McClellan is Rebuffed I

When General Johnston was severely wounded at Fair Oaks, President Davis assigned command of the Confederate army in front of Richmond to Robert E. Lee. Lee had already surmised that McClellan intended to repeat his tactics before York- town and make the battle for Richmond one in which artillery and engineering would determine the outcome. “McClellan,” he anxiously predicted, “will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover of heavy guns, & we cannot get at him without storming his works, which with our new troops is extremely hazardous. . . . It will require 100,000 men to resist the regular siege of Richmond, which perhaps would only prolong not save it.”

Lee brought to his new command several advantages that his predecessor had not enjoyed. Unlike Johnston, Lee possessed Davis’s full trust and respect. Consequently, Davis let Lee formulate and implement his plans free from the sort of constraints and interference that hampered McClellan. Lee also had authority over all Confederate troops in Virginia and North Carolina and was able to quickly concentrate or disperse forces as he saw ¤t to meet the particular situation. And as he saw it in June 1862, McClellan’s threat to Richmond demanded concentration of force there. Thus, he and Davis abandoned the policy of dispersing troops they had been following prior to June 1 (a policy that had been no small source of friction between them and Johnston, who had been advocating concentration of force for some time) and sent orders to commanders along the south Atlantic coast to send troops to Virginia.

In addition, unlike the Northern government, which closed recruiting offices at the outset of the Peninsula Campaign, the Davis administration was at that point maximizing the mobilization of Southern manpower. (McClellan would later rue that “Common sense and the experience of all wars prove that when an army takes the field every possible effort should be made . . . to collect recruits and establish depots, whence the inevitable daily losses may be made good. . . . Failure to do this proves either a desire for the failure of the campaign or entire incompetence. Between the horns of this dilemma the friends of Mr. Stanton must take their choice.”) On April 16, the Confederate Congress had passed the first national conscription law in American history. Conscription and concentration would enable Lee to command the largest army ever assembled by the Confederacy. When the Seven Days’ Battles commenced on June 25, Lee would enjoy numerical superiority with 112,220 men present for duty to McClellan’s 101,434.

If he hoped to save Richmond, Lee recognized he had to change the contest from a “battle of posts,” in which Northern superiority in artillery and engineering would be decisive, to a war of maneuver, where the odds would be more favorable to the Confederacy. The condition of the Union right, which Lee gained a full appreciation of as a consequence of a spectacular cavalry raid led by Jeb Stuart on June 12-14 that rode all the way around McClellan’s army, gave him the opportunity to do this. To exploit it, Lee constructed strong defensive works around Richmond that would allow him to shift the bulk of his army north of the Chickahominy. Then, on June 15 he ordered Jackson to bring his army from the Valley to get into position to “sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey, cutting up the enemy’s communications.” Lee believed this would compel McClellan “to come out of his intrenchments” and fight in the open field.

As McClellan was completing preparations for the advance to Old Tavern, which he informed Heintzelman would “be chiefly an Artillery and Engineering affair,” on June 24, “a very peculiar case of desertion” informed McClellan of Jackson’s planned attack. The next day, after personally supervising a successful advance to Old Tavern, McClellan advised Washington that “several contra- bands just in give information confirming the supposition that Jackson’s advance is at or near Hanover Court House.” He also confided to Stanton, and later to his wife, his expectation that Jackson would “soon attack . . . to take us in rear.”

On June 26, Lee attacked just as McClellan expected. Jackson, however, failed to make the planned move on Porter’s rear, and the Confederate offensive degenerated into a series of frontal assaults on Porter’s position behind Beaver Dam Creek near Mechanicsville that were easily repulsed. Nonetheless, McClellan, “satisfied that Jackson would have force enough next morning to turn Porter’s right,” decided to extricate himself from his soon to be untenable position on the Chickahominy by retiring to a new base on the James. He directed Porter to send his wagons and heavy guns to the other side of the Chickahominy and fall back to a position closer to the forces on the south side of the river. A concern that “the abandonment of [Porter’s] position at that time would have placed our right flank and rear at the mercy of the enemy” induced McClellan to keep Porter north of the Chickahominy on June 27. This would buy time “to perfect the arrangements for the change of base to the James.” Orders were then given to quartermasters to “throw all our supplies up the James as fast as possible” and prepare for the evacuation and destruction of the White House depot.

Lee renewed his attack the next day at Gaines’ Mill, and in the evening a brigade commanded by John Bell Hood achieved a breakthrough, but Union reinforcements managed to contain the damage. When Jackson’s participation in the fighting at Gaines’ Mill indicated he might be abandoning, or at least suspending, his move on the supply line to White House, McClellan briefly considered a counterattack. At the end of the day, however, he reported a “severe repulse today, having been attacked by greatly superior numbers, and I am obliged to fall back between the Chickahominy and the James River.” That night, he called together his corps commanders and informed them of his intention to re- treat to the James. Then, with his patience and moderation exhausted, he sent an insubordinate telegram to Stanton stating: “the Government has not sustained this army. . . . If I save this army now . . . I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.”

McClellan would later claim that he had actually given up hope of McDowell’s arrival and decided to abandon the base at White House and take up a new one on the James on June 25, the day before the exact nature of Lee’s attack had been established. This is contradicted by the fact that even after being informed the day before of Jackson’s coming attack he persisted in carrying out plans on June 25 for the advance to Old Tavern. Had McClellan already decided to change his base it is unlikely that he would have persisted in planning and carrying out this operation.

Clearly, however, a move to the James was on McClellan’s mind before Jackson’s attack. From the time he captured Yorktown, McClellan had pondered the possibility of changing his base to the James. These, however, appear to have been solely contingency plans due to his orders to cooperate with McDowell. On June 25, when McClellan was convinced of Jackson’s coming attack on his right and rear, it began to look like the army would probably, but not necessarily, have to make a move to the James. Not until late on June 26, when it was clear Jackson would be able to cut the line to White House, did McClellan make the actual decision to change his base. McClellan was, after all, still under orders from Washington to maintain White House as his base. To have disobeyed these orders and moved to the James before it was absolutely necessary would surely have exacerbated doubts in Washington regarding McClellan’s willingness to follow the directions of his civilian superiors and might well have cost him his command.

In assessing McClellan’s decision to change his base to the James it is useful to consider the other options that were open to the general when Lee attacked. The first, to stand and fight on the Chickahominy for his communications, if successful, would have kept the army in a position closer to Richmond than the one his move to the James put him in. Yet to maintain this position, McClellan would have had to keep White House as his base and the York River Railroad as his supply line. He could not have shifted his base to the James and maintained his position on the Chickahominy. From a base on the James he would not have had any means for transporting his heaviest siege artillery through White Oak Swamp. Thus, remaining on the Chickahominy would have necessitated keeping the army in the same vulnerable position it was in on June 26 in order to protect the railroad.

A second option would have been to follow the advice of John Pope, who on June 26 was placed in command of Union forces in the Valley and Northern Virginia, and retreat in the direction of the York River. This was what Lee hoped McClellan would do, and he kept his force north of the Chickahominy after Gaines’ Mill to counter such a move. In response to the threat to his communications, Lee anticipated McClellan “would be compelled to retreat” in the direction of the York and “give battle out of his intrenchments.” To pull back to the York would have forced McClellan to march his army east down the Peninsula in the open, and with Lee and Jackson on his left flank, which would have been just the sort of operational situation that played to Confederate superiority in open warfare. Moreover, even if McClellan was able to make such a move safely, once back at the York River his army would have been at a greater distance from Richmond than it was after the move to the James.

