Invasion of Java (1811) Part I


The invasion of Java in 1811 was a successful British amphibious operation against the Dutch East Indian island of Java that took place between August and September 1811 during the Napoleonic Wars. Originally established as a colony of the Dutch Republic, Java remained in Dutch hands throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, during which time the French invaded the Republic and established the Batavian Republic in 1795, and the Kingdom of Holland in 1806. The Kingdom of Holland was annexed to the First French Empire in 1810, and Java became a titular French colony, though it continued to be administered and defended primarily by Dutch personnel.

After the fall of French colonies in the West Indies in 1809 and 1810, and a successful campaign against French possessions in Mauritius in 1810 and 1811, attention turned to the Dutch East Indies. A expedition was dispatched from India in April 1811, while a small squadron of frigates was ordered to patrol off the island, raiding shipping and launching amphibious assaults against targets of opportunity. Troops were landed on 4 August, and by 8 August the undefended city of Batavia capitulated. The defenders withdrew to a previously prepared fortified position, Fort Cornelis, which the British laid siege to, capturing it early in the morning of 26 August. The remaining defenders, a mixture of Dutch and French regulars and native militiamen, withdrew, pursued by the British. A series of amphibious and land assaults captured most of the remaining strongholds, and the city of Salatiga surrendered on 16 September, followed by the official capitulation of the island to the British on 18 September. The island remained in British hands for the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars, and was restored to the Dutch in the Treaty of Paris in 1814.

The invasion

The column of soldiers moved silently through the forest, picking their way along muddy trails between dense stands of betel-nut trees. Already the thick tropical heat was rising, and their red jackets were sodden with sweat.

It was an hour before dawn on 26 August 1811, and the men – British redcoats and Indian sepoys – were heading for the formidable fastness of Meester Cornelis, the great redoubt of Batavia, grand old capital of the Dutch East Indies. Inside the fortifications was a massed force of Dutch, French, and Javanese troops. In the words of one British participant, the ‘day that was to fix the destiny of Java’ had arrived.

The prize

British Invasion Of Java- Todaís Indonesia – the former Dutch East Indies – lies largely beyond the horizon of the English-speaking imagination. But in the second decade of the 19th century it was the scene of a dramatic episode of British colonial history.

The five-year British interregnum in Java, which began with the battle for Batavia in August 1811, was a period of furious controversy that would have a lasting impact on Indonesian history. It also marked a significant chapter in the life of the man best known today for the founding of Singapore: Thomas Stamford Raffles.

Holland, in the form of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company, had been involved in Indonesia for more than two centuries. The company had established Java, the 600-mile long lodestone of the Indonesian archipelago, as the hub of its nascent empire, naming Batavia on the north coast of the island as capital, and setting up a network of outposts across the region.

Britain, meanwhile, was increasingly entrenched in the Indian Subcontinent, and had little interest in South-East Asia. But war in Europe changed all that.

In the winter of 1794, Napoleon invaded Holland and installed a puppet republican regime. For the British authorities, all Dutch overseas territories became de facto enemy territory – though pressing concerns closer to home meant that it was not until 1810 that the British East India Companís governor-general in Calcutta, Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto, received instructions to ‘proceed to the conquest of Java at the earliest possible opportunití. The following year a fleet of 81 troop-ships departed India on course for Batavia.

Minto and Raffles

Lord Minto

The advance on Java had the air of a Sunday outing. Lord Minto -a dandyish 60-year-old civilian -had taken a personal interest in the project, and together with his collaborator, the 30-year-old Thomas Stamford Raffles, a former clerk in the administration of Penang, he had developed a wildly Romantic view of java as ‘the land of promise’.

Regimental wives and civilian hangers-on had tagged along for the adventure, and as the fleet lumbered across the Java Sea, they were entertained by the antics of strapping young sailors dressed as ‘young, accomplished, and generally sentimental ladies of quality.

On 4 August the fleet dropped anchor in the murky waters of Batavia Bay, and the 12,000-strong invasion force was landed at the undefended fishing village of Cilincing, eight miles east of Batavia. The forces were evenly split between British regiments and units from the Bengal Presidency Army.

Batavia’s climate was notoriously unhealthy, and it was hoped the Indians would fare better than Englishmen; in the event, they began to succumb to fever before the first shot was fired.

The commander-in-chief was the New York-born veteran Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, and the commander of the forces in the field was the feisty 45-year-old Irishman Colonel Rollo Gillespie.

The Dutch settlement of Batavia formed a linear development, running inland from the mouth of the Ciliwung River, eight miles west of the British landing spot. First came the walled city of Old Batavia, built in the early 17th century; three miles inland was the modern garrison of Weltevreeden; and a further three miles towards the mountains stood the fortress of Meester Cornelis.

Auchmuty and Gillespie had expected first to engage enemy forces in Old Batavia, but when they reached the city -the eight-mile advance took several days, so intersected with canals and fishponds was the country – they found that the Dutch had already abandoned it.

Dutch ploys

Jan Willem Janssens

The Dutch-Napoleonic army in Batavia amounted to a mixed force of some 18,000 men. At their head was the governor-general Jan Willem Janssens, a committed Dutch republican who wrote his letters in florid French. He had already presided over one notable defeat at the hands of the British at the Battle of Blaauwberg in South Africa in 1806, and it was said that Napoleon had despatched him to Java with an ominous warning: ‘Know, sir, that a French General is not offered a second chance.’

Janssens had abandoned Old Batavia as a deliberate ploy, hoping that the British would rapidly succumb to the malaria endemic there, and could then be pinned down in the pestilential alleyways. As an imaginative additional measure, he had ordered that copious quantities of alcohol should be left in the abandoned houses, in the hope that the British would drink themselves into a stupor.

Gillespie issued strict orders for sobriety. A tentative Dutch assault on the southern gates of the walled town was seen off. And the best efforts of a requisitioned French servant to fell the top brass with a batch of poisoned coffee had only limited results. Then, before dawn on 10 August, a 1,500-strong British force moved south along the road to Weltevreeden. But once more, the British found that Janssens had already pulled back his forces.

An elusive foe

Some of the British began to wonder if they would ever get the chance to fight in Java. But as they pressed on, now heading northwards through a dense stand of pepper trees, they finally came under sustained fire for the first time. The Dutch had set up field guns on either side of the road, and had felled trees to block the way.

Gillespie, who was still vomiting from time to time as a result of the poisoned coffee, ordered two parties to loop out left and right to attack the enemy positions from the flank, while a third party scrambled forward under covering fire to haul the trees out of the way.

It was all over in minutes, and the Dutch forces were soon fleeing through the forest towards Meester Cornelis, despite the best efforts of their officers to rally them.

At one point, Janssens’ chief of staff, General Alberti, who had become separated from his own men, ran into a small party of the green-coated British 89th. Mistaking them for his own troops, Alberti began upbraiding them angrily for retreating without orders – at which point a private of the 89th shot him in the chest (though he ultimately survived).

The problem that Janssens faced was not one of numbers; it was a question of loyalty and quality. Many of the Dutchmen were aging veterans of the former VOC army -the VOC itself having been disbanded shortly after the French invasion of Holland – and they had little, if any, commitment to the Napoleonic cause. The Javanese conscripts had still less interest in fighting.

A number of French soldiers had been shipped out in recent years, but they were reportedly the dregs of the Republican army, deemed of little use on European fronts. Now they bolted for the final fastness of Meester Cornelis, where Gillespie and Auchmuty set up a siege.


