catch up. Finally, when Brodrick’s division (Boscawen’s rearguard) also appeared on the horizon, a mere head count revealed that this must be the enemy. To his horror La Clue realised that his own rear was nowhere to be seen and he had foolishly waited for the enemy to close on him. Now, with just seven French ships to the leeward of him, some thirty miles short of Cape St Vincent, and their rearguard mysteriously vanished, Boscawen engaged in a metaphorical licking of the lips. In his own words: ‘The wind was strong at east; the weather fine, the water smooth; and we soon perceived that we gained exceedingly fast upon the enemy; which were plainly discovered to be seven large ships of the line, and one of them carrying a French admiral’s flag.’ He signalled his fleet as he later recalled: ‘the ships to engage as they come up, without regard to the line of battle. The enemy’s ships were formed in a line a-head and crowding away from us under a press of sail . . . we had a fresh gale and came up with them very fast.’

For five hours, from about 8 a.m. to i p.m., both fleets made fast progress to the north-west, with the British gradually gaining. Shortly afterwards both fleets showed their colours and Boscawen signalled to attack. Even so it was 2.30 p.m. before HMS Culloden came to close quarters with the seventy-four-gun Centaure, captain M. de Sabran Grammont.

Although he had brought the enemy to battle, Boscawen was not at first pleased with the progress of the engagement. His official report was terse: ‘About half past two, some of the headmost ships began to engage; I could not get up to the Océan till near four.’ But his private correspondence shows that he was displeased when five of his warships crowded in on the Centaure. In Boscawen’s mind, Brodrick and the rearguard could easily take care of the French rear, and in the meantime his best ships should be pursuing the flagship. Nor could he perform his favourite manoeuvre of attacking in inverted order, whereby each successive ship used its comrade already engaged as a shield and thus got alongside the next enemy vessel, until every single one of the enemy craft from rear to van was engaged in rotation. Olaudah Equiano recalled that Boscawen passed three French ships to get close to L’Océan and was fired on by all three but ‘notwithstanding which our admiral would not suffer a gun to be fired at any of them, to my astonishment, but made us lie on our bellies on the deck till we came quite close to the Océan, who was ahead of them all; when we had orders to pour the whole three tiers into her at once.’

But meanwhile Boscawen had a fight on his hands with the Centaure, which battled tigerishly for five hours. Two hundred French mariners were killed or wounded in the furious combat, while Captain de Sabran Grammont himself was wounded in nine places. And when Boscawen got the Namur close enough to L’Océan around 4 p.m. so that a running fight developed, Namur had the worse of the encounter and had to sheer off after half an hour, but not before she had inflicted severe casualties of eighty-six dead and more than 100 wounded on the French. Olaudah Equiano was carrying powder to the guns during the fight and described the encounter as grim and deadly:

I ran a very great risk for more than half an hour of blowing up the ship. For, when we had taken the cartridges out of the boxes, the bottom of many of them proving rotten, the powder ran all about the deck, near the match tub; we scarcely had water enough at the last to throw on it. We were also, from our employment, very much exposed to the enemy’s shots; for we had to go through the whole length of the ship to bring the powder.

La Clue, with one arm broken and the other seriously wounded, temporarily handed over command to the Comte de Carne Marcein. Disabled, having lost mizzen mast and both topsail yards, Boscawen’s flagship fell astern and as it did so he encountered the Centaure, which was now (7.15 p.m.) striking after its battering by five Royal Navy ships. While L’Océan crowded on sail, Boscawen had to transfer his flag to the Newark. He ordered a general chase that would last all night, with the fifty-gun Guernsey in the British van. The heroic captain de Sabran Grammont was meanwhile taken prisoner to Gibraltar.

For the French it was now a case of sauve qui peut. By the morning of 19 August, La Clue had at L’Océan’s side only the three seventy-four-gun ships Redoutable, Téméraire and Modeste; the other two were making way on independent tracks, one bound for Rochefort, the other for the Canaries. Boscawen reported: ‘I pursued all night and in the morning of the 19th saw only four sail standing in for the land of Lagos.’ Unable to escape his pursuers but determined not to surrender, La Clue ran his magnificent flagship onto the rocks, with flag flying and every sail set; ‘every mast went by the board and fell over the bows,’ the watching Boscawen reported. The Redoutable followed suit, but the Téméraire and the Modeste anchored under the guns of some Portuguese batteries in Lagos Bay. In flagrant disregard of Portuguese neutrality, Boscawen sent his ships in to take the French vessels as prizes. L’Océan and Redoubtable were put to the torch where they lay. It seems there was still plenty of gunpowder on board L’Océan, for Olaudah Equiano describes the sequel: ‘About midnight I saw the Océan blow up, with a most dreadful explosion. I never beheld a more awful scene. In less than a minute the midnight for a certain space seemed turned into day by the blaze, which was attended with a noise louder and more terrible than thunder, that seemed to reveal every element around us.’

Carne Marcein and his officers were taken prisoner; La Clue escaped captivity, having previously taken himself off to Lisbon on a cutter. Lagos was a stunning victory for Britain. The French lost five ships and 500 killed and wounded as against casualties of 252 for Boscawen, but it was in its strategic implications that the battle was so decisive. Conflans was now on his own against the combined might of the Royal Navy and the chances of a successful French invasion considerably diminished. Unable to find the other two French vessels, Boscawen reported his success to Pitt and Hawke and announced on 20 August that he was returning home, leaving Brodrick and seven ships on patrol.

The demoralised French were reduced to unseemly three-way polemics between La Clue, the Ministry of Marine and the captains of the ships that had run into Cadiz. A marathon of epistolary self-exculpation and blame-shifting ensued, with La Clue pointing the finger at the captains now bottled up in Cadiz and they in turn protesting that the Admiral had not made his intentions plain, had changed his mind and then not sent clear signals. La Clue blithely wrote to Choiseul that he was not guilty but simply unlucky; all that seamanship could do he had done but the caprice of Fortune had undone him. French public opinion expressed itself disgusted with the whole affair, from which no one except Captain de Sabran Grammont had emerged with credit; indeed, he was universally conceded to have performed as valiantly as warriors of old and was expressly singled out for plaudits by his British captors in Gibraltar. As always, the French government proved absurdly indulgent towards its failed admirals. La Clue was made Lieutenant-General in 1764 and Castillon, one of the captains who skulked in Lagos, was promoted in 1765. The Marquis de Saint-Aignan, the lacklustre commander of the Redoutable, went on to reach the highest rank in the navy.

