Brigadier General John Nicholson

(1822-1857)

Brigadier General John Nichols on was a dynamic, charismatic, and indefatigable Bengal Army leader, worshiped by some locals as a god named Nikalsain. He distinguished himself during the Indian Mutiny and was killed leading the attack on Delhi.

Nicholson was born in Ireland in December 1822 and was educated at Dungannon College. He received a Bengal Army cadet ship in 1839 and served in the First Afghan War. Nicholson participated in the defense of Ghazni and was taken prisoner when the garrison surrendered on 1 March 1842, although he escaped by bribing a guard. He was later appointed political officer in various regions and was assigned to the British force during the Second Sikh War. After this conflict, Nicholson became deputy commissioner of the Bannu district, where he earned a reputation as a strict but fair disciplinarian. He reportedly personally pursued criminals and displayed their severed heads on his desk.

When the Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, Nicholson was deputy commissioner of Peshawar. Actions were taken immediately to dis arm suspect native regiments, secure arsenals, and safeguard key positions. Nichols on was given command of the Punjab Moveable Column and advanced toward Delhi, disarming wavering sepoys and hanging mutineers en route.

Nicholson’s column reinforced British forces, commanded by Brigadier General Archdale Wilson, on the Delhi Ridge on 14 August 1857. On 7 September 1857, the British began preparations for besieging Delhi, which they eventually stormed. The attack on Delhi, with Nichols on leading the main column and designated the overall assault force commander, began early on 14 September. The Kashmir Gate was captured, but a number of attempts to seize the Lahore Gate were unsuccessful. Nicholson then waved his sword above his head and faced his soldiers to exhort them to follow him. As he did so, his back was momentarily presented to the rebels, who shot him. His wound was fatal, although he lingered until 23 September.

References: Edwardes (1963); Hibbert (1978); Hilton (1957); Leasor (1956); Waller (1990)

Delhi

Gurkhas and British Army units, as well as the Punjab Moveable Column commanded by the inspiring Brigadier General John Nicholson, arrived in Delhi by 14 August 1857 and increased the size of the Delhi Field Force by 4,200 men. The slow-moving British siege train reached Delhi on 4 September 1857, and the siting of the artillery began on 7 September. The following day, the British artillery barrage began, and the intense fire breached the Delhi city walls in a number of locations. The British force, divided into five columns, attacked Delhi early on 14 September. The first three columns (1st Column: 75th Foot, 1st Bengal Fusiliers, and 2nd Punjab Infantry, totaling 1,000 men; 2nd Column, consisting of 8th Foot, 2nd Bengal Fusiliers, and 4th Sikhs, 850 men total; and 3rd Column: 52nd Foot, Kumaon Regiment, and 1st Punjab Infantry, totaling 950 soldiers) were under Nicholson’s overall command, and their mission was to seize the Water Bastion and then the Kashmir Gate. The 4th Column (Sirmur Battalion, Guides’ Infantry, and a composite force of pickets, totaling 850 men, with 1,000 soldiers of the Kashmir Contingent in reserve), commanded by Major Charles Reid, was to cover the right flank of Nicholson’s force and capture the suburb of Kishangunj. Brigadier General Longfield’s 1,000-man 5th Column (61st Foot, 4th Punjab Infantry, and the Baluch Battalion) remained in reserve.

The British assault began on 14 September 1857 under a hail of rebel musketry fire and grapeshot, and a foothold was gained in the city after severe British losses, including the charismatic Nicholson. The Kashmir Gate was blown by sappers and created a significant breach in the walls. Confusion, poor coordination, and hard fighting followed. By the evening of 14 September, the British had established a foothold in the city, but at a cost of 66 officers and 1,104 men killed and wounded. After six days of determined (and occasionally drunken) urban fighting with no quarter given on either side, the British captured Delhi, suffering a tot al of 1,574 officers and men killed and wounded during the operation. The advance, according to many junior officers, was characterized by “the utmost incompetence” (Hibbert 1978, p. 310).The British victory was followed by looting, revenge, and the execution of mutineers.

Bahadur Shah was captured and his sons were shot after they surrendered to the British. The fall of Delhi was the turning point of the Indian Mutiny and ended mutineer dreams of a revived Mughal Empire. Moreover, it freed British troops to fight at Cawnpore and other locations.

References: Edwardes (1963); Collier (1964); Hibbert (1978); Hilton (1957); Leasor (1956)

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NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST

Like John Hunt Morgan, Nathan Bedford Forrest was brilliantly self-taught in the military art. Both were remarkably inventive practitioners of asymmetric warfare, leveraging meager resources to great effect against superior forces. Yet, while Morgan saw himself as a latter-day knight without armor, Forrest regarded himself as a soldier and a leader of soldiers. He was not a knight or a crusader, but a man of war, and “war,” he said, “means fighting, and fighting means killing.” Such was his stock in trade.

Adversaries such as Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman thought Forrest the most dangerous man west of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies. Sherman, whose approach to war at times more closely resembled than differed from Forrest’s, called him a “devil.” The word may not have been tossed off casually. Like the devil, Forrest knew how to sow chaos and destruction with consummate craft, and his method relied as heavily on intimidation, bluff, and deception as it did on saber’s edge and gunpowder. All that kept him from joining the ranks of the very greatest generals of the Civil War was his subordinate position, which confined him to a wholly tactical role, albeit one that sometimes had a strategic impact. Sherman was accorded independent command and thus had a larger, far more strategically significant field in which to practice his own sometimes calculatedly cruel version of warfare.

For many Americans, both in the 1860s and afterward, the Civil War has been thoroughly steeped in romance. For many Southerners in particular, this attitude was defined and amplified by the concept of “the Lost Cause,” the idea that the Confederate cause was noble and right, and that Southern soldiers and their leaders had possessed the skill and courage to achieve a righteous and deserved victory, but were deprived of it by dint of Northern demographic, economic, and industrial dominance. Nor have Northerners been immune to the romantic vision of the war. For some it was a great crusade, a holy struggle to save the Union and a contest to end the evil of slavery.

For many on both sides, the war seemed a hallowed adventure, and men of achieved distinction, aspiration to distinction, or the pretension to distinction clamored for high command, the honor of leading other men into romantically desperate battle.

But a select few, including some of the most strikingly successful generals of the Civil War, wanted no part of the supposed “romance” of war. William T. Sherman put his conception of war very simply—not in the most often quoted sentence “War is hell,” but in what he told the mayor of Atlanta: “War is cruelty.” And the general Sherman most feared and hated, Nathan Bedford Forrest, the man he called a “devil” and the commander he considered more dangerous than any other in the South, had his own single-sentence definition of war: “War means fighting, and fighting means killing.”

LIFE BEFORE THE WAR

Nathan Bedford Forrest was born on July 13, 1821, in a cabin near Chapel Hill, Tennessee. His father eked out a living as a blacksmith and would sire eleven more children before he died in 1838, leaving Nathan to support them and their widowed mother. Maybe it was this hard circumstance that, early in life, knocked notions of romance and glory out of the young man’s head.

His hardscrabble circumstances left no time for school—he spent a total of six months in a classroom—before his uncle Jonathan Forrest took him into his business in Hernando, Mississippi, in 1841. Four years later, Jonathan Forrest got into a heated argument with some business rivals, the Matlock brothers, which escalated into a violent brawl in which he was killed. Nathan Forrest responded by shooting and killing two of the brothers. After he emptied his double-barreled (two-shot) pistol in the process, a bystander tossed him a knife, which Forrest used to slash the two other Matlocks, wounding both. (One would later freely serve under Forrest during the Civil War.) There was nothing of blood vengeance about the killings, merely the evening of a score. As Nathan Bedford Forrest saw it, a man did not allow his kinsman’s killers to go unkilled. It was that simple.

As for young Forrest, he discovered in himself a business sense as natural as it was aggressive. He rapidly acquired a pair of cotton plantations in the Tennessee Delta country, holdings amounting to about three thousand acres by 1860, and he owned at least forty-two slaves. Before long, he came to realize that even more money was to be made in the buying and selling of slaves than in the raising of cotton, and so he opened a slave-trading business in Memphis. His apologists among historians point to evidence that Forrest treated his slaves well, perhaps not so much out of fellow feeling for them as human beings but out of good common business sense. His inventory was valuable, and as a good businessman he did everything he had to do to protect it.

However Forrest felt about slaves and slavery, the trade made him rich. Not only did he easily support his mother and siblings—even financing college educations for all of his brothers—Forrest became a local politician, gaining election in 1858 as a Memphis alderman. By the start of the Civil War, he held a fortune well in excess of a million dollars. Forrest pursued a course of self-education and became a voracious reader and a careful writer. During the Civil War, he would labor intensively over critical orders, concerned to strike just the right “pitch,” as he called it. Throughout his life, he would express embarrassment over his educational deficiencies, especially (he freely admitted) when he was in the company of well-educated men. Despite this, he seems never to have sought admittance to genteel Southern society. He was a notorious—and mostly winning—gambler, but (as his obituary put it) he was always “known to his acquaintances as a man of obscure origin and low associations . . . a man of great energy and brute courage.” Even ensconced in wealth, Forrest seems to have reveled in and traded on his reputation as a dangerous and unpredictable man.

THE WAR BEGINS

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861, the thirty-nine-year-old Forrest and his fifteen-year-old son presented themselves for enlistment as privates in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States. After training at Fort Wright in Randolph, Tennessee, they were mustered into Company E of the Tennessee Mounted Rifles on July 14. Forrest was shocked by the impoverished condition of the unit and offered to purchase sufficient horses, uniforms, and weapons to fit out a volunteer regiment. As a planter, Forrest was exempt from service under Confederate law, and those planters who did choose to serve always joined as officers. In response to his offer to finance a regiment, Governor Isham G. Harris commissioned Private Forrest a lieutenant colonel and asked him to recruit and train a battalion of volunteer Confederate Mounted Rangers. The officers of the Tennessee Mounted Rifles enthusiastically endorsed the governor’s commission because they recognized in Forrest, who had no training in the military art, a born fighter and a leader of fighting men. Forrest personally raised and trained the battalion, and by October was given command of an entire regiment, which was named for him.

