Marcus Aurelius


Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus 161- 180

Being forced by the senate to assume the government of the state after the death of the Deified Pius, Marcus made his brother his colleague in the empire, giving him the name Lucius Aurelius Verus Commodus and bestowing on him the titles Caesar and Augustus. They began to rule the state on equal terms, and then it was that the Roman Empire first had two emperors, when he shared with another the empire left to him. Historia Augusta Life of Marcus VII

Thus, with one minor inaccuracy (for Verus dropped the name Commodus on his accession), does the imperial biographer describe the joint rule of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. In the event, it was a partnership which survived only until the latter’s death in 1 69, a period of less than eight years. The device of shared rule, however, was destined to become a regular feature of imperial government in the troubled later centuries of the Roman Empire.

The reign of Marcus Aurelius was marked by bitter and near-continuous warfare, first on the eastern, then on the northern frontier, exacerbated by plague, invasion and insurrection. The sequence of calamities is reflected in the bleak stoicism of Marcus’s Meditations. These, the bedside jottings of a philosopher-king, forced by his imperial destiny to spend most of his energies campaigning on the Danube, are dominated by thoughts of death and the transitoriness of human experience. Rarely do we get such an insight into an emperor’s true character as the glimpse which these writings provide. They are not the work of a happy man, but they testify to a certain grandeur of spirit. Indeed, historians such as Cassius Dio made Marcus Aurelius a model for later generations: ‘In addition to possessing all the other virtues, he ruled better than any others who had ever been in any position of power.’

Marcus Aurelius spent a longer apprenticeship than any previous emperor since Tiberius. He was born Marcus Annius Verus into a family originally from Ucubi, near Corduba, in the south Spanish province of Baetica. Their wealth may have derived from olive oil, and they prospered politically, too. Both Marcus’s grandfathers became consul, and his father’s sister, Annia Galeria Faustina, married Antoninus Pius. This was a distinguished ancestry by any account, but Marcus’s early years were passed without any intimation of what was to come. He was born at Rome on 26 April 121, in his mother’s garden villa on the Caelian Hill. Little is known of Marcus’s father, another Marcus Annius Verus, save that he died relatively young, probably when Marcus was only three years old. The boy was then adopted by his grandfather, the thrice consul Marcus Annius Verus, and spent most of his childhood in his grandfather’s palatial residence on the Lateran.

The inexplicable feature of these early years is the way Marcus so soon caught the attention of the reigning emperor Hadrian. They may have been related but there is no clear evidence. The Historia Augusta tells us: ‘He was reared under the eye of Hadrian, who called him Verissimus, and did him the honour of enrolling him in the equestrian order when he was six years old.’ Ten years later, in 1 36, he was betrothed at Hadrian’s wish to Ceionia Fabia, the daughter of Lucius Ceionius Commodus. Within a few months Commodus had been adopted by the emperor as his son and chosen successor. As son-in-law of the heir-apparent, Marcus was rocketed into the forefront of Roman political life.

New arrangements were made when Commodus died and Antoninus became the chosen successor. As part of the plan, Antoninus adopted Marcus along with Commodus’s orphaned son, also named Lucius Ceionius Commodus. The ceremony took place on 25 February 138, when Marcus was 16 and his new adoptive brother seven.

The able lieutenant

Marcus became deeply attached to Antoninus, and quickly began to assume a share in the burdens of office. In 139 he was given the title ‘Caesar’, and the following year became consul at the age of 18. It was a peaceful partnership: ‘For three and twenty years Marcus conducted himself in his [adoptive] father’s home in such a manner that Pius felt more affection for him day by day, and never in all these years, save for two nights on different occasions, remained away from him . ‘One of Antoninus’s first acts was to break off Marcus’s earlier engagement to Ceionia Fabia and betroth him instead to his own daughter, Annia Galeria Faustina the younger. The wedding took place in April or May 145. Faustina was to bear no fewer than 14 children for Marcus during their 31 years of marriage.

Lucius Ceionius Commodus meanwhile was receiving less rapid advancement. Born at Rome 15 December 130, he was several years younger than Marcus, too young to occupy any of the senior positions during the early part of Antoninus’s reign. There is no doubt, however, which of the two the emperor most favoured. Whereas Marcus was appointed consul at the age of 18, Lucius had to wait until he was 24. Furthermore, in betrothing Faustina to Marcus, Antoninus broke off her earlier engagement to Lucius. This early experience was to cast a shadow over later relations between the two adoptive brothers.

The dual succession

The death of Antoninus Pius on 7 March 161 may have been expected for some months. Marcus Aurelius had already arranged that he and Lucius Verus hold the consulate jointly that year. Antoninus seems to have had no intention of placing the two on an equal footing, but that was what Marcus did immediately after his death. Marcus himself adopted the usual imperial titles ‘ Augustus’ and ‘Pontifex Maximus’, and took the additional name ‘Antoninus’ out of respect for his predecessor. At the same time he prevailed upon the senate to confer upon Lucius also the imperial titles ‘Caesar’ and ‘ Augustus’. For some reason he also gave Lucius the name ‘Verus’, which had been part of Marcus’s own family name. Finally, the two were jointly acclaimed ‘Imperator’ by the Praetorian Guard, and coins were issued bearing the proclamation ‘Concordia Augustorum’, the ‘Harmony of the Emperors’.

It may have been the desire to have time for his philosophical pursuits which persuaded Marcus to elevate Verus to the status of joint ruler. If so, the respite was short-lived. For the peaceful opening to the reign was soon broken by flood and famine at Rome itself, then by serious trouble on the eastern frontier.

The Parthian War

Whether through adept diplomacy or simple good fortune, Antoninus Pius had managed to avoid major warfare throughout his long reign. By contrast, there were scarcely four of Marcus’s 20 years of reign without fierce fighting on either the northern or eastern frontier. The Parthian War arose out of a long-standing quarrel over control of Armenia, which Trajan had made a Roman protectorate. In 1 6 1 the Parthians hit back, expelling the pro-Roman ruler of Armenia, installing their own nominee, and defeating the four-legion garrison of Syria. The crisis called for determined action, and the emperors decided that Verus must travel east to direct operations in person.

