Tosti’s (Tostig) rule I


Tostig Godwinsonby LTF86

The first interruption to Tosti’s rule apparently came from outside when a Norse fleet, which had allied itself with Earl Aelfgar, raided England in 1058. This raid probably struck at the Irish Sea coasts of Tosti’s earldom, and Domesday Book records of wasted land in Amounderness may be confirmation of this. However, Earl Tosti appears not to have been blamed for failing to counter this ‘unexpected’ raid. Again in 1061, when Earl Tosti was on a pilgrimage to Rome, Malcolm of Scotland took advantage of his absence to raid the north of England, including Lindisfarne. This incident has been seen as a sign of weakness on Tosti’s part because no susequent retaliation is recorded. This may, of course, be a result of the paucity of our sources at this time, but it is also possible that Tosti was able to keep Malcolm in check with diplomacy. The author of the Vita Eadwardi hints at this when he speaks of Tosti wearing down the Scots ‘as much by cunning as by . . . military campaigns’ and indeed no further Scottish attacks are recorded until after the Conquest. It is possible that Tosti’s links with Gospatric, son of Maldred, Malcolm’s cousin, may have helped him to secure the latter’s quiescence.

William Kapelle claims that this Scottish invasion resulted in the loss of Cumbria, and in Earl Tosti’s position being undermined by his failure to recover it. However, there is no clear evidence for the loss of Cumbria at this date, and the arguments Kapelle advances in support of this claim are unconvincing. The existence of wasted land in Amounderness proves nothing as it could have been caused by the Norse raids of 1058, or by William’s later harrying of the north in 1069. The fact that King Malcolm held Cumbria in 1070 does not necessarily mean that he gained it in 1061, and it seems much more likely that this occurred in the immediate post-Conquest period when Northumbria was in a state of chaos. The suggestion that Earl Tosti was unable to retaliate militarily against Malcolm because of the insecurity of his position in Northumbria, where a force of 200 huscarls was needed to hold down the earldom itself, is absurd. In 1063 Earl Tosti’s position was sufficiently secure that he was able to lead a major force into North Wales, to participate in his brother’s great campaign, with no ill effects in Northumbria. This would have been impossible if he had faced widespread discontent in his own earldom. Indeed, the booty gained on the expedition may have reinforced his popularity there.

If we consider the evidence objectively it is apparent that the discontent against Tosti’s rule first arose not in 1055 or 1061 but after the successful Welsh campaign of 1063. This was probably when Tosti began to be drawn into the confused local politics of the Northumbrian nobility. Either late in 1063, after the Welsh campaign, or early in 1064, Tosti had Gamal, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated in his own chamber at York while they visited him under safe conduct. (The fathers of these men were probably the Orm who commissioned the Kirkdale sundial, and the Dolfin who fell in Siward’s battle with Macbeth in 1054.) The date is not clear from John of Worcester, who speaks of these killings taking place ‘the year before’ the death of Gospatric on 28 December 1064. This Gospatric, the son of Uhtred, was slain by order of Queen Edith while attending King Edward’s Christmas court. His murder was reportedly the result of the queen’s intervention in a dispute between Gospatric and her brother, Tosti. He was probably the same man who issued the famous writ concerning lands in Allerdale in Cumbria. What were the reasons behind these savage actions carried out by Earl Tosti, or on his behalf? It has been suggested that it was an attempt to stifle opposition by removing its potential leaders and this is certainly possible. Earl Tosti’s predecessor, Siward, had acted in a similar manner, killing Earl Eadwulf, who controlled the region beyond the Tees in 1041, in order to seize control of all Northumbria.

However, there is another possibility which could explain these actions by Tosti. When Tosti visited Rome in 1061, among his following was a young man named Gospatric, a kinsman of King Edward. This was almost certainly Gospatric, son of Maldred, a grandson of King Aethelred and cousin of King Malcolm, who was later to become Earl of Northumbria under William. This Gospatric, according to the Vita Eadwardi, which was written for Tosti’s sister, Queen Edith, showed considerable valour and loyalty in aiding the earl’s escape when their party was attacked by robbers on the return journey. The fact that Gospatric accompanied Tosti on this journey indicates that he had probably entered the service of the earl, and the prominence he is given shows that he had become an important member of his entourage. If this was the case, it would not be surprising if Tosti reciprocated by promoting Gospatric’s interests in Northumbria.

This would probably involve Tosti in acting against the rival lines of the descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof and the murders of Gamal, Ulf and Gospatric would fit such a pattern. Gospatric, son of Uhtred, Lord of Allerdale, was the senior representative of the elder line of Waltheof’s descendants. The other two murdered men were closely linked to this Gospatric. Ulf, son of Dolfin, was probably the grandson of the Thorfinn MacThore to whom Gospatric had granted lands in Allerdale in his famous writ, during Earl Siward’s rule. Gamal was probably the grandson of his namesake who also appeared in Gospatric’s Allerdale writ, and son of the Orm who commissioned the Kirkdale sundial and who married Gospatric’s niece, Aethelthryth. All of these killings may therefore have been arranged to further the career of Tosti’s protégé Gospatric, son of Maldred, who came from the junior line of Waltheof’s descendants. Whatever the reason behind Earl Tosti’s actions, these deaths undoubtedly aroused opposition to his rule among those linked to Gospatric of Allerdale, north of the Tees.

This unrest was not the main cause of the rebellion of 1065, although the rebels did use these slayings as justification for their actions. The identified leaders of the rebellion, Gamelbearn, Dunstan, son of Aethelnoth, and Gluniarn, son of Heardwulf, were thegns of Yorkshire with no apparent links to Gospatric. They were unlikely to be interested in the rivalries of Waltheof’s descendants. Instead, the interests of the leading rebels were centred on the extensive lands they held in Yorkshire. Domesday Book records these lands, including one estate at Temple Newsham held jointly by Dunstan and Gluniarn, which lay mainly in the West Riding but also included houses in York itself.

It is John of Worcester who indicates the probable reason for the involvement of these men in the rebellion when he speaks of a huge tribute Tosti had ‘unjustly levied on the whole of Northumbria’. In addition, the Vita Eadwardi, although otherwise sympathetic to Tosti, admits that he had ‘repressed [the Northumbrians] with the heavy yolk of his rule’, possibly another reference to this tax. It appears that the northern shires may have had a much more favourable tax assessment than the rest of England. Earl Tosti seems to have made the mistake of attempting to redress this anomaly and impose on the northern shires a level of tax closer to that found in the rest of England. The exact change made is unfortunately unknown, but that it may have caused the rebellion is suggested by the widespread participation of minor thegns in the revolt, all of whom, naturally, would be affected by such a change. Thus Chronicle C speaks of the participation of ‘all the thegns of Yorkshire’ and notes that ‘all Tosti’s earldom unanimously deserted him’, while Chronicle D adds ‘all the thegns of . . . Northumberland’ as well. The rebellion was also led by fairly minor figures in contrast to the leaders of other revolts, such as Earls Godwine and Aelfgar.

The purpose of such an increase in the tax level was clear. It would result in a substantial increase in revenue for the king, and since the earl took a third of all such revenue, it would enhance his own wealth too. This may have been particularly important since Tosti’s participation in Harold’s Welsh campaign and his vigorous enforcement of justice must have been draining his coffers. Although he should have realized that such a move would be widely unpopular, he may have considered his position sufficiently secure by 1065 for him to take this chance. He had already secured his government of the Northumbrians through increased enforcement of law and order, which possibly involved intervention in local blood feuds and had probably reduced general unrest in the earldom. This and the elimination of possible threats from Wales and Scotland and from the local nobility may have contributed to what was to prove a false sense of security on Tosti’s part.

Whatever the reasons behind it, Tosti’s action was to prove a major error of judgement. A proposed increase in taxation naturally aroused a great deal of opposition, far more than his participation in northern feuds or enforcement of royal justice could have done. The reason for this opposition is not difficult to appreciate if we examine the landholdings of the three named leaders of the rebellion, Gamelbearn, Dunstan and Gluniarn, as recorded in Domesday Book. Consider, for example, the effect of an increase in the Northumbrian tax assessment from 2s on every 6 carucates to say 2s on every 4. This assessment still represented only a quarter of that of the rest of England, but would in effect increase the annual tax payments of these Yorkshire thegns by 50 per cent. Thus Gamelbearn, who held approximately 60 carucates of land and paid 20s at the original tax rates, would pay 30s at the new rate. Similarly, Dunstan, who held 48 carucates and originally paid 16s, would find this rising to 24s, and Gluniarn, with 39 carucates and paying 13s, would find himself liable for 19½s. Such proposed increases would indeed provoke a great deal of opposition, affecting as they did every thegn in the earldom. The sources also hint that Tosti was dispensing arbitrary justice, including killings and forfeitures, at this time, which may have been attempts to enforce collection of taxes at the new rate.

