Ernst Udet

Ernst Udet was a World War I flying ace, barnstormer pilot, womanizer, drug abuser, adventurer, Hollywood stuntman, and borderline alcoholic. Had he been born two centuries earlier, he might have been a successful pirate. Born when he was, he was destined for tragedy, and he took the Luftwaffe with him.

The fun-loving Udet was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on April 26, 1896. After an unremarkable education in Munich, he entered Imperial service as a motorcycle dispatch rider for the 26th Infantry Division on the Western Front when World War I broke out. A war volunteer rather than a regular soldier, he managed to secure a discharge in the fall of 1914 and immediately volunteered for pilot training. He was turned down because he was too young, but this did not deter Ernst Udet. He returned to Munich and took private flying lessons, paid for by his father. He rejoined he service on June 15, 1915, as an enlisted man in the 9th Reserve Flying Detachment and was soon sent back to the Western Front.

Private Udet was initially assigned to the 206th Artillery Flying Detachment as an aerial observer in the Vosges sector. He quickly won a promotion to corporal (1915) and was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, for bravery. He also spent seven days in the stockade for needlessly destroying an airplane due to his own carelessness. Shortly after his release, he was promoted to sergeant and, in late 1915, was transferred to the 68th Field Flying Detachment in Flanders as a fighter pilot.

During his first aerial combat, Udet froze for the first time in his life and was almost shot down as a result. He soon mastered his fear and managed to shoot down his first enemy airplane (a French Farman) on March 18, 1916. He still had not fully developed his skills, however, and did not score another victory until October. He did not become an ace (i.e., did not score his fifth kill) until April 24, 1917. He was nevertheless promoted to second lieutenant of reserves in January 1917.

After he was named commander of the 37th Fighter Squadron on August 5, 1917, Udet came into his own. Just after he shot down his 20th victim (a Sopwith Camel) on February 18, 1918, Captain Manfred von Richthofen offered him command of the 11th Fighter Squadron, part of his celebrated 1st Fighter Wing. Udet took the Red Baron up on his offer and led the 11th for the rest of the war. Richthofen (a close friend of Udet’s) was killed in action on April 21, 1918, and was succeeded by Captain Wilhelm Reinhardt, who died in an air accident a few weeks later. Almost everyone expected Udet to succeed him, and they were surprised when the choice fell to an outsider: Captain Hermann Goering.

Udet was initially suspicious of the future Reichsmarschall, but the two soon became good friends. Udet went on to shoot down a great many more enemy airplanes and was awarded the Pour le Merite. When the armistice was signed, Udet had 62 victories to his credit and was the leading surviving German ace.

When the war ended, Udet smashed his airplane and joined the anonymous ranks of job-seekers in the Weimar Republic. Initially employed as an automobile mechanic in Munich, he flew on Sundays as a stunt pilot for a POW relief organization, putting on exhibition dogfights against Ritter Robert von Greim, another former ace. Then Greim flew into a high-power line and destroyed his airplane. Since no replacement could be found, Udet was grounded for a time, until he went to work for the Rumpler Works. He flew a regular route from Vienna to Munich for this firm until the Allied Control Commission confiscated his airplane, allegedly because it violated the Treaty of Versailles. After this, Udet went to work constructing sports airplanes.

Unhappy in the democratic Weimar Republic, former lieutenant Udet left for Buenos Aires in 1925 and began a prolonged period as an international wanderer. Finding employment as a charter pilot and barnstormer, he hopped all over the globe, from South America to East Africa, from the Arctic Ocean to Hollywood, California, where he was a stunt pilot in some American movies. He did not return to Germany until the advent of Adolf Hitler.

Udet’s old friend Goering greeted him warmly when he returned to the Fatherland. The aging stunt pilot did not care for the idea of joining the new air force, but Goering insisted, so Udet relented and was commissioned colonel (on special assignment) on June 1, 1935. He became inspector of fighters and dive-bombers on February 10, 1936, and on June 9 of that same year became head of the Technical Office, which was expanded and renamed the Office of Supply and Procurement in 1938. In addition, Udet was named Generalluftzeugmeister (roughly translated as chief of air armaments) of the Luftwaffe on February 1, 1939. His promotions came rapidly: major general (April 20, 1937), lieutenant general (November 1, 1938), general of flyers (April 1, 1940), and colonel general (July 19, 1940).

It is hard to imagine a man less qualified for a high-level technical/managerial position than Ernst Udet. He had no advanced education and no industrial management experience, no military experience above the rank of lieutenant, no technological or General Staff training, and he did not have the shrewd ability to judge character that Sepp Dietrich used to partially overcome the deficiencies in his background in a somewhat related situation. Indeed, in Udet’s case, quite the opposite was true. The new chief of air armaments had a talent for creating large, unworkable bureaucracies and picking the wrong man for the wrong job. Also, he was no match for the tricks of the German industrial and aviation magnates, who hoodwinked him almost daily. Even if he had possessed the mental qualities necessary to succeed in this exceedingly complex and demanding post, Udet probably would not have had time to do so. Mentally undisciplined, he hated desk work but proved to be psychologically unable to delegate authority. As a result, no fewer than 26 department heads were responsible directly to him. Udet, however, was seldom in his office. Usually he was too busy chasing women, smoking, throwing or attending wild parties that often lasted until dawn, and drinking until he could barely stand up. He also took drugs with depressing side effects and periodically went on diets in which he ate only meat. (And, judging from his photos, the diets did not work.) As a result of this regimen, department heads were unable to see him for weeks at a time, and critical decisions were often made by default or by Udet’s chief of staff, Major General August Ploch, or his chief engineer, 34-year-old Generalstabsingenieur (lieutenant general of engineers) Rulof Lucht. Both these men had been promoted above their abilities.

A good example of the effect of the disastrous impact that Udet’s office had on the Luftwaffe’s war effort is the Ju-88 bomber. The standard bomber in 1937 was the He-111 medium bomber, which had a maximum speed of about 250 miles per hour, a range of only 740 miles, and a payload of only 2.2 tons. The prototypes of the twin-engine Ju-88, which was designed to replace it, were ready for test flying in March 1938. Unfortunately, Udet and the Air General Staff had been overly impressed with the concept of dive-bombing and with the success the Ju-87 “Stuka” dive-bomber had enjoyed during the Spanish Civil War against limited aerial opposition. With the concurrence of the General Staff, Udet added the design requirement that the Ju-88 be able to dive. As a result the airplane had to be greatly modified. Air brakes had to be added and the airframe strengthened, which reduced speed, range, climbing ability, and payload. Eventually the weight of the Ju-88 was increased from 6 tons to more than 12. The first model (Ju-88-A-1) was even slower than the He-111, which it was designed to replace. Although it was used in a variety of roles throughout the war, the Ju-88 never did perform well enough to replace the obsolete He-111 as the standard German bomber.

If the Ju-88 was a disappointment, the He-177s and Me-210s were disasters. In early 1938, Udet apparently decided that the Luftwaffe might need a long-range bomber after all. He initially wanted a four-engine bomber (as had Wever before him), but aircraft designer Ernst Heinkel convinced him to allow the development of the He-177, which featured four engines joined to two propellers by a coupling arrangement. A few months later, Udet issued the requirement that it be able to dive at a 60-degree angle. Heinkel was horrified and protested to Udet that an airplane of this weight (30,000 pounds) could not be made to dive, but the chief of air armaments brushed aside his objections. Heinkel had no choice but to try. By late 1938, when the He-177 prototype first flew at Rechlin, it weighed 32 tons.

In the Battle of Britain, the weaknesses of the He-111 and Ju-88 were exposed for all the world to see. Largely because of Udet’s ineptitude, the German Air Force had clearly lost its previous superiority in military aviation technology, and the Luftwaffe lost its first battle. Udet’s star, of course, began to fade. To restore his position with Goering and Hitler, and to quickly regain the technological edge, Udet gambled. In October 1940, he ordered the He-177 put into mass production despite unfavorable test results. This disastrous directive started a time-consuming reorganization of the German air industry. The He-111 was taken out of production, numerous factories had to be closed and almost completely retooled, and mass production of the new bomber began. All of this took several months. When the new bombers rolled off the assembly lines they were found to have a number of critical problems—the most serious of which was the tendency to explode in straight and level flight for no apparent reason. (Apparently the fuel line dripped highly explosive aviation fuel on the hot manifolds.) They also broke apart during dives and had severe engine defects. Because so many of the new heavy bombers destroyed themselves during test flights (killing at least 60 veteran bomber crews), only 33 of the 1,446 He-177s that were manufactured during the war ever reached the front-line squadrons. Only two of these were still operational a few weeks later. As a result of the He-177 project, tens of thousands of industrial man-hours and huge amounts of raw materials were wasted.

The Me-210 was another one of Udet’s disasters. Designed by Professor Willi Messerschmitt as a multipurpose reconnaissance/dive-bomber/twin-engine fighter, it was ordered into mass production by Udet solely on the basis of the reputation and skilled sales pitch of its designer. The result was a death trap: the Me-210 was an unstable and dangerously unpredictable airplane that whipped into spins at high angles of attack, killing a number of crews. Like the He-177, it was a total failure.

In February 1940, as the Luftwaffe’s technological problems mounted and aircraft production lagged far behind schedules, Adolf Hitler sharply criticized Hermann Goering for the first time; Goering, in turn, lashed out at Ernst Udet for the first time. His criticisms became more and more pointed and vicious after the Battle of Britain, when the Luftwaffe’s aerial supremacy ebbed. The happy-go-lucky Udet could not stand this kind of pressure and began to deteriorate both mentally and physically. In October 1940, Heinkel ran into him unexpectedly and almost did not recognize him. The aircraft designer recalled that Udet looked “bloated and sallow . . . as if he were heading for a nervous breakdown. He was suffering from irremedial buzzing in his ears and bleeding from his lungs and gums.”

Udet’s condition worsened as Goering continued to berate him and Milch plotted to replace him. Formerly close friends (Udet had even taught Milch how to fly), the two were now bitter enemies. The state secretary did not let it escape anyone’s attention that the best of the German airplanes (including the Me-109 single-engine fighter) were developed when the Technical Office was part of his domain, and Milch was not slow in taking advantage of the chaotic situation in the air armaments realm to regain some of the power he had lost in 1937. Goering, after all, really had no one else to whom he could turn in this area. Continuing his policy of divide and rule, however, the Reichsmarschall refused to replace Udet or subordinate him to Milch, but he did give the state secretary full powers to requisition or shut down aircraft factories, to requisition or reallocate workers and raw materials, and to sack or transfer key personnel within the air armaments industry. The result of this arrangement was more friction, for the ruthless Milch was not satisfied with half a loaf. He continued to lobby for full control of the air armaments industry and waged a war of nerves against the well-meaning but incompetent ex-ace. Before long, all of Udet’s principal assistants had been replaced by Milch’s yes-men, and the state secretary (with Goering’s permission) had reorganized the Technical Office and the Office of Supply and Procurement in accordance with his more rational ideas. Meanwhile, as the war dragged on and air force casualties mounted, Udet’s depression continued to deepen. On November 15, 1941, Major General Ploch (whom Milch had sent to the Russian Front) visited his former chief while home on leave. He told Udet about the mass murders of Jews and others taking place in the East. Udet was horrified and very upset; he may have been incompetent, but Ernst Udet was not a monster. Two days later he drank two bottles of cognac and telephoned his mistress. “I can’t stand it any longer!” he cried. “I’m going to shoot myself. I wanted to say goodbye to you. They’re after me!” A few moments later, as she tried to talk him out of it, Ernst Udet pulled the trigger. He left behind a suicide note, asking Goering why he had surrendered to “those Jews” Milch and Major General Baron Karl-August von Gablenz, a principal Milch assistant.

For propaganda reasons Udet was reported as having been killed in a crash while testing a new airplane. Goering wept at his funeral but later said of Udet, “He made a complete chaos out of our entire Luftwaffe program. If he were alive today, I would have no choice but to say to him: ‘You are responsible for the destruction of the German Luftwaffe!’”7 Goering’s own responsibility in this destruction, of course, was not insignificant.

As the tide of the air war turned against Germany, Hermann Goering devoted more and more of his time to pleasure-loving pursuits. He lived “the life of Riley” with his second wife (a former actress) in a huge palace (which he tastelessly dubbed Karinhall after his first wife) on his massive estate in the Schoenheide, north of Berlin. On this 10,000-acre fiefdom (which he seized from the public domain at little or no cost to himself), he set up a private game reserve stocked with elk, deer, bison, and other animals, which he frequently hunted. He also acquired a castle in Austria and other properties and spent much of his time ransacking Europe for art treasures. In fact, he was probably the greatest art thief in history, for he considered himself the last Renaissance man, and his gigantic greed matched his corpulence. The bloated Reichsmarschall ballooned to around 320 pounds and went back on drugs again in the late 1930s; he was soon taking pills by the handful. Busy acting as Reichs Hunting Master and playing dress-up with an incredible number of uniforms and decorations, he pretended to be the hard-working master of the Luftwaffe, but in fact he had long ago given in to laziness, indifference, and indolence. In reality he had very little interest in the air force, as long as no one challenged his position as its undisputed leader.

With Goering preoccupied with luxurious living and Udet out of the way, Milch succeeded the late air armaments chieftain in all his offices. Reasoning that obsolete airplanes were better than no airplanes at all, he cancelled the Me-210, He-177, and Ju-288 (B-Bomber) projects and ordered that the obsolete Me-110s and He-111s be returned to mass production. Under his ruthless but capable direction, German aircraft production figures began to rise again in 1942. However, he could not make good five years lost to incompetence and neglect. He also continued to feud with the chiefs of the General Staff (Colonel General Hans Jeschonnek and others),8 did his best to throttle the development of the jet airplane, and continued to plot to replace Hermann Goering—even to the point of suggesting to Adolf Hitler (shortly after Stalingrad) that the Reichsmarschall be relieved of his air force duties. Goering, his power and influence at a low ebb, could do nothing toward ridding himself of his deputy at this point, but neither did he forget the incident.

Erhard Milch was very slow in recognizing the potential of the jet airplane. He first saw a jet prototype fly in August 1939 (before the war began), but, like Udet, was not impressed. In 1941, however, when Professor Messerschmitt enthusiastically reported on the fine performance of his Me-262 jet prototype, Udet came out in favor of its speedy development. Milch refused to allow it, and Udet (now in decline) could do nothing about this decision. (Perhaps Milch had had enough of revolutionary aircraft types after the He-177.) A disappointed Messerschmitt continued to develop the turbojet clandestinely via a secret arrangement with BMW and Junkers. Milch did not even become marginally interested in the jet until 1943, when Lieutenant General Adolf Galland, the chief of the fighter arm, flew one and was deeply impressed. Milch respected Galland and allowed the Me-262 to be put into production, albeit at a very low priority. In August 1943, Milch announced a production goal of 4,000 fighters per month and recoiled in shock and horror when Galland recommended that 25 percent of these be jets. This reaction, Trevor Constable and Raymond Toliver wrote, “exemplified, even as it reinforced, the Technical Office climate of hesitancy and irresolution.”9

Unfortunately for Milch, he was unable to meet his ambitious production goals, and his prestige began to decline at Fuehrer Headquarters. Sensing this, Milch—like Udet before him—gambled. He ordered Volkswagen to begin mass production of the Fi-103 flying bomb even though severe technological problems had been reported in the prototypes. Two hundred defective Fi-103s were manufactured before it was discovered that their structures were too weak. More precious man-hours and resources had been wasted at a time when Germany was struggling against the combined industrial might of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Also, Milch now faced a new threat to his position: Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer, a favorite of Adolf Hitler and a good political infighter in his own right. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Luftwaffe, Speer was making inroads into Milch’s territory—the air armaments industry—by 1943. Goering, of course, refused to try to intervene on Milch’s behalf, and Speer continued to raid the aircraft factories for skilled laborers; Milch continued to undershoot his production goals; and his stock continued to fall at Fuehrer Headquarters.

