Battle of Slankamen

August 19, 1691

The battles with the Turk were not just a success for the Habsburgs but for much of Christian Europe, aside from France. 7 On 5 March 1684, Pope Innocent XI had sponsored a new and highly effective Holy League for a war that was to last until final victory, and no party was to make a separate peace with the Ottomans. Even the Czar of Muscovy was invited to join. This alliance was to produce immediate, concerted action – the Habsburgs in Hungary, the Poles in lands north of the Dniester and the Venetians in the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, and in Greece. 8 The strategic concept – squeezing the Ottomans on every side – put decisive pressure on the Turks. The decade of active campaigning seasons after the occupation of Buda was marked by a series of extraordinary victories in the field. The common name now given to this period of war in Austrian history is the `Age of Heroes’ (Heldenzeitalter): the heroes included Charles of Lorraine, `Türkenlouis’ – Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden, Guido von Starhemberg (cousin of Rüdiger), Florimond de Mercy, and many others who had made their names in the east, but later also fought with equal success against the armies of France in Western Europe during the War of the Spanish Succession. Thereafter, with the exception of the spare figure of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the greatest hero of all, they grew old and fat, died or retired, and Austria stultified. There had been a string of six miraculous victories, which people could recite like a litany. The first, of course, was the salvation of Vienna by King John Sobieski of Poland. The second was Charles of Lorraine storming Buda in 1686 with the old pasha lying dead by the gate. The third was the Battle of Nagyharsany in 1687, often called `the second Mohacs’, the capstone to Charles of Lorraine’s triumphs; the memory of Suleiman I destroying the old Kingdom of Hungary at Mohacs in 1526 had finally been redeemed. The fourth victory was the Elector Max Emmanuel of Bavaria’s who captured Belgrade, the city of battles, in 1688; the Turks recaptured it the following year. `Türkenlouis’ destroyed the Turkish army at the Battle of Slankamen in 1691. In the sixth battle at Zenta in 1697 Prince Eugene of Savoy humiliated the Sultan Mustafa, who fled from the battlefield in panic, leaving the River Tisza filled with the Ottoman dead. Fourteen campaigning seasons finally brought a settlement, and in a little pavilion by the town of Karlowitz near Belgrade peace was signed in 1699.

These victories were the more remarkable because they were gained with limited resources. The renewal of war in the west against France meant that the Habsburgs, like the Ottomans, were now fighting two enemies at once. So at Slankamen, forty miles north of Belgrade, on 19 August 1691 Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden had only twenty thousand men against a much larger Ottoman army, led by another vigorous Köprülü, Fazil Mustafa Pasha. `Türkenlouis’ won, in part because the Ottomans lacked the vital Tartar component of their army, which was still travelling south, and partly because his small but battle-hardened regiments could respond precisely and effectively to his command. But perhaps most important of all was a lucky chance of war. A stray bullet killed the Ottoman commander and his army immediately disintegrated, abandoned all its artillery and even the army war chest, and fled back towards the safety of Belgrade. Had the reverse happened, and `Türkenlouis’ ended his days on the battlefield, his small force would not have fallen apart. Another senior officer would have assumed command and carried on the battle, while planning the withdrawal. This fragility was inherent in the Ottoman system: an Ottoman army without its head was no more than a rabble. But as the Habsburg army dwindled in numbers (mostly through sickness) and lacked men, food and money, it was soon just as demoralised. One Englishman said that the army protecting the bridge at Osijek `look generally like dead men’

The Campaign

At the outbreak of the Nine Years War, caused partly by Louis XIV’s mounting anxiety at Habsburg gains in the Balkans. The withdrawal of the Kreistruppen and most of the other Germans reduced the imperialist to barely 24,000 effectives and undoubtedly robbed Leopold of the best chance to extend his conquests. It was only thanks to the continuing chaos in the Ottoman empire that any further advance was possible. The margrave of Baden-Baden, the new field commander, pushed south seizing Nis (Nish) in Serbia in September 1689. Marshal Piccolomini was then detached southwards into Bosnia and Albania, while Baden captured Vidin in northwestern Bulgaria. Piccolomini was welcomed by the Serbian and Albanian Christians but had to abandon Skopje because of the plague. He succumbed on 9 November, robbing the imperialists of an able negotiator, skilled at striking deals with local leaders. By January 1690 the imperialist position was beginning to crumble when 2,200 men were lost at Kacanik, representing nearly a third of the force in Bosnia and a sizeable proportion of the now much-reduced army. To sustain the momentum, Leopold issued his famous declaration to the Balkan Christians guaranteeing them religious freedom and preservation of their privileges if they accepted him as hereditary ruler. The response was disappointing. The Bulgarian Catholics had been massacred after the failure of the Ciporvci rising and the Macedonians who rebelled in 1689 met a similar fate. The faltering Habsburg advance discouraged others from attempting the same. Meanwhile, the sultan had recovered control of his army and proclaiming Thököly prince of Transylvania, he sent 16,000 troops to overrun that country in August 1690. To counterattack Baden turned north with 18,000, defeating Thököly by September. It proved a pyrrhic victory. In his absence the Ottomans invaded Serbia with 80,000 men, recapturing all the towns along the lower Danube, including Belgrade guarding the entrance to the Hungarian Plain. The rapid loss of this great city was a major strategic and psychological blow, triggering a wave of refugees from the areas south of the Danube.

By now, Leopold’s western allies had become concerned that Austria had become too deeply embroiled in the Balkans to prosecute the war on the Rhine with the necessary vigour. However, the Anglo-Dutch-sponsored peace talks broke down in 1691 because both sides still believed they could win an outright victory. Determined to succeed, Leopold did just what William III feared and recalled all but five and a half regiments from his force on the Rhine. New treaties were concluded with Brandenburg and Bavaria to obtain additional assistance, and Baden advanced to defeat the 120,000-strong Ottoman army at Slankamen on 19 August 1691. Fought in almost unbearable heat, the action proved costly to both sides, Baden losing 7,000 to the 20,000 of his opponents. By the end of the year Baden’s army had fallen to only 14,000 effectives, but the victory stabilized the Hungarian front and secured the imperial recovery in Transylvania.

Battle

The clash between the two forces took place on the west side of the Danube, opposite the outlet of the Tisa. Both armies deployed near Zemun, but the superior Ottoman army at first didn’t attack for two days. Then Baden-Baden tried to provoke the attack, by withdrawing slowly to a fortified position near Slankamen. The Ottomans followed and surrounded the Imperial Army. By August 19, the heat, disease and desertion had reduced both armies to 33,000 and 50,000 able men. On that day the Ottoman cavalry finally attacked.

These were unorganized charges, however; although huge, the Ottoman forces were poorly armed and no match for the firepower of Louis of Baden’s German-Austrian infantry and field guns. Additionally, the Ottomans’ supply system was incapable of waging a long war on the empty expanses of the Pannonian plain. Initially the Ottomans were at an advantage, as they advanced and burned 800 supply wagons of the Imperial Army. Louis of Baden, in a desperate situation, broke out of his position, besieged by the Ottomans, and turned their flanks with his cavalry, inflicting fearful carnage. After a hard battle, the 20,000-man Imperial Army with 10,000 Serbian militia led by Jovan Monasterlija was victorious over the larger Ottoman force. The death of Grand Vizier Köprülü Fazıl Mustafa Pasha during mid-battle caused the Ottoman morale to drop and the army to disperse and retreat.

Without adequate forces, Baden could do little more than hold the line and he was soon transferred to the Rhine for a similar holding operation against the French. The stalemate was sustained in the Balkans by the arrival of more German auxiliaries in 1692-6. Attempts to take Belgrade (1693), Peterwardein (1694) and Timisoara (1696) ended in failure, while the Turks continued to inflict minor defeats on isolated imperial detachments. Though the commanders were repeatedly blamed for the setbacks, the real problem was insufficient manpower.

A very rare broadside with Ottoman script showing the Battle of Slankamen was made in the series of large separately published maps by the Turkish War Office the late Hamidian period as a part of intellectual propaganda to revive patriotic sentiment.

Louis-Guillaume (Ludwig-Wilhelm), Margrave of Baden (1655-1707), born in Paris, was an Imperial field commander with a long military career and well-established reputation in fighting the Ottomans in southeastern Europe. He earned the nickname `Turkenlouis’ and won a significant victory at Slankamen in 1691. Baden captured the fortress of Landau in Alsace from the French in 1702, but was subsequently defeated at Friedlingen by Villars, a victory which earned the French commander his marshal’s baton. Although overly proud and sensitive, and difficult to deal with, Baden was brave enough, and his assistance was crucial to the success of Marlborough’s attack on the Schellenberg, where the Margrave was shot in the foot, a wound that refused to heal properly.

His assignment in August 1704 to lay siege to Ingolstadt on the Danube excluded him from the victory at Blenheim, and it is often said that this was deliberate policy on the part of Marlborough and Eugene to keep Baden out of the way. This seems improbable as the fortress was an important place, the possession of which would have been crucial if Marlborough had not been able to bring the French and Bavarians to battle and win so decisively. Accordingly, the margrave’s task was not a trivial one, and it is unlikely that Marlborough and Eugene foresaw the chance of decisive action on the plain of Höchstädt quite that clearly and so far in advance, or that they would lightly give up a numerical advantage of almost 15,000 troops in order to sideline their colleague. Baden’s failure to rendezvous with Marlborough in 1705 led to the abandonment of the Moselle campaign (which was languishing anyway), but the margrave was undoubtedly a sick man, with a festering wound. His lameness, however, did not prevent his showing Marlborough around the ornate gardens of his home on one occasion. Baden died three years later, a disappointed man, snubbed and ignored by the emperor in Vienna to whose family he had rendered long and loyal service.

During the second half of the seventeenth century, the highest level of command came to be that of Generalleutnant who was the acting commander-in-chief. After the Thirty Years War this position was held successively by Ottavio Piccolomini (1648–56), Raimondo Montecuccoli (1664–80), Charles V Duke of Lorraine (1680–90), Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden (1691–1707) and Eugene of Savoy (from 1708 until his death in 1736).

The most important battles of the “Türkenlouis” – LUDWIG WILHELM VON BADEN-BADEN

In the French-Dutch War (1672-1678)

1676: Siege of Philippsburg

In the Great Turkish War (1683-1699)

1683: Battle of Kahlenberg near Vienna

1683: Battle of Pressburg (Slovakia)

1684: siege of Gran (Hungary)

1684: 1st Siege of Buda (Hungary)

1686: 2nd Siege of Buda

1687: Battle of Mohács (Hungary)

1688: Battle of Derventa (Bosnia)

1688: 1st Siege of Belgrade (Serbia)

1689: Battle of Nissa (Serbia)

1690: 2nd Siege of Belgrade

1691: Battle of Slankamen (Serbia)

In the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714)

1702: Battle of Friedlingen (Baden-Württemberg)

1704: Battle of Schellenberg (Bavaria)

1705: Battle of Pfaffenhofen (Bavaria)

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Shigeyoshi Inoūe: the visionary?

Accounts of the Japanese submarine exercises of 1939-41 clearly show that Japanese navy training attempted to be comprehensive, rigorous, and innovative in the development of the submarine as a weapon to attack regular fleet units. Tactical training was carried out at night as well as during daylight. Long- and short-distance operations were practiced. Coordination was attempted between submarines and aircraft. New weapons, like the type 95 torpedo, were tested, and novel techniques, such as “submerged firing,” were practiced.

Japanese submarine commanders developed zembotsu hassha (submerged firing) because, although their boats had proper range finders and devices for ascertaining exact bearing, they could only be used on the surface. Preferring to stay submerged when attacking fleet units screened by destroyers, submarine commanders would submerge, expose the periscope for a final optical reading of bearing and range, keep the periscope down for the final closure to the firing point, and then fire on sound bearings. This technique was hardly unique to the Japanese navy; American submarine commanders practiced something very much like it (“sound shots”) before the war, but having little luck, dropped them.

It is not surprising that the Japanese also developed the idea of naval air war to make up for numerical inferiority in battleships to the US Navy. It was generally assumed that  they were to fight the decisive battleship engagement somewhere in the Western Pacific. With the 10:6 advantage the Americans enjoyed, even after the US Navy suffered from wear and tear during the long voyage from the American West Coast to the Western Pacific, they’d still enjoy their superiority. The Japanese naval men therefore sought to reduce American battleship strength by naval guerrilla war at sea. Using aircraft and submarines, the Japanese would set up a series of ambush points along the most likely lines of American advance. By hit and run tactics, they would try to damage or sink American battleships before they could reach anywhere near Japan. By the time they had their naval showdown, hopefully, the opposing battle fleets would have a rough parity in the number of battleships they could deploy. Then, the Japanese believed, they would enjoy advantage over the Americans as they were fighting closer to home. They were more highly motivated as they were defending their own home country; their sailors were in a fresher state, in contrast to the tired Americans; and their battleships would be better serviced and in an optimal condition to fight a fleet battle.

During the 1930s, Japanese thinking drifted towards more offensive-defensive ideas. At first, many naval thinkers, both Japanese and Western, believed in the idea of a naval showdown in or near Japanese waters or the Philippines. Towards the eve of the actual war in the Pacific, however, the Japanese were getting increasingly reluctant to wait until the American navy came to them. Surely, Americans would not repeat the mistake of the Russians? They’d rather fight the decisive battle on the ground of their own choosing. And  so would the Japanese. Moreover, the Japanese valued offensive spirit. The idea of fighting a defensive naval war simply because they had fewer ships than their opponent just didn’t sit well with their mentality. Admiral IsorokuYamamoto, who was the overall commander of the Japanese naval forces since the summer of 1939, thus sought to deliver a massive blow to the US fleet at the very opening of hostility in a surprise attack, aiming at destruction of not just the US fleet but also that of morale of the US public. In order to do so, Yamamoto could not risk losing any of his battleships as they had to be preserved for the coming showdown, so he preferred using naval air forces to achieve this.

Therefore, the ‘naval revolution’ which the supposed genius of Yamamoto initiated was to a large extent just a logical extension of the battleship era thinking. In fact, most Japanese naval leaders continued to think in terms of fighting a decisive fleet action by big gun battleships.  Yamamoto certainly believed in the power of naval air arm, more so than most of his colleagues, yet it is doubtful he thought that airpower could completely replace the battle fleet. Airpower was only useful to keep American battleships at bay while Japan could achieve its strategic aim of destroying US morale, which was the most vital war aim for him. Yamamoto, who had lived in America for a few years, was too aware of massive economic and industrial potential of the US. He felt that unless American will to fight could be destroyed, the US would simply outbuild Japan. How does he achieve this? The Japanese navy had to win and win big so much so that Americans would get so discouraged to fight war thousands of miles from their own home. Waiting for the US to mount its offensive, even a Japanese win in a defensive sea battle would not affect American morale that much. To reduce American battleship strength, his naval air forces would strike en masse, delivering a crippling blow to the US battle fleet to such an extent the final battleship duel would even be unnecessary. His aim was, ideally, a total sea denial to the US naval forces in the western Pacific.