In summary, the rigorous imposition of justice by Tosti had probably interfered with traditional jurisdictions and with a local preference for the blood feud, and so aroused resentment from some local nobles. The promotion of the interests of Gospatric, son of Maldred, in preference to those of the senior line of the descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof had led to opposition from and the murder of men of this line. However, it was surely the attempted imposition of unaccustomed financial burdens in autumn 1065 which raised the temperature of the whole earldom to boiling point. Taxes may have been collected in the autumn after harvest and this would certainly fit the time-scale of the Northumbrian revolt. It has been suggested that the clerks of Durham had sought to incite the earldom to revolt by translating the relics of St Oswine to Durham and displaying them there in March 1065. However, a later life of St Oswine records Bishop Aethelwine presenting Countess Judith, Tosti’s wife, with some hair of St Oswine as a result of this same event. It would therefore seem unlikely that this translation was directed against the earl, but rather was part of Durham’s efforts to expand its collection of relics. In fact, it was in the autumn of 1065 that opposition began to form, its objective being the overthrow of Earl Tosti, his representatives and his new taxation. The absence of the earl, who had been called to the south on business at the royal court and had stayed on to hunt with King Edward at Britford in Wiltshire, provided the rebels with their opportunity.

On 3 October 1065 the thegns of Yorkshire and the rest of Northumbria descended on York and occupied the city. This accomplished, they proceeded to slaughter Tosti’s officials and supporters, including his huscarls Amund and Ravenswart, and to sack his treasury. These actions appear to confirm that the primary cause behind the revolt was the new taxes. They emptied the earl’s treasury in order to recover those unlawful taxes taken from them earlier, and took revenge on the officials who had sought to enforce that taxation through ruthless measures including forfeiture and killing. They seem to have missed Copsi, Tosti’s deputy, indicating perhaps that he too was absent from York, leaving the field clear for the rebels.

Once they had vented their initial anger on the symbols of Tosti’s rule, the northern thegns met to consider how to seek legitimacy for their rebellion. They did this by declaring Tosti outlawed for his unlawful actions and sending for Morcar, younger brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, to be their earl. These brothers probably had sufficient reason to participate in Tosti’s discomfiture. Despite its sympathetic view of Tosti, the Vita Eadwardi admits ‘a long-standing rivalry’ between him and Aelfgar’s sons. This may have originated from Tosti’s elevation to the earldom in 1055, which had been considered by their father, Aelfgar, as a usurpation of his seniority. They probably believed that Tosti had deprived their father of a major earldom and probably contributed to his banishment later that year. What made the Northumbrians choose Morcar as Tosti’s successor?

The fact that Morcar was, in effect, an intruder has already been discussed, and indicates that he was not chosen for his connections with Northumbria. Neither was he chosen because of a lack of local candidates. There were at least three such men: Oswulf, son of the Eadwulf slain by Siward in 1041; Waltheof, the young son of Earl Siward; and Gospatric, son of Maldred, Tosti’s protégé. The last of these was probably unacceptable because of his close links with Tosti, and certainly so to the supporters of his murdered rival, Gospatric of Allerdale. Waltheof may still have been considered too young or was perhaps unacceptable as a son of Earl Siward, who was also remembered for his severe rule. This left Oswulf, a nephew of Gospatric of Allerdale, who would later be appointed to rule part of Northumbria under Earl Morcar and who became Earl of Northumbria soon after the Conquest. However, he was overlooked on this occasion, possibly because backing him would have aligned the partisans of his rival, Gospatric, son of Maldred, against the rebels. The latter Gospatric may have retained sufficient local support, even without his patron Tosti, to effectively bar Oswulf’s appointment. The fact that he had not been completely eclipsed by Tosti’s fall seems proven by his ability to take control of Northumbria in 1068. In a sense, therefore, the northern thegns had to look beyond their own region, and chose Morcar as the most senior nobleman currently available who lacked an earldom.

Tosti’s (Tostig) rule II


There were other, more positive reasons for the choice of Morcar. The rebels were fully aware that the deposition of Tosti was bound to arouse strong opposition, for not only was he a favourite of King Edward but his brothers ruled much of England and the eldest, Harold, was second only to the king. In these circumstances, the wise course for the rebels was to ally themselves with the other major family in England, in the person of Morcar. This alliance would bring them the assistance of his brother, Earl Edwin of Mercia. Such major outside support, which could be vital to the success of their revolt, would not be forthcoming for any local Northumbrian leader. The Vita Eadwardi confirms this point when it says that they chose Morcar ‘to give them authority’ for their actions. This was a rebellion against Earl Tosti, rather than a rebellion against southern government in general.

The northern rebels, accompanied by their new ‘Earl’ Morcar, marched south to press their case with King Edward. They were joined at Northampton by Earl Edwin with the forces of his earldom and some Welsh allies. They had ravaged the countryside on the way south, targeting Tosti’s lands and followers in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, all of which were part of his earldom. They were met at Northampton by Earl Harold, who it should be noted clearly came to negotiate as he was without an armed following. He had been sent by King Edward, possibly at the suggestion of Earl Tosti, to open negotiations with the rebels. The intention was that he should restore peace to the kingdom and his brother to his earldom.

Harold was now faced with the most difficult negotiations of his entire career, between two sides equally determined not to give an inch. These negotiations were undoubtedly made more difficult because of the passions aroused on both sides and because they reached into the heart of the kingdom and the heart of Harold’s own family. In comparison, Harold’s earlier negotiations with Earl Aelfgar and Gruffydd of Wales, must have seemed relatively straightforward. On the one hand, Earl Tosti, his own brother, was determined to recover his earldom, even if that meant civil war and the crushing of the rebellion by force. Initially, it appears Tosti was supported in this by King Edward and his sister, Queen Edith. On the other hand, the rebels, consisting of the northern thegns from Yorkshire and the rest of the earldom and led by Morcar, wanted Tosti removed. They were supported by Morcar’s brother, Earl Edwin of Mercia, and the men of his earldom. The initial positions adopted by Earl Harold himself, and by his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine, are unknown, but were presumably supportive of their brother Tosti. Harold’s attitude may be hinted at in Chronicle C, which states that he ‘wanted to bring about an agreement between them if he could’, including presumably Tosti’s restoration. The fact that Tosti may have requested his brother’s mediation and the latter’s later reaction to Harold’s failure to support his restoration may indicate the same.

However, after Harold had spoken with the rebels at Northampton towards the end of October, he realized that it would be impossible for Tosti to retain Northumbria. The latter had completely lost the consensus of support which an earl required to rule. He had succeeded in alienating the majority of the local thegns rather than simply one faction or another. As a result, the feelings of hatred and distrust now stirred up against him were too deep to be assuaged, and the opposition was now too well organized and supported to be overcome without a civil war. The spectre of civil war was something which Earl Harold drew back from, just as his father and King Edward had done during the earlier crisis of 1051–2. Therefore, by the time he returned to Oxford where the royal council was to meet on 28 October to consider the crisis, he had probably already made an important decision.

At the Oxford council, Harold announced that the rebels could not be persuaded to withdraw or reduce their demands for Tosti’s removal and that they could only be compelled to do so by the use of military force. He advised against this and instead suggested their demands should be met. The Vita Eadwardi recounts the arguments raised against military action including the fear of civil war and the imminent onset of winter weather. The fear of civil war, as in the crisis of 1051–2, certainly loomed large in men’s minds. Harold himself was also now aware of William’s ambition to invade, an ambition which would more easily have become a reality if there had been civil war in England. Nevertheless, Harold’s statement must have caused shock and consternation for the king, for Earl Tosti, and for the rest of the Godwine family. The king demanded that troops be called out to restore Earl Tosti by force. It seems that Tosti was so stunned and furious that he actually accused his brother of inciting the whole rebellion, with the aim of expelling him from the kingdom. Indeed, so emphatic was Tosti with this accusation that Harold had to purge himself of this charge by swearing an oath.

Is it possible that any truth lay behind Tosti’s accusation? As we have seen, the rebellion had resulted from local causes in the north which Harold could not have created. It is possible that Harold took advantage of the fact of the rebellion to rid himself of a rival or potential rival, but there are no contemporary indications that the brothers were considered as rivals. On the contrary, the brothers had always worked very closely together, particularly during their recent Welsh campaign. In addition, the Vita Eadwardi, written for Queen Edith, is clearly confused by this sudden rift between the brothers, and the whole scheme of the work, based on the brothers working together with a common aim, is disrupted and transformed by it. Similarly, Queen Edith herself is stated to have been confounded by the quarrel between her brothers and there is no reason to doubt this. Therefore, there appear to be no grounds for suspecting any important rivalry between the brothers before 1065.

It has been suggested that Harold now saw Tosti as a potential threat to his designs on the English throne and used the rebellion to achieve his replacement with Morcar. This assumes that Harold already intended to take the throne and forestall the rightful claims of Atheling Edgar, which is by no means certain. It also requires that Tosti would be opposed to such an action by Harold, and that the latter had already prepared an alliance with Edwin and Morcar to secure a possible future move for the throne. In such circumstances he might have sought to win the support of the brothers Edwin and Morcar by supporting Morcar in his claim to Northumbria. However, there are problems with such a scenario. Firstly, there is no evidence one way or the other to indicate when Harold forged his alliance with Edwin and Morcar, and second, it seems unlikely that Tosti would in fact have opposed any move by Harold to take the throne. There is little evidence, for example, that he was a supporter of the rightful heir, Atheling Edgar. The latter is never linked to the earl, although they must have had regular contact at court. The possibility of Tosti himself as a rival candidate for the throne also seems unlikely since as the younger brother, less powerful than Harold and more isolated in the north from the centres of power, his claim could only be weaker than Harold’s. All the evidence seems to point to Tosti as Harold’s potential supporter in such a venture, as in all previous actions.