The gloom in Paris contrasted with the euphoria in London, where news of the great victory arrived on 6 September. Even the congenitally downbeat Duke of Newcastle allowed himself to breathe new optimism: ‘Now Boscawen will come back,’ he wrote, ‘with seven ships and three French ones, and two regiments from Gibraltar. I own I was afraid of invasion till now.’ Adam Smith, revelling in the success of his book on moral sentiments, told his friend Gilbert Elliott (in a letter dated 10 October) that he was very pleased about Lagos but nobody took the threatened invasion seriously anyway. Arriving almost simultaneously with the news of the victory at Minden in Germany, Boscawen’s tidings convinced Pitt that Providence was with the British this year. But he and Newcastle forgot the ancient wisdom about cornered rats. Now almost out of options, Choiseul and his ministers would fight desperately to ensure that d’Aiguillon and his invasion force got to Scotland.

Royal Naval Division (RND) at Helles

GALLIPOLI 1915 Two Rolls-Royce cars of the Armoured Car Section of the Royal Naval Division, under Lieutenant Commander, Wedgwood, in the shelters dug to minimise the risks from shell fire.

Vice Admiral Carden received orders to begin his campaign against the defenses guarding the Dardanelles Straits on February 5, 1915. Churchill ordered two battalions of the Royal Marine Light Infantry—the Chatham and Plymouth Battalions—to join Carden’s fleet on February 6 for service ashore. The plan was for them to land and demolish any guns in the Turkish forts that the battleships could not.

An Admiralty memorandum was issued on February 15 that stressed the need for ground troops if the Royal Navy was unsuccessful. Thus, Kitchener agreed to make the army’s Twenty-Ninth Division available. This was the army’s only regular division not yet engaged on the western front, and his decision was a controversial one. Field Marshal Sir John French, commander in chief of the British army in France and Flanders (the British Expeditionary Force [BEF]), had been promised the division as a reinforcement, and he argued strenuously for it. His argument went unheeded, but he persisted, and on February 19 Kitchener reversed his decision. At the same meeting he suggested that the First Australian Division and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade should be sent to support the fleet instead.

On February 18 Churchill ordered the Royal Naval Division (RND) to the Aegean, and the French government dispatched a division of French and Colonial troops—to be called the Corps Expéditionaire d’Orient (CEO)—to assist. The divisions sailed for the Greek island of Lemnos, fifty miles from Gallipoli. There, what would become known as the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) established its forward base at Mudros, which has a natural harbor capable of handling a large number of ships. Two days later troops from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) that were training in Egypt were also ordered to Mudros. It was a surprise for them because they thought they were going to fight in France. Kitchener had no faith in the ability of either the RND or the “Anzacs,” as the Australians and New Zealanders were called. In fact, when Prime Minister Asquith asked him if he felt it would be wiser to use these colonial troops to support the navy instead of the Twenty-Ninth Division, he replied, “Quite good enough if a cruise in the Sea of Marmora was all that was contemplated.” The coming campaign would prove that his lack of faith was unwarranted. The Anzacs and naval infantrymen would be every bit as capable as the professional soldiers of the Twenty-Ninth.

The Royal Naval Division was an anomaly. It was Churchill’s brainchild. As first lord of the Admiralty, he found himself with more marines and reservist sailors than he had ships on which they could serve. So, he decided to turn them into infantrymen. The division consisted of twelve infantry battalions: four of Royal Marines and eight of men from the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, strengthened by stokers already serving in the navy and veterans recalled from the Royal Naval Reserve, who would serve as the battalions’ non-commissioned officers. The Royal Marine battalions were named after their home stations—Chatham, Deal, Plymouth, and Portsmouth. The RN battalions were named after admirals of the Napoleonic Wars—Anson, Benbow, Collingwood, Drake, Hawke, Hood, Howe, and Nelson. The battalions were supported by units of the Royal Marines—cyclists, medics, and engineers—but had no artillery directly assigned to them. Few of the men had seen action, and most of the sailors, having enlisted after the outbreak of war, had never even been to sea. Many had never even seen it. The division first saw action during the siege of Antwerp in October 1914, but far more men were captured by the Germans than were killed in combat. In fact, roughly half of the men in the division were taken prisoner and interned for the duration of the war. Those who made it out of Antwerp returned to England, and the division was hastily strengthened with new recruits.

The Landings of April 25, 1915—Helles

The landings at Helles were planned on a smaller scale than those at Anzac, but their combined objective was no less grand. The ultimate goal was the capture of a six hundred-foothigh hill called Achi Baba, north of the village of Krithia. As at Anzac, a covering force was to secure the ground ahead of the main landing areas, and the main body would advance through it to secure the hill.

The plan called for a covering force consisting of the British army’s Eighty-Sixth Brigade to land at the three beaches in the center of the landing area: V on the tip of the peninsula, W along the western edge, and X to the north of that. Two battalions and one company of the Eighty-Seventh Brigade, along with one battalion of Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI), were to capture Y (two miles north of X) and S Beaches (northeast of V). The Eighty-Eighth Brigade would then land at V Beach. With the covering force, it would advance north until its flanks linked up with the troops at Y Beach on its left and S Beach on its right. When this was accomplished, the other two battalions of the Eighty-Seventh Brigade would land at X Beach. After linking up with the two battalions from Y and S, they would move through the Eighty-Eighth Brigade to capture Achi Baba. The division’s only reserve was two infantry battalions that would land behind the covering force at X. In an effort to fool the Turks into thinking that a landing was also occurring on the other side of the peninsula, part of the Royal Naval Division (RND) would make a diversionary landing there, at a place called Bulair. The French would land at Kum Kale on the Asiatic side, both as a diversion and to keep Turkish troops there from reinforcing their troops on the peninsula. They also wanted to keep the mobile guns and the guns collectively referred to as “Asiatic Annie” from firing into the backs of the British landing at V Beach.