Verus and his staff arrived in Syria in 162. The following year, the Roman forces entered Armenia and captured the capital, Artaxata, installing a Roman puppet-king. Meanwhile another general, Avidius Cassius, was operating on the Mesopotamian front. In 165 Cassius captured the Parthian capital Ctesiphon and destroyed the palace of the Parthian king. It was a notable success, but one for which Verus himself was given little credit. The work was done by his generals, it was said, while the emperor was enjoying himself in the garden suburb of Daphne (outside Antioch) or wintering on the Mediterranean coast. He was also criticized for taking up with Panthea, a lady from Smyrna renowned for her beauty. He even shaved off part of his beard to satisfy her whim.

No one could deny, however, that the Parthian War had been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The troops returned from the east in 166, and in October of that year a magnificent triumph was celebrated at Rome. To his credit, Verus insisted that Marcus share the triumph with him, and accept the official titles ‘Armeniacus’, ‘Parthicus Maximus’ and ‘Medicus’. It was in fact the first triumph to be celebrated for almost 50 years, since Trajan’s famous victories in the east.

Plague and invasion

As luck would have it, along with the Parthian spoils, the soldiers returning from the east had also brought the plague. This broke out in full scale epidemic with devastating effect in 167. Rome, as a major centre of population, was especially badly affected. It was the first outbreak of its kind for several centuries, and was still raging at Rome over la years later, recurring in the reign of Commodus.

Alongside disease the emperors had to confront a new danger from Germanic invaders on the Danube frontier. A first attack in 166 or early 167 was driven off by the local commander, but further invasions followed, and stronger measures were needed. Together the two emperors left Rome for the north in the spring of 168, but arrived at Aquileia to find most of the fighting over, and the Germanic war-bands already in retreat. Verus was all for returning to Rome, but Marcus insisted that they press on over the Alps. After settling the situation in the frontier provinces they retired to Aquileia for the winter. Early next spring they were travelling south in a carriage when Verus suffered a stroke. Unable to speak, he was taken to Altinum, a small town on the north side of the Venetian lagoon, where he died three days later. Verus’s body was taken back to Rome and laid to rest in the Mausoleum of Hadrian, along with his true father, Lucius Ceionius Commodus, and his adoptive father Antoninus Pius.

Marcus Aurelius did not long remain in Rome, but by the end of 169 was back campaigning in the north. He spent the next five years fighting against the Quadi and Marcomanni, Germanic peoples living north of the middle Danube. In 170 these peoples broke through the frontier and invaded northern Italy, laying siege to Aquileia. It was only towards the end of 171 that the Roman forces began to gain the upper hand, but the fighting was protracted and the conditions harsh. One battle was fought in the depth of winter on the frozen surface of the Danube, another in baking summer on the plains of Hungary, where the legions were pushed to the brink by heat and thirst. Throughout these campaigns, however, Marcus continued to find time for the ordinary practice of government, hearing law-suits and settling the business of the empire. It was also during these years that he began to write the Meditations, the first book is subscribed ‘ Among the Quadi, on the River Gran’.

The revolt of Cassius

Marcus was still heavily engaged on the Danube when news reached him in spring 175 of a revolt in the east. The leader of the revolt was Gaius Avidius Cassius, governor of Syria, a man who had taken a prominent part in the Parthian War under Lucius Verus. Marcus held him in high regard, and had given him command of the east while he himself was campaigning against the Germans.

The whole episode seems indeed to have been a tragic error, stemming from a false rumour that Marcus was dead. Had that been true it would have led at once to a power struggle, since Marcus’s son Commodus was only 13 at the time. The empire might well have devolved instead upon Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus, a distinguished senator who had married Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla, Marcus’s eldest surviving daughter and the widow of Lucius Verus. The empress Faustina, however, had entered into conspiracy with Avidius Cassius. It is unlikely that Avidius Cassius had any intention of deposing Marcus Aurelius, but once he had been proclaimed emperor by the troops there was no turning back. At first, things went well for him. He was Alexandrian by birth, and the eastern provinces supported him with enthusiasm. By the beginning of May, Egypt and Alexandria had come over to his side. But there the dream ended, and just as he was setting out for Rome, Avidius Cassius was assassinated by soldiers loyal to Marcus.

Final years

The emperor was careful not to mount a witch-hunt, aware perhaps of Cassius’s mistaken motives and the involvement of Faustina. He nonetheless took measures to avoid any future attempt at revolt. Commodus was proclaimed heir-apparent, and Marcus and he set out to tour the rebellious eastern provinces. When they eventually returned to Rome in the autumn of 176, Marcus had been absent from the capital for almost eight years. On 23 December they celebrated a belated triumph for the German victories, which were further commemorated by the Aurelian Column, carved with a spiralling frieze in the manner of Trajan’s Column half a century earlier.

But the war in the north was not finished, and on 3 August 1 78 Marcus and Commodus set out once more for the Danube frontier. The year 179 saw a vigorous campaign against the Quadi, but by 180 Marcus was seriously ill. He had been intermittently unwell for several years with stomach and chest troubles, and cancer is one possibility. Cassius Dio tells us ‘it was never his practice to eat during the daytime, unless it was some of the drug called theriac. This drug he took, not so much because he feared anything, as because his stomach and chest were in bad condition; and it is reported that this practice enabled him to endure both this and other maladies.’ Theriac contained opium, and the failing Marcus Aurelius may well have been a drug addict.

The final illness lasted only a week. Dying, he berated his friends for their emotion: ‘Why do you weep for me, instead of thinking about the plague, and about death which is the common lot of us all? ‘Marcus Aurelius died near Sirmium, on 1 7 March 180. The body was buried in the Mausoleum of Hadrian. The senate pronounced deification; and though the northern wars were broken off, and the provinces which he had hoped to establish abandoned, his legacy survived in the Meditations, the musings of a stoic prince. The final word may be left to Cassius Dio: ‘He did not meet with the good fortune that he deserved, for he was not strong in body and was involved in a multitude of troubles throughout practically his entire reign. But for my part, I admire him all the more for this very reason, that amid unusual and extraordinary difficulties he both survived himself and preserved the empire.’


François Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg, (1628-1695)

Pierre Denis Martin (1663-1742), French School. The Battle of Fleurus, July 1st, 1690. Oil on canvas, 2.66 x 3.11 m. Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

Maréchal de France. Like his cousin the Great Condé, Luxembourg fought in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). He saw action at Lens (August 10, 1648), one of the last fights of that long and dirty conflict. Also like Condé, during the Fronde, Luxembourg turned against the monarchy and entered the service of Spain. He was captured at Rethel (October 15, 1650) but was soon released. He spent the next eight years fighting Louis XIV. He fought reluctantly at the Dunes (June 4/14, 1658). He returned to France and relative favor, along with his then more famous cousin, following promulgation of a royal amnesty that accompanied the Treaty of the Pyrenees (October 28/November 7, 1659). He led a French army that occupied Franche-Comté in 1668 during the War of Devolution Luxembourg, François Henri de Montmorency, duc de 26 (1667-1668). He fought again during the Dutch War (1672-1678), so well at the beginning in the campaign around Cologne, and so well and often thereafter, that in reward, the “Grande Monarque” raised him to the rank of “maréchal de France” in 1675. Luxembourg fought at Seneffe (August 11, 1674) alongside the Great Condé, and later commanded in the Rhineland as the successor to Turenne. He saw more action at Cassel (April 11, 1677). He opposed William III (then still Prince of Orange) at the needless battle of St. Denis (August 4/14, 1678).

Luxembourg fell from royal favor in 1679 over an odd court scandal concerning supposed use of black magic and performance of sacrilegious acts. He was confined for some months. He was back in favor at court within two years, following the intercession of Condé, and served as captain of the Gardes du Corps. One year into the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), he was restored to command of the main French army. He retained command in Flanders until his death in 1695, fighting and winning several minor and three major battles during those years. Most dramatically and daringly, he defeated Waldeck at Fleurus (June 21/July 1, 1690), after which he besieged and took Mons in March-April 1691. He commanded the French army of observation during the first siege of Namur (May 25-June 30, 1692). He beat William in the field at Steenkerke (July 24/ August 3, 1692) and again, and most bloodily, at Neerwinden (July 19/29, 1693).

Yet, Luxembourg’s field victories changed little in the larger context of the war. His main tactical and operational preoccupation remained maneuvers and positional warfare, which always dominated the Flanders theater of operations. The noted reluctance or inability of Luxembourg to pursue a beaten enemy after each of his battlefield victories is sometimes attributed to restraints placed on his freedom of action by Louis XIV. However, a greater commander would have made the case for hard pursuit and insisted upon carrying it out.


The Northwest European Theatre: General Eisenhower I

Ike, Monty, and Bradley outside of Ike’s offices.

Eisenhower proved to be a mediocre practitioner of operational art in the summer of 1944. This was hardly surprising, given that he had spent his military career as a staff officer, with a brief spell commanding a battalion and no combat experience at all before being catapulted into theatre command in 1942. He had studied military theory and history assiduously, but no amount of study can give a feel for battle or adequately prepare one for it—both essential for the practical problems of command. Nor was Leavenworth’s interwar teaching a wholly reliable guide to fighting the Wehrmacht in 1944. Although it was certainly biased toward victory through attritional employment of superior firepower, it did not preclude operational maneuver. This was plainly what was required in the late summer of 1944, when an all but total enemy collapse afforded opportunities for the victors that were limited only by their logistic constraints—a situation never anticipated by the doctrine writers. Like all doctrine, Leavenworth’s should have been considered a guide to action without being prescriptive, but over time, it became unthinking dogma.

The dominant Allied problem in post-Normandy operations was logistics. It was especially acute for the Americans. Unlike the British, they would be moving farther away from their source of supply, while their ally took ports in the course of the advance on Germany. Eisenhower understood this from the day he decided against an operational pause on the Seine. However, the answers he found were inadequate. He stressed from the time of the Cobra breakout that the Breton ports were urgently needed, but he did not press his commanders with sufficient force or even logic. Several times he reiterated his requirement for the reduction of Brest, the last time on 13 September. He wrote: “We never counted on [Brest] as much as we had from Quiberon Bay. . . . experience of the past proved that we were likely to be vastly disappointed in the usefulness of the Brittany ports. Not only did we expect them to be stubbornly defended but we were certain that they would be effectively destroyed once we captured them.” Yet on 3 September he accepted the abandonment of the Quiberon Bay project while persisting with Brest—only to accept on 14 September that Brest would not be utilized. Despite this decision, he allowed attacks to continue at great expense in casualties and ammunition until the port’s fall five days later.

Of course, the progressive ditching of the Breton ports as the armies’ lines of communication stretched beyond the breaking point made sense if alternatives were becoming available. The investment of Le Havre at the beginning of September was promising, but it would be over a month before it could be opened for even minimal discharges. Of vastly more importance was the seizure, on 4 September, of Antwerp with its facilities intact. Eisenhower had been warned in the clearest of terms that this windfall would be useless without the clearance of the Scheldt estuary. He repeated, several times, his injunction to Montgomery to make this a priority, but in such terms that the field marshal felt the need to do nothing more than issue vague reassurances while overtasking First Canadian Army. Moreover, Eisenhower critically weakened his demand by acknowledging the primacy of the Market Garden offensive. He had succumbed to victory disease, as his office memo of 5 September illustrates: “The defeat of the German armies is complete and the only thing now needed to realize the whole conception is speed.” By 15 September, he was writing to Montgomery about a rapid march on Berlin. It was not until 9 October, after the failure of the venture and following a warning by Ramsay that Canadian operations were being hamstrung by an ammunition shortage, that he returned to the Antwerp issue and addressed it in blunt terms in a telegram:

I must repeat, we are now squarely up against the situation which we have anticipated for months; our intake into Continent will not support our battle. All operations will come to a standstill unless Antwerp is producing by middle of November. I must emphasize that I consider Antwerp of first importance of all our endeavors on entire front from Switzerland to Channel. I believe your personal attention is required in operation to clear entrance.

Even that injunction did not convince Montgomery to shift his priority from Second Army operations to clear the west bank of the Meuse. It took another blistering rebuke in a letter of 13 October to force Montgomery to take Eisenhower seriously.