When Hitler became interested in developing the jet as a fighter-bomber, Willi Messerschmitt told him (on November 26, 1943) that the Me-262 could be modified to carry two 550-pound bombs or a single 1,100-pound bomb. Milch, fearing that his standing with the Fuehrer would be further diminished and ever mindful that Goering was only waiting for an opportunity to sack his would-be usurper, was afraid to tell the dictator that it was not possible to make these modifications; instead, he continued to develop the Me-262 as a fighter. Hitler, who had been led to believe that he was going to get a sizable number of jet fighter-bombers by D-Day, did not learn of Milch’s duplicity until May 23, 1944—only two weeks before the Allies landed in France. Justifiably furious, Hitler withdrew his protection from Milch. Goering wasted little time in stripping his deputy of his power. On May 27, the entire air armaments industry was transferred to Speer’s jurisdiction. Milch should have taken the hint and resigned at once, but he did not; therefore, on June 20, with Hitler present, Goering ordered him to submit his resignation as chief of air armaments and state secretary for aviation. This he did the following day.

Milch was allowed to retain the figurehead post of inspector general of the Luftwaffe. No doubt to the surprise and annoyance of Goering and others, Milch actually made a number of inspection trips; then, on October 1, his car skidded off the road near Arnhem and struck a tree. Milch, who woke up in the hospital, suffered three broken ribs and lung damage. He lay immobilized at his luxurious hunting lodge until early 1945.

With typical brashness, Milch showed up at Goering’s palatial home, Karinhall, uninvited, on Goering’s birthday in January 1945. He found the Reichsmarschall’s attitude toward him was most unpleasant. Three days later he found out why: a week-old letter arrived from Goering, dismissing Milch as inspector general—his last remaining post. He was transferred to the Fuehrer Reserve and not reemployed.

Hitler’s attitude toward Milch softened toward the end, and the Fuehrer even decided to put him in charge of a special staff to repair the German transportation system, but then changed his mind three days later. At the end of March 1945, Hitler sent Milch his usual birthday greetings, and the two met for the last time in the Fuehrer Bunker on April 21, nine days before the dictator committed suicide. Once again, even this late in the war, Milch was impressed with the Fuehrer’s behavior.

In the early morning hours of April 26, Milch left his hunting lodge for the last time and headed north. He had really waited too long, for he passed Soviet tanks on the road, but the field marshal drove with his lights off and was lucky enough not to be halted. He drove to Sierhagen Castle (at Neustadt, on the Baltic coast), where the British arrested him at noon on May 4. Before the day was over, a British commando ripped his marshal’s baton out of his hand and beat him to the floor with it. Like so many others on both sides, Milch was abused and tortured while in prison. Such acts were counterproductive in this case, however, because they turned Milch from a potentially friendly witness for the prosecution into a fervent defender of Hermann Goering—to spite his captors, if for no other reason.

Goering put up an excellent defense in his own behalf at Nuremberg and is praised even by his worst detractors for the mental skill he exhibited while making a certain U.S. Supreme Court Justice look foolish. This made little difference, as the end was a foregone conclusion and Goering was sentenced to death by hanging. The former World War I flying ace had one more trick up his sleeve, however; outwitting his opponents one last time, he committed suicide by taking poison at 10:40 p.m. on October 15, 1946—two hours before he would have been hanged.

Milch, meanwhile, was confined to a cell at Dachau called “the bunker.” Designed for one person, its occupants included Milch, his old enemy Kesselring, Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch (who was seriously ill and who died shortly thereafter of heart failure), Colonel General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, and General of Infantry Alexander von Falkenhausen, the former military governor of Northern France and Belgium. Eventually tried at Nuremberg as a minor war criminal, Milch was convicted of deporting foreign labor to Germany, which resulted in enslavement, torture, and murder. The fact that he called the conspirators of July 20 “vermin” on the witness stand did not help his case. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was incarcerated in the penal facility at Rehdorf. His sentence was commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment in 1951, and he was released in 1955. The former state secretary settled in Duesseldorf, where he lived with relatives and worked as an industrial consultant for the aviation division of Fiat and for the Thyssen steel combine. His taste for power politics had apparently been cured, and he never attempted to return to the limelight or hold public office again. The last surviving Luftwaffe field marshal, Erhard Milch was much more genial in his later years than he had been in the days of his power. Hospitalized in late 1971, he died at Wuppertal-Barmen on January 25, 1972.

Due to Udet’s incompetence, Goering’s laziness, and Milch’s combination of ruthless ambition, lack of foresight, and timidity in developing the new jet technology, German pilots spent most of the war flying obsolete airplanes. This makes their achievements even more remarkable.

(Horatio) Herbert Kitchener — 1850-1916 Part I

Major-General Herbert Kitchener meets the Emir Mahmud after defeating him at Atbara, April 1898

The scene about Kosheh that afternoon in September 1896 was dazzling. The sun beat down relentlessly, bleaching the colour out of everything. Here and there the rays of light were reflected by the waters of the great Nile as it flowed past. But to the officers who had gathered on the river bank, the real brilliance was that of British ingenuity, British grit and British war machines.

All eyes were upon the Zafir, a ‘great white devil’ of a gunboat, 140 feet long and 24 feet abeam. Her steam boilers could drive her, via a great stern paddle, up the Nile at 12 m.p.h. When the Queen’s enemies were found, they could be dispatched day or night (Zafir was fitted with electric searchlights) by a 12-pounder, two 6-pounders and a couple of Maxim machine-guns. Three more salient facts about this juggernaut suffice: she drew just thirty-nine inches of water, allowing her (usually) to cruise over the rocky beds of the Nile’s treacherous cataracts; she had been built to order in London in just six weeks; and the construction was in sections to allow Zafir to be dismantled and transported by ship and railway to the theatre of war.

The kit of parts had been brought up to Kosheh on flatcars during the preceding weeks, offloaded by steam cranes, and assembled in a purpose-built dock at the riverside. The railway itself, jutting 105 miles into the northern part of Sudan from Wadi Haifa on the Egyptian border, had been in operation only since early August. Those who watched the gunboat being put together knew that two more were on their way, sister ships that would give their commander a vital advantage in a country dominated by the Nile. It was all planned like clockwork.

Science was being applied to this campaign, guided as it was by a Royal Engineer, a British officer of fearsome dedication who held the rank of sirdar, or commander, of the Egyptian Army. But as the great six-foot two-inch figure of Herbert Kitchener strode along the quayside, he knew acts of God could discomfit every calculation. Further setbacks simply could not be allowed to happen. Kitchener intended to push south towards Dongola in four days’ time.

Days before, at the end of August, following the worst storms for fifty years, a flash flood had carried off a twelve-mile stretch of railway embankment. Kitchener had joined his native railway workers relaying the sleepers and rails, working around the clock. He knew that the long African summer had starved the river, and that soon it would fall to its lowest level of the year, threatening even the Zafir’s ability to get up river.

As he boarded the ship with Commander Stanley Colville, the naval officer in charge of the river flotilla, though, Kitchener’s troubles were not over. Lines were cast off, fore and aft. The Zafir’s bow moved out into the Nile and hundreds of spectators on the banks sent up a cheer. Engineers opened the valves driving the great wheel. But ‘The stern paddle had hardly moved twice’, according to one account, ‘when there was a loud report, like that of a heavy gun, clouds of steam rushed up from the boilers, and the engines stopped.’ A key valve had blown. Kitchener turned to the commander: ‘By God, Colville, I don’t know which of us it’s hardest luck on.’

He stepped off the stricken vessel, ordered the guns to be shipped onto others and retired to a different boat’s cabin. One of his ADCs found him there, crying. ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ the forty-six-year-old general, eyes reddened and face drawn with exhaustion, asked a subaltern in his early twenties.

Kitchener’s orders in September 1896 were to take Dongola Province, the northern portion of Sudan that bordered Egypt. It was not a full-blown conquest of the country, though many British generals longed to do just that. The motive of avenging Gordon played strongly with many of these men — Kitchener himself having served in 1884 with the Desert Column — but far less with the government of the day.

The Tory administration of Lord Salisbury was in power and in matters of foreign and military policy it adopted a very different tone from Gladstone’s. Salisbury was prickly, portly and patrician. He cared little for the popularity of public meetings or indeed the officers’ mess and intended to keep an iron grip on his military policy. He had sanctioned the attack on Sudan’s northern province in order to take some pressure off his Italian allies to the south-east. They had suffered an epic disaster at Adowa in May, when an Italian brigade was largely wiped out by Abyssinian tribesmen. The British Prime Minister wanted to draw the Dervish armies of the Khalifa (the Mahdi’s successor) towards Dongola.

In London and Cairo those in the know understood that Kitchener’s 1896 campaign might serve as a preparatory move to taking the whole country, but they were equally convinced that they did not want to commit themselves to such a course for the time being. Salisbury was quite clear that he did not want any further Gordon-style adventurism. So General Lord Wolseley, who had by now become Commander-in-Chief in Whitehall, was excluded as far as possible from the chain of command. As the Dongola expedition was being prepared, the Prime Minister wrote to the Secretary of War, ‘My advice will be not to pay too much attention to your military advisers.’

Salisbury’s words give some sense of how deep and acrimonious the divisions between political and military leaders had become. At the end of the nineteenth century, unresolved questions about the respective roles of the army, government and sovereign caused considerable friction. Wolseley tried to prevail by making alliances with politicians. He had fallen out with the Liberals over the Gordon relief expedition. Having then aligned himself with the Tories, he was indignant when Salisbury prevented him lobbying publicly and reduced his influence over strategy. ‘The men of talk will give way to the men of action,’ Wolseley wrote to his wife in 1897, in perhaps his most violent outburst against politicians, ‘and all that most contemptible of God’s creatures will black the boots of some successful cavalry colonel. A new Cromwell will clear the country of these frothing talkers, and the soldiers will rule.’ Wolseley was ready to act against the government of the day on many matters, including, for example, Irish home rule. There can be little wonder, then, that in contemplating military action in the Sudan, the Prime Minister wanted this general involved as little as possible.

Once Kitchener’s force began its advance, Salisbury put the venerable British Agent in Cairo, Evelyn Baring (who was by this time styled Lord Cromer), in overall control of operations, thereby bypassing Wolseley.

Cromer was convinced of Kitchener’s qualities. He had backed the appointment to sirdar, and watched with satisfaction as this driven man, with a team of 108 British officers, had rebuilt the Egyptian Army. As the expeditionary force moved further into northern Sudan, the Prime Minister had worried at one point whether Kitchener might make a dash for Omdurman (capital of the Khalifa, who ruled Sudan as the Mahdi’s successor, just across the Nile from Khartoum). Cromer had reassured Downing Street that Kitchener was ‘not at all inclined to be rash’. The care and quality of the sirdar’s logistic preparations were in marked contrast to Wolseley’s 1884-5 relief mission, which Kitchener himself considered to have been hopelessly organised. There were other obvious differences between the two men, too. ‘K’, as almost all his officers called him, was tall and deliberate in his movements, whereas Gordon had been small and constantly active. They had some traits in common, notably their background as sappers, Christian faith and shared disdain for English society in Cairo, being more comfortable in the desert among the Arabs. If there was one area where Kitchener might be unfavourably compared to Gordon, it was as a leader of men. K rarely made eye contact, possibly because he had a natural squint that had been exaggerated by a wound to the side of his face. His shyness meant he rarely opened up to his brother officers. The prominent brow and the huge moustache that later became his trademarks served to mask the emotions of a naturally closed character and gave him a forbidding mien.

Kitchener came from a respectable but cash-strapped family. His mother died when he was in his teens, and he grew into an introspective young man. During survey work in Palestine, and later working as an intelligence officer for the Egyptian Army, he was able to immerse himself in Arabic language and culture, as well as escaping the irksome routines of the officers’ mess. Shortly after joining the Gordon relief force, he wrote, ‘I have grown such a solitary bird that I often think I were happier alone.’

Many of those serving with Kitchener in September 1896, as he struggled to overcome setbacks to his plan, found his combination of relentless drive and personal remoteness hard to take. ‘He was always inclined to bully his own entourage, as some men are rude to their wives,’ noted the same young staff officer who found K crying. ‘He was inclined to let off his spleen on those around him. He was often morose and silent for hours together . . . he was even morbidly afraid of showing any feeling or enthusiasm, and he preferred to be misunderstood rather than be suspected of human feeling.’

To Kitchener’s superiors, the fact that he achieved impressive results clearly made up for some of these unpleasant personal qualities. ‘A good brigadier, very ambitious,’ noted his confidential report for 1890, before adding: ‘not popular, but has of late greatly improved in tact and manner . . . a fine gallant soldier and good linguist, and very successful in dealing with orientals’.

Using forced marches through the desert, Kitchener drove his men along the Nile and overcame the early setbacks. On 23 September, the town of Dongola was taken. The scene was set for further advances into Sudan, if only the political will and money could be found.

The prospect on the banks of the Nile just under two years after the Zafir’s maiden voyage was once again one of feverish anticipation. This time, though, the khaki-clad soldiers were hundreds of miles to the south of Kosheh. Kitchener’s invading army had advanced to just a few miles north of the Khalifa’s capital, Omdurman. The invaders had brought 8,200 British as well as 17,600 Egyptian Army troops (many battalions being officered by Britons) to the heart of Sudan.

Kitchener’s army bivouacked on 1 September 1898 with their backs to the Nile, the bend of the river forming the line into a crescent. It was a deployment that would allow them to focus fire on any enemy that attacked their front. The ends of this curved deployment were secured by gunboats, able to enfilade any lines of Dervishes advancing towards the British.

Despite the enormous firepower at the disposal of this force, some of Kitchener’s men worried. Their line, like that of Wellington, was two deep. In places a reserve company supplemented it, with men ready to step into the gaps left by casualties or fetch ammunition boxes. But overall it was not a robust square, rather a fragile deployment of soldiers with their backs to water. Along much of its length the usual zariba of thorn bushes raked together formed an obstacle of sorts, but what if thousands of enemy rushed them? Reports suggested the Khalifa’s army might number 50,000 or more. They too had moved on since the battles of 1884-5. There were many more armed with rifles, and the Khalifa’s arsenal now contained dozens of cannon. K, though, was confidence itself. When alerted to a possible enemy push that afternoon, he had replied, ‘We want nothing better, we have an excellent field of fire and they might as well come today as tomorrow.’

The journey between Kosheh and Omdurman had been an epic struggle. Fighting sandstorms, Dervishes and government accountants, Kitchener had extended his railway from Wadi Haifa, 360 miles across the Nubian Desert, close to Berber, where the Nile route and the camel trail to the coast met. At times he had reclaimed sleepers from peasants’ roofs to save money; at others he had written to friends that the burden of organising it all made him want to die. But he had kept doggedly on, and his arrival at Omdurman was a triumph of organisation and supply.

‘Fighting the Dervishes was primarily a matter of transport,’ wrote Winston Churchill, who accompanied the expedition as a subaltern in the 21st Lancers and correspondent for the Morning Post. ‘The Khalifa was conquered on the railway.’ Throughout the two-year odyssey, biting off bits of the Sudanese Khalifate, Kitchener had been nourished by the supply train he created and the information provided by his director of intelligence, Major General Rex Wingate. Like K himself, Wingate had spent the best part of a decade in this part of the world. Both men had attained such a fluency in Arabic that they could even adopt the dialects of different tribes.

When the final push on Omdurman began, Wingate sifted reports from dozens of agents, many of whom had been on the books for years. They ranged from itinerant traders to servants of wealthy merchants and members of the small remaining European community. Even the Khalifa’s adviser on foreign affairs, a German pasha who had adopted Islam, was one of Wingate’s spies. Wingate, yet another Woolwich graduate (a gunner), had at times been maddened by Kitchener’s methods: ‘K irritates me by keeping his movements secret,’ Wingate wrote in his journal after one particularly frustrating day. But the two men eventually evolved a relationship of mutual trust and, by the early hours of 2 September 1898, their great common labour was close to fruition.