The timing of the Northumbrian rebellion itself also causes difficulties. In the autumn of 1065 King Edward was around sixty-three years old but had as yet shown no signs of imminent demise. If Harold was making arrangements to occupy the throne already, his actions could have been premature. He might have had to wait for several years for King Edward’s death, by which time Atheling Edgar would have reached maturity and perhaps been in a more secure position to succeed in opposition to Harold. In such an interval, any alliance between Harold and the brothers Edwin and Morcar might decay and the latter be tempted to support Edgar instead. This would also appear to make the suggestion that Harold took advantage of the Northumbrian rebellion to remove Tosti seem unlikely, although it cannot be entirely ruled out. It is impossible to establish the truth of this unless we consider the reactions of the rest of the Godwine family and of King Edward to the rebellion against Tosti.

The sympathy of King Edward and Queen Edith for Tosti is clearly recorded. The positions of Gyrth and Leofwine are unknown but it is possible that Gyrth was close to his brother Tosti as he is frequently associated with him in the sources. Thus he was in Tosti’s company during the family’s exile in 1051–2, and again on the visit to Rome in 1061. In an obscure reference in the Vita Eadwardi, Tosti’s mother, Gytha, would be described as sorrowing over his exile. In spite of this sympathy for Tosti from the king and members of his family, all these individuals were eventually persuaded, probably in part by Harold but largely by the stark facts of the situation, that Tosti could not remain as Earl of Northumbria. Indeed, they were also persuaded that since he refused to accept his deposition he should be exiled. Gyrth and Leofwine appear to have accepted Tosti’s downfall without a murmur, and thereafter supported Harold with complete loyalty until they fell together at Hastings. There are no indications in any sources that either brother considered supporting Tosti instead of Harold and this strongly suggests there existed no suspicion concerning Harold’s actions on their part. King Edward is recorded in Chronicle D as finally agreeing to the terms of the northern rebels. Although the Vita Eadwardi shows that both he and Queen Edith were deeply upset by Tosti’s fall, it nevertheless makes clear that they accepted it, however reluctantly. All of this would seem to indicate that Harold was not purposefully using the rebellion to rid himself of Tosti, but was forced to act as he did as a result of it.

Eventually, King Edward had to accept the northern rebels’ terms. The alternative was civil war, which no one was prepared to countenance. Tosti was deposed and replaced by Morcar, the rebels were pardoned and the laws of Cnut renewed, the latter point no doubt signifying the withdrawal of the additional tax demands. Harold returned to Northampton soon after the council of 28 October to give the rebels surety for this settlement, and the immediate crisis was resolved. Tosti appears to have been outlawed a short time later, possibly early in November, apparently because he refused to accept his deposition as commanded by Edward. This seems clear from his accusations against his brother and his subsequent attempts to restore his fortunes by any means possible. Domesday Book preserves notices of land forfeited by Tosti at this time at Bayford in Hertfordshire and Chalton in Bedfordshire. Thereafter, Tosti took ship with his wife and family and some loyal thegns and sailed for Flanders and refuge with his brother-in-law, Count Baldwin V.

The ‘March Retreat’ of 1918

Deutscher Sturmwagen in Roye

Deutscher Sturmwagen in Roye

German A7V tank in Roye, Somme, 26 March 1918.



The ‘March Retreat’ of 1918 is remembered as one of the worst defeats in the history of the British army. After four years of deadlock, in their spring offensive the Germans used innovative new artillery and infantry tactics to break through the trenches of the British Fifth Army and reopen mobile warfare. Fifth Army lost large numbers of men and guns captured, and were forced into headlong retreat. Fuelled by inaccurate newspaper reports, the rumours of disasters on the battlefield were given credibility by the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. In a speech to Parliament on 9 April 1918, Lloyd George cast some aspersions on the performance of Fifth Army, and its commander, General Sir Hubert Gough, who had been sacked on the eighth day of the battle. In Gough’s bitter words, ‘All were … clear that the real cause of the retreat was the inefficiency of myself as a general, and the poor and cowardly spirit of the officers and men.’ But this traditional picture is deeply flawed. Fifth Army was not defeated as badly as some have claimed. Overall, the German spring offensives failed, and their failure represents a British defensive victory.

At the end of 1917 the Germans were presented with a rare window of opportunity to win the First World War. Russia, beaten on the field of battle, had collapsed into revolution, thus releasing large numbers of German troops for use on the Western Front: in the spring of 1918 the Germans could deploy 192 divisions, while the French and British could only muster 156. The German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, introduced at the beginning of the year, had backfired disastrously. Not only had it failed to knock Britain out the war by cutting her vital Atlantic lifeline, it had prompted the United States to enter the war against Germany. As yet, the vast American war machine was still gearing up for action. Substantial numbers of American troops would not reach Europe until the middle of 1918. The German commanders, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, had no desire to sit on the defensive and risk repeating the battering the German army had received at the hands of British at Passchendaele in 1917. They decided to stake everything on one last gamble: to strike in the West and defeat the British Expeditionary Force and French army before the Americans could intervene with decisive numbers. Ironically, the fateful decision was taken at a meeting held at Mons on 11 November 1917. Exactly twelve months later the war ended, in great part as a consequence of the decision taken on that day.

On 21 January the plans were finalised. Operation Michael was an attack on the British, whom the Germans correctly identified as the most dangerous of the Allied forces, in the Somme-Arras sector. Three German armies were to be employed opposite either side of St. Quentin. Opposite Byng’s British Third Army in the Arras area was von Below’s Seventeenth Army, while to their south, covering the Flesquières Salient (created as a result of the Cambrai battles at the end of 1917) and the northern portion of Gough’s British Fifth Army, was von der Marwitz’s Second Army. Both German formations belonged to Crown Prince Rupprecht’s Army Group. Facing Gough’s southern sector was von Hutier’s Eighteenth Army, also of the German Crown Prince’s Army Group. Broadly, the plan was to crack open the British defences, and then push through into open countryside, then wheel to the north and strike the BEF’s flank. Then further attacks could be launched. In the initial stages of the offensive, von Below and von der Marwitz were to capture the old 1916 Somme battlefield before turning north to envelop Arras, while von Hutier was to act as a flank-guard, dealing with any French forces that emerged from the south, and offering support to von der Marwitz’s forces.

The attackers had several advantages over the British. First, numbers. In spite of having greater reserves than the Germans, the British were now suffering from a manpower crisis that had forced divisions to be reduced from twelve infantry battalions to only nine. Haig was forced to make hard choices about where to deploy his divisions. Miscalculating the weight and axis of the German offensive and misled by German deception operations, Haig deliberately left his southernmost Army, Gough’s Fifth, weak. Haig correctly calculated that he could afford to give ground in the Somme area, while to yield territory further north would have been catastrophic. A short advance in the Ypres area, for instance, would have brought the Germans to within striking distance of the coast, which would have imperilled the entire British position. Thus Gough had only 12 divisions to defend 42 miles of front, although he faced 43 German divisions. Byng by contrast had 14 divisions on a 28-mile frontage against 19 German divisions. In the Michael area, the Germans had 2,508 heavy guns against only 976 – a 5 to 2 advantage. Haig gambled on Fifth Army holding out against heavy odds. ‘Never before had the British line been held with so few men and so few guns to the mile; and the reserves were wholly insufficient’.

The second German advantage was in ‘fighting power’. For most of the war, the morale, tactics, and weapons of the two sides were roughly equal. But in March 1918, in terms of tactics, they were not. In the previous two years of almost constant offensives, the BEF had become highly effective at the art of attack. While much play has been made of German ‘stormtroop’ infantry tactics and ‘hurricane’ artillery bombardments used on 21 March 1918, in truth there was little for the BEF to learn from their enemy in this respect. Fighting on the defensive, however, was a novelty, especially because the British had introduced a new concept of defence-in-depth, modelled on the German pattern. In place of linear trenches, defensive positions consisted of Forward, Battle and Rear Zones, utilising machine gun posts, and redoubts. But in many cases, lack of time and labour meant that the Rear Zone was never constructed. Also, the concept was misunderstood at various levels. The Forward Zone was intended to be lightly held, to do little more than delay the attacker and force him to channel his attack where it could be more easily broken up in the Battle Zone by artillery, machine gun fire and local counterattacks. But as many as one third of British infantry were pushed into the Forward Zone. ‘It don’t suit us,’ opined a grizzled veteran NCO. ‘The British Army fights in line and won’t do any good in these bird cages’.

At 4.20 a.m. on 21 March the ‘Devil’s Orchestra’, conducted by Hutier’s innovative head gunner, Colonel Bruchmuller, began the overture to the offensive.

It was still dark on the morning of March 21st [1918] when a terrific German bombardment began – “the most terrific roar of guns we have ever heard” … The great push had started and along the whole of our front gas and high-explosive shells from every variety of gun and trench mortars were being hurled over. Everyone [in 54th Brigade] realized that the great ordeal for which they had been training and planning for weeks was upon them.’

