The Death of Philip of Macedon


4th Century B.C. Macedonia

Throughout most of his reign Philip of Macedon suffered from bad press and a serious inferiority complex. Though he had built his kingdom into the preeminent power of the Greek world, his far more cultured neighbors to the south, Corinth, Athens, and Sparta, still viewed him and his followers as crude mountain-dwelling barbarians. His own personal history and appearance didn’t aid his acceptance by the upper crust. He was first and foremost a military leader who took armies into battle personally. As a result he had suffered a score of wounds. The two most grievous blows had been the loss of an eye and a spear thrust into his thigh. Neither wound had healed properly and both continued to ooze. The leg in particular emitted a horrible smell. It was also rumored that he had committed the heinous crime of matricide in clawing his way to the throne.

His personal life was equally scandalous. His first wife was a priestess of Dionysius, in modern terminology, a temple prostitute. At that time the practice was far more accepted and she did claim the distinction of being the daughter of a minor king. The real scandal was their very public falling out. She had borne Philip a son, the legendary Alexander, and then proclaimed openly that Philip was not the father; rather it was the god Zeus, who had visited her bedchamber in the incarnation of a snake. Modern political and sexual scandals pale in comparison to the dynamics played out in the royal household in the capital city of Pella. Philip was proclaimed a cuckold by his wife—she was known to hang around with snakes—and the king became notorious for his desire to sleep with anyone who was willing, male or female.

His interactions with Alexander could be described as a love-hate relationship. On one hand, there seemed to be moments of genuine affection between the two. Philip did everything possible to groom him for command, retaining the most famous scholar of the age, Aristotle, to serve as the boy’s tutor, and he craved Alexander’s acceptance by the high-browed Greeks. For his part, young Alexander, in his first major battle, threw his own life on the line in order to save his father who had been surrounded and was on the point of being overcome. Alexander literally placed his own body between his father and the enemy spears.

And on the other hand hatred flared as well, especially as the boy entered early manhood. The bitterness between the boy’s mother and the king simmered for years, and boiled over when Philip took a new wife, a girl the same age as Alexander. At the wedding feast one of Philip’s drinking buddies toasted the new marriage and the chance to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. As a result father and son came to blows, and on the same night Alexander and his mother fled the city, a wise move since the king might very well have had both slain in his drunken rage. For over a year civil war ensued between father and his wife and son. A truce was finally declared and the two were allowed to return.

Meanwhile, Philip’s dream of bringing all of Greece to heel was at last coming to pass. At the legendary battle of Chaeronea, fought in 338 B.C., Philip defeated a combined Athenian-Theban army nearly twice his size; and the following year, at Corinth, the Corinthian League was proclaimed, an alliance of all of Greece under the aegis of Philip. Though not accepted as a social equal, the strength of his army had created him supreme warlord of all the Greeks, ready to embark on a campaign into Asia against the Persian Empire.

Alexander was the only fly in the ointment. Sent by the Macedonian king to serve as ambassador, the young Alexander had become an instant celebrity, touring Greece like a triumphal hero. The contrast between father and son was remarkable. Here was not a grizzled warrior, smelling of decaying wounds, aged from drink and sexual excess; many proclaimed that the young Alexander seemed like an earthly manifestation of a god, brilliant, witty, good-natured, physically strong and agile, stunningly handsome, the true Greek ideal of perfection. Word of Alexander’s successful tour came back to Philip and caused even more unrest. The old king had led the armies and won the battles, yet it was the young upstart who seemed to be taking all the glory. Furthermore, the dark, unsettling rumors, first spread by his first wife, Olympias, were now being voiced openly: that Alexander had in his veins not the blood of Philip but rather the blood of a god.

In preparation for the campaign into Persia, a religious festival and games were to be held in Pella. As king, Philip was also chief priest, and it was his responsibility to march in procession to the temple and then to the arena to start the festivities. Representatives of all the Greek city-states would be present, many of them traveling to Pella for the first time. The city went all out in preparation, for Pella was no longer a rude barbarian capital, but must now prove itself the new heart of Greek civilization and culture.

Adding additional tension to the festival were Philip’s new wife and his newborn son. Philip’s old drinking buddies and the family of his new wife started to openly whisper that here at last was a true heir untainted by rumors of illegitimacy. There was another undercurrent persisting as well. An old male lover of Philip, a member of his personal guard, had had a falling out with a rival for Philip’s attention. This rival had recently been killed in a skirmish and his dying wish was that his competitor should somehow be humiliated. The dead rival’s wishes were carried out: Philip’s old lover was invited to a party, bound, then tossed out into the street to be abused by servants and slaves. When he went to Philip to complain and demand justice, Philip took the entire incident as an uproarious joke and laughed the young man out of court for being unable to defend himself. These various currents, plots and counterplots now came to a head.

Unfortunately, at this moment Philip seized on what he considered to be an excellent idea. Tired of the gibes about his appearance, his predilections, and his tyrannical behavior, Philip settled on the idea of marching in the procession in the Greek manner…without any armed escorts. Ever fearful of being classified as tyrants, the rulers of most Greek city-states were expected to mingle freely on the streets and at public and private functions like any other citizens; alone, unafraid, without weapons and, most of all, without guards. For only a hated king or dictator needed such men for his protection.

Thus Philip, on the morning of the festival, decked himself out in his finest robes, stepped to the front of the parade and started off alone, limping along, waving, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd. It was a grand gesture, undoubtedly drawing positive comment from foreign observers…and it cost him his life. As he stepped into the tunnel leading into the arena he was suddenly surprised by his old jilted lover, who drew a dagger and plunged it into Philip’s chest. Philip staggered out into the arena and collapsed in a pool of blood.

The hapless assassin was himself dead within seconds, run down by several of Alexander’s friends and cut apart. Within hours, the new wife met her own fate. The bitter ex-wife, Olympias, cornered her, pointed out that suicide was better than a far more painful execution, and oversaw the termination of the young girl and her baby. By the end of the day, Alexander’s hold on the throne was secure.

Conspiracy? The historians of the period, writing during the reign of the great Alexander, absolved him of guilt, leaving the case against Olympias somewhat more open. At least Philip had made his point in his quest for social acceptance; he had died like a true Greek, without any bodyguards around to help.

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Rudel’s Stukas

When World War II broke out in September 1939, the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber was obsolete. However, during the Blitzkrieg campaigns in Europe between 1939 and 1942 it established itself as a weapon that struck fear into the hearts of enemy soldiers and civilians alike. Even when the tide of war turned against Germany after 1943, the Stuka continued to take to the skies in an anti-tank role. The most famous Stuka pilot was Hans-Ulrich Rudel, whose bravery established him as one of the Luftwaffe’s greatest airmen.

One of the enduring images of the German Blitzkrieg is of swarms of dive-bomber aircraft swooping down on hapless Allied columns. The ultimate dive-bomber was the Junkers Ju 87 Sturzkampfflugzeug, or Stuka. Not surprisingly, the name took on a life of its own and entered popular culture.

The dive-bomber was a purpose-built aircraft, designed to drop bombs with pinpoint accuracy on frontline battlefield targets. To support their panzer offensives, the Germans developed close air support into an art form and the Stuka was central to this effort. The secret of German successes in this field was the close integration between air and ground units. Stuka squadrons worked hand-in-hand with ground units so they could intervene rapidly at the decisive point of the battlefield. These highly specialist squadrons were in the thick of the action and developed an impressive reputation. The need to fly deep into the heart of battle meant Stuka pilots suffered some of the highest casualty rates in the Luftwaffe, and as a consequence became some of the most highly decorated German servicemen. Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most famous Stuka pilot and squadron commander of the war. He was also the most highly decorated German soldier of the war, being the only serviceman to receive the Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds.

The Stuka

Experience with close air support during World War I led many German officers in the newly formed Luftwaffe in the 1930s to develop plans to build a specialist aircraft for this key role. The result was the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which first flew in 1935. Although progressively upgraded, the Stuka retained its distinctive gull-winged silhouette that became famous in the early years of World War II.

The single-engined Stuka was fitted with a specialized bomb sight to enable the aircraft to dive vertically on its target, and to automatically open air brakes after bomb release to allow the aircraft to safely pull up when it was 450m (1470ft) from the ground. As a result of this device, the Stuka could drop its bombs within 100m (330ft) of its intended target, and a good pilot could drop his bombs within 10m (32ft). Two wing-mounted 7.92mm machine guns allowed the Stuka to return after dive-bombing runs to strafe their targets. The normal Stuka bomb load was a 1000kg (2200lb) bomb under the fuselage or a 500kg (1100lb) bomb under the fuselage and four 50kg (110lb) bombs under the wings.

To complement this capability the Stukas were fitted with sirens, so-called “Jericho Trumpets”, which produced a frightening whine. This, coupled with its vulture-like appearance, made being on the receiving end of a Stuka attack a terrifying experience.

If the Stuka had shortcomings it was in its short range, only 448km (227 miles) in normal close air support operations, and poor air-to-air capabilities. Whenever Stukas came up against determined fighter resistance they were at a distinct disadvantage, and were dependent on the Luftwaffe maintaining air supremacy to allow them to operate freely.

When the war began, just over 330 Stukas had been built and it remained in production until late in 1944, with some 5000 being built in 15 different versions.

From 1942, the Germans began to find themselves faced by huge Soviet tank formations made up of hundreds of T-34s. These were difficult to destroy with traditional dive bombing techniques, so work began to provide the Stuka with more accurate weaponry. The result was the Ju 87G-1, which sported two 37mm high-velocity cannons mounted in underwing pods. These could punch through the armour of any Soviet tank in service, and allowed Stuka squadrons to directly engage the massed tank waves used by the Red Army. It was with this version of the Stuka that Rudel became famously associated. The Germans also developed an early version of what are now known as cluster bombs to counter the large Soviet tank formations. The 500kg (1100lb) SD-4-H1 contained 78 hollow-charge submunitions that could penetrate the thin roof armour of even the heaviest Soviet tank, including the heavily armoured Josef Stalin II.