Thus, another point that is not widely recognised is that Japanese strategic thinking was defensive in orientation. As Japan was waging a very aggressive war of conquest, there is a general sense that Japan’s war with China and the Western allies were an offensive war aimed at imperial expansion. However, Japanese thinking was dominated by concerns for defence of what they considered as their sphere of influence. On a map, Japanese gains from the end of 1941 up to the summer of 1942 look impressive. What they achieved was large territorial expanses to ensure that Japan would keep a self-sufficient, autarkic empire. Only by achieving such goals, their country’s social stability, economic welfare of its people and respectability in the new international community would be ensured, or so did they believe.

Therefore, both their strategic and political goals was to acquire colonies to build and defend an empire and force the Western Allies to accept the fait accompli. Given the level of threat the US and the Allies posed, the Japanese thought, Japan needed to acquire and control as much territory as possible, in order to absorb the shock of American counter-attack. In May 1942, Japan was embarking on what appeared to be the conquest of Australia, landing troops in New Guinea. This operation was in fact designed to cut off communication between Australia and the US mainland, and so to deny the Americans the use of Australia as the base for the anticipated counter offensive. They wanted to keep the Americans in check just long enough. They knew they could not fight a long war, even though they did not know how to ensure the war would be short. They just hoped that the US would be too busy with war with Germany and the US public was not very keen on war for Asia. By the time the war weary US public forced their government to sue for peace, Japan’s empire should still be large enough to maintain its territorial and economic integrity. In hindsight, they utterly underestimated the US public’s ability to endure a long, bloody war. Some Japanese naval men suspected that their plans were based on unrealistic assumptions, but political atmosphere of the day made them hesitate to admit the doubt, let alone to speak out.

A few did. In the early 1941, Rear Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoūe was one of the  least popular figures in the Imperial Japanese Navy because he often called his fellow admirals stupid. When the navy put forward a plan for a massive naval expansion to keep pace with the latest American naval programme in anticipation of war, he shocked his colleagues by allegedly blasting, ‘Who came up with this? Are you retards or something?’ This caused consternation among other admirals. Japan was about to launch her war against America within several months. Strategy had been agreed upon and a new naval building programme had been approved. Now he’s saying what they are doing is nonsense! The insulting way he put it made them even more angry. They demanded that Inoūe articulate what he would do then. In response, he produced a short paper presenting his views. While, in hindsight, his proposals do not show great spark of genius, when it comes to what the US would do, he was so dead-on, if anyone should be called a prophet of war, Inoūe is the one who fits the bill.

His thinking shows strong British influence. But he did not just copy British ideas. Like his British counterparts at Greenwich, he worked the problem from the very basics: geography and technology.

Geographically, he pointed out, a big, continental country like the United States had an advantage of strategic depth. It was simply impossible for Japan to invade the continental America and to reach its capital. Japan could not hope to wipe out American military forces. On the other hand, the US was capable of doing this to Japan and taking even the capital Tokyo.

He also pointed out that the sheer vastness of the Pacific Ocean meant that the likelihood of the decisive battleship action happening was practically nil. Finding an enemy battle fleet alone would be next to impossible. He also asked, surely you don’t expect Americans to be stupid enough to rush to fight our fleet prematurely only so that we could annihilate their battleships? Indeed, the Japanese were to be frustrated by lack of opportunities to use their super battleships for a showdown. The biggest battleship ever built, the Yamato, failed to sink anything of value throughout the war.

As Inoūe repeatedly insisted that aircraft and submarines changed naval warfare so fundamentally, his enemies attacked him as self-interested, for he was the head of naval aviation of the Japanese Navy at the time. Nevertheless he was certainly correct that the US would employ submarines in the western Pacific to disrupt Japanese sea communication. Hence, he preached that Japan needed to devise anti-submarine strategy and tactics, though he could not offer anything in detail, as Japan had little experience in this area of naval warfare. The British experience during WW1 was the only guide: all he could do was to recommend that more escort ships should be built for convoy duties.

Remarkably, Inoūe predicted the island hopping campaign employed by the Americans. To him, this was only logical. While the British emphasised that sea control must be established by winning major fleet actions, he understood that without winning bases and facilities, sea control could not be won. For warships without fuel were useless. Therefore, what was to come was a series of deadly struggles for bases, which were mostly on tiny islands in the Pacific. Only by winning this contest, Japan had any realistic chance of winning war.

He even went on to say that the navy could afford to sacrifice battleships and heavy cruisers as they would be of little practical value. This naturally did not go down well with his peers (and on this he was perhaps wrong, as the US Navy actively used these types of ships for escort and anti-air duties and shore bombardment), as the belief in decisive battleship action was too strong.

Most Japanese officers spurned Inoūe’s views. Unfortunately his battlefield performance did not help either. He was the overall commander of the task force to attack Australia in the spring of 1942. In the ensuing battle, known as the Battle of Coral Sea, he managed to sink the US carrier Lexington, while losing one light carrier of his own (the Shoho) and getting a fleet carrier (the Shokaku) damaged. Thus he called off the operation, for he feared that aircraft carriers were too vulnerable to enemy attack and did not want to take unnecessary risks. For this he was considered as lacking offensive spirit and was removed from command. He was unpopular as a mouthy and brainy aristocrat (he was of old Samurai stock) without charisma or killer instinct, unlike the popular Yamamoto. He was to be made full Admiral only towards the end of the war when some Japanese leaders began to realise that Japan was losing and that someone had to represent Japan in search of peace with the Allies. For this, he was derided as an admiral who was only good at losing.

Most regrettably, his political views were totally ignored and overruled before the war. He was against war with the US and thought it unwise to jump on the ‘German bandwagon.’ After Japan’s defeat, Admiral Inoūe retired unceremoniously and lived quietly and in poverty, earning meagre living by teaching children English and music. It was long after the war his predictions of US strategy were belatedly recognised by the astonished Americans. It was only after his death that some of his pupils and friends began to see his talent and insight. In 1941, however, no one would listen to him. The war was on.

WWII Luftwaffe Generals who won the WWI Pour le Mérite

Oberleutnant Hermann GÖRING ‘The Iron Man’ (22 victories)

The son of Dr Heinrich Göring, Governor of German South West Africa, Hermann Göring was born in Rosenheim, Upper Bavaria, on 12 January 1893. A rebellious and undisciplined child, he was sent to the military academy at Karlsruhe, and from there to Lichterfelde, an army cadet college for future officers. He graduated with the highest honours a cadet could achieve, and received praise from the Kaiser himself. Göring was commissioned into Prinz Wilhelm Regiment Nr 112. He had a passion for mountain climbing and did not shrink from the danger, believing nothing bad could happen to him.

At the outbreak of war his regiment went straight into action as it was stationed at Muhlhausen in Alsace-Lorraine, on the wrong side of the Rhine. When the regiment moved to the Vosges region, Göring contracted rheumatic fever. While in hospital he was visited by his friend Bruno Loerzer, who had served in the same regiment but was now a pilot with the German Army Air Service. His visit gave Göring much to think about, not least the dismal prospect of returning to the cold and the mud. He therefore wrote to his CO requesting a transfer to the Freiburg flying school. After having had no response for two weeks, he ‘obtained’ the papers and signed them himself. He spent the next two weeks flying with Loerzer and getting all the training he could. However, his transfer was refused and he was ordered to rejoin his unit; the situation was serious, as he had left himself open to charges of desertion and forging papers. He immediately telegraphed his godfather, Ritter von Epstein, who moved in high circles, and suddenly Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm intervened, asking that Göring be posted to the German Fifth Army field air detachment. The charges were reduced to one of ‘lateness’, and Göring was given a medical certificate saying he was unfit for front-line duty. It should be remembered here that he was not trying to get out of the fighting–he just wanted to fight in the air.

In the autumn of 1914 he completed his training and then joined Bruno Loerzer at FFA25. They flew together as often as possible, soon winning a reputation for carrying out the most dangerous missions, and in March 1915 were awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In May they were sent to carry out a reconnaissance of the French fortresses of Verdun, a task that many others had tried–and failed. For three days they flew over the Verdun area and took pictures so detailed that General Erich von Falkenhayn asked to see them personally. The High Command were so impressed with the results that Crown Prince Wilhelm exercised his royal prerogative and awarded them both the Iron Cross 1st Class in the field. In June 1915 Göring was posted to Freiburg for pilot training, passing out in October and being sent to FA25. On 16 November, while flying an Albatros, he shot down his first enemy aircraft, a Maurice Farman, over Tahure.

In 1916 Göring was posted to Kek Stennay flying Fokker EIIIs, and then in March to Kek Metz, where he shot down a Caudron on the 14th; on 30 July he shot down another Caudron over Memang. On 9 July he went back to FA25, and again to Kek Metz on 7 September. He was posted to Jasta 7 in early October and then on 20 October to Jasta 5. While on patrol on 2 November he came across a Handley-Page bomber; as he closed in on it, he came under fire, which he returned, killing one of the gunners. Then he came under attack from an escorting Sopwith, being hit in the thigh; losing consciousness momentarily, he came to as his aircraft was plummeting to the ground. He was able to regain control and landed next to an emergency hospital just inside the German lines, and within a very short time he was in the operating theatre.

At the beginning of February 1917 Göring was posted to Jasta 26, now under the command of his friend Bruno Loerzer, and by the end of the month had brought his score to six. On 10 May he shot down a DH4 of 55 Squadron over Le Pave and one week later was given command of Jasta 27. Although it had been in existence for three months, this unit had yet to score its first kill. On 16 July Göring shot down an SE5a for his ninth victory but was himself brought down in the process, both pilots claiming a kill. On 21 September Göring shot down the Bristol Fighter flown by Lieutenant R.L. Curtis (fifteen victories) and Lieutenant D.P.F. Uniacke (thirteen victories). His scoring was much slower at this time due to the responsibility of command, and it took until the end of October to bring his tally to fifteen. On 27 October Göring was awarded the Military Karl Friedrich Merit Order, the Knight’s Cross with Swords of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order and the Knight’s Cross 2nd Class with Swords of the Baden Order of the Zahringer Lion. On 7 November he achieved his final score for that year, a DH4 north-west of Poelcapelle, although much confusion surrounds this claim as the only British aircraft reported lost on this date was an AWFK VIII two-seater.

It was not until 21 February 1918 that Göring scored again, bringing down an SE5a from 60 Squadron, followed by an RE8 from 48 Squadron on 7 April. On 2 June 1918 he was awarded the Pour le Mérite by the Kaiser, and by the end of that month he had brought down three more aircraft to bring his tally to twenty-one. On 9 July he was given command of JG1, the Richthofen Wing, with promotion to Oberleutnant. His only victory while leading this unit came on 18 July, bringing his total to twenty-two. From then on he did very little flying, having either decided or been ordered to take a more administrative role due to the lack of experienced officers.

On 9 August 1918 the order to cease all further air operations came and he was ordered to transfer his unit’s aircraft to an Allied airfield; Göring obeyed the order but, knowing full well the Allies wanted the latest Fokkers, he ordered his pilots to set fire to their planes on landing. After fighting in the post-war revolution with the rank of Hauptmann, he went to Denmark in a flight advisory capacity, but returned to Germany in the early 1920s.

Göring joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and was appointed commander of the SA in 1923. In November 1923 he was involved in the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’: Ludendorff, Hitler and Göring marched in front of a large column with Ulrich Graf carrying a swastika flag before them; shots were fired and Göring was hit in the hip and thighs. As a result of his wounds he was given two shots of morphine a day for a month.

In 1925 he went into a sanatorium three times to be cured of his morphine addiction, which he did by will-power alone. In 1928 he was elected to the Reichstag, and in 1932 became its President. When Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933, Göring became Reich Minister, Reich Commissioner for Aviation and Acting Prussian Minister of the Interior; later the same year he was appointed Minister President of Prussia. He was promoted to General in May 1933, but from April his old wounds started to give him problems and he was back on painkillers. In March 1934 he was named as Hitler’s successor. March 1935 saw him appointed General of the Luftwaffe with the rank of Generalleutnant and he was soon promoted Oberstgeneral.

In April 1935 he was appointed Dictator of Raw Material, a post that allowed him to channel resources into the Luftwaffe. In October 1936 he was appointed the person responsible for the ‘Four Year Plan’ intended to make the Reich independent from imports. Göring also appointed himself Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe in June 1937. Throughout that year he tried many weight cures, which only weakened him, and he was still being treated for his addiction to pills. Yet another promotion came in February 1938, this time to Airmarschall. On 30 September 1939 he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.

Published in 1940, his authorised biography is called Hermann Göring; The Man and his Work. On 19 July 1940, after the fall of France, he was promoted to Reichsmarschall and, uniquely, was awarded the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross. He was now at the height of his power.

From the Battle of Britain onwards his influence started to decline, not least because the Luftwaffe proved unable to dominate the skies as he had promised the Fuhrer it would. In 1941 his paratroopers suffered heavy losses in the battle of Crete. He became known throughout Germany as ‘Meier’, due to his boast that no enemy plane would ever fly over the Reich–by now a common occurrence. The Fuhrer lost even more faith in him after the fall of Stalingrad in 1943, as Göring had promised he could re-supply the city from the air, though by now he was completely unable to prevent the bombing of German cities. Reproached by Hitler, he feared being relieved from command of the Luftwaffe, and mood swings now became part of his persona.

In April 1945 Göring sent Hitler his famous telegram stating that he would assume overall leadership of the Reich if he [Hitler] was unable to act freely. Two days later Göring was relieved of all offices and Hitler ordered his arrest. He was supposed to be shot after Hitler’s death but the SS guard was unsure of this and telephoned Feldmarschall Kesselring, who forbade it and told the guard to leave Göring to himself. On 8 May he fell into the hands of the Americans. He was sent to trial at Nuremberg in 1946 and found guilty of war crimes, and killed himself with poison on 15 October 1946. His ashes were scattered in an unknown German river.