It was not uncommon for wealthy Southerners to raise and finance individual companies during the Civil War, but it was almost unheard of for them to create entire battalions, let alone regiments. Moreover, from the beginning, Forrest molded his outfit into a unique fighting unit. He handpicked his troopers for their agility, horsemanship, daring, and, most of all, for their willingness to kill. After Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862), he would run a recruiting ad in the Memphis Appeal that called out, “Come on, boys, if you want a heap of fun and to kill some Yankees.” While he thought of his entire regiment as an elite fighting force, he selected from it the best of the best to serve as his “Escort Company,” a shock-troop unit of forty to ninety men, which, at one point, included eight of Forrest’s slaves. In addition to their fighting skill, the troops of the Escort Company were big men and, like Forrest himself (six-foot-two, 210 pounds), intimidating men. Forrest made it his practice to personally sharpen both edges of his cavalry saber before each battle.

Historians would make much of the fact that Forrest joined the Confederate army as a private and emerged as a general. Yet, as a general officer, he never personally gave up what he saw as the only important duty of an enlisted soldier: killing. The modern estimate is that Forrest killed at least thirty-three men in combat, using his pistol, his double-edge saber, or a shotgun.

FIRE IN THE SKY
General N.B. Forrest’s Raid Into West Tennessee
Obion River – December 1862 by

JOHN PAUL STRAIN

SKIRMISH AT SACRAMENTO, KENTUCKY, DECEMBER 28, 1861

Forrest’s first engagement occurred at the backwoods Kentucky village of Sacramento. Learning that a Union detachment of five hundred men was moving through the area, Forrest led just two hundred men in stealthy pursuit. Splitting this small force into three parts, he dismounted one portion to make a frontal attack while the two other elements, mounted, attacked the left and right flanks of the Union detachment. It was a classic envelopment—holding the enemy by its nose while unexpectedly hitting it from the two flanks—and it gave the impression of overwhelming strength. Key to Forrest’s tactics was deception. An inveterate gambler, he was also a natural bluffer—but the essence of the bluff was always intense and violent activity. “Forward, men,” he would order, “and mix with them!” In this first engagement of two hundred against more than twice that number, Forrest and his men killed or captured every one of the enemy.

BATTLE OF FORT DONELSON, FEBRUARY 11–16, 1862

Ordered to take his regiment to beleaguered Fort Donelson in February 1862, Forrest found himself being asked to surrender—not by the enemy, but by the Confederate command at the fort. Ulysses Grant had just taken Fort Henry (February 6), leaving Donelson cut off. On February 14, Union gunboats began to shell Fort Donelson. Confederate commander John Floyd decided to attempt a breakout through Grant’s siege lines and attacked early the next day. In this action, Forrest’s cavalry captured a Union artillery battery and cleared Grant’s troops from the three roads leading to the fort. Confident that he had given Floyd just what he needed to break out, Forrest was stunned when the general announced his decision to surrender both the fort and his command.

“I did not come here for the purpose of surrendering my command,” Forrest boomed. Pointing out the breakthrough he had made, he offered to use his cavalry as a rear guard to protect Floyd’s command. When the general remained adamant in his decision to give up, Forrest addressed the men of his own command: “Boys, these people are talking about surrendering, and I am going out of this place before they do or bust hell wide open.” With that, he probed the siege lines, found an opening, and decamped, leaving Floyd to surrender some twelve thousand men.

Forrest marched to Nashville. Recognizing that the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson meant that the Tennessee capital would soon be captured, he took it upon himself to impose martial law on the city. Inventorying everything of military value, especially the machinery in a local arms factory, he hurriedly arranged for its evacuation, thereby saving the Confederacy millions of dollars in scant war production funds.

BATTLE OF SHILOH, APRIL 6–7, 1862

Forrest and his regiment reached the Shiloh battlefield on the second day of combat, just in time to fight a rear-guard action that saved many Confederate soldiers. At Fallen Timbers he charged through General Sherman’s skirmish line only to realize that his men had stopped following him when they came up against the main body of an entire Union brigade. Undaunted, Forrest—mounted and alone—charged the front of the brigade. Blue-coated soldiers swarmed him. After emptying both of the Colt revolvers he carried, he drew his double-edged saber and began slashing. As he turned in the saddle to bring down his blade, a musket ball lodged in his spine, almost knocking him off his horse. Quickly recovering and despite his wound, Forrest seized the collar of the soldier who had fired at him and lifted him onto his horse. Using him as a human shield, he rode back to his own lines.

FIRST BATTLE OF MURFREESBORO, JULY 13, 1862

A full week passed before Forrest was able to get to a surgeon, who successfully extracted the musket ball in a procedure performed without anesthesia. Forrest spent more than a month recuperating in Memphis, then took command of a new and untested cavalry brigade cobbled together from an assortment of regiments that included citizen volunteers as well as slaves. On July 13, 1862, using a combination of bluff and violence, Forrest forced the surrender of the Union garrison at Murfreesboro.

The action earned him promotion to brigadier general, but in December 1862, the brigade he had led against Murfreesboro and molded into a crack unit was reassigned. Forrest was instructed to raise a new brigade of two thousand. Ordered to raid Union lines of supply and communications in western Tennessee in order to disrupt Grant’s siege of Vicksburg, Forrest protested that he needed time to train his recruits, few of whom were even armed. When Braxton Bragg refused to withdraw his order, Forrest became grimly determined to do his best. He decided that his best chance was to avoid any pitched battles and instead lure Grant’s troops into as many fruitless pursuits as possible, creating distractions and forcing Grant’s commanders to exhaust their men and to dilute and divert them from the siege.

Forrest led his inexperienced troopers in a series of hard rides and lightning raids, all hitand-run, never lingering long enough to engage enemy soldiers. He pushed into Kentucky; unlike the raider John Hunt Morgan, however, he stopped at the Ohio River. Along the way, Forrest accumulated a stock of Union weapons and a good many more recruits than he had started off with. While Morgan’s raids would have little strategic impact, Forrest’s vigorous rampage certainly interfered with and delayed Grant at Vicksburg.

BATTLE OF CEDAR BLUFF, MAY 3, 1863

Disgusted with being the victim of Forrest’s raids, Grant retaliated by sending a brigade of 1,500 Union cavalry under Colonel Abel Streight to counterraid Confederate positions in north Alabama and west Georgia. One of Streight’s objectives was to sever the railroad south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, thereby cutting Bragg’s lines of supply. Mustering no more than six hundred men, Forrest pursued Streight’s much larger force, never letting up for more than sixteen days until he had run Streight to ground at Cedar Bluff, Alabama, on May 3.

Forrest was no fool, and he knew that six hundred versus more than twice that number presented poor odds. Once again, he resorted to bluff and deception, parading some of his troopers around the top of a hill over and over, thereby giving the impression that he had about five thousand men. After doing this for a while, he sent a trooper under a flag of truce to demand Streight’s surrender. The Union commander consented to a meeting with Forrest, and when he inquired point-blank as to the size of his command, Forrest replied that he had “enough to whip you out of your boots.” When Streight refused to surrender, Forrest turned to his bugler. “Sound to mount,” he ordered. At this, Streight changed his mind and gave up without a fight.

BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA, SEPTEMBER 19–20, 1863

At the Battle of Chickamauga, Forrest predictably chafed under Bragg’s command. His cavalrymen vigorously pursued William Rosecrans’s retreating Army of the Cumberland, taking large numbers of prisoners. He was not alone among Bragg’s subordinates in his belief that following up on the Confederate victory at Chickamauga would not only retake Chattanooga, but badly cut up the Union forces. When Bragg refused to exploit the victory, Forrest thundered at him, calling him a “damned scoundrel” and “coward” and declaring that if Bragg were “any part of a man” he would “slap his jaw”—that is, challenge him to a duel. Instead, he warned Bragg that if he ever again tried to “interfere with” him or “cross [his] path,” it would be at the peril of his life. With this, he demanded a transfer. Two weeks later, Forrest was assigned to an independent command in Mississippi and, on December 4, 1863, he was promoted to major general.

BATTLE OF OKOLONA, MISSISSIPPI, FEBRUARY 22, 1864

Both Grant and Sherman regarded Forrest as a high-priority target, and Sherman repeatedly sent cavalry units in search of him. One such detachment, seven thousand men under Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, caught up with him at Okolona, Mississippi, only to find themselves in an exhausting running battle, in which Forrest maneuvered so as to attack them in the rear. Although Smith significantly outnumbered Forrest, the relentless nature of the Confederate attacks demoralized his command, which withdrew to Memphis. “Smith’s command was nearly double that of Forrest,” General Grant observed candidly, “but not equal man to man.”

FORT PILLOW MASSACRE, APRIL 12, 1864

On April 12, 1864, Forrest sent a Confederate division under Brigadier General James R. Chalmers to Fort Pillow, an earthwork fort on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Originally built by Confederate general Gideon Pillow, it had been captured by the Union and was occupied by a garrison consisting of 262 African-American soldiers and 295 whites. The mission of Fort Pillow was to cover Union supply lines. Forrest’s mission was to disrupt those very lines, and he understood that retaking Fort Pillow was essential to his mission. After Chalmers had succeeded in driving in the fort’s pickets and encircling the garrison, Forrest arrived and assumed personal command. He sent a surrender demand. When the garrison commander refused, he ordered an attack.

Southern and Northern accounts differ sharply as to what happened next. The only points beyond dispute are that 231 Union troops were killed, and about 100 were wounded; in addition, 168 whites and 58 blacks were captured. (Forrest lost just 14 killed and 86 wounded.) According to Forrest, the heavy Union losses were the result of a refusal to surrender. According to Union survivors of what they called a “massacre,” the garrison surrendered as soon as the fort had been breached, but Forrest’s men shouted, “No quarter! No quarter! Kill the damned niggers; shoot them down!” And so they did.

The congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, hardly an impartial body, concluded that Forrest and his troops were indeed guilty of atrocities. They had cut down most of the garrison after it had surrendered, and they had even buried some black soldiers alive. They also burned down tents that sheltered the Federal wounded.

BATTLE OF BRICE’S CROSSROADS, JUNE 10, 1864

The controversy concerning the full extent of Forrest’s role in the Fort Pillow Massacre is ongoing among historians, but most agree that it was and remains a bloody stain on the general’s record. More immediately, the event galvanized Northern resolve to stop Nathan Bedford Forrest. Yet when his 3,500 men went up against 8,500 under Union brigadier general Samuel D. Sturgis at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, Mississippi, on June 10, 1864, it was once again Forrest who emerged the victor.

