Supermarine Spitfire and Messerschmitt Bf 109 – Early Development




Supermarine Spitfire

Probably the most successful British fighter of World War II; placed in front-line service throughout the war. At least 22,759 Spitfire and Spitfire variants (photo-reconnaissance aircraft and naval fighters) were built between March 1936 and March 1949 in 54 major marks (not counting variants in engine fit and prototypes).

The Spitfire was a pilot’s airplane—a very responsive aircraft with superb control harmony that gave the pilot plenty of feedback as manoeuvre limits were approached. The ability of the Spitfire’s airframe to accept progressively more powerful engines was a major factor in its continued success. Its only real fault was a relative lack of range on internal fuel (approximately 490 miles for a Mk.1, 660 miles for a Mk.VIII/IX with fuselage tank).

The Spitfire Mk.I was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin III producing 990 bph using 87-octane fuel. It was armed with eight 0.303-inch Browning machine guns and played an important part in the Battle of Britain. A number of performance improvements were made during 1940, including the use of 100-octane fuel. From November 1940, all Spitfires were retrofitted with metal ailerons that increased the roll rate at high speed. The Mk.II was fitted with a 1,140-bhp Merlin XII. Tactical comparisons with a captured Messerschmitt Bf 109E showed that the Spitfire had a much better turning circle, was generally more manoeuvrable (particularly at high speed), and that the Bf 109 had a slightly better climb below 20,000 feet and was able to accelerate faster in a dive.

Photo-reconnaissance Spitfires were stripped of nonessential equipment and received a highly polished paint finish. They carried two F.24 cameras and were 10–15 mph faster than standard Spitfires. Subsequent versions carried much more fuel, increasing range to a respectable 2,000 miles. The Mk.V entered service in February 1941 and had a 1,450-bhp Merlin 45. It served in every theater during World War II and fought with distinction during the defense of Malta.

Most Mk.Vs were armed with two 20mm Hispano cannons and four 0.303-inch Browning machine guns. The Mk.V was comparable to the Messerschmitt Bf 109F2, but it was severely disadvantaged by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A, which outclassed the Spitfire V in every department except turning circle. The Spitfire LF Vb with a 1,580-bhp Merlin 50M redressed the performance balance at low altitude at the expense of performance above 12,000 feet, and a much higher rate of roll was achieved by removing the detachable wing tips.




Messerschmitt Bf 109

Willy Messerschmitt began developing his benchmark fighter in 1933 once the Luftwaffe desired to substitute its Arado Ar 68 and Heinkel He 51 biplanes. The prototype flew in 1935 as a rather angular, low-wing monoplane with a fully enclosed cockpit and narrow-track landing gear. Results were impressive, and in 1937 the new Bf 109B fighter outpaced all other rivals at the International Flying Meet in Zurich, Switzerland. By 1939 the first production model, the Bf 109E, was introduced, featuring a bigger engine and heavier armament. As a fighter, the diminutive craft flew fast and maneuvered well, features that helped secure German air superiority at the start of World War II. Simply put, Bf 109s annihilated all their outdated opposition until encountering Supermarine Spitfires during the 1940 Battle of Britain. Although speedier than its British opponent, Bf 109Es turned somewhat slower and never achieved superiority.


The most famous fighter of the German Luftwaffe, produced in greater numbers (in excess of 30,000) than any other fighter aircraft. Created by Willy Messerschmitt and his chief engineer, Walter Rethel, the Bf 109 was the world’s most advanced fighter at the time of its first flight in September 1935. A development of the very successful four-place touring Bf 108, the Bf 109 featured retractable landing gear, an enclosed cockpit, all-metal stressed-skin construction, heavy armament for the time, slotted trailing-edge flaps, and automatic Handley Page leading-edge slots.

Despite the pressures for ever-increasing production, the Bf 109 went through a long series of modifications, the last production version being the Bf 109K. In the process, horsepower was increased from the prototype’s 695-hp Rolls- Royce Merlin to the 2,030-hp Daimler-Benz DB 605 engine in the Bf 109K.

The aircraft served in every theater in which the Germans fought and was used by many nations allied to Germany. In the early months of the war, it reigned supreme over the battlefield until it met its match in the Supermarine Spitfire. As the war progressed and new Allied fighters such as the Soviet Yak-3 and U.S. North American P-51 were introduced, it became increasingly difficult for the Bf 109 to compete on equal terms. Nevertheless, in the hands of a capable pilot it remained a dangerous weapon until the end of the war. Versions of the Bf 109 were produced in Czechoslovakia and Spain, and it fought again in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

Although it was the favorite mount of many top German aces, Allied pilots who flew test versions had mixed feelings. The cockpit was cramped, with visibility limited by the heavy frames of the canopy. By Allied standards, the control harmony was poor, a problem that was amplified by the inexplicable lack of a rudder-trimming device. At cruising speeds, the Bf 109 was generally considered delightful to fly, but its controls became very heavy as speed increased. The most notorious aspect of the Bf 109 was its appalling takeoff characteristics. An estimated 3,000 aircraft were lost during takeoffs in which the pilot lost control. Landing characteristics were also challenging, but a skilled pilot could land in a relatively short distance, using heavy braking once the tailwheel was firmly planted on the ground.

Constantius Stabilises Roman Britain


In AD 270 Aurelian became emperor, the Gallic Empire collapsed and Britain was once more subsumed into the Roman Empire. Aurelian, however, lasted only five years before his assassination and a period of turmoil led to the murder of his successors Tacitus and Florianus. Probus assumed power in AD 276 and over the next six years succeeded in giving the empire some stability, though not in Britain, where there was rebellion. Probus sent Victorinus, a Moorish officer, to sort out this problem. Zosimus said that Victorinus put down the rebellion by a clever trick but unfortunately does not elaborate on this. Probus also used Britain as a place to send captives including Burgundian and Vandal prisoners, intending that they should settle in the province; whether the intention was to get rid of them or, as Zosimus said, to use them to assist in putting down the rebellion is not clear. Probus lost the empire to Carus, his Praetorian Prefect, in AD 282 and Carus’s son Carinus took charge of the western part of the empire, assuming the titles of Britannicus Maximus and Germanicus Maximus.

Stability was not restored to the empire until Diocletian secured the imperial throne in AD 284. The next year he appointed Maximian as Caesar, his deputy with control over the western part of the empire. A year later, because of his successful rule in Gaul, Maximian was elevated to the position of joint emperor. A signet ring found in Britain portrayed their relationship. Diocletian was represented as Jupiter making decisions while Maximian was Hercules roaming the world to protect the empire against the forces of destruction. As Maximian had married Diocletian’s daughter this also indicated the link with Hercules as a son of Jupiter.

Maximian’s main task was to prevent pirate raids, which were increasingly occurring along the coasts of Britain and Gaul. This brought him into conflict with M. Aurelius Mausaeus Carausius, a Menapian from a region within modern Belgium. With his command covering the coasts of Belgica and Armorica and probably Britain, he was in charge of a fleet to drive off the pirates, mainly Franks and Saxons.

From his base at Boulogne, Carausius was successful in putting down piracy, so much so that he made himself a wealthy man. He was accused of letting pirates raid the coast, then capturing them when they left, and seizing their booty. This did not fit in with Maximian’s scheme of government for the west. He put a price on Carausius’s head whereupon Carausius, in either AD 286 or 287, sailed for Britain and declared himself emperor. Britain was now a province worth governing, as it was one of the most secure, prosperous and relatively peaceful in the empire. Why, therefore, it supported Carausius is not clear. He may have secured enough wealth to pay subsidies to troops to bring them over to his side or the troops in Britain may have become alienated towards, or indifferent to, the present imperial government. Carausius might have been an officer in a Roman legion for part of his career and was therefore known to the troops. Civilians, such as wealthy villa owners or merchants, may have resented paying taxes to Rome and taken an opportunity to rid themselves of this burden.

Maximian could not move against Carausius immediately as he was concerned with suppressing rebellions on the Rhine frontier. By 289, however, he had gathered a fleet but Carausius’s sea tactics ensured that he drove off the Roman fleet and Maximian appears to have been unable to secure a decisive victory. Instead, he put the best face he could on the matter and gave Carausius the title of Augustus. How far Carausius’s empire extended is uncertain. He had control of Britain and possibly the coastal areas of Gaul – coinage found in northern Gaul has his name stamped on it. The coins had been struck at several mints, one being in London and another at Rouen. He needed this coinage to pay his troops but the coins also show his imperial expectations. Early ones depict him clasping hands with a figure of Britannia and the legend ‘Expectate veni’ (Come, we have expected you). Others legitimate his authority with the words ‘Pax AUGGG’ (Peace of the three emperors).

Carausius’s empire was not destined to last. He was assassinated by Allectus, his financial officer, whose plot against him succeeded in AD 293, probably because Carausius had been weakened when Constantius, elevated by Maximian to the post of Caesar, seized Boulogne. This had loosened Carausius’s grip on the coast of Gaul. Constantius was now determined to seize back control in Britain, but he did not organize an attack until AD 296, possibly finding it difficult to raise sufficient ships until then. He divided his fleet into two separate parts. One, led by Constantius himself, sailed from Boulogne towards the Thames estuary; the other, under the command of the Praetorian prefect, Asclepiodotus, sailed from the Seine estuary. He was extremely lucky for a thick sea mist enabled him to avoid been seen by Allectus’s fleet, which was stationed off the Isle of Wight. He landed somewhere in the region of the Solent and, once he had embarked, ordered his men to burn the boats. He may have wished to prevent the enemy getting hold of them or perhaps he did not have enough men to leave some to guard the ships. Burning the boats also ensured that his men knew there was no way back.

Constantius’s fleet had been delayed by bad weather and only a few ships got through to land troops near Richborough. The greater danger, however, came from the troops of Asclepiodotus, who was advancing towards London. Allectus may not have been with his fleet but was somewhere in the south-east, for he was able to raise an army to meet the oncoming forces. The two armies met either in Hampshire or West Sussex. The battle resulted in the total defeat of Allectus and his subsequent death. The remnants of his forces retreated towards London, only to be trapped by those soldiers who had managed to land from Constantius’s ships. Allectus’s forces included Frankish soldiers who sacked the city before probably intending to return to their homes across the North Sea. They were slaughtered without mercy.

Constantius quickly sailed for Britain and was able to enter London in triumph. A bronze medallion, struck at Trier, records his entry. On one side is the head of Constantius with his titles. The other shows him riding into a walled city identified by the letters ‘LON’ for Londinium underneath. Before the wall kneels a figure with arms raised in supplication at his entry. His fleet, represented by a boat, has obviously sailed up the Thames. The inscription Redditor Lucis Aeternae (Restorer of the light that burns for ever) indicates the gratitude of the citizens.