Marshal Daendels


Meester Cornelis was a formidable fortress. Built by Janssens’ predecessor, Marshal Daendels, it comprised five miles of fortifications studded with 280 pieces of heavy cannon, and was flanked to the west by the meandering Ciliwung River, and to the east by a deep canal called the Slokan. The surrounding countryside, meanwhile, was ‘intersected with ravines, enclosures, and betel plantations, resembling hop-grounds, many parts of which could only be passed in single file’

Over the coming days the British kept up a heavy cannonade against the northern walls of Cornelis. Gillespie and Auchmuty were sensitive to the dangers of a stalemate in the morbid Javanese climate. They had arrived with the advantage of energy and health, but by mid-August heat and fever were taking their toll, and they knew they must act. And so, in the early hours of the morning of 26 August, the final stealthy assault began.

Small parties were sent out to attack the fortress from all angles, while the bulk of the British forces under Gillespie headed off through the forest to launch a surprise assault across the Slokan from the east, the point they had judged the weakest. The plan was to launch simultaneous operations at first light.

In the event Gillespie almost met with disaster. As the first section of the advance huddled in the trees just a few hundred yards from the first Dutch pickets, they realised to their horror that the thousands-strong column that should have been snaking up behind them was nowhere to be seen: they had got lost in the betel plantations.

It was, in the words of Captain William Thorn, a close confidant of Gillespie, ‘One of those pauses of distressful anxiety, which can be better conceived than described.’

Unable to communicate with the other parties, Gillespie decided on a typically brazen course of action: he attacked anyway, sneaking unspotted past the first Dutch sentries, and then launching an unsupported rush on the first redoubts.

Invasion of Java (1811) Part II


An almighty explosion

As the sun slipped up over the lush green Javanese countryside, the battle for Meester Cornelis got under way. Gillespie and his men forced their way across the Slokan and overwhelmed Redoubt Number Four in a welter of close combat.

Eventually the missing columns appeared from the forest and joined an attack on the next redoubt. But on the brink of storming it, the British were subjected to an almighty explosion. A pair of French captains, in an early instance of a suicide bombing, had immolated themselves in the powder store – with dramatic consequences, as Captain Thorn recorded: ‘The ground was strewn with the mangled bodies and scattered limbs of friends and foes, blended together in a horrible state of fraternity.’

Despite this shocking incident, Gillespie’s men pushed on, deeper into the Cornelis fortifications. More redoubts fell. Guns were seized. An attempted Dutch cavalry charge from the bowels of the fort faltered fast under fire.

Very soon the assault had triggered a rout, and the defenders were fleeing south through the forest, heading for the Dutch hill-station of Buitenzorg, with the British in furious pursuit. By the time they had gone ten miles, the British had taken 5,000 prisoners.

Once more, it was shaky loyalties that had caused Janssens’ defence to collapse. One appalled Napoleonic officer recorded the scene as he was dragged back towards British lines: ‘With a feeling of shame and indignation I saw more than one [Dutch] officer amongst them trample on his French cockade, to which he had sworn allegiance, uttering scandalous imprecations and swearing and assuring the English: “I am no Frenchman, but a Dutchman.” ‘

Lord Minto, who had been safely ensconced offshore during the worst of the fighting, visited the battlefield the following day, and was horrified: ‘The number of dead and the shocking variety of deaths had better not be imagined.’ But in truth the outgunned British had achieved victory at minimal cost. Just 62 British soldiers and 17 Indian sepoys had died in the attack on Meester Cornelis.

Janssens and a small body of Napoleonic officers had escaped and fled east to Semarang, where they attempted to organize a second line of defence. Auchmuty set out in pursuit.

Eventually, on 18 September, at the little upland garrison of Salatiga, Janssens – who was almost alone by the end – ceded control of the Dutch East Indies to the British. He stressed, however, that ‘as long as I had any [men] left me, I would never have submitted’.

The British interregnum

The five-year interregnum that followed the fall of Batavia was, in truth, a rogue operation. Lord Minto’s instructions from the Supreme Government had ordered him to organize only ‘the expulsion of the Dutch power, the destruction of their fortifications, the distribution of their arms and stores to the natives, and the evacuation of the Island by our own troops’.

But with his Romantic notions of ‘the land of promise’, as well as supposed concern for the fate of Dutch civilians, he unilaterally decided to retain the territory. He and Auchmuty returned to India in October 1811, leaving the inexperienced Raffles as lieutenant-governor, with Gillespie as his military counterpart.

Today Raffles is best remembered for the subsequent founding of Singapore, and is usually portrayed as a liberal reformer, a gentleman scholar, and an acceptable counterpoint to the more aggressive aspects of British colonial history. His actions in Java, however, reveal him to have been a personification of the shift from the earlier 18th-century style of ‘company colonialism’ towards the grand imperialism of the coming Victorian Age.

During the previous century, in both British India and the Dutch East Indies, there had been room for compromise. The agents of the Dutch and British East India Companies had often tried to further European commercial interests without seeking to overturn the sovereignty of native courts. Some of their number had engaged with Asian cultures in a manner that would be anathema in a later epoch, participating in local society, legitimately marrying Asian women, and even converting to Islam.

Raffles’ arrival in Java marked an abrupt end to such acculturation, and his five-year reign on the island was a microcosm of the wider transition from the era of the ‘White Mughals’ to that of the ‘Queen Empress’.

Raffles rampant

The European enemy had been roundly trounced, but there were other powers in Java – the great native courts of the hinterland, Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Raffles decided that they constituted an unconscionable challenge to his authority.

By early 1812 he had decided that he needed to organise a crushing military defeat of one or other of these courts as ‘decisive proof to the Native Inhabitants of Java of the strength and determination of the British Government’.

In June that year he made his move, ordering an attack on Yogyakarta on the flimsy pretext of an uncovered correspondence discussing an uprising against the Europeans which had, in fact, been instigated by the Surakarta court.

Yogyakarta was the more significant of the two realms and, wrote Raffles, ‘the Sultan [of Yogyakarta] decidedly looks upon us as a less powerful people than the [Napoleonic] Government which proceeded us, and it becomes absolutely necessary for the tranquillity of the Country that he should be taught to think otherwise.’

If the conquest of Batavia had been a remarkable success for an outnumbered British force, the subsequent sacking of Yogyakarta was, on paper at least, a feat of almost superhuman status. On 20 June 1812, most of Britain’s military manpower was tied up in Sumatra, where Raffles had ordered a punitive expedition against the Palembang Sultanate. With just 1,200 men at his disposal, therefore, he now instructed Gillespie to launch an attack on the walled city of Yogyakarta, a place defended by some 10,000Javanese troops.

The storming of Yogyakarta

In truth, however, the turn of events was such an earth-shattering shock to the Javanese that their defence collapsed almost at once. Yogyakarta had inherited the mantle of past javanese kingdoms such as Mataram and Majapahit. It was a place of high protocol and of a complex Muslim-Javanese courtly culture that drew on an older Hindu and Buddhist heritage.

During the previous two centuries, conflicts between the Dutch and the Javanese courts had been typified by formalized posturing and brinkmanship, and had then usually been resolved through face-saving diplomacy. The Sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono II, had never believed that the British would really attack, and once the sepoys began to surge over the walls his court descended into panic. As one Javanese prince, Arya Panular, noted, ‘In battle [the British] were irresistible… they were as though protected by the very angels and they struck terror into men’s hearts.’

The assault began at dawn, and by 9am it was all over. Though they had been outnumbered by almost ten to one, the British lost just 23 men. The Sultan was arrested and exiled, and the victors fell to enthusiastic looting of the city. Gillespie took away personal booty valued at GBP 15,000 (half a million, in modern terms) while Raffles and the British resident at Yogyakarta, John Crawfurd, stole the entire contents of the court archives. The following afternoon the Crown Prince was placed on the throne as a British puppet, and during the coronation the courtiers were forced to kiss Raffles’ knees in the ultimate Javanese act of subjugation.

