Ottoman Naval Tactics

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During the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the invading Turks faced a major challenge. The Byzantines had erected a giant chain across the Golden Horn, a stretch of water that connected Constantinople to the sea. This chain effectively blocked the Ottoman navy from making their way to the enemy capital.
In order to overcome the chain, the Ottomans moved their navy overland using log rollers. This allowed the Ottomans to bypass the chain and attack the Byzantines from multiple fronts, ultimately aiding in the capture of the city that’s now called Istanbul.

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An Ottoman galley. Using sails and oars, the galley could keep moving regardless of weather. The banners with the downward crossed swords at the bow and stern are the colors of Barbarossa while the one depicting three crescent moons is the Ottomans’ imperial flag.

The pattern of Ottoman, and indeed all Mediterranean naval warfare, was very similar to the pattern of war on land. The most typical form of combat was not the major fleet engagement, but rather a continuous kleinkrieg of attacks on enemy coasts and shipping. This was the form of warfare which Ottoman fleets engaged in between the late fourteenth and the mid-fifteenth centuries. It was plunder from Christian shipping and settlements that sustained the Ottoman provinces in North Africa, and in particular provided a source of wealth for the Ottoman outpost of Algiers. The Knights of St John played a similar role in the Christian Mediterranean, and it was against these and other Christian predators that the admiral made his annual tours, even during years of formal peace.

When the Ottoman imperial fleet engaged in an action, it was typically an amphibious assault on a coastal or insular fortress, rather than a battle in the open sea. Almost all Ottoman naval victories, from the conquest of Mitylene in 1462 to the capture of Chania in 1645, were of this sort. Engagements between fleets on the open sea, like major field battles on land, were infrequent and, unlike field battles, rarely decisive in determining the course of events. The Venetian naval victory in 1416 was perhaps a factor in delaying the creation of an effective Ottoman war fleet until after 1450. The more famous victory at Lepanto did not, however, prevent the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus or the conquest of Tunis three years later. The Venetian victory outside the Dardanelles in 1656 caused severe problems for the Ottomans, but did not bring to an end the invasion of Crete. From the mid-fifteenth century, therefore, the most typical functions of the Ottoman fleet were sieges and raids on enemy shores. The fleet also served to protect Ottoman shipping and coastlines, and sometimes to restore the sultan’s authority in outlying provinces.

The nature of the galley limited the Ottoman fleet’s range of action. Galleys were long vessels, low in the water, with a shallow draught. They were not able to withstand heavy seas, and could not, therefore, put to sea in the winter, setting out in principle, if not often in practice, at the vernal equinox, and returning in October or early November. It was possible to risk keeping small flotillas or single vessels at sea during the winter, but not whole fleets. During the first half of the seventeenth century, Ottoman shipwrights started to build galleys broader and longer, with `melon sterns’ in order to withstand storms better, but this did not prolong the campaigning season. The limited sailing season in turn limited the operational range of the fleet. The other constraint on the range of a galley was the size of its crew.

In 1656, Katib Chelebi estimated that a galley carried 330 men, including 196 oarsmen and 100 warriors. An Ottoman galeass, he says, carried a crew of 600, and a heavy galley a crew of 800. In the previous century, numbers had been smaller, since galleys had three rather than four oarsmen to each bench, and 50 rather than 100 warriors, but numbers were still very large. At the same time, storage space on a galley was limited. It was not possible, therefore, to store on board more than about ten days’ supply of food and water. Water was available from springs and rivers ashore, and knowledge of their location was presumably traditional within the Ottoman navy. In addition, the Mediterranean map of Piri Reis, completed in 1526, but still in use in the mid-seventeenth century, identifies water sources around the shores of the Mediterranean. Food supplies were a greater problem.

Since a galley could not carry victuals for a whole season, it was necessary to supply the fleet from prearranged points on the shore or, as at Malta in 1565, or Crete in 1651, to transport food by ship. This required careful planning in advance. The basic, and probably the only food that the government supplied, was biscuit and the fleet’s requirements were enormous. For example, the treasury accounts record 2305 tonnes of biscuit for the fleet which recaptured Herceg Novi in 1539. To purchase the wheat, mill it, bake it into biscuit and transport it to the shore was therefore a major operation and a major expense. The Treasury raised the money locally, and distributed the work over a wide area. In 1566, for example, it ordered biscuit for the fleet from Arta, Patras, Navplion, Farsala, Trikkala and Gjirokaster in Albania and central and southern Greece, and from Thessaloniki in the north. 85 In the seventeenth century before 1645, when the size of the fleets was more predictable, Istanbul and Gallipoli were the major centres for baking, but the sixteenth-century practice of distributing the work around the provinces also continued. In this respect, Volos was particularly important. It served not only as the quay for the export of grain from central Greece, but also as a centre for the preparation of biscuit for the fleet. For example, in his tour of the Archipelago in 1618, Chelebi Ali took on a consignment of biscuit which had been baked at Volos and transported to Evvoia for collection by the fleet.

A consequence of this need to take on food at frequent intervals was that galley fleets could not operate safely if they were far from their own shores or if the sea lanes were insecure. This, combined with the short campaigning season, limited their range. For this reason, the Ottoman fleet could not dominate the western Mediterranean without a base for the winter and a supply of provisions. This was possible only briefly when, in cooperation with the King of France, the Ottoman fleet, in 1543-4, was able to overwinter in Toulon. For the same reason, Christian galley fleets could not gain command of the eastern Mediterranean. Even after the great victory at Lepanto, the fleet of the Holy League had no choice but to return to its home bases before the onset of winter.

The galley determined the nature of Mediterranean warfare as much as it did the operating range of the fleets. As an oared vessel with a shallow draught, it did not rely on the wind and could operate close to the shore. For caulking, oiling or carrying out repairs, it was easy to pull ashore on a sandy beach. These characteristics made it especially useful as a pirate vessel, particularly on a windless day, when its prey might lie becalmed. Its ability to come close to the shore was also useful when bombarding coastal fortresses, one of the major functions of a galley fleet. Equally, if an enemy attacked such a fortress, an inshore squadron of galleys could provide a line of defence against the attacking fleet, while itself finding shelter beneath the guns of the fort.

Before the introduction, some time in the late fifteenth century, of artillery, the basic method of galley warfare was ramming and boarding. Artillery did not change this practice. A galley carried cannon on its prow and approached the enemy head on, hoping to fire at least one salvo before the men on the forward fighting platform attempted to board. It was important not to allow the enemy to attack the sides of the vessel, where he could inflict the greatest damage. The vulnerability of the galley’s flanks and the disposition of the guns gave commanders no choice but to adopt a line abreast formation, with all the ships’ prows facing forward at the enemy fleet or fortress. Success depended on maintaining this formation and, when facing the enemy fleet, outflanking it and breaking its ranks. In 1656, Katib Chelebi described the ideal Ottoman battleline: `In battle, the galleys should be arranged in rows. The Admiral’s ship should be in the rear, with five vessels to accompany it, three in the rear and two in front.’

The Ottoman fleet, therefore, from the late fourteenth century onwards, adopted the prevailing techniques of Mediterranean warfare. It seems, however, that Ottoman shipbuilders and seamen tended to be less competent than their western European rivals, notably the Venetians. In the fifteenth century, the fleets of Mehmed II, particularly the one which attacked Negroponte in 1470, relied on overwhelming superiority in numbers of ships, not on superior tactical skills. Even at the height of Ottoman naval power in the mid-sixteenth century, observers sometimes commented on the inadequacies of the Ottoman fleet. In 1558, for example, the Venetian bailo noticed a lack of skill, evidently by comparison with Venetian shipwrights, among the craftsmen in the Imperial Arsenal, and described the galleys themselves as `not lasting more than a year, and when they come to disarm, it is pitiful to see them in a state of disrepair.’ Some Ottomans, too, were aware of shortcomings. Writing after 1541, Lutfi Pasha comments on the importance of maritime affairs, but also notes that `in the organisation of naval expeditions, the Infidel is superior to us’.

In the seventeenth century, too, Katib Chelebi mentions further problems, albeit ones that were probably common to all Mediterranean fleets. He warns in particular about the use of prisoners- of-war and convicts as oarsmen. These, he says, are liable to mutiny, and `countless ships have been lost in this way’. The skippers should always mix prisoners with `more reliable Turks’ from the annual levy. In this respect, he commends Jigalazade Sinan Pasha, who was twice Admiral between 1591 and 1605, for placing every three prisoners with three `Turks’, so that the ships were safe. He also gives advice on how to attack the enemy. A sea battle, he warns, is a `death trap’, and if the fleet attacks when it is inshore off the Ottoman coast, the troops on the galleys will swim ashore to escape the combat. The fleet should never give battle in these circumstances. If, on the other hand, the enemy is inshore off the Ottoman coast, then it is safe to attack, as the men cannot escape. The only way to save their lives was to stand and fight.

The advantage which the Ottomans enjoyed in naval warfare was not, therefore, in shipbuilding, seamanship or fighting ability, but rather in the abundance of materials, money and men, which allowed the rapid construction of new fleets. It was perhaps, too, the ease with which they could replace ships that explains the apparently forlorn appearance of their galleys on their return from sea. It was an advantage which they enjoyed from the fourteenth to the late seventeenth centuries.

During the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Ottoman fleet had adopted the standard galley tactics of the Mediterranean. After 1600, it faced two new strategic problems. The first of these was temporary. The other was to render galley warfare obsolete.