At around 5 a.m. reports reached the British camp that the Khalifa’s army was on the move. Great columns of men were marching out of the Omdurman fortress. A British 5-inch howitzer battery placed on the eastern bank of the Nile opened up, lofting 50-pound lyddite shells into the fortifications, sending billowing clouds of dust into the sky. Great wheeling masses of Dervishes, under hundreds of banners, moved to the south of Jebel Surgham, high ground to the front of the British line. ‘It was not alone the reverberation of the tread of horses and men’s feet I heard and seemed to feel as well as hear;’ wrote Bennet Burleigh, the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent, ‘but a voiced continuous shouting and chanting — the Dervish invocation and battle challenge “Allah el Allah Rasool Allah el Mahdi!” they reiterated in voxiferous rising measure, as they swept over the intervening ground.’

British officers had surveyed the land in front of them and knew exactly when to use the different weapons in their arsenal to best effect. At 2,800 yards, Royal Artillery 15-pounders opened up, the shells fused to air burst, showering the white-robed phalanxes with red-hot metal. ‘Above the heads of the moving masses shells began to burst, dotting the air with smoke-balls and the ground with bodies,’ observed Churchill, who was with a picket of lancers on the jebel in front of the British position. Then the Maxims joined in — German machine-guns selected by the War Office for their reliability and range. During the two hours of this engagement, one section of six British Maxims would fire 54,000 rounds. With the enemy still 2,700 yards away, the Grenadier Guards were invited to stand and deliver the first platoon fires with their Lee-Metford rifles. Both Dervishes and whistling bullets were getting too close for comfort, so it was time for Churchill and the other scouts out front to scurry back behind the British zariba. The pickets led their panting horses down to the river for a drink, and young Winston borrowed a biscuit tin to stand on so that he could see over the steep bank to the higher ground beyond the British firing line. It was not a spectacle he would ever forget: ‘A ragged line of men were coming on desperately, struggling forward in the face of the pitiless fire — white banners tossing and collapsing; white figures subsiding in dozens to the ground . . . valiant men were struggling on through a hell of whistling metal, exploding shells, and spurting dust — suffering, despairing, dying.’

Thousands of Dervishes were being cut down. The Lee-Metfords fired a hollow-nosed bullet — a ghastly invention that caused a kind of explosion when it struck flesh, intended to blow a limb clean off or gouge a great cavity in a man’s trunk. Such bullets were later banned by international convention. Many of the British officers watching this spectacle were uneasy. Even Kitchener’s brother Walter, who was serving with the army, wrote, ‘One’s feelings went over to the enemy, they just struggled on.’

For the most part, the Khalifa’s men did not get within 800 yards of the British line. One desperate charge by some cavalry managed to get to 300 yards, but that was the exception.

By 8.30 a.m., the Dervish attack had collapsed and Kitchener ordered a general advance. He was worried that thousands of enemy warriors might race back into Omdurman, forcing him to carry out a protracted siege. The British brigades moved forward in line, wheeling south as they crossed the plain just north of the city. Kitchener, on horseback, went up to Jebel Surgham, and seeing the thousands of dead and wounded Dervishes carpeting the landscape remarked, ‘Well, we have given them a damn good dusting.’

The battle was not over yet, though. There were still several columns of the Khalifa’s troops manoeuvring about the city. The British troops, advancing in their brittle formations, at times had large groups of Dervishes on their flanks and to their rear. This fighting was bloody and confused: quite a few wounded enemy warriors were dispatched because they were still resisting as the British and Egyptian Army troops marched through. At one point, Kitchener narrowly avoided being killed by a salvo of bullets from his own men.

During this advance the colonel of the 21st Lancers ordered his regiment (just under 400 mounted men) to charge some Dervishes who threatened the flank of one advancing brigade. Churchill took part in this desperate affair, an action some later compared to the charge of the Light Brigade. The lancers’ plan was to charge a group of riflemen, but after they set spurs to their mounts about 1,000 Dervishes appeared from a stream bed in front of them and dramatically changed the odds. The 21st were committed, though, and continued to hurl themselves forward.

‘The collision was prodigious,’ wrote Churchill, ‘and for perhaps ten wonderful seconds, no man heeded his enemy. Terrified horses wedged in the crowd, bruised and shaken men, sprawling in heaps, struggle dazed and stupid, to their feet, panted and looked about them.’ The charge’s impetus carried the troopers through several of the twelve ranks of enemy warriors like a rake through shingle. Then the killing began. For about a minute they set about one another before the 21st burst through. During less than two minutes of fighting, hundreds of Dervishes were cut down; the lancers suffered seventy casualties.

During the late afternoon, the British entered both the Khalifa’s capital and, across the river, Khartoum, freeing various chained Christians from the jail. The civilian population, fearing a general massacre, prostrated themselves, or rubbed dust in their hair in a gesture of self-abasement and submission.

The Battle of Omdurman was won with fewer than 500 casualties (killed and wounded) in Kitchener’s army. The Dervishes lost almost 11,000 killed (K, with characteristic thoroughness, had the corpses counted) and 17,000 wounded. ‘At Last!’ wrote Burleigh in the Telegraph. ‘Gordon has been avenged and justified. The dervishes have been overwhelmingly routed, Mahdism has been “smashed”, whilst the Khalifa’s capital of Omdurman has been stripped of its barbaric halo of sanctity and invulnerability.’ The Queen immediately raised Kitchener to the peerage. He had become a national hero.

In a private letter, Churchill gave vent to his feelings about the cost of it all, saying the victory had been ‘disgraced by the inhuman slaughter of the wounded and . . . Kitchener is responsible for this’. Some directly accused Kitchener of ordering a massacre of defenceless men, but there is no evidence for such a claim. Rather, it is clear that before the earlier Battle of Atbara (8 April 1898), he gave his troops a mixed message, telling them to show mercy to their enemy but exhorting them to ‘Remember Gordon’ and saying the men in front of them were Gordon’s murderers.

When Churchill wrote his book about these tumultuous events, The River War, he did not make any direct accusations against Kitchener, instead recording that large numbers of Dervishes came in near the end of the day, ‘as soon as it was apparent that the surrender of individuals was accepted’. This last statement guides us as close to the truth of the matter as we will ever get — implying both that Kitchener’s troops were not taking prisoners while in ‘hot blood’ and that large groups of enemy warriors were mown down, whenever seen, until the end of the day.

Churchill concluded his account of Omdurman with the memorable phrase that it was ‘the most signal triumph ever gained by the arms of science over barbarians’. It is apparent, though, from his letters, that he modified the tone of his book for political reasons. He mentioned his need to ‘tone down or cut out’ his ‘more acrid criticism of the Sirdar’. His initial dislike of the general seems to have been based on class prejudice (Churchill told his mother that Kitchener was a ‘vulgar common man’), and fed off a general feeling in Cairo, doubtless part envy from other officers, that K did not quite deserve the heroic niche carved for him by the British press.

With the enemy capital captured, Anglo-Egyptian forces moved swiftly through the country, mopping up Dervish resistance. Upon taking Khartoum, Kitchener opened sealed orders from the Prime Minister, and at this moment Lord Salisbury’s primary motive for the invasion of Sudan became clear. Kitchener was to head south, in order to frustrate French attempts to seize the equatorial part of the country. Avenging Gordon might play well with the newspapers and army officers, but Downing Street was primarily interested in the great Imperial game. What Salisbury wanted to avoid above all else was a vacuum that would be exploited by the French,

(Horatio) Herbert Kitchener — 1850-1916 Part II

Charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman, September 1898

During a tense meeting on the Nile (dubbed the ‘Fashoda Incident’ by Britain’s press) Kitchener convinced the French commander to accept that the British-led Egyptian Army had reimposed its control over Sudan, while avoiding bloodshed. K allowed the French to save face by continuing to fly the tricolour over their post at Fashoda, beside the Egyptian flag, while diplomats in France and London contrived a graceful climb-down.

His victory made him a household name in Britain, a suitable idol for an epoch when science and industry marched relentlessly forward. ‘His precision is so inhumanly unerring,’ wrote G.W. Steevens of the Daily Mail, that ‘he is more like a machine than a man. You feel that he ought to be patented and shown with pride at the Paris International Exhibition. British Empire: Exhibit No. 1 hors concours, the Sudan Machine.’ But the reputation for efficiency had acquired, as its flipside, one for brutality. Shortly after capturing Omdurman, he ordered the Mahdi’s tomb destroyed and had his bones scattered. This act, deemed by many to have been one of ‘Oriental’ cruelty, even upset Queen Victoria

Early in 1899, Kitchener was made Governor General of Sudan, with a mission to rebuild the country and expunge all vestiges of the Mahdist state. Lord Cromer offered some words of advice that show pretty clearly what he considered to be the strengths and limitations of the ‘Sudan Machine’:

In the first place, pray encourage your subordinates to speak up and to tell you when they do not agree with you. They are all far too much inclined to be frightened of you. In the second place, the main thing in civil and political life is to get a sense of proportion into one’s head, and not to bother about insisting on every particular view as regards non-essentials . . . In the third place, pray keep me informed and consult me fully. A secretive system will not work so well in civil as in military matters.

Kitchener’s rule was short lived (he soon handed the reins to Wingate) but established a stable and reasonably enlightened period for Sudan. The British popular demand for progress was satisfied by banning slavery and allowing foreign businessmen into the country. He wisely prevented Christian missionaries from getting to work soon after the guns fell silent, made sure that the government built municipal mosques (banning private ones, where sedition might be preached) and invested enormous efforts in education.

The conquest of Sudan, while undertaken during the Great Power carve-up of Africa, represents a fascinating chapter in light of the current confrontation between the West and Arab militants. Sudan under the Mahdi and Khalifa was, after all, the first example of a militant Islamic theocracy in modern times. In certain respects the lessons learned then are clearly not applicable today: few opponents would ever be as rash as the Khalifa’s generals in throwing away the lives of so many devoted followers in a ‘stand-up fight’; Victorian public opinion was ready to accept Kitchener’s crushing use of force; and satellite TV was not there to inflame the passions of the worldwide Muslim ummah or community.

However, some features of Kitchener’s campaign are worth remembering now, and indeed give it a meaningful legacy. First, Britain was prepared to wait many years to strike against the Mahdists, during which time the clerics alienated their people with shocking abuses of power (Wingate claimed 8 million Sudanese perished in the fifteen years between Gordon’s arrival and Omdurman). Second, these years were used to make careful military preparations and to develop an extensive network of spies, ensuring plentiful intelligence once the 1896 campaign was launched. Third, those entrusted with leadership of the mission were men who had given a great part of their lives to understanding the Arabs and Islam. Fourth, the Anglo-Egyptian Army concentrated overwhelming force. Finally, the overall direction of the campaign was in the hands of diplomatic/political authority (Lord Cromer in Cairo) rather than orchestrated by the usual military chain of command.

So, in his forties, Kitchener had made a mark on history. But it was not his last, nor even his most significant legacy.

When the general’s train pulled in at Harrismith on 26 February 1902, his staff followed a well-rehearsed routine. The locomotive drivers let great clouds of steam escape as they cooled their engine. His bodyguard of Cameron Highlanders came clattering down the steps of their carriage, fanning out across the sidings into positions of all-round defence. Officers of K’s staff prowled the platform, telling anyone who might fancy a photograph of the great man that their film would be confiscated if they tried. Then the general emerged, a big figure swathed in khaki, exchanging terse greetings and a swift salute as he moved to his charger and mounted up.

Captain Frank Maxwell, a cavalry officer in his early thirties who had won the Victoria Cross saving some horse artillery from the Boers two years before, was one of those who made up the small mounted party. Kitchener called him ‘the Brat’, but the young cavalier, who lived up to the gentlemanly ideal of sportsman, took it in good part. Maxwell had met his boss in South Africa just over one year earlier. Like many who had not been at Omdurman, the captain had been influenced by K’s public image, the purple prose of the popular press and talk of the ‘Sudan Machine’.

Although initially in awe of his general, Maxwell evolved ways of teasing Kitchener that almost no other officer dared. The general’s nickname suggested a fatherly love for him. Whether Kitchener, who never married, was homosexual, as some historians have suggested, is unclear. It is true that he was more or less engaged to the daughter of a general as a young man (she died before they could marry), but also that bar-room gossip held he had picked up the ‘taste for buggery’ apparently common in officers serving in Egypt in the 1880s. There is no conclusive evidence — only that he seems to have channelled a great deal of his aggression into his work, and he was a Christian as well as a Freemason who espoused a great belief in chastity.

Maxwell was charmed by the more human side of the man, telling his father, ‘K is not the purposely rough-mannered impolite person those who have never seen him suppose. He is awfully shy, and until he knows anyone his manners — except to ladies — are certainly not engaging.’

Maxwell, Kitchener and the others set spurs to their horses and rode away from the railway line, out into the great veld, languishing in the torpor of a southern summer, to watch the British Army at work. On they rode into the landscape with features framed in farmer’s Dutch — kraals, kopjes and kops — towards a great mountain called the Platberg. When they reached its flat top, more than 1,000 feet above the plain, they took a moment’s rest and then began to survey one of Kitchener’s grand designs. ‘We had the most glorious and extended view,’ Maxwell wrote home to his father: ‘the scene was a wonderful one.’ The general’s party looked to the north, watching British mounted infantry and footsloggers ‘crawling about like ants’, moving across country in the direction of a line of fortified outposts, blockhouses. They were scouring the veld, stripping away its cattle, wagons and people, while forcing any Boer rebels to flee towards the blockhouses, where the troops inside could open up with all manner of weapons.

Kitchener had arrived in South Africa early in 1900. Initially, he had played second fiddle to Field Marshal Lord Roberts, the two ‘heroes’ of the Victorian army having been sent out to steady the situation after the Boers had run rings around the British Army during 1899. Kitchener himself had mishandled his one set-piece battle (Paardeburg) in command of the new army, leading to high casualties.

The origins of this conflict lay in the struggle for control of two republics where farmers of Dutch descent formed the majority (Transvaal and the Orange Free State) and for the wealth (including gold) that could be found there. Roberts brought substantial reinforcements into the fight, drove off the Boer field armies besieging outlying British garrisons and eventually took Pretoria, the rebel capital.

In October 1900, writing to Queen Victoria, Kitchener rashly predicted, ‘The war is almost over.’ But attempts to negotiate an end to hostilities dragged on without result, not least because British politicians, feeling the need to justify the war to a public rankled by the army’s initial poor showing, tried to insist on punitive peace terms. Late in 1900, Roberts left and Kitchener was appointed Commander-in-Chief in a war that was rapidly evolving. The enemy field armies, with their excellent long-range artillery, were being scattered, and instead British outposts or supply trains found themselves under attack from flying columns of anything from a few dozen to 1,000 mounted Boer commandos. These guerrilla parties waged hit-and-run raids, acting with aggression and, usually, sound tactical judgement.

Kitchener initially found himself bewildered by this type of warfare. Those who consider him stupid can cite as evidence a comment he made in a letter to a close friend’s sons, in which he protested, ‘The Boers are not like the Sudanese who stood up to a fair fight. They are always running away on their little ponies.’ How anyone could have seen Omdurman as a fair fight or the Boer tactics as anything other than canny under the circumstances almost defies imagination. Evidently, K was a paragon of Victorian values, admiring the ‘pluck’ of the Dervish and disdaining the ‘skulking’ inherent in guerrilla warfare. But, although his intellectual horizons were undoubtedly limited, he was not a fool and soon set about designing a solution to the problem of the Boer commandos that would be both innovative in conception and disturbing in execution. Kitchener the machine examined every aspect of the problem and determined to crack it.