Oberleutnant Robert Ritter von GREIM (28 victories)

The son of a police captain, Robert Greim was born in Bayreuth, Bavaria, on 22 June 1892. At 14 he became a cadet, joining the regular army on 14 July 1911 at the age of 19. He was immediately put forward for officer training and on 29 October 1912 joined Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment Nr 8 and was commissioned Leutnant on 25 October 1913. When the war broke out his regiment was one of the first into action; he commanded a battery at the Battle of Lorraine at Nancy-Epinal, and at the assaults on St Mihiel and Camp des Romains. For these actions he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, and on 15 March 1915 was appointed the 1st Battalion’s Adjutant. At the end of April Greim was awarded the Bavarian Military Merit Order 4th Class with Swords.

Like so many other young men, he began to look at the newly formed German Army Air Service and applied for a transfer. He started his training as an observer on 10 August 1915 and was posted to FFA3b. Greim opened his tally by shooting down a Maurice Farman on 10 October. He was then sent to FA(A)204 as an observer during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, but applied for pilot training towards the end of the year. After graduating he was sent to FA46b as a reconnaissance pilot on 22 February 1917 and then to Jastaschule in March for single-seater training. On completing this he was posted to Jasta 34b on 3 April 1917; he now had his aircraft painted with his own markings of a red nose, two red fuselage bands and a white/silvery tail. On 18 May 1917 he was awarded the Bavarian Military Merit Order 4th Class with Crown and Swords.

On 24 May he shot down a Spad over Mamey but this was unconfirmed. The next day he shot down a Caudron R4 over Ramaucourt, and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. By the end of 1917 he had brought down seven enemy aircraft. On 29 April 1918, with his tally at nine, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross with Swords of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order and on 21 March he was given command of Jagdgruppe Nr 10 and later Jagdgruppe Nr 9. In April, May and June he brought down only four enemy aircraft, but in August he shot down six, including two on the 8th. On 8 October 1918 he was awarded the Pour le Mérite and by the end of the month had brought his score to twenty-eight, and subsequently was awarded the Bavarian Max Joseph Medal, entitling him to use the term ‘Ritter von’ (thus making him a knight); he was also promoted to Oberleutnant. After the war he served with the Bavarian Air Service and later became an adviser to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force.

In the early 1930s he became Director of the Bavarian Sport Flyers Association, then in 1934 he joined the newly formed Luftwaffe with the rank of Major, taking command of the Richthofen Geschwader. In 1938 he was promoted to General and during the Second World War commanded Fliegerkorps V, and was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 24 June 1940. The Oak Leaves to this medal followed on 2 April 1943 and the Swords on 7 August 1944. By 1944 he was commanding the air fleets in Russia with the rank of Generaloberst. By the time he was captured by the Americans in 1945 he was head of the Luftwaffe, a post given to him by Hitler, who also promoted him to Generalfeldmarschall. He committed suicide on 24 May 1945, his last words being ‘I am head of the Luftwaffe with no Luftwaffe.’ He is buried in the Communal Cemetery, Salzburg, Austria.

Oberleutnant zur See Theodor OSTERKAMP ‘Uncle Theo’ (32 victories)

The son of a forestry worker, Theodor Osterkamp was born in Duren in the Rhineland on 15 April 1892. He was studying forestry himself when the war started, and he volunteered for the Naval Flying Corps in August 1914, requesting to be trained as a pilot. However, the need for observers was greater at that time. On completion of his training he was posted to the Marine Flying Detachment, where for the next two years he flew reconnaissance missions along the Belgian coast. Osterkamp’s success was rewarded with the Iron Cross 2nd Class and a commission to Leutnant zur See in June 1916.

The routine nature of these missions soon started to get to him and in February 1917 Osterkamp applied for pilot training and was accepted in March. On graduating on 14 April, he was posted to MFJ I and the same week shot down his first enemy aircraft, a Sopwith, while on patrol over Oostkerke. By the end of July his tally was five and on 29 August he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Knight’s Cross of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order. His sixth victory came on 24 September when he shot down a Spad from Escadrille 31. Then on 15 October 1917 he was given command of MFJ I and promoted to Oberleutnant zur See.

While on a solo familiarisation flight in a new Fokker EV monoplane he was jumped by three Spads and had to bale out of his aircraft, landing behind his own lines. At the beginning of 1918 he spent some time reorganising his unit to make it more efficient and the results started to show. By the end of July his personal tally had risen to nineteen and by the end of August stood at twenty-three. On 2 September 1918 he was awarded the Pour le Mérite. His total stood at thirty-two by the war’s end. After the Armistice he, along with Peter Jacobs and Gotthard Sachsenberg, fought the communists in the Baltic.

Osterkamp took part in the FAI International Tourist Plane Contest Challenge three times, finishing eleventh in 1930, twelfth in 1932 and fifth in 1934. In 1935 he joined the Luftwaffe, and was given command of Jagdfliegerschule Nr I in 1939. He held this post until taking over command of JG51 the following year. During the invasion of France Osterkamp was almost immediately in action, shooting down four enemy aircraft in May and two more during the Battle of Britain, including three Hurricanes and a Spitfire (so perhaps his final score should be thirty-eight). For this he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 22 August 1940. He was appointed commander of fighters in northern France and later Sicily, with the rank of Generalleutnant. He was very critical of the High Command and the way they were directing the air war, and because of this he was retired in 1944. It was probably only the respect that Luftwaffe pilots and ground crew held for him that prevented a worse fate.

He died in Baden-Baden on 2 January 1975.

Oberleutnant Ernst UDET ‘The Flying Clown’ (62 victories)

The son of a wealthy landowner, Ernst Udet was born on 26 April 1896 in Frankfurt-am-Main. He had a flair for anything mechanical, and owned a motorcycle. He tried to join the army first at the age of 17 but was rejected several times before being accepted on 21 August 1914 as a motorcycle messenger for the 26th Wurttemberg Reserve Division. For the next few months he delivered messages up and down the lines. Then one night he swerved to miss a shell hole and crashed; after ten days in hospital, he was sent to find his division but could not. While in Liege he met a pilot, Leutnant von Waxheim, who convinced him to join the German Army Air Service.

Udet made several applications but all were refused and he was ordered back home. He trained as a pilot at his own expense while putting forward more requests to fly. In early 1915 he was ordered to Darmstadt for pilot training, on completion of which he was sent to FA(A)206 with the rank of Gefreiter. Leutnant Bruno Justinus was appointed as his observer. After three long weeks, during which time they never even saw an Allied aircraft, they spotted a French monoplane attacking a railway station. As they approached and got in behind it, it became obvious that the Frenchman was having difficulties. Noticing that the monoplane had a machine-gun mounted behind the propeller, Udet ‘encouraged’ the French pilot to make a forced-landing on the German side of the lines; before he could set fire to his machine, the Frenchman, Roland Garros, was captured by German soldiers. The capture of his aircraft with its machine-gun and crude inter-ruptor gear was to alter the course of the war in the air. For this action Udet was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class.

On 18 March 1916 Udet was posted to FA68 (which later became Kek Habsheim, and in September Jasta 15), and on the same day he shot down his first enemy aircraft, a French Farman F40, over Milhausen; it is said that he attacked twenty-two enemy aircraft single-handed. It was a good start but he would only score two more by the end of the year. At the beginning of January 1917 he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and commissioned Leutnant on 22 January. After his sixth victory he requested a transfer to Jasta 37 and was posted there on 19 June. On 7 November he was appointed commander of Jasta 37 after the death of its commander, his friend Heinrich Gontermann. He was also awarded the Knight’s Cross with Swords of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order on 13 November. He continued to score steadily and by the end of 1917 had sixteen confirmed victories.

With his tally at twenty, Udet was made acting commander of Jasta 11 on 23 March 1918, a post he held until 8 April. On the 9th he was awarded the Pour le Mérite and given command of Jasta 4. Most of Udet’s aircraft had his fiancée’s initials ‘LO’ painted on the fuselage, and his Fokker DVII had a red fuselage, with the top surfaces of the wings ‘candy striped’ red and white. Written on the top of his rear tail surface was Du noch nicht! (‘Not you yet!’) On 29 July, with his score standing at forty, he was involved in a dog-fight with a French Breguet two-seater; forced to jump from his aircraft, he landed by parachute in a shell hole. In August 1918 Udet shot down twenty enemy aircraft, including three on the 1st and the 8th, and two on the 9th, 10th, 21st and 22nd. He was awarded the Lubeck Hanseatic Cross in August and the Hamburg Hanseatic Cross in September. Then, on 26 September, after shooting down his sixty-first and sixty-second enemy aircraft, Udet was badly wounded in the thigh, putting an end to his combat days. But he had become the second highest scoring German pilot of the war and the highest surviving ace of the war.

After the war Udet became something of an adventurer, flying all over the world. He was also involved in stunt flying for films and worked as a test pilot. At the start of the Second World War he was persuaded to join the Luftwaffe and attained the rank of Generaloberst. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 4 July 1940. However, he could not deal with the political in-fighting within the Luftwaffe and on 17 November 1941 he committed suicide. The German propaganda machine announced that he was killed while testing a new aircraft and he was given a state funeral. He is buried in the Berlin Invaliden Friedhof.

Hasso-Eccard Freiherr von Manteuffel

Hasso von Manteuffel was born in Potsdam on January 14, 1897. He and his three sisters were raised primarily by his mother, for his father died when Hasso was seven years old. The family was well off and lived on a well-groomed estate in a villa that was exquisitely furnished. Young Manteuffel received an excellent education in an expensive preparatory school operated by his cousin. (Young Manteuffel was an exemplary student who always put his studies first.) Continuing in the family tradition, he entered the Prussian cadet school at Naumburg/Saale in 1908. This school was one of the most modern in Germany, and its curriculum centered on the classical model, with heavy emphasis on sports and military instruction.

Upon leaving the school in Naumburg/Saale, Manteuffel entered the main cadet school in Berlin-Lichterfelde. One of a thousand cadets, he lived in a plainly furnished apartment with seven others. In January 1916, Manteuffel passed his finals and received his Certificate of Maturity and the next month he was promoted to officer candidate (Faehnrich). At the request of Manteuffel’s stepfather, Crown Prince Wilhelm intervened on his behalf and Manteuffel was transferred to the replacement squadron of the Hussar Regiment von Zieten (Brandenburger) Number 3. Later that year, Manteuffel was promoted to second lieutenant and was transferred to the 5th Squadron of the 6th Prussian Infantry Division, stationed on the Western Front.

While carrying out a reconnaissance mission near Bapaume, France, in October 1916, Baron von Manteuffel was wounded when a piece of shrapnel struck him in the leg. He was sent to a rearward hospital for medical attention and to recover; however, he desperately wanted to return to his unit and, in January 1917, left the hospital without authorization and returned to the front. Although he was later sentenced to three days arrest in his quarters, he never served the sentence. Manteuffel was transferred to the 6th Infantry’s divisional staff in February and remained with the division as it fought the Russians in East Galicia in July 1917 and when it returned to the Western Front in March 1918.

After the war ended, Manteuffel joined Freikorps von Oven as second adjutant and fought the Spartacists in Berlin, as well as other Communist revolutionaries in Munich and Leipzig. He was selected to remain in the 100,000-man army and, in May 1919, was assigned to the 25A Cavalry Regiment at Rathenow. In 1921, he married a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde named Armgard von Kleist, whose uncle was future Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist. The von Manteuffels were to have two children. From 1925 to 1930, Hasso served as the regimental adjutant of the 25A Cavalry and then became commander of the experimental mechanical squadron—a position normally reserved for a captain. In 1932, he became a squadron leader in the 17th Cavalry Regiment at Bamberg and in October 1934 was promoted to Rittmeister (captain of cavalry). Later that same year he was transferred to the 2nd Motorcycle Battalion, along with two squadrons of the 17th Cavalry. Although Manteuffel was an excellent horseman, he was literally drafted into the motorized battalion by Major General Viktor von Schwedler, the chief of the Army Personnel Office. In 1935, Colonel Heinz Guderian of the panzer branch convinced Manteuffel to transfer to one of the newly created tank divisions. Manteuffel responded by joining Guderian’s own 2nd Panzer Division as a squadron leader in the 3rd Motorcycle Battalion. Guderian developed such confidence in Manteuffel that he put him in charge of all cadet training for the division in 1936, shortly after Manteuffel received his promotion to major.

The close relationship between the two men continued, and, as Guderian’s fortunes rose, so did Manteuffel’s. Early in 1937 Manteuffel served as official adviser to the Inspectorate of Panzer Troops (part of OKH), directly under Guderian. On February 1, 1939, Manteuffel was named commandant of Officer Training School Number 2, located at Potsdam-Krampnitz, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel two months later. “Manteuffel somehow left the stamp of his own personality on his trainees, and he taught them independent action within the framework of an integrated team effort,” General Frederick Wilhelm von Mellenthin wrote later. He believed that tank crews needed to be very much aware of battlefield tactics, so that if necessary each crew could make independent decisions during the heat of battle to positively affect the outcome. He stressed the concepts of mobility and maneuverability and the use of ground cover, all of which may give a particular panzer force a decisive advantage. He remained at the school during both the Polish and French campaigns. Upon hearing of the impending invasion of the Soviet Union, Manteuffel asked for a field command and, as a result, was named commander of the I Battalion of the 7th Rifle Regiment of the 7th Panzer Division in June 1941. During that same month his battalion saw heavy fighting on the Russian Front; among other things it spearheaded a bridgehead across the Memel River in Lithuania. The 7th Panzer Division continued to engage in intensive combat as it penetrated deep into Soviet lines, becoming the first German force to reach the highway between Minsk, Smolensk, and Moscow.

In August 1941, Colonel Erich von Unger, commander of the 6th Rifle Regiment, was killed in action and Manteuffel was named as his replacement. The baron’s energy and indomitable will filtered throughout his new command as the 6th Rifle Regiment became the first unit to breach the Stalin Line as the spearhead of General Hermann Hoth’s 3rd Panzer Group; indeed, Manteuffel’s troops were always out in front, in the “thick of the action,” and were constantly carrying out daring, bold maneuvers. Clearly Manteuffel put into practice what he had taught at the academy. In October he was promoted to colonel, and his regiment participated in the assault on Moscow, crossing the Moscow-Volga Canal at Jakhroma, on the outskirts of the Soviet capital, under extremely heavy enemy fire. Once again, his forces acted as the spearhead for the panzer group. For his courage and leadership, Manteuffel was awarded the Knight’s Cross in December 1941.