After leading Sturgis and his command in a long pursuit calculated to exhaust them, Forrest deployed his troopers at the crossroads, poised to make a violent counterattack. When Sturgis’s infantry collided with Forrest’s cavalry, the worn-out Union soldiers were simply not up to resisting the counterattack. It came swiftly, viciously, and with maximum energy. The Union skirmish lines dissolved, sending retreating soldiers crashing into one another. Seizing on the chaos and panic, Forrest ordered a full cavalry charge into the retreating army. He wreaked havoc on Sturgis’s command, capturing 16 cannon, 176 wagons, and some 1,500 stands of small arms while killing 223 and wounding 394. A staggering 1,623 Union troops simply went missing, presumably having fled. Forrest’s casualties were 96 killed and 396 wounded. Particularly humiliating to the Union was the poor performance of the African-American regiment under Sturgis’s command.

TUPELO, MEMPHIS, AND JOHNSONVILLE, JULY 14–15, AUGUST 21, AND NOVEMBER 4-5, 1864

Sherman had greater success against Forrest at the Battle of Tupelo, Mississippi, on July 14 and 15, 1864. Union forces under Major General Andrew J. Smith not only succeeded in driving him from the field, but they also inflicted a wound on Forrest’s foot. Yet the “Wizard of the Saddle” (as the Southern press called him) continued his disruptive raids, including a daring but ultimately ineffective strike against the Memphis business district in August 1864 and an extremely destructive assault on Sherman’s supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee, on November 4-5, 1864.

FRANKLIN AND NASHVILLE CAMPAIGN, DECEMBER 1864

Driven out of Atlanta by Sherman, John Bell Hood led his Army of Tennessee in losing battles against Union forces at Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee. Forrest participated in these, but he clashed with Hood over the latter’s refusal to allow him to block Union major general John M. Schofield’s route of retreat from Franklin. Forrest finally prevailed—over Hood, but not over Schofield, who defeated him. Union troops under the redoubtable George H. Thomas hit Hood hard, dealing out a bloody defeat and forcing him to fall back on Nashville.

Withdrawing from Franklin to Nashville, Hood left Forrest to fight Union forces near Murfreesboro on December 5, 1864. This so-called Third Battle of Murfreesboro went badly for Forrest, even as Hood suffered a decisive defeat at Nashville. Forrest extricated himself from Murfreesboro and reached Nashville in time to conduct a valiant rear-guard action, which prevented the Army of Tennessee from being completely destroyed. Nevertheless, it was finished as a significant military force for the rest of the war. In February, Forrest was promoted to lieutenant general.

THE END

Forrest engaged Brigadier General James H. Wilson at the Battle of Selma, Alabama, on April 2, 1865, during Wilson’s Raid through Alabama and Georgia in March and April, but he was defeated by Wilson’s overwhelmingly superior numbers and received a severe saber wound in the battle. The following month, on May 4, General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama and Mississippi, surrendered. Although the capitulation of the department was binding on Forrest, many on both sides expected him to fight on. But Forrest knew that the war had been lost, and on May 9, 1865, he officially surrendered, publishing to his troops a farewell address that echoed Robert E. Lee’s own farewell to the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia. If any principal Confederate commander could have been expected to assume leadership of a guerrilla movement, Forrest was the most likely candidate. Instead, he told his soldiers that “it is our duty to divest ourselves of all . . . feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge.” Insofar as “it is in our power to do so,” he advised cultivating “friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended. . . . Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men.” His address continued:

I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.

AFTER THE WAR

Nathan Bedford Forrest commanded none of the great “set piece” battles of the Civil War, and his victories, though remarkable and costly to his Union adversaries, had no decisive strategic effect. Yet he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential commanders in the war. He was a leading exponent of guerrilla-style tactics in modern warfare, and, equally important, was among the first to create and practice the doctrine and tactics of mobile warfare. The quotation often attributed to him, that victory was a matter of “gittin thar fustest with the mostest,” is apocryphal (especially in its mock dialect form), yet getting there first with the most does express the essence of Forrest’s combat policy, the doctrine of mobility and maneuver, and it has formed the kernel of United States war-fighting practice from World War II onward.

Forrest set about trying to rebuild his business ventures and his fortune after the war. He settled in Memphis and became president of the Marion & Memphis Railroad, which, however, sank into bankruptcy under his leadership. He never recovered financially and scraped by at the end of his life as the warden of a state prison farm. For many, his postwar legacy is irredeemably tarnished by his involvement in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866 and evolved into a violent shadow government in opposition to the military state governments imposed during Reconstruction. It is widely but erroneously believed that Forrest was instrumental in founding the KKK. He was not; it is, however, highly likely (though not certain) that he was the organization’s first grand wizard, its official leader. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, Forrest himself approved of the KKK but publicly denied any direct association with it, and when he came to believe that the KKK had become ungovernable and merely vicious, he disavowed the organization completely. Nor did he advocate segregation or the doctrine of black inferiority. On the contrary, his avowed position was extraordinarily progressive on matters of race, especially for a man of his background, time, and place. He called for racial equality and racial harmony and believed that all professions should be open to all people, black or white.

Nathan Bedford Forrest died in Memphis on October 29, 1877, from complications of diabetes.

Bishop Peter des Roches of Winchester – Warrior Bishop

King John of England in battle with the Francs (left), Prince Louis VIII of France on the march (right).

Peter des Roches, parlayed his military activities into reaching the height of political and ecclesiastical power, serving both as a bishop and as regent for the young Henry III. He achieved these powers, and the respect of contemporaries, despite (or because of) his embrace of active fighting in battle. These men were comfortable in warfare, wore armor, bore weapons, and used them personally in battle, and yet they rose to great heights of power in the secular and ecclesiastical hierarchies, and were often praised for their devotion to God and king.

He played active roles in the campaigns against the French army of Prince Louis that invaded England in 1217, on crusade with Frederick II, and in command of a papal army towards the end of his life. Roger of Wendover wrote of Peter’s elevation in 1205 that he was `a man of the knightly order and skilled in the ways of war.’ He was chosen specifically for his knightly qualities and because of his loyalty to King John and his willingness to advance the king’s interests. His election was eventually confirmed by Innocent III, with the pope consecrating him in person, and he was soon given legatine authority in England.

Peter served John in a variety of roles, including as justiciar when the king was out of the country. One such event in 1214 has elicited the pejorative comment from W. L. Warren that John left the country `and its government to the strong, if not too clean, hands of his ablest henchmen. Peter des Roches, foreign adventurer and bishop of Winchester.’ In addition to showing Bishop Peter’s importance, Warren’s comment also demonstrates the normative bias inherent in most treatments of warrior-clerics. This attitude is also in keeping with the broader approach to Peter des Roches by modern historians. They have often seen him as `a warrior and financier first and foremost, a bishop in little more than name.’ Contemporaries, however, were much more pragmatic about the value of Peter’s actions, and the licit nature of his military activities. Peter was a trusted advisor and military commander during Richard and John’s reigns. He spent a large amount of time in the royal chamber, and was intimately involved in Richard’s wars in France, paying ransoms, overseeing the payment of crossbowmen, and in negotiations over truces, among other duties. In 1205 he was elected to the bishopric of Winchester with the support of King John, and with letters of support from Barthelemey de Vendome, archbishop of Tours. Whereas Nicholas Vincent uses this fact to reinforce his contention (probably accurate) that des Roches was not, in fact, a `Poitevin’, as his English detractors claimed, but, rather, from Touraine, it is also important in that the archbishop was willing to support his election, despite (or perhaps because of) Peter’s previous military actions. Peter had served as both the treasurer and archdeacon of Poitiers during Barthelemey’s episcopate, and the archbishop’s decision to support and endorse his candidacy speaks to the multiplicity of perceptions regarding warrior-clerics. Peter’s election was met with some scorn from observers, however, who derided him as a courtier-bishop and someone more concerned with secular, rather than spiritual affairs. Vincent argues that while `commentators have regarded him as a churchman in little more than name. the pope clearly believed that he possessed some redeeming features. Perhaps above all, Innocent [III] hoped that would serve as a channel of communication with King John.’ Such an interpretation is supported by other examples of Innocent’s political outlook, including his intercession for Philip of Dreux. It is also possible, of course, that Innocent saw in Peter the sort of prelate who could be useful leading papal armies, or functioning effectively on crusade, two things that des Roches did successfully later in his career.

Upon becoming bishop, Peter continued his active military role. He served as a commander both in a continental campaign and on a royal expedition into Wales. On the Welsh campaign he was one of the three named commanders of the army, and the annalist recorded that they established three castles against the Welsh. During his episcopate, his household earned the reputation, no doubt spurred on by his successes in war, for being more notable in its martial exploits rather than in its piety. He was the chief English prelate to stand by the king during the Interdict imposed by Innocent III over the king’s refusal to allow Stephen Langton, the pope’s choice for archbishop of Canterbury, into the country, and Peter’s decision to stay and serve the king probably did not endear him to contemporary authors (or modern historians). Tis loyalty to John earned him the ire of his episcopal colleagues. Vincent reckons, with some amusement, that `While exiled churchmen bewailed the liberties of the church, the bishop of Winchester was busy at the Exchequer or in leading a royal army into Wales.’ Peter’s loyalty to John also probably galled Innocent III, who had supported his elevation. However, with the ending of the Interdict in 1213, and John’s surrendering England to papal protection, des Roches was once again on the winning side of the political argument. He was not forced to do penance for his decision to stay at court, nor had he been suspended from office during the five-year Interdict. In fact, he enjoyed papal support in his election in 1214 to the archbishopric of York, over the strenuous objections of Langton. Langton, however, successfully organized opposition to des Roches, and managed to delay confirmation until support for his elevation collapsed.

Despite his failure to become an archbishop, Peter continued to faithfully serve John for the remainder of his reign. During the period of mounting baronial opposition to the king, Innocent III instructed Peter des Roches and his royal colleagues to support King John against the rebels, whom he termed `”worse than Saracens, for they are trying to depose a king who, would succour the Holy Land.”‘ Upon John’s death Peter oversaw the accession of Henry III in 1216 at the age of nine, and he personally crowned the young king. In fact, his most famous military achievements came on behalf of Henry III during the French invasion led by Prince Louis. The History of William Marshal provides some of the best evidence for Peter des Roches’s military actions on behalf of John and Henry III. At the siege of Torksey Peter led the fourth division of the royal army, earning praise from the author and earning the sobriquet `worthy’ (buens) from the poet. William Marshal then gave a rousing address, and in his wisdom he `entrusted his crossbowmen to Peter, the worthy bishop of Winchester, who was in charge of leading them, who had sound knowledge in that sphere, and who strove hard to perform well.’ There was no indication in the text of anything untoward about Peter’s role as a military leader, nor the fact that he was especially adept at commanding crossbowmen. This last aspect is especially interesting, since crossbowmen had been condemned by the Second Lateran Council in 1139 and clerics were specifically prohibited from commanding them, according to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. This was a prohibition that des Roches ignored without consequence or criticism. Peter’s role was presented only as laudable by the author of the Histoire. During the battle, Peter followed William Marshal `shouting loudly and many times, in all directions: “This way! God is with the Marshal!”‘ He actively led the royal troops in battle, and the author consciously linked him with the royalist hero William Marshal.