German close air support tactics were first put into practice during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), when the first generation of Luftwaffe pilots had a chance to experience modern combat. While the Stuka’s top speed of 400kph (250mph) compared poorly to the 574kph (359mph) of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Luftwaffe’s top-line fighter, this was far from a disadvantage in the close air support role. Too much speed would have reduced the time Stuka pilots had to find their targets. The loitering presence of a Stuka squadron hunting for its targets and then swooping down, could be very terrifying for those on the receiving end of such an attack.

In Spain, Stuka pilots learned that the key to providing successful close air support was having good communications with friendly ground troops, who could pinpoint enemy positions and then direct air strikes against them. Combat experience in Poland and France later reinforced this and confirmed the validity of Stuka tactics. This saved the Stukas valuable time finding targets and also ensured that only targets that would influence the ground battle were engaged. So-called Stukaleiters, or Stuka controllers, were posted to each panzer division by the Luftwaffe. These men were usually serving Stuka pilots from the squadrons assigned to that sector of the front, to bind together the Stukas and panzers into a single force. Stukaleiters were given armoured halftracks to work in so they could keep up with the panzer commanders and had air-to-ground radios so they could talk-in attack aircraft to their targets. The Stukas have been described as the panzers’ “flying artillery”, but they brought more to the Blitzkrieg than just firepower. The Stukas ranged far ahead over hostile territory and provided German ground forces with early warning of troop strengths, movements and terrain obstacles.

While the Stukas reigned supreme in the Blitzkrieg battles of 1939 and 1940, when Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering sent them into action against British airfields during the Battle of Britain the thin German fighter cover available meant they suffered heavy losses.

Over the Mediterranean in 1941 the Stuka came into its own as an anti-ship weapon. Luftwaffe air superiority meant Royal Navy warships could be attacked without interruption by Stuka squadrons flying from Italian and Greek air bases. The Stuka’s dive-bomber systems proved highly effective against British warships, revisiting the successes enjoyed during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, when almost 250 Allied ships had been lost to German air power. The high point of the Stuka campaign in the Mediterranean theatre was the support for the airborne invasion of Crete in May 1941. After blasting open the Allied defences for the German paratroopers, who lacked tank or artillery support, the Stukas turned their attention to the Royal Navy warships sent to evacuate the defenders. Nine British warships went to the bottom and 15 were heavily damaged after becoming victims of dive-bombing.

The most famous Stuka pilot of the war did not begin his career at all auspiciously. In 1938, Hans-Ulrich Rudel was posted to one of the first Stuka squadrons, but was a slow learner, and far from popular with his peers because he did not join in the boisterous mess life typical of the prewar Luftwaffe. The 32-year-old Rudel was a teetotaller who did not smoke and spent all his time when not flying playing sport. A few months later he was shipped out to be trained as a reconnaissance pilot. After flying reconnaissance missions during the Polish campaign, he pressed to be transferred back to Stukas. His wish was granted, but it meant he missed the French campaign because he was undergoing flight training. Rudel was now assigned to perhaps the most famous Stuka wing of the war, Stuka Group 2 (SG) Immelmann, named after the famous World War I fighter ace. An argument with his commanding officer resulted in Rudel being grounded during the Greek and Crete campaigns, and being employed instead as a maintenance officer.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel in 1944.

Rudel on the Eastern Front

Rudel was determined to get into the action, and eventually a friend who commanded one of the wing’s squadrons relented, allowing him to fly as his wingman between his maintenance work on the flight line. He flew on the first day of the invasion of Russia and was in action on almost every day for the remainder of the war, except when he was in hospital or receiving medals from his Führer. The wing was in the thick of the action on the central sector of the Eastern Front, supporting panzer columns heading towards Smolensk and Moscow. Rudel became renowned for his determination to press home his dive-bombing runs, pulling up only at the very last minute to ensure his bombs landed on target.

In August 1941, Rudel’s wing was transferred to the Leningrad Front where German troops were besieging the cradle of the Soviet revolution. With Germans on the outskirts of the city, several Soviet Navy ships trapped in the Gulf of Finland regularly turned their big guns on their enemies. The Immelmann wing was given the task of knocking out the warships. Its main target was the 26,416-tonne (26,000-ton) battleship Marat. The wing’s first attack on 21 September with 500kg (1100lb) bombs failed to penetrate the warship’s armour, in spite of Rudel putting a bomb square on target after flying through an anti-aircraft barrage thrown up by 1000 guns.

When 1000kg (2200lb) bombs arrived at the wing, Rudel led a new attack on the Marat. He pressed home the attack with his typical determination and only released his bomb 300m (980ft) above the target. Rudel’s bomb penetrated the warship’s magazine. As it exploded in a massive fireball, Rudel struggled to regain control of his aircraft after blacking out, and only managed to pull it up 4m (12ft) from the sea. If that was not enough of a problem, three Soviet fighters now jumped the Stukas. The attack won Rudel the Knight’s Cross.

The Soviet winter offensive of 1941–42 saw the Immelmann wing supporting hard-pressed German defences in central Russia. When a Soviet tank column broke through the front and threatened the wing’s airfield, Rudel led air strikes that drove them back. For three days, the Stukas kept the Soviets at bay until the Waffen-SS Das Reich Division arrived to relieve the situation. By now Rudel had notched up more than 500 missions and was posted home to train a new Stuka squadron. Not wanting to be out of the action, he soon managed to pull a few strings and got his squadron transferred to southern Russia, where the Germans were pushing south to seize Stalin’s Caucasus oil wells. In the middle of the battle for Stalingrad, Rudel was diagnosed with jaundice but after spending a few days in a field hospital, he absented himself, returned to the front and took command of a squadron of the Immelmann wing. These were desperate days for the Luftwaffe in southern Russia. As Soviet tanks moved to surround the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad, units such as Rudel’s Stukas were needed to hold back the Red Army. The Soviet advance was rolling up one German airfield after another, making it more difficult for the short-range Stukas to help the trapped German soldiers.

Cannon Birds

Erich Rudel was now recalled to Germany to form the first experimental anti-tank Stuka unit equipped with the 37mm cannon-armed Ju 87s, dubbed “Cannon Birds’’ by their crews. Rudel took the unit to the Crimea to help counter a Soviet amphibious landing on the Kuban peninsula. The Cannon Birds proved to be an outstanding success against Soviet landing craft bringing troops and supplies ashore, with Rudel alone claiming 70 destroyed. Personally awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross by a grateful Führer for his work in the Kuban, Rudel was now posted back to the Immelmann wing in charge of its Ju 87 G-1 anti-tank squadron, in time to lead it during the July 1943 Kursk Offensive.

As expected, his squadron was in the thick of the action supporting II Waffen-SS Panzer Corps as it attacked on the southern axis of Operation Citadel. His Cannon Birds ranged ahead of the panzers, intercepting and destroying Soviet reserve tank columns moving to the front. Scores of tanks were claimed destroyed by Rudel and his wingmen, with the squadron commander alone claiming to have destroyed 12 T-34s on a single day. Experience taught the Stuka pilots to aim for vulnerable parts of the Soviet tanks, such as engine bays and turret roofs. The exhaust smoke of the Soviet tanks proved a useful aiming point for the Stuka gunners, and a hit against the engine often resulted in a catastrophic explosion. The Soviet practice of loading extra fuel drums on the rear of their tanks made them very vulnerable to Stuka cannon fire. To get a good shot at the T-34s, Rudel recommended dropping down to 15m (50ft) to give the Stuka pilot a good look at the target. Here the slow speed of the Stuka came into its own, because it gave the pilot plenty of time to lay his guns on target.

These attacks proved devastating to the morale of Soviet tank columns and the infantry who rode into the battle on the rear decks of the T-34s. To counter the Stuka threat the Soviets started to move anti-aircraft guns close to their tank columns. In turn, Rudel began to have a pair of bomb- and machine-gun-armed Stukas circling overhead as his Cannon Birds lined up for their attacks. The supporting Stukas would strafe and bomb Soviet anti-aircraft batteries that attempted to open fire. They also provided early warning of the appearance of Soviet fighters that were starting to challenge German air superiority on the Eastern Front. In spite of this covering fire, Rudel’s aircraft routinely returned to base full of bullet holes.

After Hitler’s Kursk Offensive stalled, the Soviets immediately opened a huge offensive against the northern wing of the German forces around Orel, opening a huge breach in the front. Rudel’s tank-killing Stukas were rushed northwards to help stabilize the situation and give ground reinforcements time to mobilize. In the midst of this chaos, Rudel’s aircraft was badly shot up, but he managed to make a forced landing behind German lines and return to the fray. Soviet offensives continued to require the close attention of the Immelmann wing, and Rudel was appointed to command its 3rd Group after his predecessor was killed in action. He had now flown some 1500 sorties and personally destroyed 60 Soviet tanks, earning him the Oak Leaves and Swords to his Knight’s Cross.