Writing to Lord Minto to inform him of the victory, Raffles declared that it had ‘afforded so decisive a proof to the Native Inhabitants of java of the strength and determination of the British Government, that they now for the first time know their relative situation and importance… The European power is now for the first time paramount in Java.’

The return of the Dutch

After the fall of Yogyakarta, peace returned to Java. But the new British administration rapidly descended into disorder. A vicious clash of personalities emerged between Raffles and Gillespie.

They had been ill-suited to being left in charge of a complex colony – one man a bruising aristocratic war-hero, the other an ambitious if insecure middle-class civilian; and neither with any real experience of government. They were, according to one visitor, ‘at constant variance and daggers drawn’, and Gillespie eventually lodged formal accusations of corruption against his civilian counterpart. Meanwhile, a series of budgetary blunders and ill-planned and overreaching reforms pushed the colony to the brink of an economic meltdown.

Raffles and Minto had dreamed of making Java a permanent British possession, controlling traffic between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. But in the circumstances the higher authorities were all too eager to hand it back to the Dutch once the wars were over in Europe, and Holland had regained its sovereignty.

When they returned in 1816, the Dutch found administrative and financial chaos; but there was also another, more useful inheritance. The great native courts had finally been hobbled. There would be no return to old modes of compromise: the European power was indeed finally paramount in Java, and the scene had been set for the coming colonial century, both in the Dutch East Indies, and in the wider Asian continent beyond.



Reconstruction of the castle in the early 14th century, seen from the sea.


Gatehouses The King’s gate at Caernarfon is one of the most powerful of gatehouses, begun in 1283. In front of the entrance is a turning bridge; the front end rose up into a recess while the rear dropped into a pit behind. The passage was heavily defended: if the gatehouse had been completed it would have had no less than five wooden doors and six portsculli along its length. Evidence in the existing walls suggests that the never-completed rear section made the passage turn at right-angles, thence over a second drawbridge before arriving in the lower ward.

In order to enter the great gatehouse at Harlech, the visitor was required to pass the outer gatehouse with its twin turrets and turning bridge, the pit into which it dropped forming an additional obstacle. Then followed the main gate passage, arched throughout its length and flanked by huge towers. The first obstacle was a two-leaved door closed by a drawbar running into a slot in the wall thickness. There followed two portsculli, behind which was another door with drawbar. Further down the passage was a third portcullis, with possibly yet another set of doors in front. The room directly over the gate passage was a chapel flanked either side by a vestry but it also received the two forward portsculli when raised; the third came up into the larger of the two rear rooms. The fact that this floor housed the winches for operating the portsculli suggests it was used by the constable. Above was another floor, a residential suite laid out the same way and presumably designed for the king or some persons of rank. The rear of each tower was provided with a stair turret and, additionally, a door on the first floor at the rear led on to a platform and thence to an external stair to ground level, allowing access when all the gates were shut.

Master James of St George probably designed the splendid triple-towered gatehouse at Denbigh; once past the twin towers at the front, a vaulted hall was entered (with a chamber on the floor above). The rear tower blocked further egress, forcing a right turn into the ward.

On the estuary of the River Dwyryd, on the site of a former Welsh fort, built by Master James of St George for Edward I, 1283–90, costing £9,500. The sea was closer then to the castle. It had a concentric plan with a wide moat on two sides. A massive twintowered gatehouse faces east. The inner curtain has round corner towers. The curtain to the narrow outer bailey is low, dominated by the inner bailey. Master James became constable of Harlech 1290–3. It was besieged by Welsh rebels in 1294 but relieved. Repairs were made in the 14th century. Harlech was besieged and taken in  1404 by Owen Glendower with French allies, to become his base, and recovered by Lord Talbot in 1408. In the Wars of the Roses Harlech was taken over in 1468 by Dafydd ap Ieuan, whose men were the original ‘Men of Harlech’. The castle was besieged and taken by Yorkists under the Earl of Pembroke. It was held for the royalists in the English Civil War.

In the late thirteenth century, King Edward I of England built a sequence of castles from Caernarfon to Conwy to Harlech to secure his conquests in the north of the principality of Wales. In so far as the inhabitants of the country were the direct descendants of the British population of Rome’s province of Britannia and the last unconquered region of the empire north of the Alps, it has been said that Edward’s victories there represented the final fall of the Roman Empire in the West.

The financial outlay on these “Edwardian” castles was huge (in the 1970s it was calculated that each fortress cost in modern terms the equivalent of a Concorde supersonic airliner) not least because the most up-to-date principles and techniques of fortification were used. The strength of these places was to be demonstrated years later when in 1404 the Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr laid siege to Harlech. For weeks the place was held by just five Englishmen and sixteen Welshmen—when the castellan made overtures to surrender, the garrison locked him up. In fact, the great castle fell not to assault by its Welsh attackers but because, in the end, the skeleton force defending it decided to accept terms and were bought out. Some sixty years later, it was once more in rebel hands, holding for the House of Lancaster when, in 1461, Edward of York became king as Edward IV. These “Men of Harlech” held out for seven years, harrying the neighboring countryside until in August 1468, after a protracted siege, William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, finally recovered the place for Edward. An indication of the effort involved and the obvious strength of the fortress is found in the Public Record Office, where the accounts show some £5,000 paid to the earl for his expenses.

British Regimental Officers in Combat – American War of Independence I


The Battle of Bunker Hill by Percy Moran

In eighteenth-century conventional linear warfare, the regimental infantry officer took part in four main activities: he motivated his men, directed them, kept them in good order, and engaged in personal combat. At least on European battlefields, perhaps the first of these four activities was the most important. Historians commonly assert that eighteenth-century common soldiers braved enemy fire partly because they were more afraid of their officers than of the enemy. There is some truth in this. As Wolfe put it in his tactical instructions to the 20th Regiment in 1755, in action the cordon of supernumerary subalterns and sergeants in the battalion’s rear were required “to keep the men in their duty.” This meant they used compulsion — even lethal force — to prevent the men from taking off: “A soldier that quits his rank, or offers to fly, is to be instantly put to death by the officer who commands that platoon, or by the officer or sergeant in the rear of that platoon; a soldier does not deserve to live who won’t fight for his king and country.” Roger Lamb, a veteran of the American War, later opined that this threat was effective: “A coward taught to believe that, if he breaks his rank and abandons his colors, he will be punished with death by his own party, will take his chance against the enemy.” British officers in America did occasionally resort to such threats in action, even if they do not appear to have carried them out. For example, Ensign John De Berniere wrote of the retreat from Concord that, as the militia’s fire began to take its toll, “we began to run rather than retreat in order. The whole behaved with amazing bravery but little order. We attempted to stop the men and form them two deep, but to no purpose: the confusion increased rather than lessened. At last . . . the officers got to the front and presented their bayonets, and told the men if they advanced they should die. Upon this they began to form under a very heavy fire.” Less happily, Tarleton recalled that “neither promises nor threats” availed the frantic efforts to recover the troops from their panic after the collapse of his line at Cowpens.

Although the threat of summary retribution must (if only subconsciously) have reinforced common soldiers’ readiness to brave enemy fire, eighteenth-century officers principally led rather than drove their men into combat. As previously discussed, this sometimes took the form of stirring exhortations that appealed to national or regimental identity. Similarly, the officers probably orchestrated the loud cheering in which the redcoats commonly indulged during combat. But the main way that the officer motivated his men was by maintaining a resolute, steady demeanor, particularly before and during the advance. As Bland pointed out in 1727, “the private soldiers . . . form their notions of the danger from the outward appearance of their officers, and according to their looks apprehend the undertaking to be more or less difficult.” For this the officer needed presence of mind and, above all, physical courage — the essence of the eighteenth-century cult of honor and sine qua non of the gentleman-officer. The need for these qualities intensified once the battalion engaged in close combat because the advanced position of the regimental officers who conducted the firings made them highly vulnerable not only to the enemy’s fire but also to that of their own men (whether accidental or otherwise). The officer’s prominent position also ensured that any momentary lapse in resolution would have been highly conspicuous. Any who failed in this respect almost certainly would have been pressured into quitting the corps, as happened to two unfortunate officers of the Queen’s Rangers after the battle of Brandywine.