In a later battle, probably the great royalist victory at Lincoln, Peter was described as playing an even greater and more personal role. The author praised his knightly feats, writing,

The worthy bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, who was in charge that day of advising our side, was not slow or slothful, and he knew how to make use of his arms. In the company of his fine troop of men he gave chase, and in the course of that pursuit he did very well indeed, capturing knights as he went.

Far from being condemned, Peter’s active embrace of violence and his essentially chivalric feats of arms were cause for praise and fame. The Histoire had a highly royalist perspective, and it assessed Peter’s actions on that basis. His support of the royal cause (the same cause as that of the hero, William Marshal) was what mattered for his reputation. His support of William Marshal and the cause of Henry III made his behavior laudable. For the author of the Histoire, his clerical status played little or no role in assessing the acceptability of his military actions. Nicholas Vincent argues that his training in Richard I’s army probably gave him good strategic insights, and `It was largely to the credit of des Roches that the combat developed along far different, far more advantageous lines than those envisaged by the army’s veteran commander [William Marshal].’86 Furthermore, he `was very much the hero of the day’ and even the chroniclers who were `generally most hostile to des Roches, Wendover and the author of the Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, bury their enmity to marvel at his martial prowess.’ The battle was described by some chroniclers in explicitly crusader terms, with John’s forces taking on the role of the holy defenders. Peter absolved the Angevin army before the battle, and his soldiers donned white crosses to signify their favor in God’s eyes. Their victory went a long way towards proving that claim.

Other sources were a little more circumspect about Peter’s enthusiasm for military combat. The bishop came in for criticism in contemporary chronicles and songs for being worldly, but it was often for his devotion to the king’s finances and his role at the Exchequer. That being said, one source did call him `the arms bearer of Winchester’ (Wintoniensis armiger), but went on to criticize his monetary policy, rather than his embrace of military action. Vincent argues that Peter was a conundrum for contemporaries, `Even at the height of his triumph, at the battle of Lincoln in 1217, the chroniclers mingle respect for his military prowess with a suggestion that he was involved in the seamier professional side of army life: the command of the king’s highly unrespectable crossbowmen.’ This example represents a crucial distinction in the treatment of warrior-clerics. His actual fighting on behalf of the king was not as much of a problem as his embrace of, as Vincent puts it, `the seamier professional side of army life’. Fighting in a licit cause was often seen as permissible, but transgressing normative boundaries between clerics and knights was cause for greater concern.

During des Roches’ years in power after John’s death, he worked closely with the papal legates to bring the English church into line with several of the reforms adopted at the Lateran Council of 1215. He promulgated moral reforms, including laws against clerical drunkenness, and was zealous in carrying them out on his own estates, though less so at the Exchequer. Politically, des Roches was an important member of the regency government for young Henry III, in which he oversaw royal affairs alongside his rival Hubert de Burgh and William Marshal (until his death in 1219), and subsequently Pandulf de Masca, bishop of Norwich (and papal legate). His political machinations made him many enemies, and he was alternately in and out of favor over the next several years. He took the cross in 1221 after being accused of treason, but returned in 1223 and joined the anti-de Burgh faction. He continued his military activities, including the leading of a `significant contingent of the army’ against the Welsh that year. His return was reasonably short lived, as he was forced from power by his political opponents, and so he took up a military command and joined the crusade of Frederick II in 1227. He led, along with Bishop William Brewer of Exeter, the English contingent in Frederick’s army, despite Frederick’s being excommunicated. Peter placed the success of the crusade over the `political designs of the papacy’ and refused to shun contact with Frederick. Frederick succeeded in reoccupying Jerusalem, by treaty rather than combat, and in March of 1229 des Roches accompanied him into the city, where the emperor was crowned in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While the nature of the retaking of Jerusalem caused some controversy, it largely enhanced des Roches’ reputation back in England. As Vincent notes, des Roches `returned to England feted as warrior and statesman’ and as a hero, though it also served to reinforce his image as an outsider and cosmopolitan in an England rapidly becoming more xenophobic. Des Roches became embroiled in a number of political squabbles upon his return, and by 1234 he was driven again from high political office. He was rescued from obscurity by his overseas interests, and he `accepted an invitation from the papacy to assist in Gregory IX’s campaign against the rebellious citizens of Rome.’ He was a confidant of the pope, who was a celebrated canonist. While the pope did not give des Roches unqualified support, his endorsement, especially of des Roches’s military abilities, demonstrates the importance and relative acceptability of warrior-clerics. The noted chronicler Matthew Paris makes explicit that the pope summoned him because of his great wealth, and his noted military reputation. Peter ended his career as he had begun it, serving two lords on the battlefield.

The regency government of Peter des Roches

GUNTHER LUETJENS

Gunther Luetjens, who succeeded Wilhelm Marschall as commander of the German fleet, was born in Wiesbaden on May 25, 1889, the son of a merchant. Enthralled from childhood by stories about the sea, he decided to make the navy his career and joined as an officer-cadet in 1907. In 1910, he graduated from the Naval Academy, ranking 20th in a class of 160. As befitted his high standing, he was assigned to a battleship. Ironically, Luetjens was uncomfortable on large ships. As soon as the opportunity arose, he transferred to the torpedo boats and served on them throughout World War I. In the Weimar days, he alternated between training and staff assignments (mainly involving transport vessels) and was considered an outstanding instructor. He served as commander of the 1st Torpedo Boat Flotilla (1929-1931) and, after a staff tour as chief of the naval officer personnel department (1932-1934), Luetjens was given command of the cruiser Karlsruhe in 1934 and spent the first half of 1935 in South American waters, showing the German flag. When he returned to Germany, he was named chief of staff of Naval District North Sea, serving in that capacity until March 16, 1936, when Erich Raeder named him head of the naval personnel office. The grand admiral needed a staff officer of proven ability for the rapidly expanding navy, and the experienced and dependable Captain Luetjens was his man.

Gunther Luetjens was a taciturn officer with a monk-like devotion to his calling. His friends considered him quite charming once they got beyond his stoic exterior. A confirmed monarchist, he never used the Nazi salute or carried an admiral’s dagger with a swastika on it, preferring instead to wear his old Imperial Navy dirk. He even lodged a protest against Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, but it was buried by Hermann Boehm, the fleet commander at the time.

In 1938 Raeder named Luetjens commander-in-chief of Reconnaissance Forces, and in late 1939, as a rear admiral, he took part in the mining operations off the English coast. He was promoted to vice admiral effective January 1, 1940. After Luetjens’s cruisers took part in the Norwegian campaign, Erich Raeder appointed him fleet commander (Flottenchef) on June 18, 1940. In him, the grand admiral found exactly the man he wanted to command the surface fleet: an officer of the old school he could trust to obey every order SKL gave him without too many questions or objections. The fact that Luetjens had spent the bulk of his career in the torpedo boat and cruiser arms did not make him particularly well qualified to command the fleet, but this did not seem to bother Raeder, who had Luetjens promoted to full admiral on September 1, 1940.

Meanwhile, at Raeder’s urging, Luetjens attempted to take the Gneisenau and the Hipper out on a raid into the Atlantic on June 20, 1940, but his flagship Gneisenau was torpedoed the same day and out of action for months. Meanwhile, Admiral Luetjens was in charge of the naval portion of Operation Sea Lion, under the overall supervision of Admiral Raeder.

Repairs on the Gneisenau were completed by December, when Luetjens went out to sea again with it and the Scharnhorst. However, he ran into a gale, and both ships were damaged by heavy seas, forcing him to return to base again. On his third attempt, in early 1941, Admiral Luetjens finally succeeded in breaking out into the North Atlantic and fell on the British shipping lanes with the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. They sank 13 British merchant ships and tankers before being confronted by the British battleship Rodney and its escorts. In accordance with the take-no-risks orders of Raeder and Hitler, Luetjens felt obliged to retire rather than engage in a surface battle. On the morning of March 23, 1941, he entered the port of Brest, France. He was then summoned to Berlin.

On Saturday, April 26, 1941, Gunther Luetjens took his leave of Grand Admiral Raeder after having been briefed on his next mission: he was to conduct a raid in the Atlantic with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck. It would be the maiden voyage of Germany’s monstrous 42,000-ton battleship.

Luetjens voiced some valid objections to this plan. The difference between the endurance of the two ships would prevent them from operating together as a homogeneous force, he pointed out. Luetjens wanted to wait until the Scharnhorst was repaired and the Tirpitz, the sister ship of the Bismarck, completed her crew training period, which would be in about four months. As a combined force, these three ships would be very difficult indeed to defeat. Otherwise, the German Navy would be committing its forces piecemeal. Raeder, however, argued the opposite case. Each pause in the Battle of the Atlantic helped the enemy; also, it was essential to create a diversion in the Atlantic, to force the British to withdraw naval forces from the Mediterranean, thus reducing pressure on the Italian-German supply routes to North Africa.

Although he had by far the stronger argument, Luetjens let himself be persuaded. He would obey the grand admiral’s wishes. When Adolf Hitler visited Gotenhafen (now the Polish port of Gydnia) on May 5, to inspect both the Tirpitz and the Bismarck, he also expressed doubts about the advisability of this operation; Luetjens, however, strongly supported Raeder’s point of view. Had Luetjens said what he really thought and agreed with Hitler, it is quite likely that the tragedy of the Bismarck would have been avoided. However, faced with the united front of his naval experts, Hitler decided not to interfere with Raeder’s plans, despite his personal reservations. The stage was set for yet another naval disaster.

Once again, as with Marschall, the fleet commander was cautioned again and again against taking unnecessary risks. Raeder told him to use “prudence and care” and not to stake too much for the sake of a limited success of dubious value. At his SKL briefing, Luetjens was told that “the primary objective is the destruction of the enemy’s carrying capacity. Enemy warships will be engaged only in furtherance of this objective, and provided such engagements can take place without excessive risks.”

