Many pilots from Canada distinguished themselves during World War II, flying for both the Royal Air Force and Canada’s own RCAF. George Frederick “Buzz” Beurling would fly for both, scoring 29.5 victories with the Royal Air Force and two with the RCAF for a total of 31.5, making him one of the top half dozen aces scoring victories with the Royal Air Force.
Beurling was born in 1921 at Verdun in Quebec, and took an early interest in aviation, devouring books about World War I aces and watching airplanes at the local airport. He took his first ride at age nine and had made his first solo flight by age 17. He then quit school to work as a bush pilot, flying mail and supplies to mining camps in the far north of Canada.
At one point, Beurling won an aerobatic contest in Edmonton, Alberta, flying against a number of RCAF pilots. In commenting about his victory, he made some pointed remarks about the quality of RCAF flight training and pilots that would not be forgotten. In 1939, he applied to join the RCAF and was refused. They claimed that it was his deficiency in “academics,” but Beurling knew the real reason.
World War II had begun and Beurling was itching to get into the action. He had been rejected by the RCAF, but when the Soviet Union invaded Finland at the end of November 1939, he decided that he would join the Finnish Air Force. However, the Finnish embassy asked for his parents’ permission because he was just 18. They said no.
Undaunted, Beurling signed on as a hand on a ship bound for Glasgow, and upon arrival headed for the first Royal Air Force recruiting office that he could find. They were ready to sign him on, based on his knowledge of aviation, but they needed his birth certificate, which he didn’t have. In a scene that could have been from a movie, Beurling walked out, signed on to another ship and made a round trip across the Atlantic—during which his ship was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat—to retrieve his birth certificate.
Once in the Royal Air Force, Beurling progressed quickly, and he had soon earned the nickname “Buzz” for his low-level—often unauthorized and unsanctioned—aerobatics. During his early months with the Royal Air Force, Beurling crossed paths with—and was trained by—James Henry “Ginger” Lacey, who would soon be one of the leading aces in the Royal Air Force, and who was the man who shot down the bomber that bombed Buckingham Palace. Lacey was impressed by Beurling’s flying skills, and so were the RCAF squadron commanders who offered him an RCAF commission. Beurling refused, deciding that he’d rather remain an enlisted pilot in the Royal Air Force than an officer in the RCAF. It was his turn to snub the RCAF.
Beurling scored his first victory in March 1942 while flying a Spitfire Mk. V with No. 41 Squadron on a sweep over northern France. He was flying last place in a four-ship formation, when five German fighter pilots attacked, especially keen to pick off the man at the end of the queue. Beurling pulled up and let the Focke-Wulf Fw 190s overshoot him. He then got one in his sights and picked him off. Two days later, again over France, Beurling saw a flight of Fw 190s and broke formation to attack them. He shot down the lead aircraft but was sanctioned for breaking formation for a second time.
Displeased with the leadership at No. 41 Squadron, Beurling volunteered for duty with No. 249 Squadron, which was based on the British island garrison at Malta in the Mediterranean. Malta was being referred to as an unsinkable British “aircraft carrier” in the Mediterranean and the Germans and Italians wanted it out of commission. This was because the British used it as a base from which to attack the Mediterranean supply lines used by the Germans and Italians to resupply their forces in North Africa. For General Erwin Rommel’s Deutsche Afrika Korps, these supplies were the key to victory. The Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica were tasked with eliminating Malta as an interference to Axis operations in the Mediterranean and North Africa, and No. 249 Squadron was about all that stood in their way. It was not pleasant duty, but for George Beurling it offered a welcome change.
Along with 16 new Spitfire Mk. Vs and 15 other pilots, Beurling was soon on the way aboard HMS Eagle. Because the Germans controlled the air over the continent, one of the only ways that the Royal Air Force could get aircraft to Malta was to send them aboard Royal Navy aircraft carriers. The only problems, beyond the danger of being torpedoed by the Germans, were that the Spitfire Mk. V was never designed for carrier operations, nor had the Royal Air Force pilots been properly trained for this kind of take-off.
Beurling managed to get off HMS Eagle and fly the last 600 miles to Takali Field on Malta, when he was ordered to take off immediately to intercept a strike force of German bombers headed for the island. He would soon learn that flying an intercept mission was something to look forward to. Despite the danger, anything was better than being on alert for a mission at Takali, which meant sitting in an oven-like cockpit under the blistering Mediterranean sun—and waiting.
On July 6, 1942, George Beurling and seven other Spitfire pilots intercepted three Regia Aeronautica bombers en route to Malta, escorted by an estimated 30 Macchi C.200 fighters. Beurling led the assault, diving straight through the Macchi formations and pulling up to fire on a big Cant Z.1007 bomber. Beurling’s first pass damaged a bomber, and he quickly shot down two of the Macchis. These were his first victories since coming to Malta.
With the first attack disrupted, the Spitfires returned to Takali to refuel, only to be sent up again. This time, it was a pair of German Junkers Ju 88s and about 20 Messerschmitt Bf 109s. A pair of Messerschmitts double-teamed Beurling, and he had to turn hard to get out of the way. This put him in firing position and he poured a burst into the Bf 109.
The young Canadian ace took his job seriously. He spent hours calculating range and deflection angles, making notes on what worked and what did not. In his spare time, he would hunt fast-moving lizards with a pistol. As the story goes, he would shoot when their size approximated the size of an enemy fighter at 250 yards. He soon got to the point where he never took more than one shot to hit his target. The same soon became true of the enemy aircraft. He was a master of marksmanship and of hitting his foe with an absolute minimum of shells.
On his morning patrol on July 27, Beurling downed two Regia Aeronautica aircraft—including one flown by six-victory ace Furio Niclot—and one of two Luftwaffe Bf 109s that attacked him. On his afternoon outing, Beurling would claim one Bf 109 as a confirmed kill, and a second as damaged. For this day’s success, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In October, when the enemy made a major effort to defeat the defenders on Malta, Beurling actually welcomed the massed formations of bombers because this situation favored his hit and run tactics. He could come in hard and fast, kill at least one, and escape in the confusion. He had added five to his score when he flew his last mission out of Takali. He and seven others attacked a force of Ju 88s that were escorted by several dozen Messerschmitts. In the process of downing one of the bombers, he was badly wounded by a bomber gunner and a pair of Bf 109s that got on his tail. Amazingly, he managed to shoot down a third Messerschmitt as he dove to escape the first two.
At last, it seemed like every Messerschmitt in the sky had ganged up on him, riddling the Spitfire’s cockpit with gunfire. His fighter nosed over and went down, its throttle jammed wide open. Somehow, he managed to get out, but he dreaded pulling his ripcord too soon for fear of being shot at while he descended. He finally opened his parachute with seconds to spare. He was picked up by a British boat, but his Malta flying days were over.
He was to be sent to back to Britain to recover from his wounds, but the transport carrying him crashed on landing near Gibraltar, and Beurling had to swim to shore. He was one of only three survivors, but he was badly injured and suffering from shock. His additional injuries, especially a badly infected heel, would take a long time to mend, so he was sent home to Canada, not just a wounded pilot, but a returning national hero—a national hero that had not yet turned 22. The kid who was rejected by the RCAF was now a great air ace lunching with Prime Minister MacKenzie King.
Because of his injuries, the starvation diet on which he had subsisted on Malta, and the fatigue of daily combat for several months, Beurling spent the next several weeks in the hospital. This was followed by several months of touring Canada making appearance at victory bond rallies, work which he strongly disliked.
When he finally returned to England during the summer of 1943, George “Buzz” Beurling was faced with many other things that he did not like. He was assigned to a Royal Air Force gunnery school, where he badgered his superiors to get back into action. When the Royal Air Force refused, he did the unthinkable and requested a transfer to the RCAF. In September 1943, Beurling was assigned to No. 403 (RCAF) Squadron, based at Kenley. He was promoted to flight commander, but he did not like this either, because it interfered with the “lone wolf” tactics that he had favored when he was on Malta and in England previously.
While he managed to shoot down three Fw 190s between September 1943 and April 1944, Beurling was depressed and he seemed to be sabotaging a career that had been at its peak when he came home from Malta. He refused to cooperate with others and deliberately disobeyed rules. On patrol, he broke formation and refused to attack except in the most difficult circumstances.
With some of his dangerous stunts, it almost seemed like he was trying to commit suicide. He had become anything but the highly effective fighter pilot who had been a hero of the Malta campaign. Finally, he was grounded and written up for a court martial. Instead, he was simply discharged and sent home again.
In 1948, he was hired to fly P-51 Mustangs for the Israeli Air Force, but en route to the Middle East, the transport aircraft he was flying crashed at Aeroporto dell’Urbe in Rome, only six days after Israel declared independence. Burned beyond recognition, his body was initially buried in Rome, but moved to Israel in 1950.
Prince Shōtoku flanked by younger brother (left: Prince Eguri) and first son (right: Prince Yamashiro), drawn by unknown author
[His mother] was suddenly delivered of him without effort. He was able to speak as soon as he was born, and was so wise when he grew up that he could attend to the [legal] suits of ten men at once and decide them all without error. He knew beforehand what was going to happen …
Prince, war leader, statesman. Seer, scholar, patron of the arts. A gentleman, a humanitarian, and an easy birth to boot. The man known to posterity as Prince Shōtoku often appears less as a historical figure than a character in a fairy tale. In many ways that is exactly what he was. His wondrous deeds come down to us for the most part via one of the archipelago’s oldest works of literature. And we cannot be entirely sure that he ever existed.
And yet the ‘Prince of Holy Virtue’ commands our attention because all the stories told about him are, in their essentials, true. They go right to the heart of a remarkable transformation taking place across the sixth and seventh centuries in central Honshū: the coming together of powerful families, disparate gods and ideas from near and far in the fashioning of the archipelago’s first recognizable state.
Celebrated as that state’s founding father, Prince Shōtoku didn’t so much create it as find himself created by it, becoming a hook on which it hung its most precious claims about itself. Above all, where this new state owed an enormous debt to Chinese and Korean civilization – for its politics and poetry, its laws and religion, its food, clothing and architecture – the Prince is recalled as a cultural diplomat of rare judgement and vision. He is the archipelago’s first great integrator-in-chief. His life takes us from settlements and chiefdoms to the very cusp of ‘Japan’.
Prince Shōtoku’s origins lie in Queen Himiko’s demise. In the decades following her death around 248 CE, burial mounds of the kind in which she was interred began to multiply. These kofun (‘ancient graves’) were built to house great leaders’ wooden or stone coffins, alongside the tools and treasures – swords, shoes, mirrors, jewellery – that marked their status in this life and may have been thought useful in the next. Kofun became progressively grander over time until one appeared around the middle of the 400s that was nearly 500 metres long, 300 metres wide, and rose thirty-five metres above the surrounding landscape. Known as the Daisen Kofun, from the air this awesome structure looks like a keyhole – a circle atop a triangle – set amidst lush greenery and surrounded by three broad moats. It may be the final resting place of ‘Nintoku’, one of the greatest leaders of a chiefdom in the Yamato basin, in south-central Honshū, which across the fourth and fifth centuries was expanding and steadily consolidating its status as regional hegemon.
Tall figurines called haniwa, crafted from reddish-brown clay and arrayed along the external slopes of burial mounds – perhaps as a form of spiritual protection – give us a flavour of how this power was accrued. Farmers brandish hoes. Women carry water vessels on their heads. Whether this up-and-coming Yamato chiefdom was an outgrowth of Himiko’s Yamatai or a geographically distant realm that rose as hers receded, it relied on the extraordinary wealth that came from controlling richly fertile tracts of rice land. Horses saddled for journeys, and men helmeted and armoured for war, reveal the serious military capability purchased with the proceeds. Other haniwa suggest a regime that prospered by honouring the spirits and making alliances, often intermarrying with smaller but strategically important chiefdoms. We find female shamans with ritual headdresses and mirrors; musicians and wrestlers.
By the turn of the sixth century, these Yamato chiefs had taken to calling themselves ‘Great Sovereigns’ (ōkimi), binding their allies ever closer by bestowing upon them lucrative – and hereditary – roles and titles in their own administration. In this way, wealth and power began to depend more upon family, or ‘clan’, than territory. And what started out as a confederation of chiefdoms, with Yamato at its head, steadily morphed into a single polity stretching all the way from Kyūshū in the south-west up into central Honshū.
Never before had so much of the archipelago come under the control, however tentative, of a single leadership. Yet life at the royal court, moving from place to place around the Yamato heartland, was fragile and fractious. The ‘Great Sovereigns’ were rarely so great that they didn’t have to worry about intrigue, murder and violent uprising at the hands of the influential cluster of rival clans now gathered close around them. How, then, to keep the show on the road? How to govern on this scale? How to gain and maintain legitimacy amongst people up and down the archipelago, and even beyond?
Finding solutions to these problems proved to be the work of two long and frequently bloody centuries, culminating in two great creative acts in the early 700s. The first was the building of a capital city in 710, at a place called Nara. The second was the finalizing, under official auspices, of two chronicles: the Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki) in 712 and the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki) in 720. The oldest surviving pieces of writing to come out of the archipelago, neither offered a straightforward chronology of the Yamato chiefdom’s rise. They were both less and much more than that. Combining myth, history and high ideals, they furnished the people of the archipelago with some of their earliest exemplars, their founding heroes and heroines, while striving above all to answer that profound, perennial question – ‘Who are we?’
The groundwork had been laid in the centuries since Himiko, as some of the mysterious, impersonal forces with which she communed steadily acquired names, functions and favoured features of the landscape – often great rocks or trees – which they were thought to inhabit on a seasonal or a more or less permanent basis. Clan heads linked themselves with local spirits, or kami, taking personal responsibility for the rituals that ensured adequate rainfall and good harvests. Some went as far as ‘adopting’ particular kami as ancestors, with the Yamato clan choosing a female solar deity called Amaterasu. She was worshipped at Ise on the eastern coast of south-central Honshū, at a site facing towards the rising sun.
The Yamato clan then went one very significant step further. They took a rich oral tradition of kami stories from around the archipelago and wove them into a single fabric, producing in effect a family history, running from the moment of creation down through generations of kami, including Amaterasu, into their own times. This became the substance both of the Record of Ancient Matters, which bursts with poetry, song and saucy anecdote, and the Chronicles of Japan, with its attempt at a more sober ordering of time – closer to the Chinese chronicles in which Queen Himiko had featured.