Time after time, his Stukas saved the day during the Soviet winter offensive in the Ukraine, culminating in a decisive intervention during the Battle of Kirovograd in November 1943, when Rudel and his pilots blunted an attack by hundreds of T-34s. By now Rudel and his Stuka pilots had been turned into national heroes, featuring almost daily in Nazi propaganda broadcasts announcing more tank kills, desperate situations saved and medals won. To the ordinary German soldiers, Rudel’s tank-killing Stukas were known as the “front fire brigade” because they were always called on to dampen down the most combustible sections of the front. While other Stuka units had switched to flying the two-engine Henschel Hs 129 armed with a 75mm cannon, or ground-attack versions of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Rudel stuck with his trusty Ju 87. Rudel’s squadron operated from rudimentary forward air strips, and his leadership was instrumental in keeping his ground crews working in freezing weather to put damaged aircraft back in the air time and time again, with minimal spares, tools and facilities. Once in the air, Rudel’s pilots followed him into attack after attack. He appeared fearless. Even when shot down over enemy territory, he somehow managed to escape and return to the cockpit of a Stuka. This incident followed a successful attack to destroy a bridge over the River Dnieper in March 1944. Twenty Soviet fighters swooped on his squadron, forcing one of Rudel’s pilots to land in territory held by the Red Army. Rudel landed to try to pick up his man, only to have his aircraft get stuck in mud. Russian soldiers captured Rudel and his two comrades. He swam a river and walked 50km (31 miles) in an escape bid. Two days later, he reached German lines and was soon back in the air.

Tank killing with the G-1 model Stuka became a Rudel speciality, and by August 1944 he claimed his 320th tank kill. The collapse of the German Army Group Centre in July 1944 brought the Immelmann wing northwards to the Courland peninsula, where it was thrown into one desperate battle after another. In October Rudel was promoted lieutenant-colonel and given command of his beloved Immelmann wing. There was little time to bask in the glory, and he had to lead his fliers to Hungary to help Waffen-SS panzer divisions blast a corridor through to 100,000 German troops besieged in Budapest. Soviet fighters were now swarming over the Eastern Front, making it highly dangerous for the lumbering Cannon Birds to go into action. In the space of a few days Rudel was shot down twice, but returned to the cockpit of a Stuka with his leg in a plaster cast. With more than 2400 missions in his log book and 463 tank kills claimed, Hitler made him the only recipient of the Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds in January 1945. Hitler tried to ground Germany’s most highly decorated soldier, but Rudel insisted on returning to combat duty leading his wing.

Russian tanks were now advancing into Silesia, and Rudel’s wing was transferred to try to contain the situation. Flying from German soil, Rudel’s Stukas were able to rescue several German units cut off trying to retreat westwards to safety. When the Soviets pushed a bridgehead over the River Oder in February 1945, Rudel threw his Stukas into action. He alone destroyed four Soviet tanks, before having an aircraft shot out from under him. After struggling back to base, Rudel took off again to continue knocking out more than a dozen Josef Stalin tanks. In the midst of another attack run his aircraft was blown apart by Soviet flak. Rudel woke up in a field hospital to find out his left leg had been amputated. Despite being told his flying days were finished, Germany’s top Stuka pilot had other ideas. Only six weeks later he was back flying from bases in Czechoslovakia. When Germany surrendered in May, he led the remnants of his Immelmann wing on a last flight to American-controlled airfields in southern Germany.

Tank Killers

Rudel was instrumental in developing the tactics of using cannon-armed aircraft in the anti-tank role. The exploits of his Stukas during the Battle of Kursk was the inspiration used by the United States Air Force in designing the A-10 Warthog tank-busting aircraft at the height of the Cold War, when there was a requirement to counter massed divisions of Soviet tanks in central Europe. This aircraft was built around a multi-barrelled cannon specifically to counter enemy tanks.

As a leader of warriors, Rudel was unsurpassed. He led from the front and set a pace that few could equal. In the course of 2530 missions, Rudel personally destroyed 517 Soviet tanks – the equivalent of five Soviet tank brigades. This was on top of a battleship, cruiser, 70 landing craft, 800 trucks, 150 artillery pieces, as well as numerous bunkers, bridges and supply dumps. He also managed to achieve nine confirmed air-to-air kills. Perhaps more striking was the fact that Rudel was shot down 30 times by ground fire, and wounded five times. On top of this, he successfully rescued six of his pilots who had been shot down behind enemy lines. This was the mark of the man, who ranked leading his men into battle as the highest duty of any soldier.

The Commanders – D-Day

Rommel

Hitler and the Allies instinctively chose to command in the great battle two champions whose fates had already intertwined: Generalfeldmarshal (Field Marshal) Erwin Rommel, ‘The Desert Fox’ and General Bernard Montgomery, ‘Monty’. Rommel with his small Afrika Korps had come closer than any man in history to severing the jugular of the British Empire. His first command in the invasion of France in 1940 had seen him carve out a reputation in command of the 7th Panzer ‘Ghost’ Division as a master of modern armoured warfare. In North Africa he was to make the world his audience, and the British soldier one of his greatest admirers for his brilliance no less than his chivalry. So thoroughly had he won the moral ascendancy over the enemy that British commanders were driven to forbid the common use of the term ‘a Rommel’ used to describe any action particularly and imaginatively well-done. Even Churchill had recognized the difference when he said to the House on 27 January 1942, with El Alamein still unwon: ‘We have a very daring and skilful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.’

Montgomery

Montgomery was to change all that and not by forbidding his men to respect a gallant enemy. Montgomery chose to reestablish the British soldier’s faith in himself and his commanders. A thorough professional, he had distinguished himself by commanding the 3rd Division in a demanding rearguard action in the retreat to Dunkirk. He also possessed the uncanny sense of instilling a sense of trust in him, he turned around the 8th Army, defeated Rommel at El Alamein and chased him across North Africa. His successes in concluding the North African campaign, and in Sicily and southern Italy made him the darling of the British people and their army. After years of shameful defeats, he embodied victory.

The Commanders’ Appraisal of the Situation

With an eerie coincidence, both Rommel and Montgomery submitted their first appraisals of the strategic requirements of their new commands to their political masters on 31 December 1943. Both men brought a fresh approach and a master’s touch and both rejected the bases of existing plans and assumptions. Rommel had just finished an exhaustive inspection of the fortifications of the so-called Atlantic Wall that ran from Holland to the Bay of Biscay. Rommel’s report read:

We can hardly expect a counter-attack by the few reserves we have behind the coast at the moment, with no self-propelled guns and an inadequate quantity of anti-tank weapons, to succeed in destroying the powerful force which the enemy will land. We know from experience that the British soldier is quick to consolidate his gains and then holds on tenaciously with excellent support from his superior air arm and naval guns, the observers for which direct the fire from the front line.

With the coastline held as thinly as it is at present, the enemy will probably succeed in creating bridgeheads at several different points and in achieving a major penetration in our coastal defences. Once this has happened it will only be by the rapid intervention of our operational reserves that he will be thrown back into the sea. This requires that these forces should be held very close behind the coast defences.

These observations were based on his personal observations of the crippling effectiveness on German operations of overwhelming Allied air power.

Montgomery had just reviewed the plans prepared in London for the invasion at Churchill’s personal request. His report read:

My first impression is that the present plan is impracticable. From a purely Army point of view the following points are essential:

o The initial landings must be made on the widest possible front,

o One British army to land on a front of two, or possibly, three corps.

One American army similarly.

o The air battle must be won before the operation is launched. We must then aim at success in the land battle by the spread and violence of our operations.

Advantages and Disadvantages?

Both men were allotted similar roles under a theatre commander. Montgomery was appointed commander of the 21st Army Group which would conduct the Allied invasion. He would personally command the British 2nd Army under Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey and the American 1st Army under Lieutenant General Omar Bradley. Two later armies would follow his army group, and a separate American army group would be formed. His superior was General Dwight Eisenhower who commanded all Allied forces in the European Theatre of Operations and would have overall command of all ground, air, and sea forces in the invasion. Rommel was given command of Army Group B consisting of the 7th and 15th Armies, on a front from Holland to the Loire River. Two other armies in southern France (1st and 19th) were formed into Army Group G. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Eisenhower’s counterpart, had overall command of all German forces in the West. Neither Montgomery or Rommel would have direct command over the theatre naval and air forces.

The remarkable similarities in their situations ceased at this point. Montgomery worked within one the most cooperative and efficient alliances in history and within a chain of command that functioned rationally. Although he had professional disagreements, some of them bitter, with his peers and colleagues, the system consistently supported his efforts to plan and prepare for the invasion. He was given the widest latitude and initiative. Rommel, on the other hand, worked within a system that had been both morally and professionally distorted by the evil genius of Adolf Hitler. His chain of command theoretically ran from the German High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht – OKW) through von Rundstedt at OB West to himself at Army Group B. The reality was that the unity of command of his army group was badly compromised. He could not move a single division without Hitler’s express permission. Hitler involved himself in every detail and muddied the concept of operations to meet the invasion. Rommel did not even control most of the panzer divisions held in reserve to counterattack the landing. That was the domain of the Commander of Panzer Forces West, General Geyr von Schweppenburg, who reported to von Rundstedt.

The great issue that the Germans were not able to resolve before the invasion was the concept and timing of the counterattacks that would drive the invasion into the sea. Rommel was adamant that the operational reserves should be held closely behind the coast. Allied air power would harry and bleed those held deeper inland as they tried to move, so delaying them that they would arrive too late and too understrength to defeat the invasion. Von Rundstedt and von Geyr, having never commanded under conditions of enemy air superiority, tended to discount Rommel’s warnings. They maintained that the panzer reserves should be held deeper inland so as to be able to move to any sector of the threatened front. Hitler never endorsed one or the other position decisively. The result was that Rommel was given control of only three panzer divisions: Panzer Lehr, 21st Panzer, and 12th SS Panzer. He wanted to put them all behind the coastal defences in Normandy between the Rivers Vire and Orne. Again Hitler intervened to micromanage affairs, by ruling that Rommel could only move one division, 21st Panzer, directly behind the front. It was not until late May that Rommel was able to extract from Hitler permission to move Hitlerjugend to the Norman coast as well. However, the Führer was adamant that Panzer Lehr remain inland in the area between Chartres and Le Mans.