Constantius immediately focused his attention on ensuring control over the army as well as securing the defences of the province, for Irish pirates were now menacing the west coast, the Picts were restless in the north and there were also pirate attacks on the eastern seaboard. A number of forts had already been constructed on the south-east and south coasts of Britain and these were reconditioned. These have been called the Saxon Shore forts but they were not built at the same time to form one coordinated defensive structure. Brancaster (Norfolk) and Reculver were built about AD 230. To these were added Burgh Castle (Norfolk), Walton Castle (Suffolk), Bradwell (Essex) and Lympne (Kent) in the 270s. At that time the small fort of Richborough was given more defensive walls and Dover was refortified. Carausius may have added Portchester but the fort of Pevensey (East Sussex) was not built until AD 370.

These were not forts in the strict military sense of housing units of troops trained to attack. Their stout walls and formidable turrets seem to have been designed for defence. Ballistae and catapults could be placed on these turrets. Soldiers and their families, who normally lived outside the forts, could take shelter in them. Their defences were against raiders coming across the North Sea, drawn by the wealth of the province. Yet raiders could easily slip between the forts and land anywhere along the undefended parts of the coast so it would have been necessary to construct a unified system of command that would ensure the defence of the whole eastern coast and its hinterland. It is also possible that a line of watchtowers was constructed along the Thames estuary, as one has been excavated at Shadwell. London would have been a great prize for seaborne raiders and early warning of their coming was essential. The western coastline was not left unprotected. Forts were built to guard the estuaries from Cardiff to Lancaster from raiders coming from Ireland and Scotland.

All these forts would have had to be used by the fleet. The Classis Britannica (the British fleet) already had bases at Dover and Richborough and after Carausius’s rule the latter became its chief base. Gaius Aufidius Pantera, prefect of the fleet, dedicated an altar to Neptune at Lympne, which suggests it was another base. Other forts would have provided facilities to moor and repair ships. It would have been easy to link the forts by sea and arrange patrols along the coast. There is no evidence of a road system linking one with another. In the south roads lead from Richborough, Dover, Reculver and Lympne to Canterbury, which has been suggested as being an off-duty station for the troops.

The northern frontier required extensive restoration, not because of destruction, but from decay. There had been no programme of repairs since Severus’s reign. It was time for intensive refurbishment and this was continued beyond Constantius’s visit. Some forts had their garrisons reduced; at Wallsend and Chesters buildings were demolished in one area of the fort and not rebuilt. In other forts, buildings were abandoned. It has been suggested that these open spaces were to house the tents of mobile forces that could move out quickly to put down uprisings. Constantius appeared to have ordered forts to reduce in size their principal buildings, as happened at Great Chesters and Housesteads. At Birdoswald the principia (headquarters), the praetorium (commander’s residence) and the baths needed extensive repair.

There were also differences in how the troops were housed. At some forts, such as Housesteads, rather than restore the barrack blocks, ‘chalets’ were built, laid out in rows, as if indicating that soldiers and their families could live there. Alternatively these may have housed the exploratores (scouts) whose duties took them into the Scottish lowlands. Restoration was also made to the south of Hadrian’s Wall at Lanchester, Binchester, Malton and Ilkley. In addition the walls of the fortress of York were rebuilt and the riverfront enhanced with a series of multangular towers, both for protection and to demonstrate the power of military might. This restoration took place over a long period and extended into the fourth century.

Constantius returned to Gaul in AD 297 to concentrate on the problems there. He took skilled men from Britain to rebuild part of the city of Autun in France, which may indicate that the towns in Britain had not suffered during Carausius’s rule. A panegyric on Constantius Caesar, compiled in AD 297, recorded that the Britons had greeted him, ‘with great joy after so many years of most wretched captivity … At last they were free, at last Romans, at last restored afresh by the true life of the empire.’ Allowing for the hyperbole it would seem that a new era had begun in Britain but to ensure that it would continue to be a prosperous province its defences had to be secured. That all was not yet secure is indicated by the return of Constantius in AD 305 to sort out further problems in the north.

Constantius had to leave Britain in AD 297 to deal with events in Gaul. Soon after Diocletian and Maximian abdicated and Constantius was proclaimed as Augustus with control over the west while Galerius ruled as Augustus in the east. One of their purposes was to separate the civil and the military administrations. The provincial governor was no longer a legate at the head of his troops but a civilian officer with total control of administration and the empire was split into dioceses under the control of vicarii (governors).

Renewed fighting in the north of Britain forced Constantius to return in AD 305 to lead a campaign against the Picts who had moved towards Hadrian’s Wall from their area of eastern Scotland. His son Constantine joined him but the details of their campaign are unclear. A panegyric to Constantius suggested that he penetrated into the furthest parts of Scotland, probably moving up the east coast. Other literary sources suggested that he moved north against the Picts and the Caledonii, and pottery evidence from this period found at Cramond on the Forth and Carpow on the Tay suggests that if he did move north he was making use of the fleet to bring supplies.

Either Constantius did not intend to complete the conquest of the north or he realized that he could not do this. He returned to York where, in AD 306, he died. According to Eutropius, his son Constantine, the offspring of a somewhat undistinguished marriage, was made emperor. Zosimus added a little more. He implied that Constantine had joined his father in Britain with the intention of seeking the empire. When Constantius died the next choice to succeed him as the western Augustus was Flavius Valerius Severus, Constantius’s Caesar. In Rome, the Praetorian Guard had already moved to declare Maximian’s son, Maxentius, as Augustus and this was supported by the Senate. The army in Britain, deciding that the son of Constantius was capable of ruling, had declared him to be emperor but for a while he was forced to accept the lesser rank of Caesar. Severus eventually was accepted as Augustus and Constantine became his official Caesar, which gave him some legitimacy. In AD 307 Maxentius moved against Severus and deposed him. Constantine gathered troops from Germany, Gaul and Britain, marched from Gaul across the Alps into Italy and decisively defeated Maxentius and his troops at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312.

Constantine was, however, forced to share authority with Licinius as co-emperor. They divided the empire between them with Constantine basing himself in Milan not Rome. In AD 324 Constantine finally seized complete control and forced Licinius to commit suicide. Licinius had based himself at Byzantium on the Bosporus and in AD 330 Constantine moved his court there, proclaiming it to be the New Rome, and with great ceremony decreed that it should be called Constantinople.

Eusebius said that Constantine did return to Britain at least once in his reign but once ‘he had subjugated it’ he returned to Rome and concentrated his attention on other parts of the world. Coins produced at the London mint were struck with the legends Constantinus Aug (ustus) and Adventus Aug (the arrival of Augustus). The implication is that there were problems in the province but what they were is unclear. There may have been other visits. Coin evidence suggests that these were in AD 307, 312 and 314. He also declared himself Britannicus Maximus, suggesting that he had won a victory.

It may have been on one of these visits that he made changes to the government in Britain. About AD 312–14 Britain was split into four provinces, which are recorded in the Verona List. Two might have been named after the two Caesars – Maxima Caesariensis and Flavia Caesariensis; the other two were Britannia Prima and Britannia Secunda. Maxima was to the south-east with its capital as London. Prima was in south Wales and the south-western part of Britain. An inscription found at Cirencester, which formed the base of a Jupiter column, was dedicated by ‘Lucius Septimius … Governor of Britannia Prima’, which seems proof that Corinium was the capital. Flavia Caesariensis, possibly created from land in both the provinces of Britannia Inferior and Britannia Superior, covered the centre of Britain from north Wales to the Lincolnshire coast with its most important town of Lincoln as the capital. It may have included some of East Anglia in its territory but Maxima Caesariensis may have included the whole of that area. Britannia Secunda covered the northern area of Britain including the Wall with York, headquarters of Legio VI, as its capital.

Confirmation of these provinces is given by the report on the bishops attending the Council of Arles in AD 314. Eborius was Bishop of York in provincia Britannia. Restitutus was Bishop de civitate Londiniensi (London) in provincia suprascripta. Adelphius was bishop of civitate colonia Londiniensium, probably a mistake for Lindinensium as Lincoln was a colonia while London was not. He was accompanied by a priest and a deacon, which might indicate his superior status.

Collectively these provinces formed one of the twelve dioceses of the empire so that Britain was ruled by a vicarius. The British diocese was under the overall command of the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul who also controlled Transalpine Gaul and Spain. This effectively eliminated the direct access that governors of Britain had once had to the emperor. Equally, it increased the possibility of more taxation being imposed on the diocese, money that was needed to support the military forces.

Constantine also seems to have instigated other reforms such as improving the road system, judging by the number of milestones attributed to his reign and the following one. These would have helped communications between the forts. The army was reformed following the work which Diocletian had begun in two areas. Firstly, the officer class became more professional so that now they served their entire career in the army without alternating it with civilian office. Secondly, greater mobility was ensured with increased mobile field units (limitanei) being placed on the frontiers and their hinterlands. Evidence for this comes from the Notitia Dignatatum, which listed chains of commands and detailed civil and military officials of the empire and the units controlled by them. This is assumed to have been completed by AD 395 with corrections and alterations over the next thirty years. How far it was kept up to date is uncertain.

The forces in Britain were listed under three commands. The south and east were under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore (Comes Litoris Saxonici) who obviously controlled the Saxon Shore forts and the areas between them. The northern area, which included Hadrian’s Wall, was under the control of the Duke of Britain (Dux Britanniarum) with his headquarters at York. Both of these commands had extensive forces on which they could call against attacks from the sea or from the north. Much later, probably on the command of Stilicho in AD 395, a new command was instituted, the Count of the Provinces of Britain (Comes Britannarium). These commands came into being over several years. Constantine had given the first two commands roving commissions by creating more cavalry and infantry regiments. The army had moved from being a garrison army to mobile units trained to move swiftly to counter any attack. These commands were not linked to the civil administration but covered wide areas across frontiers.

Constantine died in AD 337 and the empire again fragmented when his three sons divided it between them. Britain, Spain and Gaul were under the control of Constantine II, who invaded Italy in AD 340 to attack his brother Constans, who ruled Italy, Africa and the Illyrian provinces. Constantine II was defeated and killed at Aquileia. In spite of this warfare Britain seems to have remained relatively peaceful until about AD 342 when Libanius reported that Constans crossed to Britain in mid winter ‘with everything, cloudy, cold, and swell roused to total fury by the weather’. Julius Firmicus Maternus confirmed his ‘crossing the swelling, raging waves of Oceanus, in winter time, a deed unprecedented in the past, and not to be matched in the future’. As the Romans disliked crossing the sea during the winter storms the implication is that the revolt in Britain was serious; in fact, Libanius said that Constans did not announce his coming or give any warning. Possibly Constantine II had withdrawn troops from Britain in his bid for complete command of the empire and the northern tribes had taken the opportunity to revolt.