Like courage, stoicism was a key element of the officer’s ability to lead by example. This manifested itself most often in reluctance on the part of injured officers to leave the battalion for medical treatment. A particularly impressive instance occurred at the battle of Freeman’s Farm, as later related by Thomas Anburey:

In the course of the last action, Lieutenant [Stephen] Harvey, of the 62nd, a youth of sixteen, and nephew to the Adjutant General of the same name, received several wounds, and was repeatedly ordered off the field by [Lieutenant] Colonel [John] Anstruther; but his heroic ardor would not allow him to quit the battle, while he could stand and see his brave lads fighting beside him. A ball striking one of his legs, his removal became absolutely necessary; and while they were conveying him away, another wounded him mortally. In this situation the surgeon recommended him to take a powerful dose of opium, to avoid a seven or eight hours’ life of most exquisite torture. This he immediately consented to, and when the Colonel entered the tent with Major [Henry] Harnage, who were both wounded, they asked whether he had any affairs they could settle for him. His reply was, that being a minor, everything was already adjusted; but he had one request, which he had just life enough to utter: “Tell my uncle I died like a soldier!”

Similarly at Bunker Hill (according to Captain the Honorable Charles Stuart), “not one officer who served in the light infantry or grenadiers escaped unhurt and few had less than three or four wounds.”

In America courage was an even more essential commodity for British officers because the hazards run in action there were seemingly higher than in conventional linear warfare. European officers generally considered it taboo to target individuals of consequence. At Brandywine, for instance, Major Patrick Ferguson countermanded his order for three of his British riflemen to shoot down an unsuspecting mounted rebel officer and his aide de camp because “the idea disgusted me . . . ; it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty.” By contrast, rebel troops appear to have been positively encouraged to kill British officers. Indeed, at a dinner after the fall of Yorktown, captive Captain Lieutenant Samuel Graham noted that the unpolished Daniel Morgan “spoke with more volubility, perhaps, than good taste” on his riflemen’s role in Burgoyne’s downfall — and particularly of his having expressly ordered the shooting of Brigadier General Fraser during the battle of Bemis Heights.

To combat the rebel tactic of picking them off in action, British officers commonly toned down their appearance. In the case of the Guards, this process started even before the troops departed for service. Hence one English journalist noted how “[t]he [Guards] officers who are ordered for America are to wear the same uniform as the common soldiers, and their hair to be dressed in the like manner, so that they may not be distinguished from them by the riflemen, who aim particularly at the officers.” In America Howe issued a similar instruction to the British and Hessian officers in his army days before he opened the New York campaign. Although British regimental officers would have retained their scarlet (rather than brick-red) coats and their epaulettes and swords, they appear to have stripped the metallic lace from their button holes and hats, laid aside gorgets (and possibly also their crimson sashes), and (like the sergeants) taken up fusils. These sensible measures probably enjoyed some success. After the battle of Long Island, Captain William Dansey reported with relief that the threat the rebel sharpshooters posed was “not so dreadful as I expected,” though (as he added later) “such a bugbear were they at first [that] our good friends thought we were all to be killed with rifles.” Interestingly, when Simcoe was wounded and captured in October 1779 during the Queen’s Rangers’ raid into New Jersey, he heard one rebel regret that he had not shot him through the head, “which he would have done had he known him to be a colonel, but he thought ‘all colonels wore lace.’”

Nevertheless, whatever their appearance, British officers would have marked themselves out in action by issuing commands to and encouraging their men. Such was the case with the aforementioned mounted officer with the grenadiers at the battle of Monmouth, one rebel officer having recorded: “I ordered my men to level at him and the cluster of men near him. . . . He dropped [and] his men slackened their pace.” An even more striking instance occurred during the storming of Chatterton’s Hill, as related by Corporal Thomas Sullivan of the 49th Regiment:

Captain [Lieutenant William] Gore, who commanded the right wing of our battalion, seeing the rebels which we engaged on the right wing were dressed in blue, took them to be Colonel Rall’s brigade of Hessians, and immediately ordered us to cease firing; for, says he, “you are firing at your own men.” We ceased for about two minutes. The rebels, hearing him, made answer that they were no Hessians, and that we should soon know the difference. . . . The aforesaid captain was killed upon the spot: the enemy in his front took as good aim as possible at him, and directed the most of their fire towards the place [where] he stood, for they took him for the officer that commanded the regiment.

Clearly the rebels singled out and peppered the unfortunate Gore precisely because he drew attention to himself in such spectacular fashion.

Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew H. Spring

British Regimental Officers in Combat – American War of Independence II


Banastre Tarleton

Officer casualties were probably disproportionately heavy in those engagements in America where British bayonet attacks failed to dislodge the enemy quickly because sustained fighting gave the rebels more opportunity to single out officers and shoot them down. Burgoyne later claimed that this had unfortunately very much been the case during the seesaw struggle in the center at the battle of Freeman’s Farm: “The enemy had with their army great numbers of marksmen, armed with rifle-barrel pieces. These, during an engagement, hovered upon the flanks in small detachments, and were very expert in securing themselves, and in shifting their ground. In this action, many placed themselves in high trees in the rear of their own line, and there was seldom a minute’s interval of smoke in any part of our line without officers being taken off by [a] single shot.” In a similar fashion, at Cowpens over two-thirds of Tarleton’s infantry officers went down in the fighting that preceded the final, catastrophic British charge, according to Roderick Mackenzie, who was himself wounded. Although officer casualties do not appear to have been grossly disproportionate in relation to those of the enlisted men, during the course of the war, some regiments and companies were clearly more unlucky than others. After the 52nd Regiment lost its fourth grenadier captain in three years at the battle of Monmouth, one of the corps’ drummers observed with black humor, “Well, I wonder who they will get to accept of our grenadiers now. I’ll be damned if I would take them!”

Considering how (as we have seen) eighteenth-century officers often carried spontoons (or, less commonly in Europe, firelocks) in addition to their swords, one might have expected that they would have fought alongside their men in action. As Mark Odintz has convincingly demonstrated, however, in America this does not appear often to have been the case. For example, when Brigadier General Alexander Leslie wrote to his brother about the death of Captain the Honorable William Leslie at Princeton, he reassured the earl, “I don’t find he was too rash, as you seem to fear, or that he was out of the ranks.” More explicitly, after the battle of Monmouth, Lieutenant Hale regretted the fact that he and three brother-officers of the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers had recklessly outpaced their companies during the initial breakneck British advance. Hale shamefacedly added, “I am told the general [i.e., Clinton] has expressed his approbation of the ridiculous behavior of the four subaltern officers . . . who had got foremost.”