The ‘Great Sovereigns’ now began to style themselves as ‘Heavenly Sovereign’: tennō, usually rendered in English as ‘emperor’. The Chronicles of Japan read this new self-designation right back into the distant past. It described an Age of the Gods giving way to a line of divine emperors of Japan, beginning with the mythical Emperor Jimmu in the seventh century BCE. From 201 CE to 269, an Empress Jingū was said to have ruled the land, following the death of her husband Chūai, the fourteenth emperor. The compilers of the Chronicles of Japan equated Jingū with the ‘Queen of the Wa’ mentioned in the Records of Wei, sidestepping potential complications by avoiding any use of the name Himiko. By the 500s and 600s, rulers begin to appear in the chronicle for whom there is strong historical evidence.
Allied clans of the Yamato were worked into this grand mytho-historical mix. Their place in the earthly pecking order found itself mirrored in the position of their adopted clan kami, within a hierarchical pantheon that featured Amaterasu at its apex. There was always the risk in such a strategy that allies – both human and divine – might feel underrated or under threat. For all that the Record of Ancient Matters and the Chronicles of Japan treated Yamato rule as a cosmic inevitability, they also hinted at serious bumps along the road as the new state coalesced. It is at just such a moment of crisis that we first encounter Prince Shōtoku, working his diplomatic magic.
As told in the Chronicles of Japan, the trouble began in 552, when an envoy from the Korean kingdom of Paekche arrived at the Yamato court bearing an impressive gold and copper statue of the Buddha, along with a collection of scriptures.
A thousand years had passed, by this point, since the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was said to have laid out his ‘Four Noble Truths’ at a deer park near Varanasi: namely, that human existence is a mass of suffering and frustration; that our appetites and attachments make it so; we can end this situation; and the means of doing so is the Noble Eightfold Path. Centuries of contact with other Indian and Chinese ideas had helped to transform these insights into an enormously rich and varied set of cosmologies, rituals and art forms. But aside from perhaps a few pockets of practice here and there, Buddhism was unknown on the archipelago. And it was controversial from the start. The Chronicles of Japan reports that opinion amongst powerful families at court was divided, in 552, over whether or not to welcome the newcomer. The Mononobe clan feared the wrath of the native gods, the kami, while the rival Soga clan argued – successfully – that Buddhism should be adopted on a trial basis. Members of their clan would perform rituals in front of this new statue, and see what happened.
What happened was a disastrous epidemic, allowing the Soga’s opponents to claim that the kami were indeed offended by this interloper. The statue was duly thrown into a canal and a newly built pagoda was burned to the ground. A second attempt at adoption in 584 again met with natural disaster. This time a Buddhist image, a pagoda and a temple were all set on fire, while three Buddhist nuns were stripped and flogged.
There was politics at play here. The Mononobe’s influence at court rested on their specialist ritual role worshipping the kami. The Soga clan, for their part, seem to have been descended from some of the many Korean migrants who brought with them to Yamato valuable expertise in everything from metallurgy and medicine to irrigation and administration. The Soga perhaps saw in Buddhism another element of the advanced culture of the peninsula, to be welcomed like the rest. For the Mononobe, here was an immigrant god, sponsored by an immigrant clan – and both were quite possibly after their jobs.
In the Chronicles of Japan’s version of events, it is just as hostility between the Soga and Mononobe descends into bloodshed in 587 that Prince Shōtoku appears, quite literally riding to the rescue. He is said to have been born in 573, to parents with both Yamato and Soga blood running through their veins: the great sovereign Yōmei (reigned 585–7) and his consort Princess Anahobe no Hashihito. The Chronicles of Japan refers to Prince Shōtoku as ‘Prince Umayado’, a nickname of sorts relating to the story that his mother’s effortless delivery of him occurred near to a stable door (umayado). The teenage Prince is depicted now taking to the battlefield on horseback, fighting for the Soga in a short but epoch-making conflict. As enemy arrows rain down, and the Soga are pushed back for a third time, the young Prince thrusts himself forward. ‘Will we be beaten?’ he cries. ‘Let us make a vow!’ With that, he cuts down a tree, whittles tiny images of four Buddhist gods known as the Heavenly Kings, places them in his top-knot, and proceeds to pray:
If we are now made to gain the victory over the enemy, I promise faithfully to honour the Four Heavenly Kings, guardians of the world, by erecting to them a temple with a pagoda.
The tide of battle abruptly turns. The Soga forces win out. The promised temple is built, and the Prince now begins to emerge as the leading light in a period of Buddhist-inspired enlightenment across the Yamato kingdom.
The puzzle of how closely Prince Shōtoku’s legend fits a real historical figure, who achieved some or all of the things with which he is credited, may never be solved. But the Soga clan do indeed seem to have enjoyed ascendancy after 587, capable in 593 of placing their favoured candidate on the throne. The Chronicles of Japan refers to her as ‘Empress Suiko’, although the title of tennō (‘Heavenly Sovereign’) was probably not in regular use at this point. According to the Chronicles of Japan, Prince Shōtoku was her nephew, appointed as regent by her in 594 and granted ‘general control of the Government … entrusted with all the details of administration’.
The Prince’s battlefield vow in 587 proved that by bringing in new, Buddhist gods Yamato was not risking its divine protection, but rather reinforcing it. Where rulers like Himiko had interceded with forces or kami for the protection and prosperity of their realms, the role of Yamato sovereigns was now expanded to include the worship of Buddhist deities to the very same ends. In practice, much of this work was delegated to Buddhist monks and nuns, who recited sutras at the temples that began to spring up around the country. Some forty or more were commissioned during Prince Shōtoku’s lifetime alone, the most famous being Hōryū-ji. Said to have been completed under the auspices of the Prince himself in 607, it later burned down and was rebuilt in the late 600s or early 700s. Hōryū-ji went on to become a centre for the veneration of Prince Shōtoku, celebrated in modern times as the world’s oldest wooden building.
Cosmic protection was to remain the primary role of Buddhism for many years to come. It would be a while before it evolved into a religion of the people. But the impact of the new temple complexes on people’s imaginations was nevertheless enormous. With a network of shrines to the kami yet to develop, these were some of the first permanent structures in the archipelago to be dedicated to ritual worship. A typical temple complex consisted of several heavy wooden structures, each topped with a cascade of tiles, situated within a walled enclosure. One of these buildings would be a multistorey pagoda, housing sacred relics and tall enough to dominate the surrounding landscape.
These complexes, including colourful, awe-inspiring temple interiors, were based on Korean and Chinese designs. Many were actually built by Korean hands, with Buddhist monks doubling as carpenters and wood-carvers, roof-tile makers, sculptors and wall-painting artists. Builders, buildings and the rituals that went on within – the wearing of robes, the use of incense and chanting – combined to make a deep impression, putting down permanent cultural roots.
Prince Shōtoku is credited with making all of this possible by replacing ad hoc continental contacts up to this point with something far more systematic, establishing relations around the year 600 with a newly reunified China under the Sui dynasty. Alongside priestly and practical expertise, the Prince drew deeply and thoughtfully on Chinese and Korean scholarship – in Buddhism, classical Chinese philosophy, history, law and administration. According to the Chronicles of Japan and the cult that grew up around his memory, Prince Shōtoku was one of very few people in Yamato to see beyond Buddhism’s ritual potential and appreciate its philosophical depths. He delivered lectures on Buddhism at the Empress’s request – one talk apparently lasted for three days – and composed sutra commentaries that were later sent to China as part of diplomatic missions.
One of the most celebrated products of all this learning was the archipelago’s first constitution, credited to the Prince in 604, though thought in fact to have been the work of a later generation. Consisting of seventeen articles, it was less a legal document than a series of principles on which an ideal state should be based. They included harmony and good faith, the acceptance of differing views and the recognition of merit. Feuding and gluttony were to be strenuously avoided, as were flattery, covetous desire, sycophancy and anger. Government officials were enjoined to place the greatest value on hard work, public-spiritedness, ‘decorous behaviour’ and open debate. Above all, people were encouraged to show reverence for Buddhism and for imperial commands.
These were more than mere airy ideals. Power in Yamato depended upon family, spanning blood ties and claims of godly descent. Prince Shōtoku was suggesting something revolutionary: that leadership and privilege should henceforth be conferred on the basis of merit and moral conduct instead. He instituted, for court officials, a Chinese-style system of ‘cap-ranks’ similar to one that was in use in Korean kingdoms at this time. There were twelve in all, each named after a Confucian principle – virtue, benevolence, propriety, sincerity, justice, and knowledge – and each distinguished from the others by the design of the silk cap worn by a person of that rank.
Anyone aspiring to rise through the new ranks would require, on top of the personal qualities laid out by Prince Shōtoku, a familiarity with Chinese. The lingua franca of East Asian Buddhism, it was also essential to continental statecraft and diplomacy. From the Prince’s time onwards Yamato saw a rapid increase in Chinese literacy amongst the courtly elite, making possible the compilation of the Chronicles of Japan (in literary Chinese) and the Record of Ancient Matters (in a more experimental linguistic blend of Chinese mixed with an early attempt to render spoken Japanese in Chinese script).
Renewed contact with China had all sorts of other impacts besides. Courtiers began to adopt Chinese clothing: for women, a tunic emphasizing a flowing, plaited skirt beneath; for men, a loose, longer tunic with a stand-up collar, atop a pair of trousers tied with a sash. Imported Chinese dress codes meant that, as with the administrative caps, certain colours could be worn only by people of a certain status. Early in the 700s, a new ‘clothing code’ required that all robes be fastened left over right, according to Chinese practice – the origins, some have argued, of what would one day become the kimono.
The archipelago now embarked on a long-term love affair with Chinese styles of poetry. A highlight of diplomatic banquets, the composition of short lines capturing a moment or a mood became a source of cultured competition at court. A few decades after the Record of Ancient Matters and the Chronicles of Japan were completed, the first poetry anthology appeared: The Ten Thousand Leaves (Man’yōshū), featuring more than 4,000 poems composed between the mid-600s and mid-700s and taking for their subject matter the lives of courtiers and the coarser-born alike. The islands, of course, had their own pre-existing poetic traditions. But as in ritual and statecraft, so in the worlds of fashion and literary pursuits the great theme of this era was the integration of the foreign and the domestic.
This was also the case for music and dance. Native traditions included kami songs, folk songs and drinking songs, alongside singing competitions that would end in carnal revelry. Accompaniment was provided by varying combinations of flutes, drums, bells and rattles. To these domestic traditions was added – probably as early as the 400s, but gathering pace during and immediately after Prince Shōtoku’s era – a range of new instruments, songs and dances from mainland Asia. Within the Prince’s lifetime the most important newcomer, from Paekche, was gigaku. Taught at Buddhist temples and performed at court and elsewhere, this was dance-drama using brightly coloured masks of animals, including lions and horses, alongside famous historical figures and caricatures of barbarians and kings. Later on came a form of dance called bugaku, with more of a narrative focus, accompanied by the koto, a horizontal stringed instrument that was laid on the floor and plucked.
The Prince is said to have made a modest musical contribution of his own, burnishing in the process his Chinese-style credentials as a man of virtue and filial values. One day in 613 he was walking along when he noticed a starving man lying in the road. He stopped and gave him food and drink. Taking off his own robe and covering the man with it, he wished him peace and composed for him a song of lament:
The wayfarer lying
Hungered for rice …
Art thou become
Hast thou no lord
Flourishing as a bamboo?
The wayfarer lying
Hungered for rice.
When the man died not long afterwards, Prince Shōtoku had a burial mound built for him. Suspecting that this had been no ordinary human being, the Prince sent one of his attendants back to check the mound. The tomb was found to be empty, with only the Prince’s robe remaining. Writers in later years linked this story to those of Jesus Christ and the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, both of whom left empty tombs and appeared to people after their deaths. Some went further, wondering whether the Prince’s many talents might have extended to helping bring the dead back to life.
As if to counter any impression that Prince Shōtoku was responsible for too slavish an approach to continental culture, his legend extends to one final celebrated act. The Chinese at this point still regarded their neighbours across the water – the ‘Wa’, using the same demeaning ideograph as always – as a vassal people. Given all that the Yamato kingdom was achieving, this would clearly no longer do. So around 608 the Prince drafted a letter for Empress Suiko to send to her counterpart in China. It began with the words: ‘The Child of Heaven [tenshi] of the land where the sun rises sends a letter to the Child of Heaven of the land where the sun sets.’ Other sources credit the Prince with conjuring the term later chosen by the Yamato sovereigns to refer to themselves – ‘Heavenly Sovereign’ (tennō) – and with trying it out for size on the Chinese around this time.
The Yamato kingdom had not yet formally adopted the name ‘Nihon’ (‘root of the sun’), the appellation which, passing through various Asian and European languages, eventually gave the world ‘Japan’. And given the vantage point of mainland Asia, the ‘land where the sun rises’ could be interpreted as no more than a geographical observation. But there were already connotations here of cosmic importance – of a newcomer destined to outshine an old-timer and, above all, the audacious assumption of parity between the two sovereigns. The Chinese Emperor appears to have understood. ‘This letter from the barbarians’, he is said to have complained to one of his staff, ‘contains improprieties. Do not call it to my attention again.’
What some refer to as the broad ‘Yamato period’, beginning around the mid-200s with grand burial mounds suggestive of up-and-coming chiefdoms, gave way in 710 to the ‘Nara period’, named after the location of an impressive new imperial capital established that year. Laid out on a Chinese-style grid pattern and featuring buildings with stone bases and tiled roofs, the archipelago’s first great capital city became home to 100,000 people – out of a national population of around 6 million. When the Chronicles of Japan was completed ten years later, in 720, it confirmed Prince Shōtoku as the person who had laid the city’s cultural and political foundations.
Nara became the focal point of the sort of centralized and professionally managed bureaucratic state, based on Chinese-inspired criminal and administrative codes, that the Prince had envisaged. Government was split into two branches. The Great Council of State (Dajōkan) featured a Chancellor, Ministers of the Left and the Right (each responsible for various specific ministries) and four senior counsellors. The Office of Deities (Jingi-kan) managed rituals and shrines for the kami. A parallel network of Buddhist temples was meanwhile emerging, home to monks and nuns who were regarded essentially as state bureaucrats to be trained, regulated and charged with reciting sutras for the good of the realm.
The realm, encompassing the southern two-thirds of Honshū and most of Kyūshū, was divided up into around sixty provinces, and from there into districts and villages. Villagers paid taxes in kind: a combination of rice and vegetables, raw materials, labour and military service – all of which helped to fund and secure a courtly culture in Nara that was ever more firmly rooted in the Chinese imports facilitated by the Prince. People across the land were encouraged to keep a careful eye on their neighbours as a way of promoting virtuous behaviour: a cheap and effective means of surveillance.