Vikings in the West

A map showing the areas where Viking raiders and their descendants commonly settled. The true scope of their influence is of course impossible to record, as generations of Vikings became assimilated into the local cultures of England and Normandy.

A map showing the Danelaw, a region of England controlled by the Danish Vikings under an 886 agreement made with Alfred the Great. Like Viking Scandinavia, the Danelaw was politically fragmented and it was not destined to last. By the mid-tenth century the Anglo-Saxons had won the territory back.

There were two things that made the Viking raids stand out among the rest: first, they were pagans; and second, their attacks came from the sea. It is this combination that prompted the bewildered and terrified accounts from monks who were otherwise seeking a life of spiritual solitude on remote, rocky coastlines. For Christians, the Viking attacks were incomprehensible sacrilege – but the warriors themselves did not have the slightest understanding of monasteries, or the curious, defenceless men inhabiting them.

The terror was carried by the Viking longship: the most lethally efficient weapon of the Medieval era. The image of the sleek ship, sailing swiftly into shore laden with bearded warriors howling for blood, retains a dreadful fascination. But the raids were never the product of a coherent Viking policy; instead they belonged to the warrior ideology that promoted adventure, warfare and the forging of lasting reputations. The Vikings were great opportunists who often had no idea where they were sailing to or what they would find when they arrived. Instead, they would form a plan when they landed, based on whatever circumstances the local situation presented. This could mean a smash-and-grab raid, taking local inhabitants for ransom or slavery, or setting up a trading emporium. Later, the Viking raids extended to invasion, migration and settlement.

Invading Wessex and Mercia

With Northumbria and East Anglia under Viking control, only the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex were left to be conquered. But standing in the way of the Great Heathen Army was King Æthelred and his younger brother Alfred. The legendary Alfred first made a name for himself by taking sole command of the Wessex army at the 871 Battle of Ashdown. This nearly ended in his death when he rashly ordered a premature charge of his warriors at the Viking front line. But Alfred was saved by the timely appearance of Æthelred (late for battle because his prayers overran, according to legend) and his mounted reserves. This was fortunate indeed for the fate of England: Æthelred died in the same year and Alfred was crowned king of Wessex.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that thousands of Vikings were killed at Ashdown and their army put to flight, but after resting in East Anglia the Vikings won two major victories against the armies of Wessex at the battles of Basing and Meretun. The Viking numbers had also been bolstered by Guthrum, the leader of a new “Great Summer Army”, and now he and Halfdan’s Great Heathen Army (Ivar had returned to Dublin to seek out opportunities there) combined against one of the two remaining English kingdoms still resisting them: Mercia.

The invasion of Mercia was swift and merciless, and in 874 the Vikings installed a puppet king at Repton, the Mercian seat of power. Now the Great Summer Army led by Guthrum prepared for a full assault on Alfred’s Wessex. At first the invasion was something of an anti-climax. The Vikings attacked Wessex’s border and then marched around its fortifications to set up a camp in Dorset. With his kingdom breached, Alfred hastily sought a peace treaty, but it was soon broken and more military manoeuvres and diplomatic initiatives followed. In the end Alfred paid the Vikings to go away, and Guthrum withdrew to overwinter in Mercia.

Guthrum, however, was not finished. He was still intent on conquering Wessex, and to dismember the state he would first have to cut off its head. Guthrum knew that Wessex’s powerbase lay with its leader, Alfred. Alfred was Wessex: while he was alive men would still rally to him. So, during Christmas 878 Guthrum went straight for the kingdom’s beating heart:

878. In this year in midwinter after twelfth night the enemy army came stealthily to Chippenham, and occupied the land of the West Saxons and settled there, and drove a great part of the people across the sea, and conquered most of the others; and the people submitted, except King Alfred.”

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translated by Rev. James Ingram

With Alfred having escaped, Guthrum had missed his chance for an easy conquest. While Alfred was alive he was a threat, as the young king proved. Hiding in the marshes of Somerset, Alfred had no option but to conduct a type of guerilla warfare against Guthrum, now the oppressor of Wessex.

Alfred would mount sudden, surprise attacks and then fall back into the shadows of the swamp. It was here that the legendary story of Alfred burning the cakes originates. The story describes a disguised Alfred taking refuge in a forest cottage. Here it was, brooding in his darkest hour over the fate of his kingdom, that Alfred burned the cakes that the mistress of the house had asked him to watch over. Alfred accepted his sharp rebuke, and the episode represented the king’s lowest moment and the turning point in his campaign against Guthrum.

In the spring of 878, Alfred was joined by men from Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire, who were fresh from sowing their crops and ready for battle. This new army, which was a force large enough to rival Guthrum’s own, marched towards the Viking base at Chippenham, the place of Alfred’s ousting during the midwinter. The two armies would face each other a few miles south of Chippenham, on a slope of land near Edington.

Two-nation State

By cutting a deal with the defeated Guthrum, Alfred had forged the way for a two-nation state: one Anglo-Saxon and one Viking. In 886, the borders of these kingdoms were formalized. The Viking kingdom, or “Danelaw”, would occupy the north of England; the territory roughly south of the Rivers Thames and Lea was Anglo-Saxon. Alfred immediately set about building “burghs”, or fortified towns that his people could take refuge in during times of attack. Alfred’s agreement with Guthrum was shrewd. However, it did nothing to address the rest of the Viking population outside the Danelaw and many new bands of raiders soon tried their luck on Alfred’s shores.

The largest of these armies came aboard a fleet of 250 ships. It landed in Kent and confronted Alfred in a series of engagements before being chased into the Midlands and dispersing. Other Viking fleets were discouraged by Alfred’s new navy, which saw off another Viking force in 893. To many marauding Vikings, England at this time must have simply seemed like too much trouble. Instead, they turned their attention across the English Channel to the land of the Franks.

Svein Estridsson’s 1069 attacks on England were a classic example of Viking improvisation. Svein departed Scandinavia with invasion in mind and the possibility of whipping the newly oppressed Anglo-Saxon inhabitants into a countrywide rebellion. When this proved too difficult, Svein was happy to be paid off with the same silver and gold his predecessors sought nearly 300 years earlier at Lindisfarne. With Svein, however, the great Viking raiding tradition came to an end.

Raiding had brought a floodtide of wealth into the Viking homelands, which both encouraged and enabled their expansion overseas. Before the raids began, Scandinavia had been an insular, isolated society formed far away from wider view. At its peak a few centuries later, Viking influence stretched from America in the west to Constantinople in the east and the Mediterranean in the south. In this time, the Vikings had ruled over realms in Russia, Normandy and England; they had colonized Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the Shetlands, Orkney and the Isle of Man; they had built settlements from Newfoundland to Kiev; and Viking blood flowed through the veins of Europeans everywhere as the warriors and their families became assimilated into native populations.

Hawker Typhoon



In response to Specification F.18137, design of the Hawker Typhoon was initiated by Sydney Camm in 1937. The Specification required a Rolls-Royce Vulture or Napier Sabre engine, so two prototypes were built initially, that with the Vulture known as the Hawker Tornado. The Sabre-engined version, designated Hawker Typhoon, also encountered powerplant problems. However, these were overcome because the Napier Company could devote more time and effort to development of the Sabre, whereas Rolls-Royce was too concerned with the Merlin to devote adequate resources to improving the troublesome Vulture.

It is an accepted maxim for successful aircraft development that future requirements should always be the principal concern of the chief designer and his project design team. The company which allows itself to become wholly preoccupied with the development of an established design may produce, as a result, an outstanding aeroplane, but the policy is a shortsighted one if no new prototype is following to consolidate this success. Thus, the fact that Sydney Camm, Hawker Aircraft’s chief designer, was at work on a new fighter as a potential replacement for the Hurricane as early as 1937, when the first production aircraft of that type had still to fly, reflected no lack of confidence in the Hurricane’s potentialities but the natural desire to ensure that its service successor would be a product of the same stable.

This massive new fighter, the heaviest and most powerful single-seat single-engined warplane envisaged at the time of its design, was to suffer a long gestation period. It was to be pressed into operational service before it was fully developed and, in consequence, acquire a worse reputation among its pilots than that of any fighter preceding it. It was fated to be rarely employed in the interceptor role for which it was originally conceived. Yet, despite its vicissitudes, it was to blossom into one of the most formidable weapons evolved during the Second World War; a close-support fighter that was to turn the scales in many land battles and upset many conceptions of land warfare.

In January 1938, barely two months after the debut of the first production Hurricane Hawker Aircraft received details of specification F.18/37, calling for a large single-seat fighter offering a performance at least 20 per cent higher than that of the Hurricane and achieving this with the aid of one of two 24-cylinder engines in the 2,000 hp class then under development (the Napier Sabre “H” type and the Rolls-Royce Vulture “X” type). Sydney Camm had commenced investigating the possibilities of just such a fighter in March 1937, and had already roughed out a design built around the Napier Sabre engine and housing twelve 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning guns with 400 rounds per gun in its 40 foot wings. At the proposal of the Air Ministry, Camm also prepared studies for an alternative version of his fighter powered by the Rolls-Royce Vulture engine, and increased the ammunition capacity of both machines to 500 rounds per gun.

Further discussions over military loads and equipment followed, and revised tenders were submitted to Throughout 1938 the Air Ministry at the beginning of 1938 for both the Type “N” and the Type “R”, as the alternative Sabre and Vulture powered fighters had become known. These tenders were formally accepted on April 22, 1938, and four months later, on August 30, two prototypes of each fighter were ordered. Structurally both types were similar: the wings were all-metal, the front fuselage was of steel tubing, and the aft section consisted of a stressed-skin, flush-riveted monocoque; the first Hawker designs to employ this form of construction. Uniformity between the two fighters was, in fact, achieved to a remarkable degree, but the designs did differ in one important respect initially, the Vulture-powered fighter made use of a ventral radiator while the Sabre-driven machine had one of “chin” type.

Construction of the two massive fighters proceeded in parallel, and work progressed simultaneously on the preparation of production drawings. As a result of the slightly more advanced development status of the Vulture engine which had been designed along more conventional lines than the Sabre, the Type “R” was the first of the two fighters into the air, flying in October 1939. Named appropriately enough Tornado, the initial flight trials of the prototype were promising, and a production order for 1,000 Tornados was placed at the beginning of November, it being proposed that the new fighter should be built both by Hawker and by A. V. Roe at Woodford. However, the flight test program soon began to run into trouble. Compressibility effects, about which little was known at that time, began to manifest themselves, and it was decided that the ventral radiator bath was unsuitable for the speeds approaching 400 mph that were being achieved for the first time. The radiator was, therefore, moved forward to the nose, a position already selected for that of the Type “N”, by now dubbed Typhoon; but the first prototype Tornado (P5219) only flew long enough to indicate the beneficial results of the change before it was totally destroyed.