According to the plan, the landings would begin at five in the morning, and the area surrounding the beaches would be secured by eight. By noon the British would arrive at Krithia, and by evening Achi Baba would be theirs. This low hill, with its commanding view of the area, was important because as long as the Turks held it, they would be able to look down on the invaders and guide their artillery onto them.

This plan incorporated some major deficiencies. First, it allowed only for success; no consideration was given to the possibility of a delay at any of the beaches or that any of the landings might fail. Second, the planners did not believe that the Turks could mount a serious, coordinated defense. They did.

V Beach

While the assault on S Beach was a rapid success, V Beach was just the opposite. The defenders nearly drove the invaders back into the sea, and the Royal Navy did little to help the vulnerable infantry.

V Beach is a natural amphitheater. A cliff is on the right of the beach, high ground lies in front, and, perched on a rise to the right, is Fort Sedd-el-Bahr. The enemy covered the beach from this higher ground. The British knew it was heavily defended and that their only hope of success was to get a large number of men ashore quickly following a naval bombardment. For that reason Cdr. Edward Unwin, commanding officer of the communications yacht Hussar, made a novel suggestion. He proposed converting the collier River Clyde into a kind of Trojan horse in which troops could be moved quickly to shore. The idea was an ingenious one and would provide the necessary means for conveying a large number of men to the largest of the three main beaches. They could reinforce the first wave of a covering force, which would land before them from tows. According to Unwin’s plan, two large sally ports would be cut into either side of the ship, aft of the port and starboard bows. From these openings gangways lowered with ropes would provide the soldiers with their means of egress. Because the collier would ground a short distance from shore, a steam hopper called the Argyll would provide a bridge from the Clyde to the beach. This vessel was towed alongside the collier, and its momentum, once released, was meant to carry it to shore. As it glided forward, its crew of six Greeks, under the direction of Midshipman George Drewry and Seaman George Samson, would steer it in front of the Clyde. Once there, the gangways would be dropped, and the twenty-one hundred soldiers inside would rush across the Argyll and onto the beach. In the event Unwin’s calculations were off, he arranged for the Argyll to tow three modified rowboats to make up for any gap between ship and shore. He seemed to have thought of everything.

Among the units that landed at V Beach was the First Battalion, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Half of the men of W Company were detailed to land at the Camber, a piece of dead ground below Sedd-el-Bahr Village, directly across the peninsula to the east. Their goal was to capture the village. At V Beach proper the first wave consisted of three companies of the First Dublins, along with fifty men of the Royal Naval Division’s Anson Battalion. These two groups would land first, from five tows pulled toward shore by the minesweeper Clacton. Each tow consisted of four rowboats pulled by a steam pinnace, each rowboat manned by a midshipman and six sailors from the battleship Cornwallis. After this group landed, the Clyde would be grounded and its troops landed. The soldiers would be covered by eight Maxim machine guns operated by men of No. 3 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service’s Armoured Car Division, who were stationed around the collier’s bridge. On board were the other half of W Company and the entire First Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers. The Dublins, along with Z Company of the Munsters, were to help the Dublins who landed at the Camber take Sedd-el-Bahr Village. They would then move on to take Hill 114, which stands behind the village and had a small fort and barracks on top. These men would exit the Clyde from the starboard (right) side, which would face the village. X Company of the First Munsters would exit from the port side. They were to take Fort No. 1, which stood atop the cliffs to the left of the beach and had been destroyed in the earlier naval bombardments. The Munsters’ other two companies, W and Y, were to remain in reserve. Also in reserve were two companies of the Second Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment and the 1/1st West Riding Field Company of the Royal Engineers. No. 13 Platoon of the Anson Battalion was to carry stores to shore once a successful landing had been made. Medical treatment would be provided by men of the Royal Army Medical Corps’s Eighty-Ninth (1/1st Highland) Field Ambulance.

The troops destined for V Beach began their journey to Gallipoli on the afternoon of April 23, when they moved to Tenedos. They were tense and displayed none of the joviality that some of the others felt as they departed for their meeting with destiny: “We left [Mudros] at 5.30 p.m. on April 23rd for the great adventure … A perfect evening, as we steamed stealthily out on H.M. [sic], H.M.T. ‘CALEDONIA,’ an incident memorable for its solemnity and one might say grandeur. Men-of-war, transports and ships of every sort ‘Dressed Ships.’ All the crews cheering us on our way, and those with bands playing us a farewell … What struck me most forcibly was the demeanour of our own men, from whom, not a sound, and this from the light-hearted, devil may care men from the South of Ireland. Even they were filled with a sense of something impending which was quite beyond their ken.”

The next day the Dublins and Ansons who would land in the open boats transferred to the Clacton, and those who would land on the Clyde boarded it. Early on the morning of the twenty-fifth the Ansons and Dublins were awoken and given a hot meal, then they climbed down the rope ladders and into the rowboats tied to the sides of the pinnaces. The sailors from the Cornwallis were already onboard, having spent a cold night sleeping in their boats. The men on the Clyde were also awoken and given a cup of hot cocoa before the vessels sailed for Gallipoli.

The rowboats were supposed to land first, following an hour-long bombardment by the battleship Albion. The pinnaces towing the rowboats met with the same problem as those that landed at S Beach: a stronger-than-expected current. They did not arrive until after 6:30 a.m., so the Albion continued firing on the area behind the beach. And there was another problem. At 6:10 a.m. the Clyde, which should have grounded after the tows had landed, found itself far ahead of them. Unwin thus decided to circle the Argyll in an effort to follow the original plan. In doing so, the khaki-painted vessel lost some of the momentum necessary to propel it forward to form the bridge. The collier grounded at 6:22 a.m. without so much as a jolt, eight minutes before the rowboats arrived. But it grounded much farther out than Unwin had planned—one hundred yards—and the Argyll beached fifteen yards away, too far to be of any use. The men onboard waited anxiously for the first wave to land.