The limited options open for future operations had McClellan been able to reach a secure position on the York also support the decision not to pursue this course of action. One option would have been to rest and refit his army in preparation for another advance over the same ground he had already passed and retreated over once. Another would have been to wait until it was determined how he could cooperate with Pope from that position. This would have required time, for until June 26 planning for overland operations in support of the Army of the Potomac had been based on McClellan’s being on the Chickahominy. From a position on the York McClellan might also have transferred the army to the James. Had such a move been made, however, it is unlikely that the army could have placed itself in a more favorable position on the James than the one it had after the Seven Days’ Battles.

Another option available to McClellan on June 26 and 27 was to use the left wing of the Army of the Potomac to attack south of the Chickahominy, where Union forces enjoyed a two-to-one advantage. While this might have enabled McClellan to seize the Confederate capital, the problem of supplying the army, both during the assault and once it had reached Richmond, made the success of such a move less than certain. To attack Richmond would have meant not making an all-out defense of the line to White House and operating without a secure base of supplies. Then, in the best-case scenario, before what supplies the army had on hand ran out, McClellan could have assaulted and quickly carried the Confederate defenses, disposed of the other forces protecting the capital, seized Richmond, and then, upon clearing the James of defensive works and obstructions, reestablished communications with the navy and a new line of supplies on the river.

This plan could have worked. Yet a staff blunder carrying out orders for the assault on the lightly held but well-prepared rebel works, a breakdown in troop discipline upon occupying Richmond, difficulty reducing the river defenses, or anything else that may have prevented the rapid occupation of Richmond and reestablishment of a new base, could have left the Army of the Potomac destitute of rations and supplies with no base from which it could draw new ones. From the time he reached the Peninsula McClellan had seen his best-laid plans upset by factors outside his control; would it have been reasonable to take this action hoping that luck might finally swing back in his favor? After all, had McClellan taken this gamble and lost, in order to resupply his army he would have been forced to make operational decisions that might have provided Lee the opportunity to force a battle under circumstances disadvantageous to the Union army.


McClellan is Rebuffed II

The final course open to McClellan to counter Lee’s attack on his communications, and the one he chose to take, was to change his base to the James and, because he lacked a secure line for bringing forward supplies or heavy artillery to the Chickahominy, withdraw the Army of the Potomac to the James. The drawbacks of this option were that it would move the army from a position six miles from Richmond to one thirty miles from the Confederate capital. It also meant the abandonment and destruction of considerable amounts of supplies and disengaging in the face of an active enemy in order to make a difficult and risky march across White Oak Swamp.

Nonetheless, on the night of June 27-28 McClellan issued orders for the retreat to the James. Keyes and Porter would immediately march south, cross White Oak Swamp, and establish a position from which they could cover the army’s supply trains and artillery reserve as they moved toward the James. To cover Keyes’s and Porter’s movements, Franklin, Heintzelman, and Sumner would remain between the Chickahominy and White Oak Swamp until the evening of June 29-30, when they were to cross the swamp and follow Keyes and Porter to the James.

For his part, Lee incorrectly anticipated that McClellan would fight for his supply line to the York River and intended to follow up his success at Gaines’ Mill by sending the bulk of his army to Dispatch Station to cut the Federals off from their supply base at White House. McClellan’s decision to withdraw to the James foiled this plan and it took Lee an entire day to figure out what McClellan was doing and revise his plans. Still hoping to destroy McClellan’s army, late on June 28 Lee set his sights on the Glendale crossroads through which the Federals would have to pass after crossing White Oak Swamp in order to reach the James. He ordered James Longstreet’s and A. P. Hill’s divisions to recross the Chickahominy, march south to the Darbytown Road, and push east toward Glendale, while to their left Benjamin Huger’s division advanced to Glendale on the Charles City Road. Meanwhile, Magruder’s division was to push east along the railroad and the Williamsburg Road, while Jackson, with his and D. H. Hill’s divisions, crossed to the south side of the Chickahominy at Grapevine Bridge. Together, Jackson and Magruder were to strike a strong blow against McClellan’s rearguard elements as they fell back toward the crossings of White Oak Swamp or, failing that, prevent them from reaching Glendale before Long- street, Hill, and Huger.

Thanks to Lee’s miscalculation of his intentions, by the night of June 28-29, McClellan had managed to get Keyes, Porter, and most of the army’s supply trains safely across White Oak Swamp, although in order to do so millions of dollars’ worth of supplies had to be destroyed and a field hospital of over two thousand men was abandoned to the enemy. Shortly before dawn on June 29, McClellan relocated his headquarters south of White Oak Swamp, leaving Sumner, Heintzelman, and Franklin to execute their orders without supervision to pull back toward White Oak Swamp and be able to cross it that night. As they were doing this, Magruder advanced his division eastward along the rail- road. After a sharp engagement with Magruder at Allen’s Farm, Sumner pulled his command back to Savage’s Station and together with elements of Franklin’s corps easily beat off a series of poorly conceived attacks by Magruder.

Despite an effort by Sumner to dissuade Franklin from carrying out McClellan’s orders to pull back from Savage’s Station, by midmorning on June 30 the entire Army of the Potomac was south of White Oak Swamp. At that time, in line with Lee’s hopes to execute a double envelopment of the Union army, Huger’s, Longstreet’s, and A. P. Hill’s divisions were approaching the Glendale crossroads from the west and Jackson’s and D. H. Hill’s were advancing on the White Oak Bridge crossing from the north. Aware of Lee’s intentions and the critical importance of the Glendale crossroads, McClellan spent the morning thoroughly surveying the area between the James and Glendale and personally directed the deployment of Heintzelman’s, Sumner’s, and Franklin’s corps. Three divisions under Franklin’s command were posted at White Oak Bridge to protect the army’s rear, while four divisions were positioned around Glendale to guard the intersection and the Willis Church (or Quaker) Road that connected it with Malvern Hill, where Porter’s and Keyes’s corps were establishing a defensive position covering Haxall’s Landing on the James.

At approximately 11 a. m., Jackson’s command reached White Oak Swamp but instead of vigorously attacking Franklin, Jackson decided merely to fire on his position with artillery. No doubt encouraged by the evident lack of any threat to his rear, McClellan decided to leave Glendale and rode south to Malvern Hill shortly after noon. After inspecting the defensive positions Porter and Keyes were preparing on Malvern Hill, McClellan pushed on to Haxall’s Landing to meet with John Rodgers and discuss how to best coordinate their operations. Rodgers told McClellan that because the rebels controlled City Point on the south side of the James, he did not believe the navy could support the Army of the Potomac at Haxall’s Landing, which was above City Point. McClellan then proposed Harrison’s Landing, a few miles downstream from Malvern Hill, for the army’s new base, which was the first good location below City Point. Although Rodgers would have preferred a point much lower on the James, McClellan persuaded him to accept Harrison’s Landing. Although the task of working out the final destination of the navy might have been delegated to a staff officer, there was nothing inappropriate about McClellan taking care of this himself.