Bruchmuller’s gunners hammered the British defenders to the depth of their position. Five hours later, assisted by a dense fog, the infantry assault broke on the battered and disoriented British defenders. By the evening, the situation was critical. The BEF had lost 500 guns and 38,000 casualties, and the Germans had captured the Forward Zone almost everywhere. Worse, in the extreme south Hutier had broken through Gough’s Battle Zone, forcing British III Corps to retreat to the Crozat Canal. Yet even on the first day of the Kaiserschlact, the ‘Imperial battle’, the British had achieved a modest, but nonetheless important success: they had denied the Germans their first day objectives.

German Seventeenth Army’s attack on Byng’s relatively strong and well dug-in Third Army achieved far less than had been intended. Similarly, German Second Army had failed to achieve the breakthrough it had sought. All this was at the cost of 40,000 German casualties. These were caused partly by clumsy tactics and relentless attacking, but also the British seizing the initiative at a local level. These acts of resistance in the early days of Operation Michael ranged from 18th Division’s counterattack at Baboeuf on 24-25 March, to the action of a Lewis Gun team of 24th Royal Fusiliers, led by two NCOs, who went forward to delay the enemy advance on their sector.

22 March saw the renewal of the offensive. British XVIII and XIX Corps fell back, in part as a result of confusion among the British commanders. Third Army was still holding its Battle Zone but was now being outflanked as Fifth Army was pushed back. To the South, von Hutier’s Eighteenth Army had advanced more than twelve miles, and this led Ludendorff to make an important error. He was painfully aware that the offensive was not going according to plan. He complained of the lack of progress of von Below’s army on 22 March, which had a knock-on effect on Second Army. Ever the opportunist, on 23 March – the day that saw the Germans capture the Crozat Canal – Ludendorff decided to make Hutier’s army the point of main effort. Hutier’s Eighteenth Army had originally been given the role of flank-guard, but now, accompanied by Second Army, it was to drive west and southwest to drive a wedge between the BEF and the French. Von Below’s Seventeenth Army and German forces further north were to push back the British. Any Staff College would criticise this plan as breaking two of the fundamental principles of war: to select and maintain the aim and to concentrate force. The resistance of the British defenders had led Ludendorff – whose grasp of strategy and operational art was tenuous at best – to change his plan on the hoof. Now, the Germans were dispersing their force, rather than concentrating it, with disastrous effects.

Nevertheless, the next few days were grim ones for the BEF as the Germans continued to advance. A British soldier wrote on 23 March that ‘we had to make a hasty retreat with all our worldly possessions – every road out of the village was crowded with rushing traffic – lorries, limbers, G.S. wagons, great caterpillar-tractors with immense guns behind them, all were dashing along in an uninterrupted stream …’ He could even look back with affection on normal army rations: ‘I never thought in the days when we looked with disdain on ‘bully’ and biscuits I should ever long for them and cherish a bit of hard, dry biscuit as a hungry tramp cherishes a crust of bread.’ On 27 March Gough was removed from command of Fifth Army. He probably deserved this treatment for the way he handled his offensives of 1916 and 1917; it was Gough’s bad luck to be sacked for a defensive battle that he conducted with some skill.

Even at this stage there were glimmerings of light for the Allies. On 26 March the crisis led to the appointment of the French general Foch as Allied Generalissimo, to coordinate the activities of the Allied forces. This averted the threat of the French concentrating on defending Paris while the British watched for their lines of communications. Moreover Byng’s Third Army decisively defeated the next phase of the German offensive, Operation Mars. On 28 March nine German divisions attacked north of the River Scarpe. The attackers used much the same methods that had proved so successful on 21 March. But this time they were attacking well-constructed positions, without the benefit of fog, and the British forces were numerically stronger and conducted a model defensive battle.

In the light of the completeness of the German failure Ludendorff ordered the assaults against Third Army to halt – he had no taste for an attritional battle. His appreciation was shared by an officer of German 26th Division, who wrote in his diary on 28 March of his hope that if German ‘operations north and south of us succeed the enemy will also have to give way here’: having seen the British defences he feared heavy casualties if ordered to attack. Michael was not, however quite dead, and a few spasms of offensive action remained. Ludendorff now scaled down his objective to that of taking Amiens. But even this was beyond the German troops. They were halted ten miles short of their goal on 4-5 April, at Villers Bretonneux, by Australian and British forces. On the same day Byng was again attacked, and again the Germans were thrown back. By this stage Ludendorff the gambler was prepared to throw in his hand. On 5 April, he called off the Michael offensive and prepared to renew the attack further north.

Wellington Bomber in Service




On 15 August 1936, however, the Air Ministry had placed an order for 180 Wellington Mk Is to Specification B. 29/36. These were required to have a redesigned and slightly more angular fuselage, a revised tail unit, and hydraulically operated Vickers nose, ventral and tail turrets. The first production Wellington Mk I was flown on 23 December 1937, powered by Pegasus X engines. In April 1938, however, the 1,050-hp (783-kW) Pegasus XVIII became standard for the other 3,052 Mk Is of all variants built at Weybridge, or at the Blackpool and Chester factories which were established to keep pace with orders.

Initial Mk Is totalled 181, of which three were built at Chester. These were followed by 187 Mk lAs with Nash and Thompson turrets and strengthened landing gear with larger main wheels. Except for 17 Chester-built aircraft, all were manufactured at Weybridge. The most numerous of the Mk I variants was the Mk IC, which had Vickers ‘K’ or Browning machine-guns in beam positions (these replacing the ventral turret I, improved hydraulics, and a strengthened bomb bay beam to allow a 4,000-lb (1814-kg) bomb to be carried. Of this version 2,685 were built (1,052 at Weybridge, 50 at Blackpool and 1,583 at Chester), 138 of them being delivered as torpedo-bombers after successful trials at the Torpedo Development Unit, Gosport.

Many of the improvements incorporated in the Mks IA and IC were developed for the Mk II, powered by 1,145-hp (854-kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines as an insurance against Pegasus supply problems. The prototype was a conversion of the 38th Mk I, and this made its first flight on 3 March 1939 at Brooklands. Although range was reduced slightly, the Wellington II offered improvements in speed, service ceiling and maximum weight, the last rising from the 24,850 lb (11272 kg) of the basic Mk I to 33,000 lb (14969 kg). Weybridge built 401 of this version.

With the Wellington III a switch was made to Bristol Hercules engines, the prototype being the 39th Mk I airframe with Hercules HEISMs, two stage superchargers and de Havilland propellers. After initial problems with this installation, a Mk IC was converted to take two 1,425-hp (1063-kW) Hercules III engines driving Rotol propellers. Production Mk IIIs had 1,590-hp (1186-kW) Hercules XIs, and later aircraft were fitted with four-gun FN.20A tail turrets, doubling the fire power of the installation in earlier marks. Two were completed at Weybridge, 780 at Blackpool and 737 at Chester.

The availability of a number of 1,050-hp (783-kW) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-S3C4-G engines, ordered by but not delivered to France, led to development of the Wellington IV. The prototype was one of 220 Mk IVs built at Chester, but on its delivery flight to Weybridge carburettor icing caused both engines to fail on the approach to Brooklands, and the aircraft made a forced landing at Addlestone. The original Hamilton Standard propellers proved very noisy and were replaced by Curtiss propellers.

For high-altitude bombing Vickers was asked to investigate the provision of a pressure cabin in the Wellington: the resulting Mk V was powered by two turbocharged Hercules VIII engines. Service ceiling was increased from the 23,500 ft (7165 m) of the Mk II to 36,800 ft (11215 m). The cylindrical pressure chamber had a porthole in the lower nose position for the bomb-aimer, and the pilot’s head projected into a small pressurised dome which, although offset to port, provided little forward or downward view for landing. Two prototypes were built in Vickers’ experimental shop at Foxwarren, Cobham, to Specification B. 23/39 and one production machine, to B. 17/40, was produced at the company’s extension factory at Smith’s Lawn, Windsor Great Park.

The Wellington VI was a parallel development, with 1,600-hp (1193-kW) Merlin 60 engines and a service ceiling of 38,500 ft (11735 m), although the prototype had achieved 40,000 ft (12190 m). Wellington VI production totalled 63, including 18 re-engined Mk Vs, all assembled at Smith’s Lawn. Each had a remotely controlled FN.20A tail turret, and this was locked in position when the aircraft was at altitude.

Intended originally as an improved Mk II with Merlin XX engines, the Wellington VII was built only as a prototype, and was transferred to Rolls-Royce at Hucknall for development flying of the Merlin 60s.

First Wellington variant to be developed specifically for Coastal Command was the GR. VIII, a general reconnaissance/torpedo-bomber version of the Pegasus XVIII-engined Mk IC. Equipped with ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) Mk II radar, it was identified readily by the four dorsal antennae and the four pairs of transmitting aerials on each side of the fuselage. A total of 271 torpedo-bombers for daylight operation was built at Weybridge, together with 65 day bombers, and 58 equipped for night operation with a Leigh searchlight in the ventral turret position. In these last aircraft the nose armament was deleted and the position occupied by the light operator.