The first problem was the appearance of Cossack raiders on the Black Sea, from which the Ottomans had excluded foreign fleets since the conquest of Caffa in 1475. From the late sixteenth century, the Cossacks on the Dniepr and the Don began to make frequent and destructive raids on coastal settlements and, to counter these, the Ottoman government fortified towns and villages along the coast, sent forces overland to engage the raiders, and sent the imperial fleet, or detachments of it, to encounter them at sea. In naval warfare, however, the Cossacks enjoyed an advantage. On their raids they used shaykas; that is, portable rowing boats with flat bottoms and no keel, which they could use in shallow waters and reed-beds. The Ottoman galleys also had a shallow draught, but far less so than the shaykas, and the Cossacks used this difference to their advantage. In 1614, ships of the imperial fleet pursued the Cossacks after these had attacked Sinop, but were unable to follow them down the Dniepr. In the following year, when the Admiral, Jigalazade Mahmud Pasha, attacked the shaykas, the Cossacks lured him towards the shore until his galleys ran aground. For this reason, Katib Chelebi advised that a galley fleet, in an encounter with the Cossacks, should always drive the shaykas out to sea, and should not attack close to the shore. In this case, the galleys would run aground. In the open sea, however, shaykas were no match for galleys. The ability of shaykas to hide in reed beds also presented problems. The galleys could stand in deeper water and besiege them, but their bombardments were useless against an invisible enemy that could slip away in the darkness. To counter these tactics, from the 1630s, Ottoman fleets themselves began to use flat-bottomed rowing boats, carrying troops and artillery to send into the reeds. This was the tactic that the Warden of the Arsenal, Piyale, used in 1639 in his fight with the Cossacks in the Strait of Kerch. This tactic, together with the recapture of Azov in 1642 and the refortification of Ochakov at the mouth of the Dniepr eventually brought the Cossacks under control.

In the long term, the more significant problem for the Ottoman fleet was the changing nature of naval warfare. For the first forty-five years of the seventeenth century, there had been no major wars in the Mediterranean, and the function of the Ottoman fleet had been to keep the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean free of predators and occasionally to suppress rebellions. A galley fleet had been adequate for this task. It was during this period, however, that northern European ships began to appear in the Mediterranean in increasing numbers, and although their purpose was trade, they carried heavy armaments. The technique of casting iron cannon, which were cheaper than the bronze ordnance that they displaced, had made this possible. These vessels, with their high sides and the ability to fire heavy broadsides were superior in combat to the Mediterranean war galley.

The Venetians, but not the Ottomans, had mastered the techniques of building and manning war galleons, with the result that when war broke out with Venice in 1645, the Venetian fleet enjoyed a clear advantage in battle. The only galleons in the Ottoman fleet came from Algiers which, in 1645, provided a squadron of 20 vessels. Apart from these, the Ottoman government also rented sailing vessels from the Dutch and, in the late 1640s, began to build their own. Katib Chelebi tells how the grand vizier took the decision after discussions with `certain people’ who told him that the enemy galleons could use the wind to run down the Ottoman fleet, forcing it to scatter. Equally, they could anchor outside the Dardanelles, preventing the exit of the Ottoman galleys. The galleons’ firepower was clearly overwhelming. Katib Chelebi also records how, when discussions were in progress, the Chief Mufti Abdurrahim, had summoned him and asked him if the Ottoman fleet had used galleons in past naval wars. He had replied that, in large scale campaigns, it had used galleons for transport, but only galleys for combat. He added that building galleons was not a problem: the difficulty was to find skilled crews and gunners. Katib Chelebi reinforces his scepticism about the introduction of galleons by giving instructions on how a galley should fight a galleon, giving examples of successful engagements in the past. A galley, he writes, should not immediately engage a galleon, but should first immobilise it by destroying its rudder and rigging, taking advantage of the fact that the broadside guns on a galleon had a shorter range than the artillery on a galley.

Events were to prove Katib Chelebi right. The adoption of the galleon by the Ottoman fleet was not a success. The galleons in the fleet of 1656 could not prevent an overwhelming Ottoman defeat and, in 1662, the grand vizier brought the experiment to an end. In 1669, the Cretan war ended in victory for the Ottomans, but the inadequacy of the fleet had been a major factor in its prolongation.

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Jan Žižka

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Jan Žižka leading his troops (illumination from the late 15th century)

One-eyed Taborite fanatic and brilliantly innovative general who invented the Hussite tabor. In 1409 he led Tatar, Cossack, Hungarian, and Bohemian mercenaries in the pay of Poland-Lithuania in a campaign against the Teutonic Knights, culminating in the extraordinary fight at Tannenberg in 1410. His main claim to fame was as the original Hussite commander during the Hussite Wars. He won victories at Kutná Hora (1422) and Nêmecký Brod (1422), both battles where he deployed firearms troops behind the Hussite Wagenburg.

In contrast to the urban Hussites of Prague, Žižka represented a different population within the movement. A minor landowner from Budweis (Ceske Budejovice) in southern Bohemia, he had not only served as a captain in King Wenceslaus’s palace guard but also served as a mercenary-possibly even at the famous Battle of Tannenberg against the Teutonic knights in 1410.16 Battle scarred and strategically minded, the one-eyed Žižka was a formidable commander whose leadership fueled the radical Hussites’ military strength against the increasingly daunting crusading forces arrayed against them. Infuriated by the Prague Hussites’ capitulation to Sigismund in 1419 and by the royalists’ subsequent brutal persecution of rural Hussite communities, Žižka had withdrawn from the city to Pilsen in the south; however, he would not remain there for long.

Jan Žižka, “the Blind” (a disability he shared with the Bohemian king, John of Luxembourg, killed in the French line at Crécy, in 1346), who was to lead the Hussites to many a victory, was also the pioneer of mobile warfare in the West. His troops were largely untrained townsmen and peasants, but under Žižka they defeated trained foot-soldiers and cavalry. His great innovation was the Hussite war wagon. Nearer in capability as a military vehicle to a twentieth-century tank than an ancient war chariot, it was a four-wheeled farm cart, modified to produce a fighting vehicle. A heavy board was slung on one side of the cart to provide protection for the vehicle’s crew of eighteen armed men. Other boards could be slung out over the wheels to protect the vehicle and between the wheels beneath the wagon as stabilizers. On the march, the wagons carried army supplies. With the approach of an enemy in open country the crews maneuvered their vehicles to form a compound where infantrymen could shelter. This could be further reinforced, if the army was under prolonged attack, by closing the gaps between the wagons with dedicated heavy shield boards. Sited on rising ground and further defended by a ditch, such a wagon laager became a near impregnable fortress. Žižka may have got the germ of the idea from campaigning experience in Russia where transport wagons were sometimes thrown into a defensive laager known as a goliaigorod. The Hussite armies seem to have been the first to deploy the fully developed idea on a Western battlefield. Within minutes the enemy who thought he was engaging a bellicose rabble of under-trained civilians found himself confronted with a Well-defended fortress.

Žižka experimented with the concept. He mounted artillery pieces in the Wagons-“those snakes with which they destroy walls,” wrote a contemporary. Then he equipped the crews with handguns. There is evidence that he deployed the war wagons in action on the move. In one battle, we are told, “they advanced and, by shooting at the enemy with their guns, drove the king and his whole army from the positions that they held.” At the Battle of Malesov in June 1424 he anticipated tank tactics, using his wagons to break an enemy formation. Holding a hilltop, he positioned a line of rock-filled supply wagons flanked by cavalry troopers. “When half of the enemy force had crossed the bottom of the valley … he ordered the battle wagons be rolled down the slope and thus broke up the enemy ranks.” His own horsemen were then able to scatter their opponents with comparative ease.

The new war wagons, adaptable to attack or defense, became the hallmark of Hussite armies and probably influenced military development elsewhere. For them to be effective, chain-of-command discipline, far from standard in the average medieval army, was essential. Maintaining them in running order, deploying them efficiently on the move and finally working them in battle conditions meant division of labor among the eighteen-man crew, rigidly enforced in action.

THE HUSSITE WARS

Between 1421 and 1434, antagonism was the dominant theme of Bohemian history. The thirteen years of warfare between is best understood not as sustained combat but rather a slow (yet violent) series of crusading waves met, sometimes defensively and sometimes offensively, by Hussite armies. Already in midsummer of 1421, Sigismund was coordinating an assault on Bohemia with German support, hoping to cut the Hussite’s ground out from beneath them. Crusaders’ early success in sieging the town of Zatec northwest of Prague soon failed, however, when news of the rehabilitated Žižka’s imminent arrival prompted many of their number to flee. Undaunted, Sigismund augmented his army with expensive mercenaries (many experienced from fighting Turks) and turned his attention east. Pointing the “crusader” army toward his old base of Kutna Hora, Sigismund hoped to seize the largely German Catholic town whose minority Czech population had recently joined the Hussites. The armies met in late December 1421, clashing at strategic external positions, while royal supporters within Kutna Hora secretly opened a gate to the crusaders. Soldiers massacred the Hussites within the city.

After desperately fighting their way through the opponents’ ranks, Žižka and his forces made their way to safety north of the city. Regrouping within only a matter of weeks, they charged back south in early January of 1422 with renewed force that so overwhelmed a crusading army that Sigismund decided to evacuate Kutna Hora. Royalist attempts to face off against the Hussites were repulsed along the way, and morale was finally shattered when fleeing troops jammed a bridge at the town of Nemecky Brod. Žižka’s army devastated both town and army, forcing the defeated Sigismund to flee east to Moravia for safety.