Meanwhile, the German juggernaut stalled due to the onset of a severe Russian winter and stiffer Russian resistance. On December 6, 1941, Stalin launched a major winter counteroffensive all along the front, but Army Group Center in the Moscow sector was especially hard hit. In temperatures hovering around 40–42 degrees below zero, Manteuffel’s regiment fell back to defensive positions between Vyazma and Rzhev and held its line despite repeated Soviet attacks. General of Panzer Troops Walter Model, the commander of the 9th Army, ordered Manteuffel’s regiment, which was already under heavy attack, to launch a major counterattack. Manteuffel refused, pointing out the lack of food, fuel, supplies, and camouflage uniforms (without which the German soldiers would be easy targets for Soviet snipers). In response, Model demanded that Manteuffel’s troops attack on skis, noting that the division was from Thuringia, where all children learn to ski at an early age. Once again Manteuffel refused, and this time Model threatened a court-martial. The confrontation ended when the 7th Panzer Division was transferred to France for reorganization, and the divisional commander saw to it that Manteuffel left early, with the advance party, perhaps thereby saving him from a court-martial. Later, on the Western Front, Manteuffel and Model forgot their differences and worked well together. After the war, Manteuffel told the famous British military historian B. H. Liddell Hart that “Model was a very good tactician, and better in defense than in attack. He had a knack of gauging, what troops could do, and what they could not do.”

Back in France, Manteuffel supervised the rebuilding of his regiment and in July 1942 was named commander of the 7th Panzer Grenadier Brigade (of the 7th Panzer Division). His next combat assignment, however, was in North Africa, where he arrived in early 1943. Assigned the task of holding the right (coastal) flank of the 5th Panzer Army in Tunisia, Baron von Manteuffel in effect created his own division from an assortment of units, including the Italian 10th Bersaglieri Regiment, the 11th (Witzig) Parachute Engineer Battalion, and the Barenthin Parachute Regiment, among others. With this odd mixture (labeled the Manteuffel Division), he once again achieved stunning successes over his vastly superior opponents and held his thin line in the Tunisian hills for weeks against repeated attacks by French and Anglo-American forces. These battles took their toll, and on April 28, 1943, an exhausted Manteuffel collapsed on the front line. He was rushed to a military hospital in Bizerta and, while under medical attention, was promoted to major general on May 1, 1943. A few days later he was placed on the last Italian ship heading for Sicily and safety, as the Tunisian Bridgehead collapsed.

From Sicily, Manteuffel traveled to Rome and then to Berlin, where his family lived. Shortly before Manteuffel was to be discharged from the hospital, Adolf Hitler ordered him to appear at Fuehrer Headquarters in East Prussia. A surprised Manteuffel responded and appeared before his Fuehrer, who asked the general what were his wishes. Manteuffel replied that he would like to command the 7th Panzer Division, to which Hitler agreed. In August 1943, Manteuffel joined the 7th Panzer and, within three days of his return to the front, incurred shrapnel wounds from a grenade. Although in great pain, he refused to return to the hospital and, temporarily bandaged at the front, remained in command of the division and led it through some brilliant defensive fighting over the next four weeks. Manteuffel also participated in Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s offensive against Kiev in November 1943, during which his 7th Panzer Division led the attack that overpowered Zhitomir and recaptured an important German supply depot. For this accomplishment, Manteuffel was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross. He succeeded at Zhitomir by dividing his forces into small mobile units that were self-contained and that penetrated between Russian columns, striking them from the rear. Such tactics completely confused the enemy. Hitler heard of Manteuffel’s exploits and invited him to Fuehrer Headquarters for Christmas. Hitler congratulated the general and gave him a present of 50 tanks. Hitler further rewarded Manteuffel with command of the Grossdeutschland, an elite, all-volunteer, specially reinforced panzer grenadier division. To complete the accolades, Manteuffel was promoted to lieutenant general in February 1944 and was awarded the Swords to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves that same month.

Manteuffel saw Hitler several times throughout 1944, as the Fuehrer was obviously taken with the small Prussian general’s uncanny successes. The general was impressed by Hitler’s magnetic personality and, as Albert Speer also told this writer, by Hitler’s ability to disarm one with his eyes and fluid discourse. Although Manteuffel was impressed with Hitler’s grasp of combat from the field soldier’s point of view, as well as the Fuehrer’s knowledge of military literature, he recognized Hitler’s weaknesses concerning grand strategy and tactical awareness, even though the Fuehrer had a flair for originality and daring. Although he was always respectful, Manteuffel always expressed his own views, regardless of how they might be received by Hitler.

The Grossdeutschland put forth a heroic effort in the Rumanian theater of the Eastern Front in early 1944, escaping from a Russian encirclement in March without losing a single tank. The Red Army kept coming, however, and in April the division halted a major Soviet advance in the Jassy area of Rumania and annihilated the enemy spearhead. Farther to the north, however, the Soviets were successfully advancing into East Prussia, and consequently the Grossdeutschland was hurriedly transferred and assembled near Trakehnen, approximately 25 miles behind the front lines. Berlin ordered the division to attack immediately, forsaking artillery support and adequate reconnaissance reports. Manteuffel’s attack took the Soviets completely by surprise, and his success managed to stabilize the German front. Still, the Grossdeutschland lost more than 80 tanks, and a furious Hitler called Manteuffel to Fuehrer Headquarters to explain the horrible losses. Momentarily taken aback, Manteuffel blurted out that he was ordered to attack and that the order—which he showed Hitler—compelled him to attack prematurely. After reading the order, Hitler called for Keitel and demanded that the field marshal tell him where the order had come from. Apparently Keitel had issued the order on his own, carrying out what he believed to be the Fuehrer’s will when Hitler had mentioned that the Grossdeutschland could stop the Soviet advance by taking the offensive. Consequently, Hitler turned his wrath on his despondent chief of OKW berating him for improperly issuing an order based simply on Hitler’s offhand remark. According to Manteuffel, there were other occasions when Keitel and Jodl, the chief of operations at OKW, issued orders on their own.

In September 1944, the baron was again summoned to Fuehrer Headquarters. This time, however, Hitler greeted him with open arms, promoted him to general of panzer troops, and gave him command of the 5th Panzer Army. Moved to the Western Front, Manteuffel had a new mission: counterattack and halt the drive by General George Patton’s 3rd U.S. Army. He halted Patton’s attack on Metz and recaptured Luneville on September 17. He was then ordered to attack Patton’s forces north of the Marne-Rhine Canal, which Manteuffel did under protest, realizing the hopelessness of such an attack. As usual, the panzer general proved correct: he lost 50 tanks and gained very little.

Manteuffel attended an important briefing conference in November, along with Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Field Marshal Model, and Colonel General Jodl. Jodl presented Hitler’s plan for an Ardennes offensive to the other officers. This offensive, which had as its principal objective the rapid seizure of the port of Antwerp, is now popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge. The operation aimed at splitting the British and American forces and possibly forcing a second Dunkirk and potential British withdrawal from the war. If successful, Hitler reasoned, it would allow him time to recoup his defenses to better withstand the continued Soviet offensive toward Germany. The officers, however, were very skeptical and suggested a modified plan, to which Jodl curtly replied that there would be no changes to Hitler’s orders. Consequently, the attack would take place in December, with Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army and SS General Sepp Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army making the major German thrusts toward Antwerp. Manteuffel agreed with B. H. Liddell Hart in an interview immediately after the war that airborne troops would have been very useful to the attack; however, following the Crete invasion of 1941, during which the German paratroopers suffered tremendous losses in taking the island, Manteuffel told the British historian that there was a great reluctance on the part of Hitler to use parachute troops.

Although Hitler’s plan remained intact, Manteuffel did at least convince the Fuehrer to allow him to begin the attack during nighttime hours, thus foregoing an artillery barrage that Hitler had originally planned and allowing the general additional daylight hours once his tanks reached clearings in the Ardennes. Although Dietrich’s army was supposed to be the main assault force, it was 5th Panzer Army that enjoyed the most success. Once again, Manteuffel’s strategy of creating self-sustaining mobile fighting units proved successful, as they penetrated deep into the American lines, racing toward Bastogne. At the same time, Dietrich, who opted to advance on a narrow front, bogged down and, rather than assisting Manteuffel’s rapidly advancing spearheads, stuck to the Fuehrer’s order and vainly attempted to drive his stalled regiments forward. Ultimately, mud, lack of fuel, the lifting of the foggy weather (allowing Allied air power to inflict tremendous damage on the panzer armies), and a rapid American recovery doomed the Ardennes offensive. Manteuffel was particularly accusatory toward General Jodl, who had assured both Manteuffel and Dietrich that adequate fuel reserves were available for the offensive. Manteuffel argued that Jodl had no idea of the amount of fuel necessary for such an operation. Even though the offensive failed, Hitler summoned his brilliant panzer commander to Fuehrer Headquarters in February 1945 and awarded Baron von Manteuffel the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross and offered him an endowment of 200,000 marks. Manteuffel refused the cash, because he felt it was not fitting for a soldier to accept a “reward” for doing what was expected of him.

In March 1945, Manteuffel was given command of the 3rd Panzer Army, which was stationed on the Eastern Front. He tenaciously held his positions on the Oder River, although toward the end of April he ordered a retreat; recognizing that the end was near and again thinking of his men, he moved westward to surrender to the British. On May 3, General Hasso von Manteuffel surrendered his panzer army to the representatives of Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery at Hagenow. Manteuffel’s retreat was another noteworthy accomplishment, as he kept his units together during those hectic days when millions of refugees (along with soldiers from disbanded units) were streaming westward to escape the Soviets.

Manteuffel was placed under arrest and initially taken to an internment camp with other generals, where he was interviewed by Liddell Hart. When the historian remarked about the unpleasantness of the camp, Manteuffel replied “with a smile, ‘Oh, it might be worse. I expect we shall be spending next winter on a barren island, or else in a ship anchored in the mid-Atlantic.’” It was this marvelous sense of humor that aided Manteuffel in difficult situations and endeared him to the men who served under him. Indeed, those who served with the highly decorated baron did so with loyal admiration for the general who, in turn, treated everyone with respect and courtesy. Above all, he kept his calm demeanor in the most difficult situations and consistently carried out what he believed to be an officer’s obligation: duty to the welfare of the men under his command. Such characteristics were clearly displayed during an event that occurred during Manteuffel’s retreat, as part of Colonel General Gotthard Heinrici’s Army Group Vistula, to British lines. Having heard of the unauthorized retreat, an angry Field Marshal Keitel drove to the front and confronted Manteuffel and Heinrici. Both Manteuffel and his chief of staff, Major General Burkhart Mueller-Hillebrand, related the following to this writer: Manteuffel, aware of Keitel’s desire for attack, prepared for the worst. Before meeting the chief of OKW, the panzer general made certain his pistol was loaded and kept his hand near the revolver. Further, Mueller-Hillebrand ordered several officers armed with machine-pistols to hide behind some trees at the crossroads. Keitel arrived and, pounding his baton into his gloved hand, angrily reproached Manteuffel and Heinrici. The generals explained the folly of holding fast and emphasized the desperate need for reinforcements. Keitel exploded and shot back, “There are no reserves left!” Hitting his hand with the baton, he ordered them to turn the army around immediately. Both Heinrici and Manteuffel refused.

Having lost control, Keitel shouted, “You will have to take responsibility of this action before history!”

Manteuffel angrily replied, “The von Manteuffels have worked for Prussia for two hundred years and have always taken the responsibility for their actions. I, Hasso von Manteuffel, gladly accept this responsibility.”

Keitel was unable to face down Manteuffel and turned his wrath on Heinrici, relieved him of his command, and then drove away in his staff car. Manteuffel and Heinrici merely shrugged their shoulders and continued the retreat westward. Once again, Manteuffel demonstrated that he was a man of convictions who would not yield.

General von Manteuffel remained in British custody at various sites in England throughout 1945 and into 1946. In March, 1946, he returned to Germany to testify before the Nuremberg tribunal in the trial against OKW. Finally, shortly before Christmas 1946, he was released and went to work for the Oppenheim Bank in Cologne. He was soon rejoined by his wife, who had been in a refugee camp near Hamburg.

Respect and admiration followed Manteuffel into civilian life. He was elected to the town council of Neuss-on-the-Rhine in 1947 (he was working for a manufacturing firm at the time), and from 1953 to 1957 he served in the West German Bundestag (Parliament). He was also a guest of several foreign military commands, including the Pentagon in Washington, and lectured at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He passed away at home, Diessen-on-the-Ammersee, on September 24, 1978.

During the Battle of Berlin, six Soviet soldiers entered his headquarters and began shooting the place apart. Four of Manteuffel’s staff were killed, and four more were wounded, including Manteuffel himself. However, Manteuffel was unfazed and was able to shoot and kill one Soviet soldier and stab another to death.

Manteuffel advised on the rebuilding of a post-war German military

He could speak fluent English

Was a frequent guest in the United States

Was invited by Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower to visit the White House

Lectured at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point about deep snow operations

Worked as a military adviser on war films

Was featured in the book The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan

Was featured in the acclaimed documentary, The World at War

Guderian in Poland I

Throughout a summer in which tension with Poland was stimulated by German agencies, Heinz Guderian and his staff were preoccupied with plans for major exercises in which the mechanised divisions were to be tested as never before, manoeuvres which demanded the initial stages of mobilisation. Crew training, however, was far from complete in every unit and while they had over 3,000 tanks with which to play, only 98 of them were Pz Ills and 211 Pz IVs, and therefore most were the light Pz Is and IIs. But the latest communication systems had arrived almost to scale and improvements had been made to the supply services. Then came a change that can hardly have been unexpected. On 22nd August Guderian was ordered to take command of the newly formed XIX Corps (with Nehring as Chief of Staff) at Gross-Born and, under the cover title of ‘Fortification Staff Pomerania’, build field fortifications along the frontier with Poland. Next day Hitler announced the signing of a non-aggression pact with Soviet Russia and ordered the Army to attack Poland on the 26th. Preparations would be incomplete and mobilisation only in the preparatory stages, but the mechanised units were ready: some had been fully mobilised since July.

Poland’s ability to defend herself depended mainly upon a fiery determination to preserve her newly won independence. Of modern weapons she had few – a mere 225 tanks, not all of them modern, and only 360 aircraft to set against Germany’s 1,250. For combat technique she relied upon the sort of linear defence and positional warfare by horse and foot armies which had been the fashion in 1920, and which still largely dictated the methods of her allies in the West – the French and the British. From them she could not expect speedy help since they would take weeks to mobilise the massed-style armies of a previous epoch; nor was she likely to assemble her own full strength of 45 divisions and 12 brigades in the short time permitted by the Germans. It was about to be revealed to an astonished world that, for special reasons, Poland never had a chance; that six Panzer Divisions and four Light Divisions aided by massive air intervention could achieve in a few days what the remaining 45 German cavalry and infantry formations might never have accomplished in weeks. As Professor Michael Howard has said, ‘The Germans were almost unique in 1939-40 in that they appreciated with the minimum of practical experience … the full implications which the new technological developments held for military science and embodied them in their equipment and their doctrine. I find it difficult, off hand, to think of a comparable example. Usually everybody starts even and everybody starts wrong.’ If Howard had substituted ‘Guderian and his adherents’ for ‘the Germans’ he would have been precisely accurate.