The designation Mk IX was allocated to a single troop-carrying conversion of a Wellington lA, but the Mk X was the last of the bomber variants and the most numerous. It was based on the Mk III, but had the more powerful 1,675-hp (1249-kW) Hercules VI or XVI engine with downdraught carburettor, and was identified externally from earlier marks by the long carburettor intake on top of the engine cowling. Internal structural strengthening, achieved by the use of newly-developed light alloys, allowed maximum take-off weight to raise to 36,000 lb (16 329 kg). Production was shared between Blackpool and Chester, with totals of 1,369 and 2,434 respectively. After withdrawal from first-line service with Bomber Command, Mk Xs were among many Wellingtons flown by Operational Training Units. After the war a number were converted by Boulton Paul Aircraft as T.10 crew trainers, with the nose turret faired over.

Making use of the experience gained with the Wellington VIII torpedo-bombers, the GR. XI was developed from the Mk X, using the same Hercules VI or XVI engines. It was equipped initially with ASV Mk II radar, although this was superseded later by centrimetric ASV Mk III. This latter equipment had first been fitted to the GR. XII, which was a Leigh Light-equipped anti-submarine version. Weybridge built 105 Mk XIs and 50 Mk XIIs, while Blackpool and Chester respectively assembled 75 Mk XIs and eight Mk XIIs, but with 1,735-hp (1294-kWl Hercules XVII engines Weybridge was responsible for 42 Mk XIIIs and 53 Mk XIVs, Blackpool for 802 XIIIs and 250 Mk XIVs, and Chester for 538 Mk XIVs.

A transport conversion of the Mk I, the C.I.A, was further developed as the C.XV, while the C.XVI was a similar development of the Mk IC. They were unarmed, as were the last three basic versions which were all trainers. The T. XVII was a Mk XI converted by the RAF for night fighter crew training with SCR-720 AI (Airborne Interception) radar in a nose radome. Eighty externally similar aircraft, with accommodation for instructor and four pupils and based on the Mk XIII, were built at Blackpool as T. XVIIIs. Finally, RAF-converted Mk Xs for basic crew training were designated T. XIXs. In total 11,461 Wellingtons were built, including the prototype, and the last was a Blackpool-built Mk X handed over on 25 October 1945.

The fourth production Wellington Mk I was the first to reach an operational squadron, arriving at Mildenhall in October 1938 for No. 99 Squadron. Six squadrons, of No. 3 Group (Nos. 9, .37, .38, 99, 115 and 149) were equipped by the outbreak of war, and among units working up was the New Zealand Flight at Marham, Norfolk, where training was in progress in preparation for delivery to New Zealand of 30 Wellington Is. The flight later became No. 75 (NZ) Squadron, the first Dominion squadron to be formed in World War II. Sergeant James Ward of No. 75 later became the only recipient of the Victoria Cross while serving on Wellingtons, the decoration being awarded for crawling out on to the wing in flight to extinguish a fire, during a sortie made on 7 July 1941.

On 4 September 1939, the second day of the war, Wellingtons of Nos. 9 and 149 Squadrons bombed German shipping at Brunsbüttel, sharing with the Bristol Blenheims of Nos. 107 and 110 Squadrons the honour of Bomber Command’s first bombing raids on German territory. Wellingtons in tight formation were reckoned to have such outstanding defensive firepower as to be almost impregnable, but after maulings at the hands of pilots of the Luftwaffe’s JG 1, during raids on the Schillig Roads on 14 and 18 December, some lessons were learned. Self-sealing tanks were essential, and the Wellington’s vulnerability to beam attacks from above led to introduction of beam gun positions. Most significantly, operations switched to nights.

Wellingtons of Nos. 99 and 149 Squadrons were among aircraft despatched in Bomber Command’s first attack on Berlin, which took place on 25/26 August 1940; and on 1 April 1941, a Wellington of No. 149 Squadron dropped the first 4,000-lb (1814-kg) ‘blockbuster’ bomb during a raid on Emden. Of 1,046 aircraft which took part in the Cologne raid during the night of 30 May 1942, 599 w ere Wellingtons. The last operational sortie by Bomber Command Wellingtons was flown on 8/9 October 1943.

There was, however, still an important role for the Wellington to play with Coastal Command. Maritime operations had started with the four DWI Wellingtons: these had been converted by Vickers in the opening months of 1940 to carry a 52-ft (15.85-m) diameter metal ring, which contained a coil that could create a field current to detonate magnetic mines. Eleven almost identical aircraft, with 48-ft (14.63-m) rings, were converted by W. A. Rollason Ltd at Croydon, and others on site in the Middle East.

No. 172 Squadron at Chivenor, covering the Western Approaches, was the first to use the Leigh Light-equipped Wellington VIII operationally, and the first attack on a U-boat by such an aircraft at night took place on 3 June 1942, with the first sinking recorded on 6 July. From December 1941 Wellingtons were flying shipping strikes in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East No. 36 Squadron began anti-submarine operations in October 1942.

In 1940 the entry of the Italians into World War II resulted in Wellingtons being sent out from Great Britain to serve with No. 205 Group, Desert Air Force. No. 70 Squadron flew its first night attack on 19 September, against the port of Benghazi, and as the tide of war turned during 1942 and 1943, units moved into Tunisia to support the invasions of Sicily and Italy, operating from Italian soil at the close of 1943. The last Wellington bombing raid of the war in southern Europe took place on 13 March 1945, when six aircraft joined a Consolidated Liberator strike on marshalling yards at Treviso in northern Italy.

In the Far East, too, Wellingtons served as bombers with No. 225 Group in India, Mk ICs of No. 215 Squadron flying their first operational sortie on 23 April 1942. Equipped later with Wellington Xs, Nos. 99 and 215 Squadrons continued to bomb Japanese bases and communications until replaced by Liberators in late 1944, when the Wellington units were released for transport duties.

After the war the Wellington was used principally for navigator and pilot training, Air Navigation Schools and Advanced Flying Schools until 1953.

Admiral Sir Max Horton, RN (1883–1951)



During the First World War, Horton had been one of Britain’s ablest submarine commanders. There could therefore have been no one better to lead the fight against the German U-boat menace as Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches from 1942. His overriding responsibility was for the safety of the convoys crossing the North Atlantic, a role that became increasingly important as the content of the convoys started to include US and Canadian troops coming to the UK for the invasion of Europe.

Horton joined the Royal Navy as an officer cadet at Dartmouth on 15 September 1898. By the outbreak of the First World War, he was already a lieutenant commander in command of one of the first British ocean-going submarines, the 800-ton HMS E9. Surface ships rather than other submarines were the more usual victims of submarine attack. On 13 September 1914, Lieutenant Commander Max Horton was in command of E9 when she surfaced 6 miles south of Heligoland to find the German light cruiser Hela only 2 miles away. Closing to a range of about 600 yards, E9 sent two torpedoes towards the enemy ship before diving. As the submarine dived, an explosion was heard. Surfacing, Horton found that his prey had stopped, but enemy gunfire forced him to dive again and to stay down for an hour. Surfacing again, he could see nothing other than trawlers searching for survivors. On his return to his base at Harwich, Horton flew the pirate flag, the ‘Jolly Roger’ skull and crossbones, establishing a tradition in the Royal Navy’s submarine service for boats returning from a successful operational cruise. Horton’s next success came on 6 October while patrolling off the Ems, when he torpedoed and sank the destroyer S-126.

In the face of growing German U-boat activity, it had been decided to take the offensive, sending British submarines to the Baltic, where they could in turn wreak havoc on German shipping, in effect giving the enemy a taste of his own medicine. The idea had first been floated at a conference with Jellicoe aboard the Iron Duke on 17 September 1914. By the time implementation was in hand, the proposed flotilla had become just three boats, E11, E9 and E1, with three hand-picked commanders, Lieutenant Commander Martin Nasmith, Lieutenant Commander Max Horton and Lieutenant Commander Noel Laurence respectively. Laurence was the senior officer.

Submarines were the only warships that could hope to enter the Baltic unobserved, at least in theory as the charts showed that there was not enough depth for submarines to submerge in the Kattegat, between Denmark and Sweden. Horton, commander of E9, suggested that the way to enter the Baltic was to run on the surface, but with the submarine trimmed down as low as possible in the water in the hope that at night the small conning tower of these early craft might not be noticed. His first patrol in the Baltic was nearly his last as he only narrowly missed being seen and rammed by a destroyer. German patrols were not the only hazard awaiting him. On one occasion his boat was frozen in port, and although he managed to get an ice-breaker to get out into the Gulf of Finland, once in the open sea E9 started to ice up, and frozen slush clogged vents and valves froze solid. Spray froze on the rigging wires, the torpedo-tube caps and the periscope. Horton was determined to discover whether or not E9 could still dive and to everyone’s surprise, once she submerged, the warmer water soon melted the ice and the submarine was able to operate normally. The other major problem was that the British submarines were using Russian ports, but as the Russian forces fell back before the German advance on the Eastern Front, they had to change bases constantly. Operations were finally abandoned in 1917 because of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Between the wars, Horton, now a captain, served as commanding officer of first HMS Conquest and of the battleship Resolution during the 1920s. He was promoted to rear admiral on 17 October 1932, flying his flag aboard the Queen Elizabeth-class battleship Malaya. Three years later he took command of the First Cruiser Squadron, flying his flag aboard London. Promoted to vice admiral in 1937, he commanded the Reserve Fleet.