After leaving Berlin, Gunther Luetjens paid a visit to his friend and predecessor Wilhelm Marschall, a champion of the right of freedom of action for a commander at sea. Marschall, now in retirement, warned him not to feel too closely bound by the Supreme Naval Staff’s instructions.

“No, thank you,” Luetjens said as he rejected Marschall’s advice. “There have already been two Fleet Commanders who have lost their jobs owing to friction with the Admiralty, and I don’t want to be the third. I know what they want, and shall carry out their orders.”

The Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen left port on May 18 and were spotted by British reconnaissance aircraft on May 22. The Home Fleet tried to prevent them from breaking out into the Atlantic, and on the morning of May 24, a classic naval battle took place in the Denmark Straits, between Iceland and Greenland. Firing from 10 miles away, the Bismarck sank the British Hood. One of the German 15-inch (380mm) shells hit her aft magazine, setting off 112 tons of high explosives. The 42,000-ton battle cruiser went down only six minutes after the Bismarck opened fire, taking 1,416 officers and men with her, including Vice Admiral Sir Lancelot Holland. Only three men survived.

One minute later, at 6:01 a. m., the Bismarck turned its guns on the British battleship Prince of Wales. By 6:13 a. m. this opponent had sustained several hits and was laying a smoke screen, trying to escape the German task force. Ernst Lindemann, the captain of the Bismarck, wanted to pursue the crippled British battleship and finish her off, but Luetjens-ever mindful of SKL orders-refused to do so. A violent argument ensued, but Luetjens held firm, and the Prince of Wales escaped.

The Bismarck headed for the open Atlantic, where the British lost her. Luetjens, however, broke radio silence and transmitted a long report to Berlin, enabling the British to re-fix his position. Even so, the bearings were misinterpreted and the pursuing force went off in the wrong direction. The Bismarck was re-sighted by a Catalina flying boat two days later, and a wave of Swordfish dive-bombers from Vice Admiral Somerville’s Force H attacked the German battleship with torpedoes late in the afternoon of May 26. One of these struck aft, jamming the rudder and making the battleship unmaneuverable. Efforts at repairing her proved futile. Nor could the Bismarck be towed, for Luetjens had already detached the Prinz Eugen. As he had predicted, it did not have the endurance to operate with the Bismarck.


On May 27, the British closed in on the Bismarck in overwhelming force. The last anyone ever saw of Admiral Luetjens was early that morning, as he and his staff walked across the deck of the Bismarck and headed for the bridge. He was unusually quiet and did not bother to return the salutes of the crew. About 9 a. m. the bridge suddenly became an inferno of flames, and this is probably when Gunther Luetjens perished, but this is impossible to confirm. Only 110 of the Bismarck’s crew survived, while some 2,100 (including the entire fleet staff) perished. Many of them drowned after the battleship sank at 10:40 a. m. The British made very little effort to save them. Some have suggested that had the situation been reversed, there would probably have been another “war crimes” trial in 1946 or 1947.

Luetjens made several serious mistakes in his last campaign. There is little doubt but that he should have sunk the Prince of Wales when he had the chance. Adolf Hitler was right when he dressed down Grand Admiral Raeder for this failure, which was at least as much Raeder’s as Luetjens’s. Hitler showed a rare flash of strategic judgment when he recognized this fact-although he seems to have forgotten that he himself had urged caution from time to time. In any event, after the Bismarck debacle, Hitler never fully trusted Erich Raeder’s judgment again. “Whereas up till then he had generally allowed me a free hand, he now became much more critical and clung more than previously to his own views,” Raeder wrote later. 29 This was not necessarily bad for the German Navy. Raeder had exhibited questionable judgment since before the war began and since 1939 had shown a tendency to dissipate the navy’s strength on raids of dubious value. Hitler’s biggest mistake as a naval leader-other than not building enough U-boats and going to war too soon-was not replacing Erich Raeder much sooner.

Although from all accounts a good person, Luetjens must go down in history as a failure as a fleet commander. Certainly he was an unlucky one. His fatal flaws included an underestimation of the potential threat of aircraft to capital ships, a gross violation of the most elementary principles of radio security, and a slavelike obedience to the poor strategic thinking of the Supreme Naval Staff-even to the point of allowing it to cloud his own, sounder judgment. “Luetjens,” one former German naval officer wrote, “personifies the tragedy of a commander whose personal ability was sacrificed on the altar of dutiful obedience.”

And what happened to Wilhelm Marschall, who had warned Luetjens not to listen too closely to the instructions of Raeder and his Supreme Naval Staff? His career seemed to be over until Admiral Raeder suddenly called him out of retirement on August 12, 1942, and named him commanding admiral, France. Six weeks later he was promoted to commander-in-chief of Naval Group West, then headquartered in Paris. Raeder had thus promoted the fleet commander he had previously dubbed a failure and worse, and whom he had forced into retirement in semi-official disgrace. Even so, when Marschall tried to bring up the subject of his actions in Norway, Raeder refused to discuss it. Did this mean that Raeder had realized the validity of Marschall’s concept of tactical freedom of action for commanders at sea and thus recognized his own errors? Marschall thought so but also believed that Raeder “would rather have bitten his tongue out than admit it.”

Generaladmiral Marschall was among those senior officers retired in the first weeks of the Doenitz regime in 1943. He was again recalled in June 1944, to head a special authority staff for the Danube River. Retired again in November 1944, he was reappointed commander-in-chief of Naval Command West on April 19, 1945. He held this post until the end of the war. After being released from Allied captivity in mid-1947, Wilhelm Marschall wrote a number of articles on naval history and strategy. He died at Moelln (in Schleswig-Holstein) on March 20, 1976, at the age of 89.

Most Dangerous Woman on Earth I

The last train west chugged across the River Bug to the German-occupied side of the Russo-German border at 0200 on 22 June 1941. An hour later, as the short summer night lifted from the central Ukraine, Hitler violated his non-aggression pact with Stalin and launched Operation Barbarossa. German artillery shells screamed across a 3,200-kilometre frontier from the Arctic to the Black Sea. Three million Axis soldiers (182 divisions), 6,000 big guns, 2,000 Luftwaffe warplanes, and thousands of tanks flooded into the Ukraine in what was to be the last German Blitzkrieg.

‘The sooner Russia is crushed, the better,’ Hitler cheered.

Kiev, capital of Ukraine and its largest city, was one of Hitler’s first objectives, along with Moscow and Leningrad. Luftwaffe Me-109 fighters and Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers began pounding and strafing the city only weeks after the invasion began. Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko, 24, a history student at Kiev University, was walking to college when a swarm of fighters buzzed in low and fast to chew up the block. She dashed for cover. That night, she made up her mind. ‘I am going to fight,’ she informed her parents. Her father was a veteran of the Russian Revolution, on the side of the winning Reds. ‘I’ll be at the recruiting office tomorrow.’ Within a year, this petite, dark-eyed beauty would become the most dangerous woman of the twentieth century, the deadliest female sniper in any army, in any war.

Pavlichenko arrived at the recruiting office the next morning wearing high heels and a crêpe de Chine dress with her nails manicured and her dark, wavy hair groomed short. She was slim, fit and beautiful, with delicate features and dark brown eyes that seemed to burn into a man’s soul. Volunteers were lined up around the block.

The recruiter was an older soldier pulled off the line because of age or ill health. He looked up in surprise when she stood before him and announced her intentions. ‘I’ve come to enlist as a sniper.’ This smart-looking woman looked more like a fashion model than a German-killer. He laughed at her.

‘Why don’t you work in the factories like other women?’ he demanded. ‘You’re needed there what with our men marching off to the front lines.’

Although in the spirit of Soviet equality Russia was arguably less sexist than its Western allies, the Soviet military nonetheless harboured a deep prejudice against recruiting women for combat. The high command maintained women were meant to nurture, not to kill. Females served mainly in administrative, medical and support roles. However, the exceptional circum stances of war on the Eastern Front, with Russia’s survival at stake, attenuated objections to women serving on the front lines. By the time the Second World War ended, over 800,000 Russian women had served as pilots, machine gunners, tank crew members, partisans and snipers. Nearly 200,000 would be decorated; ninety-two eventually received the Hero of the Soviet Union accolade, the nation’s highest award.

The rapid industrial development of the Soviet Union and the worldwide depression of the late 1920s and 1930s combined to move large numbers of Russians from their farms to the cities. In the spirit of egalitarianism, young women were encouraged to work, go to college and participate in paramilitary training. Women learned to shoot weapons, pilot aircraft, drive trucks and survive in battle. Lyudmila Pavlichenko was one of them.

She was born on 12 July 1916, during the dark years of the First World War in the market city of Bila Tserkva (‘White Church’). The family moved to nearby Kiev when she was fourteen, where she completed high school while working as a grinder at the Kiev Arsenal Factory. A gifted but wilful student, a tomboy who would rather hunt small game with a catapult than play with dolls, she was an avid reader of travel and adventure stories.

Like many boys and girls of the times, she was fond of military-related sports and activities. Her taste for adventure included skydiving and flying small planes. She excelled as a remarkable natural rifle shot and won the coveted Voroshilov Sharp shooter Badge while competing in regional rifle matches. As Hitler’s spreading war threatened to engulf the U.S.S.R., she prepared by enrolling in a volunteer sniper school arranged by her local Komsomol (Party youth section). She put her diploma in a box and forgot about it until 22 June 1941, when the Nazis swarmed across the River Bug to attack the Ukraine.

By then she was in her fourth year as a history student working on an advanced degree. At the recruiting office, she took out her sniper’s diploma, Voroshilov Badge and other shooting and paramilitary honours and dumped them on the table in front of the recruiter who had laughed at her. The expression on his face changed. He looked at the documents and his eyes slowly lifted to regard with grudging respect the impudent young fashion plate across the table from him.

‘You’re going to get your fingernails dirty,’ he said as he stamped her application. Accepted.

With that, Pavlichenko was on her way to becoming one of 2,000 female snipers to serve in the Red Army, only 500 of whom would survive the war.

Through bitter experience against Finnish sharpshooters like Simo Häyhä, who picked off more than 500 Russian soldiers during the Winter War of 1939–40, the Soviet Union learned the value of snipers and began to place more emphasis on its sniper training programme. Special sniper units were embedded in nearly all major unit commands. Young Lyudmila Pavlichenko found herself assigned to the Red Army’s V. I. Chapayev 25th Rifle Division of the Independent Maritime Army.