In divining the location of the invasion, the great question facing the Germans and one the Allies took great pains to keep from them, Rommel was at first convinced by the conventional wisdom that the invasion would come the shortest distance across the Channel, straight at the Pas-de-Calais area. The Pas-de-Calais not only offered a short road into the Reich itself but was site of the vaunted, mysterious ‘wonder weapon’ that Hitler had promised would make the English weep for peace. Naturally the Allies would strike there. But as the winter turned to spring, Hitler’s vaunted intuition seemed to make a comeback. He sensed more than analyzed that Normandy might be the site of the invasion or at least a major diversion. Rommel’s increasing familiarity with his sector had also changed his mind to the degree that he thought at the very least the Allies would conduct major airborne diversionary landings in Normandy. Infantry divisions that had been going consistently to reinforce the 15th Army at the Pas-de-Calais now began to be assigned to 7th Army. The 91st Airlanding Division was moved to the Cotentin Peninsula, and in March the 352nd Infantry Division was assigned to the Calvados coast, the area between the Vire and the Orne and the responsibility of Generalleutnant Erich Marcks, commander of LXXXIV Corps. Rommel also specifically ordered that Kraiss’ division take over a section of the coastal defences manned by one of the weaker coastal defence divisions. Hitler’s interest was the key to approving the move of 21st Panzer and 12th SS Panzer Divisions up behind the coast to support Marcks’ corps.

Montgomery would have been appalled at Rommel’s difficulties. It would have been cruel to have informed Rommel, on the other hand, of Montgomery’s scope for action. Essentially Montgomery threw out the plans already prepared for the invasion. Using every bit of authority he had been given to plan, prepare, and conduct the invasion, he took even more and was supported because he manifestly knew what he was doing. He had already identified the essentials of the invasion concept. Now he devised the strategic plan that would underlie all else. The British 2nd Army would land with three divisions abreast on a two-corps (I and XXX Corps) front west of the Orne River. The Americans would land with two divisions as the lead elements of two corps (V and VII Corps) further west. The two lodgements would link up into a solid lodgement as quickly as possible. The British sector, being closer to open country and 150 miles closer to Paris than the Americans, would attract the strategic priority of the Germans and most of their armoured forces. The mission of 2nd Army was to hold this attention and the panzers while the American 1st Army built up sufficient forces for a major breakout of the lodgement which would in turn envelop the Germans concentrated against the British. There was a strategic elegance in the simplicity and practicality of the plan.

Montgomery had another priceless advantage over Rommel. Although neither man had operational control over the naval and air forces in theatre, Montgomery had the fullest support and cooperation of those two arms in both the planning and conduct of operations. Rommel had to deal with national commanders of these services who were jealous of their authority to the point of obstruction of the war effort. But by the spring of 1944, the cooperation of the increasingly impotent Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were of questionable value anyway. Montgomery, on the other hand, had call on massive air and naval fleets of unsurpassed power and capability.

Without doubt the greatest advantage possessed by Montgomery over Rommel was the ability to read his enemy’s thoughts. The British Goverment Code and Cipher School at Bletchley succeeded in breaking the coded messages from the seemingly unbreakable German Enigma coding machine. Enigma was in use throughout the Wehrmacht as the ultimate in secure radio communications. The exploitation of this ability was codenamed Ultra, and the Allies had taken priceless advantage of it in the Mediterranean Theatre where radio communications were vital. The Western European Theatre was more of a problem. Active operations had ceased in 1940, and four years of comfortable garrison conditions had allowed the Germans to install landline communications throughout the occupied countries. Prior to D-Day, Ultra was reading comparatively little from OB West. The destruction or disruption of the landline system in order to drive German communications into the vulnerable air, therefore, became a high priority for the few days just prior to the invasion.

In the advantages and disadvantages so far listed, Rommel had come off a poor second. In one arena, though, he retained a sharp and frustrating lead. The German soldier consistently demonstrated overall greater qualities of aggressive leadership, offensive-mindedness, and initiative at every level than his British and American counterparts. One senior British officer asked in exasperation how it was that they were reading the enemy’s mail and still had not beaten him. The answer was in the mettle of the German soldier. General Harold Alexander noted of the Americans: ‘They simply do not know their job as soldiers and this is the case from the general to the private soldier. Perphaps the weakest link of all is the junior leader, who just does not lead, with the result that their men don’t really fight.’ If the Americans lacked a consistently good junior leader to follow, the British soldier, particularly the English, all too often lost heart and gave ground when his officers were killed and wounded. So noted was this characteristic that the Germans were making it a priority to kill junior British officers in Italy. After D-Day one American battalion commander paid the Germans the ultimate compliment, although he was dealing with the elite Fallschirmjägers:

You know, those Germans are the best soldiers I ever saw. They’re smart and they don’t know what the word ‘fear’ means. They come in and they keep coming until they get their job done or you kill ’em… If they had as many people as we have they could come right through us any time they made up their minds to do it.

Tokugawa Ieyasu Wins the Battle of Sekigahara

Japanese screen depicting the Battle of Sekigahara

21 October 1600

The Age of the Shoguns

There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, love, grief, fear, and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called patient… I have practised patience.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616)

Japan, after the death of its feudal overlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1535–98), was threatened by anarchy. A council of five co-regents had been nominated by Hideyoshi to rule Japan after his death and during the minority of his son Toyotomi Hideyori. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), as head of the regency council, emerged as a dominant figure but Ishida Mitsunari (1563–1600), another council member, challenged his authority.

Mitsunari and Ieyasu were supported by the war lords of, respectively, western and eastern Japan, and came to do battle at Sekigahara, a narrow pass of strategic importance between Lake Biwa and Nagoya in central Japan on 21 October 1600. At about 8 a.m, as the mists cleared after a night of driving rain, the first shots of musketry were heard. The contest between the 80,000-strong army of the west and the slightly smaller army of the east was even until midday. But Ieyasu’s espionage network, ahead of the battle, had already persuaded elements of the ‘army of the west’ to defect. A force on the hill above that army’s southern line advanced on its own allies and delivered the victory to Ieyasu.

Mitsunari’s defeat led to his execution and Ieyasu either banished the nobles who had supported him or deprived them of their lands. He then redistributed the fiefdoms among his own supporters. But since many feudal nobles supported Hideyori’s legitimacy the ambitious, but cautious, Ieyasu allowed the seven-year-old boy to keep his father’s stronghold, Osaka castle, and gave him his granddaughter in marriage. The battle was the last major opposition to Tokugawa power. The emperor, whose power was merely nominal, confirmed Ieyasu’s authority when, in 1603, he appointed him shogun – supreme military ruler of Japan. When Ieyasu retired in 1605 he ensured that the title of shogun was transferred to his son Tokugawa Hidetada. A dynasty had therefore been established but Ieyasu retained effective control until his death.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century Japan had dissolved into a collection of some 400 effectively independent states and the emperor’s authority was just a formality. But Japanese attempts at establishing central authority dated back to the country’s emergence as a distinctive civilization in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. The constitution of 604 had asserted the emperor’s authority over the nobility, the national reforms of 646 established the emperor’s title to all Japanese land, and Nara became the country’s administrative capital. Buddhism, imported from China through the adjacent Korean peninsula, was used to elevate imperial power. But Japan, unlike Korea, failed to transplant the much-admired Chinese example of a hierarchical and centralized administration. Buddhist monasteries and great families were granted private estates as a reward for crown service and this diminished the imperial patrimony. In 794 the emperors decided to move their court to the new capital of Heian (Kyoto) in order to escape the political influence of Buddhist monks at Nara. However, they then found themselves dominated by the Fujiwara clan, whose members intermarried with the imperial family and became the country’s predominant power. The absence of a central army meant that the country’s provinces were run by the monasteries and by the private armies of nobles. Samurai soldiers roamed the countryside and observed their own chivalric code. By the twelfth century, a time when Fujiwara power was waning, the samurai were influential in court politics.

Shoguns, as supreme military rulers, ruled with the aid of provincial subordinates – the shugo. The flow of power to the peripheries proved to be a chronic feature of Japanese political and military life: the shugo established themselves as regional rulers and the shoguns’ power diminished. But the shugo themselves lost their authority in the provinces after the civil war (1467–77) caused by a quarrel about the shogunate succession. The real victors were a new class of feudal warriors and provincial power-brokers known as the daimyo. Samurai warriors provided the daimyo with private armies, which led to internecine warfare. They in turn, as befitted their vassal status, received their own small estates. In the west such feudalism had led to national legal and political structures but Japanese feudalism militated against any such authority. Daimyo castles dominated their particular areas as centres for trade, urban development and the arts. Within their fortresses some of the daimyo became influential patrons of the ritualized Noh drama, the tea ceremonies, painting and prose romances which gave Japan a national cultural style despite the fragmentation so evident elsewhere.

The man who ended the chaos by establishing a centralized despotism started life as a victim of the age of Japanese anarchy. Tokugawa Ieyasu was born into a struggling warrior family and his father’s alliances meant that Ieyasu’s mother was separated from the family when her son was two. At the age of seven he became a hostage of the powerful Imagawa clan and two years afterwards Ieyasu’s father was killed by one of his vassals. The Imagawa educated Ieyasu as both warrior and administrator and his earliest campaigns were waged on behalf of the clan. But the age’s dominant figure was Oda Nobunaga, with whom Ieyasu formed an alliance after Nobunaga’s defeat of the Imagawa. Nobunaga had captured Kyoto and started an anti-Buddhist campaign, slaughtering monks and destroying temples. The Portuguese had by now introduced firearms into the country: muskets were reproduced and tactics changed. Nobunaga exploited these developments. The castle of Azuchi, built as his base on the shores of Lake Biwa in central Japan, showed the novel quality of his power. Earlier castles were defensive citadels built in remote mountain strongholds but Azuchi, built on the plains, asserted political and administrative order rather than just military control. Ieyasu was able to return to his family’s estates, near Nagoya on the central east coast, where he established a tax regime and a system of civilian administration to run his small army. He replaced the Imagawa during the 1570s as the dominant regional power so that he became the daimyo in charge of a prosperous and well-populated area.