Not everything turned out as the Prince might have liked. His hoped-for meritocracy was conspicuously absent. Family feuding remained intense, with the Soga clan overthrown in the mid-600s and many more violent comings and goings thereafter. When career-minded young men went to study the Confucian classics at Nara’s State Academy (Daigaku-ryō), they did so knowing that districts and villages were controlled largely by influential local families, while provincial governorships were handed out to major clan allies – the country’s emerging aristocracy. Talented individuals of lowly stock might work their way up temple hierarchies as Buddhist monks or nuns, but otherwise birth trumped graft every time.
The impact upon the imperial institution of this heavy focus on family would be profound over the centuries to come. The Yamato sovereigns had achieved something remarkable in remaking themselves as divine emperors, establishing in the sixth and seventh centuries an imperial line that is still going strong in the twenty-first. But the feeling in the realm never went away that they were really just one elite family amongst others. When their earthly fortunes faltered, other families would be quick to muscle in.
For now, however, the emperors enjoyed considerable authority, advertising their divine descent ever more forcefully. Imperial edicts were not personal missives, they were drafted and promulgated by the Great Council of State. But from the reign of Emperor Tenmu (673–86) onwards they opened with the words: ‘Hear ye the edict of an emperor who is a manifest kami’. Emperors also boasted their own armed forces. Clan chiefs had been successfully turned into imperial military commanders, with each province required to raise and maintain a unit of at least 1,000 men and the realm’s roads shored up to accommodate swift and easy troop movements.
The Chronicles of Japan, completed at the beginning of this golden era of Sinicized, centralized imperial governance, made clear in its treatment of Prince Shōtoku’s passing the immense debt owed by the new state to the great diplomatic and integrating feats that he had come to represent:
Spring, 2nd month, 5th day 
In the middle of the night the Imperial Prince died in the Palace of Ikaruga. At this time all the Princes … as well as the people of the Empire [mourned him]. The old, as if they had lost a dear child, had no taste for salt and vinegar in their mouths. The young, as if they had lost a beloved parent, filled the ways with the sound of their lamenting. The farmer ceased from his plough, and the pounding woman laid down her pestle.
They all said: ‘The sun and moon have lost their brightness; Heaven and Earth have crumbled to ruin: henceforward, in whom shall we put our trust?’
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., or “Ted,” as his friends called him, lived up to the legacy of his father and namesake, President Theodore Roosevelt. The younger Roosevelt was a proven combat leader in both world wars, an aspiring politician, a successful businessman, an accomplished hunter and explorer, as well as governor of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., like his father, received the Medal of Honor, one of only two father–son duos to be awarded America’s highest honor (the other being Arthur MacArthur and Douglas MacArthur). Roosevelt rose through the ranks during the Great War, ending it as a lieutenant colonel commanding the 26th Infantry Regiment in the 1st Division. He participated in numerous engagements in 1918, which included Cantigny, Soissons, and the Meuse–Argonne campaign. He was cited for bravery, wounded in action, the first reserve officer to command a regiment in combat, and was the spearhead of the American attempt to liberate the French city of Sedan in the waning hours of the war.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was born on 13 September 1887 at Oyster Bay, New York. Although a great admirer of his dad’s legendary action with the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, the burden of living up to such expectations as the eldest son caused considerable anxiety for the young man. Journalist Jacob Riis wrote a profile of the family in the White House in 1902 and said that Ted was “like his father… in his absolute fearlessness and occasional disregard for conventionalities.” “Absolute fearlessness and occasional disregard for conventionalities” captured the essence of Ted’s leadership style in both World War I and II.
He graduated from Harvard and then entered upon a series of successful business ventures that brought him wealth before America entered World War I. Ted married Eleanor Butler Alexander in 1910 and they had four children. Eleanor would play an important role in Ted’s combat experience in France. After the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, most Americans believed that the nation would eventually enter the war. This was a view not shared by the passive Wilson Administration, which did nothing to prepare for war. Out of frustration by the lack of proactive measures by President Wilson, “preparedness groups” popped up, as well as a military training camp at Plattsburgh, New York, which in effect created a cadre of future leaders for the war. The National Defense Act of 1916 supported this endeavor and established the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Roosevelt volunteered to be a part of this training, as so many young men likewise did before America entered the war. Ted captured the frustration of his generation, writing, “The administration never takes a step in advance until literally flailed into it; and the entire cuckoo population of the ‘don’t criticize the President’ type play into the hands of the pro-Germans, pacifists, and Hearst people, so that a premium is put on our delay and inefficiency.”
When the United States finally entered the war in April 1917, Ted wasted no time to be among the first Americans in uniform deployed to France. For the first time in his life, he asked his dad (T. R.) for help to make this happen – something that T. R. was delighted to do. T. R. knew Pershing personally from the Spanish–American War and crafted a letter asking that his sons Ted and Archie be selected to join him immediately in France. The letter to General Pershing from T. R. in part said:
I write you now to request that my two sons, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr… and Archibald B. Roosevelt… both of Harvard, be allowed to enlist as privates with you to go over with the first troops. The former is a Major and the latter a Captain in the Officer’s Reserve Corps. They are at Plattsburg for their third summer.
The letter, with a bit of help from Ted’s wife Eleanor, resulted in the Roosevelt brothers boarding the S.S. Chicago on 20 June 1917 for France.
Eleanor was determined to be close to her husband during the war and hurriedly volunteered to serve in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), before rules went into effect preventing wives of soldiers from working in volunteer organizations serving frontline troops. Many Christian and Jewish organizations sprang into action to help ameliorate the soldiers’ sacrifices in this time of war. Among the most active were the Knights of Columbus, the Jewish Welfare Board, YMCA, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army. These organizations deployed volunteers across the United States at military bases as well as in Europe to provide the soldiers with food, comfort, music, entertainment, and Bibles. Eleanor skyrocketed into the YMCA’s leadership, designed their field uniforms, and became one of the leading advocates in France of taking care of the soldiers.
The Salvation Army became one of the favorites of the Doughboys in France. The volunteers were often Bible-toting evangelical Christian young ladies, who baked thousands of donuts daily to hand out to the men coming into or going out of the battle lines. The women were given the moniker of “Donut Lassies” by the men. Ted Roosevelt was so impressed that he wrote, “Before the war I felt that the Salvation Army was composed of a well-meaning lot of cranks. Now what help I can give them is theirs.”
Once in France Ted and Archie reported to General Pershing in Paris and asked to serve in combat with frontline troops. Pershing wrote, “Two of the Roosevelt boys, Theodore, Jr., and Archie, reported yesterday. Unable himself to participate, their father’s fine spirit is represented by his sons.” Archie was assigned to the 6th Regiment, but Ted was sent to a training unit. He confided in a letter to his wife the anguish: “Well, it’s dreadful to have those we love go to the front; but it is even worse when they are not allowed to go to the front.”
Ted’s wait to get an assignment to a frontline combat unit would not take long. Colonel George B. Duncan, who would later be promoted to major general and command the 77th and 82nd Divisions, needed an officer to command 1st Battalion in the 26th Infantry Regiment, in the 1st Division. Ted eagerly agreed to leave the training unit for this opportunity to serve in what would be America’s most celebrated division in World War I. As the first American division in France, the unit trained hard to prepare for combat. Ted bemoaned that much of the training was inadequate. In his view, the maneuver training that focused on the bayonet and rifle was not realistic, and this put him at odds with General Pershing’s assumption that the Americans once in battle would break the stalemate and quickly enter open warfare. In one case, during an exercise observed by General Pershing himself, the result was potentially catastrophic. Ted wrote of this:
Once we had a maneuver of this kind before General Pershing. The company officers were lined up and afterward were asked their opinion as to how the men had conducted themselves. The first one to answer was a game little fellow named Wortley… He said that he thought everything went off very well and he didn’t think he had anything to criticize. The next lieutenant said that he thought that a few men of his company had got a little mixed up. This was a cheerful point of view for him to have, for, as a matter of fact, two thirds of his company had gone astray. His company had been selected to deliver a flank attack over the top, but when this took place it consisted of one lieutenant and two privates.
Fortunately, General Pershing did not notice this glaring error. Also present during this episode was the 1st Division’s assistant chief of staff for training, Major George C. Marshall, who had a good relationship with Ted. This friendship would serve Ted well in the dark days of World War II in 1943, in the months following the Allied operations in North Africa.
Ted and the 1st Division spent the latter part of 1917 and early 1918 gaining experience in the trenches along the quieter sectors of the Western Front. By May 1918, it was the Americans’ turn to finally play an active role in the fighting. The 1st Division was rushed north by train to the Somme and given the mission of liberating the destroyed French village of Cantigny. A brigade of the division that included Ted’s unit was given the mission of what would be America’s biggest yet engagement of the war. Supported by French tanks, aircraft, and artillery, the Americans launched an impressive attack that drove the Germans both out of Cantigny and the surrounding areas. For the next three days, the German Army launched a series of failed counterattacks to drive the Americans back. Ted played a key role leading his battalion in the defense of Cantigny. Although suffering from gas poisoning, Ted stayed in the line and continued to valiantly lead his men in the thick of the action. According to his official citation for the Silver Star:
During the operations connected with the capture and defense of Cantigny, France, 27 to 31 May 1918. Major Roosevelt during an enemy raid, displayed high qualities of courage and leadership in going forward to supervise in person the action of one of the companies of his battalion which had been attacked; on the day of our attack upon Cantigny, although gassed in the lungs and gassed in the eyes to blindness, Major Roosevelt refused to be evacuated and retained command of his battalion, under heavy bombardment, throughout the engagement.
In addition to the Silver Star, Ted also was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for this action.
As the guns fell silent at Cantigny, Ted heard rumors that Paris was about to be overrun by the Germans. Fearing for the safety of his wife Eleanor, Ted awoke Lieutenant Colonel George C. Marshall for permission to find his wife. Marshall rebuked him, saying, “For heaven’s sake Roosevelt, go and get some rest! You’ve been gassed and look like the dickens. Your wife will be alright.” To this, Ted answered, “That’s may as be, but I’ve got to be sure. You see, she’s the only wife I’ve got.” The appeal worked and Ted was given permission to rush to Paris only to find Eleanor doing quite well.
After a short period of rest, the 1st Division made its way northeast of Paris to participate in the offensive to liberate Soissons. As the men prepared for the attack, Ted heard the news of his brother Quentin being killed in action after being shot down by a German fighter plane. His brother Archie was likewise seriously wounded. The war was taking a heavy toll on the Roosevelt family.
Sensing that the German offensives had culminated, Allied Supreme Commander Foch directed that the Allies retake the ground lost earlier in the year around Soissons. Lasting from 18 to 22 July, the attack included the American 1st and 2nd Divisions, two British divisions, and 24 French divisions. The attack, although costly, was superbly executed, forcing the Germans to lose nearly all the ground that they had captured two months earlier. As expected, Ted led his men from the front on the first and second days of the battle. As they advanced on 19 July, a German machine gun opened fire, resulting in Ted and the men around him dashing forward in a sprint to eliminate this threat. As Ted charged, a bullet crashed into his knee, causing him to crash into the ground. The enemy machine gun was taken, but Ted suffered a wound that would follow him throughout his life.
Ted refused adequate treatment and hopped in a motorcycle sidecar to visit his wife Eleanor, who was still in Paris helping to lead the YMCA effort. Eleanor was surprised to see him and helpless to convince him to have the wound taken care of properly. Providentially, a mutual friend, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Derby, dropped in for a visit. Derby was the chief surgeon with the 2nd Division and evaluated the wound; seeing that it was severe, he advised that if it was not treated right away, Ted could lose his leg. This was enough for Ted, who agreed to be taken to a nearby hospital. Ted was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership and bravery during the Battle of Soissons.
After nearly two months of convalescing, Ted reported to a training unit in France in mid-September 1918 and was soon thereafter promoted to lieutenant colonel. Although not healed of his wounds, Ted was looking for a chance to return to the 1st Division. This came in late October, when Brigadier General Frank Parker called to inquire about his health. Parker was looking to give command of the 26th Regiment to Ted if he was well enough to take it. Roosevelt jumped at the chance and left his training unit without orders to join the 1st Division preparing for the final push of the Meuse–Argonne offensive. Ted arrived in time for the division’s advance during the final week of the war.
The AEF had finally broken through the German lines on 1 November 1918 and was now in pursuit of the enemy to the Meuse River. The 1st Division joined the push on 6 November and within hours was redirected from advancing north toward the Meuse River, and instead ordered to swing west across the U.S. I Corps sector to seize the occupied French city of Sedan. A confusing set of circumstances triggered this dangerous maneuver. General Pershing expressed his desire that Sedan should be taken by the Americans and that his favorite division, the 1st, should have the honor of liberating it. As a result, U.S. First Army issued a muddled memorandum late on 5 November that resulted in the chaos of the 1st Division cutting across the front of the sector of U.S. I Corps, and pushing other American troops into the sector of the French Fourth Army. Ted Roosevelt and his regiment led the 1st Division. The results were catastrophic. The advance of an entire American corps was halted; there were incidents of fratricide, and outrage from the French. Roosevelt was literally about to order his men the few remaining miles forward into Sedan when he was ordered back.
With this, the Armistice went into effect, thus ending the war. As the 1st Division limped back, Ted was surprised to find his wife Eleanor looking for him. She was in the area with the YMCA leadership to set up additional forward sites at the front. Upon hearing that the war was ending, she set off to reunite with Ted. After this brief reunion with his wife, Ted and the rest of the 1st Division were ordered to serve as part of the Allied occupational forces in the Rhineland, Germany, where his stay was brief. In early 1919, he returned to France, helped to establish the American Legion, and thereafter went back to the United States.
After World War I, Ted launched a political career; he was elected to the New York State Assembly, and then, like his father many years before, appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His political future seemed endless until he ran for governor of New York in 1924. Widespread Democrat Party voter fraud and a smear campaign led by Ted’s cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) were blamed for his defeat. Ted was outraged by FDR’s betrayal and the breach between the two would never be healed. Yet, the son of Theodore, Sr. had a reputation similar to his father’s, was a genuine war hero, adventurer, hunter and explorer, and thereby remained ever present in the public’s imagination. As a result, he was appointed to serve as the governor of Puerto Rice from 1929 to 1932 and the governor general of the Philippines.