The pinnaces cast off their boats fifty yards from shore, and the starboard tow headed for the Camber. As the remaining tows neared shore, Albion shifted its fire farther inland to avoid hitting the infantrymen. It ceased firing before they landed. The Turks, who had deserted their positions when the bombardment began, filed back to their trenches, unseen, and held their fire until they saw the boats cast off. Most of their positions did not appear on British maps and were so well concealed that Albion’s observers missed them. The two forts, which had been partially destroyed in the March bombardments, provided excellent cover for some of the defenders. The thick barbed wire—there were three strong belts in front of the trenches—was also visible. Yet Albion was stationed too far out to sea—approximately 1,450 yards—to be able to target the defenses accurately. When it did fire, its gunners were further hampered by the smoke and debris thrown up by the explosions. They were firing blind but managed to knock out two of the Turks’ four pom-poms. Unfortunately, the barbed wire was largely untouched, and the Ottomans were anything but demoralized by the bombardment. The damage was slight, and the invaders would pay for it with their lives.

When the pinnaces released their boats, all hell broke loose: “At this moment the Turks, whom everyone had thought were dazed and routed by the preceding naval bombardment, opened fire with everything they had, the range was short—something like one hundred yards frontally and up to three hundred yards on the flanks—for the cove where the landing was taking place was roughly bow shaped and quite small.”18 The Turks opened fire on the boats and took an awful toll. The heavily equipped soldiers, packed tightly into the narrow wooden craft, slumped forward and back as they were hit, making it difficult for the sailors to row. Some were burned as their boats caught fire. Craft were holed and began to sink. Others drifted aimlessly, the men inside all dead or wounded. One of those hit as his boat moved toward shore was the First Dublin’s second-in-command, Maj. Edwyn Fetherstonaugh. The commanding officer, Lt. Col. Richard Rooth, was killed instantly as the boat he was in hit the beach.

In some cases the men leaped out of their boats as they neared land. Many either slipped or failed to gain a footing and went under. They sank like stones in the three-foot-deep water under the weight of their equipment. Some jumped out of the boats as they grounded and hid behind them in the shallows. One of those was Stoker 1st Class William Medhurst. When the boat he commanded grounded, he yelled, “Jump out, lads, and pull her in!” All but one of the other sailors in his boat had been killed and all but three of the Dublins. Medhurst leaped out one side and the other sailor out the other. Both took cover, the seaman with two of the soldiers. As the tide pushed the boat’s stern, Medhurst was exposed to the Turks’ fire and was killed. He left a wife, already a widow with three children. Eighty years later the only memory their daughter had of her daddy was seeing him off at the train station at the outbreak of war. Of the soldiers it was estimated that more than half of the seven hundred men were killed or wounded in their boats. The surf was literally red with blood, and bodies and boats moved aimlessly with the tide: “As the RIVER CLYDE came inshore a very heavy fire from rifles, machine guns & pom poms was directed at her & also on the boats’ tows that ran in alongside soon after. This fire was so accurate that those in the boats were practically wiped out & very few got ashore. Wounded men jumped from the boats & took cover on the far side but were all eventually shot down & drowned.”

Among the casualties was Father William Finn, Catholic chaplain to the First Dublins. The morning before the landing he heard his men’s confessions, said Mass, and gave Holy Communion while their transport was anchored off Tenedos. On April 25, before the Dublins destined to land in the first wave departed, he asked Rooth for permission to join him so that he could minister to the casualties. Rooth reluctantly agreed, and a place was found for the padre in his boat. It was a fatal request. The brave chaplain was wounded in the right arm just after jumping out of the boat, but he continued on to the beach. After making it to land, he began ministering to the wounded but had to hold his injured arm with his left hand in order to give absolution. He was suffering great pain. While blessing a dying Dublin, he was hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel and killed. He had joined the army the previous November from his tiny parish in Market Weighton, Yorkshire, and his were brave actions for a man who was not a career soldier. Days later, when the fighting was over, he was buried. A simple cross was made from the slats of an ammunition crate with the inscription “To the memory of Father Finn” and placed over his grave.

Finn was popular with the other chaplains. In 1916 his friend the Rev. Oswin Creighton, the Eighty-Sixth Brigade’s Church of England chaplain, wrote:

I have … heard that Father Finn asked to be allowed to land with his men, and had been put into one of the first boats, and was shot either getting off the boat or immediately after getting ashore. The men never forgot him and were never tired of speaking of him. I think they felt his death almost more than anything that happened in that terrible landing off the River Clyde. I am told they kept his helmet for a very long time after and carried it with them wherever they went. It seemed to me that Father Finn was an instance of the extraordinary hold a chaplain, and perhaps especially an R.C. [Roman Catholic], can have on the affections of his men if he absolutely becomes one of them and shares their danger.

At a chaplains’ meeting held some weeks later, two, a Presbyterian and an R.C., undertook to see that Father Finn’s grave was properly tended. He was buried close to the sea on “V” beach, and a road had been made over the place. I think they managed to get the grave marked off with a little fence.

The survivors made for a five-foot-high sandy bank, a few yards from the water’s edge, that ran for several yards along the beach. At about that time the River Clyde lowered its gangways, and the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) machine gunners opened fire against targets they could not see. Drewry and Samson on the Argyll began dragging the lighters towed by their vessel toward the bow of the Clyde. The collier had beached to the left of a rock spit. So, Unwin ordered one of the pinnaces to maneuver the boats into position next to the spit to form a bridge. When the pinnace backed off for fear of grounding, Unwin and Able Seaman William Williams dived in to finish the job. Drewry, who had made it to shore, removed his belt, revolver, and tunic and waded out to help. Together Unwin and Williams pulled on a rope to steady the lead lighter. After forming a precarious bridge with two of the boats, a ship’s cutter, and some planks, Unwin called for the disembarkation to begin: “Within five minutes of the ‘CLYDE’ beaching ‘Z’ Coy. [Company] got away on the Starboard side. The gangway on the Port side jammed, and delayed X Company for a few seconds, and out we went, the men cheering wildly, and dashed ashore with Z Company.”

As the Munsters stepped onto the gangways, they were met with a hail of fire from the ruined forts on their flanks and the trenches in front. Those who were hit fell into the sea or in heaps on the lighters. Bullets also entered the ship through the portals, ricocheting off the steel plates. Some of those hit on the gangways fell backward, knocking the heavily laden men behind them into the sea to drown in the shallow water below: “I sent out my first 2 companies, X under Capt GEDDES & Z under Capt HENDERSON, X on the port side & Z on the starboard. Z got away a little before X. They were to go out by platoons so that there should be no crowding on the lighters. These companies were very gallantly led by their officers. The fire directed on the exits from the vessel being very accurate & men were hit before they left the vessel.”