To rub salt in the wound, the grand duke of Lithuania (whom the Hussites had “elected” king in Sigismund’s place) chose this moment to make his move. Writing to the pope in early March, the duke offered to protect the Czechs and heal the religio-political rift, bringing them back safely to Roman Catholicism. And to make his presence directly felt in Bohemia, he sent his own nephew, Prince Charles Korybut of Lithuania, to act on his behalf. Sigismund, safe but isolated in Moravia, doubtless felt the ground shifting uncomfortably beneath him. In the autumn, a new wave of crusaders (this time invading Bohemia from the north and west) encountered Prince Korybut at the castle of Karlstein, where the outcome was an armistice signed on November 8, 1422.

Interestingly, the settlement and ensuing lull turned out to be more damaging to the Hussite cause than the furious warfare had been. External foes had always served to temporarily unite the riven Hussite ranks-in the absence of such pressure, however, religious disputes once again splintered the Czech cause, as did the social and economic divisions of urban and rural culture. By the summer of 1423, rival groups of Hussites were fighting one another, a breach in which Žižka himself played a role. Abandoning the extreme radical community at Tabor in August 1423, the commander relocated to eastern Bohemia as leader of a more moderate group known as the Orebites. In June of 1424, Žižka’s army defeated Hussite rivals from Prague, and the rural Orebites and Taborites reconciled. On October 11, the old soldier died of disease while besieging an enemy position; distraught at his loss, his followers among the Orebites now called themselves “the Orphans.”

After his death the Taborites reputedly stretched his skin to make from it a great war drum.

Among the most influential leaders after Žižka ‘s death was the surprising figure of Prokop Velicky, a married priest and Utraquist from Prague who headed up Taborite armies in their many battles against royalist crusaders in the following years. Prokop the Great, as he became known, shifted Hussite warfare to a more deliberately offensive strategy of raiding into territories that had previously yielded crusading forces. After another failed crusader attack in 1427, no further Catholic armies tried to invade Bohemia for four years. Far from dampening the Czech martial spirit, however, the crusading lull merely provided the Hussites an opportunity to raid expansively and destructively on what they called “beautiful rides” through Germany, Austria, Hungary, and even Poland. Sigismund’s repeated efforts to intercept and rout the Hussite armies failed, despite his increasing familiarity with their methods and technologies, and a final devastating defeat of the crusaders in 1431 paved the way for a final settlement. Yet divisions among Hussites had been deepening across the years, and the process by which peace finally emerged had as much (or more) to do with internal conflicts as with pressure from royalist Catholics.

After Bismarck I

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Destroyer HMS Maori (F24) underway, coastal waters.

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HMS Maori Sinking.

Legend has it that, after a Bismarck officer was hauled up over the side of HMS Dorsetshire, plucked from a watery grave by the willing hands of his enemies, he told his British rescuers: ‘Us today, you tomorrow.’1 And so it was in the months and years which followed that his prediction came to pass for a number of the ships, their sailors and marines, who had pursued the mighty German battleship.

It was late when Winston Churchill’s doctor, Charles McMoran Wilson, encountered the Prime Minister’s secretary, Mrs Hill, coming out of the PM’s bedroom. She seemed relieved to see him. ‘He has just heard some very bad news,’ said Mrs Hill, indicating that he should go in. McMoran Wilson suggested, as the Prime Minister disliked being fussed over by a doctor at the best of times, it might be best to leave him alone. But Mrs Hill insisted: ‘I think he would like to see you.’

Churchill was sitting on the edge of his bed, head in his hands, seemingly in a daze.

‘You know what has happened?’ he asked, looking up.

‘No.’

The Prime Minister explained that the Japanese had sunk both Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya. Gone was the battleship that fought so valiantly against Bismarck in the Denmark Strait and which had carried him to Placentia Bay in August 1941, then rode shotgun on a Malta convoy before being sent to the Far East to safeguard Singapore. Both capital ships were lost in the South China Sea, on 10 December 1941. The First Sea Lord had advised Churchill not to send them to Singapore, but he overruled Admiral Pound, hoping the sight of those magnificent ships would deter the sons of Nippon. It was Admiral Pound who broke the news to the Prime Minister, ringing him in the early hours of 10 December. Setting aside a tray of paperwork to pick up the handset of a telephone on a bedside table, Churchill thought the First Sea Lord’s voice sounded odd, the first intimation something bad was about to be revealed. Churchill heard Pound cough and gulp, his words at first faint.

‘Prime Minister, I have to report to you that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse have both been sunk by the Japanese – we think by aircraft.’

It was simply unbelievable, even after all the other shocking ship losses during 1941 in the Mediterranean.

‘Are you sure it’s true?’ the Prime Minister asked.

‘There is no doubt at all.’

Churchill was plunged into turmoil, later confessing: ‘In all the war I never received a more direct shock.’

Who could have imagined the Japanese would deliver such a blow? They had sunk or damaged eight American battleships at Pearl Harbor on 7 December but, until Prince of Wales and Repulse were sent to the bottom, no capital ship on the open ocean had ever been destroyed by aircraft. Being sent to the Far East, so far from home, was not something the men of Prince of Wales regarded with great enthusiasm. Having spent so much time in the thick of the action, however, the long voyage did at least offer an opportunity for relaxed gunnery training, including on the anti-aircraft weapons, and to practise more traditional seamanship skills previously neglected. The accepted wisdom was, anyway, that the Japanese were not very good aviators. Lieutenant Commander McMullen attended an intelligence briefing in which it was claimed they could not fly at night because they had such poor eyesight and therefore could not see in the dark. How on earth would they manage to hit a battleship with a torpedo? But, while Prince of Wales was in dry dock at Singapore, the Japanese made a night attack. Nine aircraft, flying in perfect formation, dropped bombs on the naval base. As the Japanese planes were frozen in a searchlight, the anti-aircraft guns of Prince of Wales joined the flak barrage, but scored no hits. Soon news began flooding in of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It seemed the Japanese were not only good pilots, they had aircraft and weapons capable of sinking battleships.

Force Z, as Prince of Wales, Repulse and their escort destroyers were known, set sail from Singapore on 8 December, after hearing reports of Japanese transport ships heading for Malaysia. Shortly before the Prince of Wales left, Captain Leach invited his son, Henry, serving in the cruiser Mauritius, then in dock at Singapore’s naval base, to dinner aboard the battleship. It was the first time they had met since Christmas 1940, when the captain had been horrified to learn his son was drafted to Prince of Wales and arranged a transfer. Leach the younger thought his father was distracted by some gnawing anxiety, which he caught a hint of when Captain Leach suggested taking on the Japanese was a mission against the odds. A couple of nights later, father and son met for a swim at the naval base swimming pool and afterwards had drinks with the commanding officer of Repulse, Captain William Tennant. Two hours after Henry Leach said goodbye to his father, Prince of Wales set sail. The future Falklands War-era First Sea Lord later wrote of that parting: ‘I never saw my father again.’

Bad weather initially hid the British vessels from Japanese scouting planes, but when it cleared they were cruelly exposed. The only real defence against determined air attack would have been fighters from an aircraft carrier sailing with the two big ships, but the vessel assigned to that role had run aground in the Caribbean and was instead in dry dock for repairs.

Hard-pressed in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, and particularly with convoy runs to Russia, which had just started, the Royal Navy had been unable to find another carrier to send.

Flying from bases in Indo-China, eighty-five Japanese aircraft attacked Force Z at 11 am on December 10, the first wave of bombers passing over Prince of Wales to attack Repulse. Later, both ships were assailed by torpedo-bombers approaching on the bow and stern. Prince of Wales suffered hits in her stern that damaged her steering and propellers. As she started listing to port she turned around in a huge circle, shuddering under a constant onslaught. Repulse succumbed first but by that stage Prince of Wales was a sitting duck, with seemingly endless waves of Japanese aircraft coming in. She was soon beyond hope and the ‘abandon ship’ order was given. Many of the seriously wounded, who would not be able to escape, were taken to the battleship’s small chapel, where the ship’s dentist was doing what he could to ease their pain. As he moved among the wounded, the floor of the chapel slick with blood and vomit, the dentist was approached by a sailor, who told him: ‘Sir, the Captain says that you should please come onto the upper deck and get away.’ The dentist thanked the sailor but shook his head. ‘Tell Captain Leach thank you very much, but I’m not going to leave my patients.’ The Rev. Wilfred Parker, who had delivered the prayer before the Battle of the Denmark Strait on 24 May 1941 was tending to wounded elsewhere. Both men went down with the ship.

Boy Seaman Alan McIvor, who had used his wits to get an 8-inch shell from Prinz Eugen ejected from his gun turret, was wounded in the head. Fortunately he was able to leave the ship without even getting his feet wet, walking along a plank that had been laid across from the battleship’s stern to HMS Express, an escort destroyer, which had come alongside.

Eighteen-year-old Marine Peter Dunstan, who somehow managed to struggle up from below decks, was shocked at the angle to which the ship was listing. Momentarily bemused by the unfamiliar chaos that had gripped his usually well ordered ship – smoke and flame everywhere, wreckage cluttering the deck and men staggering about clutching wounds, shouting their heads off – he just stood there until somebody shouted, ‘Jump!’

Managing to pull himself onto a raft with a number of others, Dunstan turned to watch as the ship rolled over, spotting senior officers still standing on a bridge wing. They were gone within an instant, taken down to oblivion in a frothing, churning sea.6 Captain Leach had to be one of them, and his corpse was spotted later floating in the water, but not recovered.