As the clouds of another world war gathered, Ted returned to the United States Army in 1940, at 53 years of age, was promoted to colonel and given command of his 26th Infantry Regiment in the 1st Infantry Division. He went in with the assault wave to hit the beaches in Oran, Algeria during Operation TORCH in North Africa. During the initial attack, Ted continually pushed to the front and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for fighting off a French patrol while riding shotgun in his jeep. The legacy of Pershing’s orders in 1918 for officers to always be out front was still with Ted two decades later. Major General Omar Bradley captured the essence of Roosevelt’s leadership style in North Africa, recollecting that he was “a brave… undersized man who trudged about the front with a walking stick… His cheery bullfrog voice had echoed reassuringly among the troops in every Tunisian wadi in which riflemen fought the Germans.”
Yet, the performance of the Americans in North Africa in early 1943 was far from splendid. The flaws of an inexperienced army, facing a determined adversary, were evident in battle, especially in the disastrous Battle of Kasserine Pass. Eisenhower assigned George S. Patton in March of 1943 to take command of II Corps in North Africa to get the Americans in shape. The spit and polish Patton was the polar opposite of the 1st Infantry Division commander, Major General Terry Allen and Ted Roosevelt (now a brigadier general and the division’s assistant division commander). This notwithstanding, The Big Red One, as the 1st Infantry Division was called, helped redeem the reputation of the Americans at the Battle of El Guettar, which, together with the advance of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery’s British Eighth Army push from the east resulted in the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa.
The victory in North Africa was followed by the Allied landings at Sicily in July 1943, an operation in which the 1st Infantry Division and Ted Roosevelt played a key role. The performance of the division and its leaders notwithstanding, Patton, now the U.S. Seventh Army Commander, conferred with Eisenhower to have Allen and Roosevelt reassigned under the guise of “rotation of command.” Eisenhower agreed, with Patton making a statement that the reassignment of Ted would cause a bit of a furor, saying, “There will be a kick over Teddy, but he has to go, brave but otherwise, no soldier.”
After several months serving as a liaison officer with the French Army fighting in Italy, Ted was reassigned to the United Kingdom to serve as the 4th Infantry Division’s assistant division commander to prepare for what would be Allied landings at Normandy on 6 June 1944. This lateral assignment did not reflect any punishment by Eisenhower of Roosevelt for his unique leadership style. When the time for the landings arrived, Ted appealed to the division commander, Major General Raymond “Tubby” Barton, for permission to land on Utah Beach with the first wave. Barton was initially opposed to this, but relented to Roosevelt’s insistence that it was where he needed to be to ensure success. At 56 years of age, Ted indeed hit the beach of Normandy, France, in the first wave. Upon landing, he took stock of the situation and realized that the landing craft had drifted more than a mile southeast of the planned landing beaches. After a few moments of thought, Ted gave his famous order: “We’ll start the war from right here!”
With that, Brigadier General Roosevelt greeted each successive wave of landing craft, giving them specific orders on where to advance. His grasp of the situation was superb, and his clarity of orders indeed was what was needed to secure the beachhead and beyond. For the next month, Ted continued to perform brilliantly in France and was recommended by Lieutenant General Omar Bradley for promotion to major general and command of the 90th Infantry Division. However, before this was approved, Ted died of a heart attack on 12 July 1944. Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Utah Beach. His award citation states:
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After two verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.
The legacy and influence of General Pershing cast a long shadow over the life of Ted Roosevelt. The relentless drive to lead from the front, in harm’s way, was the type of leadership that Pershing demanded in 1918 and that Ted maintained throughout his service in both world wars. His selfless service personified many of the virtues of both his family and Pershing’s ideals for leaders. Foremost of these was his bravery in leading his men from the front. His awards for heroism and leadership not only included the Medal of Honor, but the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, four Silver Stars, and the Legion of Merit. Although differing in his view of what a leader should look like, Patton conceded that Roosevelt was “one of the bravest men I’ve ever known.” Ted, however, had a distinct style that did not necessarily embrace Pershing’s (and later Patton’s) rigid spit-and-polish outward image. His personable style and his tireless endeavors to be at the front with his men motivated and inspired those who served with him. Ted Roosevelt lived up to his namesake and left a legacy worthy of emulation.
The Life and Adventures of Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton Soldier – Pioneer Aviator – Pathfinder for Global Peacekeeping.
by Charles Stuart Eaton
Foreword by Dick Smith AO
In Retrospect Air Commodore Dr Mark Lax OAM, CSM
The Cross in the Sky is the remarkable story of Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton. As a soldier, pioneer aviator and pathfinder for global peacekeeping, Charles emerges as a trail-blazer in many realms. His story is intertwined with tectonic world events and a 65-year romance with Beatrice Rose Godfrey.
Eaton served every day of both world wars, starting with the Royal West Surreys and finishing with the Royal Australian Air Force. He was a prisoner of war and twice court-martialled by the German Army. After the Armistice, he ferried delegates to the Paris Peace Conference. In 1920 he flew in the first aerial survey of India, after which he lived amongst the Khond people of Orissa.
In Central Australia, following the disappearances of Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross and Lasseter’s Golden Quest, he led rescue missions into the Tanami and Great Sandy deserts before establishing and then participating in the air defences of north-west Australia and West Papua during World War Two. As the Australian Consul in East Timor, he assisted the post-war reconstruction of that war-torn land.
In the midst of the Indonesian War of Independence, his life-long experience culminated in initiatives that led to the first United Nations venture to monitor conflict resolution. As Australia’s first diplomatic representative to the new nation of Indonesia, Charles Eaton laid the foundations of Australian–Indonesian bi-lateral relations.
The Cross in the Sky is the story of an extraordinary man, told by his younger son—and witness to some of these events—Charles Stuart Eaton.
Illustration from Vaux Passional thought to show Henry (top) mourning his mother, with his sisters, Mary and Margaret, at age 11, 1503
The king’s grace is but a weak and sickly man, not likely to be a long-lived man. Not long since he was sick and lay at his manor at Wanstead. At that time a number of great personages discussed among themselves the shape of things that might come should his grace depart this life. Some of them spoke of my lord of Buckingham, saying that he was a noble man and would be a royal ruler. Others spoke of Edmund de la Pole. But none of them spoke of the Prince of Wales.
Sometime in 1504 or 1505 a group of royal servants, in the relative safety of England’s continental port of Calais, speculated on the future of their country. Such political gossip reflected two assumptions: the current regime of Henry VII was vastly unpopular and it would be succeeded by that of any rival to the house of Tudor who could command a large enough following among the leading magnates of the realm. The fact that the new dynasty warded off rebellions and coups and survived, for a further century, despite depending for that survival on a royal minor and two royal women, says much for the political tenacity and acumen of England’s greatest reigning house. It also reflects the preoccupation of most of the crown’s subjects with stability and continuity. Whatever scheming nobles might have thought in the twilight years of Henry VII’s reign, the people at large had no taste for a return to the carnage and dislocation of the Wars of the Roses.
The boy who was to become Henry VIII would be the most absolute monarch England ever experienced and would preside over fundamental and far-reaching changes in the cultural, political and economic life of the nation. It is tempting to put all this down to his strength of character but the truth is more complex. It has to do with the impact of revolutionary ideas over which the king had no control and with a succession of gifted royal servants able not only to give Henry what he wanted but what they wanted him to want. It also reflects the passivity of a people unwilling to engage in major rebellion until pushed beyond endurance. Yet, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, those supposedly in the know could discount the possibility of young Harry succeeding to or maintaining his hold of the crown. To begin to understand the reign of Henry VIII we, too, must expunge from our minds what we know of Renaissance and Reformation England, the matrimonial convolutions of the king’s life, the lavish royal rituals, the transfer of ecclesiastical wealth and power to the crown and the emergence of a new class of land-rich gentlemen and businessmen, who were partners in change but steadily developing an awareness of their own corporate interests. We must submit to the mental conditioning of Henry’s contemporaries. They could only predict the future in terms of the past.
At the dawn of the sixteenth century there were very good reasons for discounting the accession to the throne of Henry VII’s only surviving son, born in 1491. Twice during the previous 100 years the crown had passed to a minor and on both occasions the results had been disastrous. Henry V had been succeeded by Henry VI, a nine-month-old boy who became the pawn of aristocratic factions and was murdered, after a reign as chaotic as it was long, in 1471. Twelve years later the usurper, Edward IV, died and bequeathed his realm to the twelve-year-old Prince Edward. The new king and his brother were removed by their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, who was driven not only by his own ambition, but by the conviction that England could never be secure under the rule of a minor. As the movers and shakers of Gothic England waited for Henry VII to die, there seemed every reason to suppose that the future would lie in their own scheming hands and an effective military leader of their own choosing. The king disappointed their hopes. His last service to England was his eking out of his life until young Harry of Wales was within sight of his eighteenth birthday. The crown passed without challenge to the legitimate heir amidst demonstrations of wild rejoicing. The dynasty was secure – for the moment.
Our story, however, must start further back in time. A few months before Columbus gained his first sight of the Americas and the surviving Moors their last sight of Spain before being driven out by Ferdinand and Isabella, little Henry Tudor entered the world on 28 June 1491 in the palace of Greenwich, downriver from the fetid summer airs of the capital whither Elizabeth of York had resorted with her ladies for her lying-in. The birth process was always hazardous but the queen was robust and had already been safely delivered of one boy child (Arthur, 1486) and one girl child (Margaret, 1489). It was, nevertheless, a relief for the king to know that he had another healthy son, a ‘spare’ heir. The royal family continued to grow. Over the next few years Henry had three younger siblings, though only one, Mary (1496), survived infancy. By the standards of the day it was a good-sized brood, particularly valuable to King Henry because it enabled him to secure his position by negotiating a series of marriages with other royal houses. Childhood was short in those days. Long before puberty the young princes and princesses had become accustomed to the idea that they were destined for separation and dispersion to various European courts.
What little we can know about the upbringing of the royal children suggests that the dominant figure in their enclosed world was their grandmother. Lady Margaret Beaufort was a femme formidable in every sense. Scheming, ambitious and strong-willed, the king’s mother had been one of the principle agents in Henry VII’s acquisition of the throne. From a very early age she had been caught up in the sinister game of dynastic snakes and ladders. Because she was descended from Edward III, she was married off by Henry VI to his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, with the sole intention of producing more supporters of the Lancastrian cause. Edward lost no time in making his young bride pregnant by an act which must have been very close to rape. It left Margaret unable to have more children but she did have a son (the future Henry VII) and the two would always be very close. The bond was even stronger because Henry never knew his father, who died of plague before he was born. In 1471, when Henry was thirteen, the Yorkist Edward IV confirmed his grasp of the throne by murdering Henry VI. The young Tudor now became a theoretical rival and Margaret organized his hurried flight across the Channel. While Henry spent the next fourteen years in asylum in Brittany, his mother negotiated, plotted and schemed to gain the royal favour which would allow his return. However, the possibility of making a bid for the crown was never far from her thoughts and when Richard III’s usurpation created a backlash among many of the nobility she grasped her opportunity to place her son at the head of a rebellion. Her scheming was as audacious as it was energetic. Her agents scurried secretly to and fro among disaffected Yorkist magnates, promising not a Lancastrian takeover but the union of the rival houses by the marriage of her son to Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth. Meanwhile, other conspirators bargained with the rulers of France and Brittany for the provision of men and arms. The outcome of the rebellion was by no means a foregone conclusion and there were a number of false starts to the campaign before Henry Tudor landed safely at Milford Haven in August 1485. His eventual victory at Bosworth had as much to do with defections from the royal ranks as with the accomplishments of Henry’s mongrel army.
It was inevitable that Margaret Beaufort would exercise considerable influence in the new regime. Henry relied heavily on his mother’s advice and she enjoyed greater prominence than Henry’s new wife, Elizabeth of York. She assumed the royal coat of arms, signed documents ‘Margaret R.’ and appeared at court rituals beside the king. She maintained a large, magnificently appointed household not a whit less impressive than her that of her son. She wore sumptuous jewellery and beautifully tailored gowns, though almost always these were of simple cut and in chaste black. The portrait of her in Christ’s College, one of two centres of learning she founded at Cambridge, reveals an austere woman in a nun-like habit, reading a devotional book.
There is no contradiction here. Margaret managed to combine worldly pomp and power with genuine religious devotion. Although she never entered a convent, she separated from her third husband in order to organize her daily life around a ritual of prayer and worship. She endowed ancient religious houses but was interested in modern developments in theology and religious art. And technology: she was the foremost patroness of the new, revolutionary printing industry. She ordered several devotional works from the presses of William Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde and bought copies as gifts for friends and protégés.
The most devout King David. . .taught the people of Israel to praise God with their whole hearts and with voices full of melody to bless and praise him every day. If so great devotion was then used. . .what reverence and devotion ought now to be preserved by me and all Christian people during the ministration of the sacrament.
These words from the early fifteenth-century devotional classic, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, were translated personally by Margaret for the first English edition and it is no surprise to learn that she took the writer’s advice. Her chapel staff rivalled that of the king for numbers and musicality and was an important centre for the development of English polyphony. As a widow in her fifties who had experienced – and survived – many of the changes and chances of a troubled age, Margaret was an awe-inspiring old woman who wielded immense political and moral authority. According to the Spanish ambassador, she dominated her daughter-in-law and if Elizabeth was overwhelmed by the older woman the young princes and princesses must have been even more so. They were brought up in royal manors south of the Thames – Eltham, Greenwich and Richmond – and Margaret could easily visit them from her residence at Woking or her riverside town mansion of Coldharbour, near London Bridge. The grandmother they encountered in those early years was a strict disciplinarian with firm ideas about everything and everyone – especially education and religion.
The queen mother’s confessor and closest adviser on things scholarly and spiritual was John Fisher, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University and one of the most advanced thinkers of the day. He belonged to that circle of international cognoscenti whom traditionalists dismissed contemptuously as trendy advocates of ‘New Learning’ because they had absorbed the Renaissance passion for classical scholarship and the original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible instead of being content with the time-honoured regurgitation of accepted patristic interpretations. Margaret naturally turned to Fisher when it came to selecting those men who should be employed as tutors for the royal children. Each of the siblings was appointed his or her own household staff and the academic avant-garde featured prominently among the appointees. The man installed as tutor to Prince Henry in about 1496 was the very remarkable poet and scholar, John Skelton. He had recently been appointed poet laureate at Cambridge and probably belonged to Fisher’s circle. Skelton was in his mid-thirties and, if not exactly an ‘angry young man’, he was certainly a very intense one. His religious and moral earnestness displayed itself in his personal devotion (he took holy orders in 1498), in pedagogical books such as the Boke how Men Shulde Fle Synne and also in satirical verse. In 1499 he turned his pen to invective against the hypocrisy of the royal household in The Bouge of Court, in which he described an allegorical dream where certain characters representing established courtiers offered to guide him in the workings of the court:
The first was Duplicity, full of flattery,
With fables false, that well could feign a tale.