The key to defeating the insurgency was to deny the commandos sanctuary. Since the Boer system involved farmers taking their turns at military duty before returning to their homes, Kitchener’s plans necessitated waging war on the entire society. Railways were the key to strategic movement, so a programme of building blockhouses to defend the lines started in January 1901. From these trunks, branches, similar chains of outposts, were extended along certain roads or rivers, criss-crossing the areas of Boer settlement. Manning these positions would soak up vast numbers of infantry, but Kitchener had no shortage of men, with more than 200,000 troops under his command. A large proportion of the army consisted of cavalry and mounted infantry, and as 1901 progressed brigade-sized columns of them were used increasingly in drives, acting as a hammer, to strike the Boers against the anvil of fortified lines. It was usually called the ‘blockhouse and drive’ strategy.

Kitchener’s flying columns did not just engage enemy combatants, though. They removed the commandos’ means of subsistence, and that often meant uprooting whole communities. Roberts had begun the burning down of farms in reprisal raids, but under his successor such tactics became systematised. These women, children and old folk, ‘internees’, were put in camps, and as the 1901 campaign progressed they became a source of increasing political difficulty for the government. The fact that the internees received fewer rations than those designated ‘refugees’ (usually English-speakers displaced by the conflict) rapidly led to accusations that food was being used as a weapon, and even that Kitchener wanted to wipe out the Boers.

A visit to South Africa early in 1901 by Emily Hobhouse, a churchman’s middle-aged daughter with a passion for human rights, triggered a series of Parliamentary debates. ‘The atmosphere was indescribable,’ she wrote after venturing inside the tents at Bloemfontein camp. ‘The ration . . . did not come up to the scale, it became a starvation rate.’ When she saw destitute Boer families huddled in cattle trucks on a railway siding during one of Kitchener’s drives, she wrote that she had witnessed ‘war in all its destructiveness, cruelty, stupidity and nakedness’.

These dispatches excited to action MPs who were already calling Kitchener’s laagers ‘concentration camps’. The term — picked up from Spanish usage in 1890s Cuba — has assumed a completely different meaning since the Nazi era, of course, but at the start of the century the government’s critics felt that the high death rates occurring through disease and malnutrition were a stain on national honour. ‘I think I shall have a hot time,’ the Secretary of War wrote to Kitchener in March 1901 after some turbulent scenes in Parliament. He asked the general to ‘tell me all that will help the defence’. Kitchener couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, a response that led quite a few in Whitehall to conclude that he was politically clueless.

In truth, the landscape of power in London had changed significantly during Kitchener’s long years of foreign service. Reforms in 1890 and 1895 had established firm political control over the army. The soldiers were still represented on a War Office Council, where they might advise their civilian masters, but under Lord Salisbury’s government this body was rarely called together. The hegemony of ministers had been strengthened further by steps to reduce the Crown to a purely ceremonial role. Many officers persisted in seeing themselves as servants of the sovereign rather than of ‘tradesmen who had become politicians’, but by the turn of the century the monarch did little more than sign their commissions.

As for Parliament itself, by 1898 just 41 out of 670 Members of the Commons were army officers (compared to the high tide of 79 of 558 MPs ninety years earlier). More importantly, in the context of Kitchener’s travails in South Africa, those military MPs had been comprehensively eclipsed by the 165 lawyers in the House of Commons. Increasingly, debates about Britain’s role in the world emphasised the country’s role as a beacon of human rights and fair play.

The general was undoubtedly blinkered and his campaign against the Boers was brutal, but he was also one of the first senior officers to have to cope with a difficult humanitarian situation being exploited for campaigning purposes by an anti-war lobby at home. ‘The inmates are far better looked after in every way than they are in their homes,’ he insisted in a letter to a lady friend, ‘or than the British refugees are, for whom no one now seems to care. The doctors’ reports of the dirt and filth in which the Boer ladies from the wilds revel are very unpleasant reading.’

By mid-1901 there were some 65,000 inmates in the South African camps, and 25,000 Boer men who had been shipped to overseas internment. Kitchener was certainly waging war on Boer society as a whole, but the high mortality rate in the camps was an unintended by-product of this strategy. An up-and-coming Welsh Liberal MP, David Lloyd George, campaigned energetically on the issue, saying to the Commons during one of his flights of rhetoric, ‘We want to make loyal British subjects of these people. Is this the way to do it?’

This debate marked the emergence of a clearly defined cleavage between military men and a liberal intelligentsia at home; one that has only grown stronger with time. To the critics, operations such as those in South Africa were shameful and obviously counter-productive. To most military men, the ‘pro-Boer’ Liberals missed the point: Kitchener’s strategy was not meant to make ‘loyal British subjects’ of the enemy. It was meant to break their will to resist with arms. Diverting resentments into non-violent political avenues might do nothing to lessen their sense of grievance, but this was the outcome sought by men in khaki taking the narrow view.

For Kitchener, the more worrying issue as 1901 came to an end was that his drives were not yielding the ‘bag’ of Boers he had expected. Cornered commandos often managed to break through the blockhouse lines. Sometimes, even worse, they outfought the flying columns sent to hunt them, bagging prisoners of their own and driving off the frightened remnants. Kitchener examined these setbacks with his usual engineer’s calculation. If the blockhouse lines could be easily breached, then the intervals between the little fortifications would have to be halved or quartered by a major building programme. The space between them started at 2,500 yards, was reduced to 400 yards and then, in the most threatened sectors, to 200 yards. By the end of 1901 there were more than 8,000 blockhouses, manned by tens of thousands of troops. The number of mounted infantry was increased, with new orders given to try to improve their tactics so that they would not be surprised.

Some of the column commanders believed Kitchener himself was part of the problem, trying to centralise all power and sometimes failing to coordinate the movements of different columns properly. One of the best and brightest of them, an acting lieutenant colonel in the cavalry, the strapping Edmund Allenby, wrote home, ‘Lord K of K [Kitchener of Khartoum] tries to run the whole show from Pretoria — and fails. District commanders, with several columns under them, are the only people who could bring the show to a speedy finish.’ Kitchener did not devolve power; however, he did respond to the muttering by making increased efforts to travel away from his headquarters so that he could be present at the scene of major operations.

Early in February 1902, a great set-piece drive was launched against a Boer stronghold at Elandskop. Many on the staff were disappointed that just 285 commandos were killed or captured rather than the 2,000 they estimated to be within their net. But the operations continued relentlessly. On 26 February, Kitchener, Maxwell and the staff watched the sweep from Platberg. Heliograph parties, down on the veld with the column commanders, used mirrors to send Morse-type signals, flashes of light to keep the commander posted. ‘We hadn’t been on the berg ten minutes’, wrote Maxwell, ‘before from fifty miles away to our right came a twinkle, twinkle message, which spelt out by the signaller read: “400 Boers laid down their arms to me this morning”.’

That evening, Kitchener and his party returned to their train, where further reports coming down the telegraph wires could be collated in the carriage that was his mobile command centre. Sometimes he would puff on a cigar or take a whisky and soda before turning in. The routine started all over again at 4.30 a.m. ‘K is an extraordinary person,’ wrote Maxwell. ‘He sleeps and dreams and schemes all night, and in the morning, in pyjamas and dishevelled head, gets you to work . . . and in two hours plans are more or less complete, and orders more or less drafted.’ Dispatches would then be sent by messenger or telegraphed and a new drive ordered.

On 31 May 1902 the Boer leaders, ground down by months of British pressure, signed a ceasefire agreement. ‘For six months Lord Kitchener fought the politicians who wanted to make a vindictive peace, an “unconditional surrender” peace as they called it,’ Kitchener’s chief of staff would recall later, but ‘he beat them and made his own peace; a generous soldierly peace.’ K’s ‘generosity’ consisted of making good much of the damage he had done to the rural economy: giving grants for rebuilding farms and restocking them with animals. Given that the tactics had provoked intense Parliamentary controversy in the first place, it is hardly surprising that partisans of Kitchener and his critics should still be arguing about how the Boers were beaten and how much credit or opprobrium should go to the British general.

For me, the opinions of a young subaltern in the 43rd Light Infantry, John Fuller, hold particular weight. He served for months among jumpy sentries on a blockhouse line and later as an intelligence officer on drives through the veld. He later matured into one of the British Army’s all too rare great thinkers (his books being published under the name J.F.C. Fuller). He reacted to the end of the war with this insight:

For nearly a year the Boer cause had been slowly strangled; now it was choking. The blockhouse line had not so much segregated the Boers as split them up. It was impossible for large forces to move about the country without carts and wagons to supply them . . . Though small parties could cross blockhouse lines, large parties could not . . . The blockhouse was in fact a means of striking at our enemy’s stomach, and it was far more than the tactical barrier we supposed it to be.

Fuller’s acknowledgement of the higher intelligence shaping British operations was qualified, however. He called his memoir, published in 1937, The Last of the Gentlemen’s Wars. By and large, he believed, it had been a chivalrous affair in which Tommy Atkins and his Boer opponent had evolved ‘rules of the game’ and casualties had been slight, certainly when compared to those suffered during the First World War. ‘What exasperated [the Boers] most was the burning of their farms and the removal of their women and children to concentration camps,’ wrote Fuller, adding: ‘and it exasperated me also.’ As a British officer, he was unhappy to be associated with cruelty towards women. The lesson he drew is an enduring one: ‘Do not let us forget that chivalry in war is as important as killing, because on the cleanness with which a war is fought will depend the cleanness of the peace which must one day follow it.’

Britain’s campaign in South Africa formed a model for later counter-insurgencies. It is another Kitchener legacy that fifty years later British generals in Malaya removed the civilian population from contested areas and that the Americans did the same when creating hundreds of ‘strategic hamlets’ in Vietnam. As for ‘blockhouse and drive’ it was called quadrillage by the French in Algeria and has been practised in other conflicts, too.

By the early 1900s, Kitchener’s reputation could be summed up succinctly and crudely as: ruthless bastard. His critics might have spat out the words and shaken their heads in sorrow at the suffering of South African farming folk, or what one sarcastically called a ‘glorious slaughter of 20,000 Arabs’ in Sudan. Admirers, over a gin on the veranda at Simla or puffing a cigar at Whites, might have used the same phrase with a knowing smile to describe a fellow who had what it took to wage war in the industrial age. It therefore should not come as a surprise that when war loomed over Europe in August 1914 so many Britons felt that Kitchener was the right man for high office.

Kitchener was shown in to see the Prime Minister just after 7 p.m. on 4 August 1914. Downing Street has many fine clocks, and it would be hard to imagine a moment of British history when swinging pendulums or a moving minute hand underlined more pointedly the sense of foreboding. German troops had marched into Belgium, on their way to attack France. The British government of Herbert Asquith had given an ultimatum to stop their advance and respect Belgium’s neutrality. As Kitchener, sixty-four years old and greying but still an imposing figure, came in and took his seat, there were just a few hours remaining for Berlin to respond.

Time was pressing on K, too. He had been laden with almost every decoration the British state could furnish. Having served as Commander-in-Chief in India, earning the rank of field marshal, there were very few posts in which he could now be employed. After lobbying unsuccessfully for the Viceroy’s job in India, it had been tentatively decided to send him to Cairo, in order to ‘run’ the Mediterranean and North Africa. Asquith, however, had stopped him travelling out. With war imminent there was a general view that Kitchener was needed at the centre of the action, not in some distant sideshow.

(Horatio) Herbert Kitchener — 1850-1916 Part III

The old post of Commander-in-Chief (the titular head of the British Army at Horse Guards that the Duke of York had held during his army reforms of the 1790s) had been scrapped in 1904. It had been replaced by a new office, Chief of the General Staff, but this was not vacant. Military plans to send a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of six divisions to the Continent were being set in motion, but, once again, Kitchener was not the designated commander.

For several days prior to their meeting, the newspapers had been suggesting that Asquith might employ Kitchener as Secretary of War. Not everyone in Whitehall liked this idea, for it had been another aim of the 1904 reforms to conclude thirty-five years of military changes with civilian political control firmly and finally established over the War Office. What, then, would be the point of handing the top job to a soldier? Looking back at this situation, we might concede that late nineteenth-century reforms designed to make the army more efficient and check its Imperialist firebrands had gone a little too far, and that taking a soldier into the War Cabinet was quite justified in a time of total war.

As for Kitchener himself, he held the army’s central bureaucracy in complete contempt and was in the habit of denouncing it as hopelessly inefficient. His fear was that Asquith would ask him to be somebody’s deputy or invent some figurehead non-job. But the field marshal could read the papers like anyone else and knew that there was also a possibility of a cabinet post. At their meeting on the evening of 4 August, therefore, Kitchener asked the Prime Minister not to send him to the War Office unless it was with full powers as the Secretary of State for War. Asquith did not offer him the job, but decided to ponder it overnight.

There was palpable nervousness on the streets. Crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace to cheer the King. Late editions of the papers were snapped up and scanned rapidly in case they carried news of a German climb-down. While many expected the war to be brief and heroic, there was a general understanding that the nation was facing an ordeal more testing than anything it had confronted since the time of Napoleon. Industrialisation and nationalism were about to produce a cataclysm of unrivalled ferocity. German unification had created a superpower in Central Europe and it was on a collision course with France. Allies stood ready on each side. The dread was summed up by a remark of Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’

On 5 August, Britain was at war. Ignoring Asquith’s ultimatum, the Germans were ploughing on relentlessly towards France, and under the terms of the Entente Cordiale, the alliance between London and Paris, the BEF was about to be committed to combat. Asquith therefore wasted no time in offering to make the field marshal Secretary of War. Kitchener was not in any sense a party animal so he made it clear to the Prime Minister that he would take the job only for the duration of the war and could not be expected to operate as a politician, publicly defending the government. ‘May God preserve me from the politicians!’ he remarked to a friend.

Asquith regarded the appointment of such an ingenue in the black arts of Whitehall as a risk. He was heartened, however, by the positive reaction of press and public. There was simply nobody else trusted to the same degree to face the looming darkness — a general European war — with the same nerve and toughness as Kitchener. Fifteen years earlier, people had said that K had absorbed the ‘Oriental’ qualities needed to prevail in the Middle East. In August 1914 his legend was reworked by those who felt his machine-like efficiency and toughness in South Africa meant he had the right stuff to beat ‘the Hun’ at his own game. One wag, observing the indomitable figure of the field marshal at a ball, supposed that he had ‘kinship to that old race of gigantic German Generals, spawned by Wotan in the Prussian plains, and born with spiked helmets ready on their heads’.

During the afternoon of the 5th, Asquith hosted a council of war at Downing Street. The Foreign Secretary was there, as was Winston Churchill, who had graduated from the cavalry subaltern Kitchener had met at Omdurman sixteen years earlier to running the Admiralty, and a couple of other senior military officers. During this meeting, Kitchener managed to upset the apple-cart of government strategic thinking completely.

The following morning, as he awaited the summons to Buckingham Palace to receive the seals of his office, Kitchener went to the War Office. Anxious to crack on with the job, he asked for the department’s senior officials to be presented. As they crowded into his room, pince-nez specs and winged collars aplenty, they were astounded by almost the first thing he said: ‘There is no army!’

At the first few meetings of the cabinet, Kitchener continued to surprise everybody. Unfortunately, cabinet minutes were not formally taken before December 1916, so there is no precise record of what he told them. The following account by Churchill, present at all the key meetings, gives the best sense of how Kitchener deployed his arguments:

Lord Kitchener now came forward to the Cabinet, on almost the first occasion after he joined us, and in soldierly sentences proclaimed a series of inspiring and prophetic truths. Every one expected the war would be short; but wars took unexpected courses and we must now prepare for a long struggle. Such a conflict could not be ended on the sea or [by] sea-power alone. It could be ended only by great battles on the Continent. We must be prepared to put armies of millions in the field and maintain them for several years.

Thus the field marshal blew away the ‘all over by Christmas’ illusions that even many senior army officers cherished. Of course, it took time for this to sink in, but the singularity of Kitchener’s views at this vital moment mark out his historical importance. The Foreign Secretary, hearing the field marshal’s assessment that the war would go on for at least three years, disagreed: ‘That seemed to most of us unlikely, if not incredible.’ That same minister, clearly regarding Kitchener as intellectually limited, later wrote that this remarkable foresight came ‘by some flash of instinct, rather than by reasoning’, since Kitchener did not predict trench warfare.