Nobunaga, following an attack by one of his vassals, died in 1582 and Toyotomi Hideyoshi emerged as his successor within the Oda territories. During the 1580s Hideyoshi extended his authority over the daimyo of south-west Japan and his defeat of the Hojo clan enabled him to consolidate control of eastern Japan. Hideyoshi suggested that his ally Ieyasu should surrender his coastal provinces in return for the Hojo lands further east and the Tokugawa vassals and army were therefore transferred to land centred on the fishing village of Edo (Tokyo).

Hideyoshi in his vast domain and Ieyasu in his compact one followed policies designed to sustain their authority. Hideyoshi disarmed the peasantry and insisted that the samurai should now live in castle towns rather than roam the countryside ever ready to lend support to rural rebellions. A land survey yielded new taxes and Hideyoshi moved to suppress the Christian faith established in Japan by the Portuguese in 1572. Ieyasu placed large tracts of land under the direct administration of his own officials, drew up land surveys, and confiscated villagers’ weapons. Artisans and businessmen were encouraged to come and work in his new castle town.

After his victory at Sekigahara Ieyasu issued regulations and established administrative bodies which controlled the activities of the nobility, the Buddhist clergy and the daimyo. His aim was the creation of a stable and self-sufficient state by autocratic means: farming and trade were segregated, private investment banned and different parts of the country were only meant to communicate with each other by travelling along the strictly controlled five Imperial highways which converged on Ieyasu’s court. The Japanese were stopped from travelling abroad and, after the ban on the building of large ships (1638), had few means of travel to tempt them. Japanese hostility to trade grew since they saw from the examples of Goa, Malacca and Macau how missionaries always followed in the traders’ footsteps. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, had first arrived in Japan in 1549 and Christianization had been rapid. By 1615 some half a million of Japan’s eighteen-million population were Christian. Ieyasu embarked on a systematic anti-Christian policy which later culminated in the slaughter of 37,000 Japanese Christians at Hara castle near Nagasaki after Christian peasants, aided by samurai mercenaries, rose in rebellion. Three thousand one hundred and twenty-five officially recognized Catholic martyrdoms occurred during the Tokugawa era. All Japanese now had to register at local Buddhist temples and alien faiths were proscribed.

The need to control the daimyo ensured that both Ieyasu and his son kept them hard at work building, extending and embellishing the castle at Edo. By the time of Ieyasu’s death it was the world’s largest castle. Surrounding it were the mansions in which the daimyo lived as virtual hostages. The issue of the succession to Hidetada still plagued his father, especially when Toyotomi Hideyori attained his majority in 1614. The seventy-one-year-old warrior therefore led an army to seize Osaka castle and finally crush the Toyotomi clan with the help of Hidetada, who raised an army of 90,000 warriors. After a year-long campaign the castle fell and Hideyori, along with his family, committed suicide.

Ieyasu established the isolationism of the Edo period (1603–1867), which was dominated by the Tokugawa shogunate and as a prolonged period of peace is without parallel in advanced societies. Economically, the experiment was successful for a long time: cities boomed and agriculture expanded. The population grew to some thirty million by the early eighteenth century, but with virtually no foreign trade the state had to be financed almost exclusively from agricultural taxes whose burdens caused many peasants to leave the land. Samurai fell into debt and rural discontent spread. The peace meant that the army was largely redundant and the educated samurai joined the ranks of the bureaucrats who ran the highly centralized administration created by Ieyasu and which remains in place today. This concentration of power also produced enormous powers of patronage which proved to be another longterm national legacy. Japan’s introspective sense of its cultural uniqueness – and of its distinctiveness among its Asian neighbours – deepened during this period. But keeping the west at bay proved a high-cost policy. Japan could not assimilate western technology on its own terms. And western technology meant western power. A secluded society grew vulnerable to the feared ‘barbarian’.

General Brusilov

During the uneasy inter-Allied conference at Chantilly in November 1915 the policy of coordinating Allied moves in the west and on the Russian fronts had been re-confirmed. Whatever Nicholas II’s generals had thought initially about their role as decoys to relieve German pressure in Flanders and, to a lesser extent the Austro-Hungarian threat against Italy, their reliance on Western arms shipments again forced them to launch an offensive – this time to coincide with the planned Allied offensive on the Somme, which was intended to develop into the ‘big push’ that would end the war. With OHL giving priority to building up men and munitions for Falkenhayn’s planned killing blow at the exposed fortress-city of Verdun in the spring – nobody then guessed that nearly a million men would die there, mostly blown to pieces by high-explosive shells – on the Russian fronts the winter 1915–16 passed in a series of small attacks of no great moment except to the thousands of men who were wounded, taken prisoner, died in combat or succumbed to exposure.

The Tsar paid a visit to several units on the south-western front, one of them 8th Army, commanded by General Brusilov, a slim and wiry cavalryman whose army career went back to the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. When the bodyguards’ train arrived one hour before the royal train, the commander of the guard expressed concern that Austro-Hungarian aircraft might bomb the units to be inspected during the visit, putting the Tsar’s life at risk. Brusilov pointed out that the low cloud would keep aircraft on the ground, so there was no danger of that happening. Accompanying the Tsar and crown prince, he noted how stiff and awkward they were when talking to the soldiers. A few overdue medals were presented and the royal train disappeared. Describing this in his memoirs, Brusilov contrasts this pointless visit with the fact that the commander of the south-western front, General Ivanov, visited the front so rarely that he had no idea of the morale or capability of his troops. He not only failed to make any preparations for an offensive, but also openly voiced his opinion that his troops could not defend their own lines, if attacked. This was in distinct contrast with Brusilov, who was already mapping out plans for 8th Army to attack and drive Austrian 4th Army under Archduke Joseph Ferdinand back to the Styr and Stockhod rivers. His only reservation was that his right flank needed to be protected by 3rd Army, which was not part of Ivanov’s command because it fell under the western front, commanded by General Aleksei Evert. Evert was an imposing man of fifty-nine whose chest was covered in medals and stars, but who was equally as lacking in fighting spirit as Ivanov. As time would tell tragically, Brusilov was right to suspect Evert of failing to support an attack by a neighbouring unit or army, even when ordered to do so.

As a sop to Brusilov, front commander Ivanov allotted sotni of Cossack cavalry to patrol on 8th Army’s right flank. As Brusilov pointed out, they were intended for fast-moving manoeuvres in open country and could not be of much use in the Pripyat marshes there. Instead, these bands of horsemen mainly roamed about behind the Russian lines, raping and looting the property of the remaining inhabitants. Their only successful operation against the enemy that winter was a raid by three dismounted sotni, who used local guides to follow secret paths through the marshes and raid the HQ of a German infantry division, capturing several officers including the commanding general. Generally, officer POWs were well treated when captured by regular troops but these prisoners must have been ill treated by the Cossacks because the general committed suicide, cutting his throat with a razor after receiving permission to shave himself. At the end of the winter, these irregulars were disbanded, with some men sentenced to death by court martial or exiled to hard labour for robbery and rape. As Brusilov commented in his memoirs without actually mentioning Ivanov, it is amazing how many otherwise intelligent people have stupid ideas!

He, as commander of 8th Army, spent the winter overseeing the construction of better shelters, both for the men’s comfort and health, and to protect them from artillery fire when winter gave way to spring and the front heated up again. However, when he later saw the reinforced concrete shelters constructed by the Austrians, he admitted that they were a great deal more impressive – especially the plentiful bathhouses which enabled the enemy troops to keep cleaner and less lice-infested than Russian infantrymen. It is true that there was less disease in the tsarist armies than in previous wars, yet outbreaks of typhus, cholera and smallpox recurred, as Florence Farmborough was to find. Nevertheless, Brusilov considered that morale was good, while regretting the lack of sufficient heavy artillery and aircraft for reconnaissance and artillery observation on south-western front and a total lack of armoured motor vehicles. These last had been promised from France, but did not arrive during the time he was commanding 8th Army.

When Falkenhayn at OHL began his Verdun offensive on 21 February 1916, Tsar Nicholas informed his generals that, in keeping with the ‘request’ of General Joffre at Chantilly, a new offensive must be launched on the Russian fronts to immobilise German forces that could otherwise be transferred to Verdun. The most promising sector for such an attack was on the northern front in the area of Lake Narotch (modern Narach in Belarus), where elements of two Russian armies totalling 350,000 men faced a German line held by General Hermann von Eichhorn’s 75,000-strong 10th German Army. The northern front was commanded since von Plehve’s health had given way by General Aleksei Kuropatkin, a man so disgraced during the defeat by the Japanese a decade earlier that he should not have been given any command, in Brusilov’s opinion. Grand Duke Nikolai had rightly refused to appoint Kuropatkin, but had been over-ruled by the Tsar when he took over as supreme commander.

On 17 March at the lake – now a peaceful and verdant tourist area – Russian 2nd Army opened the offensive. With conditions seemingly favourable for a rapid victory to raise Russian morale and please the French, a two-day preparatory bombardment that used up much Russian ammunition was so badly directed that it caused scant damage to the German artillery. The price for this was paid when the infantry went in, in tightly grouped squads. Not only did they suffer as obvious targets for the German artillery, but the failure to spread out and use what cover was available caused a terrible slaughter from well-sited German machine gun positions with interlocking fields of fire. The few local gains made were all subsequently lost in German counter-attacks. Early in April, this sector of the front went quiet, having cost another 100,000 Russian casualties, including around 10,000 men who died of exposure in the harsh weather conditions. For this further blot on his record, Kuropatkin was later relieved of his command and sent to distant Turkestan as its Governor-General.