By early September, the Supreme Commander knew that polite suggestions and reminders would be insufficient to deflect Montgomery from his chosen course. Only an unpolished, explicit order would suffice for an issue of such paramount importance as the opening of Antwerp. Eisenhower should have given such an order the moment he realized that bland assurances were not being matched by immediate action on the ground following his first, tactful directive of 5 September. Of course, he should have thought the problem through and offered troops—VIII Corps, which was now pointlessly besieging Brest, was the obvious choice—to help the overstretched 21 Army Group accomplish this vital task. It was too important and too urgent for anything but decisive action, and Eisenhower was the only man who could take it. Unfortunately, his thinking about Antwerp was neither clear nor consistent. During the critical period when the Germans were adjusting to the unexpected loss of the port and starting to organize their defense of the estuary, Eisenhower was apparently seduced into gambling on the Arnhem operation precipitating a German collapse that would make Antwerp unnecessary. He apparently failed to understand that if the gamble did not pay off, critical time would be lost. Too late, he realized that the end of Market Garden would find Montgomery’s command overextended and scattered, unable to make up for time lost in clearing the Scheldt. His belated provision of two American divisions to 21 Army Group was too little too late to prevent the full flowering of the logistic crisis that was paralyzing Bradley’s forces.

In deciding on his theatre’s operational formation and form of action, Eisenhower automatically followed the Leavenworth teaching and opted for an advance all along the front with only the airborne army as a reserve. The enemy would be kept under continuous pressure everywhere and ground down by superior firepower, with no opportunity to rest his formations, form a reserve to contest the initiative, or shift resources from one sector to another. Sooner or later he would crack somewhere, and this would enable the more mobile and flexible Americans, aided by air supremacy, to destroy him in pursuit. Normandy was seen as a vindication of this approach. Given the short frontage the Germans had to defend and the consequent density and depth of the defense, only relentless attrition could break their front, and this was finally achieved in Operation Cobra. There was, perhaps, a tendency to forget that Cobra’s success was due in large measure to First Army’s unusual concentration and deployment in depth for the attack. At any rate, none of the American armies would achieve similar concentration and depth in the autumn offensives, when there was a somewhat similar semi-stalemate.

In an advance against a withdrawing enemy, especially given superior mobility and armor and command of the air, there is much to be said for the broad-front concept. As the line of contact widens after the breakout, the enemy’s ability to hold strongly everywhere diminishes; attacks can be mounted against weak spots, penetrations can be achieved and exploited, and further ground can be gained before the defense is restored. Then rapid regrouping can enable fresh blows on weakened sectors, and the process is repeated until the enemy’s cohesion disintegrates. Once this happens, the advance becomes a pursuit as the enemy becomes a more or less helpless victim, reacting ever more belatedly and ineffectually to thrusts that can become bolder with impunity. Unless and until he can muster fresh forces to restore the situation, the size of this problem will become progressively more daunting; he may win the occasional tactical battle, but any elements that do so will be engulfed in a spreading operational catastrophe. In this way, the defeat of a corps may end in the disintegration of an army group.

One major argument adduced for the broad-front approach does not carry much weight in the circumstances of September 1944. The fear that halting Third Army would allow the enemy to reinforce against First Army or even mount a counteroffensive can be discounted. The Germans’ divertible strength in Lorraine was meager and lacking mobility; they had to take seriously the possibility of Patton renewing his drive at any time; and the Dragoon forces advancing rapidly up the Rhône valley were a looming threat to southern Lorraine and Alsace.

However theoretically desirable, an effective offensive on a broad front requires the right conditions to be set. One of these conditions is the establishment of some operational reserves, at least at army level. Without them, it is usually difficult to exploit rapidly and turn tactical into operational success or to switch axes in good time to prevent the defense from solidifying. The American operational-level commanders generally neglected this precaution, and their offensives suffered in consequence, especially when they compounded the problem by persisting in unprofitable attacks such as Hodges’s in the Hürtgen Forest and Patton’s on Metz. Eisenhower did nothing to correct this. Another precondition is the creation of a logistic system that can sustain the forces involved to the planned depth of the operation. This did not exist as US forces began their exploitation over the Seine in August, aiming for objectives about 1,000 km (620 miles) from their source of supply; this was due to the unexpected way operations had developed and the design of the system—Eisenhower’s fault in only a small way. The Supreme Commander had been worried about American logistic constraints as early as 24 August. Nevertheless, he was determined that both First and Third Armies should force the West Wall and cross the Rhine in a simultaneous advance. He knew that COMZ could maintain only ten to twelve divisions in the advance, even on reduced scales, and that this figure would decline even further. A general offensive would overstretch the enemy, but it would also inevitably overstretch his own forces; however, he persevered in the hope that the enemy would undergo political and/or military implosion before his own offensive culminated. It was a gamble, but one he believed worth taking. It was also a gamble that enabled him to avoid, or at least postpone, making a decision to halt a major formation and thus antagonize some influential players. Military logic—the importance of prioritizing the main effort and the greater effectiveness of fewer properly supported divisions in pursuit versus many inadequately supplied ones forced into an unpredictable stop-and-go pattern of activity—was lost to sight. An operational concept without sufficient means to implement it is a concept that should not be pursued.