The second was Suspicion which that daily
Misjudged each man, with face deadly and pale,
And Deceiver, that well could pick a quarrel,
With other four of their affinity:
Disdain, Riot, Dissimulation, Subtlety.
It seems that Skelton was determined to make his young charge aware of the unreality and false values of the enclosed little world in which he was growing up. The tutor certainly took his job very seriously. We know of several treatises written by him on subjects, such as grammar and the theory of government, which would have been useful for the education of a prince.
The queen, the queen mother and the king were all concerned to see the next generation of Tudors brought up not only by the best intellects of the day, but also by men who were at the cutting edge of intellectual enquiry. It was, perhaps, a concern inspired by their desire to establish the family as a dynamic dynasty, looking to the future, not the past. Henry VII had spent most of his formative years on the continent among cultivated men and women influenced by the Renaissance airs blowing across the Alps. He was well aware that England was regarded as culturally backward and he made a point of bringing into his realm the best artists and craftsmen who could be induced to come and work in the land of fogs and damp humours. Among the members of Prince Henry’s entourage was William Blount, Baron Mountjoy, a scholarly young man who was a friend of Fisher and also of a London lawyer just beginning to create a name for himself called Thomas More. Blount made an intellectual pilgrimage to Paris in order to sit at the feet of the doyen of the avant-garde movement, the great Dutch scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, and the two became close friends. When Erasmus arrived to visit his pupil in 1499, Mountjoy arranged for the great scholar to be received by the royal children. Thus it was that Erasmus and More made the brief journey from Mountjoy’s house to Eltham Palace. Erasmus’ account of the visit, written many years later, gives us the only word picture we have of Henry VIII as a child. Arthur was not present, for he had already left the nursery to begin his serious training as future king. The eight-year-old Henry assumed the role of host, greeting the visitors and engaging them in self-assured conversation. He graciously received a Latin tribute More had thoughtfully composed for the occasion and asked whether the visiting international celebrity might have a similar offering for him. This caught Erasmus on the hop, for he had not thought to equip himself with a suitable present. Only after returning to Mountjoy’s home and burning the midnight oil was he able to make good the omission. According to Erasmus, Henry already had a good command of Latin and French (the languages of scholarship and diplomacy) and to these he later added some facility in Spanish and Italian.
However, Henry never fully embraced fashionable humanism. Traditional influences were just as strong as challenging new ideas and the favourite part of his educational syllabus was history – or what, then, passed for history. This was a mix of courtly romance, moral tales and propaganda. Europe was in the grip of a revolution in information technology. The invention of the printing press with its unlimited potential for the instruction of children in well-to-do households raised the question of what texts should be set before them. No one doubted what the author of The Book of the Knight of the Tower, published by Caxton in 1484, pointed out: that the past was a repository of improving stories from which the young could learn how to conduct themselves in the present. The immediate appeal of such tales in the classroom, however, was the Boy’s Own Paper–style heroism lauded in accounts of knightly derring-do. Prince Henry, like many sons of royal and noble parentage, was brought up on the chivalric adventures recorded in Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (published in English by Caxton in 1485) and a wealth of other books and manuscripts of the same genre. They glorified personal combat and just war while extolling the pure code of honour which supposedly inspired all true knights. Such stories received vivid real-life illustration in the feats of arms performed in the ‘lists’, the enclosures where tournaments were held.
Here the young prince could thrill to the glorious spectacle of heraldically accoutred knights dashing their lances on one another’s shields and enjoy the atmosphere created by cheering crowds, the clash of steel and the whinnying of horses. Henry longed for the day when he could take his place as a hero of the joust and the battlefield. As soon as he could handle small swords and bows he began to practise for that day.
Learning the martial arts intermeshed completely with the prince’s religious and moral education. The business of bashing heads, besieging castles, burning villages and wasting farmland was to be considered highly commendable if the cause for which the knight was contending was just and holy, and as long as his own life was pure. In Le Morte Darthur, Lancelot rejects sexual temptation which would besmirch his knightly honour:
To take my pleasure with paramours, that will I refuse: firstly for dread of God, for the knight who is an adventurer should not be an adulterer nor lecherous, for then he will be neither happy nor fortunate in the wars. Either he will be overcome by a simpler knight than he is himself or else he will by mischance and the curse upon him slay better men than himself. And so whoever resorts to paramours will be unhappy and everything about them will be unhappy.
The disastrous consequences of Lancelot’s subsequent liaison with Guinevere, of course, drive home the moral.
This code of honour was subscribed to by all young noblemen and gentlemen but for the son of the king of England it carried greater weight, for was he not directly descended from the hero-king who presided over the Round Table? When Henry VII ensured that his firstborn was brought into the world at Winchester, the ancient capital of England, and christened with the unusual name of ‘Arthur’ these were propaganda acts and parts of an overall plan to use every means possible to give his regime credibility. He was deliberately linking his dynasty with ancient legend and with the genealogy proposed by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the twelfth-century chronicler in his Historia Regum Britanniae. Geoffrey claimed to have discovered ancient sources which linked the rulers of England not only with King Arthur, but also with fugitives from the fall of Troy. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century readers had no accurate sense of chronology. ‘History’ was for them a radiant tapestry in which kings, saints, knights, magicians and heroes all had their interconnected panels.
Henry VII was determined to weave his family into this imposing fabric. He commissioned the Italian scholar, Polydore Vergil, to write an updated history of England which would be very much a narrative with a Tudor spin. Prince Henry was brought up to see himself as the inheritor of this melange of romantic, militaristic, idealized, politicized mumbo-jumbo. If he had a favourite personal hero it was Henry V, the warrior-king whose spectacular military exploits were still celebrated in legend and ballad. His cross-Channel campaigns had added Normandy and much of northern France to England’s continental possession of Gascony in the southwest. By his death in 1422, approximately one-third of what we now call ‘France’ owed allegiance to the English crown and he had been named as heir to the French throne. That was before England’s warrior-class split into factions and began to turn their swords against each other. By 1453 everything had been lost except Calais. Since then the political map of nearer-Europe had changed considerably. Louis XI (1423–83) united most of the independent duchies west of the Rhine by a combination of war and diplomacy and made of France a centralized monarchy. The union of Aragon and Castile and the expulsion of the Moors turned Spain into a formidable state. It was the relationship between these two nations which would determine the shape of European politics throughout the ensuing century and introduce the concept of the ‘balance of power’. England had ceased to be a major player. For Prince Henry, however, Anglo-French rivalry was a matter of unfinished business and the relegation of England to the status of second-rate nation, a mere spectator in the Habsburg-Valois struggle, was not to be borne. From an early age he dreamed of emulating the exploits of his illustrious ancestors.
As well as the time he spent at his lessons, Henry’s days were passed in the company of two groups of people, his female relatives and his socii studiorum. The latter were the sons of noble parents who shared the prince’s classroom and leisure hours. They were selected as suitable companions and as a means of tying their families more securely to the Tudor regime. It was with this peer group that Henry took exercise – in the tennis court, in the butts, in the hunting field and in the tiltyard. These recreational activities developed and expressed his macho self-image and his intensely competitive nature, which were also reinforced by the fact that he spent much of his time in a household of women in which he was the leading male figure. He was much in the company of his admiring mother and his sisters and always in the background was the dominatrix, Lady Margaret. Young Henry never really had a male role model. He saw little of his father and his elder brother. Arthur would always remain a shadowy figure. Francis Bacon, writing in the early seventeenth century, asserted that Henry VII’s heir was ‘strong and able’. The fact that, by his early teens, he had received various important offices and that plans for his marriage were pursued with vigour may suggest that there was no long-standing concern about his health. On the other hand, portraits of the prince show him with the rather pinched features of his father and other Lancastrians. His tutors reported that he was a studious boy and an apt learner. (We might be tempted to respond, ‘They would, wouldn’t they?’) There are no references to his appearing in the tiltyard or participating in athletic exercises apart from archery. This evidence – such as it is – may support the generally accepted opinion that Arthur was a sickly child. In any case, his contact with the brother who was five years his junior was limited. Arthur had his own household and, as the heir, received a distinctive upbringing.
It is interesting, and not entirely fanciful, to speculate about what would have happened to Henry if Arthur had lived. The two brothers were very different. One might almost see them as representing the Lancastrian and Yorkist elements of their ancestry. Henry grew up tall, athletic and passionate, like his grandfather, Edward IV. If we are at all correct in portraying Arthur as studious, reserved and pious, like his father or even the unfortunate Henry VI, there could hardly have been more difference between the siblings. Would the younger have settled happily as a loyal subject and supporter of the elder? The immediate family of Edward IV had destroyed itself by fraternal rivalry. George, Duke of Clarence, was impelled by ambition and hubris to those acts which obliged his brother to order his execution. Richard of Gloucester had come to grief as the result of grasping the crown rightfully belonging to Edward’s son. Might Henry have decided, like his great-uncles, that he was a more worthy candidate for kingship than his bookish brother? The forceful, impatient Henry known to history could only have found a subservient role irksome and, perhaps, intolerable.
Nor should we neglect the impact of Arthurian legend. The heir to the throne bore the magical name of the ‘once and future king’. Henry VII had sought to merge the mystical past with the promise of a radiant future, safe in the hands of a dynasty which would restore internal unity and make England once again great. Around 1500 there existed a very real sense of new beginnings. Many English men and women felt that somehow they were on the cusp of a golden age. They looked to the Tudors with expectancy. However, if the heroic mantle of ‘Arthur’ sat only loosely around the slender shoulders of a weak king might not his brother have felt that it was imperative for him to make good the deficiency? And even if Henry had given loyal support to the anointed king, what would have happened if that king had died young, bequeathing the crown to a minor? For the third time in a century England would have been faced with the disastrous reign of a child. It is difficult to imagine Henry standing passively by while noble factions once again threatened chaos. These possibilities are not just make-believe scenarios of no real interest to the historian. They certainly occurred to Henry VII and members of the political nation. As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, ‘what ifs’ were certainly questions for debate and speculation among the nation’s leaders. They were no less so for members of the royal family whose very survival was bound up with the smooth transfer of the crown to men of stature able to wear it with dignity and conviction. As for little Henry, he emerged from the chrysalis of infancy not knowing what his future might be. There was even a suggestion that he might be pushed into the church, presumably to prevent him appearing as a rival for the crown.
If Henry saw little of his father during his childhood years it was only partly because he was lodged in his own residences. The king was preoccupied in establishing his throne. From 1491, the year of his second son’s birth, to 1500 Henry VII was seldom able to feel secure. He was repeatedly involved in dealing with rebellions and rumours of rebellions. Yorkist plots, centred round the pretender Perkin Warbeck, obliged him to despatch or lead armies to Ireland, Scotland and France as well as make frequent sorties into various parts of his realm. These military activities were expensive and the tax burden imposed by the government was the heaviest England had had to bear for more than a century. In the spring of 1497 the men of Cornwall had had enough. They raised the standard of revolt and marched eastwards. The five-year-old Prince Henry was staying at his grandmother’s house at Coldharbour when news arrived that the Cornishmen had reached Farnham. Margaret hastily packed her daughter-in-law and her children into barges and had them rowed down to the Tower. There, in the safety of the ancient royal apartments, they waited anxiously for news while the king gathered his forces together to confront his disobedient subjects on Blackheath Common. Defeating the ill-disciplined revolt was not difficult but simultaneous risings in other places made this the most hazardous summer of the reign. Henry sent troops northwards while he led his main army into the heartland of the revolution. In Devon the last vestiges of rebellion were dispelled and Warbeck was taken prisoner. However, the troubles were not over. Eighteen months later, another pretender, Ralph Wilford, put himself forward and no sooner were his pretensions brought to an end than the leading Yorkist contender, Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, fled abroad to make a nuisance of himself in foreign courts. It is hardly surprising that the king and his younger son were able to spend little ‘quality time’ together. By the time that all immediate military threats were past it was 1502 and in that year Prince Henry’s life changed dramatically.
From about 1496, King Henry was involved in frenetic diplomatic activity aimed at securing his own and the nation’s position by means of a network of marriage alliances. His elder daughter, Margaret, was to be espoused to James IV of Scotland. Other matches were sought for the infants Henry and Mary, while Arthur was to be wed to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. The various negotiations dragged on over several years, chiefly because, in the beginning, Henry VII was punching above his weight. In foreign eyes he was a usurping adventurer whose dynasty was unlikely to last long. However, as the English king stamped his authority within his realm other monarchs took him more seriously, realizing that his neutrality or military cooperation could be a significant factor in their rivalries. The marriage of Margaret and James (1503) bestowed much needed peace upon England’s northern border. Before the end of his reign Henry had agreed a match between Mary and the Archduke Charles (the future Emperor Charles V). Had this materialized, the course of European affairs over ensuing decades would have been very different but the proposal died with Henry. His major coup was the marriage of Arthur and Catherine, the most prestigious English dynastic alliance since Henry V’s marriage to Catherine of France in 1420. The treaty was drawn up in 1496 and the couple were betrothed the following year. It was not uncommon for such initial agreements to be set aside in the light of subsequent political or diplomatic complications and King Henry could not rest easily until the ring was on the princess’s finger. He obtained a papal dispensation to allow the union to take place before the couple reached marriageable age and Arthur and Catherine were wed by proxy in May 1499 when they were twelve and thirteen respectively. Still, there could have occurred a slip twixt cup and lip and it was November 1501 before the king could allow himself a sigh of relief. That was when Catherine arrived in her new homeland. Henry VII has often been represented unfairly as a parsimonious, cheese-paring monarch. The truth is that when he wanted to impress English and foreign spectators, no one put on a better show. To celebrate his diplomatic triumph he threw back the lid of the royal coffers.
No expense was spared in welcoming the Spanish princess and her suite with what was ‘perhaps, the supreme masterpiece of English civic pageantry’. Londoners love a parade and they turned out in their tens of thousands to catch a glimpse of their future queen. The Tudor propaganda machine did not disappoint either them or the foreign contingent. As they rode through the heart of the capital the guests were greeted by a spectacular series of allegorical scenes, the like of which the citizens had never seen. Catherine and her attendants could scarcely have understood much of the convoluted astrological and mythical allusions that confronted them but the general drift will have been clear. At each stage elaborate constructions covered in painted and gilded canvas provided platforms from which elaborately-robed figures recited adulatory verses extolling the virtues of the princess’s husband and father-in-law. Confident prophecies assured the young bride of future happiness and even an enthroned ‘God’ was enrolled to pronounce a benediction:
Blessed be the fruit of your belly.