What McClellan did next, however, almost defies belief. Even though his men were at the time engaged in a fierce battle near Glendale, the sounds of which were clearly audible at Haxall’s Landing, McClellan decided not to return to Glendale after resolving the question of the army’s final destination with Rodgers. Instead, he spent the afternoon on board the Galena, dining with Rodgers and traveling briefly upriver to watch the gunboat shelling of a Confederate division that had been spotted marching east along the River Road to- ward Malvern Hill.

McClellan’s failure to return to the scene of the fighting on the afternoon of June 30, without a doubt the critical moment in the retreat to the James, was unforgivable, and Stephen W. Sears is unquestionably correct to describe his actions as “dereliction of duty.” They were not, however, inexplicable. It is clear that McClellan’s behavior was attributable to a combination of demoralization rooted in a sense that events had turned against him for reasons beyond his control-indeed his preoccupation with the situation on the James may have been motivated by a desire to find some aspect of the situation he could control-and physical and mental exhaustion. His demoralization and exhaustion were evident in messages he wrote that evening. “I am well but worn out-no sleep for many days,” he advised his wife. “We have been fighting for many days & are still at it. I still hope to save the army.” To Stanton, he wrote: “We are hard pressed by superior numbers. . . . My Army has behaved superbly and have done all that men could do. If none of us escape we shall at least have done honor to the country. I shall do my best to save the Army.”

McClellan’s pessimism regarding the fate of his army reflected just how out of touch he was with the situation at Glendale. By the end of the day it was clear that the Battle of Glendale (or Frayser’s Farm) had ensured the Army of the Potomac would be able to reach the James safely. Good leadership at all levels of command, hard fighting by the rank and file, and problems on the Confederate side enabled the Federals to overcome McClellan’s absence from the field and equally inexcusable failure to appoint a single overall commander to oversee the battle. Although Lee was able to briefly penetrate the Union line west of Glendale, McClellan’s men were quickly able to contain the damage and preserve their line of retreat southward.

Alexander the Great’s Staff

How did Alexander form his military judgements? It is dangerous, in any age much before our own, to speak of a ‘general staff’, because to do so is to imply a bureaucratization of society quite at odds with reality. The general staff, officered by men selected and trained to perform intelligence, supply and crisis-management tasks, was a nineteenth-century Prussian invention. The Romans, via the cursus honorum, anticipated something akin to it. But mediaeval armies knew it not at all, while even the Renaissance and dynastic armies of early modern Europe were staffed at best by gifted amateurs, usually the friends or favourites of the commander.

Alexander commanded alone, certainly maintaining nothing like the ‘three bureaux’ system – operations, intelligence, logistics – through which European armies of the last hundred years have been articulated. Nevertheless, he needed and used subordinate commanders, if only to control his detached armies, such as those sent ahead into Asia Minor before the invasion and left behind in Greece after it. He took surveyors, secretaries, clerks, doctors, scientists and an official historian – Callisthenes, a nephew of Aristotle – in his entourage, and he consulted anyone whose expert knowledge promised to enlarge his own picture of how the future could be made to fall out. As a boy at his father’s court he had closely questioned visitors from distant places about the topography of their homelands, and on the eve of his march into Asia was certainly one of the best-informed men in the Greek world. But between information and decision falls the shadow. Did Alexander find his way through the dark alone, or did he require the minds of others to guide him to the right choice of action?

Alexander’s intimate friends, the inner circle of Companions, were by no means all hard-drinking highlanders, boastful and empty-headed. Ptolemy, the future ruler of Egypt, would write a history of the conquests; Marysas also became an author. Hephaistion, Alexander’s favourite, was the friend of scholars, and Peucestas, who was to govern Persia, took the trouble to learn the language and cultivate a knowledge of Persian customs. But our main sources give no real hint that Alexander used his circle of friends as a sounding-board for his plans. That was not their function: it was personality and character that were under test when Alexander was among his close Companions, the test of quickness of wit, sharpness of retort, memory for an apt phrase, skill in masking insult, boast or flattery, capacity to see deep into the bottom of a glass, and no heeltaps. When in doubt – and Alexander probably took the trouble to disguise doubt though he felt it but rarely – he turned to the most experienced professional at the court, Parmenio, to help him fix his ideas, using the old general’s temperamental prudence as a catalyst to precipitate his preference for the bold and immediate option.

Arrian, whose biography is the most important surviving source, provides four specific examples of how debate was conducted at court, when Alexander locked minds with Parmenio and overcame his objections to pressing forward rather than holding back. Arrian’s testimony is of the greatest value; writing though he did 400 years after Alexander’s death, he worked from biographies and histories, now lost to us, written by Alexander’s contemporaries. Moreover, being a Greek himself, who as a high Roman official had governed and campaigned in exactly the area in which Alexander began his conquests, he was in close sympathy with both his subject’s character and his problems.

Two of the reported Alexander-Parmenio debates are strategic in character, two tactical. At the strategic level the first concerned the policy to be adopted against the Persian Mediterranean fleet after the victory of the Granicus. The choice lay between a continental and a maritime campaign. Such a choice is a constant, recurring in all campaigns where sea- and land-power intermingle, as they must do in inland seas, as they have always done in the Mediterranean, as they notably did in Macedonia’s struggle against Persia. Persia, though maintaining a large Mediterranean fleet, was essentially a continental empire, whose control of its territory depended in the last resort on the superior strength of its army. Macedonia, though almost land-locked and only a recent entrant to the world of the Greek states, had thereby joined the ranks of maritime powers, in which strategists’ thoughts always turned on how superior land force might be negated by a stroke from the sea.

After the victory of the Granicus, Alexander proceeded on a mopping-up campaign of those ancient Greek cities along the western coast of Asia Minor that had fallen into Persian hands. Ephesus – to whose future Christian congregation Saint Paul would write one of his epistles – and Miletus quickly fell to him. Three days after his small fleet had anchored offshore, however, the much larger Persian fleet arrived. Not only did its presence threaten his freedom of manoeuvre, it also menaced his communications with Greece, where the militant Spartans remained Persia’s firm allies. Parmenio therefore urged Alexander to seek a naval battle. ‘If they won,’ he said, ‘it would be a great help to the expedition generally; a defeat would not be very serious; [and] he was willing to embark himself and share all the perils.’ Brave words from a 67-year-old. But Alexander would not have it. Parmenio had not grasped the overarching range of the young king’s vision. The old general’s thoughts were of immediate advantage in a local campaign, Alexander’s of ultimate victory on the stage of the world. That could be won only by feeding success with success. ‘He would not risk sacrificing the skill and courage of the Macedonians; should they lose the engagement it would be a serious blow to their warlike prestige.’ He would instead proceed with his reduction of the Persian naval bases along the coast and so ‘defeat the Persian fleet from the land’.

This was an extraordinarily incisive piece of strategic judgement; an obvious analogy is with MacArthur’s scheme at the outset of the South Pacific campaign to outflank Japan’s naval advantage by seizing only those islands that he needed as stepping-stones northward, leaving the rest ‘to wither on the vine’. Alexander’s decision, like MacArthur’s, was justified by results. After the reduction of the last great Persian fortified ports at Tyre and Gaza in 332, the Persian fleet began to disintegrate. Its squadrons were recruited from precisely those Phoenician cities that Alexander had made his targets and, as one after another fell, the crews lost heart and made for home. As winter approached, Alexander’s admirals were no longer outnumbered and had regained control of the whole of the Aegean.