Meanwhile, on December 30, 1939, the first Napier Sabre engine had been delivered to Hawker Aircraft, and the first prototype Typhoon (P5212) emerged from the experimental shop to fly on February 24, 1940. It too became the subject of a quantity production order which, it was planned, should become the responsibility of Gloster Aircraft, whose assembly lines were emptying of Gladiator biplanes and whose design office was already immersed in the development of the Gloster Meteor, the first British turbojet-driven aircraft. Although, like those of the Tornado, the first flights of the Typhoon prototype indicated a promising fighter, the machine proving relatively easy to fly at high speeds, its low speed qualities left much to be desired, and it had a marked tendency to swing to starboard during take-off. The “X” form of the Tornado’s Vulture engine had not permitted installation above the front spar as was the Typhoon’s Sabre and, in consequence, the overall length of the former was 32 ft. 6 in. as compared with the 31 ft. 10 in. of the latter. Owing to the size and weight of the Sabre and the need to preserve center of gravity balance, the Typhoon’s engine was fitted so close to the leading edge of the wing that severe vibration was experienced as the slipstream buffeted the thick wing roots. On an early test flight the stressed-skin covering began to tear away from its rivets, and the Typhoon’s pilot, Philip G. Lucas, only just succeeded in bringing the prototype in to a landing.

Apart from structural teething troubles, the Sabre engine, although a compact and exquisite power plant, called for a considerable amount of development, and it was perhaps fortunate for the future of the Typhoon that, in May 1940, the grave war situation led to the cancellation of all priority for Typhoon and Tornado development in order to allow every effort to be put into the production of sorely needed Hurricanes. Design development was allowed to continue, however, and during 1940 three alternative engine installations were proposed for the Tornado (Fairey Monarch, the Wright Duplex Cyclone, and the Bristol Centaurus) and experimental drawings for the Centaurus installation were completed. Development on the Typhoon included the design of a modified wing containing two 20 mm Hispano cannon in place of the six 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Brownings, the construction of an experimental set of wings containing a total of six cannon, and the initiation of a design study of a Typhoon variant with thinner wings of reduced area and lower profile drag. This latter study was later to arouse interest at the Air Ministry and eventually result in the Tempest. However, by October 1940 enthusiasm had been revived and production of the Tornado and Typhoon reinstated, production deliveries of both being scheduled for the following year.

The Tornado weighed 8,200 lbs empty and 10,580 lbs loaded. Its maximum speed was 425 mph at 23,000 feet. A. V. Roe had prepared a production line at Woodford, and the first production Tornado (R7936) was delivered early in 1941. But this was fated to be the only production Tornado, for difficulties with the Vulture resulted in the decision to remove this power plant from the aero-engine development program, this decision also canceling production of the Tornado. However, in February 1941, Hawker’s received a contract to convert a Tornado to take a Bristol Centaurus radial engine. Among the modifications required were a new center fuselage and engine mounting. The new prototype (HG641) was assembled from Tornado production components and flown for the first time on October 23, 1941. The first Centaurus installation had an exhaust collector ring forward of the engine from which a single external exhaust stack pipe led back under the root of the port wing. This arrangement soon proved unsatisfactory, so the oil-cooler duct was enlarged and led forward to the nose, while twin exhaust pipes led back from the front collector ring through this fairing to eject under the belly of the fuselage. A level speed of 421 mph was attained with the Centaurus-Tornado, and this was slightly higher than that attainable by the Sabre-powered Typhoon, but the Typhoon airframe could not be adapted to take the radial engine. The second prototype Tornado (P5224) had, in the meantime, been completed, and the sole production Tornado (R7936) later played a useful role as a test-bed for deHavilland and Rotol contraprops.

The first production Typhoon IA (R7082) with the 2,200 hp. Sabre IIA engine was completed by Gloster and flown on May 26, 1941. Production of this version, with its twelve Browning guns, was in limited quantity, and those built were used principally for the development of operational techniques. But the cannon-armed Typhoon IB was following closely on the heels of the Mark IA, and the Air Ministry was pressing for its rapid service introduction to counter the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Nos. 56 and 609 Squadrons based at Duxford began to receive their Typhoons in September 1941, before the fighter was fully developed, and these squadrons were forced to take on part of the onus of unearthing the new machine’s numerous faults.

The decision to use the Typhoon before it was adequately developed for operational use was ultimately justified by the results, but the price of its premature introduction was high. In the first nine months of its service life far more Typhoons were lost through structural or engine troubles than were lost in combat, and between July and September 1942 it was estimated that at least one Typhoon failed to return from each sortie owing to one or other of its defects. Trouble was experienced in power dives–a structural failure in the tail assembly sometimes resulted in this component parting company with the rest of the airframe. In fact, during the Dieppe operations in August 1942, when the first official mention of the Typhoon was made, fighters of this type bounced a formation of Fw 190s south of Le Treport, diving out of the sun and damaging three of the German fighters, but two of the Typhoons did not pull out of their dive owing to structural failures in their tail assemblies.

Despite this inauspicious start to its service career and the unenviable reputation that the Typhoon had gained, operations continued and the accident rate declined as the engine teething troubles were eradicated, although the tail failures took longer to solve, despite immediate strengthening and stiffening as soon as the trouble manifested itself. In November 1942 No. 609 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Roland Beamont, was moved to Manston in an attempt to combat the near daily hip-and-run raids which were being made by Fw 190s and could rarely be intercepted by Spitfires. The Typhoon enjoyed almost immediate success. The first two Messerschmitt Me 210 fighter bombers to be destroyed over the British Isles fell to the guns of Typhoons, and during the last comparatively ambitious daylight raid by the Luftwaffe on London, on January 20, 1943, five Fw 190s were destroyed by Typhoons.

On November 17, 1942, Wing-Commander Beaumont had flown a Typhoon on its first night intrusion over Occupied France and, subsequently, the fighter was employed increasingly for offensive duties, strafing enemy airfields, ships and railway transport. The success of the Typhoon in the ground-attack role led to trials with two 250 lbs or two 500 lbs bombs which were carried on underwing racks. This load was later increased to two 1,000 lbs bombs, but the Typhoon was not to find its true element until it was adapted to carry airborne rocket projectiles–four under each wing. By D-Day, in June 1944, the R.A.F. had twenty-six operational squadrons of Typhoon IBs. Without its underwing load the Typhoon IB weighed 11,300 lbs; and with two 500 lbs bombs and the necessary racks, 12,400 lbs. Maximum speed was 398 mph at 8,500 feet and 417 mph at 20,500 feet, and an altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 7.6 minutes. Between the prototype and production stages several design changes had been made. These included the re-design of the fin and rudder, the redisposition of the wheel fairings and the introduction of a clear-view fairing behind the cockpit. On the first few Typhoon IAs the solid rear fairing was retained; later a transparent fairing was fitted, but this was abandoned in favor of the first sliding ” bubble ” hood to be used by an operational fighter.

The Typhoon IB, by now affectionately known as the “Tiffy”, distinguished itself particularly in the Battle of Normandy, where it decimated a large concentration of armour ahead of Avranches, disposing of no fewer than 137 tanks, and opening the way for the liberation of France and Belgium. For use in the tactical reconnaissance role, the Typhoon F.R.IB was developed early in 1945. In this version the two inboard cannon were removed and three F.24 cameras were carried in their place. One Typhoon was also converted as a prototype night fighter, with A.I. equipment, special night-flying cockpit and other modifications. Production of the Typhoon, which was entirely the responsibility of Gloster Aircraft, totalled 3,330 machines.


The earlier Typhoon was plagued with both airframe and engine problems, it was towards the end of 1942 that these problems were rectified. The Typhoon still had a poor rate of climb, but it was found at lower altitudes to be very fast (426 mph) at 18,000 ft. By the end of 1942 it was discovered that the potential was in the aircraft’s ability to function as a very effective fighter bomber and proved effective against trains, tanks, shipping, German Communications especially when equipped with rocket projectiles. The claims by 124 wing 2nd Tactical Air Force are indicative of the potential of the Typhoon’s role as a fighter bomber between June 1944 and January 1945, while operating from bases inside Germany and Holland destroyed 115 tanks, 3 armoured cars, 494 motor vehicles and damaged 292 more vehicles. The Tempest Mk-V1’s which were a modified Mk-V speed trials took place 9 May 1944 this particular model attained a speed of 452 mph at 19,600 ft. but in September reached a speed of 462 mph. The complex design in the engine caused major headaches for the ground when it came to maintenance and repairs. Compared to the Hurricane and the Spitfire the cockpit was roomy, the noise from this large engine was almost unbearable and the engine fumes deadly. One was required to wear an oxygen mask at all times during starting, ground checks, taxiing and while in flight. It is suspect that several accidents, which killed some pilots, were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.


Wing Commander Roland P. Beamont C.B.E. D.S.O. & Bar, D.F.C.& Bar D.L., F.R. Ae.s. Personally destroying 32 V-1’s. Under the command of “BEE” Beamont, 150 Wing based in Mewchurch destroyed 632.V-1’s, this became a real art as they found the most effective range and the most dangerous was close to 200 yards before opening fire, the results usually resulted in having to fly through pieces of the exploding V-1 quite often causing the fabric to burn off of the control surfaces of the aircraft. Prior to flying the Tempest, Wing Cdr. Beamont flew the Hurricane in the daytime air defense of France, and also became an ace in the Battle of Britain. After the war he was the Chief Test Pilot for the British Aircraft Corporation. Of which he was to play a significant role in the introduction of the Canberra, Lighting, TSR2, Jaguar and the Tornado.

There were 53 V-1 aces during this conflict representing the nationalities of the following countries Britain, New Zealand, U.S.A., and Belgium.

The highest scoring were:

Confirmed scores

Sqn Ldr. J.Berry – British 61½

Sqn Ldr. R.van Lierde – Belian 40

Wng Cdr. R.P. Beamont – British 32

Sqn Ldr. A.E Umbers – New Zealand 28

Flt Lt. R.B.Cole – British 21 2/3

Flt Lt. A.R. Moore – British 21 ½

Fg Off. R.H Calpperton – British 21

Sqn Ldr. R. Dryland – British 21

Flt Lt. O.D. Eagleson – New Zealand 21

Fg Off. R.G Cammock – New Zealand 20 ½

Plt Off. K.G. Slade Betts – British 20

These are just a few of the Tempest aces responsible for destroying so many V-1’s during freezing rainy winter nights. Night after night these courageous and skilful pilots challenged themselves against the weather and in ill equipped single engine fighters, knowing that they officially were expendable.

Specifications (Hawker Typhoon Mk IB)

Type: Single Seat Fighter Bomber

Design: Sydney Camm

Manufacturer: Hawker Aircraft Limited, also built by the Gloster Aircraft Company.