Junior rating Joseph Willetts had also escaped to Express and then watched Prince of Wales slowly turning turtle, he believed still with hundreds of sailors trapped inside her hull. He saw those who had made it to the upper deck, but had yet to jump, trying to scramble clear, a few falling into the sea where some ingested oil and soon died. The Japanese had by now stopped their onslaught, and the ocean was littered with dead and wounded. Willetts decided he had to do something to help. Hanging on to a stanchion with one hand, he dropped over the side of Express to offer his other hand to survivors in the water. In this way, one by one, he saved some of them from a watery grave. But eventually, his strength ebbing away, Willetts had to be hauled back up on to Express. He found himself next to a petty officer gunner, seemingly without injury, who was standing perfectly still watching Prince of Wales begin to slide stern first under the waves. The petty officer looked at Willetts and said: ‘I’m going back … I’m not going to leave the lads there.’ The senior rating jumped over the side and swam the 100 yards back to the Prince of Wales, just so he could be sucked down with his shipmates.

Lieutenant Commander McMullen was taken down with the ship, but then, like Ted Briggs of Hood, popped to the surface. He got into a Carley float with four ratings whom he found singing the Volga Boat Song to keep their spirits up: ‘Yo heave ho! Yo heave ho! Once more, once more, Yo heave ho!’

Arriving just too late to matter, Buffalo fighter aircraft wheeled overhead. Shocked survivors shook their fists and hurled abuse skywards, cursing the RAF for failing to protect them against the Japanese. And so, Prince of Wales –sent to try and prevent an attack by Japan on British colonies in the Far East – was lost on a forlorn mission bitterly opposed by senior officers, but forced on the Royal Navy by Churchill. Prince of Wales took 327 of her officers and men with her to the bottom of the South China Sea, while a further 513 went down with Repulse, the ship Admiral Tovey had sent away to refuel in May 1941 rather than risk her in a battle with Bismarck. The two great ships were dinosaurs killed by gnats.

Electra had gone east with Prince of Wales, her fate seemingly still intertwined with the battleship that she had been in company with during the Bismarck Action. As such, she accompanied the battleship and Repulse on the ill-fated foray to prevent the Japanese landings. Her men looked on horrified as Japanese aviators, unlike their Italian and German counterparts, proved adept at high-level bombing, scoring a hit on Repulse which saw black smoke belching out of a large hole in her deck. Then, the destroyer men watched as torpedo-bombers skimmed low over the sea from all directions, Electra trying in vain to place herself between them and the British capital ships and shooting down a Japanese aircraft. First Repulse succumbed, and then Prince of Wales stopped dead in the water, mortally wounded. This time, rather than receive the thunderbolt of disaster via signal, as had been the case with Hood, the destroyer’s sailors saw the dreadful spectacle unfold before their eyes. Prince of Wales, which had escaped to fight another day on 24 May, just over six months earlier, began to sink. This time Electra could save more than just three lives. Provided she got there in time, she could offer salvation to many more.

After ordering the terrible news to be conveyed via signal to Singapore, Commander May took his destroyer in, finding Express was already nestled alongside Prince of Wales taking off survivors. Therefore Electra went in search of survivors from Repulse, pulling them from an oil-covered sea in various states of distress.

As Prince of Wales rolled over, bilge keel threatening to capsize Express, the destroyer backed away, fortunately speedily enough to avoid that fate. Watching from Electra, Lieutenant Cain saw ‘a whirlpool, spread over the water in brief fierce testimony of the violence of her passing …’ It wiped men ‘from the sea like chalk figures from a slate.’ Electra was able to pull several hundred survivors from the sea and carried them to Singapore, more than making up for the paltry few she had saved from Hood.

Nine months to the day from Bismarck’s sinking, Electra was claimed. Her death ride came during the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942, as she aimed to protect Exeter, the latter having suffered a crippling hit in a boiler room. Exeter needed time to get moving again. American and British destroyers made a smokescreen to hide the crippled British cruiser from the enemy and waited for the attack that would surely come. Cain contemplated mens’ attitude to mortal danger, the feeling of personal immunity ‘that other ships sank, and that other men died, but that we were immortal’. How else could he and his shipmates have survived so long? Exeter was finally able to get underway again and retire from the scene. As the Japanese came forward in strength Allied cruisers and destroyers counter-attacked, Electra vanishing into the smokescreen and seconds later breaking through the other side. For a few brief moments, the only sound was her engines and the noise of the sea parting in huge bow waves. Every man aboard was grimly silent, waiting for first sight of the enemy. Electra appeared to be alone, but then cutting across her path came the menacing silhouettes of a Japanese light cruiser and half a dozen heavy destroyers. Electra charged bravely on, exchanging fire with the enemy. Three devastating hits slammed into the British destroyer – one cutting off communication between the bridge and the rest of the ship, another wrecking the electrical system forward, the third exploding in the aft boiler room. Electra came to a halt with steam and smoke pouring through multiple holes. The Japanese fighting line had disappeared, but a single enemy destroyer came back to finish Electra off. Cain, swearing blue murder, ordered torpedoes fired, a forlorn attempt to blunt the enemy attack. None hit. Electra, with no central gunnery control and no power forward was a sitting duck as the heavily armed Japanese warship circled, taking out turrets one by one. Fire took hold aft, preventing any shells from being passed back to Y turret, the only one left in action, which soon ran out of ammunition, its gun falling silent. A message came down from Commander May on the bridge: ‘Prepare to abandon ship.’

Many officers and men who had been astonished, and deeply dismayed, by the lack of survivors from Hood were to be among those claimed by the sea that day. Cain was hit in the legs by shrapnel, the wail of the Japanese shell ringing in his ears as he continued trying to get a Carley float into the water despite his wounds. Fortunately for Cain he did not escape in it, for the Japanese destroyer decided on some target practice against the Electra’s floats and their survivors, achieving a direct hit on the one Cain helped put over the side. He escaped on another, which fortunately avoided the attention of the merciless enemy. Only fifty-four of Electra’s 144-strong ship’s company survived. Commander May was not among them, choosing to go down with his ship. He appeared on the bridge, giving those in the water an encouraging wave just seconds before Electra sank. Cain heard ‘one gentle sigh from our ship as she plunged below, her torments ended’, the White Ensign flying proudly from her gaff. The American submarine S38 rescued Electra’s survivors, ten of them so ill they had to be left in the care of Dutch doctors in Java, while the other forty-four, including Cain, made it to Australia aboard a small steamer called Verspeck. They reached Fremantle on 10 March, nine days after Exeter was sunk in a sequel to the Battle of the Java Sea, the cruiser meeting her end in the Sunda Strait. After taking shelter at Surabaya to effect further temporary repairs, Exeter set sail on 28 February, in the early hours of 1 March sending a signal picked up by a British destroyer, reporting sighting three enemy cruisers. Unable to make more than sixteen knots, Exeter was easy meat for the Japanese warships, which reduced the British cruiser to a floating wreck via gunfire before sending in a destroyer to torpedo her. Fifty-four of Exeter’s men went down with her, while 651 survivors were rescued and taken prisoner by the Japanese. Meanwhile, in Australia, some of Electra’s survivors were put on the Ceylon-bound liner Nankin, which was intercepted by the German raider Thor. Cain and others were among those transferred to a Japanese destroyer off Java, not far from where their ship had been sunk. They were to spend three years as prisoners. Also subjected to the degradation and brutality of captivity in Japanese hands were men from Prince of Wales, captured after fighting on land in defence of Singapore. A number of them died in captivity, one more sweep of the scythe that is war’s bitter harvest.

Like the Swordfish of Ark Royal who put paid to Bismarck nearly seven months earlier, those infernal Japanese aircraft that destroyed Prince of Wales dropped torpedoes and bombs that cost a fraction of what it took to create a vessel with the awesome firepower of a battleship. In both cases a few impudent torpedoes found the battleships’ unprotected Achilles heel – their steering and propulsion. Like Achilles crashing to the dusty plain beneath the walls of Troy, the myth of battleship omnipotence had been slain. However, the ships the torpedo-bombers flew from – the new capital vessels that replaced battleships as rulers of the seas during the Second World War – were also not invulnerable. Ark Royal was sunk in the western Mediterranean by a single torpedo fired by U-81 but she did not go down straight away, for her crew managed to get tows across from two tugs. However, in transferring the majority of the ship’s company to the destroyer Legion key damage control personnel went, too, and it was not possible to return them. The structure of Ark – the vast hangar running through the entire length of the ship – also enabled flooding to take hold rapidly. In the early hours of 14 November, with fire breaking out and water ingress creating an irretrievable list of 35 degrees, those left aboard abandoned ship, all save one sailor who went down with Ark. A number of the aviators who flew in the Swordfish attacks from Ark Royal did not survive the war. The leader of the strike from Victorious, Eugene Esmonde, was killed on 12 February 1942, leading 825 NAS on a mission to prevent the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen from breaking through the English Channel to Germany – the notorious ‘Channel Dash’. Esmonde’s aircraft suffered a hit as he made his torpedo run in the Channel, going down in flames. None of the other aircraft made it, all but five of the eighteen aviators in the squadron losing their lives. The Germans had learned how to shoot down Swordfish. Esmonde’s body was eventually washed up in the Medway and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Eight of the forty-three Fleet Air Arm aviators who took part in attacks launched by Ark Royal against Bismarck later lost their lives. Among them was Tim Coode, who led the successful strike on the night of 26 May, killed in early 1943. Based ashore at a naval air station in east Africa, his aircraft caught fire and crashed during a night low-flying sortie. David Godfrey-Faussett was also killed, during a flying accident at night in March 1942, his Swordfish plunging into the North Sea off Easthaven.