Northern Patrol

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Horton was put in command of the Northern Patrol enforcing the distant maritime blockade of Germany in the seas between Orkney, Shetland and the Faeroes. In 1940, he was made commander of all home-based submarines, even though he was far more senior in rank than the C-in-C Submarines had traditionally been, due to a new Admiralty regulation that the C-in-C Submarines had to be an officer who had served aboard submarines in the First World War. Many believed that this regulation was forced through for the sole purpose of ensuring that Horton was on a very short list of qualifiers for the post, in order to ensure his rapid transfer to submarine headquarters at Aberdour, so great was the desire of some within the Admiralty to have him revitalize the submarine arm. Horton also had his own ideas and moved his headquarters from Aberdour, where he was subjected to the whims and prejudices of the fleet commanders at Scapa Flow, to Northways in north London. He claimed that this was because he wanted a freer hand in running his command, but many feel that it was because Northways was located near some of his favorite golf courses (he is said to have played a round of golf almost every day during the war).

He was promoted to the four-star rank of admiral on 9 January 1941 and was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches Command on 17 November 1942. He took up his role as C-in-C Western Approaches at the most critical time of the war, with heavy losses to merchant shipping. Nevertheless, by May 1943, the situation had been transformed. He put in hand a series of changes in the way the escort ships were to be used. In addition to the escort group system, he oversaw the introduction of support groups, which would accompany the convoys but have the freedom to pursue submarines to destruction, being allowed to leave the convoy for long periods. These support groups proved to be decisive in the crucial spring of 1943, taking the battle to the U-boats and crushing the morale of the U-boat arm with persistent and successful counter-attacks.

Horton is widely regarded as one of the most crucial figures in the Allied victory in the Atlantic. The use of merchant aircraft carriers, the MAC-ships, and then escort carriers, helped close the Atlantic Gap – that section of the crossing that was beyond shore-based air cover – while the longer-range of aircraft such as the Consolidated Liberator also ensured greater security for the convoys. The increased number of purpose-built escort vessels, together with the Ultra intelligence that gave Horton the position of the U-boat wolf packs, all contributed to the Allied success. While much of this was the work of others, Horton was responsible for the overall control and coordination, and has been credited with showing untiring zeal, shrewdness and good strategic sense in the disposition of his forces. Perhaps his secret was that this successful submariner understood the workings of the minds of the U-boat commanders.

After the war, in August 1945, and at his own request, Max Horton was placed on the retired list in order to facilitate the promotion of younger officers. He was in any case past the peacetime retirement age. He was awarded the Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Bath. He died on 30 July 1951 at the age of sixty-seven.

‘To kill or capture Elizabeth’


Queen Elizabeth imprisoned Norfolk in 1569 for scheming to marry Mary, Queen of Scots.Following his release, he participated in the Ridolfi plot with King Philip II of Spain to put Mary on the English throne and restore Catholicism in England. He was executed for treason in 1572. He is buried at the Church of St Peter ad Vincula within the walls of the Tower of London. Norfolk’s lands and titles were forfeit, although much of the estate was later restored to his sons.

The Lepanto campaign was not Philip’s only crusading venture in 1571. No sooner had he agreed to sign the Holy League than he authorized the duke of Alba to invade England and overthrow Elizabeth Tudor. This dramatic policy change towards ‘a sister whom I love so much’ began two years before when the queen seized some ships carrying money from Spain to the Netherlands. Although the money was not strictly royal property, it belonged to a consortium of Genoese bankers who had agreed to lend the duke of Alba money to pay off his army. Philip’s ambassador in England, Don Guerau de Spes, saw this as the prelude to a trade war and he urged both Alba in the Netherlands and Philip in Spain to confiscate English ships and goods. Both obliged, and Elizabeth promptly placed Spes under arrest. Earlier that year, Philip had expelled the English ambassador at his court, Dr John Man, a married Protestant cleric, on the grounds that his continued presence at court might offend ‘God Our Lord, whose service, and the observation of whose holy faith, I place far ahead of my own affairs and actions and above everything in this life, even my own’.24 The rhetoric disguised the fact that, without Man and Spes, Philip possessed no direct diplomatic channel through which to resolve disputes with England.

This anomaly increased Alba’s influence over the king’s policy. The duke had resided in England during the 1550s; he maintained his own intelligence network there; and, above all, he possessed his own strategic agenda. On the one hand, he never saw the point of replacing Elizabeth Tudor with Mary, Queen of Scots, whom many Catholics saw as the rightful ruler of England, because she had grown up at the French court and retained close relations with the French royal family. On the other hand, since the prosperity of the Netherlands depended on trade with England, Alba opposed any action that might jeopardize it. Curiously, although Philip recognized that his Dutch subjects ‘always want to remain friends’ with England, he never seems to have realized that Alba himself shared this view – even though it would torpedo his plans to overthrow Elizabeth.

In February 1569, outraged by the imprisonment of Spes and the confiscation of the Genoese treasure, Philip asked Alba to suggest how best to launch an outright attack on England. The duke refused: he replied forcefully that defeating the prince of Orange had left his treasury empty, and so all funds for intervention in England would have to come from Spain – knowing very well that the revolt of the Moriscos would prevent this, at least for a while. Alba’s intransigence made Philip more receptive to a proposal from Roberto Ridolfi, a Florentine banker who handled secret funds sent by the pope to the English Catholics. In 1569, Ridolfi visited Spes (despite his confinement) bearing a message from the duke of Norfolk and two of Elizabeth’s Catholic councillors saying that they intended to force her to restore close links with both Rome and Spain.

The ease with which Ridolfi glided between the government’s various opponents does not seem to have aroused Spes’s suspicions, and early in 1571 he entrusted to Ridolfi an ambitious plan, for which he coined the term ‘the Enterprise of England’. It called on Philip to persuade the other states of Europe to boycott all trade with England; to send financial support to Norfolk and his allies; and to fan the discontent of Irish Catholics. More radically, Spes suggested that the king should either support Mary Stuart’s claim to the English crown or else claim it for himself. Ridolfi first went to Brussels, where he explained the Enterprise to Alba, whose suspicions were immediately aroused by the effortlessness with which Ridolfi had managed to leave England with incriminating documents. Nevertheless, he allowed the conspirator to proceed to Rome.

Ridolfi arrived at an auspicious moment. Pius V had recently issued a bull deposing Elizabeth and now sought a means to carry it out. For a while the Holy League distracted him but on 20 May, the same day that representatives of Spain, Venice and the Papacy signed the Holy League, Pius entrusted Ridolfi with letters urging Philip to support the Enterprise of England. Six weeks later, the king granted Ridolfi an audience. The Italian made a remarkable impression on the king: a few days later, when the nuncio urged the king to support the Enterprise, much to his surprise ‘His Majesty, contrary to his normal custom [at audiences], spoke at length and entered into great detail about the means, the place and the men’ that he would devote to it.

He ended by saying that he had wanted and waited for a long time for an occasion and opportunity to reduce, with God’s help, that kingdom to the [Catholic] faith and the obedience of the Apostolic See a second time, and that he believed the time had now come, and that this was the occasion and the opportunity for which he had waited.

Philip proved as good as his word. In July he sent a secret letter to Alba affirming that Mary Stuart was ‘the true and legitimate claimant’ to the English throne, ‘which Elizabeth holds through tyranny’, and asserting that the duke of Norfolk

has the resolve, and so many and such prominent friends, that if I provide some help it would be easy for him to kill or capture Elizabeth [le sería facil matar o prender a la Isabel] and place the Scottish queen at liberty and in possession of the throne. Then, if she marries the duke of Norfolk, as they have arranged, they will without difficulty reduce [England] to the obedience of the Holy See.

In the course of the next six weeks, Philip continued, Alba must therefore prepare a powerful fleet and army to carry this out. He promised to send immediately 200,000 ducats – but ‘I warn and charge you expressly that you must not spend a single penny of this sum on anything else, however urgent it may be’. No doubt sensing how unrealistic all this would seem, Philip concluded that ‘since the cause is so much His, God will enlighten, aid and assist us with His mighty hand and arm, so that we will get things right’. The king’s enthusiasm increased as the festival of St Lawrence approached, when one of his ministers noted that ‘His Majesty proceeds in this matter with so much ardour that he must be inspired by God’; and it persisted even after news reached him that Elizabeth had ordered Norfolk’s arrest. Even with experienced rulers, one must never underestimate the power of self-deception.

MOU52694 Portrait of Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) by Moro, Antonio (c.1519-c.1576) (studio of) (attr. to) Private Collection © Philip Mould, Historical Portraits Ltd, London, UK Spanish, out of copyright

MOU52694 Portrait of Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) by Moro, Antonio (c.1519-c.1576) (studio of) (attr. to)
Private Collection
© Philip Mould, Historical Portraits Ltd, London, UK
Spanish, out of copyright

Philip II alone

In his History of Philip II, Cabrera de Córdoba later identified 1571 as ‘a fortunate year for the Monarchy’, but by the time it ended Philip had managed to alienate virtually all his former allies. Unravelling the Ridolfi plot revealed to Elizabeth that her ‘good brother’ had planned to murder her. Not surprisingly, she never trusted him again and instead increased surveillance of all Catholics in England and executed those who proved obdurate (including the duke of Norfolk). She also supported privateering activity against Philip (a dozen major expeditions left England in the 1570s to plunder Spanish property) and provided material assistance to his Dutch rebels because, as Alba later pointed out, ‘the queen knew full well that the king our lord had tried to deprive her of the kingdom and even to kill her’. He therefore ‘regarded the queen as quite justified in what she had done and is still doing’ to disrupt the Netherlands. Philip’s faith-based strategy had left a toxic legacy.