It is clear that Eisenhower did not think through the implications of his directives, particularly for 12 Army Group, to the depth of his proposed operations. This was not the only example of his lack of operational-strategic foresight. He had consistently championed Operation Anvil/Dragoon in the teeth of British opposition. Yet he developed no concept for use of the forces coming up the Rhône corridor beyond tying down Nineteenth Army while the battle for Normandy was going on. When the newly designated 6 Army Group came under SHAEF control on 15 September, on Eisenhower’s insistence, its forward troops had reached the Epinal-Belfort line, skirting the High Vosges mountains. Eisenhower had assigned it, in essence, two tasks: destroy enemy forces within boundaries (the linkup with Third Army had been too late to trap the retreating Germans), and cross the Rhine–West Wall from Strasbourg southward. On 15 September he speculated in a letter to Montgomery that Devers would execute a thrust eastward, aimed at the Augsburg-Munich area. This mission would involve not only forcing the Rhine and its fortifications but also pushing through 50 km (30 miles) of the all but impenetrable Black Forest to seize objectives almost 400 km (250 miles) distant and of negligible importance to the German war effort. Little thought went into finding a useful role for 6 Army Group, even though it had its own supply chain from the Mediterranean ports. Eisenhower’s ideas never went beyond expressing a hope to Bradley that supply for Third Army’s operations in Lorraine could be eased by Devers’s logisticians and that his actions would support Patton’s right; later in September he transferred XV Corps to Seventh Army to relieve COMZ of the burden of supplying it, thus shifting the army group boundary north. The Supreme Commander seems never to have considered continuing an offensive north on the Epinal-Saarbrücken axis (about 160 km [100 miles]) to envelop the enemy facing Patton, or a more promising deep turning movement Epinal-Strasbourg-Mainz (about 360 km [225 miles], skirting the High Vosges). Eisenhower may have thought the latter move unworthy of consideration, as it could not commence until October, by which time he hoped victory would be clinched further north. He may have seen 6 Army Group as too marginal a force to contribute meaningfully to the campaign; it comprised five French, mostly colonial, divisions and only three American divisions, although more could and would be sent to it. He may have been influenced by his deep antipathy toward Devers. Whatever the excuses, he showed a lack of vision in his employment of a far from negligible asset when he confined it to Alsace, a strategic backwater.


The Northwest European Theatre: General Eisenhower II

Senior Allied commanders celebrate at Rheims shortly after General Eisenhower had addressed the German mission who had just signed the unconditional surrender document. Present are (left to right): General Ivan Susloparov (Soviet Union), Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan (British Army), Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith (US Army), Captain Kay Summersby (US Army) (obscured), Captain Harry C. Butcher (US Navy), General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower (US Army), Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder (Royal Air Force).

Eisenhower had an aim: to destroy the enemy west of the Rhine. But he neglected the harder part of strategic decision making—choosing what not to do. Nor did he explain how or where his aim was to be accomplished, confining himself to directions of advance and geographic objectives. There was no master plan other than a general desire to advance on all axes at the same time and somehow, somewhere destroy the German army. There was no single, developed concept under which both (later three) army groups worked synergistically to achieve an operationally significant result. In consequence, there was no meaningful prioritization of operations. Despite the centralization of command in his hands, operations became increasingly decentralized and fragmented as personalities, pride, politics, and doctrinal differences hampered their efficient development. This lacuna seemed to stem from a lack of foresight and flexibility in the operational sphere and a reluctance to make hard choices that might antagonize important people, in anticipation of problems to come. The result was a tendency toward opportunism and improvisation as the campaign progressed. Eisenhower was inclined to switcher between courses of action, despite the advice of his clear-sighted chief of staff, Major General Bedell Smith. This led to an ever-changing emphasis in the stream of directives emanating from SHAEF and contradictory statements made to Marshall and to each of the army group commanders. Lack of consistency caused a dissipation of effort at a time when limited logistic resources demanded that objectives be limited as well, or at least that their achievement be sequenced in order of importance, with the lesser ones being tackled as and when resources allowed. As a result, there was no economy of effort in the secondary sector to achieve something decisive in the direction of the main effort, and the Allied offensive culminated short of achieving anything of critical importance anywhere.

In his role as commander of land forces, a mantle he had assumed under pressure from the top of the US military and political hierarchy, Eisenhower did not display great skill in applying the principles of operational art in the unusual circumstances of post-Normandy operations. The situation called for more foresight, judgment, decisiveness, and boldness in decision making than he could muster under the enormous pressure of events and responsibilities and a lack of time for reflection. Eisenhower was also the theatre Supreme Commander, and in this role he was much more successful, a fact recognized by even his detractors. However, the very skills that made him effective in this position—political rather than military—were those that contributed significantly to his uninspired operational leadership.

Eisenhower’s primary responsibility in his more important job was to keep the military side of the Anglo-American alliance together and working in harmony toward a common aim through a mutually agreed (or at least accepted) operational-strategic concept. He had been chosen for the top job because of his political skill as an alliance manager. This was a task beset by extraordinary difficulties. He had to satisfy the US government, Marshall, and the British. These elements were pulling in divergent strategic directions, and the British obstinately refused to recognize that they were now junior partners to an increasingly self-confident United States. Within his theatre, he had to keep together an Allied team that was increasingly sundered by doctrinal differences, mutual incomprehension, nationalistic prejudices, and consequent dislike and distrust. Virtually all the characters he had to deal with had strong opinions, wills, and self-belief; they were competitive with one another, and many of them had inflated egos. Most of them, both Americans and British, believed that they knew better than their boss and that Eisenhower was favoring or even kowtowing to their rivals. The job of Supreme Commander required more than a soldier who knew the purely military-technical aspects of soldiering; it needed a consummate politician who also understood operations.

Brooke’s “main impression” of Eisenhower was that of “a swinger and no real director of thought, plans, energy or direction! Just a coordinator—a good mixer, a champion of inter-allied cooperation, and in those respects few can hold a candle to him. But is that enough? Or can we not find all qualities of a commander in one man? . . . I doubt it.”66 Brooke’s answer to his own rhetorical question was correct, and no other country, much less an alliance, had found such a paragon—at least not in modern times. Later, when the strains of the campaign were beginning to tell, Brooke amplified the thought:

There is no doubt that Ike is all out to do all he can to maintain the best of relations between British and Americans, but it is equally clear that Ike knows nothing about strategy and is quite unsuited to the post of Supreme Commander as far as running the strategy of the war is concerned! . . . With the Supreme Command set up as it is no wonder that Monty’s real high ability is not always realized. Especially when “national” spectacles pervert the perspective of the strategic landscape.

Unwittingly, of course, Brooke’s last sentence revealed his bias. If someone disagreed with him and Montgomery, they were, by definition, wrong and revealed their inadequacies in doing so. To him, national viewpoints were valid only if they were British.