By then, of course, Alexander had also won his first direct engagement with Darius, at Issus, in November 333. The shock of defeat had so unsettled the Great King that he had offered the invader a bribe well calculated to buy him off: the whole of Asia Minor, not only a territory of great wealth but also the homeland of all those Greek colonists whose subjection by Darius had supplied the initial motivation for the Persian expedition. Isocrates, its ideologue, had actually urged that the capture merely of Asia Minor would be justification enough of the risk entailed, but Alexander had already rejected this in the most insulting terms. After the fall of Tyre, when Darius improved his bid, offering the whole of his empire up to the Euphrates, from which Alexander was still 500 miles distant, and also threw in the offer of a large cash sum and his daughter’s hand in marriage, Parmenio at once urged Alexander to accept. Alexander’s famous reply was that ‘he would indeed have done this were he Parmenio but, being Alexander, he would do no such thing’. He had already told Darius that since Issus he was Lord of Asia, that the Great King’s money and lands were therefore already his, and his daughter’s hand also, if he chose to take it.

Alexander could never have been accused of lack of boldness. After Issus, however, he had reason to feel bold. More impressive, and more indicative of his fundamental character, was his boldness at the Granicus, where he and Parmenio differed over the tactical scheme for the battle. The Persians, holding a river position, had brought their line right down to the river’s edge, thereby, as Parmenio warned, threatening a Macedonian attack with disaster. ‘As we emerge in disorder, the weakest of formations, the enemy cavalry in good solid order will charge.’ Better, he proposed, to camp for the night, wait until the enemy had done likewise, and get across the watercourse when it was unguarded.

Alexander would have none of it. ‘I should feel ashamed,’ he said, ‘after crossing the sea from Europe to Asia so easily if this little stream should hinder us … I consider it unworthy either of the Macedonians or of my own brisk way with danger. Moreover the Persians would pluck up courage and think themselves fighters as good as we are …’ And so, clapping spurs to horse, he ordered the advance and plunged into the Granicus.

Parmenio, of course, was proved wrong and he right (though as we shall see, there was perhaps as much acute tactical insight as moral wilfulness in Alexander’s decision). Before Gaugamela, when he and Parmenio differed again over tactics, it was almost, perhaps wholly, the issue of moral courage that divided them. Parmenio, seeing the Persian army drawn up in overwhelmingly preponderant force, urged Alexander to wait until darkness fell and make a night attack. Curtius, another of the Romans who wrote from the lost sources, has Parmenio argue that, ‘in the silence of the night, the enemy may be overwhelmed. For nations so discordant in language and customs, attacked in their sleep, terrified by unexpected danger and by formidable darkness, will plunge tumultuously together, unable to form.’ Alexander did not answer Parmenio directly but spoke to one of the nobles he had brought with him for moral support. ‘Darkness,’ he said, ‘belongs to robbers and waylayers. But my glory shall not be diminished by stealing a victory … I am determined on an open attack.’

Arrian, the old campaigner, whose account tallies closely, thoroughly approved. Alexander, he says, had good military reasons for shunning a night operation. But, more important, ‘the secret attack by the Greeks under cover of night would excuse Darius from any confession of being a worse general with worse troops’. Alexander, now deep in the heart of the enemy’s empire, had not only to win but to be seen to win unequivocally if the campaign were not to protract itself interminably. All or nothing: Alexander played for all, and won.

Philip II of Macedon

Philip II of Macedon lost his eye at the siege of Methone, 354 BC

Philip II developed into the master-statesman of his time, a creative politician whose work made Macedon a world power for three decades and a great power for a century after that. This aspect of his achievement took some years to emerge, however, since for the first period of his reign he was preoccupied with securing his own position, and with providing security for his kingdom. These were, of course, much the same problem.

Philip had to use a combination of qualities: a wily and cunning diplomacy, military leadership which brought victories, and a keen eye for developing the resources of his kingdom. He had precedents in the activity of previous Macedonian kings, but not every new king in his early twenties would have deployed them. It is part of Philip’s genius that he was able to utilize all these actions and qualities successfully at the same time.

Philip was about 23 years old when he became king, a few years older than his brothers at their accessions, with a life experience somewhat different from theirs. He grew up at the court of his father, Amyntas III, in a time when Macedon was more or less at peace, having been born in the year following Amyntas’ recovery of his kingdom in 383/382. He saw the efforts his father had made to develop his kingdom, but he had also witnessed the threats the outside world forced upon him. In his family he was one of the middle children, with older brothers, an older sister and their younger half-brothers. Getting attention cannot have been easy.

At the age of 12 he was sent as a hostage to the Illyrians – presumably to King Bardylis – along with tribute which Alexander II paid to avoid an invasion. Soon after, at 14 or so, he was sent to Thebes, again as a hostage. This was not a situation of danger or discomfort. A hostage, especially a child, was taken into the house hold of a prominent man, treated as a member of the family and given an education. At Thebes Philip lived in the house of Pammenes, an important politician, in the years when Thebes was the greatest power in the Greek peninsula. He missed the killings in Macedon of his brother Alexander and of Ptolemy of Aloros, returning home when his other brother Perdikkas emerged as king in his own right in 365. For the next five or six years he was completely loyal to Perdikkas, and was entrusted, perhaps after some years, with lands of his own, on which he is said to have maintained an armed force, possibly little more than a bodyguard.

His conduct in his first year as king suggests that he had given thought to what was required. In what he accomplished in his first years, Philip was clearly helped by two important factors: the crisis in Macedon was so bad that he had a free hand in dealing with it; and the Greek powers ignored what was going on in Macedon, reasonably assuming that the continuing political collapse of the kingdom was yet another example of its fragility and instability. They were rather slow to intervene, and then only minimally. Despite the Common Peace of 360, further international crises developed, notably at Athens, whose league began to crumble in 357; then the `Sacred’ war embroiled all central Greece for the next ten years. Philip had a breathing space in which Macedon’s main enemies were either uninterested or preoccupied elsewhere. In this time he laid the basis for his later more extensive achievements.

The first priority was to attend to the internal condition of the kingdom. Philip had his half-brother Archelaos killed; this secured him the throne, for Archelaos was the next member of his family. The invading pretenders were next. Pausanias came with Thracian backing, originally that of King Kotys, and then his successor Berisades. Perhaps because Berisades was also newly in power he was persuaded to accept a bribe to leave. Philip’s persuasiveness was at work here: Berisades was joint heir to Kotys with his two brothers, who now fought each other; Thrace could thus now been ignored for a time.

Argaios’ support from Athens was as uncertain as that of Pausanias from Thrace. A force of 3,000 Athenian hoplites landed with him at Methone, but Argaios was then expected to make his own way to the throne. This was reasonable, since a pretender needed to show he had local support, and without it no backer would bother with him. Athens’ main ambition in the north was to gain control of Amphipolis, now an independent city, with a Macedonian garrison. Philip withdrew these troops. No doubt he was glad to have them available for more active uses, but the act of withdrawal was also directed at influencing Athens. Supposedly it signalled Amphipolis’ new vulnerability, and by implication Philip’s political acquiescence in an Athenian takeover. Argaios’ Athenian troops stayed in Methone, and Argaios went on to Aigai with only his own small force of mercenaries and the few Macedonian exiles and Athenians who supported his enterprise.