She received truncated training in basic military and sniper tactics, such as observation techniques, camouflage and concealment, shot placement and target selection. There was no time for anything else. Although the Red Army’s five million soldiers made it the world’s largest, it was ill-equipped and inefficient and found itself in chaos as the Germans advanced as much as 450 kilometres within the first week of the attack. By 8 July, the enemy were almost at the gates of Kiev, fighting in the forests less than 150 kilometres away.

Tales of horror and raw courage filtered back to Kiev as Pavlichenko and her fellow replacements prepared to move to the front to join the 25th Rifles – of a Soviet tank ablaze from antitank shells charging German positions until its crew burned to death; of a pilot who plunged his damaged warplane into a convoy of German fuel trucks; of rear guards who fought to the death rather than surrender or withdraw . . .

Russian women and children were conscripted to fight. Pretty teenage girls were found dead on the battlefield, still clutching automatic weapons. Soviet soldiers who panicked and fled the fighting were shot by their own officers. Those unfortunates taken prisoner were declared traitors and their families’ rations taken away, which often meant starvation.

Before being sent to the front, Pavlichenko was issued the standard infantry weapon, derived from one that had been in Russian and then Soviet service since 1891 – a five-shot, bolt-action 7.62-mm calibre Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifle that fired a 9.59-gram bullet at 854 m/sec and was effective out to 550 metres. Adopted as the standard sniper’s rifle in 1932, it could be fired with authority up to 1,250 metres with the addition of a telescopic sight.

Pavlichenko’s 4-power fixed PE scope, a copy of scopes manufactured by Carl Zeiss, had a 4° field of view, was nearly a foot long and added about half a kilogram to the rifle’s weight. Thumb screws allowed adjustments for windage, drift, lead and angle of elevation.

Armed with her new rifle and a combat load of 120 cartridges, no longer a fashion plate but garbed out in her baggy olive drab male’s uniform, with camouflage overalls, sniper’s hood and net face mask in her pack, the young history student turned prospective German-killer massed with thousands of other recruits and replacements at the Kiev rail yards for trans port to the front. Her unit was already engaged in desperate combat with Romanian and German forces in Moldavia as it attempted to block the southern approach to the Black Sea city of Odessa, the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union and the site of a Soviet naval base.

The rail yards were in turmoil as soldiers with their packs and weapons piled into boxcars, open wagons, and anything else that could be moved by rail. Trains arrived and departed day and night, their steel wheels and shrill whistles signalling an urgency that Russia had not experienced since Napoleon’s invasion.

Apprehensive, her nerves drawn tight, Pavlichenko rooted into a boxcar between a grizzled sergeant with bad oral hygiene and a kid of about seventeen who cried a lot. For two days, the train rumbled across Bessarabia towards Moldavia and the Dniester River, where the 25th was making its stand, stopping only long enough to refuel and allow troops to stretch and boil up a few pots of potatoes and cabbage.

Moldavia, formerly part of Romania, was an ancient land known for its castles and wine. Stalin had recently absorbed it as part of his non-aggression pact with Hitler. The Dniester River formed the boundary between Moldavia and the Ukraine. The river entered the Black Sea about 150 kilometres west of Odessa.

Summer dust in clouds obscured the horizons as the troop train neared its destination. Russian forces were on the move by any means available, not only by train but also by trucks, touring cars, horses and wagons, carts, bicycles and on foot. Late in the afternoon of the second day, Pavlichenko and her comrades heard the distant thunder of duelling artillery.

‘I knew my task was to shoot human beings,’ Pavlichenko later reflected. ‘In theory, that was fine, but I knew that the real thing would be completely different.’ She was to discover, as others had, that there was a big difference between shooting at a target and shooting at a pair of eyes that jumped out at you through the telescopic sight. She wondered if she possessed that kind of courage, the answer to which she would find within days after her arrival in the wooded, hilly country between the Dniester and Odessa. Her No. 2 Company, 54th Razinsky Regiment, 25th Division, was retreating from the vicinity of the Prut River to dig in on the distant approaches to Odessa.

The Romanian General Staff had issued its Directive 31 when Barbarossa began, in it stipulating that its Fourth Army and elements of the German Eleventh Army would defeat the Russians between the Dniester and the Tiligulskiy Banks to occupy Odessa. Odessa was heavily defended by the Soviet 25th, 95th, and 421st Rifle Divisions, supported by the 2nd Cavalry Division, an NKVD (Internal Security) regiment, three squadrons of bombers and fighters and contingents of artillery. Fortunately, the city could not be completely surrounded due to the superiority of the Soviet Black Sea fleet.

Three separate lines formed the Russian defence, the first a thin line of trenches, pillboxes and anti-tank ditches some 50 kilometres outside the city. If it fell, the Russians would withdraw to an alternative defensive line 8 kilometres from Odessa. The final protective line meant house-to-house fighting inside the ancient city originally founded by the Empress Catherine the Great in 1794.

Stalin issued strict orders that cowards would be shot by NKVD troops. It was forbidden in Pavlichenko’s company even to think about death, much less talk about it.

No. 2 Company was in the centre of the first defensive line when the German offensive against Odessa began on 8 August 1941, preceded by thunder barrages of enemy artillery that pounded hills and left stands of timber splintered into smoking kindling. Pavlichenko and other soldiers from her company hugged the ground overlooking a narrow open field. Visible through her rifle scope in the pale morning sun were a number of enemy soldiers moving about on the near side of a hill. Easy targets. However, to her dismay, she discovered she could not squeeze the trigger on them. Her finger seemed frozen stiff. Perhaps she hadn’t the courage to be a sniper after all.

Nearby lay a young soldier with whom she had become acquainted on the train ride from Kiev. A nice boy with a sunny disposition. The sudden crackle of rifle and machine-gun fire from the opposing tree line signalled a probe. Pavlichenko heard a sound like a hammer striking a melon, followed by a cry of pain and surprise. To her horror, she saw that her friend had taken a round through the head, exploding it in a pink mist of blood and brains. ‘After that,’ she later recalled, ‘nothing could stop me.’

She killed her first Germans a day or so later during the four-day fight for Hill 54.2 near Belyayevka, which her regiment was defending. She and a spotter crawled through thick under growth outside the defensive perimeter and set up a hide over looking the enemy’s most likely avenue of approach. Russia’s was the first military to employ snipers in two-person teams consisting of a shooter and an observer.

Through his Model 40 trench periscope, Pavlichenko’s spotter picked up movement in a wooded area about 300 metres away. Pavlichenko shifted into a better position, the outline of her form broken up by her one-piece overall into which she had woven natural foliage.

Her 4-power scope picked out three Germans stealthily moving in and out of shadow, unaware that they were being watched. She had zeroed in her weapon at 300 metres for point of aim and point of impact. Taking into account variables such as wind speed (light), bullet weight, breath control and trigger squeeze, she cross-haired slightly off centre of mass on the lead enemy soldier. Military snipers usually aimed for the chest area and depended on tissue damage, organ trauma and blood loss to make the kill.

The barrel of her gun danced in front of her eyes from the excitement. She took a deep, calming breath and waited for the right moment. This time she did not hesitate. As soon as her target paused to look around, she squeezed her trigger. The impact of the bullet slapped the German around and dropped him to his knees. Even before he plunged face down in the forest, dead, she acquired and killed a second German. The third soldier panicked and fled before she could finish him. ‘There was no change of expression on her pretty face,’ her spotter reported, then predicted, ‘Russia is going to be talking about Lyudmila Pavlichenko.’

Anger at the Germans for having invaded her homeland turned to hate as Axis soldiers broke through Soviet defences and closed in on the city. The enemy reached the main line of Russian resistance within two weeks after the offensive launched and began shelling Odessa with a reinforcement of ten heavy artillery batteries.

The pretty sharpshooter from Kiev University hardened and quickly adapted to the harsh and dangerous climate of battle. She and other Soviet snipers were granted virtual free rein in carrying out their missions of scouting and slowing down, harassing and demoralizing the advance by long-distance suppressive fire against key targets of opportunity. The roar of artillery, the scream of dive bombers and the clatter of machine-gun fire continued unabated for days, broken only by the occasional lull. Smoke and dust smudged the sky in thick clouds and columns.

A sniper had to possess patience, perseverance, nerves of steel and a steady trigger finger. Pavlichenko proved to be as relentless as she was strikingly attractive. The perfect killing machine. Day after day, she and an observer crept into no-man’s land to ply her bloody trade. Fortified by hatred and her sense of mission, she often crawled into a hide and remained for up to eighteen hours at a time, living on dry bread and water, conducting bodily functions in place, all just to get the one shot, one kill of the sniper’s trade. Her body count grew almost daily.

Her preferred targets were enemy officers, followed by communications specialists, NCOs, dog handlers that were often used to track snipers, and, of course, enemy snipers, a deadly cat-and-mouse game played out in the wreckage and rubble of war. Losers received no second chance.

Crafty and deceptive, with a strong sense of survival, she employed various ploys and tricks to keep going when the life-span of the average sniper was about three weeks. Captured snipers from either side were summarily executed on the spot.

Thunderstorms or artillery barrages that masked the report of her rifle were her favourite times to hunt since her targets were less alert to her presence and her location more difficult to pinpoint. She rarely fired more than once from the same position and never returned twice to the same hide. She tied strips of cloth to bushes in danger areas to flutter in errant breezes and distract enemy observers. Grenades, mines and smoke booby traps provided further protection against intrusion. Sometimes a clothing store mannequin disguised as a tempting target lured enemy snipers into exposing themselves.

She proved unequalled in the cold-blooded act of sniper psychological warfare. Consistently taking out the second man in a patrol or column struck panic in advancing squads or platoons to the point that no one wanted to be placed in that position. Occasionally, she deliberately shot a man in the legs so that his pleas for help would entice other targets into her sights.

Most Dangerous Woman on Earth II

The single crack of Pavlichenko’s 7.62-mm Mosin-Nagant in no-man’s land was enough to strike terror into the hearts of German and Romanian soldiers. Whenever she went to the rear, infantrymen gawked in disbelief that this slip of a girl could be the ruthless killer whose reputation was beginning to spread throughout the Ukraine. By 29 August, twenty-eight days into the Odessa offensive, her body count stood at 100, or an average kill rate of nearly four per day. Few snipers in any war had been so successful in such a short period of time. In effect, she was already becoming the world’s most accomplished bringer of death.

A small cemetery held by the Russians near Il’lchevka State Farm was strategically important because of the Voznesensk– Odessa highway that ran across the farm. Snipers were deployed ahead of the defensive perimeter. Working alone for the day, Pavlichenko climbed a tree inside the graveyard to obtain a better view of the terrain, thinking the foliage would conceal her.