Talking to a war correspondent and historian after the war, Montgomery complained:

The trouble was that Eisenhower did not know what he should do. He had no experience and no philosophy of battle by which to judge the rival plans. His method was to talk to everyone and then try to work out a compromise solution which would please everyone. He had no plan of his own. He was a sociable chap who liked talking, and he used to go from one HQ to another finding out what his various subordinates thought, instead of going to them and saying—here is the plan, you will do this, and so and so will do that. Eisenhower had conferences to collect ideas; I had conferences to issue orders.

There is some foundation for these criticisms, but they also demonstrate how little Montgomery understood about the highest levels of command and how unsuited he was to fill them. Making one’s allies feel valued and being prepared to compromise with them is part and parcel of alliance operations. The commander who ignores this elementary fact of coalition life not only will fail to secure their willing cooperation but also may unconsciously goad them into sabotaging his plans—as Montgomery had done with his high-handed treatment of Patton and Bradley in Sicily the year before.

From the start, Eisenhower knew he had to be much more a statesman than a straightforward issuer of arbitrary orders. His position was more akin to that of the chairman of an increasingly fractious board than a military autocrat. He wanted to—indeed, needed to—command through persuasion, consensus, and, when necessary to maintain harmony, through compromise. This was, he realized, the only way to keep the alliance working together:

No written agreement for the establishment of an Allied Command can hold up against nationalistic considerations. . . . Every commander in the field possesses direct disciplinary power over all subordinates of his own nationality . . .; any disobedience or other offence is punishable. . . . But such authority and power cannot be given by any country to an individual of another nation. Only trust and confidence can establish the authority of an Allied commander-in-chief so firmly that he need never fear the absence of this legal power.

If necessary, Eisenhower could compel obedience from unwilling American generals, as long as he was sure of Marshall’s backing. But Montgomery was not just another army group commander. As the foremost British field commander and the principal champion of British views on operational-strategic issues, and given his intimate relations with the CIGS and the War Office and his massive popularity and prestige in the United Kingdom, he could not simply be ordered about. National considerations were as real a limit on Eisenhower’s freedom of action as they had been for Montgomery when he contemplated getting rid of Crerar.

This role as coordinator, coaxer, and arbiter became increasingly difficult as national differences and personal rivalries and prejudices intensified at the top, to the detriment of military priorities. The temptation to challenge, selectively interpret, or simply ignore the wishes of the Supreme Commander grew with the feeling that the war was all but won and that glory (and the chance for promotion) had to be seized before it was too late and competitors hogged it all. Faced with these divisive tendencies, Eisenhower found that his style of command proved less and less effective. Careful qualifications, circumlocution, and tactful wording in directives were taken as signs of weakness, and their recipients searched for get-out phrases that would enable them to follow their own pet schemes in conscious (if unadmitted) disregard for their commander’s intent. The more mutable and open to compromise and interpretation these directives were, the more they became the subject of debate and negotiation and the less force they carried. The problem was exacerbated by Eisenhower’s tendency to equivocate and delay decisions in the hope of avoiding stark choices. Though sometimes an appropriate response, this was injurious at a time when speed and decisiveness were paramount. Of course, had the keenly anticipated German collapse actually happened, his methods would not have been questioned. In the event, the campaign lost its coherence as army groups and armies increasingly followed their own inclinations, to the detriment of both focus and synergy. In the end, the initiative was lost, and with it the opportunity to achieve an early end to the war.

Eisenhower’s approach to the Supreme Command was correct in its essence, but he permitted his subordinates too much leeway and wound up losing considerable authority and control. Whether through his strong desire to be liked, his natural predisposition to compromise and avoid confrontation, his inexperience, or his sheer unfamiliarity with operational art, he failed to assert himself sufficiently in exercising command of the land forces. It was a slippery slope from liberty to license, and he allowed his senior commanders to slide too far down that slope before recognizing the error. The estimable Bedell Smith, watching the erosion of SHAEF’s credibility, observed: “The trouble with Ike, instead of giving direct and clear orders, [he] dresses them up in polite language; and that is why our senior American commanders take advantage.” Montgomery, who needed to be kept on a much tighter rein, did likewise. When clear, unambiguous decisions had to be made and adhered to, even if unpopular in some quarters, Eisenhower delayed or equivocated. He need not have done so. He had the authority, underpinned by Marshall, to keep Bradley and Patton in line. On issues he deemed of fundamental importance, he could have gripped Montgomery and told him the period for discussion was over, and the time for implementation without dissent had come. On the occasions when he actually did so, Montgomery obeyed like the good, disciplined soldier he was. Of course, the longer Eisenhower let things slide, the more difficult it became to convince his subordinates that he was serious.

Eisenhower’s main problems were linked. One was the lack of a well-thought-out plan to accomplish the aim: destruction of the enemy’s forces. Absent this, the concept of operations became too generalized and, critically, mutable; without a clear idea of how the armies should act synergistically to achieve the desired end, it was difficult to see how each development in the campaign should be turned to the Allies’ advantage. Foresight is difficult if the direction of travel is ill defined. Improvisation is necessary in the conduct of any operation, but it is unsatisfactory as the sole method. If actions are not set in context, there is danger of losing direction, fragmenting efforts, and reacting to rather than shaping events—the very problems that beset the Allies as September gave way to October. Eisenhower’s difficulties were exacerbated by his lack of decisiveness. As Brooke observed in his diary, the strictly military requirements of Supreme Command are incompatible with the political. A politician, in most circumstances, finds that temporizing and compromise are prime virtues. When these are exercised in the context of command in fast-developing operations, they are likely to result in drift. Eisenhower saw his most important endeavor as keeping the alliance working synergistically toward the common end. The fact that it was not functioning harmoniously was not his fault, as he strove to preserve amity or, failing that, at least understanding.