He marched the 20 km to Aigai, but gained no support from the locals, either on the march or in the city. He turned back to return to Methone, perhaps hoping to persuade the Athenians there to be more active in his cause, but was intercepted by Philip on his march. Philip easily beat Argaios’ troops: many of the mercenaries were killed; the Macedonian exiles, many of them related to loyal Macedonians, were taken prisoner; the Athenians were released with gifts. Philip had no wish to set up a situation where Athens might seek revenge; the Athenian force in Methone then sailed home, taking the released men away as well. At Athens, the prospect of regaining Amphipolis, combined with the failure of the intervention in Macedon, persuaded the Assembly towards peace. Argaios vanished, no doubt executed, if he had survived the fight. What happened to the exiles is not known, but Philip is as likely to have held them as hostages for the good behaviour of their relatives as to have had them executed as traitors.

The landward invaders of the kingdom were tackled with a similar mixture of force and diplomacy. Bardylis did not follow up his successful invasion, either because of the casualties his own forces had suffered in the battle, or because Philip had arranged a truce with him. Philip certainly bought off the threatened Paeonian invasion from the north by gifts to the Paeonian king. Neither of these measures could be decisive in the long term: gifts would only whet the Paeonian appetite, and Bardylis’ victory could only encourage him to mount another invasion.

The precise sequence of all these invasions, diplomacies and manoeuvres is uncertain, but they certainly all took place during 359, very early in Philip’s reign; indeed, most of the manoeuvres and diplomacy probably took only a fairly short time, probably more or less simultaneously. Their success will have consolidated his local support among the Macedonians. The unwillingness of the people of Aigai to join Argaios is a sign of this.

Philip had to attend to internal governmental matters. Even in his first year he had no difficulty in finding gifts rich enough to buy off the Paeonian and Thracian kings, and to give presents to the Athenians in Argaios’ force – nor to forgo the ransoming or selling of those captives – though where he found the money is unclear. 9 Kallistratos’ customs reforms may have helped, but not by much. But the main internal problem he faced was the development of an effective army.

In 358, after a year as king, Philip was able to muster a force of 10,000 infantry and 600 cavalry for a campaign in which he needed his full strength. Perdikkas’ defeat had cost 4,000 Macedonian lives. By adding these figures together it seems that the maximum force available to the Macedonian kings before Philip was about 15,000 men, of which the effective element, the cavalry, numbered 1,000 at most. This was a fairly small force for such a large kingdom – Athens could produce forces double that. Yet even with that smaller force, Philip won battles against larger armies. This was due to his intelligent generalship in part, but he also instituted better training for the men, in particular the infantry. He had seen, during his earlier life in Thebes and Macedon, that infantry needed to be properly trained, drilled and equipped for them to be effective; he only needed to compare the old ineffective Macedonian foot soldiers with the all-conquering Theban phalanx. He was up-to-date with the military developments which had taken place in recent years in Greece, including the use of light infantry, peltasts, developed by Athenian commanders. And he added something particularly Macedonian, the use of a shock force of heavy cavalry.

It will not do to emphasize the innovations Philip made at the expense of the continuities. The kings had always had a bodyguard of cavalrymen, called Companions (hetairoi). The very name shows that they were of high status, socially almost the equals to the king by birth, being noble landowners and their sons. They numbered only 600 in Philip’s army of 358, no doubt the survivors of Perdikkas’ disaster, and probably others were available who did not turn out for the new king. Their numbers increased in the next generation as Macedonians and Greeks were awarded lands in conquered territory: by 334 the cavalry numbered 3,500. As the numbers grew, Philip implanted change. One group was singled out as the Royal Squadron, 300 strong, and the rest were organized as squadrons (ilai), recruited from the several regions of Macedonia. They rode bareback, wore a metal breastplate and helmet and were armed with a longish spear. They were `heavy’ only in a relative sense, owing their shock value to their ability to charge in formation, particularly in a `wedge formation’, in which the narrower front allowed a widening penetration of the enemy formation and the maintenance of good control.

This is the most remarkable of Philip’s military innovations. By the end of his reign it is clear the cavalry had been induced to put aside their innate individualism and submit to discipline, just like hoplites. This involved a major change in behaviour by the baronage, whose preferred method of fighting was in loose formation, leaving room for individual display and activity. This would seem to have been one of the lessons Philip had brought from Greece. The Balkan tribes fought in the `old’ manner, loosely, and the Persians in Alexander’s battles were almost as undisciplined. The carefully controlled cavalry Philip developed was capable of defeating any number of their undisciplined enemies – just as hoplites could beat their less controlled light infantry enemies.

The infantry were little more than a mob in earlier battles, more notable for their speed of retreat than their constancy in the fight. There had been an earlier elite group, called the Foot-Companions (pezhetairoi), which may have fallen out of use; Philip re-formed it. They were the equivalent of the hetairoi of the cavalry: well equipped, polished, proud, and capable of standing guard over the king and the palace. The rest of the infantry was levied, like the cavalry, by regions. This was not a new system, but Philip did insist on improvements: drill, discipline, uniform armament and, above all, obedience to orders. It seems likely that the improvement was mainly due to the fact that the infantry had earlier been simply the followers of the nobles, brought along when the army was called out. Philip’s innovation was thus to separate them from their landlords to organize them into disciplined formations. Both cavalry and infantry became better drilled and more competently employed. He spent a good deal of time in the first year of his reign meeting his forces, consulting them in assemblies, speaking to them, drilling them, getting to know them, and them to know him. The infantry were trained to move and march as units; instead of a mob they became a phalanx.

It is in this organization of the troops that Philip’s real contribution to Macedon’s military power lies, but he is also credited with the introduction of a longer infantry spear, the sarissa. Its effect in battle was to keep the enemy at a greater, and so safer, distance. The heavier weapon also required a reduction in defensive armament, so the troops used a smaller shield, and wore no breastplate. The net effect was to make the infantry much more mobile and aggressive, and yet also more vulnerable. Philip had taken in the power of the heavier Theban phalanx, and the Athenian innovation of the use of peltasts and the overall value of drill, discipline and careful preparation, and had added in his own longer spear. He was able to do much of this reorganization in his first year, which suggests that he had worked out what needed to be done during his years as his brother’s subordinate, based in part on his experience at Thebes. But to think it all out and to apply his ideas were two different things; and to put into practice what he was preaching required him to win battles. The Paeonians and the Illyrians of Bardylis were to be his testing ground. No doubt the disaster suffered by Perdikkas’ army had predisposed Macedonians to accept, or at least to try out, new methods, but only victory would be convincing.

Most of what Philip imposed on the Macedonians was not new. The sarissa, possibly, but the Macedonian barons were used to wielding long spears in hunting. Infantry in phalanxes, cavalry under discipline, uniform equipment, drill, obedience to shouted orders, pride after victory, were all part and parcel of Greek warfare. He adopted the use of siege weapons developed particularly in Dionysian Sicily, and had them available for use by 357. This basic unoriginality may be an aspect of the changes which led to their acceptance: Greek warfare was something familiar to the Macedonians, who had been easily beaten in the past by smaller Greek forces. Earlier kings back to Alexander I had tried to implement many of these innovations, but Philip would seem to have been the first to try them all out at once on a receptive population at the beginning of his reign. There was also Philip’s generalship, a quality enhanced in his son, which was even more important than all his innovations.