Your substance and fruits I shall increase and multiply.
From the utter failure of this pseudo-divine promise sprang all the ills of the next half century.
However, this was only the beginning of splendours. The wedding was celebrated two days later (14 November) in St Paul’s Cathedral, magnificently draped in silken bunting for the occasion, and was followed by a week of court celebrations. These took the form of sumptuous banquets in Richmond Palace, recently enlarged and refurbished at immense cost, and tournament combats staged in an arena set up in front of Westminster Hall. Here, Henry and his guests beheld from specially-erected galleries a spectacle which was not just a feat of arms. Tournaments had taken on a highly theatrical character. Combatants and their attendants were applauded as much for their skill at ‘disguisings’ as for their athletic prowess. So, for example, one knight entered the lists on a simulated ship ‘floating’ on painted water; another appeared in a gilded carriage drawn by fabulous beasts; a third was borne along in a mobile castle, set with ‘turrets and pinnacles of curious work’.
For Prince Henry, now ten years old, this must have been the most exciting week of his life so far. For months the court had been in a fever of eager anticipation and the boy, who loved theatricality and dressing up, had particularly looked forward to the role allotted to him in the ceremonial. His most important part in the lavish rituals occurred at the marriage service. It was he who met the beautiful Spanish bride in her dazzling wedding gown at the west door of the cathedral and escorted her the entire length of the building to the high altar. Afterwards, he walked behind the newlyweds as they emerged from the church while bells rang, fountains gushed wine and crowds cheered. For anyone who, like Henry, loved an audience it was a thrilling experience – even if he was not the centre of attraction. Observers noted how much the little prince enjoyed himself, dancing with such vigour that he had to put off his outer garments. Yet, might there not have been a reverse side to the coin? It would be understandable if he had experienced at least a twinge of envy. Arthur was being feted with an expensive exuberance which would never be a younger brother’s lot. Whatever foreign princess was found for Henry, it was unlikely that such an extravaganza would be laid on for him. He would always be obliged to play second fiddle. And when Arthur and his lovely queen were crowned, Henry would be their subject.
However, if the little green demon had taken up lodging in the prince’s mind a tragic sequence of events soon drove it hence. The events of the wedding day ended, as tradition demanded, with the ceremonial ‘bedding’, a mix of good-natured Hymen worship and bawdy buffoonery during which the groom was conveyed to the bridal chamber and seen safely ensconced between the sheets with his new wife. History would love to know what happened next, not out prurient curiosity, but because the nature of the relationship between Arthur and Catherine would become a matter of the highest importance years later. The following morning the boasting prince claimed that he had spent much of the night in ‘the midst of Spain’. Catherine insisted, in the 1520s, that the marriage had never been consummated. Who should we believe – the bragging adolescent defending his macho image or the middle-aged woman clinging desperately to her reputation and her position?
Before the year’s end the newlyweds had left the capital in order to set up home for themselves. For the next stage of Arthur’s training in kingcraft it had been decided that he should assume control of his principality of Wales. Actual administration was in the hands of a council of trusted Tudor agents but Henry VII wanted to establish a dynastic presence in this distant part of the realm which had its own identity and traditions. Although Welsh support had been vital in his own progress to the throne, the loyalty of the whole country could not be relied upon and the king aimed to secure his grasp of the land beyond Offa’s Dyke and provide the people with a personal focus for their allegiance. It was important that, in any disturbance which might mark the beginning of Arthur’s reign the new king should have a strong power base in the west. The location chosen for the princely court was Ludlow Castle. This formidable Marcher fortress, set on high ground above the Teme and Corve, was an excellent stronghold but it had long been the centre of English administration and, as medieval castles went, it was comfortably appointed. With apparently no qualms, the king bade farewell to his elder son and settled down to the next priority of his diplomatic programme, the marriage of Margaret to the Scottish king. He was quite unprepared for the news with which he was awakened on a Tuesday morning four months later.
Ludlow Castle, for all its sixteenth-century mod cons, was not an ideal residence for anyone with a weak constitution. By the end of March 1502, winter had yet to relax its grip on the border country. Viruses flourished in the dank airs wafting up from the valley. Icy winds moaned round the battlements. Draughts defied the shutters and drapes covering doors and windows. Several of the castle’s inhabitants succumbed to chills and agues. The prince and princess were among them. Anxious royal physicians hovered round the curtained beds where the feverish young couple lay. They were relieved when Catherine’s temperature came down and there was hope, perhaps even expectation, that her husband would also make a complete recovery. But Arthur failed to respond to their primitive medical practices. On 2 April, the young Prince of Wales died – ‘suddenly’ according to the contemporary record. The dolorous news was rushed to London and it was Henry’s confessor who was delegated to break it to the king. A contemporary chronicler provides a touching picture of Henry’s grief and how the queen tried to comfort him:
She with full great and constant comfortable words besought his grace that he would first after God remember the weal of his own noble person, the comfort of his realm and of her. She then said that my lady his mother had never no more children but him only and that God by his grace had ever preserved him, and brought him where he was. Over that how that God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses. . .and that we are both young enough.
This underlines the fact that what most concerned Henry VII was the succession. Elizabeth’s suggestion that there was still time to have more children (she was 38) was immediately acted on. Ten months later she was delivered of another daughter. Mother and baby survived the birth by only a few days.
Not surprisingly, the atmosphere in the royal court changed drastically from this time. Much of the gaiety went out of it after Elizabeth’s demise, to be replaced by a new anxiety. The king was only forty-six but he had witnessed the death of his younger wife and most of their children. He had worked with patient intensity to secure the dynasty and now, just when the Yorkist cause had been thoroughly weakened, rebellions crushed, the nobility brought to heel and the arrangement of an impressive edifice of foreign alliances taking shape brick by painstaking brick, fate had whittled the Tudor succession down to one eleven-year-old boy. If the accession of his son was to be peacefully achieved, the king would have to devote more energy to the task, be more vigilant in spying out possible trouble-makers and devise new policies to shore up the dynasty. According to contemporary chroniclers, in the last years of his reign Henry Tudor underwent a profound change of character. He became a secretive, obsessive, money-grubbing tyrant. The king who had ventured the royal person on campaign against his enemies and delighted in lavish public spectacles now secluded himself in his chamber, crouched over account books, personally supervising every penny of royal expenditure and working out ways of afflicting ‘over-mighty’ subjects in their purses rather than their bodies. Nor was it only wealthy landed magnates who, according to historian, Edward Hall, were marked for plunder:
It came into his head that Englishmen did little pass the observation and keeping of penal laws and financial statutes, made and enacted for the preservation of the common utility and wealth and, therefore, if inquisition were had of such penal statutes, there should be few noblemen, merchants, farmers, husbandmen, graziers, nor occupiers but they should be found transgressors and violators of the same statutes.
Whether or not Henry underwent quite such a dramatic, sudden and sinister transmogrification is debatable. The machinery created to explore the statute books in search of laws which might be profitably exploited and to send officials into every shire snooping into private muniments (the Council Learned in the Law) had been in existence some six or seven years before 1503. However, there is no doubt that he now focused fresh endeavours on a series of legal and financial measures which would bind substantial subjects to him with golden cords and provide the crown with a well-filled treasury capable of financing any counter-measures it might be necessary to take against military threats. Those on the receiving end accused the king of miserliness and oppression. Henry labelled his policies ‘prudence’.
If the rule of the first Tudor had degenerated into tyranny the impact of his autocratic rule was most keenly felt in his own household, and especially by his son. The king’s behaviour became erratic in the extreme. He suffered long bouts of illness and was given to sudden rages, of which his son often felt the full brunt. The effect of Arthur’s death on the status of his brother was, of course, momentous – but not immediate. If he expected to be promoted to the titles and honours of the late Prince of Wales, Henry had to possess his soul in patience and remain content for the time being with the numerous honours he already held. As one aspect of the king’s policy of cutting England’s powerful nobles down to size, he had loaded numerous important offices on his infant sons rather than on ambitious barons. As well as the royal dukedom of York, young Henry had already been appointed Earl Marshal, Lord Warden of the Scottish Marches, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle. The duties attendant on these offices were, of course, carried out by deputies but the titles – and the revenues – remained firmly in royal hands. For good measure little Henry was also a knight of the Garter and of the Bath before he reached the age of four. On Arthur’s death Henry exchanged the dukedom of York for that of Cornwall. However, it was not until 18 February 1503 that he was invested as Prince of Wales. The delay was occasioned by the possibility that Catherine might be pregnant. There was lively speculation on this subject. Even Catherine’s Spanish attendants were divided on the issue. Her duenna was adamant that her charge was still virgo intacta but this did not prevent everyone else around the princess waiting and watching intently for signs that the young widow might be carrying the heir to the throne of England.
Young Henry felt the loss of his mother more keenly than that of his brother but it was the combined effects of these deaths which inevitably made an impact on his character. On the cusp of adolescence, he was deprived of the two people who, more than any other, had provided his life with its shape. At about the same time he also lost his much-loved tutor. John Skelton was paid off by the king and left the court to become a country parson. Despite his cynicism about life in the royal household, Skelton did not enjoy his new role and was eager to return. The fact that Henry VIII brought him back to court soon after his accession suggests that he, too, regretted the break in their relationship. Now that he was heir to the throne, Henry’s education entered a new phase. He was setting out on the path to an unexpected future and doing so without the support and affection of those upon whom he had relied most closely. It was unlikely that in the future he would find it easy to form and sustain close relationships.
He was subjected to a rigid regimen within a claustrophobic court. After the fate which had befallen his brother there was no question of sending Henry to the Welsh border to take charge of his principality. The heir was now confined to his father’s court where he could be protected from disease, accident and conspiracy. And, perhaps, from himself. The athletic teenager who enjoyed boisterous and potentially dangerous sports had to be kept on a tight reign. Tiltyard exercise was strictly rationed. Now there was little dancing or music in the king’s house and the prince’s leisure hours were closely monitored. He was only allowed out in the company of his bodyguard. Even within the palace his movements were restricted. We know, for example, that he was forbidden to have communication with Catherine of Aragon even when they were living under the same roof. His father was, to Henry, a grim and distant figure. The Spanish ambassador described him as ‘so subjected that he does not speak a word except in response to what the king asks him’. And always behind Henry’s father was the figure of his grandmother, the formidably pious Lady Margaret.
What explanation is there for the unwholesome regimen of Henry’s teenage years? For the king it was a matter of the utmost importance to protect his son but that does not explain the lack of love or understanding he displayed. Was it just an example of the personality clash of the old lion and the young lion? English history is replete with instances of conflicts between the monarch and the heir to the throne, e.g. Henry IV and Prince Hal, George III and ‘Prinny’, Victoria and ‘Bertie’, George V and Edward. There is an almost inevitable clash of interests between the sovereign and the sovereign-in-waiting. In the fifteenth century, tensions within royal families were particularly disruptive. The Yorkists had destroyed themselves through fratricidal strife. Henry VII was almost paranoiacally insecure in his later years. Just as Henry IV had believed rumours that the popular Prince Hal was plotting against him, so Henry VII may have feared that if his son was allowed too much freedom discontented elements (of which, as he knew, there were many) might make him a figurehead for rebellion.
Possibly, the root of the problem is more simple – Prince Henry was not Arthur. By 1503 the king’s younger son was a spoiled, ebullient, fun-loving extrovert, quite unlike his serious and bookish brother. Henry VII had been able to mould his intended heir in his own image. If Arthur had lived, the old king could have died happy in the knowledge that his policies would be continued, but the boy on whom all Tudor hopes now rested was a frivolous prince preoccupied with his own pleasures and with a head full of romantic, chivalric ideas. The young boy showed signs of growing up to be the image of his maternal grandfather – a charmer with a penchant for glitzy display and jovial camaraderie, far too easygoing to continue the ruthless work of strengthening the position of the monarchy.
We do not need to rely on pure conjecture to understand something of the relationship between father and son. Over thirty years later, Henry VIII proclaimed to the world just how he saw himself in relation to the previous king. In 1537, he commissioned an impressive mural for the privy chamber at Whitehall Palace. In it he had himself displayed, with his mother, father and third wife, grouped round a plinth whose long Latin inscription deliberately compared and contrasted the achievements of the first two Tudors:
Between them there was great competition and rivalry and [posterity] may well debate whether father or son should take the palm. Both were victorious. The father triumphed over his foes, quenched the fires of civil war and brought his people lasting peace. The son was born to a greater destiny. He it was who banished from the altars undeserving men and replaced them with men of worth. Presumptuous popes were forced to yield before him and when Henry VIII bore the sceptre true religion was established and, in his reign, God’s teachings received their rightful reverence.
Three decades after the death of his father Henry still felt the need to exorcise the old man’s ghost. Despite his parents’ lack of faith in him, he insisted, he had proved himself a better king, even outdoing Henry VII in Christian piety.
In Freudian psychoanalytical theory the Oedipus Complex is identified as one cause of neurosis. It results from the subject’s unresolved, unconscious rivalry with a same-sex parent. The young Henry’s essential self (what Freud labelled the ‘id’) was certainly repressed and confined not only by the physical restraints placed upon him, but also by the unfavourable comparisons frequently drawn between himself and his dead brother. This was underlined in the closing years of his father’s reign by the policy fluctuations concerning his marriage. The situation after Arthur’s death was that his young widow remained a ‘guest’ in England, lodged for the most part at Durham House, one of the palatial town residences on the Strand with grounds running down to the river. Her fate remained undecided while her father and father-in-law discussed what should be done about her and her dowry. Both kings were eager to maintain the alliance and Henry VII was certainly not prepared to forego any of the money he had received from Ferdinand and Isabella. Catherine was still eligible for an English royal spouse because a papal dispensation had been obtained for her to marry a close relative of her late husband. According to the wording of this document the parties had to be dispensed from the demands of canon law, not only because they were in the first degree of affinity, but because, it was conceded, Catherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. At the time, this was of purely academic interest. No one could possibly have foreseen how world-changing it would prove to be. Henry’s first proposed solution was that he, himself, should marry his seventeen-year-old daughter-in-law. This was indignantly rejected by Catherine’s relatives, not out of moral repugnance at the age gap, but because the marriage would put the princess in a humiliating situation. Instead of being Queen of England after Henry VIII’s accession, she would have been merely the king’s step-mother, a political nonentity.
