Project Iceworm

According to the documents published by the Kingdom of Denmark in 1997, the U.S. Army’s “Iceworm” missile network was outlined in a 1960 Army report titled “Strategic Value of the Greenland Icecap”. If fully implemented, the project would cover an area of 52,000 square miles (130,000 km2), roughly three times the size of Denmark. The launch complex floors would be 28 feet (8.5 m) below the surface, with the missile launchers even deeper, and clusters of missile launch centers would be spaced 4 miles (6.4 km) apart. New tunnels were to be dug every year, so that after five years there would be thousands of firing positions, among which the several hundred missiles could be rotated. The Army intended to deploy a shortened, two-stage version of the U.S. Air Force’s Minuteman missile, a variant the Army proposed calling the Iceman.

Project Iceworm was a top-secret United States Army program of the Cold War, which aimed to build a network of mobile nuclear missile launch sites under the Greenland ice sheet. The ultimate objective of placing medium-range missiles under the ice — close enough to strike targets within the Soviet Union — was kept secret from the Government of Denmark. To study the feasibility of working under the ice, a highly publicized “cover” project, known as Camp Century, was launched in 1960. Unstable ice conditions within the ice sheet caused the project to be canceled in 1966.

One of the most well-known US military bases in the Arctic is Thule Air Base, in Greenland’s frigid northwest. Less well-known is the now-defunct Camp Century. Just 150 miles from Thule,  the area surrounding Camp Century is bitterly cold. Nighttime temperatures dip to -70°F and wind whips ice and snow through the air at 125 miles per hour.

Camp Century was opened in 1960 rather openly— the US Army released a short documentary film outlining the new construction techniques used to build the camp. Publicly at least, the camp was supposed to be used for conducting scientific research in the Arctic.

In reality, Camp Century was cover for a top-secret weapons project. The Danish government was opposed to housing nuclear weapons on their soil, and was thus not informed about Camp Century’s true purpose.

At Camp Century, engineers developed and improved subterranean Arctic building techniques. Modified tractors cut deep trenches nearly 30 feet into the ice. These trenches were then covered with steel semicylinders and topped with snow and ice that froze them firmly into place, providing shelter for the small underground city.

Transporting or airdropping diesel to fuel power generators would have been prohibitively expensive, and impossible during extreme weather conditions. The solution was to install a portable nuclear reactor that addressed all of Century’s electricity needs.

Heating Up:

Building upon lessons learned from Camp Century, Project Iceworm was to be built on a massive scale. Iceworm would have been the world’s largest ICBM launch site— over 52,000 miles of tunnels cut deep into the Greenland ice sheet. Iceworm’s footprint would cover an about the size of the state of Indiana, and a whopping three times the size of the host country, Denmark.

600 modified “Iceman” Minuteman missiles would be transported underground on large road-sized tunnels via railcar to launching sites cut even deeper into the ice. The Iceman missiles would be constantly shifting to other sites to keep their exact locations a secret. The subterranean placement and a mandatory 4-mile distance between launch sites would offer a degree of protection and increase survivability in the event of an attack by the Soviet Union.

Greenland’s proximity to the Soviet Union would have given American Minuteman missiles an enormous strategic advantage. Greenland is much closer to Russia than the continental United States, and the Iceman ICBMs would have been able to strike almost any target within the Soviet Union at a moment’s notice. The sheer size of the planned Iceworm complex and the missile’s relatively wide distribution would help to ensure the United States’ second-strike capability and to strengthen the land-based leg of the US nuclear triad.

Doomed to Die:

Alas, Project Iceworm was not practically feasible. Initial surveys had indicated that the Greenland ice sheet was rigid and ideal for tunneling. Later data gathered during the Camp Century experiment showed that the ice sheet was actually very elastic. Tunnels would have to be constantly maintained and be in danger of collapse every few years.

The extreme weather conditions also made steel building materials brittle and prone to cracking. Communications problems between the Pentagon and Camp Century were also an issue: sending or receiving messages during extreme weather events was problematic.

Ticking Time Bomb

In the 1960s global warming was not a part of Pentagon strategic thinking. After shuttering Camp Century in 1967, The Army Corp of Engineers left behind thousands of gallons of radioactive water used to cool the portable reactor, and an unknown amount of sewage to be forever entombed in Greenland’s ice shelf.

In 1997, the Kingdom of Denmark conducted an inquiry into Camp Century, revealing the deceptive nature of the camp and the remaining hazardous waste enclosed in the ice.

Estimates from the scientific community predict that by 2090, the ice under Camp Century will begin to melt, releasing radioactive and human waste into the ocean. It remains to be decided if either the United States or Denmark, or perhaps even the now-autonomous Greenland will be responsible for cleanup.

Executing Noball

The routes flown on 14 January 1944 by the two sections of the 392nd BG.

British intelligence eventually identified four kinds of Noball targets in France: heavy sites, ski sites, modified sites, and supply and support facilities. It was the discovery of the nine large construction sites in the Pas-de-Calais region and the Cotentin Peninsula near Cherbourg that first captured the attention of British intelligence analysts. Throughout 1943 Organisation Todt’s building units, supported by thousands of slave workers and conscripted civilian labor, began excavating and building what British documents refer to as the “heavy” Crossbow sites. After the war, the Allies discovered that the German air force had responsibility for four of these, which were intended to store, assemble, and launch a large number of V-1 flying bombs. Code-named “Wasserwerk,” or water works, by the Germans to hide their purpose, these were primarily long tunnels with gaps in the ceiling to fire rockets toward London. In the Cotentin, they built one in Tamerville, northeast of Valognes, and the other at Couville, southwest of Cherbourg. The US Army’s VII Corps overran both of these installations in late June 1944. The other two were Lottinghen, east of Boulogne, and Siracourt, west of Arras in the Pas-de-Calais. Siracourt was typical of these kinds of launching sites. The dozen or so houses at the beginning of the war contained fewer than 140 citizens, mostly farmers and their families. The German army evacuated the French civilians as Organisation Todt arrived in the spring of 1943. On a little hill, just west of the village, contractors began construction in September. This facility was to be the first of four to process, store, and possibly fire the V-1. The main construction was 625 feet long and 132 feet wide and oriented at a right angle to London. The 1,200 workers, primarily Russians, Poles, Yugoslavs, and French forced labor, lived in a camp at Croix-en-Ternois a little more than a mile away. Under the supervision of Organisation Todt’s guard force (Schützkommando), the workers ultimately built the structure and poured more than 50,000 cubic meters of concrete to make it invulnerable to Allied bombers. Because of the bombing, however, it was impossible to finish its construction. As a result, the Germans never fired a flying bomb from it, and it fell to Canadian troops in September 1944.

The German army controlled the V-2 rockets, and it designed large concrete installations, capable of launching seven to ten rockets per day, with sophisticated storage and assembly capability. For example, the launchers at Wizernes, next to Saint-Omer, lay beneath a massive concrete cupola twenty feet thick and were capable of launching their rockets from two platforms. Other sites at Watten (Éperlecques), near Calais, and Sottevast, near Cherbourg, were just as massive and required millions of tons of concrete. Forty-four miles north of Siracourt and eleven miles northwest of the Luftwaffe airfields at Saint-Omer is the three-square-mile complex at Watten. On its southwest corner, Organisation Todt built a massive structure that came to be called the Blockhaus. It was an incredibly large structure that absorbed thousands of tons of concrete and the forced labor of thousands of unfortunate workers. Based on experience at the submarine pens along the coast, the German engineers expected it to withstand the bombardment of whatever the enemy could drop on top. The Allies never understood its exact purpose but knew they had to destroy anything that was consuming so much German effort. It was the first site detected by British reconnaissance. Duncan Sandys never believed it had an offensive capability and, even after his visit in October, considered it to be a plant for the production of hydrogen peroxide, which the Germans were using as a fuel. Postwar records and analysis indicate, though, that it may have served as a general storage, assembly, and launching facility in, according to one researcher, “a bomb-proof environment.” Most experts believe it was capable of launching rockets on its own.