Powerplant: (Mk IB) One 2,180 hp (1626 kW) Napier Sabre II 24-cylinder flat-H sleeve valve, liquid cooled engine. A 2,200 hp (1641 kW) Sabre IIB or 2260 hp (1685 kW) Sabre IIC 24-cylinder H-type engine was also used. (Mk IA prototype) One 2,100 hp (1566 kW) Napier Sabre I 24-cylinder H-type engine. (Mk IA production) One 2,200 hp (1641 kW) Napier Sabre IIA 24-cylinder H-type engine. Production was limited to 105 aircraft.

Performance: Maximum speed 412 mph (664 km/h); initial climb rate 3,000 ft (914 m) per minute; service ceiling 35,200 ft (10730 m).

Range: 510 miles (821 km) on internal fuel with full loadout (bombs). 980 miles (1577 km) with external drop tanks.

Weight: Empty 8,800 lbs (3992 kg) with a loaded take-off weight of 13,250 lbs (6010 kg).

Dimensions: Span 41 ft 7 in (12.67 m); length 31 ft 11 1/2 in (9.74 m); height 15 ft 4 in (4.67 m); wing area 279.0 sq ft (25.92 sq m).

Armament: (Mk IB) Four 20 mm Hispano cannon in outer wings and racks for eight rockets or two 500 lbs (227 kg) bombs. Later aircraft could carry up to 1,000 lbs (454 kg) of bombs. (Mk IA) Twelve 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning machine guns.

Variants: Typhoon Mk IA (machine guns), Typhoon Mk IB (cannons), Typhoon NF.Mk IB (night fighter), Typhoon FR.Mk IB (tactical reconnaissance).

Avionics: None.

History: First flight (Tornado) October 1939; (Typhoon) 24 February 1940; (production Typhoon) 27 May 1941; final delivery November 1945.

Operators: RCAF, New Zealand, RAF.


Anglo-Saxon England and Welsh Armed Forces Against the Vikings


The core of an army in Anglo-Saxon England was the king’s military household, whose members served their lord in return for reward, by the seventh century increasingly given as landholdings. Nobles and royal officers had their own households, which could be summoned to the army. Young warriors served a form of apprenticeship in these households before they married and settled on their lands. In another parallel development with Francia, changes occurred in the methods of raising armies in England in the eighth and ninth centuries. At the time when the Viking “Great Army” appeared in England there may have been a problem with increasing amounts of land being donated to the Church, both by kings and by aristocratic families. In the late seventh century Bede had claimed that this was diminishing the amount of land providing warriors in Northumbria. It may be that ecclesiastical land was held by the family in perpetuity, rather than being dependent on good service to the king. Alternatively, many earlier landholdings were also held in perpetuity, but the granting of them by charter, which made them “bookland,” enabled a lord to bequeath it to a person or persons of his choice rather than being compelled to divide it amongst his inheritors.

Charters of late eighth-century Mercia and Kent make it clear that there were three common obligations to the king: fortress work, bridge work, and military service. Church lands were obliged to provide labor services such as repair of fortifications and bridges, even if they were exempt from military service. Whether any were totally exempt is unclear. Kings like Offa of Mercia began to specify in their charters that Church lands were not exempt from military service, in order to maintain their military manpower. Offa used the obligations to create a network of forts and probably the Dyke on the frontier with Wales as well. By the ninth century these charter practices had spread to Wessex. It seems that it was around the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries that kings began to specify the amount of military service required from a given amount of land: for instance, a Mercian charter of 801 says the owner of a thirty-hide estate should provide five men to the army, in other words one man per six hides, or more likely the owner and five men, one man per five hides. The five-hide unit is referred to in early eleventh-century tracts on social status as a designation of thegnhood. It also appears frequently in the listed military service requirements in the Domesday Book of 1086, but the variations it records in military obligation between shires tell us that this was not a universal standard throughout England. Notably, the five-hide shires largely correspond with those of Wessex and western Mercia. Given these variations, it seems unlikely that the obligations of Edward the Elder’s time were identical to those of Edward the Confessor’s, even if there was considerable continuity.

Many of the Wessex charters purporting to be ninth-century are forgeries. However, the reference made in many of these to two decimations of land by King Æthelwulf in 845 and 855 may have a basis in truth, as the ASC and Asser’s Life of Alfred also refer to the 855 decimation. The object was to provide a tenth of his lands to the Church, but probably also to give lands to thegns, who were the mainstay of his army. He, Alfred and Edward the Elder almost certainly built upon the one man per five hide requirement when they reorganized the military defenses and forces of Wessex and Mercia. Both Asser and Hincmar of Reims say that Church lands were exempt from military service in Æthelwulf’s kingdom. It is likely that the increasing Viking threat brought about some of these changes in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. When they overran most of Northumbria, East Anglia, and a large part of Mercia, and almost defeated Wessex as well, the Vikings gave the impetus for even more far-reaching reforms by Alfred of Wessex. The basis was the construction of a series of burhs, so that no one lived more than a day’s journey from one. Each had an administrative district that was to provide its garrison and maintain its defenses. The Burghal Hidage, a document which dates from the reign of Alfred’s son Edward the Elder, indicates that each hide was responsible for defending and maintaining approximately 4 feet of wall. This appears to correspond well to the length of many of the known burh ramparts and their districts. In all likelihood the system, which Edward and his sister Æthelflæd extended into Mercia as they reconquered land from the Danes, was little changed from that instituted by Alfred after his victory at Edington (878).

Alfred also wished to have an army available at all times. According to the ASC: “The king had divided his army into two, so that there was always half at home and half out, except for those men who had to hold the burhs.” The entry is made under 894, but the reform, if it was more than a temporary arrangement, was presumably carried out before this and after Edington. It is more likely to mean a division of the army into three, rather than the two parts normally envisaged, in which case a man liable to service would spend a third of the year on his land, a third garrisoning the burh of his district and a third with the field army. As Guy Halsall points out, apart from making a reasonable demand on the thegn’s time, this would enable the assembly of the field army straight from the burhs, rather than from innumerable individual landholdings. This would save time and mean that the men of each district were already familiar with each other and had probably trained together in preparation for field service. The ASC entry of 917 mentions burhs as assembly points for armies. While garrisoning the burhs men could also carry out fortress and bridge work. Both the ASC and Asser mention on several occasions that these men rode horses. This is additional evidence that these men were a select levy (fyrd). The levy of one man per hide of the Burghal Hidage must have been something else, perhaps called up in situations of imminent danger. Alternatively, they functioned as a “support force” for the real warriors, sequestered on the basis of the burghal system. Each man was supposed to provide twenty shillings for two months’ maintenance in the event that he was called up: this was presumbly the payment raised from the five hides for the support of the warrior (the ‘man’), perhaps on the basis of one per hide. Æthelstan’s Grately law-code states that “each man” should have two mounted men per plow (sylh). The latter would have been a heavy burden, even if the sylh referred to is equivalent to the Kentish sulung of the Domesday Book, which was two hides, rather than a single hide or even less. Again it may refer to the support for the “man” (warrior), who needed to be mobile to keep up with the army. Æthelstan needed to respond to threats further afield and more often than any of his Anglo-Saxon predecessors.

Even the warriors who remained “at home” might be called upon to fight if their lands were threatened. The Vikings were a mobile enemy who could strike at various points along the coast with little warning. In late 893 three ealdormen, Æthelred of Mercia, Æthelhelm of Wiltshire and Æthelnoth of Somerset, raised the garrisons and the “king’s thegns who were at home near the burhs” to attack a Viking army encamped at Buttington by the River Severn. The problem is that the terminology used by those who wrote our records is rarely precise enough to tell us exactly who was being called up to fight—for instance, the other folc who joined the garrison of London to defend it in 895 need not be read as “common folk,” but as men required to do service as soldiers who were not “on duty” at the time, or as commoners who aided in various capacities other than combat. London appears not to have been included in the Burghal Hidage, perhaps because it was on the boundary between former kingdoms. Despite the problems and uncertainties, we can be sure that it was the wealthier men who were expected to serve as warriors. Thus the military system required the service of a large proportion of the male population of England, but the fighting was (preferably) done by a minority. As in the case cited in Germany above, when “support troops” did encounter the enemy they were not up to the task. For instance, ceorls working on a fortification proved totally incapable of defending it against the Vikings in 893.

Whatever the exact functioning of the system, what we do know of it does not suggest a mass peasant levy. There are no signs of exemption for harvesting periods and the like, which suggests that the levy was not primarily made up of those who labored on the farms. The need to cultivate the land cannot have been the primary reason for leaving some of the men subject to the levy at home for half the year, as this would still have seriously depleted the agricultural labor force when it was most needed. The idea was presumably that some thegns remained at home to keep order and ensure that normal farming activities could be maintained without internal disorder or external attack. At the same time the system ideally provided a fighting force that was sufficiently large as a field army, but not so large that it could not be provisioned for any length of time.

Alfred’s (or Edward the Elder’s) reforms represent an attempt to exact military service from a wide class of landowners. As in the case of the contemporary Franks, in the burhs and on campaign the troops are likely to have been commanded by officers of the royal household. The reform therefore represents a significant shift from a system in which the king was largely dependent on the highest nobility, who were summoned by him and then turned up with their households and any other men they chose to bring, which they then commanded. We know that there was some opposition to Alfred’s reforms: in the 870s there had been some who preferred to submit to the Danes, and there must have been many landowners who were displeased with the measures he took after Edington. It was presumably the scale of the threat to Wessex that enabled Alfred to carry out his reforms, which may have involved seizure of Church property as well.

Alfred’s reforms did not make the king less dependent on the nobility, but created a greater bond between many of them and his court. Those who served the household directly were provided for and in return would have owed service. Others may have been granted land in return for service. All this increased the status of the king. However, as Richard Abels made clear in his work on lordship and military obligation, many nobles were “sub-contracted” to raise fyrdmen in districts where they, and not the sheriff or other exactor of royal service, had jurisdiction. One such was the Bishop of Worcester, who held one hundred of three hundred hides at Oswaldslow in this way “by a constitution of ancient times” when the Domesday Bookwas compiled. Elsewhere abbots and other churchmen, as well as thegns, had similar rights, if generally over less lands and inhabitants.