That Hale took especial notice of the fact that one of his brother officers had dispatched a rebel with his sword during the pursuit (“as we all might have done”) demonstrates that engaging in personal combat was an unusual exploit for an officer. Similarly, contrary to the recommendation of one officer and military writer who served in Britain, firelock-armed officers and sergeants in America were not encouraged to augment the battalion’s fire in action. At the opening of the Albany expedition, Burgoyne reminded his army that “[t]he attention of every officer in action is to be employed in his men; to make use of a fusil except in very extraordinary occasions of immediate personal defense, would betray an ignorance of his importance, and of his duty.” Likewise, in a memorandum composed around May 1776 at Cape Fear, Clinton complained that an officer could not properly command his men “while he is firing, loading, and playing bo peep behind trees.” According to the general, when this happened the soldier, “when things become desperate talks of every man for himself and sauve qui peut.” Months later, an incident at the storming of Chatterton’s Hill appeared to vindicate Clinton’s disapproval. He later described what happened when, having forded the Bronx River, two British battalions suddenly found themselves exposed to very heavy fire from the rebels atop the hill: “The officer who led them immediately formed in column for attack and advanced; the instant I saw the move I declared it decisive. But when the officer had marched forward about twenty paces he halted, fired his fusil, and began to reload (his column remaining during the time under the enemy’s fire); upon which I pronounced it a coup manqué, foretelling at the same time that they would break. It happened as I said, and I could not help remarking to Sir William Howe that, if the battle should be lost, that officer was the occasion of it. I had scarcely done speaking when Lord Cornwallis came up with the same observation.” Clinton’s judgment on the affair was unequivocal: “General Burgoyne and I have often represented the absurdity of officers being armed with fusils, and the still greater impropriety . . . by which they neglected the opportunity of employing their divisions to advantage. These had no confidence in them, and they became in fact as the worst soldiers in their divisions.” In short, the officer could not properly carry out his duty to orchestrate violence and simultaneously be a direct agent of it.

The third activity that officers were expected to perform in action was to keep the men under order. This responsibility included supporting the sergeants in their main duties of filling vacancies and dressing the ranks and files — an important job when the men’s natural instinct was to “bunch” under fire. To facilitate this task, in conventional linear warfare officers and sergeants customarily carried spontoons and halberds; which were less useful as weapons than as tools with which to manhandle misaligned men into position. As mentioned earlier, the formation of two ranks at open file intervals customarily employed by the redcoats in America from 1776 precluded them from maintaining perfect dressings in combat. Despite this, however, the officers and sergeants needed to preserve a certain level of order, without which their control over the men would have broken down. This was especially critical when the battalion came under fire, met unexpectedly aggressive resistance, or routed one enemy force only to encounter a fresh one in its path. Any of these scenarios was likely, at best, to have dampened the men’s ardor and to have temporarily diverted their attention from their officers. At worst, the battalion might have fallen into disarray, in which case it could neither have continued its advance, prevailed in the firefight, nor withstood a resolute enemy attack. Whatever the degree of confusion, it was the officers’ immediate and overwhelming priority to restore full control over the bewildered or excitable soldiery.

As one instance of this, during the final assault at Bunker Hill, the adjutant of the 1st Battalion of Marines, Lieutenant John Waller, had to exert himself to restore order to the corps before it could resume its advance and storm the rebel position. Waller’s account is so vivid that it deserves to be quoted at some length:

when we came immediately under the work, we were checked by the severe fire of the enemy, but did not retreat an inch. We were now in confusion, after being broke several times in getting over the rails, etc. I did all I could to form the two companies on our right, which at last I effected, losing many of them. While it was performing, Major [John] Pitcairn was killed close by me, with a captain and a subaltern, also a sergeant, and many of the privates; and had we stopped there much longer, the enemy would have picked us all off. I saw this, and begged [Lieutenant] Colonel [William] Nesbitt, of the 47th [Regiment], to form on our left, in order that we might advance with our bayonets to the parapet. I ran from right to left, and stopped our men from firing while this was doing; and when we had got in tolerable order, we rushed on, leaped the ditch, and climbed the parapet, under a most sore and heavy fire.

Similarly, during Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood’s first attack at Princeton, a “very heavy discharge” at forty yards brought down seven of the men in Lieutenant Hale’s ad hoc grenadier platoon and forced the others to recoil some distance, where Hale “rallied them with some difficulty, and brought them on with [charged] bayonets.”

As Hale’s experience indicates, sometimes the officers and sergeants could not restore their men’s order while the enemy continued to present an immediate threat, in which case the whole had to retire some distance first. Thus at Concord, when the rebel militia’s fire forced Captain Walter Laurie’s three light companies at the North Bridge (in the words of one of the officers) “to give way, then run with the greatest precipitance,” the four remaining officers did not succeed in halting the men until they reached the cover of the grenadier companies marching to reinforce them. A similar phenomenon occurred at the battle of Eutaw Springs. There, when Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart’s line collapsed, it was necessary for the King’s troops “to retire a little distance to an open field in order to form” under the cover of the fire from a detachment of the New York Volunteers, who posted themselves in an adjacent brick house.

The last of the regimental officers’ four main activities was to oversee the various maneuvers and firings of their troops. In theory, because the battalion was under the overall control of the field officers, this task did not demand a vast effort from the captains and subalterns. For example, if the commanding officer ordered the battalion to open fire at the halt by subdivisions, the eight officers in question simply had to step forward and give the signal in the predetermined sequence for their fire divisions to “make ready,” “present,” and “fire” (and then to “load”). Hypothetically, maneuvering the battalion generally demanded even less of the captains and subalterns, for most of the evolutions required no further verbal instructions than the initial command bellowed by one of the field officers. All the captains and subalterns had to do was to oversee their maneuver divisions as they executed the evolution — doubtless the sergeants would have shoved wayward men into place. In short, in conventional linear warfare the directorial role of the captains and subalterns did not require them to display a great deal of tactical initiative. But as will become clear later, it was a very different matter in America. There the British considerably loosened the ties that ordinarily bound the maneuver and fire divisions of the battalion so rigidly into a single tactical entity.

Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew H. Spring



James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.

Battle of Sedgemoor 1685

Battle of Sedgemoor

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: England vs. the duke of Monmouth

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Somersetshire, England

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Monmouth sought to succeed Charles II to the throne.

OUTCOME: The rebellion was crushed, Monmouth beheaded, and the other rebels punished.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Monmouth’s army, 9,000; royalist forces, 2,700

CASUALTIES: Monmouth’s army, 1,384 killed in action, 1,000 made prisoner, of whom 200 were executed and 800 transported to Barbados exile; royalists, 400 killed or wounded

James Scot (1649-85), duke of Monmouth, was proposed by the first earl of Shaftesbury as the heir to the throne of Charles II (1630-85) in preference to the Catholic duke of York, James (subsequently King James II [1633-1701]). When Monmouth attracted many supporters, he was threatened and had to flee for his life to Holland. He returned to England after the death of Charles II, where he proclaimed himself king and raised an army of 9,000 supporters. The duke of York, having ascended the throne as James II, sent an army under Louis de Durfort, the second earl of Feversham (1641-1709) to intercept Monmouth’s force. Colonel John Churchill (1650-1722), commanding the Household Cavalry, defeated Monmouth, largely with artillery fire, at the Battle of Sedgemoor, in Somersetshire, on July 6, 1685. Monmouth’s force was decimated, and although Monmouth himself escaped death in battle, he was soon captured and beheaded. Of 1,000 of Monmouth’s men taken prisoner, 200 were hanged and the rest shipped off to Barbados by judgment of Chief Justice George Jeffreys (c. 1645-89) in what came to be called the Bloody Assizes.


James, Duke of Monmouth, was Charles II’s eldest and favourite son, the product of his first serious love affair — in 1649, with Lucy Walter, an attractive, dark-eyed Englishwoman living in Paris. This was the year of Charles I’s execution, and it was later recounted that the nineteen-year-old prince, suddenly and tragically King in-exile, fell so deeply in love with Lucy that he secretly married her.

Charles always denied that Lucy was his legitimate wife, but he showed great favour to his handsome firstborn, awarding him the dukedom — the highest rank of aristocracy — when the boy was only fourteen, and arranging his marriage to a rich heiress. Sixteen years later, in 1679, Charles entrusted him with the command of an English army sent to subdue Scottish rebels, and the thirty-year-old returned home a conquering hero.