Watten (Éperlecques)

Twelve miles south of the Blockhaus near Saint-Omer is the village of Wizernes. In an old quarry, Organisation Todt constructed one of the largest installations of the war, the V-2 launcher site known as La Coupole, or the dome, for the most impressive aspect of the facility. Todt designed it to assemble, fuel, and fire rockets from within the protected site. Upwards of 1,300 forced laborers worked on this project twenty-four hours a day. Like the Blockhaus, it had two launcher ramps that could fire rockets simultaneously and was probably the most sophisticated of the vengeance weapon launching sites. By March 1944 British intelligence was convinced that it needed to be added to the list of Noball targets. The most sinister of V-2 launcher sites was the silo complex west of Cherbourg near La Hague. These, generally overlooked by Allied intelligence, resemble the later American nuclear missile silos of the Cold War. It never became operational, and the US VII Corps occupied this region in July 1944. The problem for the Germans was that the construction crews could not hide the extensive work sites from the hundreds of Allied reconnaissance aircraft searching for signs of activity. The continuous bombing of the extensive excavations in France meant the Germans could not complete the launching facilities, which ended any possibility of the German air force using them. Ultimately, the Germans would fire no V-2 rockets from fixed sites but would employ mobile launchers that were essentially impossible for the Allies to detect in advance.

Eleven miles from Cap Gris-Nez, across the channel from Dover and ninety-five miles from the center of London, is a facility unique among the heavy sites. The British knew the Nazis were developing a long-range gun, but they did not know any details. The German army had done this before, and Allied commanders had visions of a weapon similar to the artillery used to bombard Paris in the previous conflict or the large guns deployed along the French coast. Therefore, most analysts believed the construction at Mimoyecques, France, was a variation on a V-2 launch site, since it bore no resemblance to anything with which they were familiar. Also, since most of the workers were German, few details emerged as to its actual intent. In reality, the site housed something revolutionary, a large battery of long-range guns, called Hochdruckpumpe (high-pressure pump) guns, later referred to by the Allies as Vengeance Weapon-3. Each 330-foot smooth-bore gun was to be capable of firing a six-foot-long dart about a hundred miles. Its range was the product of added velocity created by solid rocket boosters arrayed along the edge of the tube. Each projectile could carry about forty pounds of high explosives. The plan was to construct banks of five guns each with the potential of firing six hundred rounds per hour toward London. British intelligence knew little about what was going on inside the facility. After the war, Duncan Sandys’ investigation of the large sites discovered the true nature of the threat they had faced. Fortunately, Allied air attacks prevented Organisation Todt from ever finishing its work and German gunners were never able to fire these weapons.

The second kind of targets identified by Allied analysts were the so-called ski sites, named from the configuration of several buildings that looked like snow skis on their side. By late 1943 British intelligence officers had identified between seventy and eighty of these, hidden in the hundreds of wooden patches that dot the northwestern French countryside, with their launchers pointed directly at their intended target. If left alone, each one of these small installations could hurl fifteen FZG-76 flying bombs across the channel each day. The cumulative effect of hundreds of these striking London daily would not help civilian morale. They also posed a direct threat to the harbors from which the Allies would launch and sustain the invasion. One of the first sites identified by intelligence analysts was in the Bois Carré (Square Woods) about three-quarters of a mile east of Yvrench and ten miles northeast of Abbeville on the Somme. A French Resistance agent was able to infiltrate the construction site in October 1943 and smuggle out some of earliest detailed descriptions of a ski site layout. The long catapult, generally visible from the sky and quickly identified by reconnaissance aircraft, became the signature target indicator. As a result, even with extensive camouflage, they were identified, targeted, and destroyed by Anglo-American aircraft. As a result, none of these installations ever became operational.

Soon after the first air attacks, German leaders began considering an alternative method of launching the V-1. Security and concealment now became a priority, and these modified launcher sites were better camouflaged and of simpler construction. These new launchers no longer had many of the standard buildings, especially those that resembled skis, which had contributed to their rapid discovery by intelligence specialists. With minimal permanent construction, the only identifiable features were an easily hidden concrete foundation for the launch ramp and a small building to set the bomb’s compass. Other buildings were designed to blend into the environment or to look like the local farmhouses. All this took less than a week to fabricate, and forced labor no longer did the construction work, as German soldiers prepared each site in secret. Supply crews delivered the flying bombs directly to the launcher from a hidden location, assembled and ready to launch. All the teams needed to do was set the compass and mount it on the catapult. Difficult to locate from the air, these launchers would remain operational until overrun by Allied ground troops in early September 1944. After that, the Germans launched their V-1 rockets from sites in the Netherlands or from German bombers specially configured to fire these weapons.

One week after the last V-1 flew from French soil, the V-2 rocket made its first appearance when it slammed into a French village southeast of Paris, killing six civilians. The German army had abandoned any hope of using large fixed sites for anything other than storage, and they now organized the delivery of their rockets as mobile systems, structured around less than a dozen vehicles and trailers. While the rocket was still hidden, crews prepared it for launch, a process that took between four and six hours. Within two hours of mission time, the firing unit deployed to a previously surveyed site and erected the rocket on a mobile pad. As soon as it was on the way, the soldiers disappeared into the woods, leaving little trace of the launch. Unless an Allied fighter happened to catch the Germans during the short preparation process, there was little the air forces could do to prevent launches. The Germans fired none of the mobile V-2s from French soil, but fired them instead from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. While not part of the discussion of bombing France, these rockets are an important reminder that the Germans continued to use mobile sites until the end of the war.

The final kinds of Noball targets were the supply sites that provided rockets for the individual firing units and the transportation network that supported them. By February 1944 the Allies had determined that seven facilities existed, one on the Cotentin Peninsula and the remainder arrayed just east of the belt of launchers. These, however, were relatively difficult to attack and were often located within underground bunkers or railroad tunnels, under fortresses, or deep within thick woods. They also were often protected by extensive anti-aircraft artillery. More vulnerable were the various rail yards that served as offload and staging points for these systems. Rail stations in Saint-Omer, Bethune, Lille, Lens, and Arras were the crucial nodes in this network. Attacking these transportation nodes also supported the goals of the Transportation Plan, the Allied attack of bridges along the Seine and Loire, and Operation Fortitude, the effort to deceive the Germans as to the actual location of the invasion.

Konya [Iconium] City-Fortress

Konya [Iconium] City Walls

With the entry of the Seljuk State into Anatolia, the area of its domination began to expand gradually. During this period, there began to struggle with the Byzantines in order to seize Konya and its surroundings. As a result of these struggles, the Seljuks took the city of Konya and Gevele Castle from the Byzantine governor named Romanus Makri. Since then, Konya has been the center of the Anatolian Seljuk State. The castle of Gevele is very important both in terms of its location and its strategic location. Because of this, the city of Konya was generally defended from the Gevale Castle and was first met in the attacks on Konya.