Ironically, though symbolically, Guderian was to be denied a part in the main initial armoured drive which was directed by Generaloberst Gerd on Rundstedt’s Army Group South (Chief of Staff, von Manstein) with two Panzer and three Light Divisions from Silesia towards Warsaw. In so-called good tank country Guderian’s old XVI Corps, commanded by General der Kavallerie Erich Hoepner, was told to lead the assault and was to make striking progress from the moment it was launched on 1 st September – the alteration from 26th August being enforced by diplomatic circumstances. Guderian’s XIX Corps, with its single panzer division – the 3rd – and its 2nd and 20th Motorised Divisions (which had no tanks was to be sent as the spearhead of Army Group North (Generaloberst Fedor von Bock) and Fourth Army (General der Artillerie Gunther von Kluge) against far tougher opposition on a potentially less lucrative mission into the strongly defended Polish Corridor where fortifications made good use of the delaying effect of two river obstacles – the Brahe and the Vistula. Yet it was the magnitude of an awkward task which gave Guderian, from the outset, the opportunity to demonstrate with a minimum of time for preparation, the versatility of his creation.

On the 24th – the eve of battle as he erroneously took it to be – he wrote a bracing letter to Gretel: ‘We have to keep our ears stiff and be prepared for strenuous work. I hope all will turn out well and also quickly … As regards the Western Powers it is not clear what they will do though surprises are not out of the question, but now we can bear that with fortitude. The whole situation has improved considerably and we can go to work full of confidence …’ – an approving reference to the Soviet Pact which he welcomed as a re-establishment of the bridge with Russia. He realised how her mother’s heart would be worried for their two sons, both of whom were in the Army and soon to receive their baptism of fire along with the Panzertruppe. But ‘Please be a brave soldier’s wife and, as so often before, an example to other people. We have drawn the lot to live in a warlike way and now have to put up with it’.

Nowhere does Guderian show remorse for the Poles. It would have been surprising had he done so. Poland was an excrescence to many Prussians, a nation which had come into being at the expense of the tribal homeland. Since 1918 they had posed a constant threat to Germany’s eastern frontier: Frontier Defence Force East had been as much concerned with checking depradations by the Poles as by the Bolsheviks. And Guderian was particularly pleased to play a part in recapturing the old family property. His letter to Gretel indicates how ‘… the old family estates, Gross-Klonia, Kulm now take on a special significance … Is it not strange that I especially have been commissioned to play this role’. But he cannot have had detailed knowledge of the briefing of the Commanders-in-Chief by Hitler on 22nd August, although no doubt he was aware that Brauchitsch had promised the Führer ‘a quick war’. So, likely though it is that he was informed through the usual flow of news circulating in higher military circles that the British and French might be intransigent, it is unlikely he heard then that Hitler had also pronounced on the 22nd: ‘I have ordered to the East my “Death Head Units” with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of Polish race or language’. And even if he had known there was nothing much he, in his position, could have done about it, for the slide into degradation by the political and military forces under the Nazis had already been permitted to pass the point of no return. All the military could do now, apart from an act of outright revolution for which they were neither adjusted nor organised, was mitigate the worst ramifications of evil perpetrated by the monster they had permitted and, at times, welcomed into their midst. Those who have never suffered a situation similar to that in Germany in 1939 are entitled to maintain that the generals should have behaved differently, but they should also view the situation from the generals’ point of view – and ask themselves, too, how many Allied generals, faced with circumstances they did not approve – such as the Bomber Offensive against civilians – made a worthwhile protest?

Predictably Guderian decided that XIX Corps’ main effort should be made by 3rd Panzer Division along his right flank where a deep penetration would benefit from the protection provided by two streams running parallel with the division’s boundaries. That way, too, he would have the satisfaction of quickly capturing the family home of Gross-Klonia. The two motorised divisions were told to enter less promising territory: one rather feels that Guderian attached little importance to their role.

He travelled with the leading tanks of 3rd Panzer Division in one of the latest armoured command vehicles, equipped with radio that enabled speech to his main headquarters in the rear and such other formations as he needed. His account of the first day’s action in Panzer Leader embodies the full fury of the prejudices he had acquired through frustration in the past decade: his anger with the artillery when they fired into the morning mist against orders, bracketing his vehicle and frightening the driver into a ditch: his disgust when he arrived at the Brahe to find stalemate, a complete loss of impetus without a single senior commander in sight to re-inject momentum. In sight of the family home he was enraged to discover that the commander of 6th Panzer Regiment had halted because he thought the river too strongly defended, and that the divisional commander, Generalleutnant Geyr von Schweppenburg, was nowhere to be found. Geyr, by his account, had been called back to Army Group for consultation – a barely credible state of affairs when one realises that his division was entirely fresh to battle and demanding of personal leadership. It took the example set by a young tank commander, who had found a bridge that was undemolished, and by his own intervention in conjunction with the commander of 3rd Rifle Brigade, to get things moving again. Soon infantry, supported by tanks, were across the river at hardly any cost. The main casualty was Schweppenburg’s injured pride: his petulant protests were loudly to be heard, both then and in after years when he complained about Guderian’s interference. Schweppenburg, of course, was a disappointed man and jealous of Guderian, who had overtaken him in the race for promotion. Yet he had little cause for complaint at his treatment on 1st September if he was absent at the crucial moment of decision and had failed to implement his Corps commander’s orders.

Fear of Polish horsed cavalry on the part of his staff and by infantry officers bothered Guderian as he toured the battlefield in his endeavours to overcome the inhibiting fears of troops who were largely inexperienced and under fire for the first time. His disgust at a commander who felt compelled to withdraw at news of the presence of Polish cavalry makes entertaining reading: ‘When I regained the use of my voice I asked the divisional commander if he had ever heard of Pomeranian grenadiers being broken by hostile cavalry.’ There came an assurance that the positions would be held. And in due course it was his personal leadership in the van of the attack which sent the motorised infantry division into an attack towards Tuchel. This, the first twenty-four hours’ experience of combat, was vital to the future self-confidence of the panzer force. Guderian, by his untiring efforts in supervising the establishment of both a technique of command at the front and also his own reputation for fearlessness and undeniable authority, where the fighting was heaviest, made success a certainty. Even if a few senior officers were bruised and disgruntled, the rest of his officers and men were deeply appreciative. All were impressed. It is after 1st September that one begins to detect that look of frank adulation on the faces of soldiers when they were photographed talking to Guderian.

Resistance by the Poles was, in fact, disjointed but usually fierce. The charge by the Pomorska Cavalry Brigade against 3rd Panzer Division’s tanks was but one of many gallant but quite fruitless attempts to redeem disaster. Polish deployment had been wrecked by air attacks upon communication centres. German tanks were exploiting that disruption by almost unchecked advances, blazing away at those enemy columns they caught on the roads, helping infantry and engineers in their assaults upon fortifications, moving cross-country in sweeping, outflanking attacks whenever the natural line of advance was blocked. Always they were on the move and thoroughly self-sufficient within the organisation of the all-arms panzer division; only rarely were they very much assisted by bombing attacks because, primarily, the Luftwaffe was engaged against targets deep in the Polish rear and, secondly, the means of close liaison between ground and air forces was as yet in its infancy. This was not surprising: the Luftwaffe was only luke warm to direct support of the Army. The Air Field Manual No. 16 laid down that ‘The mission of the Luftwaffe is to serve this purpose [the defeat of the enemy military forces as part of a process of breaking the will of the enemy] by conducting air warfare as part of the overall pattern for the conduct of the war’. And Generalleutnant Wolfram von Richthofen, who had experimented with close air support of armies in Spain, and who, in due course, was to make his reputation as the commander of an air force which carried out the most effective and devastating operations by bombers in close support of Guderian’s panzer divisions, was an opponent of the dive-bomber. Such difficulties as 3rd Panzer Division suffered were much more the outcome of failures in equipment and organisation than the result of the enemy’s retaliation. The little Pz I tanks and also the Pz IIs were far too thinly armoured to withstand even the light Polish field artillery and anti-tank gun fire. It was only the handful of Pz III and IV tanks, most of them manned for the sake of experience by the Panzer Demonstration training units, which produced a rare advantage. Supply problems were hampering too. On 2nd September Polish counter-attacks, which cut 3rd Panzer in two on the eastern bank of the Brahe, might have been more quickly contained had the tanks not been stalled for lack of fuel – the supply columns being deprived of adequate orders to send them forward in time to replenish the tanks after the first day of battle. Each inadequacy and breakdown was noted and, whenever possible within existing resources, put right on the spot by Nehring and his staff at Corps HQ or by the divisional and lower staffs when there came a lull in the fighting after the collapse of Polish resistance in the Corridor on 5th September. The bearer of victory was Guderian’s Corps which had sealed off the major Polish formations and made it impossible for them to break the cordon. Thus armoured troops had done all that Guderian claimed for them – broken through in a direct assault, carried out a pursuit and held vital ground under enemy pressure – and they had done these things at that lightning pace which he insisted was essential.

Recounting the first day’s fighting in a letter to Gretel on 4th September he cheered at his successes, mourned the dead and gave credit to the foe. ‘Series losses occurred at Gross-Klonia where a tank company lost one officer, one officer cadet and eight men due to the sudden lifting of the morning mist [despite bombing, the Polish artillery often fought to the end]. At the decisive point I exerted myself personally with success in order to overcome a slight set-back. The 3rd Panzer Division was the first to reach its objective in the night. The others were unable to push back the hard-fighting Poles quite so quickly … though fighting in woodland area with, here and there, heavy losses. With the deployment of a further infantry division and after some crises in heavy fighting, we succeeded in encircling completely the opposing enemy in the woods north of Schwetz to the west. On the 4th the encirclement was tightened. Several thousand prisoners, light and heavy batteries and much material was captured … Lively small skirmishes will continue for a while in the large woods as many scattered troops are still roaming about. The troops fought brilliantly and are in an excellent frame of mind.’ Then followed the names of officers who had fallen and a mention of his delight at meeting their younger son, Kurt, at a point ‘from where one can see the towers of Kulm’, his own birthplace.

Already Gretel had caught the excitement of his mood and on the 5th she had written: ‘I know that my men are the best soldiers. May God send them back to me with Victory – that Germany may live and at last find peace … I am burning to know where and how your troops are victorious… I followed your hard work and strife: now may God give you undisputed success.’

A momentous occasion for Guderian was his opportunity on 5th September to conduct Hitler, Himmler and their entourage round the battlefield – the party shepherded along by an officer who had once commanded the 10th Jägers – Erwin Rommel, in his capacity as Commander of Hitler’s headquarters in the field. For the first time the Führer was given a partial insight into the essentials of modern war. Some of his illusions were shattered, but the educational process was superficial – as time would show. Yet there is vast significance in his question to Guderian concerning the sight of shattered Polish artillery: ‘Our dive-bombers did that?’ and Guderian’s emphatic and proud reply, ‘No! Our panzers!’ At that moment it was faintly born upon Hitler, along with Guderian’s announcement of a mere 150 dead in his entire Corps, that the truly dominant weapon on land might be the tank force. Up to then he had been enslaved by Göring’s claim for the omnipotence of air power. Now he was shown that tanks were an ubiquitous, life-saving weapon and that air-power had its limitations. And the rapid advance of the other armoured formations to the gates of Warsaw and through the mountains in the south told the same story, leaving nobody of balanced judgement in any doubt that, even in unfavourable territory, panzer divisions could make a decisive impression.

But the campaign, though won, was far from over. Next day XIX Corps was sent across the Vistula and transported through East Prussia, close to Bartenstein, to concentrate on the left wing of the German Army as it prepared to drive south towards Brest Litovsk. This provided an opportunity for the Corps Commander to relax while his staff did the donkey work, and it was part of Guderian’s make-up that he could do so – in style. On the night of the 6th he slept in the bed which once had been used by Napoleon in Finkenstein Castle: with amused vanity he relished the privilege. The following night, while his troops drove up for action, he went deer shooting and bagged a large twelve-pointer. Fortunate the staff which has such a trusting commander. Within a few hours he was planning again, receiving his orders from Bock and negotiating for alterations so that his Corps, now strengthened by the substitution of 10th Panzer Division for 2nd Motorised Division, should be left free to make full use of its immense striking power. The initial scheme put forward by OKH to von Bock’s Army Group North on the 4/5th September was anything but productive of wide-ranging, fast panzer attacks. XIX Corps was to be kept in close attendance of Third Army and held back at infantry speed. Moreover the fear of strong intervention by the French in the West (the fact that it had not yet taken place after the Anglo-French declaration of war on 3rd September was the cause of some amazement) deterred OKH from committing major forces too far east when it appreciated that, already, the Poles were broken. Incursions east of a line Ostrow Mazowiecka – Warsaw were forbidden. Bock, whose concept of mobile operations was acute, protested without avail long before Guderian was told of the restrictions and had the chance to add his own vehement objections to Bock on 8th September. But on the 8th it suddenly transpired that Army Group South had not, after all, captured Warsaw: nor had it crossed the Vistula as it had claimed. In fact, 4th Panzer Division had taken a hammering, with the loss of 57 out of 120 tanks, as it tried to break into the city, and there were signs of a major Polish counter-offensive opening along the River Bzura to the west. In these changed circumstances Bock now obtained permission to use XIX Corps to wider and better effect, bringing it under direct command on the left of Third Army and aiming it against Brest Litovsk, far to the east and rear of Warsaw. While Rundstedt and Manstein were preparing for a tactical envelopment on the Bzura, Guderian was given the opportunity he yearned for – a strategic envelopment from north to south with massed panzers.