There were thus two groups of fyrdmen: those who held their land of the king by book-right and had rights of jurisdiction by royal favor, and those who held land as a loan from another lord or under his seignory. The first category of fyrdman was heavily punished for not attending a summons by the king, usually with loss of his possessions. Although the word fyrdwiteappears in the Laws of Ine, it is not clear what this means, and no reference to it as a fine for failure to perform fyrd service (or as a commutation of it) imposed by the king occurs before Cnut’s time. Thereafter the term appears only rarely, suggesting that its use was infrequent. The second category of fyrdmen was not directly the king’s concern: all that concerned him was that the lord who was obliged to provide a certain number of men per hide fulfilled this provision one way or another. Abels emphasized that the situation in Worcestershire may not have been typical of England as a whole, but there are indications that it was similar to some other shires, if not necessarily the majority. There would have been important consequences of such a system—firstly, many of the king’s most important lieutenants would have had to command their own contingents in the battle line and could not have stayed close to the king, and secondly, a considerable number of those provided by lords with their own jurisdictions may have been mercenaries, paid for to make up the quota for their hides, but not necessarily levies of the hides. Such commands would also have perpetuated the existence of regional contingents that had a distinct identity and perhaps ancient privileges as to position in the battle line. John of Salisbury claimed that the men of Kent held the right to strike the first blow, and the men of London the right to protect the king.

The “men of London” may in fact have been the housecarls. This group of warriors has attracted a great deal of attention, without any certainty as to who they actually were and how they served the king. They have been seen as a form of military brotherhood like the Jomsvikings (in any case of doubtful historicity) or as an early standing army. Alternatively, it has been suggested that there was little difference between them and other thegns. There is no doubt that the term “housecarl” is of Scandinavian origin, and that Cnut’s conquest altered the nature of the king’s household. Even in Domesday Book sixteen of the eighteen thegns recorded as landowning housecarls had Scandinavian names, but this does not necessarily mean that that a new type of guard corps was imported wholesale to help Cnut maintain his rule over a conquered land. The question may simply be one of a change in terminology, as we know that previous English kings maintained royal thegns, for which “huskarl” may have been a translation. Domesday Book may similarly have used “housecarl” simply as a synonym for royal thegn. Like Cnut, his predecessors as king had sometimes had to use their followings to enforce their rule, and some of these were Scandinavians, at least at the courts of Edgar and Æthelred II. If not quite to the same extent as in heroic poetry such as The Battle of Maldon, chroniclers such as Asser probably gave a somewhat idealized view of the relations between Anglo-Saxon kings such as Alfred and their followings, representing them in terms of gift exchange rather than the hiring of soldiers. The import of men from “outside” had advantages, as they had no link to vested interests in the kingdom.

Housecarls, perhaps like the royal thegns before them, appear to have had a special relationship with the king and his immediate entourage. For instance, the “housecarls of her son the king” protected Queen Emma in 1035, and they were used to impose taxes by King Harthacnut in Worcestershire in 1041. As such they were provided with high-quality equipment, would have been well trained and must have lived within close proximity of the court. In this sense they were an elite and may have received a royal stipend, but their status need not have differed significantly from earlier royal household thegns who served as soldiers.

The Welsh

Despite the great outpouring of material that stresses supposedly pan-Celtic traits in warfare, religion and culture generally, it is debatable whether the remaining Celtic-speaking regions of the Viking Era—Ireland, the Pictish and Scottish kingdoms, Strathclyde, Wales, and Brittany—had much more in common with each other than they did with their Germanic neighbors, except their linguistic affinity. The evidence for military organization in all these regions in the early Middle Ages is sparse, but there is enough to show that there were many similarities with Frankish and English kingdoms.

The military household of the Welsh kings was the teulu, rendered familia in Latin, like the households of their English and later Norman neighbors. In early sources such as the Triadsand the Gododdin, we also find gosgordd: if not the same as the teulu, it may have been the household generally as opposed to the personal bodyguard. Here the term teulu will be used to mean “household.” As in the case of other early medieval households, the size of the teulu must have varied. Literary references sometimes give numbers in the hundreds, while the Brut says that Gruffudd ap Llywelyn lost 140 men of his teulu in 1047, clearly not all of them. However, even if this was not an exaggeration, it must be noted that he was a ruler of exceptional power (in Wales) at this time. Earlier sources give lower numbers—for instance, the ASC mentions that Brocmail of Powys fled the field at Chester with his fifty men. At Mynydd Carn in 1081 Trahaearn ap Caradog was killed alongside twenty-five of his teulu when many had already died in the battle, which indicates a similar strength.

Like the households of other Viking Age rulers, the teulu could include men of all ages and social rank, including leading nobles, with the probable exception of unfree bondmen. The members had horses, although their equipment may have varied according to wealth, and many had “squires,” such as the daryanogyon (shield-bearers) who attended uchelwyr, the aristocracy. These positions became offices, and were certainly of pre-Norman period origin. The teulu could also include foreigners, hostages from the households of other nobles or rivals, and, like the Frankish households, sons of nobles sent to receive training. Gruffudd ap Cynan seems to have employed an exceptional number of Irishmen, but it is not certain that these were thought of as teulu members: for instance, they are probably the “pirates” blamed for excessive ravaging in the Life of St. Gwynllyw.

The person responsible for mustering the teulu was the penteulu (head of the teulu), who was supposed to accompany the king at all times except when sent on a specific errand. Naturally, the office of penteulu had great prestige and the laws list many privileges, including a larger dwelling than others and a share of the proceeds from judicial proceedings paid to the king. Other members were appointed subordinate commanders of the llu, the military levy, should it be summoned. The teulu maintained the tradition of the comitatus, and Welsh poetry reflects the same traditions as Old English “heroic” poetry—it was supposed to stand by its lord to the last, as indeed Trahaearn’s seems to have done at Mynydd Carn. On the other hand the Triads describe the two war-bands which abandoned their leaders on the eve of battle as earning everlasting infamy. Since the teulu was also supposed to follow its lord even if he rebelled, this gave any lord the power to mount a rebellion, with consequent disruptive effects on Welsh society. A Welsh ruler had to secure the support of his nobles (uchelwyr)—as elsewhere in Europe, whatever the laws said about a king’s rights to summon his nobles and their followings, their support had to be earned. Many Welsh rulers ran into trouble while trying to impose their will on their subject lords. In 984 Einion ab Owain of Deheubarth was killed trying to do so.

As noted, the usual word for the general levy was llu, but a variety of other terms were used for “army,” such as byddin. Usually the levy was drawn only from certain districts, but Gruffudd ap Llywelyn may have been able to assemble a host from the whole of Wales at the height of his power, if this is what John of Worcester meant by “his whole realm.” Numbers are almost impossible to assess. Historia Gruffudd vab kenan gives figures that appear realistic, the highest being in the hundreds. Davies estimates his army as something under 1,000 in 1075, as he is said to have had 160 men of Gwynedd and numerous foreigners (perhaps 500), especially Irish and Danes, and suggests that the rival armies at Mynydd Carn were each over 1,000 men. Earlier, at the height of his power in 1055, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn had enough men to trouble the English and to force Edward to assemble the host of all England.

Although Wales was never unified, it did undergo a process of reduction of the number of kingdoms in the early medieval period, as happened everywhere in Europe. Several scholars have found evidence of a change in military organization around the beginning of the Viking Period: for instance, the abandonment of some political centers, including hill-forts. In poetry of this period there are hints that free men (eillion) were being called up for service. In the laws supposedly codifed by Hywel Dda (d. 950) freemen have to attend musters and pay duties. Not all the codes imposed this duty on free men, and while some spoke of a “levy of the land,” this must in practice have been selective, as in Anglo-Saxon England. Presumably the king called up those he needed. The Brutiau claim that Maredudd ap Bleddyn gathered “about four hundred kinsmen and comrades and a teulu of theirs” for a campaign in 1118. The same source makes one of the very rare references to a general levy (of Meirionnydd) in 1110, which may even have included bondmen. With the exception of one referred to in the Life of St. Cadog (a fifth-century saint), all general levies are recorded as meeting with defeat. Bondmen had certain duties to construct encampments for the king’s men and to provide pack-horses (and supplies?), but it is unclear whether they were expected to fight or not.

In Wales mercenaries (alltud—“aliens”) were certainly used in many armies. Apart from the Irish mentioned above, John of Worcester mentions Viking mercenaries employed by Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in his attack on England in 1055. The laws also mention the billeting of armed foreigners on the local populace.

There is little evidence that Church lands were exempt from military service in Wales. There are hints that the early medieval clas church functioned in a similar way to the Church in Ireland, its senior men maintaining retinues and providing military service. Given the amount of land owned by the Church and the limited resources available to any ruler, exempting it would have made the raising of forces almost impossible. Most claims to exemption are made in later saints’ lives and many of these are dubious.

Battle of Omdurman


Robert Kelly’s depiction of the Khalifa’s flight was wholly imaginative, but still suggests the impact which the exotic image of dervish power had on British opinion .






September 2, 1898


Near Khartoum in central Sudan


[1]British and Egyptians

[2]Sudanese Dervishes


[1]Major General Sir Herbert Kitchener

[2]Khalifa Abdullah

Approx. # Troops

[1]8,000 British, 17,000 Egyptians

[2]35,000–50,000 Sudanese Dervishes


Brings Anglo-Egyptian control of the Sudan

In the September 2, 1898, Battle of Omdurman, British, Egyptian, and Sudanese forces defeated nationalists in the Sudan, leading to the establishment of the Anglo- Egyptian Sudan. The battle also illustrated the technological advantage of European military establishments over their brave but primitively armed opponents in the wars of imperialism that preceded World War I.

Concern over the security of the Suez Canal, Britain’s lifeline to India, led the British government to send naval and land forces to Egypt in 1882. Following the Battle of Tel el Kebir on September 13, 1882, the British established their control over all Egypt. Although the khedive was still nominal ruler, the real power in the country rested with the British consul-general and high commissioner, and British imperialists soon considered the Nile Valley part of the British Empire.

From Egypt, the British were soon drawn into difficulties in the vast, poor, and hostile Sudan. Egypt had long sought to establish its control over the Upper Nile region but aroused strong opposition through actions against the slave trade and heavy taxes. In 1883 a prophet, Muhammad Ahmad ibn as-Sayyid Abd Allah, the son of a Nile boatbuilder, arose in the Sudan, calling himself the Mahdi. Soon he had thousands of warrior followers, known as Dervishes.

The Egyptian government decided to intervene to put down the uprising. Former Indian Army officer General William Hicks marched 8,500 Egyptian Army troops into the desert, only to be annihilated on November 3 at El Obeid by Sudanese forces under command of Abu Anja, one of the Mahdi’s best generals. The Mahdi’s reputation soared after this victory, and the entire Sudan was in revolt.

The Egyptians then sought assistance from the British government. The Egyptians still held the Nile and the city of Khartoum, at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, but Prime Minister William Gladstone decided that the Sudan must be evacuated. To accomplish this, he sent out Major General Charles Gordon.

Gordon’s nickname was “Chinese,” earned for his command of the Chinese Imperial Army that put down the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860s. He had once been governor of the Sudan for the Egyptians and had taken an aggressive stance against the slave trade there. Deeply religious and eccentric, Gordon was the worst possible choice for a mission involving capitulation. He completely ignored Gladstone’s original instructions and convinced the Egyptian ministry to reestablish British control in the Sudan. Gordon then proceeded up the Nile to Khartoum, where he dallied and got besieged by the Mahdists. Gladstone was furious; only after five months had passed did his government respond to public pressure and send relief forces under General Garnet Wolseley.