As the exclusion crisis intensified, the Whigs embraced Monmouth as their candidate for the throne — here was a dashing ‘Protestant Duke’ to replace the popish James — and Monmouth threw himself into the part. He embarked on royal progresses, currying popular favour by taking part in village running races, and even touching scrofula sufferers for the King’s Evil. But Charles was livid at this attempt by his charming but bastard son to subvert the line of lawful succession. He twice issued proclamations reasserting Monmouth’s illegitimacy.

The transition of rule from Charles to James II in February 1685 was marked by a widespread acceptance — even a warmth — that had seemed impossible in the hysterical days of the Popish Plot. ‘Without forswearing his Catholic loyalties, James pledged that he would‘ undertake nothing against the religion [the Church of England] which is established by law’, and most people gave him the benefit of the doubt. At the relatively advanced age of fifty-two, the new King cut a competent figure, reassuringly more serious and hardworking than his elder brother.

But Monmouth, in exile with his Whig clique in the Netherlands, totally misjudged the national mood. On 11 June that year he landed at the port of Lyme Regis in Dorset with just eighty-two supporters and equipment for a thousand more. Though his promises of toleration for dissenters drew the support of several thousand West Country artisans and labourers, the local gentry raised the militia against him, and the duke was soon taking refuge in the swamps of Sedgemoor where King Alfred had hidden from the Vikings eight hundred years earlier. Lacking Alfred’s command of the terrain, however, Monmouth got lost in the mists during an attempted night attack, and as dawn broke on 6 July his men were cut to pieces.

Nine days later the ‘Protestant Duke’ was dead, executed in London despite grovelling to his victorious uncle and offering to turn Catholic in exchange for his life. It was a sorry betrayal of the Somerset dissenters who had signed up for what would prove the last popular rebellion in English history — and there was worse to come. Not content with the slaughter of Sedgemoor and the summary executions of those caught fleeing from the field, James insisted that a judicial commission headed by the Lord Chief Justice, George Jeffreys, should go down to the West Country to root out the last traces of revolt.

Travelling with four other judges and a public executioner, Jeffreys started his cull in Winchester, where Alice Lisle, the seventy-year-old widow of the regicide Sir John Lisle, was found guilty of harbouring a rebel and condemned to be burned at the stake. When Jeffreys suggested that she might plead to the King for mercy, Widow Lisle took his advice — and was spared burning to be beheaded in the marketplace. Moving on to Dorchester on 5 September, Jeffreys was annoyed to be confronted by a first batch of thirty suspects all pleading ‘not guilty’: he sentenced all but one of them to death. Then, in the interests of speed, he offered more lenient treatment to those pleading ‘guilty’. Out of 233, only eighty were hanged.

By the time the work of the Bloody Assizes was finished, 480 men and women had been sentenced to death, 260 whipped or fined, and 850 transported to the colonies, where the profits from their sale were enjoyed by a syndicate that included James’s wife, Mary of Modena. The tarred bodies and heads pickled in vinegar that Judge Jeffreys distributed around the gibbets of the West Country were less shocking to his contemporaries than they would be to subsequent generations. But his Bloody Assizes did raise questions about the new Catholic King, and how moderately he could be trusted to use his powers.

The British Army Air Corps’ ‘Whistling Chicken Leg’

Affectionately known by Army Air Corps pilots as the ‘Whistling Chicken Leg’ and the ‘Tinny-Winny’, the Westland-built Gazelle AH.1 has been in continuous in service for more than forty-five years.

Three AH.1s were officially accepted to the Gazelle Intensive Flying Trials Unit (IFTU) at Middle Wallop on 3 May 1973. Nine pilots from the three UK services and ten REME technicians spent the next six and a half months clocking up around 2,400 hours of flying.

The IFTU’s aircraft included what were among the longest- and shortest-serving Army Air Corps (AAC) Gazelles in terms of time and flying hours. XW850, which was delivered on 2 May 1973, was written off on the 31st of the same month. The cause of the accident, which killed the pilot and injured an aircrewman, was attributed to a jack-stall that happened at low level and at maximum weight. The aircraft crashed at Fordingbridge, Hampshire, and was damaged beyond repair.

XW847 carried out two and a half years of simulated service flying in six months of trials in an effort to find out what was likely to go wrong both from a flying and a maintenance point of view. Each of the three initial AAC helicopters averaged over 100 hours flying per month – a rate of more than three times the average for the army. The main objective of establishing the reliability of the aircraft under typical operating conditions was achieved in a short space of time.

With the job of the IFTU completed, further trials were scheduled with role equipment of various types but at a more normal flying rate, using four aircraft. Personnel and equipment would become part of Demonstration & Trials Squadron (D&T) from December 1973. Preparation for the Gazelle conversion courses was their next main priority. It was envisaged that a one-month conversion course would be necessary for new Gazelle pilots. This would involve around 25 hours in the air plus some extra ground school for those with only piston-engine experience, such as the Westland-built Sioux, which the Gazelle was intended to replace.

The Westland SA.341B first entered operational service on 6 July 1974 with the AAC designated Gazelle AH.1, with No. 660 Squadron based at Salamanca Barracks in West Germany. The five-seat Gazelle AH.1 that replaced the Sioux AH.1 was assigned the roles of reconnaissance, troop deployment, direction of artillery fire, casualty evacuation and anti-tank operations. The AH.1 featured the Astazou IIIN2 engine, a nightsun searchlight and the Decca Doppler 80 Radar, and it could be armed with Raytheon TOW wire-guided anti-tank missiles plus a roof sight. By the mid-1980s the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) had three armoured regiments on its strength and each division had its own AAC Regiment. 1 Regiment AAC, based at Hildesheim, with Nos 651 and 652 Squadrons, each with eight Lynx AH.1s and four Gazelle AH.1s, operated in the attack/anti-tank roles, while No. 661 Squadron, with twelve Gazelle AH.1s, was a reconnaissance unit. 3 Regiment AAC at Soest had Nos 653 and 662 Squadrons with a mix of Lynx and Gazelle AH.1s and 663 Squadron operating solely Gazelle AH.1s. Finally, 4 Regiment AAC at Detmold had Nos 654 and 659 Squadrons with a mix of Lynx and Gazelles and No. 669 Squadron with only Gazelle AH.1s. A small number of Gazelles were operated by 664 Squadron at Minden as the BAOR Communications Flight while No. 12 Flight was based at RAF Wildenrath for communications duties.

No. 7 Flight AAC was based at RAF Gatow in West Berlin in the 1980s. Directly under the control of the Berlin Brigade the main task of this small unit comprising three Gazelle AH.1s was that of the Berlin Wall surveillance and daily observation of the 55,000 Soviet troops based within sight of Gatow. Its secondary duties included VIP and military personnel transport, as well as support of the West German police, which was not permitted to operate its own helicopters over the city.

24 (Airmobile) Brigade was formed on 1 April 1987 at Catterick, North Yorkshire, as one of the BAOR reinforcing brigades to provide the NATO Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) with an effective counter to massed enemy armoured movements. Gazelle AH.1s of all front line units assigned to the brigade were equipped with the Ferranti AF532 observation aid. During its predominantly Cold War service period in West Germany, AAC Gazelles flew over 660,000 hours and had over 1,000 modifications made to the aircraft.

UK-based AH.1 units included No. 6 Flight, part of No. 658 Squadron at Netheravon, No. 657 Squadron at Oakington and No. 655 Squadron at Belfast-Aldergrove, along with a detachment at Ballykelly with No. 656 Squadron. The type was also frequently used to perform airborne patrols in Northern Ireland as part of Operation Banner, the British Armed Forces’ operation in Northern Ireland from August 1969 to July 2007.

On 17 February 1978, Gazelle AH.1 XX404 of No. 657 Squadron crashed near Jonesborough, County Armagh, after coming under fire from the Provisional IRA during a ground skirmish, killing one of the crew. An active service unit of the Provisional IRA shot down Gazelle AH.1 ZB687 on 11 February 1990 along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The helicopter was hit several times by heavy machine-gun fire and crash-landed on an open field, injuring three members of its four-man crew.