Already XXI Corps had begun to push across the River Narew against the sternly resisting Polish Narew Group and was aided initially by the presence of 10th Panzer Division. But the moment that division was Withdrawn from command and switched to the left flank where XIX Corps was being pushed through by Guderian, the impetus of XXI Corps’ operations was lost. Here, as elsewhere, infantry unsupported by armour had a rough ride against a determined enemy – and this applied equally to 10th Panzer’s infantry regiment. Last-minute changes of plan also caused confusion in XIX Corps whose inexperienced troops as yet lacked a common method of operation. Moreover unsubstantiated reports by the leading troops, which claimed advances that had not yet taken place, gave a false impression and caused the operation to be launched in a haphazard manner. It was the same in 10th Panzer as it had been with 3rd Panzer on the first day: local commanders were too far to the rear to enable them to both understand and have control over the situation: operations ground to a halt for lack of leadership. While the tanks remained on the home bank of the river, awaiting ferries or the construction of a bridge, the infantry were held up, and not until 1800 hrs on the 9th were a sufficient number of tanks across to join the infantry in an attack which was immediately successful. Guderian was on the spot, urging on the attack and ordering the building of bridges that would carry the tanks next day.

Again there was confusion after he had left the front and returned to his main headquarters for the routine evening exchange of views and orders with Nehring. During the night the commander of 20th Motorised Division, which was under orders to cross the river on the right of 10th Panzer, demanded and received the bridges which Guderian intended for use by the tanks. Progress was made only slowly against extremely stiff resistance from the 18th Polish Infantry Division which had already given XXI Corps a rough handling and now was withdrawing southward. It was 20th Motorised Division’s turn to grapple with 18th Division while the two panzer divisions began their drive towards the River Bug. Immediately the dangers to unarmoured troops in maintaining a deep penetration were exposed. 20th Motorised Division called for help almost at once, and 10th Panzer had to be diverted to their assistance. Meanwhile 3rd Panzer Division, moving into the lead on the left flank, felt itself in danger from the remains of the Narew Group and the Podlaska Cavalry Brigade which lurked on the left flank and rear from the vicinity of Grodno and Bialystok. Guderian ignores this threat in Panzer Leader, but the War Diary (KTB) of XIX Corps does not make light of it. Nehring realised the threat and, moreover, on the night of the 10th/11th was prevented with Main Headquarters from joining Guderian because Polish troops had cut the road. Rightly Guderian admits to moving the headquarters prematurely over the Narew: there was no need since the radio sets were well within range of each other and a headquarter’s effectiveness is reduced each time it makes a move. Furthermore the perils of a roving commander in the forefront of the battle were enunciated at this moment of maximum Polish reaction. That day Guderian himself was cut off and had to be rescued by motor-cyclists, and on the 12th the commander of 2nd Motorised Division, travelling ahead of his formation on reversion to Guderian’s Command, was cut off for several hours by Polish troops. These were the penalties of over-confidence allied to a failure to realise that, within the confines of a grapple when the enemy was present in strength, the major portion of panzer divisions was every bit as vulnerable as other troops and that the comparative safety inherent in vast movement was nullified until conditions of untrammelled mobility had been created.

These conditions were fully satisfied on 13th September when 18th Polish Division surrendered. OKH now took advantage of XIX Corps’ location deep among the enemy in the east to make use of it as a flank guard to the rest of the forces to the westward, and began to reinforce it by XXI Corps against the threat of flank attack from the forests to the east. Complex traffic control problems immediately arose, not only those caused by XIX Corps’ immense train of motor vehicles pouring from north to south along the inadequate road system towards Brest Litovsk, but also in passing XXI Corps’ slower moving, horse drawn transport from west to east across the XIX Corps’ axis. It said much for the system of traffic control which had been devised before the war, and the understanding among the staff, that this operation was actuated with a minimum of confusion. XIX Corps ran free and arrived at Brest Litovsk on the 14th, with its two panzer divisions leading and the motorised divisions echeloned back as flank protection on either wing. Speed was the essence of victory: at Zabinka the sudden arrival of 3rd Panzer Division caught Polish tanks in the act of detraining and destroyed them.

Guderian in Poland II

German General Guderian and Russian General Krivoshein at Soviet-German parade in occupied Poland, Brest 1939.

The Polish garrison of Brest would not surrender and was well entrenched among the ancient fortifications. This provided yet another opportunity for Guderian to demonstrate his corps’ versatility with a full-scale direct assault that lacked none of the power associated with heavily supported infantry forces in the past. Tanks, artillery and infantry from 10th Panzer and 20th Motorised Divisions were thrown into a deliberate attack on the 16th while 3rd Panzer and 2nd Motorised Divisions continued their advance to the south in pursuit of the Corps’ mission. But if there was nothing to prevent a drive to the south, overcoming the defences of Brest was another matter. Resistance was fierce and accidentally stiffened when German artillery fire fell short among its own infantry. At this the infantry faltered and failed to follow close upon the heels of that part of a creeping barrage which was accurate. Next day the matter was settled, by mutual consent, the final German assault coinciding with a despairing Polish attempt to break out. This, as Guderian wrote, marked the end of the campaign. Isolated garrisons throughout the country would prolong the fight for the sake of honour, but the entry of Russian troops in eastern Poland eradicated any Polish hope there might have been of establishing a coherent defence in that region.

In the closing phases was heard the mutter of yet another storm to come. On 15th September Bock decided to split XIX Corps in two, sending half north-eastward towards Slonin and the rest south-eastward -a task which he estimated would take an infantry corps eight days to complete but which motorised troops could accomplish in a fraction of that time. To co-ordinate this operation with XXI Corps he introduced Kluge’s Fourth Army. Hotly Guderian protested to Kluge at the splitting of his corps. It offended the principle of concentration which was sacred to his philosophy of armoured warfare and it would also, as he forcefully pointed out, make command and control almost impossible. Events precluded the movements, but at this moment was born a mistrust of Kluge that was to distinguish his dealing with that officer (and Bock) over the next five years. Yet it was these two who recommended him for the award of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross – an honour he deeply appreciated since ‘… it seemed to me to be primarily a vindication of my long struggle for the creation of the new armoured force’. It is equally likely that Bock and Kluge were motivated by immediate considerations and the reflected glory they would gather from Guderian’s accomplishment. For he – and they – could claim a 200-mile advance in ten days against tough opposition for losses which were lower, in proportion, than those of the other groups. Since September 1st XIX Corps had suffered only 650 killed and 1,586 wounded and missing – a mere 4 per cent of its strength. Tank losses for the entire Army were 217 and the number of dead 8,000, of whom the vast majority were in the infantry and only 1,500 in Army Group North.

There were matters which gave less cause for rejoicing in the aftermath. Guderian shared the soldiers’ disappointment that Hitler’s promise of an automatic withdrawal of opposition by the Western Powers once Poland was conquered, was not fulfilled, though he was hardly surprised. In his letter to Gretel on 4th September he had told her: Tn the meantime the political situation has developed in so far as a new world war is in the making. The whole affair will therefore last a long time and we must stiffen our necks’. Now they had to face an offensive campaign in the West at which they boggled and for which there was no plan. The redeployment of an army which had suffered heavy wear and tear in battle had to be swiftly implemented, initially as a defence measure against an expected French offensive which never came. At least half the tanks needed major workshop overhaul. In the haste of withdrawal from the sectors which were to be turned over to the Russians, some equipment had to be abandoned, but the bulk of the Army (Guderian included) was spared the horror of watching the SS units at their deadly work of extermination in that part of Poland which Germany retained. Heinz-Günther Guderian remained for two months, however, and records the ‘deplorable impression’ made by the Jewish ghettos in Warsaw and Lublin.

The campaign’s lessons should have been patently obvious, but although the Germans were avid in correcting relatively minor sins and omissions in their equipment, their methods and organisation, it was plain that the full meaning of their achievement in Poland eluded even their own commanders. At the heart of misunderstanding was a universal belief that the Poles never had a chance, that the might of Germany was certain to prevail against an inferior opponent – as well it might in course of time. Such a belief suited the adjusted arguments put forward by opposing factions. The panzer men claimed everything for themselves, as did some airmen. But whereas history tells us that the latter played an important role within the broadest concept of air power as an instrument of force, it also reminds us that only land forces seize ground. That was what the panzer troops did with such speed and effectiveness that Polish resistance never had a chance of adjusting itself to changed circumstances. It was upon the infantry that the higher German leadership, for a variety of reasons, heaped recrimination. It was said that they had failed to fight with the fervour of their forefathers and it could be inferred that, if the Army had gone to war with the horse and foot organisation Beck had preferred, execution of the campaign might have been so slow as to preclude a decision in time to pre-empt an irresistible offensive in the West. Hence it could be argued that, if Guderian had not engineered the panzer idea against the opposition of the majority, the war would not have been practicable. Few so argued, but Hitler had drawn his own conclusions.

As it was, Bock severely critised the performance of the infantry divisions (as part of an effort to restore their sense of purpose) coupled with a complaint that the artillery was immobile and far too slow in deploying its fire. Henceforward he demanded that the artillery must not delay the infantry and, moreover, should be capable of giving direct support from the front line. This was merely a reiteration of Guderian’s early arguments in favour of the tank. Manstein went further: tracked, motorised assault guns were required, he said. So it was that, as the inadequate Pz I tanks were gradually withdrawn from front-line service, they were rebuilt and fitted with larger guns of Czech origin, mounted, for limited traverse only, behind armour.

With none of these things could Guderian seriously quarrel, even though he resisted digressions from the turretted tank because they were, in his opinion, retrograde steps. He felt the tanks had stood up well against the Polish tanks – many of which were better armed than his own – and so he sought increases in the fire-power and armament of German tanks and expressed dissatisfaction with the standard of command at the lower levels. The Light Divisions, with their low tank content, had failed – as he expected they would – but with tank production reaching 125 per month and good Czech equipment becoming available it was now possible to up-grade these divisions to full panzer specifications. At the same time it was quite easy to resist a bizarre bid by the Cavalry to increase their establishment, even though horsed formations had amply demonstrated their terrible vulnerability in the late campaign. Yet the ‘Great Manoeuvres’ in Poland had not seriously altered the fundamental objections to all that Guderian stood for.

All Guderian could do was recommend. He was without direct power since the post of ‘Chief of Mobile Troops’ had been dissolved – unmourned – upon the outbreak of war when the representation of panzer interests had been transferred to the Commander of the Replacement Army – a somewhat anti-panzer officer called Generaloberst Fritz Fromm. In Guderian’s opinion the personalities who were made responsible for panzer matters were ‘not always in concert with the importance which the Panzer Command enjoys in modern war’. Nevertheless, if educated German military specialists were unwilling to come to terms with the changes which had been wrought upon the art of war as the result of Hitler’s ‘little war’ in Poland – and there is ample evidence in support of Guderian’s contention – an incredulous and ill-informed world was even less likely to do so. Though the major military powers, particularly Germany’s neighbours, realised that tanks and aircraft had played a vital role in the Polish debacle, they tended to minimise their effects on the grounds that this had been an unfair test against an impotent victim. Nothing such as had happened in Poland could possibly take place against France, it was argued. They would not long be left in doubt, if Hitler had his way, for Hitler was uplifted by success and this reinforcement of his self-confidence. He had seen the magic of his new weapons work: they were better than a bluff. No sooner had the dust from Poland settled than the Führer was giving the order, on 27th September, to prepare for an early invasion of Western Europe, a project which so alarmed some German officers, who rejected its feasibility let alone the attendant risk of really starting a Second World War, that they reactivated the project to assassinate Hitler. Among these dissidents were Hammerstein, Beck and a few civilians.

Guderian was not among the plotters – he might well have been the last they thought to invite – but he was far from content with the condition of Army affairs in addition to his worries about the state of the armoured forces. In October, at table, he had sensed what he took to be the Führer’s mood after the presentation of his Knight’s Cross. Seated upon Hitler’s right hand he gave a soldier’s reply to Hitler’s request for Guderian’s reactions when the Soviet Pact was announced in August; he said that it had given him a sense of security since it reduced the likelihood of a two-front war such as proved Germany’s undoing in the First World War. In Panzer Leader he expressed surprise that Hitler should look at him in amazement and displeasure, and says that only later did he come to understand Hitler’s intense hatred of Soviet Russia. It is possible that Guderian’s reply actually pleased the Führer, who had come to believe that most of his generals were whole-heartedly against the war and therefore against the Pact: it may have encouraged him to find one among the few who recognised the wisdom of his diplomacy and who did not flinch from fighting. But Guderian, unlike so many of his fellow professionals, had come to believe in Germany’s power to win battles and, in conversation, transmitted that conviction on the eve of the next round. For November 12th was the date chosen for the invasion of the West and the dissident generals had worked upon Brauchitsch and Haider to stand firm against what seemed, to them, a fatal step.

On November 5th Brauchitsch presented the case against invasion to Hitler, quoting the weather as a prime reason for postponement – an argument with which Guderian would have concurred because the mud produced by so much heavy rain would stop, or at least slow, the tanks. But Brauchitsch also threw doubt upon the fighting qualities of the infantry and this drove Hitler to fury. The Army Commander-in-Chief became a target for a vitriolic attack both upon his own integrity and that of the entire General Staff. At the height of his tirade, according to Goerlitz, he told Brauchitsch that he knew the generals were planning ‘something more than the offensive he had ordered’, an accidental shot in the dark which shook Brauchitsch to the roots. A thoroughly demoralised C-in-C went back to his Chief of Staff and tendered his resignation to Hitler. This, as Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, Hitler refused to accept. In much the same way, too, he brushed aside Keitel’s offer to resign when he detected the flight of his Führer’s confidence. Discipline was reasserted. The plot had to be called-off by the dissidents, of course. Not only did it seem possible that they were discovered, but neither Brauchitsch nor Haider were prepared to resist further, and without them there could be no progress. The postponement, on the 7th, of the offensive was almost incidental – the first of many deferments which were to recur at regular intervals throughout the winter.

On 23rd November Hitler felt provoked into reading his commanders a sharp lecture and left them in no doubt, as Guderian (who was there) put it, that, ‘The Luftwaffe generals, under the purposeful leadership of party comrade Göring, are entirely reliable; the admirals can be trusted to follow the Hitlerite line; but the Party cannot place unconditional trust in the good faith of the Army generals’. At this time Guderian and his XIX Corps were concentrated near Koblenz and under command of von Rundstedt’s Army Group A in readiness for the invasion. It was to Rundstedt’s Chief of Staff, his old friend Manstein, to whom Guderian first turned for consultation upon this matter which touched them all so deeply. Manstein agreed that something should be done but Rundstedt would not move in a positive manner – he kept to the letter of his oath. The same attitude he found among the other generals he consulted in his efforts to organise a protest. Finally he visited Reichenau who suggested that Guderian himself should speak to Hitler, and it was he who arranged an audience.