On the day before the Lake Narotch offensive opened, Brusilov received an encoded telegram from Stavka, in which Chief of Staff General Mikhail Alekseyev informed him confidentially that he was being appointed commander of the whole south-western front, replacing Ivanov, who had had a nervous breakdown – as a result of which he was being transferred to a sinecure post in the Tsar’s household. Ten days later, 120 miles behind the lines at Berdychev, Brusilov arrived at Ivanov’s HQ to take formal command of the whole front. He found Ivanov living in a railway carriage, ready to depart, weeping and asking repeatedly why he had been sacked. This embarrassing behaviour continued at dinner in front of his staff. As Brusilov dryly commented, he could give no reply to Ivanov, not being privy to the precise reasons for Alekseyev’s decision.

The Tsar had not been keen on Brusilov’s appointment, but refrained from blocking it. He arrived on another tour of the south-western front and insisted on inspecting 11th Army, speaking to the troops paraded for the occasion without a glimmer of charisma. As Brusilov commented, the speech was not such as to lift the spirits of the men. During the visit, enemy aircraft appeared but were driven off by Russian artillery. To his credit – or perhaps his lack of imagination – the Tsar remained with 11th Army for two days and nights. Kaiser Wilhelm was also visiting German troops on the other side of the lines, where his gruff man-to-man manner had always gone down well with the rank-and-file, although on this visit he noticed for the first time an unpleasant surliness in his troops due to the high casualties, the harsh weather on the Russian fronts and news from home of social unrest and the imprisonment of revolutionary socialists like Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

Brusilov’s next meeting with Tsar Nicholas was on 14 April, when attending his first meeting of Stavka as commander of the south-western front. This took place in Mogilyov (modern Magilyou in Belarus), described as a depressing town, chosen because it had some large buildings to accommodate the various staffs, and was presided over in his usual indecisive manner by Nicholas. Among the officers present was General Evert, commanding the Russian western front, who supported Kuropatkin’s claim that the failure at Lake Narotch had been due to inadequate reserves of artillery shells. They both agreed that this made further offensives pointless. As chief of staff, Alekseyev nevertheless ordered a summer offensive on the northern front by 2nd and 10th armies when new conscripts had replaced casualties and missing in action, to bring strength up to between 700,000 and 800,000 men. The right flank of this offensive would drive on Vilna while the rest of this force, outnumbering the Germans by a ratio of 5: 1 or better, was tasked with playing a waiting game to interdict movement of enemy formations against the right flank. But there was a trade-off. There always was with Alekseyev, an unpretentious man of humble origin who tried to avoid contact with his own staff and felt embarrassed if he did not pay his own mess bill, unlike many of the noble officers he commanded, who took it as of right that the army should feed them. In his favour, it has to be said that he had effected an excellent clear-out of the aristocratic cavalrymen who had scavenged at the table of his predecessor, yet was unable to impose his will at times like this. He agreed to a two-month delay and accepted the need for 1,000 more heavy guns for the preparatory bombardment.

At this conference, Brusilov surprised the other front commanders by volunteering to direct a simultaneous offensive on his front to prevent the enemy moving reinforcements on the railway network in Austrian Galicia to reinforce their positions on the northern front. After he refused to be deterred by Alekseyev’s warning that he could expect no priority in reinforcements or materiel, Kuropatkin and Evert rubbished the idea of Brusilov’s offer. At dinner that evening one of the senior generals – in his memoirs, Brusilov does not name him, for whatever reason – gave some advice: ‘You’ve just been appointed front commander. Your reputation stands very high, why take a risk like that which could tarnish it and cancel out all your achievements so far?’ Brusilov replied that he saw it as his duty to attempt to win the war, whatever the problems of manpower and materiel.

He reasoned that the crippling shortage of artillery, rifles and ammunition that had beset the Russian armies earlier in the war was being steadily overcome, and that the situation would continue to improve because the retreat of 1915 had shortened the front, making re-supply more rapid, and Russia’s indigenous armament industry was at last producing 1.5 billion cartridges and 1.3 million rifles per annum, with a further 2 million in process of importation from abroad. The standard of recruit training was also much improved and a policy of initially drafting ‘new meat’ to quiet sectors of the front meant that raw recruits no longer de-trained to find themselves thrown into combat the next morning. Ivanov, still not recovered from his breakdown, was in habitual negative mood and asked the Tsar to veto Brusilov’s proposal. As usual, Nicholas refused to throw his weight on either side, so Brusilov left Stavka to present his plan to his own staff.

Alexei Brusilov was unlike most of his fellow generals in the Russian forces in not being an alumnus of the General Staff Academy. He also did not share their conviction that endless bayonet charges would win the war by killing more of ‘them’ than ‘us’. To his way of thinking, new materiel like tanks and aircraft offered more efficient possibilities. To some extent, this was because he was familiar with Western European military thinking, having visited the German, French and Austro-Hungarian cavalry schools before the war and had made his own independent analysis of the Japanese defeat of Kuropatkin and his army commanders Rennenkampf and Samsonov in the war of 1904–5. Britain’s senior soldier of the Second World War, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery considered that Brusilov was one of the seven outstanding commanders of the First World War. It is certainly arguable that the eventual result of the war in the east might have been very different, had Brusilov been given overall control at the outset and authority to override the blinkered nineteenth-century thinking of the generals senior to him, particularly at Stavka.

The third generation of his family to serve in the tsarist army – his grandfather had fought against Napoleon in 1812 – Alexei was born in 1853 in Tiflis of a Russian father and Polish mother. Orphaned young, he was raised by relatives in Georgia until the age of 14, when he was sent to continue his education with the prestigious Corps of Pages in Saint Petersburg – a promising first step to a military career. There, a tutor’s report on him contained the comment: ‘Of high potential, but inclined to be lazy.’ The slur hardly fits with the man he showed himself to be in 1916. His rejection by the Tsar’s prestigious guards regiments had more to do with lack of family money to subsidise life as a guards officer than any character defect. Instead, he was posted with the rank of ensign to a lowly dragoon regiment back home in Georgia.

There, keenness and efficiency saw him rapidly promoted to regimental adjutant with the rank of lieutenant. In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 he was awarded several medals and ended the war as a captain. He must have caught the eye of some senior officers, for this was followed by a posting to the prestigious cavalry officer school in St Petersburg, leading to an appointment on the staff of the college, where he spent the next thirteen years. By 1902 he was a lieutenant general commanding the school. It was at this time he was able to travel to France, Austria-Hungary and Germany, ostensibly to study horse breeding and other harmless matters, but also to observe first-hand, in Germany and Austro-Hungary, the manoeuvres of the very armies he would almost certainly be confronting one day, and thus gaining an appreciation of their commanders’ thinking.

Although not as shattering to Russian society as the 1917 revolution, the revolution of 1905, triggered by Russia’s defeat and appalling death toll in the Russo-Japanese war, caused much disruption of life in St Petersburg, as it then was. Coming after the death of his first wife, this caused Brusilov to seek a posting away from the capital. He was rewarded in 1912 with appointment as deputy commander-in-chief of all Russian forces in the strategically important Warsaw Military District. It was, however, not a happy time because his superior, Governor-General Georgi Skalon, was an autocrat whose brutal repression of civil unrest there at the time of the 1905 Russian revolution had led to an attempt on his life by Polish nationalists. Brusilov simply did not fit in the rigid pomp-and-circumstance hierarchy of Skalon’s command and had himself transferred to Kiev in the Ukraine.

On mobilisation in July 1914, he was promoted to command Russian 8th Army on the south-west front in Galicia, which smashed its way through the opposing Austro-Hungarian forces, rapidly advancing nearly 100 miles, but had to retreat in the general withdrawal after Tannenberg. Early 1915 saw the same script replayed, with Brusilov’s spearheads advancing through the Carpathian passes to threaten Budapest until forced back in the general retreat. Never the sort of commander to stay back at HQ all the time, he had thoroughly reorganised 8th Army before handing over command to his successor and made a complete tour of inspection of the whole south-western front after his promotion to front commander. He felt confident that, although his two previous successes had been forfeited by the shortcomings on his flanks and shortages of materiel, this time Evert would have to attack simultaneously, so that he could again push the opposing German and Austro-Hungarian forces back to the Carpathians and this time hold them there.

Brusilov disagreed with the customary Russian practice of concentrating an offensive on a small sector of the front for the good reason that this left the advancing troops vulnerable to counter-attack on the flanks. What he was planning, was an attack that would hit the enemy in many places over the whole 280-mile length of the south-western front, reasoning that this would prevent the enemy moving forces to strengthen weak positions, one of which would give way and lead to a collapse. His artillery was also to be deployed differently, not to make saturation barrages but to target strategic points such as road junctions and command posts of the German units they were facing. Brusilov even accepted the transfer of some divisions to Evert’s front on the assumption they would be attacking at the same time as he did and securing his right flank.