The Konya Fortress is also believed to have been constructed in the Roman period. However, due to the restorations and addition of new sections, the fortress and the city walls, which are believed to have been built in 2nd century AD, have almost lost their original plans and their architectural features. Although they have reinforced it against the anticipated First Crusade, the Seljuks made initially almost no changes to the fortifications when they conquered the city. Today nothing is preserved from the city walls surrounding the Alaeddin Tepesi (Alaeddin Hill).

Physical changes in Alaeddin Hill and its close surroundings, in the second half of 19th century up to 1897, when the railway line is connected to the city. It shows the inner city wall [i.e.the “keep”] as constructed previously.

Especially during the period of Izzettin Keykavus I and Alaeddin Keykubat I restorations were made to the Byzantine walls substantially. During these restorations one of the first examples of an `exhibition’ in the history of museology occurred when the spolia and the Antique period materials found near the Alaaddin Hill were displayed on a stand set in front of the walls. In this way the Sultan synthesized his own culture with the preceding one. Even more, the fact that the materials used in the city walls were contradictory to Islamic philosophy was tolerated. Displaying spolia with erotic figures on the walls was a clear indication of Seljuk tolerance. Another significance is that it displayed iconography on the walls. During Medieval time sultans believed that this could protect their citizens from enemies. There are two kinds of enemy. One of them is the visible enemy – because they are human like them. The other enemies are the invisible ones, and the city could be protected from these by talismans. There are many medieval stories about talisman present in Islamic culture, i. e. Gog and Magog versus Alexander.

Byzantine Cities, Villages and Fortifications

Konya Museums and Ruins


Konya from Total War Medieval 2

Siege to Fort Saybrook

Fort Saybrook-The English planned the building of a fort in the region during 1635 to offset the Dutch, who had also coveted the area. The region in Connecticut had been inhabited by the Algonquin and Nehantic Indians, but the Pequot Indians had eliminated them and were a powerful tribe when the English moved into the area. The construction of Fort Saybrook was authorized by John Winthrop Jr. (appointed first governor of the River Connecticut by the Warwick Patentees). Winthrop selected Lieutenant Lion Gar- diner of Massachusetts for the project, which also called for a town to be built in the vicinity of the fort. Actual construction of Fort Say- brook, the initial military fort to be constructed in Connecticut, began during March of 1636. By April, the settlement of Saybrook, named after Lord Saye and Sele and Lord Brooke, was also underway.

The Pequot War War broke out in 1636, the first major Indian-white conflict in New England. The death of a coastal trader, John Oldham, in July of that year caused the outbreak of violence. Another coastal trader, John Gallup, discovered Oldham’s hijacked boat off Block Island, skirmished with the Pequot on board, then reported the incident to colonial officials.

Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered out an expedition under John Endecott. His force attacked Indians on Block Island and burned their villages. But many of those killed were Narragansett, not Pequot. The soldiers did not bother to distinguish among the various Algonquian peoples.

Endecott’s army then sailed to the Connecticut mainland in search of Pequot. The settlers at Fort Saybrook tried to talk Endecott out of further attacks because they feared Indian reprisals. But Endecott was intent on revenge and burned several Pequot villages, killing one man.

Sassacus now sought revenge. During the winter of 1636-37, his warriors laid siege to Fort Saybrook and raided isolated settlements. The Pequots attacked Fort Saybrook in September 1636 and kept it in a state of siege until April 1637, picking off anyone outside the fortifications. And they killed, captured, and tortured men who ventured from the fort to harvest crops. In April, the fort received reinforcements from Massachusetts, and the Pequots shifted their attacks to more vulnerable areas. The Pequots continued to harass the garrison, however, paddling past the fort and taunting the occupants by displaying clothing taken from English victims.

Acknowledging his weakness, Sassacus initially sought to ally himself with the powerful Narragansetts and make a concerted effort against the Europeans. However, his diplomacy was thwarted by Roger Williams of Rhode Island, long viewed by that tribe as a benefactor, and they remained neutral. Sassacus remained unperturbed by this setback, and in the spring of 1637 his warriors ravaged the settlement of Wethersfield, on the Connecticut River, killing nine colonials. The colonies mounted a large army under Captains John Mason and John Underhill. The force sailed west- ward along the Connecticut coast, then circled back, overland, from Narragansett Bay. Despite the attack on their people on Block Island, Narragansett joined the colonial force against their enemies the Pequot, as did Mohegan and Niantic.

At dawn on May 25, 1637, the invading army attacked Sassacus’s village. Fighting from behind their palisades, the Pequot repelled the first attack. But the colonists managed to set the wigwams on fire. Those who fled the flames were cut down in the surrounding countryside. Those who stayed behind, mostly women and children, burned to death. From 600 to 1,000 Pequot died that morning. Sassacus and others escaped. His group was attacked in a swamp west of New Haven the following July, but he managed to escape again, seeking refuge in MOHAWK territory. To prove that they had no part in the Pequot uprising, the Mohawk beheaded the Pequot grand sachem.

Pequot captives were sold into slavery in the Caribbean or given as slaves to the Mohegan, Narragansett, and Niantic as payment for their help in the war. The colonists no longer permitted the use of the Pequot tribal name or the use of Pequot place-names. Some Pequot escaped to Long Island and Massachusetts, where they settled with other Algonquians. In 1655, the colonists freed Pequot slaves in New England and resettled them on the Mystic River.

Saybrook Fort & the Pequot War

The Gothic Line: the Defence

August–September 1944

The German Plan

In the middle of August, the Allies landed on the southern coast of France, outside Nice, in the amphibious invasion Operation Dragoon. They faced little resistance and headed north through the valley of the Rhone River. The Red Army crossed from Poland onto the boundary of East Prussia itself, and the Americans prepared to invade the Philippines. While the war was being fought on its three other main fronts in a fluid manner, with one side advancing, the other retreating, this was not now the case in Italy. By August 15, the Allied armies had arrived up against the defenses of the Gothic Line and were preparing to attack them. The Germans were largely dug in to static positions, trying to work out where the Allies would attack first. The latter were characteristically disagreeing among themselves where their assault should begin. And then they had a stroke of luck.

In northern Italy in the fifth year of the war, command responsibility often landed on young shoulders. Mino Farneti, a young Italian, had been eighteen and just out of high school when the war began, and he had luckily managed to avoid being drafted into the Italian army. He was from Ravenna, north of Rimini, a two-thousand-year-old classical city that had once been the capital of the Western Roman Empire. It was the site of eight famous early Christian churches, and in 1318 the poet Dante Alighieri, in exile from Florence, took up residence there. (He eventually died from malaria contracted from the ubiquitous mosquitoes that bred in the marshes and canals surrounding the city, and linking it to the sea.) Ravenna was old, rich, and beautiful.