The record of that meeting is Guderian’s alone and is in the character of a man who cherished the Army’s honour above all else, besides being the possessor of a quite unquenchable spirit of aggression when posed with a problem which struck at the heart of his beliefs. Guderian’s correspondence leaves no doubt that the meeting took place and, if his account is true, contradicts Wheeler-Bennett’s claim that ‘Not a voice was raised in criticism or even in comment’, although it must be remembered, as Wheeler-Bennett remarks, that the main body of the Führer’s lecture gave rise to a wave of enthusiasm. Guderian says he was closeted with Hitler for an hour in which time he put the case for the generals and the plea that somebody had to speak out after the Führer told the Army generals that he did not trust them. In return Hitler blamed it all on the C-in-C, to which Guderian responded: ‘If you feel you cannot trust the present C-in-C of the Army then you must get rid of him …’ But after Hitler had asked him to name a suitable successor and Guderian had failed to suggest a single acceptable candidate from the top men, the soldier fell silent.

Now occurred the first of those increasingly recurrent scenes in which Hitler deemed it profitable to spend thirty minutes or more trying to convince a general whom he regarded as different and, perhaps, more sympathetic than the rest. There poured out a long diatribe in castigation of the generals and their resistance to Hitler’s wishes over the preceding years but, in the end, nothing constructive to settle the problem in the way that Guderian would have wished. The broken and pliable Brauchitsch remained as C-in-C and the schism widened between Hitler and OKW on the one hand and with the General Staff and OKH on the other. It is significant that Hitler should have felt the need to convince Guderian. Perhaps he felt that Guderian, because of his ‘modern’ outlook and personal struggle against the Army hierarchy, had a closer affinity with Nazi ideology than most Prussian military leaders (in a way he could have been right even though Guderian was no Nazi). Maybe he hoped to recruit another sycophant who one day, like Keitel, would supplant the recalcitrant members of OKH: if that is so he was hopelessly misled, for Guderian was incapable of sycophancy. Possibly he simply hoped to foster Guderian’s goodwill as that of key leader of the Army’s most potent striking force on the eve of the most testing campaign – but, in practice, he was to show that he had still not fully comprehended the meaning of the panzer divisions. It is more likely that a combination of all three motivations, plus several more of typically devious Hitlerian ingenuity, persuaded Hitler in an attempt to win the support of Germany’s most controversial operational commander. Perhaps he wished to evaluate Guderian as a potential Commander-in-Chief.

Guderian had demonstrated, as had several of his comrades, the absurdity of Seeckt’s demand that the Army should stay out of politics. He actually played an important part in thrusting it deeper – if unwittingly and against its will – into the political field. If he believed, as sometimes it is said he did, in political detachment, it is merely another example of his blindness to reality. This isolated him from those with whom he was destined to collaborate and created the divergences of view which were fundamental to his effectiveness as a leader. For Guderian was a target for the German generals’ distaste when they had the opportunity. Angrily he wrote to Gretel on 21st January 1940:

‘The recent evening with Herr v R [Rundstedt] began quite pleasantly and ended with a. debate started by him and Busch [Generaloberst Ernst Busch the commander of Sixteenth Army] about the Panzertruppe. It was a debate which I thought impossible in its lack of understanding and, in part, even hatefulness after the Polish campaign. I went home deeply disappointed. These people will never see me again. It is completely fruitless ever to expect anything from this well-known group of “comrades”. To these people can be traced back the reason for our irreplaceable equipment standing immobile out of doors for months on end to perish in the extreme cold. The damage arising from this is inconceivable.

‘Apart from this great annoyance I have that evening contracted a nasty infection and am suffering from catarrh and a cold of the most evil kind. And we continue to wait …

‘I have a lot to do for the next fortnight with regard to training courses. But everything suffers on account of the bad training facilities. Had they only left us at our depots! But that cannot be put right now.

‘It freezes, it is snowing. The big brook carries floating ice. It is mostly cloudy and dull. The months pass and what remains is a big question mark.’

Gretel probably smiled compassionately when she received that letter, knowing that a sick and despondent husband would recover and eventually forgive his tormentors. Forgiveness came easily to him on this occasion, as it happened, for on 11th February he could happily report to Gretel after a meeting at which the future campaign was discussed as a ‘war game’: ‘Apparently von R himself has the feeling that I was right to defend myself recently. At the meeting he was kindness itself …’ It mattered less that, in the same letter, he could complain: ‘I suffer from loneliness because I constantly meet strangers to whom I cannot speak freely – and so one talks banalities and what is closest to the heart remains unsaid.’ But this was the end of the period of isolation. Rundstedt’s change of mood marked a change in the fortunes of the creator of the Panzertruppe, for the plans they had discussed were the ones that Hitler favoured and which Guderian recognised as the revelation of a dream.

Nevertheless the fluctuation of sympathy towards Guderian among the German generals acted as a barometer which pointed to the climate of opinion of the Germans – not only towards the controversial subject of tank warfare but also with regard to Hitler’s grasp upon a war situation. As a politician Hitler had secured his position but his pretensions as a military genius’ were as yet hardly suspected. Guderian held out a key that might unlock the door to a military revolution by destroying the orthodox armies of a previous decade. At the same time he could help prove the prowess of the amateur Supreme Commander as the equal of professional soldiers. Much more than the issue of one campaign hinged upon the plan to invade Western Europe.

Lamoral Graaf von Egmont, (1522–1568)

Portrait of Lamoraal, Count of Egmont by Frans Pourbus the Elder

Flemish general, statesman, and Dutch nationalist hero whose execution helped spark the national uprising in the Netherlands against Spanish rule. Lamoral Egmont was born on November 18, 1522, into one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the Low Countries at the family estate of La Hamaide near Ellezelles in Hainaut. He was the second son of Graaf (Count) John IV of Egmont, who ruled the Duchy of Guelders until 1538. Educated for the military in Spain, Lamoral Egmont succeeded to his father’s countship in 1542. In 1544 Egmont married the Countess Palatine Sabine of Simmern, whose brother became Elector Palatine Frederick III. A close confidant of Holy Roman emperor Charles V, Egmont was regularly entrusted with diplomatic assignments. In 1554 he helped negotiate the marriage of King Philip II of Spain to Queen Mary of England.

Egmont played a major role while leading a light cavalry force in the Spanish victory over the French in the Battle of Saint-Quentin (August 10, 1557). In the Battle of Gravelines (July 13, 1558) near Calais, Egmont with some 12,000 Spanish and imperial troops encountered a French and German mercenary force of some 10,500 men under Marshal Paul des Thermes and, aided by English ships offshore, soundly defeated them. Half the French force were killed, and most of the remainder, including Thermes, were taken prisoner.

A popular and powerful figure in the Netherlands, Egmont in 1559, in recognition of his accomplishments, was made stadtholder of Flanders and Artois and became a member of the Council of Regency under the regent, Margaret of Austria. King Phillip II of Spain, however, was determined to end all special fiscal and political privileges in the Netherlands. Toward this end, he introduced Spanish taxes and sought to crush all heresy. Egmont joined with William of Orange (William the Silent) and Count Phillip de Montmorency of Horn in protesting the introduction in the Netherlands by Cardinal Antoine Perrenot Granvelle, bishop of Arras, of the inquisition, a major part of King Philip II’s effort to bring the Netherlands completely under Spanish control. The unpopular Granvelle departed in 1564, and Egmont traveled to Madrid to meet with Philip II in January 1565 and request a change in his policy toward the Netherlands. Egmont’s mission met rebuff, however. The moderates were removed from the Council of Regency, and Egmont retired to his estates.

Opposition to Spanish rule in the Netherlands continued to increase, but in 1566 Egmont, who was a staunch Catholic, repressed iconoclastic riots in Flanders and remained loyal to Philip II. After Philip II dispatched an army under Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, the third duke of Alba, to the Netherlands, William of Orange fled Brussels, but Egmont and Horn failed to heed William’s warning and chose to remain. Although Egmont had sworn an oath of loyalty in the spring of 1567, almost immediately upon his arrival at Brussels, on September 9, 1567, Alba ordered Egmont and Horn arrested on charges of treason. They were imprisoned at Ghent but were moved to Brussels after Louis of Nassau invaded the northern Netherlands in the spring of 1568. Pleas to Philip II from many of Europe’s reigning sovereigns, including Holy Roman emperor Maximilian II, for amnesty for the imprisoned nobles met rebuff. The infamous Council of Troubles (better known as the Council of Blood) condemned Egmont and Horn to death, and they were executed with other Netherlands nobles in the Great Square in Brussels the next day, June 5, 1568. Their deaths led to public protests throughout the Netherlands and significantly contributed to Dutch opposition to Spanish rule. The Revolt of the Netherlands (1568–1648), also known as the Eighty Years’ War, is usually dated from this event.

A talented military commander, as stadtholder Egmont was a political moderate. Had he lived, he would no doubt have been drawn into the military struggle against Spain.

Further Reading

Avermaete, J. Lamoral d’Egmont (1523–1568). Brussels: Ch. Dessart, 1943.

Oman, Sir Charles. A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1999.

Schiller, Friedrich, and Karl Adolf Buccheim. Historische Skizzen: Egmonts Leben und Tod, Belagerung von Antwerpen. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2008.

Prince Maurice of Orange during the Battle of Nieuwpoort, 1600

THE REVOLT OF THE NETHERLANDS

The Netherlands were an anomaly among Philip’s inherited dominions. Not only did they contain a significant minority of non-Catholics, but their tradition of limited religious tolerance and the gritty independence of their municipal and provincial institutions ran counter to Castilian ideas of royal government. Philip, who knew the country well and had lived there during the 1550s, came to believe that failure to reform church and government in the Netherlands would not only undermine the legitimacy of his rule but expose his soul to mortal peril. By attempting drastic reforms with little regard for local sensibilities, he provoked a general revolt that resulted in the loss of seven northern and eastern provinces and the creation of a new nation, the Republic of the Netherlands. The refusal of Philip and his successors to accept that outcome turned the revolt into a generalized European conflict that lasted, for Spain at least, until 1657. By that time, the Spanish empire had gravely weakened itself financially and militarily. Because Spain’s policy toward the Netherlands bears an important share of responsibility for the empire’s seventeenth-century decline, the conflict must be described in detail.

When Philip became ruler of the Netherlands in 1555, his father’s alliance with the old Burgundian nobility remained strong, and a vigorous, if unpopular, persecution had brought the problem of heresy under temporary control. The cost of the emperor’s wars and widespread discomfort over his religious policies had nevertheless created serious tensions. In the four years between Philip’s succession and his return to Spain in 1559, the government’s position began to erode. In the Estates-Generals of 1556 and 1558, leading nobles had protested the presence of Spanish troops in the Netherlands and tried to limit new assessments for the French wars that resulted in the great victory at St. Quentin in 1559. When Philip appointed a government to represent him in his absence, he resolved to limit the nobles’ influence. His half-sister, Margaret, Duchess of Parma, became regent. The presidency of the Council of State went to Anton Perrenot de Granvelle, Bishop of Arras, whose arrogant manner coupled with relatively humble origins offended the nobility. Viglius, a distinguished jurist of middle-class origins assumed the presidency of the Privy Council, and Charles, Count of Berlaymont, was given the Council of Finance. It soon became obvious that these three would make most of the major decisions for the region as a whole. All were competent, but the only noble among them was both poor and outside the inner circle of grandees who had long been central to Charles V’s system of governance. The nobles, led by William, Prince of Orange and the Count of Egmont, hated Granvelle, looked down on Berlaymont, and regarded Viglius with indifference. Above all, the nobility of the Netherlands feared that their growing exclusion from government would cost them the offices and financial rewards they needed to preserve their status in an age of rising costs and declining rents.

Philip’s religious policies aroused even greater hostility. The ecclesiastical structure of the Netherlands had been created in the early middle ages when the region was still rural and relatively under-populated. There were only four bishoprics, three of which fell under the jurisdiction of Reims in France, and one under the Archbishop of Cologne. Few of the great cities had bishops of their own, and many, even in the Netherlands, regarded the clergy as corrupt and ignorant. The emperor had known that such a church could scarcely provide pastoral care much less cope with the rise of heresy, and had been tinkering with the idea of a complete reorganization since 1551–1552. In 1558 Philip brought his father’s schemes to fruition by asking the pope to create 16 new bishoprics to be grouped into three provinces along linguistic and regional lines. The king would have the right of nomination to all but one of the new prelates, and only candidates of good moral character with degrees in either theology or canon law would be accepted.

The pope responded with unusual speed on May 12, 1559. The bull Super Universalis authorized the proposed changes, and the crown appointed a commission to implement them. The commission resolved the problem of funding 16 new bishops, in part by proposing the transfer of revenues from Spanish dioceses, many of which were poor enough to begin with. The rest of the money would be found by incorporating monastic foundations and their revenues into the new dioceses. The new bishops would displace the abbots and assume their revenues. Bulls of circumscription confirming these arrangements were issued in May and August of 1561. The Bishop of Arras, who guided the process from the start, had already been named Cardinal Granvelle and Archbishop of Mechelen.

The prospect of an effective church organization in the Netherlands terrified both the Protestant minority and those in municipal government who felt that a more effective prosecution of heretics would harm their trade with England and Germany. The nobles were infuriated. Many of them had held the right of nomination to church offices that were an important source of income and patronage as well as a means of providing for younger sons. Few of the latter were noted for their piety or learning and under the new rules would be excluded from church office in any case. The nobles would also lose influence in the powerful Estates of Brabant where three abbots, all from noble families, would be replaced by three bishops appointed by the crown. The reform, in short, was not only an infringement of local autonomy, but struck directly at the wealth and power of the nobility.

In 1564, the leading nobles engineered Granvelle’s dismissal with the help of friends at Phillip’s court. Flushed with new confidence, they dispatched the Count of Egmont to demand a reorganization of the governing councils. Their goal was to restore their authority and halt the executions for heresy. Egmont’s mission, however, reinforced the king’s growing belief that heresy in the Netherlands was becoming uncontrollable. To avoid the appearance of open conflict, Philip showered Egmont with favors and sent him home thinking that his mission was a success. Nothing could have been further than the truth. After the king made his true position known in May, 1565, the nobles launched a series of dramatic protests, the most importance of which was the Compromise des nobles, a document later regarded in the Netherlands as a declaration of independence. After the loyalist Berlaymont referred to the protesters as beggars, the dissidents adopted the epithet as the name of their party and appeared in public wearing beggar’s bowls around their necks. Fearing the worst, Margaret of Parma, issued the so-called Moderation, which effectively permitted the exercise of Protestantism in areas where it was already established. When Philip repudiated this measure as well, the Protestants removed or destroyed images in churches throughout the region with the encouragement of the nobles and some of the city governments.