On 17 April at front HQ in Berdychev he therefore informed his four army commanders that the offensive would be launched simultaneously in a number of places from the southern limit of the Pripyat marshes down to the Romanian border, with 8th Army targeting particularly the railway junctions at Lutsk and Kovel – an axis that had the potential to split the opposing CP forces in two. The army commanders’ reaction mirrored that of the generals at Stavka. In fairness to them, the enormous scale of previous losses in this theatre and the fact that every advance made had, sooner or later, been repulsed by the enemy, had eroded whatever aggressive spirit they once had. Traditional military thinking was that an attacking force should be roughly three times as strong as the defenders. With a manpower ratio of roughly 1:1 – each side had about 135,000 men in the line on this front – General Aleksei Kaledin, commanding 8th Army because of family connections with the Tsar, who had blocked Brusilov’s choice of appointee for that post, said openly that the offensive could not succeed. He was pulled up sharply by Brusilov, who reminded him that he had just handed 8th Army over to him and was personally aware that it was well prepared to attack – and also that he was familiar with every mile of 8th Army’s front. The commander of 7th Army, General Dmitri Shcherbachev was the only one initially favourable to Brusilov’s plans, and even he allowed himself to be talked round until Brusilov found all four of his army commanders speaking out openly against them. He then informed them all that he was not asking for their advice, but ordering them to prepare the offensive.

His four armies gave him forty infantry divisions and fifteen cavalry divisions. The four opposing armies they would be taking on consisted of thirty-eight infantry divisions and eleven of cavalry. In artillery, Brusilov’s 168 heavy guns and 1,770 light guns roughly matched the Austro-Hungarians’ 545 medium and heavy guns and 1,301 light guns on that front.

Time spent in preparation is seldom wasted. The old maxim from Caesar’s day, or earlier, was Brusilov’s credo. He commenced by ordering reserves brought forward all along the line, so that enemy aerial reconnaissance could not determine at what point the offensive was likely to come. Once ‘up’, these troops were set to excavating sheltered places d’armes or assembly areas for thousands of men, with the displaced soil piled up into berms running parallel to the front line, both to impede observation from the ground and to afford some protection against incoming artillery fire. From these areas, communication trenches were dug to the front lines. Not content with that, Brusilov ordered saps, or tunnels, to be dug out into no man’s land. The purpose of these was to bring the jumping-off points for his infantry within 50–100yd of the enemy lines and thus radically reduce the time they were exposed to machine gun fire during the assault.

Lee’s Last Command I

Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Generals

When Gen. Robert E. Lee established a stalemate in Virginia with the siege of Petersburg, and the indirect siege of Richmond, the heartland of the older south presented the appearance of a continuing existence as the Confederacy. There was an obvious recession from its vast military front of the year before, when the nation had armies in the field from Pennsylvania to the lower Mississippi. But there were no serious indentations on its thousand miles of Atlantic coastline, nor penetrations in its productive access from the ocean to west of the Alleghenies. West of the mountains, the army under Sherman presented the only serious threat from Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico, including stretches in Alabama and Mississippi westward along the Gulf. Though isolated across the Mississippi River a separate domain existed in Texas (ingeniously supplied by trading through Matamoras) and armies operated in the lost lands of Arkansas and Missouri.

In western Georgia, the railroad junction city of Atlanta occupied on its front the equivalent position of Richmond in the East. No armies had previously approached this center, where strong outlying works were built and where Governor Brown promised he could field the thousands of state militia whose votes had saved them from conscription, Military actions of various size radiating out from the Atlanta area gave an impression of military stability to the Confederate West. A brilliant victory by Forrest at Brice’s Crossroads gave Old Bedford in his sphere the quality of invincibility which Lee sustained in his.

This appearance of stability was illusory. In the West there was no general with the prestige nor the diplomacy of Lee, who could gain compromises with the commander in chief and, in extreme emergency, break the barriers of the departmental system. As in Virginia even Lee had been able to circumvent the system only to the extent of fending off disaster and gaining a stalemate, in the West, where the commander in chief ruled supreme, nothing could save the Southern armed forces from the consequences of departmentalization.

This is not to imply that Jefferson Davis’s control of the military establishment and its policy caused the collapse of the extemporized agrarian Confederacy before the might of an industrialized nation four times its size. Libraries are crowded with volumes explaining the reasons why the quickly formed confederation was unable to maintain itself against physical force long enough to be granted its independence. Yet, exhibiting an heroic quality of the spirit to endure physically weakening and mentally discouraging hardships, along with a remarkable ingenuity and inventiveness, its soldiers and citizenry maintained armies in protection of its vital areas in June, 1864. It was in relation to those armies and the remaining key positions that Davis’s operation of his system doomed the Western Confederacy, regardless of what other forces may have been at work.

With the example of the Richmond-Petersburg front before his daily gaze, the obsessed President effected a faithful reproduction of the arrangement at Atlanta. Only minor details were changed, according to the different personalities. Atlanta’s department was sealed off from departments to the east and to the southwest, and Joe Johnston, the commander of the main army, could not obtain troops from adjoining departments to concentrate against the enemy’s main objective.

Within this standard procedure, the irrational element was Davis’s sudden turn to offense for defense-minded Joe Johnston, outnumbered two to one. As Joe Johnston’s reasonable protests were regarded merely as a subordinate’s efforts to thwart the authority of his superior, the General’s request for the one solution to his problem was dismissed as an excuse. But Johnston requested the one move feared by Sherman: Forrest turned loose on the Federal line of supplies.

It happened that the commander of the department to the southwest of Atlanta did not wish to relinquish Forrest. The great cavalry raider could serve better by guarding property in Alabama and Mississippi. Though it was natural for Davis to give departmental stability preference over a strategic objective, the case involving the Department of Alabama and Mississippi was special.

Civilian authorities and newspaper editors joined General Johnston’s appeal for Forrest to operate on Sherman’s communication, and Davis’s back stiffened at the suggestion that those persons knew more than he did. Also the department commander, Major General Dabney Maury, a regulation-style West Pointer, was a gentleman both by birth and act of Congress, while Bedford Forrest, an unlettered ex-slave dealer, was a rough customer who made up his own rules of war as he went along.

It was not, as it has sometimes been made to appear, that Davis missed the native genius for warfare uniquely possessed by Forrest. Davis showed no appreciation of any of the “originals” in the Confederacy, and little interest in accomplishments which did not fit into the system under his control.

Stonewall Jackson was a discovery of Lee, who personally gave that unexpected genius his chance while the commander in chief was preoccupied with Joe Johnston in their 1862 misunderstanding. Outside Davis’s area of concern, semi-autonomous domains were operated by Gorgas in ordnance, General Anderson in the cannon-producing Tredegar Iron Works, and young Dr. McCaw at Chimborazo Hospital, then the world’s largest military hospital and the most advanced of any kind. (The President’s bureaucratic medical director, Dr. Moore, reproached McCaw for negligence in his morning reports during the period when Chimborazo Hospital was achieving the lowest mortality rates in medical history until the sulfa drugs of World War II.)

Almost forgotten in the Navy Department, Secretary Mallory and Matthew Fontaine Maury, the oceanographer, were very imaginative in concepts and inventive in technology. The Confederate naval forces introduced the first ironclad warship, the first combat submarine, were extremely advanced in the use of underwater torpedoes and highly original in the production of the ram (notably the Arkansas and the Albemarle), designed to nullify the superior numbers and equipment of the United States naval forces.

This type of man, who recognized the need of new concepts and new methods adapted to the Confederacy’s specific circumstances, appeared in numbers and in a diversity of fields surprising in an essentially agricultural people fighting for an anachronistic culture. As their achievements were not interrelated in a single policy, the special gifts of these men were as wasted in their areas as was Forrest’s in the West. The misuse of Old Bedford was more dramatic because it was a focus of attention during a decisive campaign.

Jefferson Davis was acting according to form in restricting the Confederacy’s greatest raiding force to fending off enemy cavalry dispatched specifically for the purpose of keeping Forrest from Sherman’s lines of communication; and he merely repeated his pattern in Virginia when he refused to recognize a cause-and-effect strategy. The effect in Georgia was to permit Sherman to proceed to Atlanta untroubled by disruption to his supplies.

Since even Sherman, with his physical superiority, could not successfully attack dug-in troops at that stage of defensive warfare, Johnston executed an extremely skillful retreat and held the cautious enemy to a snail’s pace. However, by the time he reached the environs of Atlanta without striking an offensive blow, he was ruined with the President.

It is true that Johnston was secretive and evasive with his superior. Though Johnston talked then and later vaguely of his “plans,” he could only give ground, conserve his army, and hope for an opening in which he could deliver a counterstroke. The mutuality of the loathing between the two former West Point college mates made it impossible for Johnston to confide this to the President.

Someone should have told Davis that this was not the time to try to make up for all the lost opportunities of the past. A small army had been diverted from operations in the Lower South to help Sheridan drive Jubal Early out of the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. This not only helped stabilize the military situation in the Lower South but reduced Sherman’s supply of the replacements for losses which Grant had drawn upon. Of all times to hold on, this was it.

But Davis had seized upon the idea of an offensive as the one cure, and to get to the bottom of the matter with the recalcitrant Johnston, he sent Braxton Bragg to Atlanta. Bragg, of course, told the President what he wanted to hear, and General Joseph E. Johnston joined Harvey Hill in the growing legion of generals without commands.

Against Lee’s advice, Davis then appointed combative John Hood, whose skill at maneuvering for personal advancement exceeded both his military abilities and good judgment. Hood was a fine fighter of troops and a better soldier than his disastrous career as army commander would indicate. However, having won the position of army commander on the understanding that Davis’s offensive would be mounted, Hood was precommitted to attack a superior force.

It was not that Hood’s offensive around Atlanta was poorly conceived. As even Grant’s mighty hosts showed in Virginia, the times in the war were unfavorable for offense against an alert, determined enemy. Ten days after Hood’s appointment on July 18th, the poor, doomed men of the Army of Tennessee had attacked themselves out of Sherman’s path to Atlanta. The siege lasted little more than one month, and on September 2nd Sherman’s triumphant army marched into the half-wrecked city.

The illusory stability in the Lower South was immediately exposed. With the fall of Atlanta the bottom dropped out of the Confederate West. What had seemed in early July to be a broad front of Confederate resistance was suddenly reduced to the single hold-out of Lee.