Several factors combined to undermine Eisenhower’s prospects of success. In taking on both Supreme Command and land command (in which he had no choice), he overextended himself. The multifarious tasks involved were all important to someone of consequence, even if they were sometimes tangential to victory. The enormous pressures allowed the Supreme Commander little time for the quiet reflection that is essential to judgment and creativity. For the critical period in September, he was semi-incommunicado. The base at Granville, which his HQ occupied for the first fortnight, was remote and poorly served by its communications; this was followed by the disruption of the weeklong move to Versailles. Eisenhower found it difficult to keep his finger on the pulse of operations, and his lack of practical command experience exacerbated the problem. This made it easier for his principal subordinates to deceive him about their implementation of his directives and their logistic states. Such behavior was symptomatic of the worst of his problems: the attitude of his army group commanders. Of his experience in Tunisia, Eisenhower wrote later:

It is easy to minimize the obstacles that always obstruct progress in developing efficient command mechanisms for large allied forces. Some are easy to recognize, such as those relating to differences in equipment, training and tactical doctrine, staff procedures and methods of organization. But these are overshadowed by national prides and prejudices. In modern war, with its great facilities for quickly informing populations of battlefield developments, every little difference is magnified . . . but success in allied ventures can be achieved if the chief figures in the government and in the field see the necessities of the situation and refuse to violate the basic principle of unity, either in public or in the confidence of the personal contacts with subordinates and staffs. Immediate and continuous loyalty to the concept of unity and to allied commanders is basic to victory.

Neither Montgomery nor Bradley showed him much loyalty. They ignored the spirit of his directives, and occasionally the letter. They undermined his authority with their disparaging comments to their staffs and army commanders. Their mutual lack of understanding, born of personal and national rivalries, was inimical to cooperation. Eisenhower wanted a good working relationship with his subordinates, but however hard he worked for it, however much he sought compromises to achieve it, he could not overcome the corrosive and ultimately campaign-destructive animus between his principal lieutenants. Ultimately, his endless patience, tact, and compromise preserved only a veneer of united effort and a merely generalized sense of common purpose.


Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart

Adrian Carton de Wiart during World War II, photographed by Cecil Beaton

(1880–1963), VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO

Born in Brussels, brought up in Cairo and educated at the Oratory School, Edgbaston, Carton de Wiart abandoned his studies at Oxford to enlist in Paget’s Horse in 1899. Wounded in South Africa, he ended the Boer War as a subaltern in the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoons. Seconded to the Somali Camel Corps in 1914, he was wounded in the campaign to track down Mahomed bin Abdillah Hassan, the ‘Mad Mullah’, and, admitted to the DSO, was invalided home the next year.

Having had his left eye removed, Carton de Wiart rejoined his regiment in France. But he was to return wounded so often to the same hospital that, it is said, silk pyjamas with his name on were reserved for him (Sheffield in Keegan, 1991, 325). Losing his left hand in 1915, he was awarded the VC in 1916, only to be wounded again. He was, by war’s end, a brigadier and a celebrity in the army. His eye-patch and empty sleeve invited the inevitable nickname, ‘Nelson’.

Appointed second-in-command, and later head, of the British Military Mission to Poland in 1919, Carton de Wiart witnessed a good deal of military activity but was unable to exert much political influence. However, he fell in love with the place and its people sufficient to be loaned an estate near the Soviet border and settle there after resigning his commission in 1924.

His life as a Polish country gentleman, ‘happily shooting duck’ (DNB), was interrupted in 1939. Again made head of the British Military Mission, he could do nothing save evacuate his staff and their families from Warsaw to Romania. Back in England, although in his sixty-first year, he was appointed to command the 61st (Territorial) Division based in Oxford, while in April 1940 he was chosen to command MAURICEFORCE for the campaign in Norway. Landed at Namsos with a small staff, supposedly to co-ordinate a pincer-attack on Trondheim, it was not long before Carton de Wiart realized that German air superiority rendered his position untenable and recommended evacuation. Had a less famously brave man made the request, it might not have been listened to. As it was MAURICEFORCE was evacuated with very few casualties.

Norway was Carton de Wiart’s last active command. Appointed Head of the British Mission to Yugoslavia in April 1941, his aircraft crashed off North Africa en route and he was taken prisoner. Imprisoned near Florence and thrown into the company of other captured British senior officers, he proved himself ‘a delightful character [who] must hold the world record for bad language’ (Ranfurly, 1994, 123). Escaping, only to be re-captured, his Italian captors sent him to Lisbon in August 1943 hoping that, as an unwitting intermediary, Carton de Wiart might secure favourable armistice terms.

In one of his more eccentric decisions Churchill had Carton de Wiart promoted lieutenant general and made him, less than a month after his return to Britain, his personal representative to the Chinese generalissimo, Chiang Kai-shek. It was a position requiring more tact and delicacy that Carton de Wiart possessed, especially as, never having been to China, he imagined it full of ‘whimsical little people . . . who . . . worshipped their grandmothers’ (Carton de Wiart, 1950, 235). Developing a fondness for Chiang and his wife, and disagreeing with Mountbatten when he was supposed to be liaising with him, he appeared before the cabinet in January 1945, only to deliver a report on the China situation that lasted a full six-and-a-half minutes.

But Carton de Wiart’s inadequacies as a diplomat tended to enhance his reputation as a man of action and inspired leader of men. Regarded with enormous affection as a beau sabreur (French, 1991, 1200), almost a throwback from a previous age, he was, it is said, the model for Evelyn Waugh’s Ritchie-Hook character in Men at Arms.

Finally retired in 1947, Carton de Wiart wrote his entertaining memoirs, Happy Odyssey and, a widower in 1949, married again in 1950. Living in the west of Ireland and still waging his personal war against the local duck population, he received honorary degrees from Aberdeen and Oxford Universities.



Jean-Baptiste Levrault de Langis Montgeron (known as “Langy” in English) was considered the ideal French-Canadian leader, who allowed New France to defy the odds as long as it did.

Langy was born in 1723 and followed in the footsteps of his father and three older brothers by serving in the colonial regular troops. He began his military career on Cape Breton Island, and in 1755, as an ensign, participated in the unsuccessful defence of Fort Beauséjour. During this campaign his superiors identified him as “an extraordinarily brave officer.”