Barely had she settled in than the sharp crack of a rifle sent a bullet scything through the leaves inches above her head. A second shot followed in the echo of the first. Realizing she was in dire straits, with at least two enemy snipers zeroing in on her, she let go and fell twelve feet to the ground, landing on grass between two graves. Pain shot up her spine. She gritted her teeth against it and lay perfectly still, pretending to be dead, knowing that to move even a finger would draw more fire to finish her off.

Hours passed. The midday sun baked her body. Stinging, biting insects crawled on her face.

Finally the sun went down. She crept from the cemetery under cover of darkness and back to her own lines, where she spent two days in bed and more than a week afterwards hobbling around with the aid of a makeshift crutch.

The enemy continued to pound Odessa. No quarter asked, none given. Russia suffered an unrecoverable blow when the northwestern heights fell and Germans occupied the area south of the Sakhoy Bank, which allowed their artillery to reach any sector of Odessa and the Soviet defences.

Choking summer dust stirred up by boots, horses and tank tracks hung in clouds as high as city buildings, turning to mud when the cold rains of late September began. Downpours lasted for days and turned tracks and roads into impassable bogs. Horses sank up to their collars, men to their knees, and vehicles to their axles.

Scarcely a building in Odessa remained intact. Fighting raged in Mikhailovsky Square, on the Potemkin Stairs and around the imposing dome of the First Orthodox Church. Fires burned almost constantly. It was a target-rich environment for snipers like Pavlichenko, now promoted to senior sergeant. She chalked up another eighty-seven kills.

On 9 October 1941, a shell splinter gashed her scalp during fighting in the Dainitskiy sector. Her company commander, Junior Lieutenant Petrenko fell dead. Sergeant-Major Leonid Kitsenko, a sniper and senior NCO of Pavlichenko’s sniper element, was wounded. Pavlichenko assumed command, a valiant figure wearing a dirty bandage around her head, cap pulled low to hold the dressing in place, face masked by blood, struggling to maintain consciousness.

‘Cowards!’ a political officer railed against her frightened comrades. ‘Look at the woman. Pavlichenko has the balls of a man.’

She was eventually moved to a medical battalion, from which she was released only days before Odessa fell on 15 October. In accordance with Stalin’s scorched-earth policy, Russian sabotage groups destroyed as much of the city as they could and land-mined the rest while the Black Sea Fleet evacuated more than 350,000 soldiers and civilians under cover of darkness. The Soviets lost 16,578 dead and 24,690 wounded during the siege. German and Romanian casualties numbered 17,729 dead and 63,345 wounded, among whom were 187 killed one shot at a time by Sergeant Lyudmila Pavlichenko.

More savage fighting lay ahead for her at Sevastopol, which by this time was also soon to come under siege.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko the sniper cannot be considered apart from the times and circumstances that created her. Without the war, she would likely have lived out her life as an obscure history teacher somewhere in the Ukraine. As it was, however, with 187 confirmed kills, she was becoming celebrated throughout the Crimean region by the time her 25th Rifles escaped Odessa to reinforce Sevastopol. The entire world would soon hear about ‘the most dangerous woman of the century’.

Sevastopol, lying at the tip of the Crimean Peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, was one of the most defensible locations on the Eastern Front – ringed by mountainous terrain whose rugged lines of ridges provided the city and harbour with natural protection. German forces would have to push through the narrow and desolate Isthmus of Perekop and then drive across the Crimea, often being compelled by the terrain to attack frontally along narrow strips of land. The battle for the isthmus, and the advance to the city and the Soviet fleet harboured there, began on 24 September 1941, and raged fiercely for the next nine months. It would require six German divisions and two Romanian brigades with air support and some of the heaviest artillery ever built to defeat the Russian enclave.

Pavlichenko landed by ship with the 25th Division during a lull in the fighting. The battle-worn and under-strength reinforcements from Odessa were immediately hurled into the struggle.

In the fighting around Sevastopol during the Crimean War of the previous century (1853–6), Russians developed the art of sniping from ‘rifle pits’ in no-man’s land. As then, and as at Odessa, Russian snipers at Sevastopol in 1941–2 were cast forward of the main defensive line in a thin screen of modified ‘rifle pits’. Sometimes alone, at other times working with a spotter or fellow sniper, Pavlichenko continued the practices that had made her so successful at Odessa. She generally crept into her hide at around 0300 and sometimes waited for as long as two days for a single shot.

Winter was coming. Morning ice appeared on brown grass and the bare limbs of trees. Miserable conditions exacerbated her previous injuries. One day at the front was like a month or even a year in peacetime. She lost weight, grew thin and gaunt and developed the haunted ‘thousand-yard stare’ that marked a combat veteran. Streaks of white appeared in her raven-black hair.

Nonetheless, she persevered. Clad in trousers and baggy camouflage known as a mochalniy suit with its large hood and loops to permit the use of foliage, she knocked off one or two enemy soldiers every few days. She was constantly on the move, transferred from sector to sector so her true eye and steady hand could be used to their best advantage. No one from the old days in Kiev would have recognized in her the young college student in heels and crêpe de Chine.

The new Pavlichenko, sniper, became familiar to the entire country as word of her exploits spread. The Communist Party used her to inspire ordinary people, who were suffering horribly from cruel wartime conditions. ‘If this beautiful young woman can endure,’ went their spiel, ‘then how can we who are not at the front complain about food rationing and other hardships.’

Even the Germans were aware of her and her unerring eye. One afternoon, she killed a radioman in a squad rushing from a shell-gutted farmhouse towards a barn filled with mouldy hay. It was a long shot in cold rain that impaired proper visibility. A shot like that could only have been made by ‘the Russian bitch from hell’. A German officer stood up long enough to shout, ‘Lyudmila, leave your Bolshevik friends and come and join us.’ She killed him.

The Soviet outer defences collapsed on 28 October, leaving the entire Crimea with the exception of Sevastopol itself in German hands. Through autumn and into early winter snowfalls, fighting see-sawed as counter-attack followed attack and the Russians clung stubbornly to their spit of land on the Black Sea. German artillery and mortars pounded the city relentlessly until it was little more than a pile of rubble with scarcely a building left standing. Day by day, Soviet forces that originally numbered some 235,000 soldiers dwindled in the attrition of lead and steel.

Snipers were, as usual, an integral part of the city’s defence. During the siege of Sevastopol, which eventually lasted until July 1942, a Russian sniper contingent estimated at fewer than 300 shooters wiped out about 10,000 German soldiers, almost an entire division. Pavlichenko, who won a battlefield promotion to junior lieutenant, was the siege’s top scorer, followed by Sergeant-Major Leonid Kitsenko, now recovered from his wound at Odessa.

After the Russian withdrawal into the city, Pavlichenko and Kitsenko became a team so effective that commanders described them as worth an entire division of infantry. They often returned from a hunt claiming three or four kills between them for the day. On at least one occasion, they were seen embracing with more than comradely enthusiasm.

Continuing horror stories of German atrocities helped fuel Pavlichenko’s rage. Special Einsatzgruppen units made a fulltime job of killing Russian prisoners of war, as well as civilians and Jews. At Kiev and elsewhere, Jews were shot and thrown into mass graves; hundreds of thousands were murdered in this way. In Minsk, SS pulled 280 Russian civilians from jail, lined them up in front of a ditch and mowed them down. Following the fall of Kiev on 26 September 1941, cattle trucks hauled off 38,000 Russians to slave labour camps; most of them never returned. In an attempt to depopulate the Ukraine to make room for German settlers, occupiers encouraged starvation and the spread of diseases by neglecting sanitation measures and prohibiting food being sent to needy areas. ‘This enemy consists not of soldiers but to a large extent only of beasts,’ Hitler declared. ‘This is a war of extermination.’

German snipers were encouraged in their deadly trade by rewards for kills and by bounties on the heads of successful Russian snipers like Pavlichenko, whose fame had spread as far as to Berlin. Twenty kills earned an expensive wristwatch, forty a hunting rifle, and sixty a personal hunting trip with Hermann Göring. Few German snipers involved in the siege of Odessa and Sevastopol lived long enough to earn a hunting trip. Pavlichenko alone was to slay thirty-six enemy snipers.

Not only was she deadly, but, even more humiliating, she was a woman. As the Wehrmacht closed its steel bands on Sevastopol, German snipers made a pact to put an end to the Russian bitch with the long-reaching rifle.

On 11 November, 60,000 Axis soldiers launched a four-day attack against a sector of the city’s defences where mountainous terrain was prohibitively difficult. It was one of Pavlichenko’s favourite hunting grounds precisely because it offered good cover and concealment. As was her custom, she crawled into her hide before dawn on a clear, frosty morning with the smell of snow in the air and settled down to wait for a target of opportunity. Her usual partner, Kitsenko, was assigned else where.

In the early morning light something moved in a copse of new-growth trees that rimmed the military crest of a ridge about 400 metres to her front. She glimpsed a helmet through her binoculars. Snipers were often unable to resist the temptation of an easy kill. Pavlichenko held off and waited. The movement of the helmet seemed unnatural. Then she detected the flutter of branches to the left of where the helmet had disappeared, just enough movement to attract her attention. She herself had sometimes used the old trick of tieing a line to a bush and shaking it from a distance in order to draw fire and pinpoint an enemy sniper’s location.

She waited, tense and edged for action. The sun climbed higher, its rays sparking jewels from the frost in the lowlands. Several times over the next few hours she detected movement – but never a clean target. She knew these were simply distractions to encourage her to compensate by shifting the barrel of her rifle or the tilt of her camouflaged head, small adjustments only a trained eye would notice. The guy out there knew what he was doing. The prudent sniper under such circum stances might withdraw to fight another day. Pavlichenko, however, held her ground, not only because of pride, although that certainly figured in the equation, but also because her worthy adversary had undoubtedly killed many of her comrades and would kill others unless she stopped him.

Her peripheral vision caught the suspicious shifting of a shadow, just in time to see the blink of a muzzle flash. The crack of the enemy’s high-powered rifle reverberated from the distant ridge line. A rock within touching distance of her head disintegrated into a stinging shower of particles.

A second shot snapped at her head, again only centimetres away. She wriggled backwards out of her hide and, crouching low and using the reverse slope of her knoll for cover, scrambled towards a nearby rocky upcropping where she burrowed into a thicket of briars interwoven with old growth timber. The site provided a view of the lowlands between her and the ridgeline occupied by her deadly foe.