There were many reasons why Kitchener may have briefed the cabinet in the way he did, but it seems clear that he was very conscious of Britain’s relative importance in the Allied pecking order. He understood the same realities that Marlborough and Wellington had done: an expeditionary corps that formed a small part of a combined army (as was the case with the BEF) would come under someone else’s command and gain London limited political leverage. In an age of democracy, however, the deaths of thousands of British troops on French orders or their retreat because the Allies on both of their flanks had fallen back (as happened during the opening weeks of the war) would be all the harder for a British government to justify. He did not doubt victory, and he wanted Britain to have the largest possible say in defining a post-war order.

The consequences of Kitchener’s strategy were enormous, and began with an urgent drive to recruit a million new soldiers. Initially, the War Secretary aimed to take the army up to 57 divisions (there were 18,000 men in a British infantry division at the outbreak of war), but by mid-1915 he would plan for 70, and the requirement for new recruits would reach 3 million. A magazine picture of the field marshal pointing at the reader and commanding ‘Join Your Country’s Army!’ was pressed into use as history’s most celebrated recruiting poster. Later, when volunteers became more reluctant, an official poster carried the warning that conscription would become necessary if too few men volunteered, as indeed eventually happened.

In August 1914, however, the cabinet resolved that conscription was politically unacceptable. Churchill later differed from the collegial position, arguing of these early meetings, ‘It is my belief that had Kitchener proceeded to demand universal national service . . . his request would have been acceded to.’ Patriotism provided the drive instead, as ‘Kitchener armies’ were recruited to boost the army towards its target of seventy divisions by 1916. This degree of national mobilisation was so unprecedented and enormous in its implications that the precise means of raising millions of recruits can be set to one side for a moment. Kitchener’s first biographer noted, ‘It implied the calling of vast armaments into being, the unlearning of a stereotyped national tradition, the acceptance of a radically novel conception of the whole position and mission of England in the world.’

Kitchener brought Britain into the age of total war. By the time hostilities ended, almost one-quarter of the adult male population, 5.7 million men, would have served in the British Army. It can be argued that some Continental powers had already reached this degree of mobilisation by a series of steps beginning with the French conscription laws of 1794, proceeding through the vast campaigns of Napoleon to Bismarck and his militarisation of Germany. But Britain was the world’s most powerful nation, and its abandonment of a centuries-old concept that its army should be small, professional and comprise volunteers was of enormous historical importance.

Obviously, expanding an organisation severalfold in a matter of months was bound to involve all manner of cock-ups and chaos. During one day in September 1914, as the response to Kitchener’s call reached its peak, the army had to enlist as many men (over 30,000) as it had during the entire year of 1913. Many of these recruits wore their civilian clothes for weeks and drilled with broomsticks.

Kitchener knew that good professional officers and NCOs would be needed to train these great new armies, so he kept back thousands of soldiers whom other generals were desperate to send to the front. This caused a serious rift between him and some fellow senior officers who, even late in 1914, thought the field marshal’s planned seventy-division army ridiculous. When Churchill visited the front he heard complaints about the policy everywhere he went, but later reflected admiration for ‘Lord Kitchener’s commanding foresight and wisdom in resisting the temptation to meet the famine of the moment by devouring the seed corn of the future’.

Despite holding back experienced soldiers from training establishments, Kitchener faced a critical officer shortage. He excavated from retirement many crusty old warriors in their sixties and seventies quite ignorant of what a European war might require — the army called them ‘dugouts’. One twenty-seven-year-old captain noted that his dugout commander was ‘quite useless . . . I really ran the brigade and they all knew it.’ This ambitious officer was the young Bernard Montgomery.

Equipping the army posed enormous problems, too. By May 1915 the War Office had ordered 27,000 machine-guns, but eventually it gave up with numbers and simply told Vickers it would buy every gun they could make. Kitchener invited the head of America’s Bethlehem Steel Corporation to London and ordered a million shells and as many rifles as he could make. The Secretary of War was even more pessimistic in his conversations with the American magnate than he had been with the cabinet, arguing that Britain needed to stock up for five years of war.

At times, Kitchener’s old faults undoubtedly hindered this process. He jumped to the conclusion that the Territorial Army was useless and it took others months to change his mind, holding back the committal of substantial reserves to the war. He was also, on one key point at least — the commitment of British troops to the disastrous Gallipoli operation against the Turks — open to accusations of being a poor strategist. Kitchener’s old inability to delegate produced all manner of hold-ups and confusion at the War Office. The field marshal often refused to share vital information with his officials there, and even with the cabinet, regarding almost every detail as secret. In this respect he epitomised the spirit of the times, because during the run-up to 1914 the British government had finally formulated its concept of official secrecy.

These shortcomings contributed to a political crisis over the supply of shells in 1915, with Kitchener being relieved of authority for munitions production. The main beneficiary from this cabinet punch-up was none other than David Lloyd George, whose ‘pro-Boer’ attacks on Kitchener’s tactics in South Africa had proven so irksome to the War Office many years earlier. During cabinet-room sparring, the Welsh MP (who was Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as the new Minister for Munitions) evidently ran verbal rings around the field marshal. The Prime Minister wrote that in these spats Lloyd George let fly with ‘some of the most injurious and wounding innuendos, which K will be more than human to forget’. Kitchener, always the closed book, never really said what he thought of Lloyd George, describing him only as a ‘peppery fellow’.

In general, Kitchener was loath to respond publicly to press or parliamentary criticism, believing that this would turn him into a politician, a species into which he certainly did not wish to evolve. On 2 June 1916, just one month before the Somme offensive, however, he tried to answer MPs’ concerns about the colossal casualties on the Western Front and the overall course of the war. K went to the Palace of Westminster to brief 200 members. He insisted that this should be confidential, but minutes were taken, and they form one of the few lengthy accounts, in his own words, of what the Secretary of War was trying to do during 1914-16. (One of his biographers suggests that this was one of only four occasions when he spoke publicly during twenty-two months in the cabinet.)

‘I feel sure Members must realise that my previous work in life has naturally not been of a kind to make me into a ready debater, nor to prepare me for the twists and turns of argument,’ he said, excusing his refusal to appear in open session at Westminster. He talked about the enormous mobilisation and admitted it had been a ‘gigantic experiment’. ‘I was convinced that . . . we had to produce a new army sufficiently large to count in a European war,’ Kitchener then told the hushed MPs. ‘I had rough-hewn in my mind the idea of creating such a force as would enable us continuously to reinforce our troops in the field by fresh divisions, and thus assist our Allies at the time when they were beginning to feel the strain of the war with its attendant casualties.’

This notion, that British forces should be on the rise at the decisive period of the war, was a vital aspect of Kitchener’s plans — and it is worth underlining that he said this in the summer of 1916 when few others had any idea whether the conflict would go on for one more year or ten. There were many implications in this build-up, as he hinted to the MPs: ‘We planned to work on the upgrade while our Allies’ forces decreased, so that at the conclusive period of the war we should have the maximum trained fighting army this country could produce.’ The timetable was therefore designed at one and the same time to maximise Britain’s killing power against the Germans and its political clout vis-a-vis France. Kitchener left the meeting satisfied that he had defused some of the discontent that just a few days earlier had produced an unsuccessful censure motion against him in the Commons. He then prepared to set off on a trip to Russia, where Britain’s allies were buckling under the pressure of war.

On 5 June, HMS Hampshire, the cruiser carrying the Secretary of War, set sail from Scapa Flow. There were dangers for the fleet, even this close to home, because German submarines had been trying to penetrate British defences. Having surveyed the Royal Navy’s usual deployments, the U-boats laid mines. It was the Secretary of War’s misfortune that the Hampshire struck one just a few hours into its journey. The cruiser went down in minutes and Kitchener drowned as she sank. There was public grief, with many a diarist recording in the sonorous tones of that era the weeping of East End market girls or the grim expressions in their officers’ mess. There were tributes aplenty from the field marshal’s contemporaries, but I prefer that of A.J.P Taylor, perhaps the greatest historian of the twentieth century, who called Kitchener ‘the only British military idol of the First World War’. Certainly, in the public’s eyes, he was a soldier without peer.

Kitchener’s achievements in breaking the Mahdist state in Sudan and crushing the Boer insurgency were of historical importance, but secondary. It was by the creation of a vast army in 1914 that he left his mark. It can be argued — according to one’s prejudices — that he summoned an entire generation of British youth to their doom or that he allowed his country to decide the outcome of the First World War. Either way, it is hard to claim that what he did was insignificant.

The field marshal’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography argues that his mobilisation ‘not only saved the British empire from destruction, but Europe from German domination’. Many such claims, made in the rosy glow of self-satisfied nationalism, do not stand up to scrutiny, particularly when you examine what a country’s enemies were saying. It is therefore worth quoting the views of General Erich von Ludendorff, the man who was at the helm of Germany’s war strategy: ‘Through [Kitchener’s] genius alone England developed side by side with France into an opponent capable of meeting Germany on even terms, whereby the position on the front in France in 1915 was so seriously changed to Germany’s disadvantage.’

In evaluating the 20th Century British war machine it is often hard to estimate the value of individuals, however eminent. But it is very hard to credit anyone other than Kitchener with responsibility for Britain’s vast national mobilisation in August 1914. The field marshal’s ‘long war’ views put him at odds with everyone else in the Cabinet and, indeed the War Office. It is largely due to this foresight, as General Ludendorff acknowledged, that Britain and France did not buckle in 1915. In terms of alternative history, a German victory in that year would have opened up some mind — boggling possibilities, not least of checking the rise of Hitler or averting the Russian Revolution. The old empires might not have lasted indefinitely if the war had ended in 1915, but Europe and the world would undoubtedly have developed very differently.

Kitchener was not a pleasant man, and his anti-intellectualism and prejudice against elected leaders make him rather suspect to our generation. At the dawning of an era of total war and industrialised slaughter, he was, however, quite indispensable to his country.

George Monck — 1608-1670 Part I

George Monck: a portrait in very typical seventeenth-century style with ceremonial armour and baton symbolising a general’s rank. The scene in the background recalls Monck’s prowess in siege warfare.

The hammering of carpenters could be distinctly heard above the cacophony of battle in the streets of Stirling. Lieutenant General George Monck went to inspect the work, eyeing the arcs of fire, conferring with his gunners, and chewing on a quid of tobacco so that he might ruminate well on the problem at hand.

It was 12 August 1651. Little more than a week had passed since Oliver Cromwell had begun his march back into England, delegating the command in Scotland to Monck. Cromwell had dealt a heavy blow to Parliament’s enemies in battle at Dunbar, but most of the land was still in open revolt. An unholy alliance of Scottish Presbyterians and Royalists declared themselves loyal to Charles II, the exiled monarch, and Stirling Castle was one of their strongest outposts.

The general was a stout, barrel-chested man. He spoke with the accent of his native Devon. His straightforward manner and reputation for doing exactly what he said he would do appealed to many, making him an early archetype for the British soldier. A kinsman gave the following testament of Monck:

he was a plain downright Englishman, a rough soldier bred in camps, unskill’d and detesting the servile arts practised in courts . . . he was not a man of what is commonly understood by quick parts: but if he was slow in considering, he was sure in acting: Solidity of judgement, indefatigable industry and intrepid courage were the qualities best adapted for the work he was performing.

Monck’s campaign might have been only a few days old, but he was determined to prosecute it with all due dispatch. He had been a professional soldier for twenty-five years and knew that fortresses had to be taken swiftly and without reverses, or his men’s fighting spirit could collapse: ‘the malice of a great army is broken, and the force of it spent in a great Siege’. For this reason, Monck eyed his wooden gun platforms with some satisfaction.

Inside Stirling’s walls, the governor, William Cunningham, was confident. There were 300 determined men under his command, a castle of great strength, 27 cannon, hundreds of barrels of powder and victuals for months. They had other, more symbolic, reasons to hold out, too: the regalia and records of the ancient kings of Scotland had been lodged in the fortress and, as every Scot knew, English arms had been humiliated before at Stirling. But Cunningham did not understand what Monck had in store for him.

So it was that when Monck sent a messenger forward, that afternoon of 12 August, to request the garrison’s surrender, he received a defiant reply from Cunningham. The governor told his attackers that he would hold out as long as he could.

That evening, four great guns and two mortars were brought onto their wooden platforms outside the castle. Parliament had hired the services of a Dutch master gunner, Joachim Hane, but Monck was an expert artillerist himself, having been given overall command of the Ordnance by Cromwell. Cunningham’s men studied the scene from the battlements as the great metal destroyers were hoisted onto their firing platforms with cranes, block and tackle. All of the principal players — Cunningham, Monck and Hane — knew that the English guns, though powerful, would take many days to batter breaches in Stirling’s thick walls. But those inside had no understanding of what the two great mortars could do. Although such weapons had been used in various continental sieges, there were few soldiers in Britain who had ever seen then in action.

Not long after daybreak on the 13th there was a terrific crump as the first mortar fired. Its shell took a quite different trajectory to the cannon balls of the four siege guns: the 1.75-pound metal sphere soared upwards at a steep angle, sailing high over the walls, before dropping and exploding. Hane noted the distances, performed his calculations and prepared a second shell.

As the great granado travelled up into the sky, the eagle-eyed might have spotted the burning fizz of its fuse. A skilful master gunner would trim its length with such fine judgement, matching the time of flight and burning speed of the igniter, that the powder inside would be detonated just above the targets’ heads, showering them with lumps of the shell’s iron casing. And that was precisely what happened. The second English shell plunged into the castle courtyard, exploding just a few feet above the ground, cutting down thirty men with its terrible blast.

Next day, after twenty-four mortar shells had been fired, Stirling’s garrison mutinied. The soldiers, Highlanders for the most part, had not seen modern warfare before and they were terror-struck. Just two days after his defiant refusal of terms, Cunningham had to surrender. The English general had cracked one of Scotland’s toughest fortresses without having to ask his army to storm it. One of his admirers wrote: ‘Monk shewed what was the difference between a Professor in the Art of War, well studied in all its rules, and a Fanatick Soldier that fights by inspiration.’

The wars that racked the British Isles from 1642 had certainly unleashed a startling array of fanatics — religious fervour infused Protestant dissenting sects, Royalist volunteers or Irish Catholic bands with murderous self-righteousness. It did not though provide most of them with the slightest clue about how to fight successfully. Monck had begun the Civil War as a Royalist general, but he had been captured, and the Parliamentarians had managed to turn him to their side by offers of cash and rank.

Thomas Fairfax, the general who brought organisation to the Parliamentary cause by creating the New Model Army in 1645, called Monck ‘a man worth the making’. The two officers, cast initially on opposite sides in the war, had learned their profession together, fighting in the Netherlands in the 1630s. It was there that Monck picked up many practical skills in such arcane matters as siege warfare. He was not only practiced in his profession but understood soldiers very well, earning the accolade in Ireland, scene of one of his early campaigns, of ‘the most beloved by the soldiers of any officer in the army’.

One week after reducing Stirling, Monck’s army was off again, marching on Dundee. He could not dawdle, aiming to crush his enemy before winter. Cromwell had confided a sizeable force to his lieutenant: four regiments of horse, one of dragoons and ten of infantry. The marching regiments of foot were the core of his army, but with each success Monck had to leave detachments, and men were cast about in order to prevent further insurrection. He knew from campaigns in Ireland the importance of retaining a powerful army under his own hand, without leaving too many soldiers on garrisons duty, and these considerations added urgency to his movements that August.

At this time, midway through the seventeenth century, the revolution in warfare brought about by gunpowder was still only half done. Each regiment that marched towards Dundee had to combine pikemen, often armoured with a helmet and breastplate, with other soldiers lugging great muskets. The firearms were inaccurate, difficult to load, and hardly usable at all in wet weather, when the slow-burning matches used to fire them might get drenched. For this reason, the pike-men, armed with 15-20-foot pikes, were there as a kind of insurance against mishaps, and to form a solid hedgehog in close combat against enemy horse or infantry.