Langy became a key player on the Lake Champlain–Lake George front. He was continually raiding, scouting, and gathering intelligence. His forays took him deep into enemy territory, where his attacks left the British unnerved and consistently on the defensive. The information Langy brought back on enemy fortifications and/or their intentions (drawn from prisoners) kept the French well informed. Throughout the spring of 1758, Langy was constantly in the field attempting to determine the English intentions. Although seizing many prisoners, no useful information was discovered. Then, in June, Langy captured 17 Rangers, who revealed an impending attack against the strategic Fort Ticonderoga. On July 4, Montcalm, demonstrating his confidence in the Canadian partisan leader, trusted Langy “to go observe the location, number, and the movements of the enemy.” Langy’s force departed and returned the following night with news that the British invasion force was en route. As a result, Montcalm ordered his troops to take up defensive positions.

However, Langy’s job was not finished. He deployed once again to monitor the British advance. On July 7 he had a chance encounter with the British advance guard. In the bloody clash that followed, both sides suffered substantial casualties. Langy’s men killed Brigadier Lord Howe during the skirmish. With his death the British suffered a critical loss of leadership that doomed their attack. Although outnumbered almost four to one, Montcalm went on to route Major-General James Abercromby’s army.

As the tide of the war changed, Langy remained instrumental in harassing the English forces, particularly the British Rangers who had begun burning homesteads of les habitants during the siege of Quebec City. He also crossed swords with Major Rogers on two more occasions. On the first, he discovered whaleboats that were used by Rogers and 142 Rangers for their raid on the Abenaki village of St. Francis. The subsequent pursuit ended with 69 Rangers dead or captured and the others narrowly escaping with their lives. The second encounter was even more successful. Despite the fall of Quebec in September 1759, Langy, operating from Îsle aux Noir (near Montreal), continued his aggressive raids. In February 1760, as Rogers was en route to Crown Point from Albany, his convoy of sleds was ambushed by Langy. Recognizing Rogers in the first sled, Langy focused his attack there. The initial volley killed the horses and Langy’s force pounced on Rogers and his 16 recruits. In the ensuing melee, Rogers and seven others escaped to Crown Point. The other nine Rangers were killed or captured. Langy also seized 32 brand-new muskets, 100 hatchets, 55 pairs of moccasins, and ₤3,961 — the payroll for the troops at Crown Point.

His final raid was conducted six weeks later, once again near Crown Point. Representative of his skill and daring, Langy was able to capture two British regular officers, a Ranger officer, and six troops, without a firing shot. His luck, however, had run out. Shortly after his return to Montreal with his prisoners, Langy drowned while trying to cross the St. Lawrence River in a canoe. Captain Pierre Pouchot noted the news in his journal, commenting that Langy was “the best leader among the colonial troops.” An English newspaper also reflected that assessment, “Mons. Longee, a famous partisan, fell through the ice sometime and was drowned … his loss is greatly lamented by all Canada, and his equal is not to be found in that country.”



(1816-1912), count (1878), political and military figure, military historian, and Imperial Russian war minister (1861-1881).

General Adjutant Milyutin was born in Moscow, the scion of a Tver noble family. He completed the gymnasium at Moscow University (1832) and the Nicholas Military Academy (1836). After a brief period with the Guards’ General Staff, he served from 1839 to 1840 with the Separate Caucasian Corps. While convalescing from wounds during 1840 and 1841, he traveled widely in Europe, where he decided to devote himself to the cause of reform in Russia. As a professor at the Nicholas Academy from 1845 to 1853, he founded the discipline of military statistics and provided the impulse for compilation of a military-statistical description of the Russian Empire. In 1852 and 1853 he published a prize-winning five-volume history of Generalissimo A. V. Suvorov’s Italian campaign of 1799. As a member of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society he associated with a number of future reformers, including Konstantin Kavelin, P. P. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, Nikolai Bunge, and his brother, Nikolai Milyutin. An opponent of serfdom, the future war minister freed his own peasants and subsequently (in 1856) wrote a tract advocating the liberation of Russian serfs.

As a major general within the War Ministry during the Crimean War, Milyutin concluded that the army required fundamental reform. While serving from 1856 to 1860 as chief of staff for Prince Alexander Baryatinsky’s Caucasian Corps, Milyutin directly influenced the successful outcome of the campaign against the rebellious mountaineer Shamil. After becoming War Minister in November 1861, Milyutin almost immediately submitted to Tsar Alexander II a report that outlined a program for comprehensive military reform. The objectives were to modernize the army, to restructure military administration at the center, and to create a territorial system of military districts for peacetime maintenance of the army. Although efficiency remained an important goal, Milyutin’s reform legislation also revealed a humanitarian side: abolition of corporal punishment, creation of a modern military justice system, and a complete restructuring of the military-educational system to emphasize spiritual values and the welfare of the rank-andfile. These and related changes consumed the war minister’s energies until capstone legislation of 1874 enacted a universal military service obligation. Often in the face of powerful opposition, Milyutin had orchestrated a grand achievement, although the acknowledged price included increased bureaucratic formalism and rigidity within the War Ministry.

Within a larger imperial context, Milyutin consistently advanced Russian geopolitical interests and objectives. He favored suppression of the Polish uprising of 1863-1864, supported the conquest of Central Asia, and advocated an activist policy in the Balkans. On the eve of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, he endorsed a military resolution of differences with Turkey, holding that the Eastern Question was primarily Russia’s to decide. During the war itself, he accompanied the field army into the Balkans, where he counseled persistence at Plevna, asserting that successful resolution of the battle-turned-siege would serve as prelude to further victories. After the war, Milyutin became the de facto arbiter of Russian foreign policy.

Within Russia, after the Berlin Congress of 1878, Milyutin pressed for continuation of Alexander II’s Great Reforms, supporting the liberal program of the Interior Ministry’s Mikhail Loris- Melikov. However, after the accession of Alexander III and publication in May 1881 of an imperial manifesto reasserting autocratic authority, Milyutin retired to his Crimean estate. He continued to maintain an insightful diary and commenced his memoirs. The latter grew to embrace almost the entire history of nineteenth-century Russia, with important perspectives on the Russian Empire and contiguous lands and on its relations with Europe, Asia, and America.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Brooks, Edwin Willis. (1970). “D. A. Miliutin: Life and Activity to 1856.” Ph. D. diss., Stanford University, Stanford, CA. Menning, Bruce W. (1992, 2000). Bayonets before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861-1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Miller, Forrestt A. (1968). Dmitrii Miliutin and the Reform Era in Russia. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.