She dared not move. Her eyes snapped from side to side, scanning. Cold, stress, hunger and thirst plagued her as she lay in wait for the German – and he lay in wait for her. A high stakes poker game in which each challenged the other to blink.

The strange stand-off continued all through the afternoon. Clouds rolled in and snow began to fall. Pavlichenko determined she would not miss her shot if the opportunity presented itself. The name of the game was patience coupled with accuracy.

Artillery thundered like a storm on the horizon. Small birds and animals scurried about.

Ultimately, the German proved the less patient of the two. Succumbing to curiosity, he made the mistake of lifting his head to take a better look across the clearing. Pavlichenko’s cross hairs locked onto his forehead. He seemed to be looking directly at her when she massaged her trigger. It was her first shot in the duel. No other was required.

Later, a Russian patrol confirmed that the dead man was an expert sniper whose ‘kill log’ supposedly recorded the deaths of more than 400 Allied soldiers by his hand at Dunkirk.

Pavlichenko and partner Kitsenko continued to create mayhem with their rifles all through what the Germans referred to as the ‘Winter Crisis’. Although starving, cold, and suffering from injuries both old and recent, the two fought on in the snow. By spring 1942, Lyudmila was an ‘old timer’ serving as a front-line sniper leader near the embattled Imgarmansky Lighthouse and taking novices under her wing to teach them how to become sharpshooters.

At some point, probably in early May 1942, Sergeant-Major Leonid Kitsenko was killed, either by an enemy sniper or by the ubiquitous shelling. Although little has been recorded about the relationship between Lyudmila and Leonid, it is assumed that they were at some point married. It has been noted, almost in passing and without providing a name, that Pavlichenko’s ‘husband, also serving with the Red Army, was killed in the [Sevastopol] siege’.

Fellow snipers noticed Lyudmila’s increased bitterness following Kitsenko’s death. Anger burned deeper into her being. In late May, the Southern Army Council cited her for killing 257 Germans. During a meeting of her sniper unit, she vowed to raise her score to 300 within the next few days – and kept her word.

During 2–6 June 1942, the Luftwaffe dropped 570 tons of bombs on the beleaguered ruins of Sevastopol and its harbour. As preparation for the final assault, heavy artillery that included some of the largest guns ever built, such as the 600-mm Karl mortar and the 800-mm Gustav railway gun, fired 42,595 rounds, the equivalent of 2,449 tons of munitions. On 7 June, the Germans attacked and breached the outer defensive rings round the city to seize most of the bay’s northern shore. While strong pockets of Soviet resistance held firm in the rear and on the flanks, no one harboured any illusion about how much longer the Russians could last. The fight was down to its last days.

Shrapnel riddled Pavlichenko’s worn young body during the hell of raining bombs and shells. Unable to continue her vendetta, she was moved to a Severnaya Bay champagne factory converted as both an ammo dump and a field hospital. She was not to see personal combat again. Because of her growing status, she was evacuated by submarine at night before Germans entered the city on 1 July. Her final tally stood officially at 309 kills, including more than 200 officers and 36 enemy snipers. Since she often worked alone, however, and every kill had to be verified independently, the actual number may have been nearer 500. In comparison, Russia’s other famous Second World War sniper, Vassili Zaitsev, killed 225 German soldiers during the Battle of Stalingrad.

While the Germans declared victory over Sevastopol on 4 July 1942, it took them twenty-seven more days to mop up. Russia suffered 18,000 killed or wounded and 95,000 captured. Only 25,157 were successfully evacuated. German casualties numbered 24,000 dead or wounded; the Romanians listed another 1,597 killed and 6,571 wounded. Pavlichenko’s 25th Rifle Division was declared combat ineffective and disbanded, its banners sunk in the Black Sea and its remaining soldiers reassigned to other units.

Due to her fame, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was sent to the United States and Canada at the end of 1942 to drum up war support. She delivered speeches in forty-three American cities and was the first Soviet citizen to be received at the White House, where she had dinner with President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor. Celebrities all over the continent lined up to be photographed with her. Folk musician Woody Guthrie recorded a song dedicated to her, ‘Miss Pavlichenko’. She was featured in a 1943 comic book, War Heroes. She played with Laurence Olivier in the documentary film Chernomortsy. Actor Charlie Chaplin gallantly kissed her fingers one by one, saying, ‘It’s quite remarkable that this small, delicate hand killed Nazis by the hundreds.’

Interviewed by Time (28 September 1942), she gently derided American women and the American media:

I am amazed at the kind of questions put to me by the women press correspondents in Washington. Don’t they know there is a war? They asked me silly questions such as do I use powder and rouge and nail polish and do I curl my hair. One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform, saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides my uniform makes me look fat.

‘The most dangerous woman in the world’ saw out the war as a sniper instructor at the Central Women’s Sniper School near Moscow. Her military awards included: Order of Lenin with Gold Star; the Bravery Medal, awarded to snipers with forty or more kills; and the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction any Soviet citizen could receive. Of 11,635 HSU recipients, only 92 were women, 50 of whom received the award posthumously.

She was discharged with the rank of major in 1945 and returned to Kiev University to finish her postgraduate degree. Russia issued two postage stamps in her honour and named a Ministry of Fisheries vessel after her. She served out her life as a historian working for the Navy Central Staff and was active in veterans’ affairs.

She married a second time, in 1943, and gave birth to a son. Husband and son remained out of the spotlight to the point that almost no records exist about them. Lyudmila rarely spoke publicly of her sniper career. She published several magazine articles and a book about her division’s role in the defence of Sevastopol, but, other than one small section in a Russian book published posthumously, wrote little about her own exploits. One of her only recorded comments resulted from a 1968 visit to London where a reporter asked about her feelings at Sevastopol.

She killed without hesitation, she responded, and with not a twinge of regret afterwards. ‘If you are going along a road with your child and you see a snake, what do you do?’

She died of natural causes on 27 October 1974, at the age of 58 and was buried in the Novodevicheye Cemetery in Moscow. Sevastopol named a street after her, not far from where Sergeant-Major Leonid Kitsenko died.

 

ÆTHELRED II THE UNREADY (d. 1016)

LAL724167 Aethelred II, usually called “the Unready” (gouache on paper) by Nicolle, Pat (Patrick) (1907-95); Private Collection; (add.info.: Aethelred II, usually called “the Unready”, but in fact his Anglo-Saxon nickname means “ill-advised”. During the 10th Century, he repeatedly tried to buy off the Danish invaders – but with little success. From Look and Learn 881 (2 December 1978).); © Look and Learn; English, out of copyright

King of England 978-1016,

Æthelred was the son of the English king, Edgar (d. 975), and his wife, Ælfthryth (c. 944-999/1001), and was perhaps nine years old when his father died. His elder half-brother, Edward the Martyr (d. 978), became king, but was murdered by a faction linked to Æthelred’s mother. Æthelred was formally consecrated king on 4 May 979. He was married twice, firstly to Ælfgifu, by whom he had six sons (Athelstan, Ecgberht, Edmund Ironside, Eadred, Eadwig, and Edgar), and secondly, in 1002, to Emma of Normandy, by whom he had two sons (Edward the Confessor and Alfred the atheling) and one daughter (Godgifu).

His nickname is derived from Old English unræd, which means “poor counsel,” and is a pun on the literal translation of his first name (“noble counsel”). However, although the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is critical of Æthelred’s policy toward the Vikings attacking his kingdom, this nickname is not contemporary and is not evidenced in written sources until the 13th century. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s account of Æthelred’s reign was written after his death and the accession of Cnut I the Great and therefore seems to reflect the benefit of hindsight in its assessment of Æthelred’s rule. However, Æthelred certainly seems to have been led astray by his counselors in the period 984-993, seizing church lands and granting them to nobles, before repenting in a charter; and after 1006, the growing influence of Eadric Streona, a treacherous ealdorman from Mercia, also seems to have caused problems. Nevertheless, there were some internal accomplishments, such as the issuing of the Wantage Code, which extended royal control in the Danelaw.

Æthelred’s accession to the English throne almost exactly coincided with the resumption of Viking raids in England in 980. The character of these expeditions was quite different from the earlier assaults, with well-organized armies, operating under Scandinavian kings and princes, demanding large payments of silver. In 991, the future king of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, arrived with 93 ships at Folkestone in Kent and succeeded in extracting a Danegeld of £10,000 following the English defeat at Maldon. Olaf subsequently joined forces with King Svein Forkbeard of Denmark and together they ravaged southeast England and attacked London in 994, receiving yet another large tribute from the English (£16,000). In 1002, an even larger sum of money was paid out (£24,000), and in response to a supposed plot against his life, King Æthelred ordered that all the Danes in England should be massacred on St. Brice’s Day in 1002. However, this presumably antagonized his Scandinavian subjects living in the Danelaw and failed to keep the Viking threat at bay: raids continued and Danegelds were paid again in 1007 (£36,000), 1012 (£48,000), and 1014 (£21,000).

In 1009 a large army under the leadership of Thorkell the Tall arrived in England and campaigned extensively in southern and southeastern England for the next three years. Before it dispersed in 1012, virtually the entire area was under Scandinavian control according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, Thorkell then decided to enter the service of Æthelred, and help him to combat a new Scandinavian army threatening England. In 1013, Svein Forkbeard landed at Sandwich before moving north. He quickly received the submission of Northumbria, Lindsey (North Lincolnshire), and the Five Boroughs at Gainsborough and then headed back south, taking hostages at Oxford and Winchester, and finally receiving the submission of London at Bath. Æthelred, his wife, Emma, and their two sons, Edward and Alfred, fled to Normandy and the protection of Emma’s family in 1013. However, Svein’s death on 3 February 1014 heralded a period of considerable political confusion: while the Danish fleet chose his son, Cnut, as king, the Anglo-Saxon councilors advised that Æthelred should be recalled from exile in Normandy, and he arrived back in his kingdom in 1014. Æthelred’s army proceeded to ravage Lindsey, and the king was involved in the murder of two leading figures in the Danelaw (Sigeferth and Morcar), actions that made him unpopular with his subjects in eastern England. Cnut returned to Sandwich in September 1015 and campaigned throughout the country, winning the support of Æthelred’s former ally, Eadric Streona of Mercia, and receiving the submission of the West Saxons in 1015. Cnut’s armies moved north into the Midlands and Northumbria in spring 1016, but following the death of Æthelred on 23 April, Cnut returned to London. Æthelred’s son, Edmund Ironside, was immediately declared king by the councilors and people of London, and later came to terms with Cnut at Olney.