Wolseley’s own trip up the Nile was as slow as that of Gordon. As his relief expedition neared Khartoum and after a siege lasting 317 days, on January 26, 1885, the Dervishes swept over Gordon’s defenses, stormed the palace, and massacred the entire garrison, presenting Gordon’s severed head to the Mahdi. On June 21, 1885, the Mahdi died. His successor, Kalifa Abdullah, and his Dervish followers completed the conquest of the Sudan, with the British this time evacuating.

Not until 1896 did the British government decide to reconquer the Sudan, part of a plan to provide a defense in depth for the Suez Canal fueled by French and Italian interest in the Sudan. Under orders from London, Egyptian army commander in chief (sirdar) major general (only a colonel in the British Army) Horatio Herbert Kitchener marched forces south from Egypt. Kitchener commanded six brigades of infantry. He had only four British battalions, and most of his 25,000- man force consisted of Egyptians and Sudanese. Kitchener also had some 20 Maxim guns, artillery, and river gunboats. He had a considerable supply train of camels and horses and built a rail line as he proceeded southward.

The methodical Kitchener captured Dongola on September 21, 1896, and Abu Hamed on August 7, 1897. He then defeated Mahdist forces under Osman Dinga and Khalifa Abdullah in the Battle of the Atbara River on April 7, 1898. On September 1, 1898, Kitchener arrived outside Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, to face the main Mahdist army. Among those present on the British side was 23-year-old soldier and reporter Winston Churchill.

After some preliminary skirmishing, on the morning of September 2 some 35,000–50,000 Sudanese tribesmen under Abdullah attacked the British lines. The Mahdists had perhaps 15,000 rifles, with the remainder of their men armed only with spears and swords. There was no real sense of how the troops should be deployed; riflemen were merely mixed in with the spearmen and swordsmen. The riflemen were to provide cover for the others to close with the enemy and fight hand to hand in true warrior fashion. The Mahdist riflemen also fired from the hip, standing or running, rather than from the shoulder; they considered firing from the prone position to be cowardly.

In a series of charges against the British position the Mahdists were simply annihilated, although disaster was narrowly averted that afternoon when Kitchener, who thought that the fight was over and was anxious to avoid a street battle for Omdurman, tried to place his forces between the Mahdists and the capital. As they moved, Kitchener’s infantry encountered a fresh force that had not participated in the earlier fighting. Fortunately for Kitchener, this attack came in separate waves. General Hector MacDonald’s Sudanese brigade managed to hold the Mahdists off, and the 21st Lancers charged and defeated another force that suddenly appeared on the British right flank. After the battle it was learned that the men of the Sudanese brigade were down to an average of only two rounds apiece.

During the Battle of Omdurman the British had used their magazine rifles and Maxim guns to kill perhaps 10,000 Dervishes and wound as many more, with 5,000 taken prisoner. The cost to the British side was 48 dead and 434 wounded. Kitchener, surveying the battlefield from horseback, is said to have announced (in considerable understatement) that the enemy had been given “a good dusting.” The battle led Hilaire Belloc to have the character Blood proclaim in The Modern Traveller:

“Whatever happens we have got The Maxim Gun, and they have not.”

The Battle of Omdurman also gave Britain control of the Sudan for all practical purposes, and made Kitchener a British national hero.

References Barthorp, Michael. War on the Nile: Britain, Egypt, and the Sudan, 1882–1898. Poole, UK: Blandford, 1984. Harrington, Peter, and Frederick A. Sharf. Omdurman, 1898: The Eye-Witnesses Speak. London: Greenhill Books, 1898. Spiers, Edward M., ed. Sudan: The Reconquest Reappraised. London: Frank Cass, 1998. Vandervort, Bruce. Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830–1914. London: UCL Press, 1998.

Flodden Field – 1513 – Twilight of the English Longbow


Scottish soldiers at the Battle of Flodden Field (9 Sep 1513)




The Lancashire Bowman.

The longbow was to go out of military fashion in a blaze of glory, to achieve a victory in the old classical style so that it left a glow in the hearts of the yeoman of England, but no pangs of regret in the hearts of his enemies.

The events which led to the Scottish invasion of England in 1513 need not be recapitulated; suffice to say that King James IV of Scotland had crossed the border in mid-August of that year with, for that time, an enormous army of 40,000 men. They were well furnished with the latest artillery of the day. His leaders were all those of the highest rank in the Scottish kingdom; it may be fairly said that no grown-up member of any family of position was absent from the expedition. After some initial skirmishing, the Scots had Northumberland at their mercy; but after taking the castle of Ford, stronghold of the Heron family, James loitered in the neighbourhood whilst his army daily grew less in numbers. Said to have been infatuated by the captured Lady Heron, King James appeared to be regardless of the increasing desertions of those gorged with plunder in addition to those starved through the land being foraged-out. Finally, his army numbered less than 30,000, but those that were left represented the cream of the whole and were claimed to have been one of the noblest bodies of fighting men ever gathered together. To back them, James had a most efficient train of thirty pieces of artillery which had been cast for him at Edinburgh by the master gunner, Robert Borthwick.

Against the Scots was sent the veteran Earl of Surrey, over seventy years of age, and forced, on account of his rheumatism, to travel mostly by coach. Chiefly from the northern counties, he hastily gathered together an army of between 20,000 and 26,000 men. Whilst encamped at Alnwick, Surrey sent a formal challenge to King James, naming Friday, 9th September, as the day of battle; the challenge was duly accepted in the most formal manner. At the time of acceptance, James was encamped in the low ground and, according to the old rules of chivalry, his acceptance from this spot implied that he would give battle on that site. But before long James had moved his camp from there to Flodden Hill, an eminence lying due south of Ford Castle, running east and west in a low ridge. Here, on the steep brow of Flodden Edge, in the angle between the Till and its small tributary, the Glen, James’s defensive position was so strong that no sane foe would dare to attack it.

Realising this, Surrey sent James a letter of reproach in which he pointed out that the arrangement had been made for a pitched battle, and instead James had installed himself in a fortified camp. He concluded by challenging him to come down on the appointed day and fight on Millfield Plain, a level tract south of Flodden Hill. King James refused even to see the herald who brought the message.

Surrey then marched his army up the river Till; put his vanguard with the artillery and heavy baggage across at the Twizel bridge, whilst the remainder of his force crossed at Sandyford, half a mile higher up. Now was presented to James an excellent opportunity of attacking the English whilst they were split into two parts. By failing to grasp it, James now found his foes placed between himself and Scotland; he was left with little alternative but to reverse his order of battle. Setting fire to the rude huts that his men had constructed on the summit of the hill, he moved his force on to Branxton Hill, immediately behind Flodden Edge; the movement was partially obscured from the English by the clouds of smoke that trailed over the brow of the hill. As they formed up on the ridge above Branxton, the Scottish army that had faced south were now drawn up facing north.

The two armies faced each other, both formed into four divisions and both with a reserve. Beginning on the English right, the first division was commanded by Sir Edmund Howard, the younger son of the Earl of Surrey; opposed to him were the Gordons under the Earl of Huntley and the men of the border under the Earl of Home. The second English division was led by Admiral Howard, who was faced by the Earls of Crawford and Montrose. The Earl of Surrey, with the third division, was opposed by King James himself; while Sir Edward Stanley, with the fourth division, had to try conclusions with the Earls of Lennox and Argyle, whose troops were mainly highlanders. The English reserve, mainly cavalry, was commanded by Lord Dacre; that of the Scottish under Bothwell.

It was not until four o’clock that the battle commenced. Then, as an old chronicler says: ‘Out burst the ordnance with fire, flame and a hideous noise… .’ The Scottish artillery was far superior in construction to the English, which was constructed of hoops and bars, whilst the Scots master gunner had cast his weapons; there were, however, more English guns. It seems as though the English gunners were superior to those serving the Scottish cannon, the latter committing the error of firing at too great an elevation so that their shots passed over the heads of the English and buried themselves in the marshy ground beyond. The old writer goes on to say: ‘… and the master gunner of the English slew the master gunner of the Scots, and beat all his men from their guns.’ The early death of Borthwick, brought down by a ball, set up a panic in his men, who ran from their guns – but it was not by artillery fire that Flodden was to be won or lost. James realised this fact and ordered an attack; the border troops of the Lords Huntley and Home appear to have been the first to come to close quarters with the English.

In an unusual silence the Scots rushed forward, their twelve-foot-long pikes levelled in front of them; the initial impetus of their onslaught carried them far into the English lines, so that at first they achieved absolute success. The English right, under Sir Edmund Howard, was thrust back, their leader thrice beaten down and his banner overturned. The English fighting line was in disorder on this flank. Some Cheshire archers, who had been separated from their corps and sent out to strengthen the right wing, fled in all directions and chaos came to Howard’s wing. John Heron, usually known as the Bastard Heron, at the head of a group of Northumbrians, checked the rout long enough for Dacre to charge down with his reserve. This committing of the reserve at such an early stage did not succeed in restoring the English line, but it did put Huntley to flight, whilst the undisciplined borderers of Home had no further idea of fighting. In a border foray, no more was expected after routing one’s opponents; Home’s men did not grasp that Flodden was no ordinary foray – ’We have fought and won, let the rest do their part as well as we!’ was their answer to those trying to rally them.

Whilst this was going on, Crawford and Montrose were furiously attacking the division of Admiral Howard; so much so that the Admiral sent to his father, the Earl of Surrey, for assistance. But Surrey was fully occupied in holding his own against the division commanded by King James, strengthened by Bothwell, who had brought up the reserve and flung them into the struggle. The battle was now at its height and was being hardly contested all along the line; it seemed, here and there, as though the English halberds were proving more deadly weapons at close quarters than the long Scottish pikes.

On the English left, the archers of Cheshire and Lancashire, under Sir William Molyneaux and Sir Henry Kickley, were pouring volleys of arrows into the tightly packed ranks of the Scottish right, highlanders under the Earls of Lennox and Argyle. Galled by the hail of shafts which spitted their unarmoured bodies, the wild clansmen finally found it to be more than they could bear. Casting aside their targets and uttering wild, fierce yells, they flung themselves forward in a headlong rush, claymore and pole-axe waving furiously in a frenzy of anxiety to bury themselves into English flesh and bone. The bowmen and pikemen were shaken, so tremendous was the initial shock, their bills and swords, which had replaced the bows, reeling and wavering under the onslaught; but discipline prevailed and their formation remained unbroken. The archers on the flanks of the mêlée stood back and poured in volley after volley at close quarters, while the inner line of pikemen and men-at-arms held off the wild highlanders. Their arrows gone, the archers threw down their bows, drew their swords and axes to fling themselves into the fray, both in front and on the flanks. It was a deadly struggle whilst it lasted, but gradually the clansmen gave way, fighting at first, but then, suddenly, in complete rout – both earls died trying to stem the tide.