By the time Farneti was nineteen, he was already evading both the Germans and Italian Fascists and was running messages on his bicycle for the local resistance group emerging around Ravenna. When the Italian army collapsed after the Cassibile Armistice with the Allies in 1943, Farneti, brave and resourceful, couldn’t wait to join the partisans and fight. Three partisan groups had sprung up in Ravenna, each with a different political allegiance and agenda. By the summer of 1944, Farneti had established his radio set in a farmhouse on the San Fortunato Ridge, one of two that overlooked from the north the pastures outside Rimini. He had organized three different drop zones onto which the Allied Dakota transports could parachute men and arms. If his first radio set was compromised by the Germans’ never-ending sweeps with their radio-tracking equipment, one of his colleagues had a second hidden on the slope behind a farmhouse. Another partisan outwitted the Germans by keeping a radio inside a very busy, very active beehive. Even when German search parties had been inside the farmhouse itself, headsets attached to radio-tracking equipment mounted on a truck outside, they had been unable to locate the radio set in its honey enclave, even when it was switched on and therefore emitting a low signal.

Along with an estimated 1,200 colleagues from the partisans’ Garibaldi Brigade, the operational remit of Farneti and his colleagues was simple: to make life as difficult as possible for the German defenders behind the lines, and to cooperate as much as possible with British and American SOE and OSS missions in order to be able do this effectively. The Americans, based in Corsica and Naples, and the British at their SOE headquarters and training center at Monopoli outside Bari, were making regular airdrops to the partisans. Farneti’s group had already received three radio sets, as well as large amounts of arms: their orders were to concentrate on attacking the Germans along the length of the Gothic Line, and it was for this purpose that he had moved south from his hometown in Ravenna. Kesselring was aware of the partisans’ successes and the threat they posed. One high-ranking German general stopped traveling with any flags, insignia, or identifying marks on his car. Another, Brigadier General Wilhelm Crisolli, commanding a brigade on the Ligurian coast outside Genoa, died when his staff car was riddled with machine-gun fire in an ambush.

One day in August, a group of Italian partisans were waiting behind some bushes on the side of a road near Rimini, when they saw a German motorbike and its sidecar coming toward them, gunning along the highway. The partisans were cautious. In their experience, the soldier sitting in the sidecar often had an MG-42 mounted in front of him, and it wouldn’t be the first time the combination of the motorcycle’s speed and maneuverability and the machine gun’s firepower had proved a lethal offensive mix. So, with Sten guns and Carcano rifles cocked, the partisans let the Germans come close. Then they opened fire. The driver and the officer in the sidecar never saw the Italians who ambushed them, and were both dead before the BMW Zündapp motorbike came to a crashing halt. Mino Farneti, who led the small group of four partisans, was only twenty-three that summer.

As the wheels of the motorbike combination still turned in the ditch, Farneti and the men with him searched the major’s pouches and briefcase. They pocketed his Luger pistol, watch, and spare 9mm ammunition, and they took the bread, usage, and cigarettes that the driver, like many other German soldiers, possibly stored in his gas-mask case. They would also have taken his MP 40 machine pistol, his six magazines of ammunition, and the precious canvas carrying pouches they came in, attached to the German’s leather belt in sets of three. But it was only as they rifled hurriedly through the officer’s briefcase and knapsack that Farneti realized that on the dusty road outside Rimini, lined with vineyards, they had struck gold. The German major was carrying a complete set of plans for the defenses on the eastern end of the Gothic Line.

The immediate concern for the partisans was simple: How to get the papers to the Allies as quickly as possible? By mid-August, their front line was still around Florence, so they told a partisan courier to take them to a fellow agent in Milan. From there they were escorted by a combination of couriers to the headquarters of the OSS across the Swiss border in Lugano. The lakeside town acted as the headquarters not just for the Office of Strategic Services but also as a main meeting and transit point for the British Special Operations Executive, based in Berne.

A few days later, on the western end of the Gothic Line, another group of partisans got lucky. They succeeded in stealing another set of plans that showed the German defenses that stretched from Bologna in the center toward the Mediterranean. These partisans were based in and around the old medieval walled town of Lucca in western Tuscany, twenty miles from the sea in the shadow of the Apennines. In late summer 1944, the weather was hot and calm, and the German soldiers patrolling around the town took cover from the afternoon sun in the shade of the palm, magnolia, and cypress trees. The Americans were still ten miles to the south, advancing steadily.

So when the partisans in Lucca got hold of the set of German plans, they had two choices. Take them across the Allied front lines ahead of them and risk capture by the Germans, immediate torture and execution, and the loss of the documents? Or take the safer route by smuggling them north to Switzerland? The disadvantage of this was having to cross miles of German-occupied territory, thus losing precious time. They chose the first option.

The plans were voluminous: heavy paper with detailed markings in colored wax pencil. Any partisan carrying them had to imagine he would be stopped and searched by at least one German checkpoint or patrol, so it was out of the question to carry them in a bag, in the lining of a jacket, or taped around the legs. So the most important parts of the maps were cut into a long strip, showing the geographical line from La Spezia on the Mediterranean to Bologna. A partisan then divided the papers in two, folded the plans into tight compact squares, and put them in the soles of his boots, under the leather inlay beneath his socks. It meant he had to walk slowly lest the crunching sound of the papers give him away. Leaving Lucca before the curfew, he set off across the fields of corn, the orchards of lemons and peaches, and the stands of ilex and cypress trees interspersed with irrigation ditches. He crossed through territory controlled by the SS soldiers of Max Simon’s 16th Reichsführer-SS Division, which was the part of the German 14th Army responsible for this part of the western sector of the Gothic Line. The Allied front line lay ahead of the partisan courier. This was ground occupied by the Indians of the Marathas deployed south of the River Arno, and by the Nisei of the 442nd between them and the sea. Once across the front, the small partisan group headed south for Siena and contacted the OSS. The plans headed immediately to General Mark Clark’s HQ.

The Germans and Their Defensive Positions

The plans confirmed what the American general had most hoped: Kesselring was expecting an attack at the western end of the Gothic Line, where it hit the Mediterranean. The weakest part of the German defenses was exactly in the middle, where the 14th and 10th Armies interlinked in the mountains outside Bologna. British General Harold Alexander wanted to storm the line at this point, cut through the Apennines, and fan out with his armor into the plain of the River Po. The Allied landings in the south of France on Operation Dragoon—that both Churchill and Clark had bitterly resisted—had reduced the combined strength of the British 8th and American 5th Armies to some 150,000 men, or eighteen divisions. Up against them were two German armies that, with their reserves and an army corps in the Ligurian mountains above Genoa, consisted of nearly thirty divisions. So while both sides were unevenly matched in terms of men, the Allies had the massive advantage of air superiority, while the Germans held the high ground and had had ample time to prepare their defenses. Although the Allies had a numerical superiority in tanks and artillery, the terrain counted against them: heavy artillery pieces had to be towed, driven, pushed, hauled, and dragged up the mountainous terrain of central Italy. Until the Allies crossed over into the plain of the Po, their superiority in tanks gave them only a small advantage. And the Germans’ artillery was well dug in, camouflaged, and commanded every single main road, river, bridge, mountain approach, crossroads, town, and village.

The partisans were able to give a very clear intelligence picture, to both the OSS and Mark Clark’s headquarters, of what life was like in the territory occupied by the Germans. Partisans and their families had been conscripted as forced labor for the Germans, so they could give an accurate appraisal of the exact strengths and weaknesses of the Gothic Line defenses. In cities like Bologna, partisans reported that the German officer cadres were leading a busy and enjoyable social life. Italian Fascist officers and their sympathizers gave parties all the time: there was no shortage of wine, grappa, and vermouth, and no shortage of friendly Italian women who still thought that the war could swing back into the Germans’ and Mussolini’s favor. Collaborating Italian women frequently worked as prostitutes. There was little shortage of food for the Germans. Allied air attacks were frequent but caused as much damage and disruption to the civilian population as to the Germans, and weakened support for the British and Americans, mostly in the cities and towns that were hardest hit.