Capt. Eric Henderson was hit twice on the gangway. Geddes made it to the beach unscathed, but the forty-eight men behind him were felled by machine gun fire. The few who survived made their way to shore to join the Dublins. Together they huddled in a mass under the burning sun, without food and only the tepid water in their quart-sized water bottles to slake their thirst: “We all made, Dublins and all, for a sheltered ledge on the shore which gave us cover. Here we shook ourselves out, and tried to appreciate the situation, rather a sorry one. I estimated that I had lost about 70 percent of my company, 2/Lieuts. Watts and Perkins were wounded and my CQM Sgt. [company quartermaster sergeant] killed. Henderson was wounded. He died from his wounds later. Lieut. Pollard killed, and 2 Lieuts. Lee and Lane wounded, all of Z. Company. Capt. Wilson, the Adjutant, and Major Monck-Mason were wounded on the Clyde itself.”

The plight of those unfortunate Irishmen was watched by men on the transports that were waiting to come ashore. The sight was a distressing one, even from a distance of a thousand or more yards. At 8:30 a.m. on that terrible day, Maj. John Gillam, destined to land at W Beach that afternoon, noted in his diary: “It is quite clear now, and I can just see through my glasses the little khaki figures on shore at ‘W’ Beach and on the top of the cliff, while at ‘V’ Beach, where the River Clyde is lying beached, all seems hell and confusion. Some fool near me says, ‘Look, they are bathing at “V” Beach.’ I get my glasses on to it and see about a hundred khaki figures crouching behind a sand dune close to the water’s edge. On a hopper [Argyll] which somehow or other has been moored in between the River Clyde and the shore I see khaki figures lying, many apparently dead. I also see the horrible sight of some little white boats drifting, with motionless khaki freight, helplessly out to sea on the strong current that is coming down the Straights [sic].”

After an hour of maintaining the floating bridge, a shell exploded, and Williams was hit by a piece of shrapnel. He released his grip on the rope, and Unwin was no longer able to steady the lead boat. It began to drift. He dropped the line in an attempt to save Williams, who died in his arms. Later Unwin would have to be pulled out of the water, the fifty-one-year-old mariner totally exhausted from his exertions. Both men, along with Midshipman Drewry, were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions that day. For the time being no more troops would leave the collier. It was not until 8:00 a.m., after Drewry and a few others managed to form a bridge between the lighters and the stranded hopper, that men were able to begin landing again. Maj. Charles Jarrett led half of Y Company of the Munsters out of the Clyde and across the new bridge. So many of his men were hit, however, that he sent one of his officers, Lt. Guy Nightingale, from the beach back to the collier to request that Tizard cease the operation. He agreed, and no more troops were sent ashore.

Inside the River Clyde those who had so far been spared the hell of almost certain death on the gangways were not safe either. Despite the navy’s best efforts to silence the guns on the Asiatic side, they failed to hit at least one:

Three shells hit the ship, and then one of the battleships put the gun out of action. The first shell went in the boiler room without killing or wounding anyone; the second hit the ship aft, crashed through No. 4 hold, came through the upper deck, then on the main deck, port side, and took off the legs of two soldiers. They died after about twenty minutes. I was only two yards away from these dear men. The hold was packed with troops as thickly as ever you could stow men together, and the terrible sights and the cries of the wounded will never be forgotten by those who are alive to tell the tale. I often think it was good that one like myself was there, as I did not lose my nerve under fire, and helped to prevent the men from being panic-stricken. I now went down to my men, who were in No. 4 lower hold, and I addressed them, and told them to keep cool, to try and keep their heads as I did …

While I was talking to the platoon another shell came in and killed three of them. This was the second shell I had seen explode within a few minutes; it was rather bad, especially for young lads like these, but I knew I was there to show them an example and take care of them. I have often wondered since what would have happened had that gun not been put out of action when it was; they had the correct range.

Although no more troops landed from the River Clyde that morning, casualties continued to occur. The Dublins who landed at the Camber had done so unopposed, but they were nearly wiped out when they moved into Sedd-el-Bahr Village. The survivors were forced to retreat. With all of their officers gone, most were evacuated by a boat from the Queen Elizabeth. A party of fourteen unwounded survivors linked up with Captain Geddes and two men approaching from the left, but they found that the ruined Fort Sedd-el-Bahr was heavily defended by riflemen and machine guns. They did not attempt to attack. Instead, they moved back to the little bit of cover afforded by the sandy bank on the beach.

At 10:00 a.m. the gun firing on the Clyde was silenced. It was then possible to evacuate wounded off the ship’s stern and for reinforcements to board. At that hour the second wave also started to come ashore. It was composed of men of the Fourth Battalion, the Worcestershire Regiment, and the other two companies of the Second Hampshires. With them was the commanding officer of the Eightieth-Eighth Brigade, Brig. Gen. Henry Napier, and his brigade major, Maj. John Costeker, Distinguished Service Order (DSO). They traveled in the same boats used by the Dublins three hours earlier, and the awfulness of their journey was clearly evident: “The four boats had already been used that morning. From them some of the Dublin Fusiliers had landed. The boats were much damaged by fire, and blood mixed with sea water ran over the boots of the troops as they sat packed in the laden boats.”

The boats were towed toward the Clyde by a steam launch, which steered toward the starboard side of the collier and the bridge of lighters. As they approached the shore, bullets pierced the sea around them. Men were hit, but not so many as in the first wave. As they neared the lighters, they could see the heaps of dead and dying Munsters piled on them, the mounds of flesh being repeatedly riddled as the Turks fired at the gangways and sally ports. Lt. Col. Herbert Carrington Smith, the commanding officer of the Second Hampshires, called down from the bridge of the River Clyde for the pinnace to take the boats over to the port bow. There they were tied to the lighter nearest the collier. The boats carrying the Hampshires tied up on the starboard side, and the men made it to cover behind the sandbank with only fifteen hit out of fifty.