Ever the fighter, it took four days for Cossack to give up the fight after she was struck by a torpedo fired by U-563 west of Portugal. On 23 October 1941 Cossack was helping to escort a UK-bound convoy, the fatal hit suffered just forward of the bridge on the destroyer’s port side, blowing off her bows and ‘about a third of the forward section of the ship’. She suffered 159 deaths12 and her twenty-nine survivors were picked up by fellow British escorts Carnation and Legion as well as the Free French warship Commandant Duboc. The following day a salvage team, including some of Cossack’s own men, was put aboard from Carnation. They strove valiantly to save the ship: ‘The fires were put out and bulkheads were shored up. The ship was lightened by throwing loose equipment, ammunition etc. overboard. Working under Commander E Halliwell, the engineering officer and senior survivor, they managed to get the main engines going again, although they could only proceed stern first, heading back to Gibraltar very slowly.’ They managed to stabilize the situation and on 25 October a tug from Gibraltar duly arrived and a tow was successfully put across. Towed stern first into steadily worsening seas, the salvage team was taken off during the night but could not get back aboard, the tow being slipped on 27 October, leaving Cossack slipping below the angry waves. Among the men lost in Cossack was telegraphist Eric Farmer who left such a graphic account of the Bismarck Action. The survivors took passage home to the UK in another veteran of the Bismarck Action, battleship Rodney, which had spent some time based at Gibraltar as flagship of Force H. Vian had departed Cossack that June, on promotion to Rear-Admiral and was tasked with organizing protection for convoys to northern Russia. When it came to the rest of Vian’s heroic destroyers of the 4th Flotilla, they were all lost in 1942: Maori was sunk by air attack in harbour at Malta, 12 February; Zulu sunk by air attack, off Tobruk, 14 September; Sikh sunk by enemy shore batteries, at Tobruk, 14 September.

Like Dorsetshire, the destroyer Maori had of course rescued Bismarck survivors and similarly, she too fulfilled the German officer’s grim prediction of ‘us today, you tomorrow’. But her casualties were light and only one man was killed when a Luftwaffe bomb penetrated and exploded in her machinery space in the early hours of the morning, a fire detonating a torpedo magazine blowing the ship apart. Fortunately the ship’s company was sleeping ashore rather than aboard ship. Maori broke in two, with her bows and stern poking above water. Because it was a hazard to shipping in the middle of Malta’s busy harbour, the wreck was raised and moved to a creek. After the war in Europe ended Maori’s wreck was raised yet again, towed out to sea and consigned to a permanent grave in deep water. In August 1942, Zulu and Sikh had joined forces with two other warships and RAF aircraft to hunt down and kill U-372 off Haifa. Both Tribal Class destroyers met their end during an ill-starred venture to put ashore a Royal Marine raiding force at Tobruk. Just after 5.00 am on 14 September, as the ships moved in to carry out the landings, a searchlight illuminated Sikh and an 88mm gun in a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battery opened fire, displaying its lethality against targets other than aerial ones. Shells ripped into Sikh in several places in quick succession, putting her propulsion out of action and setting off the ammunition and demolition charges belonging to embarked marines. Her bridge was also wrecked. Sister ship Zulu attempted to tow Sikh out of trouble but was hit several times herself, abandoning the idea. Sikh was scuttled shortly after 7.00 am, 115 of her men lost and many others taken prisoner. After withdrawing from the range of enemy guns, Zulu sought protection from the cruiser Coventry. A few hours later enemy dive-bombers plunged from the clouds, leaving Coventry so badly damaged she had to be scuttled by fire from Zulu’s guns. Hardly had Zulu left this disaster in her wake, with Coventrís sailors joining Royal Marines packed aboard her, when no less than eighteen enemy dive-bombers attacked at once and from all directions. With a bomb destroying her engine room, the doomed warship was left dead in the water. Even then her end did not come quickly. With most of those aboard evacuated to another British warship, a valiant attempt was made to tow Zulu to safe harbour, all the while under enemy air attack, but the situation was soon rendered hopeless. Zulu turned turtle and sank just inside the breakwater at Alexandria, the Royal Navy’s main base in the eastern Mediterranean. Thirty-seven of Zulu’s men lost their lives.

BATTLE OF THE YALU, [ORYOKKO NO TATAKAI] (1904)

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Japanese Army Crossing – The Yalu River

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The first major land engagement between Russian and Japanese forces during the Russo-Japanese War. It was fought 1-5 May 1904 and resulted in the first serious defeat of the Imperial Russian Army. The setting of the battle was decided following Japanese landing operations in Korea. At this stage the Russian Eastern Detachment under the command of Lieutenant General Mikhail Zasulich was deployed along the western bank of the Yalu River in an attempt to prevent the Japanese forces from crossing the river and invading Manchuria. On the eastern bank of the river, the Japanese First Army, under General Kuroki Tametomo, was deployed. On 15 April, General Aleksei Kuropatkin issued a memorandum stressing the importance of not allowing the Japanese a decisive victory in the first battle so as not to raise their morale. In the same spirit, however, Kuropatkin warned Zasulich to avoid a decisive battle and instructed him to determine the enemy’s strength, disposition, and marching lines, and “to retreat as slowly as possible to the mountains.”

The Eastern Detachment consisted of the Third Siberian Army Corps supported by the Trans-Baikal Cossack Brigade under Major General Pavel Mishchenko. The combined Russian fighting force amounted to 16,000 riflemen, 2,350 cavalry, 640 mounted scouts, 48 field guns, eight mountain guns, and six horse artillery guns. Based on military intelligence reports, Kuroki concluded prior to the battle that the Russian forces could be outnumbered at any point along the elongated front of about 275 kilometers [170 miles]. His First Army was stronger by far than its opponents, consisting of the 2nd, 12th, and Imperial Guards Divisions, over 40,000 strong. The Japanese troops marched for six weeks before arriving at the Korean border town of Wiju [Sinuiju, Uiju; Gishu], where they prepared for the battle and carefully monitored the enemy positions. Zasulich did not exert much effort to learn more about the Japanese dispositions, nor did he do much to conceal his own.

Kuroki decided to attack on 1 May 1904, three days after his forces finally succeeded in emplacing at the front 20 120-millimeter [4.7- inch] converted naval howitzers. On the night of 25 April and during the following day, Japanese troops took the islands of Kintei and Kyuri, located between the Yalu and the Ai Rivers. Their movement forced the Russians to evacuate also a stronghold known as Tiger Hill, which commanded the adjacent points of passage. The next day Japanese engineers threw 10 bridges across the relatively narrow Ai River, with much opposition from the Russian side. Early on 29 April, Lieutenant General Inoue Hikaru’s 12th Division accomplished its task of clearing the high ground up to the Ai River. Aware of the size of the force facing him, Zasulich neither retired nor concentrated his forces at this point, still convinced that it was a feint. That afternoon he dispatched a battalion to recapture Tiger Hill, and its success in doing so was one of the few reverses the Japanese experienced. It did not affect their tactical plans.

The next day Japanese howitzers redeployed on Kintei island battered the Russian artillery batteries and rendered them ineffective in the ensuing battle. Having lost his artillery, Lieutenant General Nikolai Kashtalinskii, commander of the 3rd East Siberian Rifle Division, who took command of the sector two days earlier, requested permission to withdraw. Zasulich declined, and during the night the entire Japanese First Army crossed the Yalu River and its channels. On the morning of 1 May, Kuroki began a full-scale attack, committing his three divisions. While crossing the narrow waters of the Ai, they suffered heavy causalities, but the attack continued. Broken up by superior numbers, the Russian line formed groups, each of which, after resisting for a while, was driven back. In this situation Zasulich ordered the retreat. By 10:00 the Russians had abandoned Chuliencheng, the Manchurian town facing Wiju on the western bank of the Ai River, where their headquarters were located.

Russian attempts to stem the rout farther to the west, near the little settlement of Hamatang, failed; under the growing pressure of the Japanese 12th Division, the smaller force under Colonel Gromov succumbed and began to retreat. For his decision, Gromov was later court-martialed. He was exonerated but later committed suicide. Further desperate attempts by Russian forces to form rear guards collapsed under local Japanese superiority, whereas the hesitant Zasulich made no stand even at the strategically important town of Fenghwangcheng [hoojo]. The Japanese occupied the site unopposed on 5 May 1904, although they did not pursue their demoralized opponents, who retreated northwest toward Liaoyang, thereby allowing the Japanese Second Army to begin landing in Pitzuwo on 5 May. Russian casualties numbered about 2,700 men, including 500 prisoners of war, whereas the Japanese lost 1,036 killed and wounded. The Russians lost also 21 guns and eight machine guns. Altogether, the battle of the Yalu marked the onset of the Russian defeat against the Japanese and would be remembered as such for decades to come. It was the first time in the modern age that an Asian force crushed a European force in a full-scale clash. The contemporary psychological impact of the debacle on the Imperial Russian Army was so immense that in retrospect some writers have treated this medium-scale confrontation as the decisive battle of the war.

Army of the Levant

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1er Régiment Etranger de Cavalerie, 1er REC. The only cavalry regiment in the French Foreign Legion, since the 2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment (2e REC) has been disbanded. 1er REC has been stationed at Quartier Labouche in Orange, France since it moved from Mers-el-Kébir, Algeria in October 1967.