The plans and information smuggled across the lines contained information about the German high command structure too. From intercepted coded communications, cracked by Ultra, the Allies had already built up a clear picture of the commanders they were facing on the Gothic Line. One of the most capable German generals in front of them was Luftwaffe General der Fallschirmtruppe Richard Heidrich. He was a hugely experienced and highly decorated paratrooper who had fought as an infantryman in the First World War, jumped with German airborne units in the invasions of France and Crete, fought in Russia, and parachuted again in advance of the Allied landings in Sicily. He’d fought at Anzio and, crucially, during the four battles of Monte Cassino. It was his men who had held up the Allied advance so doggedly during their attacks on the site of the Benedictine monastery. His fallschirmjäger (paratroopers), the so-called Green Devils, were among the best troops the Germans had, past masters of dug-in, defensive fighting.

The partisans reported that after withdrawing northward from Rome toward Florence, Heidrich had briefly based the headquarters of his 1st Parachute Corps in a Tuscan villa outside the town of Regello. The night before he and his HQ departed north, they hosted a large and grand party for the officers from their own and other German units. But the partisans had connections among the Tuscan waiters and gardeners, and via the OSS, the exact location of the villa and the time of the party was passed to the Allied Desert Air Force in Corsica. As the German paratroop officers relaxed after almost a year of constant combat, the sky overhead groaned and rumbled as American B-24 Liberators flew in and unloaded sticks of 500-pound bombs on the villa and its surroundings. The good news for the Allies was that Heidrich’s garden party had been ruined. But the bad news, as passed on by the partisans, was that Heidrich’s crack parachute corps had moved northeast and taken over the defenses in the key coastal town of Rimini, one of the Allies’ main targets.

The German paratroopers near the Adriatic town were doing more than preparing defensive positions. It was summer, and they were reportedly making the most of it—taking advantage of the sun to go swimming naked, occupying any number of hotels, and interspersing their preparations with forays into the countryside to pick tomatoes, grapes, and melons with which to augment their rations. One detachment of paratroopers, searching through a beachfront hotel in Rimini, found a letter from two women, sent from Germany. In early summer that year, the women had been planning to vacation in German-occupied Italy, which was a relatively safe destination until the Allies broke through the defensive lines outside Rome and headed north. Was it possible, the German women had asked in their letter, to go swimming in the nude in the sea at Rimini? Courteously, given that they were preparing for an enormous countrywide attack by the Allies, the German paratroopers wrote a letter back, saying that yes, everybody was swimming naked in the Adriatic that season.

The German Generals

In the center of the line, opposite the Marathas, were not only the 16th SS but also a division of infantry from Berlin Brandenburg. Their morale was low, reported the partisans, mainly due to the eccentric and merciless leadership of their commanding major general, who was a tireless advocate of the tactical approach of fighting to the last man. The Allies knew Generalleutnant Harry Hoppe well. He was an Evangelical Christian from Braunschweig in eastern Prussia who stood five foot eight and weighed 126 pounds. He had been a soldier since 1914, when he enlisted as a private. Continually wounded, continually decorated, and continually promoted, by the summer of 1944 he was a major general in charge of the defense of Ancona on the Adriatic coast south of Rimini. He’d already won the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on the Russian Front, and he was to be mentioned in dispatches for his tenacious and highly skillful defense of the Adriatic port under a blistering attack by the Poles in late June. Nicknamed “Stan Laurel” by his men, because of his lack of height and facial resemblance to the popular comedian, he had changed his name from Arthur to Harry in February 1943 as he thought it would make him more popular with his men. Whether it did is doubtful. A newly arrived detachment was hardly reassured when greeted with, “You have come here to die and to be quick about it.”

Using clichés such as “They Shall Not Pass” and “Better Death than Captivity” in front of parades did not inspire confidence in his men, a thousand of whom chose captivity over death when the unrelenting Poles of General Władysław Anders’s II Corps overwhelmed them at Ancona. The survivors of the 278th Infantry Division were then transferred to central Italy, where they were aghast to discover that opposite them was another enemy just as hard as the Poles: the Marathas of the 21st Indian Brigade. And to make things worse, behind them were the partisans. Even the remorselessly upbeat General Hoppe was obliged to describe Easter 1944 in his diary as “a somber festival” after partisans blew up a Good Friday cinema performance, killing a number of his men as they celebrated the holiday. But contrary to morale, which was variable, the quality of German leadership across Italy was high. The style of generalship varied, with determined leaders like Heidrich, Hoppe, and the 16th SS’s Max Simon. They led their men with a combination of tactical capability, inspiration, discipline and, in the case of the SS, ruthless devotion to a cause.

Yet morale among the German soldiers was variable. They knew they were well led, predominantly well equipped, and had control of the terrain. But by mid-1944, they were under no misapprehensions that their Italian allies were anything other than lackluster and unreliable. Allied air strikes were a constant but predictable worry. But if and when everything went wrong, they knew from long experience since Sicily and North Africa that they could surrender to the Americans or British or Canadians and stand a good chance of making it to a POW stockade alive. Italy was not Russia, and the Allies were not the Red Army. Prisoners were taken. It was the Italian partisans who were the unknown, constant fear. It was impossible to tell where they would strike next. Any German vehicle traveling in a convoy that did not contain an armored car or tank was a target. Small units based on isolated stretches of the line—and the Gothic Line snaked across some of Europe’s most rugged, isolated mountainous terrain—had no idea who could be moving in front of their trenches, dugouts, or fortified houses in the darkness. Partisans? Wolves? Deer? Marathas or Gurkhas? It was impossible to tell.

And out of the line it was impossible to relax and feel secure. Vicious reprisals against partisans and the civilian population had, since the massacre at Sant’Anna di Stazzema, become more frequent. So the partisans had no qualms about attacking the Germans wherever or whenever they found them. The individual political leadership of each partisan group, and the SOE and OSS officers who operated with them, continually reiterated to the partisans the operational imperatives stressed by Jock McCaffery, the head of the SOE in Berne: “offensive military action and sabotage against German targets in support of the advancing Allies’ war aims and strategic plan.”

So the Germans, in many cases, felt just as vulnerable to attack from behind as from the front. Way behind the Gothic Line were units stationed in the region of Liguria. This is a region of mountains that rise above the Mediterranean coast west of Genoa to the French border. The string of seaside towns—Savona, Imperia, San Remo—sit in the shadow of the mountains. Since the late 1870s, they had been the seaside resorts of choice for the inhabitants of northwest Italy; Bordighera, with its villas and carefully designed gardens, was a favorite of the British upper middle class. Each town had a long sandy beach with some rocky coves, a coastal railway line leading behind it, a little station, and then the town itself built up the gradual slopes that led into the limestone mountains. These were covered in harsh scrub of olive, ilex, and small oak trees.