Arriving at the makeshift bridge, Napier, Costeker, and the Worcesters climbed out of their boats and onto one of the lighters. But they encountered a problem. The lighter nearest the shore had drifted with the current, and the bridge was broken. They were stopped short of landing, and as they stood in the open, wondering what to do next, the Turks took advantage of the inviting targets. The Englishmen could only lie flat and hope to avoid the hail of bullets. Many were hit, including Napier and Costeker. They had gone first into the River Clyde, then returned and tried to cross to shore via the Argyll: “I saw General Napier killed. He went down the gangway just in front of me followed by his Brigade Major Costello [sic]. He was hit in the stomach on the barge between our ship and the beach. He lay for half an hour on the barge and then tried to get some water to drink but the moment he moved the Turks began firing at him again and whether he was hit again or not I do not know, but he died very soon afterwards, and when I went ashore the second time, I turned him over and he was quite dead. Costello was killed at the same time.” So many of the Worcesters were hit that the remainder of the battalion was diverted to W Beach. Those who were not killed trying to land on V were led into the Clyde by their senior surviving officer, Maj. H. A. Carr.

Although the Hampshires suffered only a few casualties and those on the River Clyde were relatively safe, they did suffer two fatalities that day, most notably Carrington Smith. He was hit by a Turkish bullet at about 3:00 p.m. as he stood on the bridge: “Colonel Carrington Smith, who took over command of the Brigade when General Napier was killed, was looking round the corner of the shelter of the bridge through glasses [binoculars] at the Turkish position on shore when he was caught by a bullet clean in the forehead and died instantly.”

The landing at V Beach was ultimately successful, but the loss in men was staggering. What had begun as a creative endeavor turned into a rescue operation by late morning. Men from the Clyde worked to recover the wounded under fire, and more were killed. Sub-Lt. Arthur Tisdall, a platoon commander in the Anson Battalion, led some of his men and RNAS machine gunners into the water to bring in the wounded. Tisdall survived the day and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. He would be killed on May 6, however, when he exposed his head over the top of a trench. He never knew that he had won Britain’s highest gallantry decoration.

Darkness allowed those still on the Clyde to join the men already ashore, still sheltering behind the sandy bank. It also allowed the wounded to be evacuated. Many would die in the overcrowded, understaffed hell of the hospital ships. First, they were moved to the holds of the Clyde, then evacuated off the stern of the ship. The night was an awful one. Men continued to fall to Turkish bullets, and they had almost nothing to eat or drink. To make matters worse, it rained.

The men of the Twenty-Ninth Division hailed from all over the United Kingdom. They were missed not only by their families and friends but also by the municipalities in which they had been trained and housed. Places such as Coventry and Nuneaton, where the Munsters and Dublins had respectively trained, were particularly hard hit by the V Beach massacre. The colorful career soldiers were popular with the locals and were mourned for years afterward. One story, which appeared in Coventry’s Evening Telegraph of March 7, 1985, epitomizes the feeling of loss that was felt:

Mrs. Procter has unearthed photographs of that time [when the First Royal Munsters were billeted in Earlsdon, Coventry, before departing for Gallipoli] because this year is the 70th anniversary of the disastrous Gallipoli landings of the First World War.

Two of the soldiers became friendly with her parents, who gave them hospitality. They had come in tropical kit straight from Egypt, and found Coventry cold and bleak.

Mrs. Procter, who still has a photograph of the two men, Martin O’Malley and his friend (whose name she cannot recall) and remembers the day they were issued with new boots, when Martin regarded them and said quietly: “I expect they are for my grave.”

Shortly afterwards, the soldiers, who had become part of the Earlsdon scene, having been made welcome by the people with whom they were billeted, marched away.

Everyone waited for news of the Fusiliers, and then came the tragedy of the landings.

Yes, their friend Martin was killed and among his effects was found a photograph of 10-year old Elsie on her cycle.

It was returned to the family with a covering letter and her father had the letter and photograph framed.

Mrs. Procter concludes: “Rather a sad little story serving to illustrate the horror and futility of war.”

Pvt. Martin O’Malley of the First Battalion, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, was from Limerick and was eighteen years old. He was one of those who landed with Major Jarrett and was likely buried in the mass grave filled in by men of the Anson Battalion. After the war his was one of many thousands whose graves could not be identified.

Due to the threat of Turkish snipers and because the men fit for action were needed for the fighting inland, it was not possible to collect the dead for burial until April 28: “I remember that on Wednesday, April 28th, I and a party of men picked up all the dead on the beach and from the water; we placed in one large grave two hundred and thirteen gallant men who gave their lives for their country.”

Maj. John Gillam visited V Beach two days after the landings and arrived there as the Ansons’ burial party was at work:

We dip down to “V” Beach, a much deeper and wider beach than “W,” and walk towards the sea. Then I see a sight which I shall never forget all my life. About two hundred bodies are laid out for burial, consisting of soldiers and sailors. I repeat, never has the army been so dovetailed together. They lie in all postures, their faces blackened, swollen, and distorted by the sun. The bodies of seven officers lie in a row in front by themselves. I cannot think what a fine company they would make if by a miracle an Unseen Hand could restore them to life by a touch. The rank of major and the red tabs on one of the bodies arrests my eye, and the form of the officer seems familiar. Colonel Gostling, of the 88th Field Ambulance, is standing near me, and he goes over to the form, bends down and gently removes a khaki handkerchief covering the face. I then see that it is Major Costeker, our late Brigade Major. In his breast pocket is a cigarette-case and a few letters; one is in his wife’s handwriting. I had worked in his office for two months in England, and was looking forward to working with him in Gallipoli.

It was cruel luck that he was not even permitted to land, for I learn that he was hit in the heart shortly after Napier was laid low. His last words were, “Oh Lord! I am done for now.” I notice also that a bullet has torn the toe of his left boot away; probably this happened after he was dead.

I hear that General Napier was hit whilst in the pinnace, on his way to the River Clyde, by a machine gun bullet in the stomach. Just before he died he said to Sinclair-Thomson, our Staff Officer, “Get on the Clyde and tell Carrington Smith to take over.” A little while later he apologized for groaning. Good heavens! I can’t realize it, for it was such a short while ago that we were all such a merry party at the “Warwick Arms,” Warwick.