To the North, the good news of Atlanta’s fall in early September obliterated the already dimming memory of Grant’s catastrophic losses back in June. Within three weeks more, before the end of September, the army collected under Sheridan in the Valley finally overran Jubal Early’s little force.

All the enemies accumulated by bitter Old Jube blamed him for the debacle. With a simple devotion not suggested by his harshness to others, Early accepted the calumny rather than excuse himself on the grounds of the disparity between his force and the enemy’s. After carrying the war to the enemy for three months, at the end he had little more than ten thousand men of all arms against close to fifty thousand under Sheridan.

Such personal details, unknown to either side, had no relation to the effect of the loss of the Shenandoah Valley. Though the South tried to explain away the disaster by making Jubal Early the goat, none could escape the costly loss of the supply center nor the moral effect of this defeat in the region associated with Stonewall Jackson’s great days. In the North, the sweeping aside of Early’s remnants redounded to the glory of Sheridan, who was finally able to enjoy an uninterrupted spree in the destruction of personal property. By then, with the war suddenly, or so it seemed, contracted to a single siege, obviously no Democratic peace party had a chance in the November elections. The Lincoln Administration would be supported to the finish, and the end did not come mercifully.

With Sherman in Atlanta and the Confederate forces outside, Hood occupied the Federals until mid-November. Then a concentration of Federal forces formed an army to contain Hood’s troops, while Sherman, after burning Atlanta, turned loose his soldiers on a march of pillage and destruction across Georgia to the port of Savannah. Hogs, chickens, milk cows were slaughtered, horses taken and barns burned. Family stores of bacon and corn meal were rooted out of hiding places and, if the women protested or the officer in charge of the raiding felt porky, the house was burned. By Christmas, when Savannah was occupied, Hood had wrecked the Army of Tennessee at Nashville, and the ragged, starving survivors were retreating into Mississippi.

In February, 1865, Sherman’s army, with the men then hardened by vandalism into a mob, started northward through South Carolina with the self-declared purpose of vengeance on the breeding ground of secession. The soldiers were allowed full license to loot, and they raged like hoodlums through private homes, taking jewelry, silver, whatever struck their fancy. Home-burnings became more commonplace until the state capital at Columbia was reached, on February 17th, and this city was, according to Sherman, “totally burned.” On the same day the ante-bellum, cosmopolitan planters’ paradise of Charleston was entered, bringing to an end its four-year-siege from the harbor.

The month before, Fort Fisher, guarding the approach to Wilmington, North Carolina, had fallen to an amphibious attack. Whiting, who had failed in the field with Beauregard at Petersburg, gave his life in leading an inspired defense of the fort strengthened by his engineering skill. Braxton Bragg, with no functions left as Military Advisor to the President, was officially in command of the department, with headquarters at Wilmington. On February 22nd, five days after Charleston was occupied, Wilmington was entered, and the last port on the Atlantic was closed. The Confederacy was isolated from the world.

After that, the pace to the finish was accelerated. On land Sherman started northward again, entering North Carolina. Another army started eastward from the coast. Cavalry raiders struck in from the West, terrorizing isolated families and running off stock. Joe Johnston was plucked from exile and given command of a heterogeneous collection of troops, including remnants of Hood’s army, assembled in North Carolina in Sherman’s fiery path. This force “melted away,” Johnston said, before his eyes. At every nightfall men simply walked off, the artillerists taking their personally owned mounts, to get home and look after their families.

Scattered fighting continued in stretches of the Lower South, and the small empire in Texas held on to its lonely existence. But the core of the Confederacy, as it existed in mid-June when Lee set his army to withstand the siege, had shrunk to the two hundred inland miles between Grant’s and Sherman’s armies.

By March, the Richmond-Petersburg fort had become an island, with its lines extended to more than thirty miles. Finally the lines were stretched too far for the declining army to man the works. The masses of the enemy poured over in waves and at last, eleven months after the campaign had begun, Lee was forced into the open.

He had nowhere to go and nothing to go with. When his survivors escaped from the overrun lines, Richmond was uncovered. Troops of Weitzel’s command, established in a permanent fine north of the James River, marched into the burning city, with the bands of a Negro division playing “The Year of Jubilee.”

The evacuation of Richmond removed the last conceivable justification for Lee’s army to remain in the field. Davis, however, fled the capital into some private world of his own, where he intended to carry on the resistance indefinitely.

The Civil War Trust

Czar Paul’s Reign

Paul I in the early 1790s

Military Parade of Emperor Paul in front of Mikhailovsky Castle painting by Alexandre Benois

The French Revolution had given new impetus to the demand for liberal reforms in Russia, but, more importantly, it rallied the strong reactionary elements around the empress. Talk of reform became treasonable and all hope of change vanished. Conditions in Russia continued to deteriorate alarmingly. Inflation, food shortages, the extravagances of the court, mounting military expenditures, and the underlying gangrene of serfdom combined to present the nation with a massive crisis. Russia needed an activist emperor, but forty-two-year-old Paul, who had succeeded Catherine, was unstable and impetuous.

Paul hated his mother. He blamed her for his father’s murder, and he bitterly resented the fact that she had usurped his throne for so many years. As much as possible, he rejected all that his mother had done. He shared Peter III’s hero worship of Frederick the Great and revered all things Prussian. He was obsessed with military parades and the paraphernalia of war. During the years when he was grand duke and heir to the throne, he had not been allowed to take part in state affairs. Virtually confined to his estate at Gatchina, he had spent his time drilling and parading his private army of 2,000 men. Now as emperor, he had the armies of the nation at his command.

St. Petersburg was transformed into a military camp. Army discipline became more savage. Men who were guilty of real or imagined mistakes were cruelly flogged. Paul further antagonized the army, and especially the regiments of guards, by introducing Prussian uniforms in place of the ones Peter the Great and Potemkin had designed.

The army and the parade ground defined Paul’s attitude toward the state. In his view, the emperor held the absolute power of a general over subjects, who were to be ordered about as though they were troops on parade. He regarded obedience and discipline as the basic needs of a healthy society. Apart from the regimentation he sought to impose, Russia began to suffer even more from the excessive centralization of all government functions in St. Petersburg.

Under Paul’s erratic rule, certain ukazy were issued to ease the burdens of the peasantry. A decree promulgated in April 1797, for example, laid down that landowners, some of whom exacted five or six days of labor a week from their serfs, should now require them to work only three days; the remaining three days belonged to the serfs for the cultivation of their own lands, and Sunday was for rest. However, it is doubtful this was ever enforced. The serfs had no means of recourse against landowners who ignored it. Paul, eager to limit the power of the upper classes, partially restored the right of the peasants to petition the throne with their grievances. But it was difficult to exercise this right, and landowners could still uproot their peasants and send them to Siberia. As if to negate these limited benefits, Paul insisted that unrest among the peasantry must be dealt with firmly. He issued a manifesto calling on all serfs to obey their masters without question.

At the same time, Paul antagonized the gentry by assailing privileges that Catherine had bestowed. In 1785, she had granted a charter guaranteeing them immunity from corporal punishments, payment of taxes, and deprivation of rank and estates except by judgment of their peers. He did not impose taxes on the gentry, but would “invite” them to contribute to the treasury for special purposes. He also required them to serve in the army. Refusal resulted in disgrace, banishment from court, and more serious punishments – often so savage that they caused severe injury or death. It was not uncommon for Paul, in one of his bouts of temper, to take away an offender’s noble rank – a crushing loss of privilege.

Foreign policy was also subject to Paul’s whims. He had criticized Catherine’s extensive military commitments and had vowed that on ascending the throne he would cancel them. But he was so strongly opposed to the revolutionary movement that he involved Russia in several European squabbles. He joined a coalition against France in 1799. He sent an army under the command of the brilliant Russian General Alexander Suvorov to join with the Austrian forces in northern Italy. But when the Austrians failed to support their allies sufficiently, relations between the two states quickly became strained. The combined armies nevertheless gained several victories in Italy and were preparing to invade France when Suvorov received orders to march on Switzerland without delay. In a feat of remarkable military derring, he led his army over the Alps by way of the St. Gotthard Pass. In Switzerland, however, relations between Russians and Austrians deteriorated further, and in 1800, Paul, angered by Austrian complaints about the disrespectful behavior of the Russian troops, suddenly canceled the accord and recalled Suvorov and his army. He next severed relations with Great Britain, mainly because the British failed to honor their promise to cede the island of Malta. By banning British ships from Russian ports, he inadvertently damaged Russia’s trade. He then joined the new Armed Neutrality with Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia to oppose British sea power, thus bringing Russian trade with its principal customer to an official standstill.

Meanwhile, Paul had reversed his earlier policy with France and decided that Napoleon was a necessary ally. He became enthusiastic about alliance with France, Austria, and Prussia for the purpose of partitioning Turkey and destroying British power. Russia and Britain now came close to war. In January 1801, the tsar formally annexed Georgia, which had been under divided Turkish and Persian suzerainty, and then he ordered a force of 23,000 Cossacks to proceed toward British India, which he dreamed of conquering.

Paul had antagonized the regular army and the gentry, the two main pillars of his throne, to the point where a palace revolution had become almost inevitable. The military governor of St. Petersburg, Count Peter Pahlen, was the leader of the final conspiracy. On March 11, 1801, he and several officers of the guard dined together and then set out for the Mikhailovsky Fortress, which Paul had ordered rebuilt for greater security. The sentries did not hesitate to admit the military governor and the officers with him. They made for the emperor’s bedchamber, but it appeared to be empty. Paul had heard them approaching and had hidden in the chimney of the fireplace, but one of the party noticed his dangling feet. They dragged him out, screaming for mercy. Someone struck him with a gold snuffbox and then strangled him with a scarf.