Philip also managed to alienate Emperor Maximilian in 1571. When intelligence reports suggested that France stood poised to intervene in support of a rebellion against the ruler of the small but strategically important Imperial fief of Finale Ligure, adjacent to Genoa, Philip mounted a surprise invasion. This unilateral action infuriated Maximilian, who mobilized the independent states of Italy to condemn Philip’s unprovoked attack. Empress María tried to mediate between her brother and her husband, assuring Philip:

God knows how much I want to settle this accursed dispute over Finale, so that Your Highness need not exhaust yourself over it. I really believe that if it were not for the prestige that blinds us so much, the emperor would not act as he does, which is to importune Your Highness; but I am very confident that it will turn out as we wish, because Your Highness can see that the emperor does not lack good cause.

Since Philip refused to ‘see’ this, Maximilian sent a special commissioner to reside in his duchy of Milan – also an Imperial fief – with orders to watch ostentatiously over the interests of the Austrian Habsburgs in Italy. This was a major humiliation, and it led Philip to withdraw his forces from Finale – but this recognition that ‘the emperor does not lack good cause’ came too late: Maximilian provided no assistance to Philip in 1572, when a new rebellion broke out in the Netherlands.

The war of Granada had greatly impressed the exiled prince of Orange. ‘It is an example to us,’ he confided to his brother early in 1570: ‘if the Moors are able to resist for so long, even though they are people of no more substance than a flock of sheep, what might the people of the Low Countries be able to do?’ Since the prince knew that the ‘people of the Low Countries’ would not be able to tackle Alba and his Spanish troops alone, he worked hard to find allies. His agents forged links with the numerous communities of Dutch exiles – perhaps 60,000 men, women and children who had fled to England, Scotland, France and Germany to escape condemnation by the council of Troubles – and these exiles provided recruits for a fleet of privateers known as the ‘Sea Beggars’, sailing under letters of marque issued by Orange. The exiles distributed plunder taken by the Sea Beggars from merchant ships belonging to Philip’s subjects and allies, thereby raising money for Orange’s cause as well as sustaining his fleet. Meanwhile Orange and his brother Louis of Nassau fought with the French Calvinist leader Gaspard de Coligny, unsuccessful defender of St Quentin in 1557 and equally unsuccessful patron of the attempt to colonize Florida in 1565. Now Coligny persuaded Charles IX of France to recognize Louis and Orange as his ‘good relatives and friends’ and to pay them a subsidy.

King Charles also agreed that his sister Margot would marry the Protestant leader Henry of Navarre, and that as soon as the wedding had taken place Coligny and his Protestant followers could invade the Netherlands in support of Orange and the exiles. On the strength of this commitment, Orange laid plans for other invasions to coincide with the main attack by Coligny: the Sea Beggars, together with a squadron to be assembled at La Rochelle by Filippo Strozzi, a Florentine exile with extensive military and naval experience, would capture ports in Holland or Zeeland; Orange’s brother-in-law, Count van den Berg, would invade Gelderland with a small force from Germany; and Orange himself would raise an army in Germany and invade Brabant. The only problem lay in timing: everything depended on the date fixed for the marriage of Margot and Henry, but after frequent postponements in April 1572 Charles IX announced that the wedding would take place the following August.

Race for Rangoon I




On 23 February 1945, at a high level Allied Conference in Calcutta, a strategy was agreed to drive for the recapture of Rangoon by early May before the onset of the monsoon. Air Chief Marshal Peirse had relinquished his command in November 1944 and his successor at that conference was the new Allied Air Commander-in-Chief, Air Marshal Sir Keith Park. The upgrades to newer aircraft had continued, Wellington bombers replaced by B-24 Liberators, nine squadrons of Hurricanes converted to Thunderbolts, and four squadrons of Vengeance dive-bombers to Mosquitoes. No doubt this ever-growing strength of Allied power helped Air Marshal Park take a very brave decision.

When he was put on the spot at that meeting to support an offensive to recapture Rangoon by the beginning of May, Air Marshal Park gave his commitment. Without the all-important air support for this campaign it would be impossible. Once Rangoon and its port were gained, shipping could provide supplies to Fourteenth Army. The risk was that if Rangoon was not taken before the monsoon commenced, air transport would not be able to maintain daily flights with sufficient supplies for some 300,000 troops. As the Japanese had found out at Imphal and Kohima, an army with an extended supply chain bogged down in the monsoon months of rain and mud could face disastrous defeat. Without the capture of Rangoon by the first days of May Fourteenth Army could even have to contemplate a retreat.

The required lift of supplies per day, which Park agreed to, was 1,887 tons each day from 20 March to 1 April, increasing to 2,075 tons per day between 1 and 15 May. If this could be done and the Japanese overcome on the plains around Mandalay in time, then the capture of Rangoon before the monsoon rains in June was possible. In addition to the arrival of the monsoon, there was another even more critical red line. The US Joint Chiefs made it quite clear that the USAAF transport aircraft, a majority of planes, must be withdrawn by 1 June. Whatever the situation in Burma, these aircraft were needed in the Pacific and other theatres.

The three fronts were: in the north-east, the Northern Area Combat Command under General Sultan, in central Burma General Slim’s Fourteenth Army pressing towards Mandalay and Rangoon, and in the south-west, along the Bengal coast in Arakan, General Christison’s XV Corps. They all enjoyed the benefit of a regular scheduled air supply. It endowed Allied forces with a mobility and speed of movement to exploit quickly any gain on the ground.

The growing presence of air-to-ground support from fighter and fighterbomber squadrons offered the option of ‘artillery from the sky’ as an increasing option. However, even at this time, air power, especially the potential of supplies by air, and air-to-ground support for the army, were not openly recognized as indispensable factors for reconquering Burma. While reaching Rangoon before the monsoon began to seem an attainable goal, the question was how could it be done?

Operation CAPITAL, the reconquest of Burma as far south as Mandalay, was being planned as early as September 1944 on the assumption that the Japanese would make a firm stand on the plain around Shwebo. By December aerial reconnaissance revealed that they were not preparing to fight a major battle so far north. On 18 and 19 December General Slim met with his two corps commanders in Fourteenth Army, Stopford and Messervy, to explain his new revised plan Operation EXTENDED CAPITAL, which was to drive on south, all the way to Rangoon. However, General Kimura was now concentrating his Fifteenth and Thirty-third Armies between Mandalay and the Irrawaddy for, in his view, ‘the Battle of the Irrawaddy’. Even assuming that Fourteenth Army was able to cross the Irrawaddy, and build a sufficient strength over time to defeat the Japanese armies, it would mean a formidable battle and almost certainly prevent the Allies reaching Rangoon before the monsoon rains. Yet again Slim came up with an innovative, although risky, strategy. His idea was to pin the Japanese forces between Mandalay and Meiktila in a hammer and anvil movement. If a surprise seizure of Meiktila was made, it would cut off the enemy’s main supply and communications centre, which was some 80 miles south of Mandalay.

From Myitkyina in the north, Fourteenth Army’s 36th Division would advance towards Mandalay, supported by the US 10th Air Force, while XXXIII Corps (the ‘hammer’) with support from 221 Group RAF would cross the Irrawaddy in the centre to assault Mandalay, and then drive the Japanese back against Meiktila (‘the anvil’). However, the whole strategy would depend upon an outrageous and disguised right hook, an outflanking movement by General Messervy’s IV Corps. Slim’s orders were issued on 18 December 1944. Messervy’s IV Corps was to move south from Kalemyo on the western side of the Irrawaddy along a nondescript, narrow and tortuous road through the Myittha valley to Gangaw. From there it would change direction, and drive south-east to Pakokku where it would cross the Irrawaddy and over two to three days race east to capture Meiktila.

The ability to take aggressive and perhaps risky tactics in the drive towards Rangoon was underpinned by the increasing dominance of Allied air power. The continual construction of new temporary airstrips close behind the front lines, allowed 221 Group RAF to support both XXXIII and IV Corps. Just as pilots were involved in guard duties and digging defensive ‘boxes’ at Imphal, they too participated in the continual building of forward airstrips to keep up with the army’s advance.

One of those called upon to help was Flight Lieutenant Ronald Charles ‘Ron’ Gardner, with No. 681 Squadron RAF, whose Spitfire Mk XIs were ever more important for gathering intelligence on the enemy.

From our base at Imphal, I was assigned to lead a ground party into Kalemyo, to find and establish an airstrip for a detachment from our No. 681 Squadron to operate from. It took us five days of overland travel to reach a suitable area. We worked hard clearing ground and building roadways over a number of weeks to bring in equipment and organising water supply to operate efficiently.