Among the other German generals who led through a combination of bravery and enormous personal example was an officer who commanded a unit in this part of Italy. The 90th Panzergrenadier Division had been pulled back to the Gothic Line after the fighting at Monte Cassino. It was commanded by Major General Ernst-Günther Baade. He’d been a Rhodes scholar, winning a sports scholarship to study at Oxford University before the war, and was well known on the European equestrian circuit. He loved Scotland.4 He frequently took to wearing kilts, and during the fighting at Monte Cassino, he announced the names of Allied POWs over the English and American radio frequencies so their unit commanders could know their men were alive. He had been wounded in North Africa during the fighting at Bir Hakeim, before the battle of El Alamein. Colleagues in the Afrika Korps remembered him as a legend, who was known to go into battle dressed in a Scottish kilt and carrying a claymore, a double-edged Scottish medieval broadsword. Wounded twice and decorated for gallantry nine times, he was adored by his men.

The Adriatic sector of the Gothic Line, from Pesaro to the Muraglione Pass near Florence, was under the command of an aristocratic Prussian officer, Generaloberst Heinrich von Vietinghoff, and his 10th Army. Having lied about his age (he was fifteen) to join the army during World War I, he was a tank officer during the invasion of France in 1940, a general by the time Hitler’s panzers pushed into Yugoslavia, and a tank corps commander in Army Group Centre during Operation Barbarossa. It was in Russia that he earned the nickname “Panzerknacker,” Tank Breaker. And it was in Italy, commanding the 10th Army on the Gustav Line, that he was awarded the Oak Leaves to accompany his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. It was he who reportedly developed the defensive concept of removing the 75mm guns and turrets of Panther tanks from their chassis and digging them into concrete revetments as a fixed gun emplacement. The turret mechanism and its traversing system was embedded in a concrete bunker at ground level, tactically sited, and then camouflaged. This allowed the tanks’ firepower to be deployed on mountainous terrain in very strong defensive positions where tanks themselves do not have the capacity to maneuver.

The eastern end of the Adriatic sector was under the control of LXXVI Panzerkorps, commanded by General Traugott Herr, another tank officer who had fought in France and Russia, been wounded, and decorated for gallantry. He had five divisions—one panzergrenadier, three infantry, one mountain—and Richard Heidrich’s paratrooper corps, itself with three more divisions. One of the infantry units, the 162nd, was primarily composed of Turkoman troops recruited from central Asia. Backing them up to the west, toward Florence, was Lieutenant General Valentin Feurstein’s LI Mountain Corps, which had only two actual jäger (mountain) divisions, and five line infantry divisions, one of them Italian.

From Bologna west to the Mediterranean was the fiefdom of Lieutenant General Joachim Lemelsen and his 14th Army. His deputy was another Anglophile and Oxford Rhodes scholar—Lieutenant General Frido von Senger und Etterlin, a Bavarian and devout Catholic, who was also a lay Benedictine; he commanded the army’s XIV Panzer Corps. This was made up of one panzer division, one infantry division, and SS-Gruppenführer Max Simon with the 16th Reichsführer-SS Division, stationed west of Florence. To the far west, and north of the Gothic Line in the Mediterranean province of Liguria around Genoa, were two more German divisions and two Italian. In and around the mountains and passes on the French-Italian border was the German LXXV Corps. This was made up of three infantry divisions, one of which was the 90th Panzergrenadiers of the Claymore-wielding Ernst-Günther Baade. Another four reserve divisions were spread behind the German lines between the Gothic Line and the Alps, making thirty-one divisions in total facing the Allies. Many were understrength.

In addition to the partisans’ military operations behind the lines, they had been busy sabotaging the construction of the fortifications of the Gothic Line. The Germans had started building these around the time of the armistice, in September 1943, when Italy surrendered. They conscripted thousands of Italians as forced labor. Partisans, naturally, were among them. They couldn’t make any difference to such factors as the layout of minefields, or the quality of weapons the Germans were using, but they could directly affect the building. Straw, hay, gravel, and the bare minimum of cement were used where possible, meaning that a pillbox made of the lowest quality concrete would buckle under Allied fire. Gun emplacements were built facing twenty or thirty degrees the wrong way, and only when German troops placed their MG-42s or their antitank weapons in them did they discover, too late, that they didn’t have the necessary commanding view of approach roads and valleys. Barbed wire was stretched in front of trenches and gun positions, but it wasn’t attached at either end to anything but a bush. Trenches were built on slopes that flooded easily in autumn and filled with snow in winter. Pillboxes were positioned by streams and rivers that would fill the concrete bunker with water through holes low on its sides. The partisans kept detailed notes of these soft spots in the German defenses.

So across the Gothic Line the Germans waited. On the road toward Bologna, Walter Reder and his SS reconnaissance battalion headed toward the enormous mass of Monte Sole that overlooked the road north from Florence. Brigadier General Max Simon had deployed the remainder of the 16th Reichsführer-SS on the north side of the Arno, opposite the 34th U.S. Infantry Division, on whose flanks were Sergeant Daniel Inouye and the 442nd RCT. General Harry Hoppe’s battered but disciplined 278th Infantry Division was north of Florence, opposite the Maratha Light Infantry. General Ernst-Günther Baade and his 90th Panzer were far to the northwest, spread across the Ligurian terrain right up to the outskirts of the city of Turin, in the shadow of the Alps. On the Adriatic coast at Rimini, the talented paratrooper General Richard Heidrich agreed with Kesselring’s strategic evaluation that the Allies would attack in the center or west of the Gothic Line. So in the third week of August, he went on leave. His paratroopers shook out across the city and surrounding countryside, preparing defensive positions that covered roads, open country, and the approach routes to the San Fortunato and Coriano Ridges that dominated the flat land outside the port. Mortars, 88mm guns, and MG-42s were sited, minefields laid, antitank guns hidden inside haystacks and abandoned houses, and trenches dug.

In the church of San Lorenzo in Strada, outside the seaside suburb of Riccione, the Green Devils dug in. The building dominates the main road that leads northwest from Riccione to Rimini airfield, and then straight up the coast into the heart of the port itself. Any Allied attack up the seacoast would have to go through Riccione, and then directly at the church. Paratroopers from Heidrichs’s 1st Fallschirmjäger Regiment took over the church in the third week of August. One of them was only seventeen that month. Jäger Helmut Bücher was born on Christmas Day 1926. He was from Otzenhausen, a town in the German Saarland that lies southwest of Frankfurt, only twenty miles from the border with eastern France. His hometown dated back to the days of Julius Caesar’s wars in Germania in 30 B.C., and just north of it is one of the oldest surviving Gothic settlements in Europe. Bücher had enlisted in the paratroopers when he turned seventeen, and it was a great source of pride to him that he had been posted to the 1st Fallschirmjäger Regiment. Only in late June had he joined his unit. Most of his comrades were survivors of Monte Cassino. Several had parachuted into the vineyards of Crete in 1941. A few, a hard, central cadre, had been in Russia and France.

They dug trenches and a tunnel connecting the houses surrounding San Lorenzo in Strada to the crypt of the church; they’d learned the technique in Russia and at Monte Cassino. The defenders could run from one position to another without showing themselves, and vacate a house or building when it came under sustained tank or mortar fire, reappearing in the next house or garden or field or farm building. They knew from Cassino and the fighting in the mountain towns and villages of southern Italy that underground dugouts were vital. The Allies relied heavily on artillery bombardments to soften up a target: the German paratroopers would sit out the barrage, then the moment it stopped, emerge aboveground and instantly get their MG-42 machine guns into pre-prepared firing positions. They zeroed in on the tanks that often spearheaded the advance with antitank guns dug in up to a half mile away. The fall of shot of 81mm mortars was cross-mapped onto individual paths of advance, paths of retreat, and the areas of cover where the Allied infantry would hide and wait. The fallschirmjäger also prepared an escape route behind the church that would expose any Allied soldiers chasing them to the fire of tanks and machine guns stationed behind them as the next line of defense.