That he was able to do all this so early in his reign is what makes Philip so important in Macedonian history. Earlier kings had established themselves in power first and then introduced changes, generally on a fairly small scale. Given that the average reign of a successful Macedonian king was only two decades, the reforms had only started to have effect when the king died, and were then lost in the subsequent succession crisis. Philip, compelled by the all-enveloping crisis at his accession, had a relatively free hand as well as a compelling necessity to innovate. It was essentially a succession crisis followed by a military crisis; the first was dealt with diplomatically and by assassination, so it was in the military area that he introduced his changes. Other governmental deficiencies were ignored or tackled later. The emphasis on the current crises coloured the future indelibly with a military hue; once Philip had survived, any other innovations could be introduced in the old manner, slowly and cautiously, if at all.

The several pretenders had not, thanks to Philip’s diplomacy, presented a real threat. The Macedonians’ northern and western neighbours were more dangerous. The Paeonian king died soon after the agreement with Philip, and the agreement became void. Philip had made progress with his new army, and in the spring of 358 he invaded Paeonia, won a victory, and imposed a treaty on the new king, making him a subordinate ally of the type well understood in the region. This was an easy victory; Philip was able to choose his victim, so giving his new army confidence, something the army surely needed after Perdikkas’ disaster.

The Illyrians were next. Bardylis, perhaps prompted by a peace offer from Philip, demanded that Philip accept that Bardylis should keep those parts of Upper Macedon he had occupied, regions such as Orestis and Lynkos. These Illyrian demands, when publicized, demonstrated to the Macedonians that the Illyrian threat remained, so an Illyrian war could be justified, both as revenge for their dead comrades and Philip’s dead brother, and as a preventive against future Illyrian attacks. Philip inevitably refused Bardylis’ demands, and marched his new army into Illyrian-occupied Lynkos.

Of all the enemies besetting Macedon in 359, Bardylis was the most formidable, and it was no doubt for this reason that Philip had left him to the last. Philip had agreed to an armistice – perhaps he even requested one – as soon as he became king, though this left Bardylis in possession of the conquered lands. Philip had, it seems, accepted an Illyrian princess, Audata, as his wife. Philip was always willing to marry, but if Bardylis imagined that Philip was now his ally, or even his subordinate, he discovered otherwise when he presented his peace terms. Between Perdikkas’ death and the spring of 358, Philip had survived, seen off many enemies and invaders, and trained up his new army. He had been king for a year, and had done very little actual fighting, for the victories over Argaios and the Paeonians were fairly minor affairs. Bardylis had good cause to be confident that he could again win a battle.

The two armies were approximately equal in numbers, each with 10,000 infantry, and Bardylis with 500 and Philip 600 cavalry. Bardylis formed his men into a square, which is an interesting action, suggesting that he was well aware of the new Macedonian tactics. Philip commanded the pezhetairoi, his newly trained Foot Companions (described by Diodoros as `the best of the Macedonians’) personally. They were armed with the new long sarissa, and were used to break into the square, no doubt at a corner. When the square broke he sent the cavalry on a ferocious pursuit. Bardylis’ army was destroyed, losing 7,000 men killed, and he at once made peace. The terms were the return of the Upper Macedonian kingdoms to Macedonian suzerainty.

The battle, described fully enough by Diodoros for us to appreciate the tactics involved, demonstrated to any who cared to notice that a military commander of genius had arrived. Philip coordinated the actions of his soldiers and operated on his opponent’s weakest point. He cannot have faced an infantry square before, nor can he have expected to face one now, but he took command personally at the decisive point, and understood that the battle was only won after the pursuit was finished. He was able to inspire his soldiers to fight, and to fight as he wished.

On top of this newly revealed military expertise, Philip showed in his dealings with his enemies that he was a most cunning and accomplished diplomatist, using negotiations to hold off dangerous enemies (Bardylis, the Paeonians, Athens) until he was ready to confront them, to deal with his enemies one at a time, and to choose the time to strike. This combination of military genius and diplomatic finesse was the key to the history of Greece for the next quarter-century.

If Audata was not given to Philip at the armistice in 359, she was now, in the peace terms. One of Philip’s diplomatic innovations is here on view: instead of offering daughters and sisters to neighbouring kings as wives and daughters-in-law, he used himself, collecting daughters of other kings. These marriages performed differing diplomatic purposes: Audata symbolized peace and the subordination of an enemy, whereas his second marriage, to Phila, daughter of Derdas of Orestis, bound the important Elimaian region to Macedon. A year later he married Olympias, the niece of the king of the Molossi, whose lands had also been subjected to Illyrian raids just as had the Macedonians’. These marriages linked these areas together politically, but the destruction of Bardylis’ army had been the key to the whole system. This diplomatic structure was designed, presumably, to block Illyrian expansion southwards. By these military and diplomatic victories Philip revived Macedonian power and added an association with the Molossi to a serious restriction on the power of Bardylis.

There was little reason for others to take much note of what was going on. To southern Greeks, the battle in Lynkos was one between barbarian kings, of no real interest. Dangers still lurked to the south, in Thessaly, and to the east, at Amphipolis, areas that were possible sources of hostility to Macedon. Athens’ enmity was not something to be conjured away by eliminating a pretender, and the possibility of it recovering control of Amphipolis was ominous. Thessaly had been troublesome for Macedonia repeatedly for the past 20 years, either in the persons of Thessalians, or from Thebes by way of Thessaly.

Imad-ed-din Zangi

The council at Jerusalem decides to attack Damascus. After the First Crusade in 1096 AD set up Christian kingdoms all along the coast of Israel and Lebanon, of course the Fatimid caliphs who had ruled that area before were very upset. By 1144, a Mamluk general, Imad-ed-din Zangi, had managed to unite enough Turks and Arabs in his army to attack the Christian kingdoms. Zangi did not take Jerusalem, but he did take the Syrian city of Edessa nearby.

In Europe, people were very upset to learn that the Turks had taken Edessa. The Pope ordered Bernard of Clairvaux (in France) to preach a second crusade to take it back and defeat Zangi. The young king of France, Louis VII, agreed to go, along with the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. So did Conrad III of Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor. At this time Louis was 23 years old and Eleanor was 22. Conrad was 51 years old.

From beginning to end, though, this crusade was not successful. Most of Conrad’s soldiers were killed as they marched through Turkey. When Louis and Conrad reached Jerusalem, they decided to attack Damascus, which would have made up for the loss of Edessa. But their attack on Damascus failed, and the kings and queens went home in disgust.

The Turkish atabeg (Prince Father) Imad al-Din Zangi became ruler of Aleppo and Mosul in 1128 following the murder of his predecessor by the Assassin sect. Zangi was in all respects a remarkable leader. He was a gifted soldier, not unusual for Turkish princes of the day, but also a gifted politician. He kept his troops and their commanders under a severe discipline, and in the field, lived under the same conditions. Zangi led his troops from the front, in the tradition of the Turkish warrior caste. He was among the first Turkish rulers in Syria to attempt real government—his predecessors had been mere warlords who treated their Syrian lands to looting and rapine.

Zangi ruled in the midst of internecine Muslim warfare. His early years saw a series of confusing and vicious struggles as he sought to consolidate power in Syria. He dared not challenge the Christians at this time, but so remarkable was his character, that in 1130, Alix, the daughter of Bohemund II, king of Jerusalem, offered him an alliance against her own father! This he declined, as it would have made an impossible alliance for him, and he had too many concerns in his own lands.