The regiment was created in Tunisia in 1921 around a cadre of Russian White movement veterans with extensive light cavalry experience from the Russian Civil War. It subsequently served in Syria and Morocco in 1920′s and 1930′s.

Uniforms of the Troupes Speciales varied according to arm of service but showed a mixture of French and Levantine influences. Indigenous personnel wore either the keffiyeh headdress (red for Druze and white for other units), fezzes or turbans. The Circassian mounted troops wore a black full dress that closely resembled that of the Caucasian Cossacks, complete with astrakhan hats. A common feature across the Troupes Speciales was the use of “violette” (purple-red) as a facing colour on tunic collar patches, belts and kepis. Squadron or branch insignia often included regional landmarks such as the cedars of Lebanon or the main mosque of Damascus.

In 1920, the French were given a mandate over Syria and Lebanon by the League of Nations. During this period Syria was known as the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon was known as the French Mandate of Lebanon.

From 19 April to 26 April 1920 the San Remo Conference was held in Sanremo, Italy. After this conference was concluded, the short-lived monarchy of King Faisal’s was defeated at the Battle of Maysalun during the Franco-Syrian War. The French army under General Henri Gouraud then occupied the Mandate of Syria and the Mandate of Lebanon.

A force called the Syrian Legion was raised by the French authorities shortly after the establishment of the two mandates. This comprised both cavalry and infantry units and was drawn mainly from minority groups within Syria itself.

Following the Druse revolt of 1925 to 1927, the Syrian Legion was reorganised into the “Special Troops of the Levant” (Troupes Speciales du Levant) augmented by North African infantry (tirailleurs) and cavalry (spahis), Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère), and Colonial Infantry/Artillery units (both French and Senegalese). The whole force constituted the Army of the Levant and was responsible for keeping order in both French mandates during the interwar period.

The French Mandate Administration followed a principle of divide and rule in organising the Troupes Speciales. As far as possible the Sunni Muslim Arabs, who made up about 65% of the population of Syria, were excluded from service with the Troupes Speciales, who were drawn mainly from Druze, Christian, Circassian and ‘Alawi minorities. During the period from 1926 to 1939, the Army of the Levant included between 10,000 and 12,000 locally engaged troops organised into: ten battalions of infantry (mostly ‘Alawis), four squadrons of cavalry (Druze, Circassian and mixed Syrian), three companies of camel corps (méharistes), engineer, armoured car, and support units. In addition, there were 9 companies of Lebanese light infantry (chasseurs libanais) and 22 squadrons of Druze, Circassian, and Kurdish mounted infantry forming the auxiliary troops (Troupes Supplementaires). This latter force provided a form of military police (gendarmerie) for internal security purposes and were primarily deployed in the areas of their recruitment. Some of the Lebanese units were trained as ski troops for mountain service and wore the berets of the French elite mountain infantry (Chasseurs Alpins).

By 1938, the Troupes Speciales numbered 10,000, with 306 officers of whom only 88 were French. A military academy (École Militaire) was established at Homs to train Syrian and Lebanese officers and specialist non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

During the 1930s the French Army experimented with integrating mounted and mechanised cavalry units into larger formations. Dragoon regiments were converted to motorised infantry (trucks and motor cycles), and cuirassiers to armoured units; while light cavalry (Chasseurs a’ Cheval, Hussars and Spahis) remained as mounted sabre squadrons. The theory was that mixed forces comprising these diverse units could utilise the strengths of each according to circumstances. In practice mounted troops proved unable to keep up with fast moving mechanised units over any distance.

Dresden: Another Victory Without a Future

Slag bij Dresden 26 augustus 1813

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The false Congress of Prague afforded the new members of the Coalition time to rebuild their militaries to create a crushing superiority. The 300,000 men of the French army and its allies now faced 600,000 enemy combatants.

Their initial dispositions were in the form of a pincers, reflecting a strategy to encircle the Grand Armeé between Dresden and Leipzig. In the north, Bernadotte commanded a Swedish-Prussian army of 150,000 men. East of the Katzbach, a tributary of the Oder in Silesia, Blücher controlled 100,000 Russo-Prussians. To the south in Bohemia, Schwarzenberg commanded the most important army, composed of 200,000 Austrians and 50,000 Russians. A further 100,000 Russians were en route with Barclay de Tolly. Arguing that Austria had furnished the most important contingent, Metternich had imposed Schwarzenberg as commander-in-chief, or more correctly coordinator-general. To their pincers strategy, the Coalition members added a tactic that was flattering to the military renown of Napoleon: refuse battle wherever he was located, and act offensively only against his lieutenants.

Of course, Napoleon had profited equally from the suspension of arms to increase as much as possible the Grand Armeé effectives and artillery (1,200 cannon). He had paid special attention to the cavalry, increased to 40,000 but unfortunately without experience. At their head stood the best of them, Murat, who had repented and decided to rejoin Napoleon. But he no longer had the dash and enthusiasm of yesteryear. Moreover, Napoleon was aware that Murat had not completely severed his contacts with the Austrians.

At the renewal of hostilities, the French army was in a waiting posture between Leipzig and Dresden, holding off three enemy armies: in the north, Oudinot (70,000 men) opposite Bernadotte; in the east, Ney (100,000) opposite Blücher, including Marmont’s, Macdonald’s, and Lauriston’s corps; to the south, Gouvion Saint-Cyr (100,000), opposite Schwartzenberg. Napoleon remained in the center with the Guard (30,000 men).

Napoleon’s strategy was imposed on him by the disposition of forces on the terrain. Once again, he had to compensate for his overall numerical inferiority by a succession of local superiorities, accomplished by lightning concentrations, permitting him to defeat the enemy armies in detail. The disposition of opposing forces helped him in this task. His unsurpassed rapidity of execution and his legendary coup d’oeil would do the rest.

To this general concept of maneuver, Napoleon added a diversion toward Berlin by Davout’s corps, advancing from Hamburg in liaison with Oudinot’s offensive. This deception story was meant to distract Bernadotte, who constituted the northern arm of the enemy pincer.

To the diplomatic infamy of a false armistice, the Coalition now added military dishonor. On August 12, Blücher violated the ceasefire that had not yet expired. He surprised Ney’s units in bivouac on the Katbach, threatening to destroy them. Napoleon marched the Guard with all speed from Goerlitz to the Neisse River. As soon as he became aware of the emperor’s presence, however, Blücher withdrew.

The inspiration of this violation of the law of war was none other than Jomini. This former Swiss clerk who had become Ney’s chief of staff by his favor and that of Napoleon had recently passed to the enemy side. In so doing, he took a quantity of valuable intelligence concerning the French army. He succeeded in persuading the Coalition monarchs to initiate hostilities before the expiration of the armistice, so as to surprise the French in the midst of their preparations. The anticipated results were supposed to eclipse the dishonor of the proceeding. These noble monarchs did not hesitate to thus sacrifice their honor and violate their oaths! Later, this criminal would push into military literature, where he obtained more success than on the battlefield, without ever convincing the true specialists in the art of war. Determined in his desire to justify his treason, his account of the Napoleonic Wars failed to conceal his bitterness at not being rewarded for his alleged merits when he was still loyal to Napoleon.

In time, Napoleon was able to detect the trap that had been prepared for him. Blücher’s abortive attack was in reality only a lure to distract Napoleon’s army eastward while Schwarzenberg was to seize Dresden in his rear, cutting all his communications. The infamous violation of the armistice did not achieve its purpose because of Napoleon’s lightning return to Dresden, outrunning Schwarzenberg by covering 140 kilometers in three days.

The Battle of Dresden took place on August 26-27, 1813. The first day, Napoleon contained the general Coalition assault to the west of the city. The next day, he counterattacked the Austrian left in force, overthrowing it. Then he exploited the resulting penetration in a southerly direction, threatening the rear of Schwarzenberg, who rightly ordered a general retreat on Bohemia in mid-afternoon.

Thus Napoleon seized his last great victory. The Coalition left on the field 15,000 killed or wounded, 25,000 prisoners, 40 cannon, and 30 regimental colors. The French army suffered 10,000 killed or wounded.

The fruits of this victory were lost, unfortunately. Given the dispersion of the Coalition partners, the resolute pursuit of the enemy to complete his defeat could only be conducted in a decentralized manner. Left to their own devices, in several days Napoleon’s lieutenants squandered the benefits of victory. To the east, Blücher severely thrashed Macdonald on the River Katzbach. In the south, Vandamme missed the opportunity for a great victory over Schwarzenberg at Kulm, and found himself a prisoner instead. To the north, Ney allowed Bernadotte to defeat him at Dennewitz.

A new and more serious period manifested itself. Allied troops began to desert en masse and turn against the French army. On August 23, 10,000 Bavarians and Saxons abandoned the ranks of Oudinot’s corps, defeated by Bernadotte at Grossbeeren. This was the first tangible sign of the surge of German nationalism in European affairs, a fatal blow to the Grand Armeé.

The appearance of national sentiment in Germany dated from the uprising in Spain. Elated ideologues were its champions, including Gentz, Schlegel, and Stein, excited by French turncoats at work in European courts. The dominant idea was to oppose the French democratic revolution with a stronger patriotic counter-revolution.

Having been hostile to this movement out of fear that it might turn against them, the German monarchs embraced it once they became aware of the enormous benefits they could draw from nationalism. Napoleon’s great power resided in his charismatic image as a liberator of peoples. If one could succeed in substituting an exalted nationalistic sentiment for menacing class consciousness, one could change radically the correlation of forces. What could be easier than to indirectly mobilize support to defend the monarchical classes by those who would otherwise threaten those classes? Deprived of his democratic striking force, Napoleon could not resist the rising patriotic tide. These sorcerer’s apprentices risked nothing in the short run. Unpolished and unorganized, in 1813 the popular masses could not suspect this diabolical twist of consciousness. Yet, in 1848, the monarchies belatedly realized that they had played with fire.