Helmut Bücher felt he was in the right place, at the right time, as he dug trenches, made a fire to heat food, carried belts of 7.92mm cartridges for the machine guns, and got ready for an attack his sergeant had told him could not be far away. He and colleagues walked the ground in front of and around their positions in the church and surrounding houses. They paced out distances—one, two, four, six hundred yards. Then they marked particular walls, low-hanging branches on notable trees, and the sides of visible houses with whitewash crosses. This would tell the defenders the exact range of their attackers once battle was joined. Bücher had told his parents in a letter that he thought he was defending all that was right and good about Germany. But as he prepared the position in front of the church outside Rimini, he wondered if he would see his eighteenth Christmas.

French Divisions Pinned Down in the Maginot Line

1st Lieutenant Germer’s Engineer Assault Team Attack against Fort No. 505 at La Ferté, 18 May 1940

The vanquished contributes to a victory just as much as the victor.

Field Marshal Graf von Schlieffen

The missions of Army Group B and Army Group C were basically identical. They were to create a diversion away from the actual main effort in the center, in the sector of the Army Group A, and coax the strongest possible enemy forces away from the center toward the wings. Von Leeb, the commander in chief of Army Group C, thought that it would be incomparably more difficult to simulate the kind of strength that was not there. Most of his formations had rather inferior equipment and were more suitable for defense than for taking the mighty Maginot Line, opposite which they were positioned. Above all, this army group did not have a single Panzer formation. Its mission, therefore, was to attract the enemy’s attention to this area through deception measures, to tie down as many enemy divisions as possible.

Numerous elite formations that were to be moved to the central sector of the western front after the Polish campaign, were first routed to the south, either to First Army in the Saarbrücken area or to Seventh Army along the Upper Rhine. After these troops had moved into their final standby areas, an attempt was made to suggest the presence of Panzer Troops by using misleading tactical symbols, stories in the press about maneuver damage, and so on. This resulted in a rather strange masquerade, as part of which several officers had to put on the uniforms of the Panzer Troops and to make a big show in public. Finally, Army Group C got some limited-service Panzers that were now permanently run back and forth near the border.

Seventh Army was assigned the most important deception measure. With only four divisions, it was to cover the far-flung sector between Karlsruhe and the Swiss border. It was to simulate preparations for an offensive against Switzerland to envelop the Maginot Line from the south. Nowhere else along the front did the Germans employ such a repertoire of ruses of war. There were some very ostentatious train switching movements at the marshaling yards in Freiburg im Breisgau, where General der Artillerie [Friedrich] Dollmann, the army commander in chief, had his headquarters. Most of the time, however, these movements were carried out only in darkness so that the enemy’s agents would not notice that this was always the same military train. In that way it would also be very difficult to determine whether Panzers and big artillery pieces were really hidden under the canvas covers, as one might assume by the general outline. Hush-hush “headquarters” were set up in ostentatious mansions and spa hotels, although, in reality, only the very military-looking guards out front were genuine.

In the end, the southern portion of the Black Forest looked like a huge army camp because there were permanent German troop movements in the side valleys that were open toward Switzerland—all in keeping with precise instructions in the script for this show. These troop movements were so managed that they could be observed from the south and the Swiss guards conscientiously took down all observations on paper. The clanking noises of moving Panzers and the engine noises from vehicle convoys were heard over and over again near the border during the long winter nights. In reality, however, this noise was manufactured from loudspeakers and was played from tape. The German Counter-Intelligence Service, under Canaris, also participated in these deception measures with a specifically target-oriented disinformation drive according to which an attack through Switzerland was allegedly planned.

In reality, however, the German general staff never seriously considered an offensive through Swiss territory to outflank the Maginot Line to the south. Obviously, the German general staff had too much respect for the reputed Swiss bravery. According to the later Generalmajor Liß, at that time chief of the Foreign Armies West Section of Army Intelligence, this option was looked into within the army high command but was soon dropped. There was indeed a harvest from these deception measures. Thus, it happened that at the start of the campaign in the west thirty-six French divisions were concentrated in the area of the heavily fortified Maginot Line facing only nineteen divisions of Army Group C on the German side.

Immediately after the start of the German offensive, however, the French high command should have realized that there was no danger threatening on the right wing. Now the important thing would have been to employ many of the divisions, stationed needlessly behind the Maginot Line, as part of a countermove heading north. The real clincher came only at that particular point in time when Propaganda Minister Goebbels set the scene. The German troops had just broken through the front at Sedan when in a radio address he stated that “within twice 24 hours, there will no longer be any neutral states in Europe.” The way things looked at the moment that could only have meant an attack against Switzerland. Now the Wehrmacht Intelligence Service (Abwehr) launched a furious deception operation, employing numerous diplomats in various countries for the purpose of spreading rumors. The French and British were made so nervous that they began to prepare for the evacuations of their embassies in Bern. On 15 May, Colonel Gauché of the French Intelligence told the Swiss military attaché in confidence: “We know from an absolutely reliable source that the German attack against Switzerland scheduled for 16 or 17 May, in the morning, is firm.” The French leadership fell victim to a mirage: the German attack against Switzerland never took place.

The German general staff believed that the biggest threat was located along the northern wing of the Maginot Line, which extended to within just a few kilometers of Sedan. The Achilles heel of Sickle Cut was that the French could take many uncommitted formations out of this sector and employ them for a counterattack into the left flank of the Panzer Corps Guderian while shielded by the mighty fortification line. As mentioned earlier, von Bock, had remarked rather sarcastically to Halder: “You will be creeping by 10 miles from the Maginot Line with the flank of your breakthrough and hope that the French will watch inertly!”

But the enemy did indeed stand by and do nothing. This can be traced to the following operational chess move: The German Sixteenth Army initially only had the mission of providing a defensive screen for the left breakthrough flank of Panzer Corps Guderian. Its VII Corps, however, was to make a maximum effort and attack the left flank of the Maginot Line at La Ferté in order to tie down strong enemy formations here. The 71st Infantry Division was to attack Fort No. 505 that constituted the western corner post of that fortification line. The fight for La Ferté finally was played up as much as if the Battle of Verdun had to be fought a second time at this spot. So, Georges, the commander in chief of the Allied northeast front, already on the afternoon of 15 May had personally phoned the commanding general of XVIII Corps and appealed to him with these words: “You must hold at all costs the Inor-Malandry shoulder [at La Ferté]. The whole issue of the war may depend on it.”

The explosives that Germer had thrown inside caused a fire in the armored turret that spread immediately and, due to the heat generated, gradually caused the shells stored there to explode. The blast waves from the detonations ripped the steel doors open and made way for the fire. Thereupon, the occupants fled to the lower floors down to a connecting gallery that was 35 meters below ground and led to Block I of the fort, 250 meters away. In the end, Germer’s assault team also put out of action that fortification, with its steel gun turrets and observation cupola.

A fire also broke out inside, so that the occupants there had to flee to the connecting gallery. Now the disaster was complete. The situation of the trapped men resembled a disaster in a coal mine, where the fire from the higher galleries not only blocks the exit for the mine workers but also deprives them of oxygen. The air became increasingly worse so that the soldiers had to put on their gas masks. Again and again, blast waves blew through the galleries as more ammunition was ignited, knocking the trapped men to the ground. Finally, the electric lights also failed.