The River Clyde remained at V Beach until long after that fateful April day. Later it was towed off and repaired and went on to sail again after the war. The valiant ship’s life ended in 1966, when it was sold for scrap. It was an unfitting end for one of the heroes of the campaign.


The Battle of Red Cliffs

The Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs) between Cao Cao and the coalition of Liu Bei and Sun Quan took place at Red Cliffs (present-day northeast of Jiayu, Hubei Province) in AD 208. Cao Cao whose courtesy name was Mengde was born in the Qiao County (present-day Bozhou, An- hui). His father, Cao Song who served in the court as the grand commander was the foster son of Cao Teng who in turn was one of the favorite eunuchs of Emperor Huan. At the age of twenty, Cao Cao was recommended for a promotion to northern district commander of Luoyang. When the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out, Cao Cao was recalled to put down the rebels. He was successful in his military exploits and was promoted to dianjun xiaowei (a military position). Cao Cao, intelligent and courageous, was well versed in both polite correspondence and martial arts. He liked to enlist the service of capable people, and there were many brave and talented men working for him. Later, the warlords formed a coalition with Yuan Shao against Dong Zhuo, and Cao Cao joined their cause. He was assigned to be the magistrate of Yanzhou Prefecture in AD 192. After defeating Yuan Shao at Guandu, Cao Cao conquered other warlords and united the north of China.

After uniting the north, Cao Cao prepared to march south to unify the country. The overlord of Jinzhou Prefecture, Liu Biao, had just died after a period of illness. Under pressure from Cao Cao’s forces, Liu Cong, Liu Biao’s younger son and successor, quickly surrendered. When Jingzhou fell, Liu Bei and Liu Biao’s elder son Liu Qi immediately led about twenty thousand soldiers to Xiakou (present- day Hankou). Although Cao Cao claimed that he had eight hundred troops at his disposal, Zhou Yu estimated Cao Cao’s actual troop numbers to be closer to two hundred and twenty thousand after conquering Jingzhou. Cao Cao’s army was advancing from Jiangling down the Yangtze River toward Xiakou. Liu Bei’s main advisor Zhuge Liang was sent to negotiate the formation of an alliance against Cao Cao with Sun Quan.

Sun Quan was from Fuchun in the Wu Prefecture (present-day Fuyang, Zhejiang Province) and called himself Zhongmou. His father, Sun Jian, and elder brother, Sun Ce, were famous generals. In the last years of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Sun Ce acquired six prefectures southeast of the Yangtze River with the support of influential families. In AD 200, the eighteen-year-old Sun Quan inherited land from his brother. Sun Quan, under the tutelage of Zhou Yu, Zhang Zhao, and other able advisors, continued to build his power base along the Yangtze River. When Cao Cao led his army to pacify the south, Sun Quan was twenty-five years old. He was aware of the fact that his regime would be in danger if Cao Cao got a firm foothold in Jingzhou. In the end, Sun Quan decided to oppose Cao Cao. He sent generals Zhou Yu, Lu Su, and Cheng Pu with 30,000 soldiers to form a coalition with Liu Bei’s troops, which numbered 20,000.

The supreme commander of the united forces was Zhou Yu, whose courtesy name was Gong Jin, a native of Shu County, Lujiang Prefecture (present-day Shucheng city, Anhui Province). He was the chief general of the Wu state. Zhou Yu was born into a bureaucratic family, and made close friends with Sun Ce at a young age. Zhou Yu later helped Sun Ce to conquer the six prefectures southeast of the Yangtze River and was promoted to jiangwei zhonglangjiang. Zhou Yu was called Zhou Lang (gentleman) by the local people, as he was young and handsome. Sun Ce died at a young age, and Zhou Yu and Zhang Zhao were entrusted to assist Sun Quan. Zhou was appointed as qianbu Dadudu. Zhou Yu and Lu Su were boldly advocating war against Cao Cao. The combined Sun-Liu force sailed upstream to the Red Cliffs where they encountered Cao Cao’s vanguard force. Cao Cao’s men could not gain an advantage in the small skirmish which ensued, so Cao Cao retreated north of the Yangtze River and the allies pulled back to the south.

Cao Cao had moored his ships stem to stern, possibly aiming to reduce seasickness in his naval troops, who were mostly northerners and were not used to living on ships. Observing this, Zhou Yu’s divisional commander Huang Gai feigned surrender and prepared a squadron of capital ships. The ships had been converted into fire ships by filling them with bundles of dry reeds and oil. As Huang Gai’s “defecting” squadron approached the midpoint of the river, the sailors set fire to the ships before escaping in small boats. The unmanned fire ships, driven by the southeastern wind, sped toward Cao Cao’s fleet and set it ablaze. As all the ships were moored together, it was impossible for the ships to sail away. Within a short time, smoke and flames stretched across the sky and Cao Cao’s fleet turned into a sea of fire. Soon, the raging flames extended to the camps on the bank. Many men and horses were either burned to death or drowned. Unfortunately for Cao Cao’s army, the allies, led by Zhou Yu and Liu Bei, gave chase over land and water. Due to famine, disease, and skirmishes along the way, many of Cao Cao’s remaining forces perished. Cao Cao then retreated northward and was not able to dispatch military expedition to the south. In AD 220, Cao Cao died of illness. His son Cao Pi deposed Emperor Xian of Han and proclaimed himself emperor of Wei, making Luoyang his capital. With Zhuge Liang’s assistance, Liu Bei occupied most of the Jingzhou Prefecture. Shortly after that, he expanded his territory westward and seized Liu Zhang’s Yizhou Prefecture. The year after Cao Pi proclaimed himself emperor, Liu Bei declared himself emperor of Han, which was historically known as the Kingdom of Shu or Shu Han, and made Chengdu its capital. Sun Quan had further strengthened his force in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. In AD 229, Sun Quan named himself emperor of Wu and made Jianye (now Nanjing) the capital. This was the start of three kingdoms: Wei, Shu, and Wu.