After several years of development, German nationalism erupted sharply and helped defeat Napoleon militarily. It was too late for him to regret his failure to arouse the conquered peoples against their oppressive sovereigns.

The first defections began to spread. The German alliances weakened and then reversed themselves in a fatal sequence. On October 8, Bavaria passed to the Coalition camp. This reversal gravely threatened the communications of the Grand Armeé.

The turmoil in Westphalia caused its king, Jerome, to quit the capital, Kassel, on September 30. At Bremen, a popular uprising forced its garrison to surrender to the Cossacks on October 15. Württemberg quit the French alliance on November 2. In short, the rats departed the sinking ship.

As an added burden, on November 8 Murat offered to ally himself with the Coalition, with Rome as the price of his treason.

In these dramatic circumstances, Napoleon had only one concern: to save his army, which was surrounded on all sides and threatened with destruction.

The balance of forces having become too unfavorable, for the first time Napoleon’s war aim was no longer the destruction of enemy armies, but the neutralization of them by a skillful blow, permitting him to withdraw behind the Rhine under the best conditions possible. This was the objective he chose after entrenching at Leipzig.

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Napoleon out of Russia 1812

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The Russian campaign was the decisive turning-point of the Napoleonic Wars that ultimately led to Napoleon’s defeat and exile on the island of Elba

In Napoleon’s Memoirs, as recorded by his private secretary, we have a curious disjuncture. On one hand, the hideous retreat of Napoleon’s army was almost a good thing in that it allowed the French soldier-other nationalities are not mentioned-to display all of those sterling qualities that emerge under adversity. On the other hand, however, “It was no longer possible to preserve even the shadow of discipline, and each man left to himself tried to reach Vilna as best he could.” Some years after the fact, the balance of cheeky defiance and unhappy inward recognition of reality that produced indecisiveness was still operative.

On November 28, the main body of Napoleon’s army passed over the Berezina River. Desperate rear-guard actions succeeded in keeping the Russian army from destroying this pitiful remnant altogether. Nevertheless, Russian artillery ¤re was intense and thousands, including women and children who had accompanied the army, were slaughtered. There was, of course, bitter cold, and virtually no food. General Eblé, the Swiss officer who had accomplished engineering miracles in constructing bridges across the river, said he attempted to persuade the emperor to show more celerity in getting his army to the relative safety west of the Berezina. Napoleon, who had been complaining about various matters up to that point, snapped, “`That will do.’ He looked at the ground. A few moments later he began complaining again and seemed to have forgotten what the general had said.”

Napoleon’s success in bringing most of his army over the Berezina was due in no small degree to the timidity and, at times, incompetence of the Russian generals. They were overawed to some extent by Napoleon’s reputation, while at other times they were raw and overconfident. In any case, it cannot be maintained that the Russian army “won” a battle at the Berezina. It is perhaps a measure of the cheekiness inspired by the Napoleonic legend (or perhaps of simple French nationalism) that contemporary commentators have referred to the Berezina episode as constituting a French “victory.”

Yet, it is true that Napoleon had succeeded in saving at least a crucial remnant of the Grand Armée from annihilation. Part of this, as suggested above, was no doubt due to the incompetence of his pursuers. There is another factor that was certainly of crucial importance, however. Paris was now his goal and it was charged with a valence even more positive than Moscow had been. Malet’s conspiracy had to be dealt with, where the emperor could act with the certainty characteristic of one who finds himself back in a familiar setting. The Russian army, of course, was still a negatively charged barrier, but in a pursuit characterized by a mixture of timidity and tactical sloppiness, it was, paradoxically, less of a threat-at least to Napoleon personally-than it had been when he first led his six-hundred-thousand-man host into Russia in the first place.

As inflexible as he had once been during the advance, he now was frantic in his effort to return to Paris. Just as during the advance, this necessitated that he occasionally not allow himself to see fully what was going on around him. Napoleon also was assailed by doubts, and patterns of avoidance could not continuously prevent him from knowing of the suffering of his remaining troops. Ahead, however, were Paris, safety, and the possibility of raising a new army. Behind him was a gutted city, the taking of which had at one point been the inflexibly held goal that had compensated for original uncertainties about a campaign undertaken with reluctance. More immediately behind him was an army whose badly coordinated pursuit allowed Napoleon to avoid it or, on occasion, to defeat it in detail. His men might still die by the thousands, but the life region of Paris, even more positively charged than Moscow had been, had become a second “sun of Austerlitz” for a man to whom negative valence was no longer of paralyzing significance.

After crossing the Berezina, a river now choked with the debris, human and otherwise, left behind by a disaster unparalleled in military history up to that time, Napoleon dashed off his famous Grand Armée Bulletin Number 29. Dated December 3, 1812, it contained an admission that things were not well. Napoleon blamed everything on the weather, the “cruel season” as he called it, and dwelled lovingly upon the military incompetence of the Russians and the cowardice of the Cossacks. The latter, he declared, attacked only wagons and supplies and were miserable as cavalry. A group of Cossacks, he said, “makes only noise and is not capable of beating a company of voltigeurs.” Only the peculiar circumstances surrounding recent events allowed them to succeed. After further self-serving ramblings, Napoleon ended his message with the well-known phrase, “His majesty’s health has never been better.” Napoleon’s apologists have maintained that the last sentence was necessary, at least in his own mind, because he was still worried about Malet’s conspiracy. At the very least, however, one can bring up the question of taste.

Originally uncertain as to his goal(s), Napoleon-perhaps out of fear of, if not necessarily respect for, the unpredictable Russian army-decided rather early on that he would conquer space, this achievement to be crowned by the taking of Moscow. The taking of territory in general and Moscow in particular thus became a life region charged with positive valence. The Russian army, on the other hand, became a barrier which, even if it had to be dealt with in order to attain the positive goal, was a region charged with negative valence and thus aroused intense anxiety in the emperor. He was not eager to confront it personally, and his delays along the way and his sloppy performance in battle can be explained by this uncertainty. Yet, having decided on taking territory, he drove his army forward with inflexible determination, just about ruining it in the process. This inflexibility masked a variety of uncertainties about the campaign, as did periodic exhibitions of noxious bravado. A statement Napoleon made while in retirement on Saint Helena revealed this uncertainty: “The most terrible of all my battles was the one before Moscow. The French showed themselves worthy of victory, and the Russians worthy of being invincible.” In a word, Napoleon’s army had defeated a foe that had not lost. Even on Saint Helena, albeit only for a moment, the conqueror of Moscow revealed himself to be the individual who, as the campaign was about to begin, had no goal- a condition for which an unwonted rigidity would have to compensate. Concern over possible defeat at the hands of a foe that was in so many ways a mystery to him would be overcome through territorial conquest. What in fact would function, much as Alexander had supposed it would, as a lifesaving barrier for him and his army, Napoleon was able to turn into something of positive value.

Of course, those geographic distances-which were not a conscious psychological barrier during the advance (indeed confirming that more territory had been conquered)-haunted Napoleon throughout the retreat, aided and abetted by the weather. Yet, wanting only to get “home” as quickly as possible, there was no longer any spiritual confusion and, except for delays at Smolensk and at the Berezina River-which for obvious reasons must have had strong symbolic significance-he was able to right off an army whose pursuit was less than wholehearted. With clarity and purpose restored, and all ambivalences and hesitations a memory (if that), the emperor could go about his task of raising a new army with cold-blooded energy.

Napoleon’s Russian adventure perhaps can best be explained by recognizing that since he had no clear goals originally, he had allowed his opponent to delude him into accepting the one that would most benefit his foe. The tsar was right when he remarked while riding into Paris, “and they thought I was the fool.”

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First Battalion of Hessian Lifeguards Part I

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The Ordeal of Captain Roeder: from the Diary of an Officer in the First Battalion of Hessian Lifeguards During the Moscow Campaign of 1812-13 / Translated and Edited from the Original Manuscript by Helen Roeder

At three o’clock on the morning of [November] the 17th the Hessians prepared to march against the enemy. Captain Roeder’s company had been reduced to seven sergeants and twenty-seven men. The total strength of the Lifeguards, who had numbered 660 combatants when they left Viazma some ten days earlier, was now twenty-six officers, 442 men, while the Prince’s Own (Regiment) could only number twenty-three officers, 450 men. ‘What a brigade of Guards of four battalions! And yet we are much stronger than the French!’ The Captain wrote a little letter of farewell to his family, and then they marched for about two hours back along the road to Smolensk. They took their stand in battalions to the left of the road, and there they remained until about eight o’clock. ‘I found it terribly hard; cold and drowsiness.’ At eight o’clock a Russian corps approached towards the town, and by nine the Hessians stood facing the enemy. From half past nine until half past twelve they were ‘exposed to the fire of about ten cannon and two howitzers, and especially of a battery of about six pieces lying a little to the left, which fired at us unceasingly and with great violence, so that even in the great battles of Wagram and Aspern we had never had to stand up to such a cannonade of such long duration. I left my place for a moment to have a word with Captain Schwarzenau, and just before 1 returned to it a ball passed through prodigiously close to Lieutenant Succow, who had stepped in, killing outright the men who were standing in the second and third rank to the right. The first of these was my old cook, Heck, an honest fellow, who died a noble death. In all, from twenty-seven men including officers, for I had lost many more from weakness during the march, I lost one dead and three wounded. Yet another shot passing close to my eyes, tore through a gap in the rank without damage, but struck the hand off a drummer in the Fourth Company.