Just as the pikemen fought in a way basically unchanged since the times of Alexander the Great, so too the horse were expected to charge into their enemies and run them through with cold metal. Only the dragoons, hybrid soldiers who rode between battles but often fought in them dismounted, using firearms, showed the advance of military science.

As to the human make-up of Monck’s Scottish army, they were a diverse bunch, a product of their recruitment in several waves. Some were long-term survivors of the Parliamentary army, who had come into it nine years earlier, at the very start of the war, from the trained bands, militia forces of volunteers, often from quite educated or skilled backgrounds. Many in this category had joined in their teens, and seen battle many times. As the war progressed, though, volunteers dried up, leading the belligerent armies to use the press, or compel men to serve. This initially dragged in various unwilling farm labourers, servants and the like, but constables in the shires soon took advantage of the chance to empty their prisons. The men were therefore often serving unwillingly and could only hope that pay promised to them (but rarely delivered) would eventually give them some reward for their dangerous service.

When he summoned Robert Lumsdaine, governor of Dundee’s fortress, on 26 August, Monck had many considerations on his mind. His siege train was moving very slowly, so he knew that he might not have at his disposal the same means that he had used at Stirling to bludgeon Dundee’s defenders. Furthermore, the men were impatient for plunder and their morale might prove brittle if some precipitate attempt on the works was beaten back. So, concerned as he must have been, it can be imagined that Monck was nettled when Lumsdaine replied cheekily that he would offer the English army one last chance to surrender and take safe passage out of Scotland.

Monck brought cannon from some nearby ships, but they were simply not powerful enough to reduce Dundee’s walls quickly. Time was slipping away; he needed a different approach.

His answer lay with a young boy who boasted that he could make his way in and out of the town at will. Monck employed him as a spy, and every day the urchin made a report to his new paymaster, often scampering over the works to the crack and whistle of musket balls fired at him by the defenders. Several more days elapsed, but when the siege guns finally arrived, Monck had what he needed to concert his plan. From his spy, he knew that the garrison were in the habit of getting blind drunk every night. He therefore resolved to attack in the morning, early enough to make the most of their collective hangover.

In the small hours of 1 September, the English army prepared its storming parties. Confusion reigned in such operations, so it was vital to be able to tell friend from foe. The usual procedure was to tie a strip of cloth around one arm. Monck’s was a little different: he got the men to pull out their shirt tails, over their backsides. This system was all very well for the stormers as long as they kept going forward, but if a man turned to flee, there was no telling what might happen to him. As the Parliamentarians primed their pistols and burnished their swords, the password ‘God With Us!’ was whispered among them.

When the storm went in, Monck hit the town from two sides at once and resistance lasted little more than half an hour. Governor Lumsdaine received payback for the ‘impertinent gallantry’ with which he had received Parliament’s summons and was put to the sword.

Dundee turned out to be packed with valuables, mostly the property of Lowland Royalists who had gone there for safety. For three days the English army sacked the place, stealing and boozing, before Monck could re-impose order.

In a campaign of just a few weeks Monck took several towns, captured enemy ringleaders and scattered resistance into the Highlands. He had successfully mopped up any organised remnants of the enemy army and, in doing so, made his reputation with Cromwell.

If Monck was a good general, his success in war did not match that of Cromwell. Yet it is Monck whose legacy was the greater for Britain and its army. This judgement might seem perverse, but while Cromwell had been the leading light in the execution of King Charles I, and the master of many battlefields, when he styled himself Lord Protector in December 1653 his journey reached a political dead end. Even Cromwell understood that in seeking to fill the void left by the beheaded Charles he could not crown himself king and be done with it. His problem was that he ran out of inspiration in his struggle to restore viable relations between Britain’s landowners, army and himself, as ruler. So the atmosphere became increasingly fraught, with extreme religious ideas flourishing, near mutinous regiments refusing to disband themselves and continuous unrest in the provinces. This period was characterised by many of those who lived through it as a ‘state of nature’.

Not long after assuming the title of Lord Protector, Cromwell drew up orders to send Monck — whose duties had taken him elsewhere for two years — back to Scotland. He packed up his trunks, leaving the post of ‘General at Sea’, an arrangement under which he had successfully commanded a naval squadron during a short-lived outbreak of Anglo-Dutch hostilities, and returning to Caledonia. In Monck’s absence, the rebels had become increasingly daring, and the Parliamentary army was suffering from poor morale and discipline.

Terms set out in the parchment presented to the Royalist officer turned Cromwellian trouble-shooter in April 1654 gave him enormous authority. Appointing Monck ‘Commander in Chief of the Army and forces in Scotland’, Cromwell gave him ‘full power to rule, govern and command against rebels and enemies of the public peace’. The attainment of this aim even entitled the new pro-consul to take measures to protect the ‘true religion’, Protestantism, gave him the ability to raise revenue through imposing new customs duties, and do everything necessary to keep his army in order. In short, Monck was a plenipotentiary who would take care of business north of the Tweed for a master with too many other demands on his time. Indeed, the job created for Monck gave him a situation that was in many respects more powerful and less complicated than that of the Lord Protector himself in London.

The English general and his wife even managed a modest form of court life in Edinburgh, and some of the gentry, at least, were willing to be patronised at their table. Monck’s wife, Ann, was eleven years his junior. They had met in 1644 while he was a Royalist prisoner in the Tower, before he decided to switch his services to the Parliamentary cause. She is described, a little unkindly, in some accounts as a washerwoman who ‘did’ for the inmates. Small, shrewish and of volatile temper, one account calls her ‘a lady of low origin, she having been formerly employed in one of the mercer’s shops in the Exchange in London . . . her former station shows itself in her manners and dress’. Another states, ‘Monk was more fearful of her than of an army. It is said she would even give him manual correction.’

Some suggest that Monck, through his long campaigning, knew little of the opposite sex, and that Ann was the only woman with whom he ever had, if the term is appropriate for an occasionally battered husband, a loving relationship. Reading between the lines, it is evident that some of Monck’s military adventures provided welcome relief from Ann. Even so, he certainly loved her and was able to stand up for himself in extremis.

But if Monck did not always rule his own roost, he managed to run Scotland as a benign dictator: he used flying columns of dragoons and infantry to hunt down rebels; established a substantial network of informers; tried to put the nation’s finances on a proper footing; kept his regiments in good military order; and checked some of the more radical preachers. However, the English Revolution made possible many new forms of religious worship, which gave the ruler of Scotland some insoluble problems. Cromwell believed strongly in this freedom, but Monck disliked many of the new groups, believing that the ideas flowing from various pulpits or meetings could allow extremists to foment social strife. He was concerned that firebrand preachers could subvert his soldiers and provoke conflict with Scottish Presbyterian ministers.

Monck could not completely suppress all these new sects — Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, Anabaptists and Fifth Monarchy Men — because the Protector decreed tolerance. Thus, the Presbyterians were annoyed that the nonconformists were allowed to operate at all, while the sectaries despised the general because he occasionally sought to restrain some of their wilder agitation.

Monck’s security operations made any overt displays of loyalty to the Stuarts impossible across most of the country. They also made Scotland, for perhaps the only time that century, a more lawful place than England. One contemporary (by no means friendly to Monck) paid this tribute to his administration there: ‘As he was feared by the nobility and hated by the clergy, so he was not unloved by the common people, who received more justice and less oppression from him than they had been accustomed to under their own lords.’

A little over one year after assuming his post, Monck decided that he had made sufficient progress in pacifying the country to begin reducing his garrison. This was an urgent necessity, since the cost of the army in Scotland was about double the revenue that the country itself could produce in various duties. But Britain’s military rulers had reached a point where they could not afford to pay off the men. In Scotland, during the summer of 1655, Monck calculated his regiments’ arrears at £80,000. They could not simply be sent packing, since they had campaigned for years in expectation of this money and would either mutiny or turn to crime if they did not receive it.

Monck applied the ingenuity that had served him so well at Stirling and Dundee to the disbandment problem. He encouraged soldiers to take jobs as mercenaries in Holland and France, or to emigrate to the colonies. He also cashiered some officers whom he believed had fallen under the spell of more radical sectaries. By these means, he managed a reduction of several regiments. Even so, the problem was only partially dealt with in Scotland, and even less so in England.

The ferment and ideological upheaval in 1650s Britain was such that it can easily be compared to France after 1789 or Iran after 1979. Fifth Monarchy Men and other millenarian sects were marching about, led by preachers who confidently asserted that Christ would make His second coming in England at any moment. Villagers fed up with being robbed by unpaid soldiers or set upon by thousands of ‘fanatick’ pilgrims formed armed groups, the Clubmen, who set upon any suspicious characters they met. Other factions, such as the Levellers and the Diggers, were advocating what we might now call a redistribution of wealth. The garrisons of what had once been a fine New Model Army could exert only a limited influence. In any case, many officers sympathised with the religious sectaries or Levellers, and the army was unhappy, owed huge amounts of money and refusing to disband itself. In short, it was holding the country to ransom.

George Monck — 1608-1670 Part II

Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Egerton of the King’s Troop of Horse Guards, a unit that returned with the exiled King Charles II in 1660 before joining his new army, c1672

The Coldstreamers march to London, 1660

During the five and a half years that Monck ruled Scotland, he tried to reconcile competing religious, military and budgetary demands. His solutions were subtly different from those in England. There was less religious tolerance in Scotland under the period of military rule, and certainly those members of the garrison who fell in with the Quakers or Fifth Monarchy Men often found themselves being dismissed from the army. Monck sought to maintain the military effectiveness of his regiments by curbing religious politics within their ranks, straining every sinew to pay them regularly and keeping them under command of trusted subordinates. All the while, he tried to protect himself against nasty political surprises by retaining a network of correspondents in London, his native Devon and the garrisons of Ireland and England — people of like mind, many of them professional soldiers.

At times, Monck tired of his burden and sought to resign, but Cromwell wouldn’t let him. The Lord Protector had become such an admirer that he even preferred to overlook the ways in which Monck had subverted his Puritan experiment. Some of those black-suited ideologues who did not like what they heard from Edinburgh tried to convince Cromwell that Monck’s heart remained true to the Stuarts and that the general was one of those who sought to restore Charles II to the throne.

Writing to Monck in August 1655, Cromwell referred to these rumours, going as far as to make a joke of them: ‘There be some that tell me that there is a certain cunning fellow in Scotland called George Monck who is said to lie in wait there to introduce Charles Stuart; I pray you must use your diligence to apprehend him and send him up to me.’

Why did Cromwell leave him in Scotland, at the head of one of the few effective garrisons left in the army? The Lord Protector knew his general well enough to realise that the sense of military honour that bound Monck to serve, after having agreed to take up the Scottish position, would be sufficient to prevent him betraying the Commonwealth’s trust. It was a sound judgement, and indeed was exactly the same one reached by a Royalist peer in considering whether Monck might be turned to the Stuart cause. The leading Stuart supporter put it thus: ‘The only ties that have hitherto kept [Monck] from grumbling have been the vanity of constancy to his professions, and his affection to Cromwell’s person.’ In this last comment the Royalist had realised something that the Lord Protector apparently had not. Monck respected Cromwell as a general and as a strong hand, holding the country back from even worse confusion and Puritan zealotry.

When Cromwell died, in September 1658, the country reached a crossroads. For a few months, his son Richard was able to rule, but challenges to his authority began appearing almost immediately. The ties between Oliver Cromwell and his generals had been dissolved. They began vying for power and, increasingly, Richard became a marginal figure. As Monck’s correspondents in London told him of each new twist and turn, he decided that he could not remain indifferent in the power struggle. He prepared to hurl himself out of Scotland, exploding with all the force of a political mortar bomb.

It was late in the evening of 8 December 1659 when Monck and his party arrived in Coldstream, a small village on the Scottish side of the Tweed. The ground was blanketed with snow, and stones in the stream that marked the English border were wreathed in ice. Several regiments of Monck’s Scottish army had already billeted themselves on the locals, having marched there on the general’s orders. At a time of night when the embers in Coldstream’s hearths would normally have been dying, smoke billowed into the crisp night from its chimneys, bearing witness to the many rough soldiers who had been packed into each home or barn.

One of Monck’s party recalled their arrival at 11 p.m.: ‘The honest Red-coats did bid us heartily welcome, but the Knaves had eat up all the Meat, and drank all the Drink of the Town . . . the General lodged, falling to his good Cheer, which was his chewing tobacco (which he used to commend so much).’ Monck and his people finally found beds for the night at a house just outside the village.

Monck’s days in Coldstream were the most fateful of his life. For it was there, gripped in the depths of the Scottish winter, that he had to decide whether to cross the Tweed, march to London and seize power. Ann appeared on a couple of occasions, but Monck packed her off the following morning. He did not want her there as he approached his moment of decision.

Fifteen months had passed since Oliver Cromwell’s death. His son Richard had inherited the title of Lord Protector but immediately it had become apparent that he did not have either the strength of character or the army following to wield supreme power. Certain warlords — veteran army commanders — soon decided to ignore Richard and took steps to dictate their terms to what remained of Parliament.

Cromwell’s side in the Civil War had, of course, fought in the name of Parliament, but by 1659 that assembly was a shadow of its former self. Its remaining members were those who had survived the 1648 purge of 231 Royalists and the following year’s abolition of the Lords. Monck signalled by letter his opposition to the actions of the military opportunists who now attempted to coerce the MPs. The principal among these warlords, Major General John Lambert, had marched north with a small army, ready to confront Monck if he sought to follow his words in support of Parliament with deeds. Lambert was a gifted cavalry commander who had campaigned on the same side as Monck and Cromwell in Scotland seven years previously. But now he coveted the title of Lord Protector and had garnered some support among Puritan officers.

The choice thus confronting Monck as he reviewed his regiments in Coldstream was whether to risk a further civil war involving years more bloodletting. He wrote to Lambert: ‘It is much upon my spiritt that this poore Commonwealth can never be happy if the army make itself a divided interest from the rest of the nation.’ But Monck was not just opposed to rule by military diktat. His belief that England would have to revert to its traditional form of government included a more explosive agenda: that only the Restoration of King Charles II could end the chaos in his country. He stood ready to usher in a new order, but his road to Westminster was full of dangers, which meant he could not state his aims plainly. Army and society had been shattered by seventeen years of strife. There were all manner of disparate sects and interests that disagreed about most things but still denounced the Stuart monarchy loudly and might unite against anyone proposing Restoration.

We are fortunate that some of the greatest English writers — John Milton, Samuel Pepys and Thomas Hobbes — lived through this crisis and recorded their views about what Monck did next. ‘If [Monck] had declared for the King or for a free Parliament,’ noted Hobbes, explaining the general’s subterfuge, ‘all the armies in England would have joined against him.’

Monck’s first priority during those days in Coldstream was therefore to assure himself of the loyalty of his own troops and that other garrisons in England and Ireland would acquiesce to his entering the political fray with his secret objectives. As he waited in the little border village, mud-spattered messengers on foaming horses arrived regularly, carrying dispatches from his correspondents across the country.

Monck had gone to the utmost care to cultivate these contacts during the preceding months, and to ensure that they went undiscovered by spies or gossips. Thomas Gumble, one of the general’s chaplains, recorded, ‘He had constantly Letters directed to Scotch Names at Edenbourgh, about Merchant affairs, and also other private business; and the whole Intelligence wrapt in certain words to be read in certain places . . . he had several Messengers that came as often as there was occasion, through by-ways, and not in the great Road.’

Others, too, arrived to see him: for example, a relative of Thomas Fairfax, the erstwhile commander of the Roundhead armies who, during Cromwell’s later years, had shut himself away in Yorkshire. During the Civil War, Fairfax had been Monck’s adversary and Lambert’s friend, but over time he had come to conclude that England’s best course back towards stability consisted of restoring the monarchy. Now he was ready to declare his support for Monck as soon as he crossed the Tweed, and to bring numerous influential northern gentlemen with him.