During a Seljuq quarrel for the succession of the throne in 1133, Zangi marched on Baghdad. Ambushed en route, he was assisted by an enemy— a Kurdish officer named Ayyub. In years to come, Zangi would remember this noble gesture and help Ayyub’s son to his first position of authority. This man would become the scourge of the crusader kingdoms—Saladin. In 1135, Zangi was nearly made ruler of Damascus, the principal city of Syria, but intrigues continued to hold him back. In 1137, he marched on Homs in central Syria, intending to take it as a steppingstone to Damascus. Caliph Unar, who ruled the city, craftily called upon the Knights Templar to aid him in his defense and then, as the Christian army approached, offered to assist Zangi in the destruction of the infidels. This Zangi did. In June 1137, the Templar army was trapped in the fortress of Barin by Zangi’s forces and forced to surrender. After the battle, however, Unar renounced his allegiance and Zangi besieged Homs, which he could not take because a combined crusader-Byzantine army was besieging his city of Shayzar. Fearing the loss of this vital city, he withdrew his army and broke the siege.

This Byzantine-crusader alliance could have been serious to the Muslim-dominated Middle East. It was, in fact, the only time that the crusaders acted as the pawns of the old empire, and had the Frankish vitality been combined with the empire’s organization, the results for Syria could have been fatal. Zangi responded with propaganda to tear the two allies apart—warning the Byzantines of the huge army that he was gathering and warning the Franks of Byzantine designs against their own newly conquered lands. He swept the enemy away, more with guile than arms, but this victory made him the preeminent man of Syria. In May 1138, he was offered a wedding alliance to princess Zumurrud of Damascus and received Homs as her dowry. It was supposed that her son Mahmud would then turn Damascus over to his new father-in-law. However, despite the agreement, Mahmud refused to turn the city over to Zangi. In July 1139 Mahmud was murdered, but before Zangi could take control of the city, the old Caliph Unar—Zangi’s ally and enemy at Homs—seized control and began plotting a new alliance with the crusaders. Thus Zangi was stalled again, more by the clever old Caliph Unar, a master of the political game, than by the crusaders.

Unable to cement his control of Syria, Zangi turned his attention north and in 1144 retook the kingdom of Edessa, the first of the crusader states to be captured and the first to fall. It was also Zangi’s last great achievement, for a servant murdered him in 1146. His kingdom fell apart, and his son Nur-al-Din was left with only Aleppo.

Zangi’s life was not dedicated to the destruction of the crusaders, but to the acquisition of personal power. At his death, his realms dissolved into the hands of various strongmen, and his son was left with a sliver of his father’s power. But Nur-al-Din, a man very different from his father, would decisively change the balance of power in the Middle East. An austere man, more at home in the library than on the battlefield, the new ruler of Aleppo would fight the Franks with his own wisdom, and others’ swords.

Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck

Claude Auchinleck while Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army.

(1884–1981) GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE

Born in Aldershot and raised by his widowed mother in straitened circumstances, Auchinleck was educated at Wellington, where as a scholarship boy ‘he acquired an indifference to personal comfort that remained with him for the rest of his life’ (Heathcote, 1999, 29). He attended RMC, Sandhurst, and, after some months on the unattached list, was commissioned in the 62nd Punjabi Regiment in 1904.

A captain in 1914, Auchinleck saw war service in Egypt, Aden and, from 1916, Mesopotamia. Appointed to the DSO in 1917, thrice mentioned in despatches and awarded the OBE in 1919 for service in Kurdistan, Auchinleck returned to India as a brevet lieutenant colonel. There he married in 1921, graduated from the Staff College, Quetta, and attended the Imperial Defence College in 1927. From 1930 to 1932 he was an instructor at Quetta and the following year assumed command of the Peshawar Brigade stationed on the North-West Frontier. Having acquired a solid military reputation and promoted major general in 1936, Auchinleck was made Deputy Chief of the General Staff in India. Intent on modernization, he pursued a policy of mechanization with vigour. Free from snobbery, able to listen and a keen talent-spotter, he impressed the visiting Chatfield committee with his proposals to phase out British officers by suitable Indian replacements

Tall and athletic, indeed ‘handsome and charming’ (Ranfurly, 1998, 168), ‘The Auk’ looked the part. Moreover, in an India ‘where everybody watched everyone else’ (Greacan, 1989, 140) he was as popular as he was highly regarded. Recalled to London in late 1939 and made commander of IV Corps, then assembling before being sent to join the BEF in France, he was posted instead to Norway in May 1940. There, as an expert in mountain warfare, he replaced Mackesy as C-in-C land forces and directed the assault on Narvik, the success of which was futile as the port was evacuated within a week of its capture. His subsequent description of the British troops he had commanded as ‘callow’ and effeminate’, unlike the French, who were ‘real soldiers’ (Warner, 1982, 72), did not please Churchill.

Created commander of V Corps in June 1940 and succeeding Brooke as GOC Southern Command the next month, it fell to Auchinleck to prepare defences at points considered most vulnerable to German invasion. Montgomery, then a subordinate, was, typically, unable to recall agreeing with his GOC on anything at this time (Montgomery, 1958, 62), but, promoted general in November and sent back to India as C-in-C, we may infer that Auchinleck had impressed his seniors. Indian formations were already playing a major role in operations in East Africa and the western desert, and, with Home Forces heavily committed to an anti-invasion role, Auchinleck’s brief was to enlarge the Indian Army both for internal security purposes and deployment elsewhere.

In this sense the pro-Nazi Raschid Ali rebellion in Iraq in early 1941 provided opportunity. Whereas Wavell, the C-in-C Middle East, considered intervention in Iraq to be politically undesirable and too large an undertaking for the forces at his disposal, Auchinleck’s readiness to act quickly and send troops from India to southern Iraq helped crush the rebellion. When in June the Western Desert Force failed in its attempt to relieve Tobruk (BATTLEAXE), Churchill decided to sack Wavell and replace him with Auchinleck, a man ‘of a fresh mind and a hitherto untaxed personal energy’ (Churchill, 1950, 237).

The Middle East was a vast command, though in the public imagination the only area that mattered was the western desert. What had begun in 1940 almost as a colonial war, when Italian forces invaded Egypt, had become by mid-1941 the major theatre of Britain’s war effort. Auchinleck’s responsibility was great. No less heavy was the weight of Churchill’s expectations. His ‘splendid talents’ were widely recognized. But so too was his supposed inability to ‘understand Winston’ (Moran, 1968,70).

That Auchinleck’s tenure of Middle East Command lasted little over a year, with his dismissal in August 1942 coming at a time when Axis forces stood a mere 60 miles from Alexandria, suggests not merely that he disappointed Churchill but that he had failed in his command. Declining the offer of the new Iraq-Persia Command he returned to India where, languishing unemployed for nearly a year, he succeeded Wavell as C-in-C. Never again to command troops in battle, his fate from mid-1943 was to preside over the expansion of the Indian Army for the rest of the war, then witness its slide into impotence and disintegration upon independence and partition. Having divorced his wife in 1946 on the grounds of her adultery, his wish to stay on as supreme commander of Indian and Pakistan land forces was frustrated by Mountbatten, the Viceroy, who asked him to resign in September 1947.