‘The Prince’s Own, which was close to the Russian cavalry, unfortunately had to form a square, and in a short time suffered a loss of ten officers and 119 men dead and wounded. All the wounded officers fell into the hands of the Russians.

‘The First Corps, like ourselves, were stationed in a wood filled with Russian sharpshooters, but several times they had to form closed columns and attack at the double. The Russians did not yield, and nothing was done to circumvent or dislodge them par force, for this fight only aimed to hold back a little the corps which was stationed there under General Orlov, or to see whether they were supported by their main army or by a strong corps. We withdrew therefore at one o’clock, and, covered by a weak division, retreated with all speed as far as the frontier of Old Russia five hours beyond the little town of Lodsi.’

The Captain, ‘fearfully weary and suffering from a total lack of any kind of food’, tried to find the recruit who had been supposed to hold his horse on the neighbouring hillside, but the boy had taken himself off to a place of safety with the horse and such meagre supplies as might be in the saddle-bags. It was a Russian pony commandeered to replace the big horse that had collapsed a few days before. The starving Captain looked round him hopelessly; already the looters were at their work, stripping the corpses almost before they were dead. One of these men approached him with a bloodstained fur coat ripped by the cannon ball which had killed its wearer, a French subaltern in the Voltigeurs. The Captain gave a gratuity to the corpse-stripper; the coat was torn but at least it was warm, and this was neither the time nor the place for feelings of refinement. There was no need to freeze even if one did have to starve. He put his frozen hand into the pocket and found there a piece ‘of the most excellent sugar’. So at least he had something to gnaw. Another soldier brought him a small bag of barley coffee, ‘which had been found in the pocket of the fallen Heck, and since nobody wanted it I put it in my pocket’. So even in death his old cook provided him with a meal, for he managed to nourish himself that day upon six cups of barley coffee with the sugar added, ‘ladled out so that the roasted grain could be eaten too’.

The bivouac was horrible. They spent the night without shelter and ‘marched on, fasting, at five o’clock’. The Captain’s feet were beginning to swell dangerously and his hands also were frost-bitten, for he had lost the gloves which Mina [his wife] had knitted for him. The recruit did not return, having allowed the saddle-bags to be pillaged by the French, so his small store of food was gone. ‘I begged a piece of bread from Prince Wittgenstein, and then gave it to Amman because I thought that his need was the greater. Also I gave Captain Hoffmann my reserve flask of brandy. He promised me bread in return but gave me none.’ He tried to take note of the country through which they were passing, but was no longer able to do so; all he could do was to stagger on somehow. ‘We went by Kazani, where there was only one bridge, and this blocked by vehicles, so that the greater part of the infantry had to go through the water and ice, which terribly retarded our march. We laid stakes across it and passed over very slowly, and still most of us fell into the water. Here I ate some horseflesh grilled on the cinders and found it excellent. We went on for about another hour and a half beyond Kazani and bivouacked on the road by a great church. I lodged in a house with a number of officers of the Sixth Tirailleur Battalion. I have no batman.’

The next day he woke shivering and streaming, with his feet so swollen that he was unable to draw on his boots, so that he was constrained to borrow shoes from a soldier and they were too big for him. ‘Before the march out I lost my blue handkerchief in the straw. I could not search for it in the room full of officers.’ It is difficult for us in the twentieth century to understand how they could in such circumstances have continued to observe the punctilio which was considered proper to officers in the Guards. And yet, if they survived at all it may have been in some part due to the observance of a rigid code. They had no boots, sometimes no feet, but they knew how to die with dignity.

‘At half past four this morning between our encampment and the town of Dubrovna we were harassed by Cossacks, but we are not being pursued as we should be.

‘I was shivering from riding and from my indisposition, so I asked Prince Emil for a drop of the schnapps which he had offered me yesterday, and I also had to accept from him a slice of the Göttingen sausage which Mother had sent me and I had presented to him. It was excellent.

‘We occupied an odious bivouac to the right of the road towards Orsza, where it was impossible to make even a decent fire. I had nothing to eat, but managed to purchase three platefuls of groats [crushed grain, usually oats] for three francs from one of my soldiers. Amman was still my guest and slept by my fire. Coffee I still had, but the sugar of the dead French officer was all the solid nourishment I had taken until then, and even that I had shared too liberally. My lad Dietrich with all my best effects has not yet put in an appearance. Musketeer Alt with the furs, fodder and cooking pots may well be utterly lost.

‘20th.Very ill. After one and a quarter hours we reached Orsza, where I rode straight over the Dnieper Bridge 125 paces long. On the opposite side I found Colonel Follenius on a hill with a number of officers, who had mustered all those of our men who had gone ahead. Their number was equal to that of the regiments we had with us. Upon this hill we were informed that the army was to take three different routes via Minsk, Vilna and Vitebsk respectively. We were to take the first route with the Emperor.

‘There was to have been a great seizure of flour and brandy here, and the men were each given a schoppen of brandy to empty the magazine, but those who were to have removed the stores immediately became so sozzled that the twenty sacks of flour could not be brought away. So in spite of the superfluity, the soldiers in general received nothing, for only very starving men could wrest some of it from the universal pillaging and bring it over the bridge. I bought a little schnapps extremely dear.

‘My batman Dietrich has arrived safely with my best effects. I have just learned that my groom, Gottfried Köppinghof, died at the first night station after Smolensk, after I myself had left him quite cheerful and well provided and able to make the march on foot. I had thought that the hope of soon being back in his native land would have helped him to a complete recovery. The news came to me as a great shock and I was very sorry to hear it. Colonel Follenius has invited me to take a place in his chaise, so that I shall procure him night quarters and bring him through the French.

‘Riding back over the Dnieper my horse slipped on the bridge and lay with both back legs over the side. I had to fling myself quickly over its head into the throng of wagons and horses. But being an intelligent pony, he knew so well how to balance himself and remained so quiet that it was possible to help him up.

‘In the evening, after standing about in mud and darkness for a distribution at which there was nothing to distribute, we went on for about three quarters of an hour to a village to the right of the road, where we bivouacked.

‘21st. While we were on the march today about twenty Cossacks approached and carried off a wagon and two horses under the noses of our brigade and the cavalry, which rode on instead of letting fly at them. Our Schützen [light infantry] and the brigade thereupon opened fire, but naturally they made off with all speed. We marched for about seven hours, crossed a river and bivouacked at Kochanovo. I reported sick.’

They were approaching the Beresina and the worst of their ordeal was yet to come. [A Russian officer, a major, who also left an account of the retreat] gives a strange picture of their plight between Krasnoi and the terrible crossing:

‘The second period of the retreat began at Krasnoi and continued to the Beresina; a distance of about twenty-six leagues. At first things appeared to be more favourable for the French army, for, once across the Dnieper, they expected to link up with the corps of Victor and Oudinot and Dombrowski’s division, which together were over 30,000 men strong. Also the pursuit had been somewhat retarded by the fight with the Ney Corps on the 18th. Thirdly the army had now entered the area of its magazines and was in a country which it could regard as its ally, and fourthly the weather had grown somewhat milder. All these ameliorations collapsed before the fact that Admiral Tschitschagov with the Army of the Danube had pressed on via Minsk to catch the French army at the Beresina, and Count Wittgenstein was approaching from Tschasnik with his corps reinforced by General Steinheil, in order to link up with the Army of the Danube. By the movements of these armies the French were placed in great peril, and the least they could expect was a repetition of Krasnoi. Napoleon, perfectly well aware of the danger of his position, hurried to the Beresina by swift marches. When he came through Orsza he found the deputies of the Province of Mohilev waiting to receive the Emperor’s orders. The Emperor, usually so ready to avail himself of this kind of attention, sent them packing without seeing them. He had every reason for not wishing to exhibit his army, which had certainly lost some of its demeanour in the course of the march and was somewhat fantastically attired in priestly vestments and even women’s gowns as a protection against the cold.

‘As soon as Napoleon had taken on his reinforcements, he sent the Poles to the left against Borisov, which town had been occupied by Admiral Tschitschagov, and threw the Victor Corps to the right against Count Wittgenstein. Under cover of these detachments he reached the Beresina with the remainder of the army on the 25th, flung a bridge across it fifteen versts [a verst is approximately 1,000 metres, or two-thirds of a mile] above Borisov at Semlin, and crossed without losing time. Because of its horrors the crossing of the Beresina will live long in the memory of soldiers. For two days the crossing continued. Right from the beginning the troops surged over in disorder, for in the French army order had long been abandoned, and already many found a watery grave. Then, as the Russians forced back the corps of Victor and Dombrowski and everyone surged across the bridge in wild flight, terror and confusion reached their summit. Artillery and baggage, cavalry and infantry all wanted to get over first; the stronger threw the weaker into the water or struck him to the ground, whether he were officer or no. Many hundreds were crushed under the wheels of the cannon; many sought a little room to swim, and froze; many tried to cross the ice and were drowned. Everywhere there were cries for help, and help there was none. When at last the Russians began to fire on the bridge and both banks, the crossing was interrupted. A whole division of 7,500 men from the Victor Corps surrendered together with their general. Many thousands were drowned, as many more crushed and a mass of cannon and baggage was abandoned on the left bank. This was the end of the second period. To the Russians it brought over 20,000 prisoners, 200 cannon and immeasurable booty.’