These secret preparations were so effective that Monck wrong-footed many of those who now sought power but who had written him off as a dull plodder. Hobbes wrote, ‘they thought not of him; his gallantry had been shown on remote stages . . . [but] after General Monk [sic] had signified by letter his dislike of the proceedings of Lambert and his fellows, they were much surprised, and began to think him more considerable than they had done; but it was too late’.

By Christmas Day 1659, Monck’s conspiracy was nearing fruition. He knew that many in London were desperate for deliverance from religious extremists relying on armed force, and that others in the army would either support him or at least stand aside and watch. But what about the loyalty of his own troops?

A little over two months before, on 19th October, the issue of allegiance had reached a tense crisis in Edinburgh. Monck had been forced to use loyal soldiers to face down those of his own and another regiment who had fallen under the spell of officers sympathetic to Lambert. Addressing the troops during this stand-off, with musketeers blowing on their smouldering matches, ready to give fire at any moment, Monck appealed direct to the rank and file, bellowing out in his Devon accent a promise that he would guarantee them their back pay. The men began cheering for their general; when shots rang out, mercifully they came in the form of a salute for Monck. With the threat of bloodshed averted, Monck had to dismiss the lieutenant colonel of his own regiment and six of its ten company commanders; all had shown themselves loyal to Lambert and the other army plotters in London.

With this crisis behind him, and the army readied in Coldstream, Monck’s careful management of his soldiery during the previous four years paid dividends. Those in the ranks knew that ‘honest George Monck’ had seen to it that they were paid more often than the men of other garrisons and now they also had that promise of the remainder of their due. Occasional fighting against Highland rebels meant the regiments had retained their spirit. His popularity in this small force was such that when Monck rode among his men, he would often hear them shout that he should make himself Lord Protector in Richard Cromwell’s stead.

On 1 January 1660, Monck’s first brigade marched across the bridge at Coldstream. His destiny was sealed. Thomas Gumble, his chaplain, recorded breathlessly that setting out on New Year’s Day was ‘a good omen to begin a New World in England’.

The Scottish army marching south consisted of four regiments of horse and six of foot. They were divided into two brigades, the second of which, accompanied by Monck himself, crossed the Tweed on 2 January. The total strength of this force was fewer than 6,000 men, and they were soon known as the Coldstreamers. Gumble compared them to the Nobles of Israel, ‘because they offered themselves willingly among the people, and jeoparded their lives unto death in the high places of the field’.

Ten days after their departure, when the Coldstreamers marched into York, the immediate prospect of bloodshed had receded somewhat. Yorkshire had risen in support of Monck, and Lambert’s army melted away. Various worthies who presumed to speak for Parliament now began frantic negotiations with Monck, realising at last that he had become England’s kingmaker. Associations around the country began sending petitions to York, where the general paused for five days while considering his next step.

Fairfax was one of the first to come and see Monck, and urged him to declare for Charles II. But he was disappointed when the Coldstreamers’ leader gave him no clear answer. There were different proposals flying about that fell short of this dramatic step and were therefore worthy of consideration. Many of the arguments centred on whether some sort of national equilibrium could be restored if the MPs purged, or ‘secluded’, in 1648 — at least those who had survived — could be recalled to the Commons. Those opposed to this measure knew it would lead inexorably to the return of a Stuart king.

Monck did not gratify Fairfax, or the others who wanted him to spell out his position in York. Instead he resumed his march towards London. Some regarded this as indecision and funk. A contemporary and rival damned Monck as ‘instrumental in bringing things to pass which he had neither wisdom to forsee nor courage to attempt nor understanding to continue’.

Admirers, though, regard the general’s refusal to declare his aims during the Coldstreamers’ march as a masterful tactic to prevent his enemies coalescing. It is clear that Monck wanted Restoration, but that he did not dare articulate it until he could see for himself the situation in London and know that he could rely on the support of all the main garrisons. In cloaking his intentions, the general was ready not just to be evasive but to resort to downright lies. Monck wrote to one of the old Roundheads in London: ‘Believe me, Sir, for I speak it in the presence of God, it is the desire of my soul, and shall (the Lord assisting) be witnessed by the actions of my life, that these nations be so settled in a free state, without a king, a single person, or House of Peers, that they may be governed by their representatives in Parliament successively.’

On 3 February the Coldstreamers reached Highgate. Monck reviewed the regiments and addressed them as they gazed south from the hill at London’s northern extreme to the smoky metropolis below. Once the order to march was given, the regiments filed down the hill, their many flags dancing in the winter wind. The musketeers lugged matchlocks on their shoulders, the pikemen tramped along, carrying their long, awkward weapons with practised ease.

Down Gray’s Inn Lane the long columns of soldiers went, the townspeople stopping and staring. One of the Coldstreamers recorded, ‘the Scotch forces did not find the usual welcome of the people, as they did in other places; only they were gazed upon, and that was all their entertainment. Which the Soldiers observing, wished themselves among their Friends in the North.’

To Londoners, the Coldstreamers looked quite different to the well-fed garrison troops they were used to. One account stated, ‘Their Scotch horse were thin and out of case with long and hard Marching; and the men as rough and weather beaten, having marched in a severe Winter about three hundred Miles in length, and through deep and continued Snows; so that all their Way they had scarce seen their native Country.’ They proceeded to Westminster, where Monck went in search of the Speaker of the Commons. Londoners gradually understood what the arrival of this new army meant.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary on 6 February, ‘I stood upon the steps and saw Monk go by, he making observances to the judges as he went along.’ The next day, he saw some of Monck’s men manhandling some Quakers, evidently having taken their commander’s dislike of the religious sects to heart, and noted disapprovingly, ‘indeed the soldiers did use them very roughly and were to blame’. A few days later, once a letter by Monck in favour of restoring the secluded Members of Parliament had become public, Pepys raced to the Guildhall in the City and found a very different scene:

the Hall was full of people expecting Monk and the Lord Mayor to come thither, and all very joyfull. Met Monk coming out of the chamber . . . but such a shout I never heard in all my life, crying out ‘God Bless Your Excellence’ . . . I saw many people give the soldiers drink and money, and all along the street cried, ‘God Bless them!’ and extraordinary good words.

Monck’s position had at last become clear. The MPs purged in 1648 were those who had refused to go along with the trial and execution of Charles I. Bringing them back into the House would create a majority in favour of Restoration. People in the City, in particular, longed for it, and the explosion of joy witnessed by Pepys can be seen in that light. However, not everyone agreed to this step, and those who thought Monck’s request a betrayal of everything gained in the Civil War met urgently at Westminster, and agreed to elect a completely new House of Commons.

It is a measure of how far Monck had thought ahead and prepared the ground through his secret correspondence and messengers that on 21 February, when his opponents were about to dissolve the House and declare a new election, one of his staff appeared at the Commons with seventy-three of the Members purged a dozen years before. Resuming their seats, and to the consternation of the Puritan zealots, these Members immediately changed the balance of the House. There could be no thought of casting out these returning gentlemen, because the other MPs knew that the force of Monck’s army stood behind them. The Restoration of Charles II became inevitable.

Three months later, on 25 May, a large crowd of dignitaries assembled on the quay at Dover. It was approaching 1 p.m. and the assembled party watched as a ship of the line approached. The warship had, until three days before, been called Naseby, after one of Parliament’s great victories. In view of its mission that day, it had been tactfully renamed the Royal Charles. The Mayor of Dover and his retinue fussed about, standing under the ornate canopy they had erected for the occasion. A large Bible, with golden clasps, sat on a lectern, awaiting presentation to His Majesty.

George Monck — 1608-1670 Part III

Coronation procession (detail) April 23, 1661. Charles II at left, followed by Monck, who is “Leading a Horse of Estate.”

One guest, though, upstaged all the others. Monck had been summoned urgently to Dover after a letter arrived from Charles II saying that he would not land unless he was sure the general was there to meet him.

As the statuesque figure of the King — over six feet tall, with flowing locks and courtly robes — came ashore, cannon boomed out a salute from the castle. ‘The General received him with becoming duty’, recorded Gumble, who was standing just behind Monck, ‘but his Majesty embraced him with an affection so absolute and vehement, as higher could not have been expressed by a Prince to a subject. He embraced and kissed him.’ Pepys, who had been aboard the Royal Charles, sharing the King’s breakfast of ‘pease, pork and boiled beef’, noted that after the embraces ‘the shouting and joy expressed by all is beyond imagination’.

They made an incongruous couple, the King and Monck, with Charles towering over the stocky general as they walked to a waiting carriage. But the two of them symbolised the importance of the moment: the rough soldier whose strong hand rescued England from anarchy deferring to the manicured sovereign who would restore the mystery of kingship and the missing element of hierarchy required for Parliament and state to function.

During the years when Royalist agents had tried to win Monck over to their cause, vast sums had been offered secretly by way of reward. When Charles II returned, Monck wasted little time in collecting his due — both financial and by extending a personal web of patronage. He was quickly created Duke of Albemarle, made Lord General, or Commander-in-Chief, of the Army, and laden with other honours.

In his correspondence with Charles prior to their meeting in Dover that May, Monck had set only one precondition for how the King should rule. Making himself the soldiers’ champion, Monck had insisted that the army’s arrears of pay be settled as a prelude to its disbandment. This involved demobilising 18 regiments of foot, 15 of horse and dozens of garrison parties scattered about the land, totalling around 50,000 men. Parliament and sovereign had to agree a huge programme of taxation in order to buy off the soldiers, preventing the emergence of another Lambert (the general himself languished in the Tower) who might seize power. Under the new assessments, £70,000 extra per month for eighteen months was to be raised to pay off all of those regiments.

Although plans were set in train for the complete disbandment of what had once been Fairfax’s New Model Army, it may be surmised that both Monck and the King thought some soldiers might be required to act as police, maintaining internal security. There were plans to keep a few troops of cavalry to protect the people of London against thieves and the mob. Also, the future of a regiment of Royal Guards, who had accompanied Charles on his return from the Low Countries, remained uncertain.

Matters were brought to a head in January 1661, when a crowd of several hundred Fifth Monarchy Men marched to Kenwood on Highgate Hill and declared a sort of divinely inspired insurrection. Monck quickly scattered the zealots with his forces. Much of the old Parliamentary army had already been paid off, but one or two regiments, critically Monck’s own — the core of his Coldstreamers — were still under arms.

On the 14th of the same month, Monck’s regiment of foot and his troop of horse marched to Tower Hill. At about 10 a.m., a carriage appeared, bearing commissioners appointed by Parliament to oversee the disbandment of the army. As they got out, the troops formed a circle around them. Colonel King, one of the commissioners, addressed the men, an eyewitness recording:

That God had highly honoured them in the eyes and hearts of the King and kingdom; yea, and made them renowned throughout the world and to all posterity, in stirring them up to be eminently instrumental in the happy Restoration of his Majesty to his royal throne, the Parliament to their privileges, and our whole kingdoms to their antient laws, liberties, and government, without any battle or bloodshed: for which signal services his Majesty and the whole kingdom returned them not only their verbal but real thanks.

The troops were invited to lay down their pikes and muskets. No sooner had they done so than they took a new oath to serve the King as ‘an extraordinary Guard to his Royal Person’, marched forward, picked up the weapons discarded minutes before, and began shouting, ‘God save King Charles the Second!’ Some men threw their hats in the air, others primed their muskets and began a feu de joie.

With this ceremony, the modern British Army was born. It was formed from troops that had previously been enemies — a pattern applied by the British themselves in nation-building missions hundreds of years later from Sierra Leone to Iraq. Monck’s men and a further regiment of Parliamentary cavalry (Colonel Unton Crook’s horse) were combined with some Royalist battalions brought by Charles from the Netherlands and, a few months later, with some newly raised troops. The precedence of these different regiments was considered too delicate an issue to be tackled in Monck’s lifetime, but Charles’s returnees were later designated the 1st Foot Guards and Monck’s old regiment the 2nd, or Coldstream, Guards. Even today their rivalry lives on, the Coldstreamers adopting the motto ‘Second to None’. Monck’s troop of horse and two of the King’s household were combined into the Lifeguards; Crook’s old Ironside regiment became the Royal Horse Guards, or the Blues.

These arrangements were in place for only a few months before the King’s acquisition, through marriage, of a colonial possession (Tangier in modern Morocco) required a garrison to be raised. Within a couple of years, the army, which had fallen as low as 3,000 men, was restored to a strength of around 8,500.

Fairfax’s New Model, it is true, was the first British professional military force, in the sense that its men were not paid off after each campaign and were properly trained. Ultimately, though, the New Model or Parliamentary army came to represent a sectarian instrument of military rule. It was infiltrated by various extreme religious groups, eventually fracturing along lines of loyalty to different commanders. It was for this reason that Fairfax’s army, or its remnant, was almost entirely disbanded in 1660-2. Monck’s men (and indeed Charles’s Guards regiment) were the nucleus of a modern standing army not just because their regiments have served continuously since February 1661 but because they represented the unification of what had been the Civil War factions. Even so, their constitutional status remained unclear for many years.

Until the 1689 Mutiny Act, which set out a code of military discipline, the notion of a regular army was not to be found in any statutory form. In the meantime, the Guards were paid with budgetary sleight of hand, as part of the King’s household. It was to take centuries for British soldiers to stop thinking of themselves as servants of the Crown. Indeed, some still do.

Such was the novelty of a standing army that there were no quarters or barracks for them. The men of the new Guards regiments had to be billeted, as the Parliamentary troops had been, in various places where paid lodgings might be found. An order in Monck’s regiment mentions ‘inns, victualling-houses, taverns, and alehouses’, where the men were meant to provide for their stay, food and boozing from their daily pay. This was set at ten pence a day for privates while actually guarding the King; eight pence under other circumstances. The Coldstream Guards for many years were thus scattered about, living in pubs and inns in an area of London that now comprises Clerkenwell, Aldgate, Islington and Holborn — a thoroughly agreeable existence, one imagines, for men who had recently spent years fighting Highlanders in Scotland.

Since the arrangements for raising and paying troops during the 1660s and 1670s were not subject to specific Parliamentary consent, many in the Commons frequently voiced opposition to the notion of a standing army, regarding it as an instrument that might be used by a king to rule by force. The Royalists, meanwhile, had seen in the experience of Cromwell and his generals a lesson that religious extremists should not be allowed to run the country in a similarly arbitrary way. Each side saw in the other’s pronouncements a desire to gain control of a powerful standing army as an instrument of internal repression.

Monck had believed in the need for regular military forces for many years. He and Fairfax seemed to have drawn common lessons from their campaigns in the Netherlands in the 1630s. Each had tried to apply these ideas during the Civil War, with Fairfax succeeding and Monck seeing his suggestions for such a force ignored by Charles I. Under Charles II, Monck finally found himself as lord general of a professional army. He believed that one of the principal hedges against such an army being used as an instrument of tyranny was that it should be commanded by a strong, independent figure, i.e. himself. And while, as Duke of Albemarle, he played the part of courtier to Charles II with alacrity, it is evident that the Civil War had left Monck with the belief that no monarch or royal house could regard their position as a right to be upheld, regardless of conduct. Monck’s treatise Observations upon Military and Political Affairs contained the sentence, ‘You ought not to perpetuate any Government, neither to families nor yet for life.’ This might fit easily with his earlier refusal to go along with Cromwell’s plans to pass power to his son, but it was a bombshell coming from the man who had restored the Stuart monarchy.

Charles II was evidently shrewd enough to recognise in Monck the kind of independence of spirit that required careful handling. He not only larded the Duke with honours and money, but used Monck as a trouble-shooter during the Great Plague, after the Fire of London and, reverting to his position as naval commander, during renewed naval hostilities with the Dutch. This second tour as an admiral was not a success for Monck, however, for he was defeated in battle by the Dutch fleet, a stain on his reputation in later life.