Thus it was that, in the summer of 1503, a contract of marriage was agreed between Catherine and Henry, Prince of Wales. However, within a couple of years, the two kings had fallen out and the marriage was off. The fourteen-year-old Prince Henry was forced to take responsibility for the change of policy and to make a humiliating climb down. He was brought before a committee of the council and obliged to make a solemn affirmation that the match had been without his permission when he was a minor and that he now renounced it. Meanwhile, as a result of the changing cloudscape of international politics, the king selected a new bride for his son. He was to be betrothed to Princess Eleanor of Austria. It can scarcely be wondered at that in later years Henry VIII was adamant about choosing his own wives on his own terms.
As long as his father lived Henry was permitted no share in government, attended no council meetings and was not consulted on the framing of policy. It was as though the old king had given up all hope of training his heir. His thoughts were increasingly turned towards the next world and calling to mind the many sins he needed to confess. If King Henry was waiting for his death, it may be imagined that his son was looking forward to it no less impatiently.
Henry’s character traits germinated in the soil of his childhood and adolescence. Therein lies his tragedy. Aristotle described tragedy as a character’s descent into catastrophe as a result of hamartia, a Greek term borrowed from archery and meaning, literally, ‘falling short of the target’. An Aeschylus or a Sophocles, dramatizing the life of Harry of England, would have pointed out those defects of character which rendered him unequal to the tasks he was set and which were later punished by the gods. The king who came to the throne at his father’s death on 21 April 1509 was a young man forced into aggressive self-assertion by years of being suppressed; an eager competitive player with something to prove; an impetuous and impatient ruler determined to assert himself and determinedly smothering self-doubt. For the time being, the gods smiled on him. Ultimately, they would vent their indignation.
The secret activities of the talented organizer of secret missions Theodor Rowehl left a significant mark on the history of the Luftwaffe, German military intelligence and the Third Reich. However, before going into Rowehl’s career, a brief overview of the recovery of German military intelligence after defeat in the First World War is necessary.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, all German intelligence services were dissolved, apart from the internal security service. However, the militaristic aspirations of the German armed forces survived even after the shame of defeat in the war. Moreover, many ex-officers of the Imperial Army, who remained in the service of the Weimar Republic, were convinced that Germany was surrounded by enemies. All these circumstances made sure that German intelligence agents would not be unemployed for long.
In 1921, the German government formed a body within the Ministry of Defence, which was entrusted with the functions of collecting open military information abroad and military counterintelligence in the Reichswehr. It was given a vague name – ‘Department of Foreign Information and Defence’ (Mat Auslandnachrichten und Abwehr). This intelligence service, which soon became known simply as the Abwehr, was headed by Major Gempp. In the first years of its existence, it was exclusively concerned with counterintelligence. In its small organization there were only two groups – ‘Ost’ and ‘West’. For direct work in the regions, Abwehr ‘points’ (Abwehrstellen) were created in each military district.
However, gradually the ‘collection of open information’ abroad became a fully-fledged active intelligence service with all the usual clandestine attributes. In the central office of the Abwehr the relevant departments were formed. A branch office was established in Königsberg and satellite offices in Marienburg, Allenstein and Gumbinnen. The task of the latter was to organize intelligence operations against Poland and the Soviet Union.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the organizational structure of the Abwehr was constantly changing and improving. In 1938 it was reorganized into the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence of the High Command of the Wehrmacht. Its chiefs also changed. In 1928 Major Gempp was replaced by Oberst Schwantess who as early as 1 June 1929 handed the business to Oberst Ferdinand von Bredow. After that only naval officers were at the head of Abwehr: Conrad Patzig (from 6 June 1932), then Wilhelm Canaris.
Finally, by the autumn of 1939 the structure of Abwehr was formed which with minor changes remained until its dissolution in the autumn of 1944. The headquarters was located in Berlin, at No. 74 on the Tirpitz Embankment, next to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW – Armed Forces High Command) complex on the Bendlerstrasse. The internal layout of the central office of Abwehr was well suited for such an organization. It was a maze of chaotically interconnected rooms and halls, winding corridors, and stairs that went up and down. It was difficult even for the permanent staff to navigate. First-time visitors could get lost. Therefore, the headquarters of the Abwehr was nicknamed the ‘Fox’s Earth’.
The Abwehr was divided into three departments (Abteilung). The First Department (Abwehr-I – Abt.I) was engaged in the collection and evaluation of intelligence information. Its main customer and consumer was the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW – Armed Forces High Command). Therefore, the information collected was of a purely military nature. On 31 December 1936, the Abwehr and the Nazi Party’s security service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD – Secret Security Service) signed a treaty ‘on the division of spheres of influence’, which some employees called ‘the Ten commandments’. As a result of the agreement the SD engaged exclusively in political intelligence work. But in practice, there were no clear ‘limits of responsibility’. The Abwehr and the SD often invaded each other’s sphere of interest, leading to constant conflict and rivalry.
Abwehr-I consisted of five sections: IX Fremde Heer (Foreign Army), IM Fremde Marine (Foreign Navy), IL Fremde Luft (Foreign Aircraft), IBI Fremde Wirtschaft (Foreign industry) and IILB Technik-Luft (Aircraft intelligence). Each of them was engaged in the collection of intelligence in their field. In addition, Abwehr-I had five subgroups, divided on a geographical basis. The largest subgroup ‘Hamburg’ (Mat Hamburg) was responsible for the gathering of military intelligence in Great Britain. The suborganizations and subgroups were further divided into sections.
In 1936, the 43-year-old Major Hans Piekenbrock, who had begun working in military intelligence in 1921 was appointed head of Abwehr-I. Thanks to his abilities, he became the second most influential figure in the Abwehr after Canaris. Piekenbrock performed delicate missions for the Nazi leadership and for Hitler personally. He travelled all over Europe, and visited the Middle East and the Soviet Union. At the same time, he always remained ‘in the shadows’ and skilfully covered his tracks.
The Second Department (Abwehr-II – Abt.II), was established on the personal initiative of Canaris in the mid-1930s. Its task was to organize subversive activities and sabotage in enemy territory. It consisted of five sub-departments divided into fifteen independent sections. On 10 November 1938 the 41-year-old Major Erwin von Lahousen-Vivremont, a career officer of the old Austrian military intelligence who began his service during the First World War, became chief of Abwehr-II.
Abwehr-II had three major centres for the training of saboteurs and agents at its disposal. One was in Tegele, near Berlin, the second in Kwinzsee, near Brandenburg, and the third in Himsee. All of these centres were carefully camouflaged and hidden from prying eyes. Training was conducted in conditions as close to actual combat as possible. On the exercise field in Kwinzsee there were bridges of various designs, sections of railway tracks and other objects for the practice of sabotage techniques.
The Third Department (Abwehr-III – Abt.III) was engaged in counterintelligence. On 1 March 1939, it was headed by 42-year-old Major Franz-Eccard von Bentivegni, a career artilleryman who had served in the Abwehr since 1936. The main functions of the Department were to prevent the penetration of foreign agents in Wehrmacht, protection of state secrets, protection of documents of special importance and people who had access to them. Abwehr-III had a branch structure, including ten sub-departments. Each of them consisted of a set of subgroups and sections in its areas of work. It also had a special unit – the ‘security service’, which monitored the employees of the Abwehr themselves.
There is no official data on the number of personnel in the central office of Abwehr. At the end of the war, almost all documents of German military intelligence, which existed only as single copies, were destroyed. From the remaining fragmentary data it is known that, in March 1943 there were 140 employees in the three main headquarters departments (in Abwehr-1 sixty-three, in Abwehr-II thirty-four and in Abwehr-III forty-three). For operational work in each military district, army group, and naval base Abwehrstellen (‘points’) were created, of which there were only thirty-three. During the war, ‘points’ were also created in the occupied territories. Their strength varied widely, for example, at the Abwehr point in the French port of Cherbourg there were only three staff members but in the Paris point there were 382. Most of the ‘points’ had approximately 150 staff.
According to Canaris’ instructions, each Abwehr ‘point’ in an army group or field army was required to have an intelligence network of at least twenty-five agents. Some of them were intended for operations in the combat zone (at a distance of 30km from the front line), while the rest were to be thrown into the deep rear of the enemy.
What role did Theodor Rowehl play in all this? He was born on 9 February 1894 in the town of Barschlute, located on the left bank of the River Weser (near Bremen). On 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary began military operations against Serbia. This served as a trigger for the start of a terrible bloodbath, which then went down in history as the Great War (the First World War). On 1 August, Germany declared war first on Russia and then on 3 August on France. The next day Britain declared war on Germany as a result of the violation of the neutrality of Belgium.
For millions of young Germans, this meant a radical change in their lives. On 28 August the 20-year-old Rowehl was drafted into the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet and sent for training as an officer. After initial training, he served until March 1915 on the battleship Westfalen and then on the old battleship Kaiser Karl der Grosse, a floating barracks and training ship in Wilhelmshaven. At the beginning of 1916 Rowehl was transferred to naval aviation and in March sent to I.Seeflieger Abteilung (1st Marine Aviation Division), base at Norderney at the western end of the island of the same name in the East Frisian Islands. On 10 June 1916 he received the rank of Lieutenant and on 21 October qualified as an observer.
In the same month Rowehl was transferred to Torpedo Staffel III, then based in Flensburg. Later he was transferred again to the Torpedo Staffel I and by 4 September 1917 had arrived with his unit at the naval air base at Zeebrugge in Belgium.
At 13.10 on 9 September 1917 three torpedo bombers, serial numbers ‘T995’, ‘T1211’ and ‘T1213’, took off. The crew of the last aircraft consisted of pilot Lieutenant Hubrich and observer Lieutenant Rowehl. Accompanied by three Hansa-Brandenburg S. 1 fighters, they went to search for British ships in the North Sea. About 14.50 the German pilots found six fishing vessels, which were accompanied by a destroyer, heading for the mouth of the Thames. The torpedo bombers attacked the last ship in the line, the 440 BRT Storm of Guernsey. One of the torpedoes missed, but the other two hit the target: one in the area of the boiler room, and the second in the aft hold. As a result, the ship sank immediately, and all the planes, despite the fire from the destroyer, suffered no damage and safely returned to base.
On 17 September, T-Staffel I moved to the Baltic and on the 24th arrived at the port of Vindau (now Ventspils in Latvia). It was to take part in Operation ‘Albion’, the beginning of which was scheduled for 29 September. The aim of the Germans was the capture of the islands of the Moonsund archipelago and the destruction of the Russian fleet in the Gulf of Riga, creating the conditions for a subsequent breakthrough into the Gulf of Finland and on to Petrograd (St. Petersburg).
Vice Admiral Erich Schmidt’s fleet included ten battleships, one battlecruiser, eight light cruisers, forty-seven destroyers, eleven torpedo boats, six submarines and ninety minesweepers. The landing force consisted of 24,600 men, 40 guns, 85 mortars and 225 machine guns. Air support was provided by nine airships and ninety-four aircraft. The Russian fleet opposing them consisted of two old battleships Slava and Grazdanin, three cruisers, thirty-six destroyers and torpedo boat, three gunboats, five minesweepers and three submarines. The garrison of the Moonsund Islands consisted of about 12,000 men, 64 field guns and 118 machine guns. The passages through the Straits were defended by minefields and sixteen shore batteries – a total of fifty-four guns ranging in calibre from 75mm to 305mm.
On 29 September, after the suppression of the shore batteries, the German fleet landed troops in the Bay of Tagalaht on Ösel (now Saaremaa, Estonia), the largest island of the Moonsund archipelago. On the same day German ships entered the Gulf of Riga. The Russians did not take any measures to strengthen the defence of the islands, and some admirals fled at the beginning of the German operation. The defence was actually led by the Bolshevik organizations in the Baltic fleet, elected by the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Committee.
On 3 October, German troops occupied Ösel, the island of Moon (now Muhu, Estonia) two days later and the next day the island of Dago (now Hiiumaa, Estonia). During the fierce fighting, the Russians sank ten German destroyers and six minesweepers, and damaged three battleships, thirteen destroyers and torpedo boats. The German command refused to break into the Gulf of Finland and on 7 October withdrew its ships from the Gulf of Riga. The Russian Navy had lost the battleship Slava and one destroyer, and the battleship Grazdanin, one cruiser, three destroyers and two gunboats had been damaged. After the end of Operation ‘Albion’, T-Staffel I stayed in Libau for a month. It then set off back to Flanders and arrived at its former base in Zeebrugge on 12 November.
At 10.50 on 27 November 1917 Lieutenant Rowehl with his friend Lieutenant Hubrich as pilot took to the air in Brandenburg C W. Nr. 1015 on a routine training flight. But twenty minutes after take-off the plane suddenly crashed. Hubrich was not hurt, but Rowehl was seriously injured and was sent to hospital. According to the official report, Hubrich was responsible for the crash, having ‘dangerously piloted the plane and performed a prohibited manoeuvre’.
After his recovery, Lieutenant Rowehl returned to T-Staffel I. Then he commanded Seeflugstation Flandern III (3rd Naval Air Station Flanders) for some time, and then on August 16, 1918 he was appointed instructor at the aviation school for observers, located in the city of Putzig, on the shore of Danzig Bay.
The Great War ended with the defeat of Germany and its allies – Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. On the night of 4 October 1918, the German government announced its readiness to sign the surrender. Then a revolution broke out in the country exhausted by war, which began on 3 November with the rebellion of the sailors of the Kaiser’s fleet in Kiel. The incompetent Wilhelm II fled to Holland, a fierce struggle for power began. Lieutenant Rowehl officially retired from military service on 31 December 1918.
What he did during the following years is unknown. But by the 1930s, Theodor Rowehl was already a Flugkäpitan in the Hansa-Luftbild airline. This was an innovator in new methods of aerial photography, as well as in the commercial use of photogrammetry. Its predecessor – Aero Lloyd Luftbild GmbH – was founded in 1923 as a branch of the transport airline ‘Deutsche Aero Lloyd’. Then it merged with the transport airline ‘Junkers Luftverkehr AG’, resulting in the formation of the airline Deutsche Lufthansa. After that, Aero Lloyd Luftbild GmbH was renamed Hansa-Luftbild. Its director was Wilhelm Gessner, who held the post until his death in 1945.
After learning that Poland was building new defences on the border with Germany, Rowehl carried out several flights over the border area. It is not known exactly who ordered him to perform this task. In the 1920s, large German business concerns, such as Siemens, created their own intelligence services. Industrialist and ‘newspaper king’ Alfred Hugenberg funded ‘Germans for overseas service’, and a few steel enterprises – organization ‘Nunzia’. All of them were mainly engaged in industrial espionage abroad, but had secret connections with the Abwehr. It is possible to assume that Hansa-Luftbild was somehow connected with ‘Nunzia’.