Stanley pressed forward, won his way up and crowned the ridge. He did not make the error of pursuing from the field the thoroughly broken Scots whom his men had just beaten. Facing about, he charged obliquely downhill to take the Scots divisions of King James and Bothwell in flank. This struggle in the centre, between Surrey and King James, had been proceeding fiercely; the King was fighting on foot like the rest of his division, conspicuous by the richness of his arms and armour. Stanley’s flank attack, coinciding with a similar attack on the other flank by Dacre and Edmund Howard, proved disastrous to the Scots. Hemmed in on all sides, they began to fall by hundreds in the close and deadly mêlée; no quarter was asked by either side and none was given. The blood flowing from the dreadful gashes inflicted by axes, bills and two-handed swords made the ground so slippery that many of the combatants were said to have taken off their boots to gain a surer footing.

As a battle, all was over by now and nothing remained but the slaughter. Surrounded by a solid ring of his knights, James refused to yield until he finally fell, dying with the knights who had formed a human shield around him. He was said to have been mortally wounded by a ball fired by an unknown hand; he had several arrows in his body, a gash in his neck and his left hand was almost severed from his arm. Ten thousand men fell on the Scottish side; to list the slain is almost to catalogue the ancient Scottish nobility. With the exception of the heads of families who were too old or too young to fight, there was hardly a family of top rank that did not grievously suffer. The English lost about 5,000 men.

On the Scots side, the archers of Ettrick, known in Scotland as the ‘Flowers of the Forest’, perished almost to a man. To this day the sweet, sad, wailing air known by that name is invariably the Dead March used by Scottish regiments.

Carausius Rebellion (286–293 CE)

Bringing Order to Chaos: The Armies of Diocletian

Maximian, as Emperor of the West, had his own military problems. Of these, the most intractable was presented by Carausius, a rebellious admiral of the British Channel fleet. Irrepressible, Carausius was for some time endured by the two “Augusti” as a kind of supernumerary colleague in Britain and north Gaul. Eventually, Maximian’s “Caesar”, Constantius, drove him from Boulogne and, continuing the war against Carausius’ murderer and successor Allectus, restored Britain to its former allegiance.

The rebellion by Carausius occurred in Britain beginning in 286 and, with his death in 293, continued under his successor until its final defeat in 296 or 297. Carausius successfully commanded forces in the Bagaudae wars in 286 CE, earning distinction. After his success Emperor Maximian charged him with outfitting a fleet and destroying the German pirates who were menacing the shores along the English Channel, after which the two had a falling out, perhaps because of Maximian’s promotion to caesar in December 285, perhaps because Carausius may have been stealing the loot taken from pirates, or because Carausius’s enemies conspired against him. Maximian declared Carausius an outlaw and ordered his execution; at this point Carausius seized power.

Carausius seems to have made northern Gaul his base of operations in 286 around the city of Rouen, where he established a mint issuing gold and bronze coins. These gold coins were probably used to bribe the military units along the Rhine to ally with him and to keep other units in his expeditionary army loyal. His power must have seemed secure and strong enough to scare Maximian, who moved his gold stocks from Gaul to Rome for safety. Maximian may have first had to deal with the Germans, who made a series of raids. Some of these tribes came from a great distance, and Carausius was probably not in league with them; however, the occasion helped him. Maximian now ordered an expeditionary force north to retake the lost territories.

During this early period when Carausius held northern Gaul, he successfully convinced units and/or commanders from a Rhine legion to join him. This would have been a severe shock to Maximian, since the rebellion could threaten the entire Rhine region. Maximian’s campaign in Germany in the summer of 286 may not have been only to counter the Germans but also to reestablish control of and loyalty among the Rhine legions. Carausius probably controlled the region around Rouen and Bolougne, which housed his new fleet. Maximian marched north in late 288 or early 289 and retook northern Gaul, forcing Carausius back across the channel, where he controlled only Britain. Associated with this campaign may have been the war against Carausius’s allies, the Franks, in 288 or 289. This war deprived Carausius of a valuable ally, which previously had distracted Maximian.

After the Frankish war, Carausius was left to deal with Maximian alone. Since Carausius possessed the fleet, he probably controlled the English Channel from his British bases. Maximian now began to build a new fleet inland away from the channel. This fleet was then floated downstream and into the sea. The fleet was probably built inland to hide Maximain’s plan and due to the readily accessible timber along the Mosel and Rhine Rivers. The fleet was probably built in 289, since a contemporary source for that year indicates hope for a quick victory (Nixon and Rodgers 1994, 73). A second and later contemporary source does not mention the fleet or the campaign (Nixon and Rodgers 1994, 79).

There are several possibilities to explain the discrepancy among contemporary sources. Carausius may have defeated the new fleet, a storm may have destroyed it, or some third party, Saxon pirates or the like, may have attacked on the open seas. The fleet may have been destroyed by land forces such as the Germans before it reached the channel, or the fleet was never used, although the latter is highly unlikely, since Maximian had just spent a year building it. These possibilities or even some others seem to have played havoc. The two most likely reasons were that Carausius defeated Maximian or a storm shattered the fleet. Contemporary sources would not indicate Carausius’s victory, and a later source seems to mention a storm (Nixon and Rodgers 1994, 130).

After Maximian’s setback, Carausius launched an offensive to regain northern Gaul, successfully taking the key city of Boulogne and other regions. This enabled him to control the channel and the surrounding regions. From here Carausius could strike throughout the channel region and move into the center of Gaul and east into the German regions. He made Boulogne his chief base of operations beginning sometime after 289, during which time he may have strengthened the defensive works around the city. In addition, he may have forged an alliance with the Alamanni. Carausius also began his political attempt to seek recognition. This is mainly seen in his coinage, where he called himself caesar and began issuing consular coinage. There is no evidence that Rome recognized his new political call. In addition, Carausius issued coins with the central emperors Diocletian and Maximian and his portrait with them with the legend “Carausius Et Fratres Sui” (Carausius and his Brothers); Diocletian did not reciprocate this new overture.

Their issue ceased when Diocletian elevated Constantius, a general, to become Maxiamian’s caesar, or lieutenant. There may have been some sort of peace agreement with Carausius after the loss of the fleet, since a later fourth-century Roman author, Aurelius Victor (320-390), records the contemporary victories over the Persians, in the Alexandrian rebellion, and over African tribes (all post-290) and then stated that only Carausius was allowed to retain his rule over the British Island, since he was competent to command and defend its inhabitants against warlike tribes (Victor and Bird 1994, chap. 39). This statement by a historian 50 years later does not necessarily mean that any official agreement was made, but the implication of him being allowed to rule over Britain seems to indicate so. Another later author, the fourth-century historian Eutropius, went even further, stating that a peace treaty had occurred, since Carausius was so skilled in war (Watson et al. 1853). This peace may have been a real event or merely a representation of the practical events. Carausius would continue to hold northern Gaul until the summer of 293.

In 293 Constantius attacked northern Gaul, and during the battle for Boulogne, Carausius was assassinated by his second-in-command, Allectus. Carausius had been successful and adept at defeating the central government, and with his assassination the rebellion lost its true leader, making defeat more likely. Constantius, after a setback in which he lost another fleet, attacked Britain in 296. With one part of the fleet landing in the south while he took a second part toward the east, Allectus was forced to defend two possible attacks. The force that landed in the south marched toward London, and Allectus rode out to meet it. At an undetermined site the two forces met, and Allectus was defeated and killed. Constantius now landed in the east and marched on London.


A major usurper during the late 3rd century A.D., who controlled Britain and much of modern Gaul. Carausius had humble origins in Messapia but won fame in the campaigns of Emperor Maximian against the Franks and the Bagaudae in 286. Looking for a competent officer to eradicate the Frank and Saxon pirates in the Channel, Maximian chose Carausius.

He proved a brilliant admiral but was accused of keeping recovered plunder for his own use and of pressing captured pirates into his own fleet. Sentenced to death, he sailed to Britain in late 286 or early 287, declaring himself independent of imperial control. The Britons greeted him cheerfully and helped him to consolidate his power. Carausius soon began to seize large parts of the Gallic coast. In April of 289, Maximian finally moved against him, only to suffer defeat at Carausius’ hands. The emperor was reduced to making a treaty with him instead. Carausius declared his triumph, issuing at first an irregular and then an imperial coinage, with the presumptuous words: “Carausius and his brothers, Diocletian and Maximian.” Ironically, Carausius provided the TETRARCHY exactly what it needed in Britain. He resisted the incursions of the Picts, repaired Hadrian’s Wall and kept the regions secure. His independence, however, could not be tolerated, and Diocletian waited until the time was ripe to strike.

In 293, Emperor Constantius I Chlorus, Diocletian’s junior, launched a massive assault on Carausius’ holdings in Gaul. The port of Gesoriacum (Boulogne) was blockaded by Constantius, while Carausius’ main fleet remained in Britain to repel an invasion. The city fell, but just barely; reinforcements were prevented from arriving by a great mole stretched across the harbor. These initial setbacks were compounded as Constantius cleared the entire region of Gaul. Having lost his continental territories, Carausius suffered other political difficulties as well, until his chief minister, ALLECTUS, became disenchanted and killed him in 293, taking over his ships, troops and his claim to supremacy in Britain.

ALLECTUS (fl. late 3rd century A.D.)

A rationalis or minister of finance to the usurper CARAUSIUS. In 293, his ambitions led him to assassinate his master and seize power for himself in Britain and in some provinces of Gaul. Allectus was apparently a gifted soldier and sailor, and his rule lasted for three turbulent years. Sometime around 295-296, Constantius I (Chlorus) resolved to end the usurpation of power and set sail with two fleets to Britain, commanding one fleet and entrusting the other to Praetorian Prefect Asclepiodotus. After losing his enemy in a fog, Allectus disembarked his fleet and prepared for battle. Near Hampshire, Asclepiodotus fought and routed Allectus, and shortly thereafter Allectus was killed. Constantius entered London and thus found a power base for himself and his son, Constantine the great.

Further Reading Casey, P. J. 1995. Carausius and Allectus: The British Usurpers. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Clayson, Alan. 2010. Nixon, C. E. V., and Barbara Saylor Rodgers, eds. and trans. 1994. In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini. Berkeley: University of California Press. Victor, Sextus Aurelius, and H. W. Bird. 1994. Liber De Caesaribus. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Watson, J. S., et al. 1853. Justin, Cornelius Nepos, and Eutropius. London: Henry G. Bohn. White, Donald A. 1961. Litus Saxonicum: The British Saxon Shore in Scholarship and History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.