Another Gazelle AH.1 was written-off in Northern Ireland on 27 November 1992 when ZB681 of No. 661 Squadron was involved in a mid-air collision with an RAF Puma on approach to RAF Aldergrove. Both the helicopters crashed, killing all four on board the Puma and the two on board the Gazelle seriously injured.

The first overseas deployment outside of the British Isles and Europe began in 1974 when AAC Gazelle AH.1s replaced Sioux helicopters operated by No. 660 Squadron at RAF Sek Kong. However, they were found to be unsuitable for Hong Kong operations and by the end of 1975 had been replaced by the Westland Scout AH.1.

Operation Agila took place in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, in the lead up to the country’s first free elections in 1980, leading to independence from British rule. To assist with this process, six Gazelle AH.1s of No. 656 Squadron supported the 1,500-strong Commonwealth Monitoring Group (CMG) tasked with setting up of rendezvous and assembly points prior to the ceasefire and in preparation for the subsequent elections. The ceasefire between the various guerrilla groups officially began at 00:01 on 29 December 1979, although reports of intimidation tactics and threats of violence would continue to mar the election process. Operation Agila coincided with the wet season in Rhodesia, the results being that regular heavy tropical thunderstorms led to the sporadic grounding of No. 656 Squadron throughout the months they served. Tasks undertaken by the Gazelles involved the movement of men, materiel and supplies, as well as liaison sorties for senior members of CMG staff and the Rhodesian Patriotic Front Headquarters. When necessary, the helicopters were employed in CASEVAC duties for the wounded of both the CMG and Rhodesian forces.

Other overseas AAC Gazelle AH.1 units in the mid-1980s included No. 25 Flight based at Belize International Airport for support and communication duties and No. 29 Flight at Suffield, Canada, with five AH.1s in support of British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) delivering CASEVAC, range safety control and C2, plus ISTAR support to the formations in training. From 1988 to September 1994, the AAC United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Flight was equipped with Gazelle AH.1s.

Army-owned AH.1s also entered service with 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron (3 CBAS), where they operated as utility and reconnaissance helicopters in support of the Royal Marines based at RNAS Yeovilton. The twelve Gazelles for 3 CBAS had entered service in 1975. The unit was a self-sufficient light helicopter squadron tasked with supporting 3 Commando Brigade worldwide. It consisted of four flights – two equipped with four AH.1s for observation, forward air control (FAC), liaison and CASEVAC, one of six TOW-equipped Lynx AH.1s and a HQ flight responsible for administration and tasking. All the aircraft were maintained by REME personnel attached to the squadron. Three 3 CBAS AH.1s were stationed at St George’s Barracks in Malta during 1977. During the Falklands War, the 3 CBAS Gazelles played a valuable role operating from the flight decks of Royal Navy ships. Under a rapidly performed programme specifically for the Falklands operation, the Gazelles were fitted with 68-mm SNEB rocket pods and various other optional equipment such as IFF, armour, flotation gear and folding blade mechanisms. A total of fifteen Gazelles were sent to the South Atlantic in 1982 flown by Royal Marines and two were lost on the first day of the landings at San Carlos Water. On 21 May two CBAS AH.1s, XX402 and XX411, were escorting RN Sea King HC4s when they were shot down near Port San Carlos by small arms fire from retreating Argentine troops, and a third, XX412, was badly damaged. From then on most shore-based Gazelles were confined to CASEVAC and support roles to minimise contact with the enemy.

However, in a high-profile incident of friendly fire on 6 June 1982, a Gazelle AH.1 was mistaken for a low-flying Argentine C-130 Hercules and was shot down by a British Type 42 destroyer. Gazelle AH.1 XX377 was originally on the strength of 3 CBAS but was allocated to No. 656 Squadron on sailing for the Falklands aboard Nordic Ferry on 9 May. It arrived at San Carlos on 3 June and three days later it was tasked to take spares and fuel from Darwin to Mount Pleasant. While some 2 miles from the peak, flying at between 70 and 200 feet AGL in bad weather and poor visibility, the Gazelle was hit by a Sea Dart missile fired from the destroyer HMS Cardiff.

The Gazelle crashed immediately and was destroyed. All four occupants were killed on impact. HMS Cardiff was reported to have fired two Sea Darts early on 6 June at unidentified and slow-moving aircraft heading east towards Fitzroy settlement, but no hits were confirmed. The destroyer’s commander had been told that the target was in an area where no ‘friendly’ aircraft were operating. On 13 June another casualty of the raid on 3 Commando Brigade’s HQ by Argentine Skyhawks was Gazelle ZA728, which had its Perspex bubble canopy shattered. The aircraft was recovered to the rear echelon at San Carlos for repairs, but as the Gazelle had also suffered serious damage to the instrument panel it was decomissioned.

With over thirty years of air experience, Lt-Com. Bill O’Brien RM was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) while flying a Gazelle at the battles of Darwin and Goose Green. His work in Operation Corporate involved rescuing casualties and delivering supplies.

‘We flew a number of sorties mostly at night in an armed Gazelle, not that we ever used the SNEB 68 mm rockets in anger,’ he said. ‘I am not sure how effective they would have been if we had – they had a fairly basic aiming system just a chinagraph cross on the aircraft windscreen. It was the early days of night vision devices. They were fairly rudimentary and we taught ourselves how to use them on the way down to the South Atlantic.’

However, AAC Gazelles would not leave the Falkland Islands until five years after the Falklands conflict came to an end. The AAC Falkland Island Squadron operated a flight of Gazelle AH.1s based at Port Stanley Airport until Mount Pleasant Airbase was opened in 1987.

Tasked with communications and VIP flights plus some coastal reconnaissance, which included deck-landing practice on Royal Navy ships on patrol, a technique not taught at Middle Wallop, the Gazelles were expected to operate year round in the challenging weather conditions of the Falklands at their wind, weight and endurance limits. This service was commonly referred to by army personnel as ‘TITS’, being the acronym for ‘The Inter-island Taxi Service’.

The first full AAC regiment was shipped out to the Gulf in January 1991 as part of Operation Grapple, comprising twenty-four Gazelle AH.1 and twenty-four Lynx AH.7 helicopters of 4 Regiment and drawn from Nos 654, 659 and 661 Squadrons. The Gazelles were already fitted with sand filters and painted in desert ‘pink’ camouflage. Normally unarmed, the AAC Gazelles were also fitted with unguided rocket pods when deployed to Operation Desert Sabre, the ground campaign of the Gulf War in February 1991.

Operation Haven was the UK’s contribution to Operation Provide Comfort, a multi-national effort to provide protection and humanitarian aid to Kurdish refugees fleeing oppression by Saddam Hussein’s forces after the Gulf War. Royal Marines from 40 and 45 Commando and other 3 Commando Brigade elements were involved in the operation in April 1991, supported by four 3 CBAS AH.1s deployed to Task Force Bravo.

Following the end of the Cold War at the end of 1991, the structure of BAOR changed and with the end of the Warsaw Pact British Forces began plan a withdrawal from Germany but AAC Gazelles were soon fully deployed to operations far from Europe.

In 2000 AAC Gazelle AH.1s flew overhead spotting for mortar teams as they pounded rebel forces in support of the SAS rescue mission in Sierra Leone during Operation Barras, while 3 CBAS Gazelles supported Operation Telic, the UK military operations in Iraq from 2003. In 2007, it was reported that, while many British helicopters had struggled with the conditions of the Afghani and Iraqi theatres, the Gazelle was the best performing aircraft, with roughly 80 per cent being available for planned operations.