The Iconoclasm of 1566 outraged Philip. Margaret’s government, supported by Egmont and the Prince of Orange, soon restored order, but the king decided that this would not solve the underlying problem. In 1567 he dispatched the Duke of Alba with an army of veterans to root out those he regarded as rebels and heretics. When Alba had finished his work, the king would come to the Netherlands, dismiss the duke for exceeding his instructions, and issue a general pardon. The scheme, to which Alba was a party, shows Philip II at his most devious. Alba arrived in Brussels in August, 1567, and arrested Egmont and the relatively innocent count of Hornes. Margaret resigned in protest on September 13, and Alba became Governor-General of the Netherlands with what amounted to proconsular authority over foreign and domestic affairs. Acting on decisions already made in Spain, he executed Egmont and Hornes and established a Council of Troubles to enforce the placards against heresy and condemn the signers of the Compromise as traitors. Between 1567 and 1576, the Council of Blood, as it was known in the Netherlands, condemned 8957 individuals, most of whom had long since fled to England or Germany. More than 1000, however, were executed. William of Orange, who had wisely retired to his estates in Germany before Alba’s arrival, raised an army of mercenaries and invaded the southern Netherlands. A second army under his brother, Louis of Nassau, invaded Friesland. Alba defeated both of them, and by Christmas, 1568, the entire country was once again reduced to obedience.

At this point, Philip should have come to the Netherlands as planned, but he did not do so. His son Don Carlos, whose strange behavior had long been a problem, died on July 24, 1568, leaving Spain without an heir. Then, on Christmas Eve of that year, the Moriscos of Granada rose in a bloody revolt that would require two years to suppress. This reminder that the Reconquest was not yet complete required the monarch’s presence, and Alba, already hated for his repressions, remained in the Netherlands for four more years. The duke distrusted his new subjects, and governed through what amounted to a military government of occupation administered by Spaniards and Italians. He imposed a badly needed uniform code of criminal law and installed the bishops who had been appointed in 1561—in some cases at gunpoint—but opposition to what most Netherlanders now saw as an alien regime continued to grow. The breaking point came in 1571–1572 when Philip’s troubles converged in an improbable and nearly catastrophic sequence of events.

Alba’s regime depended upon the support of an expensive, multinational army paid for by Spain. Philip, however, was forced to divert much of his revenue to quelling the Morisco rebellion. By 1570, pacification was largely complete, but in January of that year the North African corsairs recaptured Tunis, and in June, the Turkish fleet attacked Cyprus. Spain, together with most of the Italian states, formed the Holy League to combat the Muslim threat, but the League’s forces failed to relieve the island. In October, 1571, a second and far greater Christian fleet defeated the Turks at Lepanto. Hoping for a final victory over Turkish power in the Mediterranean, the League planned an even more ambitious effort for 1572. Philip’s commitment to war against the Ottomans now came into conflict with his commitment to the Netherlands. The cost of massive operations on two widely separated fronts was more than Spain could bear. Philip ordered Alba to impose new taxes on the Netherlands to, at the very least, pay his own expenses. Spanish contributions to the army in Flanders dropped to almost nothing in 1570–1571 while taxes in the Netherlands rose dramatically. It was not enough. Alba proposed a version of the Castilian alcabala known as the Tenth Penny. The new scheme aroused intense opposition, especially among the rich. When Alba finally imposed it without the approval of the Estates General, popular outrage approached uncontrollable levels.

As opposition to Spanish rule increased, the diplomatic situation in northern Europe began to deteriorate. Elizabeth I of England saw the presence of a large Spanish army in the Netherlands as a potential threat to her rule. In 1568 she seized a Spanish fleet carrying money for Alba’s troops and offered shelter to the Sea Beggars, a ferocious group of Netherlandish exiles who, under letters of marque from William of Orange, attacked shipping in the Channel and raided the smaller coastal towns of Holland and Zeeland. Alba responded by embargoing all trade with England. The Netherlands began to sink into an economic depression. France, too, became a problem when the Huguenots, under their leader Coligny, gained ascendancy over the young king Charles IX, and began to contemplate an attack on the Netherlands in support of their fellow Protestants. To forestall them, Alba dispatched a contingent of Spanish troops to France on his own authority.

In these circumstances, Philip’s involvement in the Ridolfi Plot ranks as one of the more bizarre misjudgments of his career. The king had for a decade tried to preserve the English alliance. Elizabeth’s actions in 1568 made it apparent to him that he had failed, and that England now represented a threat to his interests in the Netherlands. Misled by the Spanish ambassador Roberto Ridolfi and by the English Catholics who had taken refuge at Madrid, he ordered Alba to invade England in 1571 if Ridolfi or the English Catholics made good on their promise to assassinate the queen. Alba, who believed throughout his career that it would be madness to invade England, protested and did nothing. The assassination plot failed, as Alba—and perhaps Philip—knew it would (the king’s reasoning in this case has never been adequately explained), but the damage was done. Elizabeth responded by signing a treaty with France which raised the specter of a joint Anglo-French effort against Spain.

The Revolt of the Netherlands began in earnest when Elizabeth expelled the Sea Beggars from English ports. Ironically, this was neither a hostile act nor a consequence of the Ridolfi Plot, but an attempt to defuse the political situation in northwest Europe. The embargo had caused great distress in England as well as in the Netherlands, and Elizabeth now hoped to reach an accommodation with Alba on trade. The Beggars had in any case worn out their welcome by seizing the ships of neutral powers. Driven from England and with nowhere else to go, the Beggars seized the fishing village of Brill near Rotterdam on April 1 and called for a general revolt in the name of William of Orange. By this time, the harsh winter of 1571–1572 and the refusal of butchers, brewers, and bakers to sell their goods as a protest against the Tenth Penny added greatly to the distress caused by the paralysis of trade. Orange’s adherents had become a majority in several town councils, especially in Holland and Zeeland. In others, council members who were themselves loyal came under intolerable public pressure to declare for the rebels. At the same time, a rebel army under Count van den Bergh successfully invaded the northeastern provinces. Within weeks, much of the country was in revolt.

A more serious threat to Spanish rule came in the south. Orange’s brother, Louis of Nassau, seized Mons on the main road between Paris and Brussels. There, an army of Huguenots was to join forces with Orange and 20,000 Germans for an attack on Brussels. Alba, however, surrounded Mons long before either army arrived, and on July 17 destroyed an advance force of 6000 Huguenots at St. Ghislain, five miles from his lines. Orange, who crossed the border at about the same time, resolved to await a French declaration of war before going further. It never came. Charles IX, already embarrassed by the fiasco at St. Ghislain, became convinced that the English, treaty or no treaty, would do nothing to support a French invasion of the Netherlands. He began to think that he could use the situation to rid himself of Coligny and the Huguenots, and in an astonishing reversal of policy ordered the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre on August 23. Catholic mobs murdered Coligny and several thousand of his followers, abruptly freeing Alba from all fear of a French invasion. When Orange failed to relieve Alba’s siege of Mons, the duke took the city and began to move against the other rebel strongholds, beginning with Mechelen.

Mechelen offered no resistance, but Alba allowed his troops to sack the city because it had been one of the few to accept the Prince of Orange without being pressured to do so by a rebel army. He then sacked Zutphen and Naarden, whose offers to surrender came too late. In each case, these actions were accompanied by the wholesale slaughter of civilians. The duke’s campaign of deliberate frightfulness succeeded in that by Christmas every city outside Holland and Zeeland had returned to its allegiance; it failed in that it convinced many in Holland and Zeeland that they would be killed even if they surrendered. Orange retreated to Holland to make his last stand, and began to create the core of a rebel government based on Holland and Zeeland. Alba’s men besieged Haarlem, a city garrisoned by 4000 professional soldiers but without modern fortifications.

The siege of Haarlem marked a turning point in the revolt. It lasted eight months with both sides committing terrible atrocities. When the city at last surrendered on terms in July, 1573, Alba violated the agreement by executing some 2000 troops and several of the city’s magistrates, imposing a fine of 200,000 florins, and imprisoning a number of the leading towns-people. There could be no further hope of compromise. At one point the citizens of Haarlem had planned to burn the town rather than surrender. Now the people of Leiden claimed that if necessary they would cut off their left arms and eat them (keeping their right arms available to fight), while Alba’s next target, Alkmaar, prepared to open its dykes and drown the countryside rather than surrender. Alba thought that his actions after Haarlem had been overly generous, and, echoing his enemies, told the king that it would be better to flood both Holland and Zeeland than to let the rebels have them.

The growing intransigence on both sides owed much to the strain of war but more to the fact that the conflict was becoming increasingly religious in character. The conflict between Protestants and Catholics may not have been the primary cause of the conflict, but it made its resolution impossible. In forming his government, Orange had relied heavily upon the Calvinist minority whose fervor overwhelmed the counsels of the uncommitted. By the time he himself converted in 1573, the Calvinists had become the driving force of the revolt. Alba and the king knew this. To them, as to their Calvinist adversaries, the struggle had become one against evil incarnate: no negotiation was possible. Unfortunately for the Spanish, this conclusion came at a time when Spain no longer possessed the resources to continue. The naval campaigns of 1570–1573 against the Turks had drained the treasury, and when the siege of Haarlem ended, Alba’s troops had not been paid in 28 months. His refusal to allow them to sack the city, which would have been permitted under contemporary rules of war, provoked the first of a long series of mutinies that would cripple the Spanish army in years to come. On this occasion his own popularity with the troops defused the situation, but when he ordered a second assault against Alkmaar in September, the men refused. Alba lifted the siege on October 8. Three days later, the rebels defeated a royal fleet in battle on the Zuider Zee and captured its commander.

The king had long known that Alba would have to be replaced. He should have done it early in 1569, but waited until 1570 to appoint the duke of Medinaceli as Alba’s successor. He did not, however, recall Alba. Medinaceli stood more or less idly in the wings until January, 1573, when Philip revoked his appointment in favor of Don Luis de Requeséns, a Catalan who had most recently served as governor of Lombardy. The king remained committed to a policy of repression by force, and felt that Medinaceli lacked the toughness and military skill to win. Requeséns arrived in November, 1573, and Alba returned to Spain in December.

The new governor-general tried to continue Alba’s policy without the necessary resources. In January, 1574 the rebels destroyed another royal fleet in the Scheldt, and took Middelburg in the following month. Their grip on Zeeland was now secure. Requeséns managed to annihilate an invading army under Louis of Nassau at the Mook on April 14. Louis was killed, but the Spanish army, which remained unpaid, mutinied once again and held the city of Antwerp to ransom for 1 million florins. Paid at last, they besieged Leiden, but the citizens forced them to withdraw by flooding the surrounding countryside. Then in November, they mutinied again, and abandoned most of the places they had taken in Holland and Zeeland to the Orangists. Meanwhile, in September while the siege of Leiden was collapsing, the Turks retook Tunis and the Spanish fortress of La Goletta that controlled the access to the city’s harbor.

As 1575 began it seemed that all of Philip’s policies had failed. In the Mediterranean, the Turks had not only reversed the verdict of Lepanto, but returned matters to where they had been in 1534. The Spanish army in the Netherlands could no longer be controlled by its commanders, and the king was out of money. He had sent more than 19 million florins to Flanders between 1572 and 1575. Because receipts from the Netherlands had, for obvious reasons, dropped to almost nothing during the same period, it was not enough. Desperate, Philip at last agreed to negotiate, but even at this, one of the lowest points of his reign, he could not accept the rebel’s demand for freedom of worship. Negotiations broke down on July 13. In September, the crown again declared bankruptcy, and in October, William of Orange renounced all allegiance to Spain and declared independence. When Requeséns died in March, 1576, Orange controlled Holland and Zeeland with the exception of Haarlem and Amsterdam. The southern provinces, still nominally loyal, were left without an effective government. Finally, after several months, a group of southern nobles led by the duke of Aerschot seized the discredited Council of State in Brussels, and illegally convoked the States-General which had met only twice since 1559. While the States-General opened negotiations with William of Orange, Requeséns’s replacement, Don Juan de Austria, arrived in Luxemburg.

Don Juan was Philip II’s illegitimate half-brother and the victor at Lepanto, but at this point he had neither troops nor money. The tercios of Spain, together with several of the more important German units, remained in a state of mutiny. In what had by this time become a formal tradition, the soldiers organized themselves into an army under an elected leader (electo), and on the day after Don Juan’s arrival sacked Antwerp, the largest and wealthiest city in the Netherlands. Over 8000 citizens lost their lives in one of the worst atrocities of the sixteenth century. Four days later, while Antwerp still smoldered, the States-General and the Orangists signed the Pacification of Ghent which recognized the unity of “the common fatherland” and demanded the expulsion of the Spanish troops. In the “Perpetual Edict” of February 12, 1577, Don Juan reluctantly accepted the Pacification on condition that Catholicism be maintained throughout the provinces. The States-General paid the mutineers, and the Spanish marched off toward Italy.

At this point, Philip’s luck began to change. In August, 2 million ducats in bullion arrived from Peru, the largest shipment to date. The king renegotiated his loans and convinced his creditors to loan him an additional 10 million florins (about 5 million ducats). Above all, his diplomats concluded a truce with the Turks in the Mediterranean, leaving him free to concentrate on the Netherlands. There, by years’ end, the Pacification of Ghent was beginning to unravel on religious lines. Calvinists, although everywhere a minority, controlled most of the towns in Holland and Zeeland and were a substantial presence in much of Flanders and Brabant. Unrestrained by Orange, they embarked on a vigorous campaign to overthrow the Catholic governments of towns whose councils remained firmly Catholic. The provinces of Hainault and Artois formed the League of Arras to protect the Catholic faith and other Catholic provinces withheld their financial support. By the time Don Juan de Austria died on October 1, 1578, the States-General was without money and its troops had mutinied in imitation of their Spanish enemy.

This time, the king wasted no time in appointing a new governor-general: his nephew Alessandro Farnese, son of Margaret of Parma. It was an inspired choice. Skilled at both war and diplomacy, Farnese lost no time in exploiting the tension between the States-General and the Orangists. Before he arrived, Walloon Flanders joined Hainaut and Artois in the league of Arras, and in January, 1579, Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht responded by forming the League of Utrecht which grew to include the northeastern provinces and the major cities of West Flanders, including Antwerp. On May 17, the Treaty of Arras reunited the Walloon provinces with Spain. Farnese, reinforced by the Spanish veterans who had by now returned from Italy, began a series of brilliant campaigns that within six years restored Spanish control over the provinces south of the three great rivers that bisected the Netherlands: the Rhine, the Maas, and the Waal. Confessional lines hardened further as southern Protestants sought refuge in Holland and Zeeland, while northern Catholics moved south.