In 1162, the death of King Géza II (1141–62) presented the opportunity for Manuel I Komnenos (1143–80) to interfere in his neighbor’s realm. After a failed attempt to install an uncle of the reigning monarch, King Stephen III (1162–73), on the throne, the emperor reached a compromise whereby Géza’s youngest son Béla would live at the court in Constantinople and succeed Stephen as king. Béla married one of Manuel’s daughters, solidifying a Byzantine dynastic alliance. But Stephen continued to resist Byzantium in the Balkans, allying with the Holy Roman Empire under Frederick I Barbarossa (1155–90), Serbia, and the Russian principalities of Gallicia and Kiev. In violation of the treaty, Stephen designated his own son as his successor. In 1164, Stephen III and Duke Vladislav II of Bohemia marched to confront Manuel, who was stationed with his army on the Danube. Stephen agreed to cede to the empire the rich region of Syrmia, which was a family holding of Prince Béla, in exchange for the empire withdrawing its support for Stephen III’s uncle, also named Stephen, who had been fighting with Byzantine assistance to claim the throne. Later in the year, Stephen III seized Sirmium, a blatant act of war against the empire.

Manuel dislodged Frederick I Barbarossa from his Hungarian alliance, and pulled onto his side the Russian principality of Kiev, as well as Venice. Stephen’s forces busied themselves with the siege of Zeugminon (part of modern Belgrade, Serbia), which they seized by April 1165. Manuel led his forces northward in June 1165 and laid siege to Zeugminon. Manuel’s troops stormed the city on their third attempt and plundered the place mercilessly. In the meantime, Manuel’s general John Doukas had cut through Serbia and subdued the coastal cities and fortresses of Dalmatia, which Stephen III had also ceded as part of Béla’s holdings. In 1166 the Hungarians defeated Byzantine forces in Dalmatia and at Sirmium.

Manuel responded with the dispatch of his nephew, Andronikos Kontostephanos at the head of a strong Roman army, about one-third of which were mercenaries or allied foreigners. Roman scouts captured a Hungarian who revealed that the enemy force numbered 15,000 knights, bowmen, and light infantry. The Byzantine army was probably about equal in numerical strength. Kontostephanos drew up his marching order with Cuman and Turkish horse archers and a handful of western knights in the vanguard. Behind came three divisions of Byzantine regular cavalry and kataphraktoi, followed by units of allied Turkish and western mercenary cavalry. The last line comprised a mixed formation of Roman infantry and archers alongside a battalion of armored Turks, presumably also infantry.

Dénes, count of Bács, commanded the combined Hungarian-German force. Dénes drew up his mailed knights in the front, with infantry support to the rear. The historian Choniates noted that the Hungarian battle line was drawn up in a single, dense mass, in the shape of a tower; the cavalry fronted this deep formation. The Hungarian lancers presented an awesome sight—their horses wore frontlets and breastplates (these must have been padded or mail, since plate horse armor was uncommon in Europe prior to 1250) and carried riders mailed from head to foot. In short the Hungarian forces featured the best of modern western arms and equipment. They faced a lighter Byzantine force arrayed with the Turk and Cuman horse archers in the front of the formation. Behind, Andronikos divided his army into three divisions. On the left he stationed the regular Roman cavalry. In the center stood Andronikos, commanding elements of the Varangian Guard, Hetaireia imperial guard cavalry, Serbians, probably mailed cavalry, and Italian mercenary knights. The Roman right consisted of the third element of the line of march, with German mercenary knights and Turkish cavalry and Roman kataphraktoi cavalry. Behind the right and left wings of the army Andronikos stationed supporting troops, which presumably were mainly regular cavalry and infantry flank guards and outflankers who could also support the wings when pressured. That two of these supporting battalions were cavalry seems to be indicated by how the battle unfolded.

Andronikos opened the battle by sending ahead the Turk and Cuman horse archers and presumably the light infantry as well. They were instructed to send an arrow storm into the Hungarian cavalry and thus break up the formation. In the face of a Hungarian charge Andronikos instructed them to fan out to left and right and thus sweep to the side of the Byzantine force. The Byzantine left broke in the face of the Hungarian charge and fled toward the river Sava, but two battalions stood fast—these were likely the flank guards stationed behind the left wing. Dénes led a general charge into the Byzantine center, hoping to kill Andronikos; those in the center of the Roman formation sustained the heavy cavalry charge. The Byzantine right attacked the flank of the Hungarian cavalry formation, Andronikos’s men in the center of the line drew their iron maces and pressed forward for close combat, and the “routed” Byzantine left that had feigned flight returned to strike the Hungarian right flank. This envelopment broke the Hungarians, and thousands perished or were captured in the ensuing rout. Kinnamos reported that 2,000 cuirasses were taken from the dead, and countless shields, helmets, and swords came into Roman hands from the great number of fallen. The Battle of Sirmium was the greatest victory of Manuel’s reign; it demonstrated that tactical skill and great discipline were still to be found in the armies of the Komnenoi, as were commanders who were able to conceive and execute complicated battlefield maneuvers. As a result of Sirmium, Hungary became a client, and upon the death of Stephen III in 1172 Manuel easily installed his protégé Béla on the Hungarian throne, which remained at peace with the empire until 1180.

The campaigns of Manuel against Hungary that culminated in the Battle of Sirmium demonstrate that, when properly led, the Byzantine army remained the finest in eastern Europe, capable of defeating heavily armed and armored western knights. But these actions also show that the strategic situation of Byzantium had deteriorated significantly—with the coalescence of larger, more organized, and economically vibrant states on all sides, the empire faced extreme challenges to its territorial integrity. While Belisarios’s decisive victory over the Vandals a half millennium in the past had brought Africa under imperial control and established a peace that was largely maintained for a century, the “decisive” victory of Manuel at Sirmium delivered only twenty years of peace. In light of the capabilities of his enemies, it is small wonder that Manuel generally preferred attritive campaigns and small-war actions that wore down his foes and made enemy aggression too costly for them, rather than risking his limited forces in all-or-nothing engagements on the battlefield. In this sense, his failures are more telling than his numerous minor successes, since the emperor removed neither Sicily nor Hungary nor the Seljuks from their menacing positions along the frontiers. Instead, Manuel had to settle for a largely defensive posture in the territory he inherited from his father John.