During pre-Operation Herrick exercises, a crucial asset that battle groups called on when in Helmand was Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), and an important part of that was the use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveillance. However, as UAVs are not licenced to fly in UK airspace; instead, that role was taken by a Gazelle AH.1 equipped with an MX-15 EO/IR sensor turret.

The Gazelle has also been used by Middle Wallop-based Army Air Corps helicopter aerobatic teams, including the Blue Eagles originally formed in 1973 with five Sioux AH.1s and briefly reformed in 1982 as the Silver Eagles for the AAC’s 25th anniversary with Gazelles. The team was re-configured in 1992 with four Gazelles and a single Lynx. The Sparrowhawks was another four-Gazelle aerobatic team that displayed in 1977.

AAC AH.1s were upgraded in 2007 with a Direct Voice Input (DVI) system developed by QinetiQ that allows the aircrew to control aircraft systems using voice commands and access information without removing their hands from the flight controls or their eyes from the outside world.

In 2016 the Service Modifications team at No. 1710 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) developed a system for the AAC Gazelle AH.1 to be adapted to airlift casualties from the battlefield. Each year the army deploys to the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Alberta, Canada, for live firing exercises, but needed to provide a helicopter medical evacuation facility to cover the large prairie of 1,042 square miles. The design team introduced life-monitoring and life-support equipment normally found in a UK air ambulance as part of the modifications and trialled their designs with No. 667 Squadron.

At the beginning of 2018, ten Gazelle AH.1s remained in service with No. 665 Squadron, 5 Regiment in Northern Ireland, plus six with No. 7 Regiment Conversion Flight at the School of Army Aviation at Middle Wallop, where the Gazelle has been used to train AAC pilots for the past forty-five years, and No. 667 Squadron. Four more continued to serve with No. 29 Flight BATUS in Canada, while another ten AH.1 remained at Middle Wallop, undergoing servicing or in storage.

Although the original Gazelle out of service date (OSD) was set in 2018, Gama Engineering Ltd, at Fairoaks Airport, was awarded a contract in April 2017 to supply the design solution and major parts for a Traffic Alerting System, GPS and 8.33 kHz VHF communications upgrade and a Primary Flight Display from Aspen Avionics to a number of AAC Gazelle AH.1s. In March 2018 Vector Aerospace was awarded a contract to provide maintenance support for the AAC Gazelle AH.1 helicopter fleet at its Fleetlands facility in Gosport. Work under the contract commenced in April 2018, and with Contract Extension Options will continue until 30 June 2022.

Although the British Army plans to replace the Gazelle with a new type by 2025, none was selected by the end of 2018 and it is likely that the venerable Army Air Corps’ ‘Whistling Chicken Leg’ will remain beyond its 50th anniversary in UK military service.

Matilda at Arras


By the outbreak of war with Germany in September 1939 there were only two Matildas in service, though 16 had been issued to 7th Royal Tank Regiment in France by early 1940 where they were used with success in the Battle of Arras just prior to the Dunkirk evacuation.

The Matilda is best remembered for its important part in the early Western Desert campaigns. In Libya in 1940 it was virtually immune to any Italian anti-tank gun or tank, and Matildas reigned supreme until the appearance of the German 88mm Flak gun in the anti-tank role in mid-1941, the first gun able to penetrate Matilda’s heavy armour at long range. It was not possible to fit the 6pdr gun in the Matilda (though an attempt was made to mount the A27 type turret on a Matilda chassis), due to the small size of the turret and turret ring. Thus in 1942, the Matilda declined in importance as a gun tank and was last used in action in this role at the first Alamein battle in July 1942.

At Arras the British advance ran into two pieces of bad luck. Rommel was in the vicinity, and the tanks that struck SS Totenkopf hit that division’s antitank battalion. By evening the British had stalled, and the surviving tanks retreated. On the battlefield they had achieved little, but their attack had increased German nervousness and would play a major role in the British Army’s eventual escape. On the 22nd, a small attack from the French V Corps further reinforced OKW fears.

Hitler’s “crisis of nerves” passed and was replaced with unbounded joy when he learned that the pocket-soon to be known as the Dunkirk Pocket-had been closed, and he was brimming over with praise for the army and its leaders. The next day, May 21, he was startled again, however, when two British infantry divisions and the 1st Army Tank Brigade counterattacked against Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division and the Totenkopf (Death’s Head) SS Motorized Division (SS-TK). The British strike force had only 58 Mark Is, armed only with machine guns, and 16 heavy Matilda infantry tanks, but the 30-ton Matildas were superior to any German tank in armored protection and firepower. The right-hand column took Berneville and soon ran into Colonel Georg von Bismarck’s 7th Rifle Regiment, the 1st SS-TK Regiment, and the tank destroyer battalion of the Totenkopf Division, whose shells were unable to penetrate the British tanks. Several SS gun crews were crushed to death under the treads of the Matildas, which were finally brought to a halt by the gunners of the SS-TK artillery regiment, who fired over open sights. Once they were pinned down, the British forces were bombed repeatedly by Stukas. Contrary to the reports of certain historians, the former concentration camp guards did not panic during the British attack; in fact, most of their wounded were hit in the lungs and stomach, because they ran toward the British tanks, trying to knock them out with hand grenades–a brave maneuver, but not a particularly bright one. In his excellent history of the Totenkopf Division, Charles W. Syndor, Jr., concluded that, in general, the division “performed commendably” during the attack.

The British left-hand column hit the 6th Rifle Regiment and initially experienced greater success. Once again, the German 37-millimeter anti-tank guns could not penetrate the thick frontal armor on the British infantry tanks. One Matilda was hit 14 times. They were finally halted by the combined firepower of the 78th Motorized Artillery Regiment, the 86th Light Anti-Tank Battalion (lent to the 7th Panzer by the 4th Army), and elements of the 59th and 23rd Anti-Aircraft Regiments, all firing under the personal supervision of General Rommel. Colonel Rothenburg’s 25th Panzer Regiment then launched a counterattack and forced the British armor nearly back to its starting line. By the end of the day, the 7th Panzer Division had lost 378 men killed, wounded, and missing, as well as nine medium and several light tanks. Theodor Eicke’s SS-TK lost 39 killed, 66 wounded, and two missing.

The Germans pursued the British but were halted by French armour from the 3rd Light Mechanised Division (3rd DLM). The heavier armour of the French saw the German forces stopped cold. French cover enabled British troops to withdraw to their former positions that night. Frankforce took around 400 German prisoners and inflicted a similar number of casualties, as well as destroying a number of tanks. Later on 23 May the 3rd DLM launched its own attack to try to exploit British success. The Luftwaffe and German reinforcements defeated the attack

Both von Kleist and von Kluge were somewhat shaken by the surprisingly aggressive British reaction at Arras. Kluge wanted to delay any further advances until the situation was cleared up and Rundstedt, who wanted to conserve his strength, agreed. The XIX Panzer Corps War Diary records that the British counterattack “apparently created nervousness throughout the entire [Kleist] group area.”

But it went farther than that. Both Hitler and Rundstedt took the attack as an indication that Army Group A had advanced too far, too fast, and needed to establish an adequate defense on the flanks of the Panzer Corridor. Rundstedt therefore ordered Kleist to halt his drive on the Channel ports until the fighting around Arras had been resolved. Ewald von Kleist took the 10th Panzer Division from XIX Panzer Corps and placed it in group reserve. Guderian had earmarked the 10th Panzer for an advance on Dunkirk. This would not be immediately possible.

Even after the Arras counterattack, Rundstedt had seven panzer, six motorized, and four infantry divisions in position to launch an attack into the rear of the B. E. F. At that time, Lord Gort had only two infantry divisions and a few miscellaneous units to protect his right rear. Because it halted the panzers, therefore, the counterattack at Arras represents a significant victory for the British, even though it was undoubtedly a tactical defeat.