Expressed in these bald terms Auchinleck’s career trajectory, with its sudden rise and just as sudden fall, invites brief and no more than polite summary. Yet while failed generals, they say, should not be pitied, the verdict that Auchinleck, having had every opportunity to succeed, proved not quite up to the mark, is, in some quarters, stubbornly resisted. An extraordinary feature of the post-war ‘battle of the memoirs’ is the manner in which an alternative narrative of ‘The Auk’ has developed. In this version he is remembered not merely as ‘one of the most underestimated soldiers of the war’ (Boatner, 1996, 18), but also as a ‘flaw[ed] . . . great man’ (Barnett, 1983, 135), the nearest British equivalent to a Second World War tragic hero.

Promotion to Field Marshal was, in wartime, used by Churchill as a form of consolation for disappointment. That it was the Attlee government, not Churchill’s, which bestowed the honour on Auchinleck in 1946 was significant in itself and registered officialdom’s guilty conscience over the way ‘The Auk’ had been treated. Accepting an enhanced knighthood but declining the offer of a peerage, he characteristically wrote no memoirs. Such reticence has tended to increase and not diminish his reputation.

Auchinleck’s ‘failure’ in North Africa remains hotly debated. This stems in part from a peculiarly Anglo-centric preoccupation with the desert war, but reflects too a tendency to dramatize events in terms of personality. Depending on what is read and the reader’s temperament, Auchinleck can be dismissed as the commander who woefully mis-read Ultra intelligence and who, through interfering with his field commanders’ dispositions, reduced 8th Army to a state of bewildered near defeat. Alternatively he can be elevated as the real victor of Alamein. The history of the desert war as siphoned through the Montgomery filter adheres to the former viewpoint, whereas those repelled by Montgomery’s relentless egomania hold to the latter position. To them Auchinleck of the jutting jaw and piercing blue eyes remains the quintessential soldier’s soldier, a man ‘impossible not to like and admire’ (Kennedy, 1957, 159). In the crisis month of July 1942, after 8th Army’s defeat at Gazala and the loss of Tobruk, he assumed command in the field and kept his head sufficiently to save Egypt and leave Rommel ‘outwitted as well as outfought’ before Alamein (Barnett in Carver (ed.), 1976, 264). Hence, Auchinleck’s supporters maintain, he laid the basis for eventual victory in North Africa.

Much attention has been paid to Auchinleck’s relations with Churchill, though much less to the equally significant culture clash that developed within Middle East Command during his months as C-in-C. For the command Auchinleck left was very different in size and composition from that which he had inherited. With formations drawn from Home Forces beginning to predominate over ‘old desert hands’ drawn from all parts of the Commonwealth, British officers came to resent a command set-up so heavily biased towards the Indian Army. Hence Auchinleck’s inability to select the right subordinates became a ‘fact’; the fault lying less with those field commanders he dismissed than with those Indian Army officers he retained. One such was ‘Chink’ Dorman-Smith, who, allegedly, so ‘mesmerized’ the C-in-C with his ‘fertile imagination’ (Carver, 1989, 127), that, if Brooke’s diary recollections are to be believed, Auchinleck’s allowing himself to ‘fall too deeply under Chink’s influence . . . became . . . the major cause of his downfall’ (Danchev & Todman, 2001, 224). The Middle East Command clear-out of August 1942, the so-called ‘Cairo purge’, represented many things, not least the triumph of Home Forces over the Indian Army. Within five years, of course, the Indian Army to which Auchinleck had devoted 44 years of his life had ceased to exist.

Any attempt at assessing Auchinleck’s record as a wartime commander is made difficult in that the post-war ‘battle of the memoirs’ (from which he held himself aloof) has rendered him less a creature of flesh and blood than an item of historiography. Whatever his qualities and defects, he has been constructed as the personification of historical revisionism. Those who prefer their victors straight celebrate the achievements of Churchill, Brooke and Montgomery. Conversely Auchinleck remains an enduringly attractive figure among those for whom heroism is compounded of quieter, more subtle qualities.

Outliving most of his contemporaries and finding himself something of a legend by the end of his long life, Auchinleck received many honorary degrees, deposited his papers with Manchester University and, in 1968, left England for Marrakesh. There, attended by a batman-servant, he lived unpretentiously until his death.

Generalmajor Meinrad von Lauchert

Dates: 29 August 1905 in Potsdam – died 4 December 1987 in Stuttgart

A highly decorated Generalmajor in the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Von Lauchert entered on active duty as a Fahnenjunker (Officer Cadet) on 1 April 1924. By the eve of World War II, he had advanced to the rank of Hauptmann (Captain) and commanded the 2nd Company of Panzer Regiment 35. The first day of fighting in Poland brought his elevation to battalion commander after the previous commander, Hauptmann Stenglein, received a serious head wound – a common injury for armour commanders.

Lauchert served with Panzer Regiment 35 of the 4th Panzer Division throughout the Polish and French Campaigns. During the first drive into Russia in the summer of 1941, he earned the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross.

Lauchert’s skill and energy as a Panzer leader caught the attention of such armour notables as Heinz Guderian and Heinrich Eberbach. When Germany developed a new tank to regain its lost superiority on the battlefield, Major Lauchert was chosen to form and train the first two battalions of Panthers.

Hitler ordered the delay of the 1943 summer offensive until Lauchert’s Panthers arrived to spearhead the southern arm of the attack. Unfortunately, the failure of the commanders whom Lauchert was supporting to familiarize themselves with this new weapon caused the Panther’s debut at the Battle of Kursk to be less than decisive. Lauchert continued to command a battle group of Panthers after Kursk, was promoted to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) and eventually was named as the commander of Panzer Regiment 15 of the 11th Panzer Division. While with this unit, he earned the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross.

In the summer of 1944, Lauchert was called upon to command Panzer Brigade 101, one of several new armoured units hastily formed to restore the German Army’s precarious situation in the East. As part of Panzerverband von Strachwitz and later as its commander, Lauchert helped restore the land connection between Army Groups North and Centre.

Just one day before the start of the Battle of the Bulge, Oberst (Colonel) Lauchert was tasked with taking charge of the 2nd Panzer Division. His division punched through the American lines on 16 December 1944 and by the time the offensive had literally run out of fuel Lauchert’s men had achieved the deepest penetration into Allied-held territory of any of the German formations.

Afterwards, Lauchert’s division fought a continuous rearguard action against the US forces as they pushed him back across the German frontier. During the fighting in February and March 1945, the 2nd Panzer Division had ceased to exist as much more than a marker on the map.

By the end of March, as the remnants of his division were backed up against the Rhine without a secure crossing point, Generalmajor Lauchert ordered a breakout eastwards in small groups. Lauchert swam the Rhine with a small number of his staff and, apparently fed up with the hopelessness of the situation, quit the war and walked home to Bamberg, the home garrison of Panzer Regiment 35.

After the war, he was imprisoned for trial at Nuremberg for war crimes, but was found not guilty and released.

Later Career

He was technical advisor on the 1965 movie Battle of the Bulge and is featured in the “Making of the Battle of the Bulge” featurette produced in 1965.


Iron Cross (1939)

2nd Class (22 September 1939)

1st Class (23 October 1939)

Panzer Badge in Silver

Eastern Front Medal

Honour Roll Clasp of the Army (8 August 1941)

German Cross in Gold (5 September 1943)

Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves

Knight’s Cross on 8 September 1941 as Major and commander of the I./Panzer-Regiment 35

396th Oak Leaves on 12 February 1944 as Oberstleutnant and commander of Panzer-Regiment 15

Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht (25 October 1944)