The final period of his service brought Monck into frequent contact with Samuel Pepys, one of the clerks running the navy. Pepys certainly paints a less than flattering picture of Monck in this period, recording at one point, ‘he is grown a drunken sot’. Others were scathing about abuses of patronage by Monck and his wife, with one noting, ‘both of them asked and sold all that was in their reach, nothing being denied them for some time’. Pepys also considered Monck rather dim. At the same time, though, he was perceptive enough to recognise both his popularity and his standing with the King. When Monck returned from fighting the Dutch in October 1667, he received a vote of thanks from Parliament in spite of the defeat. A perplexed Pepys wrote, ‘I know not how, the blockhead Albemarle [i.e. Monck] hath strange luck to be loved, though he be (and every man must know it) the heaviest man in the world, but stout and honest to his country.’

On 2 January 1670, Monck died while sitting in a chair at home. The King immediately ordered that he be embalmed by royal physicians, prior to lying in state at Somerset House. The obsequies observed at this time dictated a lengthy period on display, allowing worthies the opportunity to travel to London from various parts of the country. The dead general was thus exhibited for weeks, suitably prepared by the doctors so that his remains did not visibly deteriorate or prove too offensive to the mourners’ nostrils.

The character left to posterity by most of those contemporaries who wrote about him was of ‘honest George Monck’. He was the archetype of the reliable soldier who eschewed courtly sophistication and spoke about things as he found them. Even someone like Pepys, whose patron was a rival of Monck’s for the King’s favour, had to concede these traits.

It would be fatal to conclude from this, though, that Pepys was right when he called Monck a ‘blockhead’, since there is much evidence to the contrary. It is Monck’s seizure of power in 1660 — the key drama of his life — that shows what a calculating and ruthless man he could be when he thought that the interests of England and, obviously, his own family demanded it. Monck’s plain, thickset appearance, his refusal to use flowery language and even his West Country accent may all have caused people to underestimate his intelligence.

When Thomas Hobbes published Behemoth, or the Long Parliament in 1671, the tract in which he tried to digest the experience of that national madness that was the Civil War and find its deeper meaning, he chose to place the march from Coldstream at the very end of his story. Behemoth concludes with the words, ‘You have told me little of the General till now in the end: but truly, I think the bringing of his little army entire out of Scotland up to London, was the greatest stratagem that is extant in history.’

In giving this powerful testimony to the significance of Monck’s coup, Hobbes played the same trick on his readers as the general had played on his rivals — of writing him off, allowing him to remain on ‘remote stages’ until the moment of his own choosing. In describing the march as the ‘greatest stratagem’, Hobbes also acknowledged that Monck had cloaked his real intentions, sometimes wrong-footing his rivals with lies.

There can be no doubt, though, that the general acted with cunning and calculation in 1660: he maintained a network of secret contacts in order to gain the most timely intelligence of what his rivals were doing; he neutralised his army rivals; once in London, he marshalled sufficient secluded Members of the Commons to produce at the key moment in Parliament as his coup moved towards its unstated climax, Restoration.

The quality of his thinking is also shown in the book Observations upon Military and Political Affairs, ostensibly written by him in 1644-5, while a prisoner in the Tower, but evidently amended later in life and finally published in 1671, after his death. In formulating general principles about the conduct of war, Observations showed an intellectual ambition to which the vast majority of British officers through the ages would never have aspired. It would be overstating it to say that Monck’s treatise made him an English Machiavelli or Clausewitz, but it was not a lack of merit that ensured Monck’s book circulated little in the decades after his death. Rather, it seems that a British officer corps that would rank among the poorest read in Europe (the French were the unquestioned champions of military theory) was not much interested in the reflections of a man who had done so much to shape the country.

Monck’s book combined much of what was to become standard in such works — advice about the concentration of force or qualities of decisive generalship — with some fresh ideas that seem part of our modern age, such as the vital importance of intelligence gathering in order to wage successful war. His reflections on relations between generals and their political masters are of greatest interest, though. In his advice that ‘you ought not to perpetuate any Government’, Monck showed that the relationship between England and the Monarch had been permanently altered by the Civil War, and that the Restoration was not simply handing the country back to the Stuarts to do with it what they liked. Indeed, the overthrow of James II just a few years later would underline Monck’s conviction that no king had a God-given right to continue his rule, regardless of his behaviour.

As for success in war, Monck stated that it needed underlying economic strength as well as military professionalism: ‘I account a Rich Publick Treasure, providently provided before-hand, and a people well trained in Martial Affairs, to be two of the only Pillars (next under God) that will preserve a Kingdom or State from ruine and danger.’ Monck argued for moderation in waging war: ‘It is an excellent property of a good and wise Prince to use War, as he doth Physick, carefully, unwillingly, and seasonably.’ As for the role of generals in launching conflict or defining its aims, he believed, ‘It is a dangerous thing for a General to make himself chief in pursuading a Prince, or State to any weighty and important resolution, so that the counsel thereof be wholly imputed to him, which belongs to many.’

In these last two points Monck did much to define the British Army and its style of generalship for the next two hundred years. First, any blatant adventurism was to be eschewed. Second, responsibility for going to war must always be seen by the wider public as the decision of a government rather than its generals.

In an age of modern liberal democracy, many regard the armed forces as ‘apolitical’. But there should be no doubt about it, Britain’s post-Civil War settlement was made possible by a military coup in 1660. Furthermore, in the two centuries that followed Monck’s action, the army that he founded would often find itself up to its neck in politics. The knack for aspiring ‘political generals’, as Monck had shown, was to intervene in civilian counsels only occasionally, and to be very careful about cloaking their intentions. In foreign wars, senior officers were bound to have strong views about the feasibility or righteousness of military plans, but they needed to use wisdom and guile to bend civilian opponents to their way of thinking.

Monck’s coup, though, was such an unarguably political act that his historical reputation became the subject of partisan dispute. Tories would see him as a man loyal to his rightful sovereign who rescued England from the madness of its ‘state of nature’ following the execution of Charles I. Their ideological opponents — later known as Whig historians — tended to see Monck as a cynical adventurer who changed sides too many times, betrayed Cromwell and ultimately sold out the Commonwealth in order to enrich his family.

As to the significance of his actions, though, there is less dispute. Monck had other options, after all: he might have consolidated his personal power and made himself Protector, as some urged him to do; conversely, he could have allowed the election of a new Parliament, without the return of Charles II, thereby producing a true republic. Instead, he took the key step in the creation of a constitutional monarchy, and founded a professional army.

The procession from Somerset House to Westminster Abbey on 30 April 1670 was a splendid one, paid for by the King. Atop the coffin was an effigy of the Lord General, Duke of Albemarle, dressed in armour. As the carriage carrying it made its way up the Strand, it was watched by two regiments of City Militia, who were lining the route. The 1st Foot Guards followed on; then Monck’s old regiment, the Coldstreamers. Behind this military parade came Monck’s son and the other mourners. Ann had died a fortnight after her husband, but, with no lying in state necessary for her, had beaten him to their vault in Westminster Abbey. While some contemporaries liked to look down on her for her lowly origins, her death testified to the depth of her love for the general, and, as one modern biographer has noted, ‘No breath of scandal was to hurt either of them at the bawdy court of the restored Stuart king.’

Circumstances had cast Monck not as the victor of epic battles but in the role of kingmaker. This gave him a more significant legacy than the greatest master of the battlefield of his own age, Oliver Cromwell. Even so, the army that Monck had founded was, at the time he left it, a small enterprise: several thousand men who figured little in the calculations of European statesmen. The task of getting the wider world to sit up and take notice of this new power would eventually fall to a tall young ensign who walked behind the general’s coffin on that day in April 1670. His name was John Churchill.


The life and career of Heinz Guderian, the “father” of the blitzkrieg.

Guderian was born in Kulm, West Prussia (now Chelmno, Poland), on June 17, 1888. His father was Friedrich Guderian, a future Prussian general who died of natural causes as a brigade commander during the advance of 1914. Heinz was educated in the cadet school system and entered the service as a Faehnrich (senior officer-cadet) in the Hanoverian 10th Jaeger Battalion in 1907. At the time, his father was the battalion commander.

Heinz attended the War School at Metz (then part of Germany) in 1907, underwent officer training, and was commissioned second lieutenant on January 27, 1908. He remained with the 10th Jaeger until 1913, when he was transferred to the War Academy in Berlin, to attend General Staff training. This class never graduated, however, because World War I began in August 1914. Guderian was named commander of the 3rd Heavy Radio Section of the 5th Cavalry Division on the Western Front. Later he commanded the 14th Heavy Radio Section of the 4th Army in France (1914–1917) and was briefly attached to the Army High Command, again as a signals officer (1915–1916). He was promoted to first lieutenant in November 1914 and to captain in late 1915.

In the spring of 1917, Guderian had a series of orientation assignments as a supply officer (Ib) and intelligence officer (Ic) with various commands, including the 4th Infantry Division and X Reserve Corps, as well as a tour with the operations staff of Army Detachment C. In early 1918, he attended the abbreviated General Staff course at Sedan and, on what he later declared to be the happiest day of his life, graduated and became a General Staff officer. Guderian spent the rest of the war on the General Staff of the XXXVIII Reserve Corps and as Ia to the German commander in occupied Italy.

In the chaos after the armistice—what the Germans called “the war after the war”—Captain Guderian headed east, serving with border protection units in Silesia and with the Iron Division in the Baltic States (1919–1920). A right-wing officer and strong German nationalist, Guderian was very upset when General Hans von Seeckt, the de facto commander of the army, recalled the German forces from the Baltic. Guderian never forgave Seeckt, but the general was right—and was certainly more politically astute than Guderian.

After he returned to Germany, Guderian commanded a company in the 10th Jaeger, which was now stationed at Goslar in Lower Saxony. (Later it became part of the III Battalion, 17th Infantry.) Guderian commanded his company until 1922, when he was transferred to the 7th Motor Transport Battalion in Munich and then to the Department of Motor Transport Troops in the Defense Ministry. Here Guderian found his cause. He became the “Apostle Paul” on the idea of motorized and armored warfare, which he saw as the future. Collectively, they revolved around the word blitzkrieg, or lightning warfare. Despite opposition from certain senior generals and virtually the entire cavalry branch, Guderian advocated his ideas to anyone who would listen. He wrote articles for professional military journals, translated others, and even wrote a book on the subject. He also gained a great many converts—and made a great many enemies. He nevertheless continued to advance professionally, receiving promotions to major (1927), lieutenant colonel (1931), and colonel (1933).

Guderian’s cause received a major boost in 1933, when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Hitler considered himself to be a revolutionary and his party to be a revolutionary party. Naturally, he was favorably disposed toward revolutionary military ideas, such as the concept of the blitzkrieg, as advocated by Heinz Guderian. With the support of the Fuehrer, Guderian and his mentor and protector, General Oswald Lutz, the chief of the Motor Transport Inspectorate, Germany began to create panzer units. On October 15, 1935, the first three panzer divisions were activated. Colonel Guderian received command of the 2nd Panzer at Wuerzburg. He was promoted to major general in 1936.

Guderian led the 2nd Panzer until February 1938, when Adolf Hitler purged the army of many of its anti-Nazi leaders. Among those to go was General Lutz, who learned over the public radio that he had been involuntarily retired. Guderian was offered Lutz’s job: chief of the Panzer Troops Command, along with a promotion to lieutenant general. He was delighted to accept and did not lift a finger to help his former protector.

In 1938, Guderian led the XVI Motorized Corps in the occupation of Austria, after which he was promoted to general of panzer troops. The following year, he distinguished himself as commander of the XIX Motorized (later Panzer) Corps in the conquest of Poland. His greatest campaign, however, was in the conquest of France, in which he commanded seven of Germany’s ten tank divisions. His corps was upgraded to 2nd Panzer Group in November 1940, and he was promoted to colonel general on July 19, 1940.

The German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Guderian’s panzers led the way from the very beginning and took part in some of Nazi Germany’s greatest tactical victories: Bialystok-Minsk (290,000 Russians captured; 3,332 tanks and 1,809 guns captured or destroyed), Smolensk (310,000 Russians captured; 3,205 tanks and 3,120 guns captured or destroyed), Gomel (84,000 Russians captured; 144 tanks and 848 guns captured or destroyed), Kiev (667,000 Russians captured; 884 tanks and 3,718 guns captured or destroyed), and Vyazma-Bryansk (663,000 Russians captured; 1,242 tanks and 5,412 guns captured or destroyed).2 As a reward for Guderian’s victories, the 2nd Panzer Group was upgraded to 2nd Panzer Army on October 5, 1941, but after Vyazma-Bryansk, with the Russian winter fast approaching, Guderian took part in Army Group Center’s last thrusts on Moscow and then faced Stalin’s winter offensive with seriously depleted forces.

As mentioned earlier, Guderian had made enemies. Perhaps the worst of them was Field Marshal Guenther Hans von Kluge. He and Guderian hated each other so badly that they had almost fought a duel before it was forbidden by Hitler. Guderian had been scathing in his criticism of Kluge’s conduct of operations as commander of the 4th Army in Russia, to which 2nd Panzer Group had briefly been attached. Nevertheless, on December 18, 1941, Kluge replaced Field Marshal Fedor von Bock as commander-in-chief of Army Group Center. His command included Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Army.

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler began issuing his tactically irrational hold-at-all-costs orders. Guderian ignored them. Kluge promptly reported his disobedience to Fuehrer Headquarters. Heinz Guderian was relieved of his command on December 26. He held no further assignments until after the fall of Stalingrad.3

The destruction of Friedrich Paulus’s 6th Army shocked Hitler to the point that he recalled Guderian from disgrace. On February 28, 1943, he named “Fast Heinz” the inspector general of Panzer Troops. He placed Guderian in charge of all replacement panzer, motorized, and mechanized forces and equipment, including the formation of new units.4 His authority encompassed such broad powers that he rivaled the chief of the General Staff as the leading officer within the army. Despite the opinion of some historians, Hitler’s decision to create this post was a poor one, because it further divided the army command. Meanwhile, Guderian attempted to rebuild Germany’s motorized forces, while he took part in the political infighting that characterized the Third Reich.

On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Colonel General Ludwig Beck, and their colleagues launched a coup against the Nazi regime. Heinz Guderian came down solidly on the side of the Nazis and helped suppress the revolt. Afterward, suspension fell on many generals, among them Kurt Zeitzler, the chief of the General Staff of the army. The next day, Hitler replaced him with Heinz Guderian.5

After the war, Guderian wrote the World War II classic Panzer Leader. It is an extremely valuable historical work, but should be handled with care by the layman. Certainly Guderian presents himself in the best possible light and emphasizes his opposition to Hitler and the Nazis. Reality is somewhat different. He sat on the “Court of Honor,” which expelled dozens of officers from the army, so that they could be tried and executed by the Nazis’ People’s Court. Although he later spoke of the Court of Honor with great disdain, he voted with the rest. Also, within 48 hours of taking charge, he replaced the traditional army salute with the Nazi (Hitler) salute. He also aided in the spread of Nazi propaganda within the forces. On the other hand, he did oppose Hitler’s irrational tactical decisions at every opportunity. This led to a number of fierce altercations, which eventually resulted in Guderian’s dismissal on March 28, 1945. Berlin fell less than five weeks later.

By this time, Guderian’s estate had been overrun by the Soviets, and his wife had escaped one step ahead of the Red Army. Officially on leave, Guderian joined the staff of the inspector of panzer troops in Tyrol, Italy. He surrendered to the American army on May 10, 1945, and remained in POW camps until June 1948. He died of congestive heart failure at Schwangau in southern Bavaria on May 14, 1954. Guderian is buried in the Friedhof Hildesheimar Strasse in Goslar. His son Heinz (1914–2004), who was chief of operations of the 116th Panzer Division during the war, later became a general and headed the panzer inspectorate of the West German Army.