Photos of Polish fortifications taken by Rowehl ‘miraculously’ reached the head of Abwehr Oberst von Bredow. He appreciated the possibilities of aerial photography, realizing that it was the most advanced method of technical intelligence. Von Bredow hired Rowehl to work in his organization.
Officially, Rowehl remained a pilot with Hansa-Luftbild, but he actually worked for German military intelligence. The Abwehr financed the continuation of reconnaissance flights over Polish territory. Rowehl was provided with a Ju W34be/b3e aircraft, number D-1119, which was specially equipped for high-altitude flights and fitted with a British Bristol Jupiter VII engine. In this plane, on 26 May 1929 the test pilot Wilhelm Neuenhofen (later famous for the first flight of the prototype Ju 87V1 on 17 September 1935) rose to a height of 12,739m (41,795ft), setting a world altitude record. It was officially registered by the International Aviation Federation. Now this record-breaking plane was to be used for secret missions.
Soon Rowehl was joined by several other pilots from Hansa-Luftbild. A suspiciously sharp increase in the number of incidents, when usually efficient German pilots ‘got lost’ and ‘accidentally’ found themselves in Polish airspace, caused Polish counterintelligence to suspect that these ‘civilian’ aircraft were actually engaged in espionage. But they had no proof.
After the coming to power of the Nazis, who dreamed of revenge for the defeat in the Great War of 1914–18, the work of German intelligence was given fresh impetus. Already by the end of 1933, Theodor Rowehl had officially returned to military service and been appointed head of the photographic department of the headquarters of Luftkries VI (6th Air District). His office was in Kiel. The ostensibly ‘civil’ airline Hansa-Luftbild began to expand its areas of operation. Reconnaissance aircraft in civilian livery began flying over Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium. In 1934, Rowehl carried out several flights over the Soviet Union, photographing the naval bases at Kronstadt, Leningrad, Pskov and Minsk. This information allowed the Germans to obtain accurate information about the composition of the Russian fleet in the Baltic and the implementation of the programme of construction of new ships and submarines.
In the autumn of 1934 there was a clash between the head of the Reichswehr General Werner von Blomberg and the chief of the Abwehr Konrad Patzig. Blomberg learned about the secret air reconnaissance missions and accused Patzig of ‘provoking war’ and threatening the Führer’s ‘peaceful intentions’. Patzig was on bad terms with the Nazis’ secret police (Geheime Staatpolizei – Gestapo), and it seems that the Gestapo provided information to Blomberg about the ‘provocative’ work of the Abwehr. Patzig was fired, and on 2 January 1935 Wilhelm Canaris was made the chief of the Abwehr.
Canaris was very much interested in the continuation of the secret missions, and he decided to enlist the support of the Reich Minister of Aviation Hermann Göring. The chief of the Abwehr showed the narcissistic and vain companion of Hitler the results of Hansa-Luftbild’s flights (photos of fortifications in France, Poland and Russia). Göring liked this opportunity to become a provider of strategic intelligence to the Führer. On 1 March 1935 Germany announced the creation of the air force – the Luftwaffe. On the same day Theodor Rowehl was enrolled in it at the rank of Hauptmann. Göring personally instructed him to create the first squadron for secret missions – Fliegerstaffel z.b.V. It was formed at the Staaken airfield near Berlin. The squadron was composed of five planes with crews from Deutsche Lufthansa. The deputy commander of the squadron was an experienced navigator, Siegfried Knemeyer, whom Rowehl had personally appointed. Fliegerstaffel z.b.V. received its orders from the 5th Department of the Luftwaffe General Staff and Abwehr-I. Photos taken during missions were first studied by representatives of military intelligence, then they were sent to Luftwaffe Intelligence HQ in Zossen.
Secret missions were carried out under the cover of Deutsche Lufthansa. Disguised as airliners, Fliegerstaffel z.b.V planes ‘accidentally’ strayed from their routes and performed their secret missions. In 1936–7 the squadron was given three passenger He 111s. They were the prototype He 111V2 W. Nr. 715 ‘D-ALIX’ ‘Rostock’, He 111V4 W. Nr. 1968 ‘D-AHAO’ ‘Dresden’ and He 111C-03 W. Nr. 1830 ‘D-AXAV’ ‘Köln’. They wore Deutsche Lufthansa livery and carried concealed cameras on board. In 1937 the Abwehr carried out such a secret mission over Great Britain. For most of this time there was only one serious incident that could have lead to the disclosure of the programme. He 111V2 W. Nr. 715 ‘D-ALIX’ crashed in Soviet territory during a flight to the Caucasus. The Russians studied the wreckage and guessed the true purpose of the aircraft, but did not protest too much.
During the Sudetenland crisis, information obtained during secret missions was employed by the Germans for the first time. There were 3.3 million ethnic Germans in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia who complained of harassment and discrimination by the Czech government. In February 1938, the Führer delivered a speech in the Reichstag, during which he called upon the world ‘to pay attention to the terrible living conditions of our German brothers in Czechoslovakia’. Fooled by the German Chancellor, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French President Edward Daladier made concessions. They naively hoped that the Czech territories would ‘pacify’ Germany and help to avoid a new war in Europe. A meeting of Hitler, Mussolini, Daladier and Chamberlain in Munich on 29 September reached an agreement on the dismemberment of the territory of Czechoslovakia. On the night of 30 September, the British and French actually forced the Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš to accept a German ultimatum.
The next day, the text of the Munich agreement was signed. Between 1 and 10 October 1938 the Sudetenland was transferred to Germany. The Wehrmacht already had a plan to invade Czechoslovakia. At the disposal of the German staff were detailed maps of the Czech border fortifications, airfields, bridges and armaments factories.
The leadership of the Luftwaffe and Abwehr praised the activities of Rowehl. In November 1938 he was promoted to Oberstleutnant. In January 1939, the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Commander-in-Chief Luftwaffe) formed Aufklaerergruppe Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L.), which was informally known as ‘Group Rowehl’. It was based at Werder airport near Potsdam.
Initially the group consisted of two squadrons, equipped with He 111s, Do 17s and Bf 110s. Among them were seven machines specially built for the Rowehl Group. Four Do 17Rs (R-l – R-4) were upgraded versions of the Do 17M, and three Do 17S (SYS 3) were upgraded versions of the Do 17Z, all equipped with DB 601 engines. During 1939 Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. tested prototypes of various aircraft, which were supposed to be used for aerial reconnaissance. Among them were several Do 215s and one Do 217A-0.
In August 1939 at Oranienburg airport the Versuchsstelle fur Hohenfluge (VfH – Experimental Station for High-Altitude Flights) was formed, which was also subordinated to Oberstleutnant Rowehl. Personnel were recruited from the Hansa-Luftbild state airline. This company became part of the Luftwaffe, but at the same time formally remained a civil enterprise.
The VfH was composed of three staffel. Only the 1st was directly engaged in research into high-altitude flights and aerial reconnaissance. The 2nd carried out comprehensive tests on foreign aircraft, while the 3rd was responsible for secret flights to insert agents, singly or in groups, into other countries.
Napoleon Bonaparte on board the British ship Bellerophon by Sir William Quiller Orchardson
Riding in the Basque Roads near Rochefort on the morning of July 15, 1815, the two-decker Bellerophon rocked comfortably in the long swells as a lookout sighted a boat coming out from shore. A familiar-looking figure-running to fat and wearing a cocked hat and a flowing olive overcoat over a green uniform-huddled in the stern sheets. A general’s guard of honor snapped to attention and the boatswain’s whistle wailed a salute as he came through the vessel’s entry port. “At 7 received on board Napoleon Bonaparte, late Emperor of France,” Bellerophon’s log recorded laconically.
Napoleon had regained the empire he had lost in the mountains of Spain and the snows of Russia for a hundred days only to lose it again in the mud at Waterloo. Now, with every escape route closed, he had made arrangements to surrender to the most implacable of his enemies, the Royal Navy, in the person of Frederick Maitland, the “Billy Ruffian’s” captain.
Restive in his exile on Elba, Napoleon had escaped from his Lilliputian domain little more than three months before to find the Napoleonic legend still vibrant in France. Troops sent by the Bourbons to arrest him as he made his way to Paris went over to his standard, and crowds of Frenchmen cheered him everywhere. Facing leveled muskets and bayonets at Grenoble, Napoleon stepped forward and threw open his coat to expose his chest. “Soldiers, if there is one among you who wishes to kill the Emperor he can do so,” he declared. “Here I am!” Following a moment’s hesitation, the muskets were lowered amid cheers and cries of “Vive l’Empereur! Vive l’Empereur!”
The European sovereigns, meeting in Vienna to make the world safe for autocracy, were attending a great ball given by Metternich. As the shocking news buzzed about the ballroom, the dancers abruptly broke off the waltz and stood uncertainly on the floor. Under the menace of the dreaded Bonapart’s return, the monarchs set aside the internal quarrels that had delayed the making of peace to outlaw the Corsican ogre and to pledge themselves to his final destruction. The Continent’s armies were mobilized and the duke of Wellington was appointed to command the advance guard in the Low Countries-the doorway to France-until the immense forces of Austria and Russia could be brought to bear.
Most of Wellington’s Iberian Peninsula veterans were still in America, or on the high seas returning from that country, but every man available was sent in haste to Flanders. For the Royal Navy, the renewal of the war came after many of its ships had been paid off and were being dismantled. Ships that had just been laid up were hurriedly refitted and sent to sea to reimpose the blockade of the French coast. Lord Keith was appointed to command the Channel fleet, and Sir Edward Pellew was sent to the Mediterranean. “I am sending out all I have to look for Boney if he takes to the sea,” Keith told his wife. By mid-June some two dozen men-of-war were on station between Ushant and Finisterre.
Napoleon mustered an army of 128,000 men and marched into Belgium to prevent the Prussians and the British from uniting against him. He was brought to bay at Waterloo on June 18, and fell victim to the steadfastness of the British soldier and the timely arrival on the field of the black-clad Prussians. In one final throw of the dice, Napoleon sent the elite Imperial Guard forward to attack Wellington’s position on a plateau overlooking the battlefield. Undeterred by the pounding of enemy artillery, the guardsmen pressed forward like a rising tide. It crested the ridge, and for a moment the British line disappeared. And then, in a wild hail of bullets, the wave faltered and receded. By nightfall, Napoleon’s last campaign was over, and 50,000 men-French, British and Prussian-had been killed or wounded.
For the third time, the Emperor abandoned an army in the field and hastened back to Paris. But there was no support for him there, and the empire slipped through his fingers. He toyed with the idea of trying to run the British blockade in a French frigate or a neutral American vessel and sailing to the United States, where anti-British sentiment was strong. No decision was made and in the confusion, Napoleon left Paris for Rochefort, riding past his unfinished Arch of Triumph with a few faithful followers. On the way he stopped at Malmaison, where he had lived with Josephine before their divorce. Briefly, he lingered alone in the room where she had died the previous year. Then he said his farewells to his mother and other relatives, including his two illegitimate sons.
From a window of the grim, gray house on the Gironde where he took shelter, the Emperor could see Bellerophon standing offshore like a sentinel blocking his escape. No ship better epitomized the British sea power that had always stood in the way of his conquests. The old ship had fought at the Glorious First of June, the very first fleet action of the war against France in 1794; at the Nile, where his dreams of oriental glory were dashed; and finally at Trafalgar, where his fleet had been annihilated. One morning, he heard Bellerophon firing her guns to celebrate the allied capture of Paris and the return of the Bourbons.
Always a master of the unexpected, Napoleon had one final surprise. Realizing at last that escape was impossible, he decided to throw himself on the mercy of the British. Writing directly to the prince regent, he asked permission to retire to the English countryside outside London and made arrangements to surrender to Captain Maitland. Like all other British naval officers who might capture Napoleon, Maitland had instructions to immediately return with the prisoner to the nearest English port. While the problem of what to do about him was debated, Napoleon remained on board Bellerophon, which went first to Tor Bay and then to Plymouth, where she remained offshore.
As close as Napoleon Bonaparte ever got to the United Kingdom- as ‘guest’ aboard HMS Bellerophon (74). Beautiful oil painting by John James Chalon: Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815
As she lay in the sound there, the ship became a tourist attraction. Hundred of small boats surrounded her, and Napoleon enjoyed the attention of his foes. Each day, no matter what his anxiety about his fate, he appeared on deck in plain view of the tourists, wearing the uniform of a colonel of the Imperial Guard. Sometimes he smiled and raised his hat to the ladies. He also expressed a keen interest in the operation of Bellerophon, questioning her officers and men about their duties. Language was no barrier; a number of the ship’s complement spoke some French or Italian, his two languages. A midshipman would recall with delight many years later that when he gaped at the emperor, “the great Napoleon” smiled at him, cuffed his head lightly, and pinched his ear.
On July 31, Napoleon learned his fate. Much to his anger, he was told that he was to be banished to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena, from which it was thought he would be unable to escape and again upset the balance of Europe.* With a handful of oddly assorted followers, he sailed a week later in Northumberland, seventy-four, for his place of exile. Once at St. Helena, he entered into a strange half world between freedom and prison. There he spent the remaining six years of his life, gazing out to sea, rewriting history, and placing on others the blame for all that had gone wrong.
The navy that had played such a vital role in bringing about Napoleon’s downfall did not long survive his reign. As soon as peace was assured, the ships were paid off, and the crews were mustered out. One by one, the twenty-seven ships of the line that had fought at Trafalgar met their fates: Agamemnon, “Nelson’s favorite,” had already broken her back in the River Plate; Defence was wrecked off Jutland and Minotaur at the mouth of the Texel; Defiance was degraded to a prison ship, and the same fate befell Leviathan as well as Bellerophon after her moment in the limelight; Ajax caught fire and blew up at Tenedos; Collingwood’s Royal Sovereign was not even allowed to keep her name but finished her career as Captain, the receiving ship at Plymouth; Téméraire-“The Fighting Téméraire”-went to the shipbreakers, but not before being immortalized by J. W. Turner in a famous painting. Wreck, fire, convict hulk, target ship, the breaker’s yard complete the roll. With the exception of Victory. Nelson’s Victory. all vanished, leaving only a glorious memory.
In the end, Napoleon Bonaparte best summed it all up. While on board Bellerophon, the Emperor discussed with Captain Maitland the defense of Acre, in which the captain had taken part. Napoleon concluded by saying:
If it had not been for you English, I should have been emperor of the East;
but wherever there is water to float a ship, we are to find you in our way!