Air Vice Marshal Vincent could call on eighteen squadrons in No. 221 Group, Hurricanes for short-range close support, Thunderbolts, Mosquitoes and Beaufighters for longer-range operations. For additional support he could also call on the squadrons of 224 Group and the medium and heavy bomber support of the Strategic Air Force (SAF). Four Spitfire squadrons were at the forefront for air defence against any JAAF attacks, and maintaining air superiority.

The four main tasks of the Allied air forces were:

1. Maintain air superiority and protect air transport.

2. Give direct support to the army.

3. Destroy enemy defences ahead of Allied ground forces.

4. Disrupt enemy communications, installations, supplies and bases.

Over the front lines of the battlefield the Spitfires maintained their hard-won air superiority, which allowed the Dakotas to fly in supplies with impunity and fighter-bombers to strike Japanese positions. Long-distance strikes on Japanese rear bases and airfields were often carried out by the remarkable USAAF Mustangs, which with Rolls Royce Merlin engines had become the finest all-round fighters of the Second World War. On one operation to Don Muang 12 miles north of Bangkok, the American fighter-bombers destroyed thirty Japanese aircraft on the ground. It was a round trip of 1,560 miles, equivalent to a return flight from London to Vienna.

Other long-distance bombing raids were being made by RAF Liberators to hit Japanese infrastructure. The enemy’s main means of transportation were Burma’s rail lines of more than 5,000 miles, of which the Bangkok route of 244 miles to Moulmein was the most crucial. It ran through jungle, across mountains and over 688 bridges. Some ravines were up to 400 yards in width. To convey their most critical supplies, the Japanese built and maintained it at a cost of the lives of 24,000 Allied prisoners. In early 1945 the Liberators were carrying up to 8,000lbs of bombs on round trips of 1,800 miles to attack the line to Moulmein, 2,200 miles to bomb Bangkok, and even 2,800 miles down into the Malay peninsula to strike at enemy targets.

The long-range attacks on the Bangkok to Moulmein railway, the main supply artery of the Japanese, reduced the tonnage it carried from 750 to 150 tons per day. Across the internal Burmese rail network, by the end of 1944, Allied bombing raids had brought rail traffic by day almost to a standstill. Photographic reconnaissance squadrons had increased to five, three of the USAAF and two of the RAF, No. 684 Squadron Mosquitoes and No. 681 Squadron Spitfires. By interdiction of the enemy’s supply routes and starving the Japanese of intelligence from aerial reconnaissance, the Allies’ Eastern Air Command was setting the scene for a ground campaign to defeat the Japanese army.

The right hook manoeuvre by General Messervy’s IV Corps would take the form of an advance wide to the south-west and around the Japanese left flank to take Meiktila in the enemy’s rear, well south of Mandalay. This would create the ‘anvil’. However, it would only succeed if 221 Group RAF could provide blanket air support, in effect create a ‘no fly zone’ for the JAAF. General Slim emphasized that the whole success of the battle for Mandalay, and defeating the Japanese army, depended upon the secrecy of the advance by IV Corps to Meiktila.

A single Japanese reconnaissance plane, investigating too closely a cloud of dirt, might sight a line of tanks moving slowly towards Pakokku, and realise what that meant . . .

The critical ploy, as well as quarantining the skies above IV Corps, was for bombers and fighter-bombers to undertake targeted and diversionary operations to deceive the Japanese as to the real intent. Once the airfield at Meiktila was taken and secured by IV Corps, USAAF C-47 Skytrains would be able to airlift in a fresh brigade.

As IV Corps advanced on its circuitous route, the skies above its columns were scoured clean of any enemy reconnaissance aircraft by RAF fighters. When held up by Japanese forces at Gangaw on 10 January General Messervy requested a massive air raid, an ‘Earthquake Minor’ by No. 221 Group to blast a way through rather than mount a stronger assault by the army. A major ground attack would have signalled to the Japanese the size and serious threat of Messervy’s forces.

At 14.30 hours, for an hour and a half, Allied aircraft hammered a Japanese defence line of extensive dug-in gun emplacements. First came four squadrons of B-25 Mitchells of the USAAF 12th Bombardment Group, followed by consecutive waves of Thunderbolt dive-bombers of No. 146 Squadron RAF, and Hurribombers of Nos 34 and 113 Squadrons RAF.14 In the Hurribombers of No. 34 Squadron on 10 January, Flying Officer Tom Colhoun was one of twelve pilots, who took off at 12.00 hours from their forward airstrip at Yazagyo. They first stopped at the Taukkyan airstrip to refuel then lifted off again at 13.55 hours.

Clouds of smoke on the horizon gave them an easy direction marker for the target area at Gangaw. As they descended into the smokey murk for their bombing approach run, radio communication with the VCP on the front line could only be heard indistinctly. The bomb drops by four sections were well concentrated, although the actual Japanese positions were not visible through the dust, smoke and debris from the prior bombing waves. All twelve aircraft returned safely to Yazagyo by 15.20 hours. As the final wave of strikes went in, the infantry began to move in and, within another ninety minutes, IV Corps troops had overrun five of six enemy positions.

By the end of 1944 strategic bombers of No. 224 Group RAF had devised tactics for copying the fighter-bomber so as to attack the Japanese army in its entrenched battlefield positions. Training exercises known as Earthquake I by B-24 Liberators, and Earthquake II by B-25 Mitchells, became bombing operations termed Earthquake Major and Earthquake Minor. These operations were exceedingly difficult to carry out, on long distance routes over mountains, often through bad weather with poor radio communications. The bombers had to arrive at a predetermined time over the target, which comprised enemy bunker sites and well hidden defensive locations.

In the wake of the Earthquake Minor operation at Gangaw, IV Corps pushed on through the devastated village and beyond its surrounds towards the Irrawaddy. Fighters kept the skies clear of any JAAF intruders. Fighterbombers hit enemy gun positions, and C-47s resumed their supply runs. Sometimes there were parachute drops, sometimes landings on recently bulldozed temporary airstrips. By the end of January IV Corps was within striking distance of the west bank of the Irrawaddy. In addition to Kalemyo, temporary airstrips were cleared at Kan, Tilin and a former Japanese airstrip at Sinthe, for Dakotas, Hurricanes and Spitfires.

The long column of IV Corps, made up of all kinds of traffic, trucks, jeeps, armoured carriers, artillery, tanks, bullock-carts, mules and troops on foot, kicked up swirling clouds of red dust high into the sky. Dakota pilots and patrolling fighters said that they could see the snaking line of dust clouds from miles away. An unspoken question for many was, ‘Had any Japanese aircraft got anywhere near, to see the dust clouds and realize the implications?’

It was hoped that the Japanese, starved of aerial reconnaissance information, might still have no idea that a force as strong as IV Corps was intent on crossing the Irrawaddy, nor of its real objective. Misinformation was also being fed to locals suspected of being agents or informers of the Japanese so that their intelligence analysts would infer that the IV Corps operation was only a Chindit-scale attack of a limited duration.

To reinforce the promulgation of this cover to hide the real purpose of the IV Corps operation, No. 221 Group RAF launched Operations STENCIL and CLOAK. The intended crossing points of IV Corps on the Irrawaddy were near Nyaunga and Pakkoku. They were close to the confluence of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers and the ancient town of Pagan, where its countless golden pagodas glistened in the sunlight. It lay like a shimmering mirage, 100 miles south-west of Mandalay. As the first troops of IV Corps reached the Irrawaddy’s west bank to begin the crossing, the RAF commenced these operations, putting on diversionary feint attacks and decoy operations.

Over several successive nights Beaufighter and Mosquito night-fighters delivered ‘canned battle’ into enemy rear areas, and targets farther south on the Irrawaddy. Dummy soldiers in battledress floated down by parachute. ‘Paraflex’ devices were dropped which, on hitting the ground, imitated the sounds of rifle fire and exploding hand grenades. ‘Aquaskit’ gadgets were jettisoned over the Irrawaddy river which, on splashing down, fired off Very-light flares.

Much hung on the success of these ruses and cover operations which it was hoped would help to spread confusion about the Allies’ real intentions. If the Japanese saw through this theatre and mounted a major counter-attack on IV Corps while it was still getting across the Irrawaddy, it would most likely be a major defeat. Such a setback would undermine the Allies’ strategy to capture Rangoon before the onset of the monsoon towards the end of May.

Once IV Corps was across the Irrawaddy, it was only 85 miles by road from Pagan to Meiktila. This crossing of the mighty Irrawaddy was a potential chokepoint and perhaps the weakest link in the whole Allied strategy. Had the quarantining of the skies by 221 Group, and its operations in Operation CLOAK, been successful, and disguised this incursion into the heart of the Japanese Army? General Slim described the strike by IV Corps at Meiktila as being like slashing the wrist of the Japanese right hand. It would mean the blood supply to the hand – the Japanese Fifteenth and Thirty-third Armies farther north at Mandalay would be cut off from supplies and reinforcements. Allied occupation of Meiktila would leave the hand to wither and die.

The main point selected for the crossing of the Irrawaddy was just north of Nyaunga where the river was some 2,000 yards, more than a mile, wide. It has been claimed that it was the widest crossing of a river in the face of enemy opposition in any campaign in the Second World War. A secondary crossing was to be made near Pagan, which may have been thought by the Japanese to be the major attack.