But there was continuous contact with the outside world via a field telephone. The French commander, 1st Lieutenant Bourguignon, requested permission to surrender the fort that the Germans had already put out of action because poisonous powder gases kept spreading more and more inside the system of galleries and tunnels. Because the explosions let up, there was still a chance of climbing up to one of the blocks and getting out into the open from there. His superiors required him to hold out—an order that a French historian later on described as a “monstrous absurdity.” The last contact with the trapped fort occupants took place at 0539 on 19 May. The French sergeant Sailly reported in a weak voice, interrupted by coughing: “I cannot stand it anymore. . . . The 1st lieutenant is next to me. . . . We will try to climb up again.” Several days later, after the smoke and the poison gases released during the explosions had evaporated, German soldiers climbed down into the underground tunnel system. There they found the corpses of the 107 men of the fort garrison who had died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In their theatrical plays and novels, the French existentialists again and again gave full rein to their imagination in order to conjure up hopeless situations. But reality by far outdid them in the light of this drama that took place thirty-five meters below ground. Perhaps the real tragedy of 1st Lieutenant Bourguignon and his men was that holding on to Armored Fort No. 505 for such a length of time had not only become meaningless but, in an operational sense, was even counterproductive. After all, the VII Corps attack against La Ferté was primarily a deception maneuver to divert attention from the real point of main effort at nearby Sedan. When the Germans launched their attack on the fort on 16 May, a crack in the front line, amounting to far more than a hundred kilometers, already gaped north of La Ferté—the entire Meuse River line had collapsed.

Widening the breach by three or four kilometers to the south was bound to seem insignificant. The issue in this fight for Fort No. 505 that was fought so bitterly by both sides was something entirely different, that is, the myth of the “impregnability of the Maginot Line.” No French general could afford to give up even a small piece of it.

The irony of destiny, however, was that this myth fatally tripped up the French. After the breakthrough at Sedan, the situation was so desperate that the only chance was to strip the Maginot Line, which “almost defended itself,” of all personnel and to use the bulk of the formations not tied down here to attack the southern flank of the German breakthrough. Instead of shifting the troops, the French generals even dispatched reinforcements from the Sedan sector of all places to protect the Maginot Line. And so, the Char B tanks of the 41st Tank Battalion, 3d Armored Division, were taken out of the bitter fighting around Stonne and sent to mount a counterattack against La Ferté. The attempt to relieve the encircled Fort No. 505 failed.

This incomprehensible behavior cries out for a comparison to the situation in August 1914. The French supreme commander Joffre had concentrated his troops precisely on the wrong wing, that is to say, on France’s eastern border. Now the Germans who were attacking according to the Schlieffen plan had outflanked his left wing and threatened to hit him in the rear. In that situation, he did the only correct thing: He stripped the right wing that was protected anyway by strong border fortifications, such as the Maginot Line in 1940, and dispatched as many troops as possible by rail to the opposite wing. In doing so, he was even inclined, if necessary, to sacrifice the prestige target of Verdun and ordered artillery pieces to be withdrawn from there. In that way, he was successful in hitting the Germans by surprise in the flank and stopping them along the Marne River. For his successors, however, the Maginot Line had almost become an end in itself. To that extent, during the crucial phase, the nineteen moderately armed divisions of Army Group C were successful in checkmating the thirty-six French divisions that were protected by the Maginot Line.

The Use of Mining in Sieges early-13th Century England

Techniques of siege.


Rochester saw one of the few military successes of King John. Rochester 1215, illustration by John Cann.

King John uses mining to win this famous siege

Known to history as `Bad’ King John, the infamous English monarch has gained a reputation for military incompetence, but during the Siege of Rochester Castle he demonstrated a little-known talent for siege warfare. Rebel barons defended the fortress and the siege lasted for two months before surrendering to John. The ­ fighting was ­ fierce and without letup, with the Barnswell Chronicler recording, “Our age has not known a siege so hard-pressed nor so strongly resisted.”

John committed himself totally to retaking the castle and set up his command post on Boley Hill. When his siege engines failed to make an impact on the strong walls, he ordered mining tools to be delivered. On 25 November 1215, he sent an urgent writ to his justiciar to, “Send us with all speed by day and night, forty of the fattest pigs of the sort least good for eating, to bring ­ re beneath the tower.” This meant a mining operation. Pig fat was used to ­ re the mine props that John had positioned beneath the southeast corner of Rochester’s keep, which in turn kept up the undermined foundations. The king’s mine was successful and a whole section of the keep came down, but despite this achievement the rebels retreated further inside the keep and the siege continued. After they were reduced to a diet of horse-flesh and water, the garrison eventually surrendered to John.

Rebel Scum

Throughout this period of conflict in England, the barons looked across the Channel to the powerful and stable royal line in France. In marked contrast to the discontent, conflict and usurpations which had characterised the Anglo-Norman monarchy since 1066 (Gerald of Wales notes that the Plantagenets were `princes who did not succeed one another in regular hereditary order but rather acquired violent domination through an inversion of order by killing and slaughtering their own’), the French had experienced over two hundred years of smooth successions from father to son. Philip Augustus had been on the throne for thirty-five years, and his five immediate predecessors had enjoyed reigns of between twenty-nine and forty-eight years each. He had an adult son, a younger son and two grandsons. The barons might be understandably wary of offering the throne to Philip himself (and besides, he was now fifty years old so possibly not a long-term prospect), but Louis was a younger man, a proven warrior, a prince with a reputation for being moral and just; he came from a dynasty which had a tradition of involving a council of nobles in its decision-making process; he had a claim via the blood of his wife, John’s niece. And on a more practical level, with the might and resources of the French crown behind him, he was likely to be successful. This tipped the balance in his favour against other possible candidates such as King Alexander of Scotland (who was descended from the old Anglo-Saxon kings of England) who did not have the military might to back up a potential claim. And Louis being French had an additional advantage: many of John’s mercenaries were from various regions of France, so having Louis at the head of the campaign might mean that John would be deprived of their services, as he had been in Poitou in 1214. Of further comfort to the barons was the fact that Louis, if and when he became king, would probably not reside in England permanently, thus giving them more scope for their own activities. This was not unusual as Henry II and his predecessors had spent much of their time on the Continent, so there was precedent for a cross-Channel king. All in all, he was the perfect choice. A party of barons headed by Saer de Quincy, the earl of Winchester, Henry de Bohun, the earl of Hereford, and Robert Fitzwalter sailed for France in September 1215.

September was the month in which John was expecting the arrival of the new mercenaries he had engaged from Aquitaine and Flanders; he headed to the Kent coast in anticipation. However, there were storms and heavy seas during that month and instead of the expected ships, waves of drowned corpses washed up on the shores along Kent and Suffolk.

While John was bemoaning his losses on the coast the barons decided to take advantage of his situation by capturing Rochester Castle, which would bar his route back to London. The castellan there had been loyal to John for many years but, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, he opened the gates to the rebels. This irritated John, who moved to assault it; there would now be actual armed conflict on English soil between the king and his subjects. A line had been crossed.

The barons had garrisoned Rochester well: ninety-five knights and forty-five sergeants held it under the leadership of William d’Albini, an able commander. However, as they expected Rochester to hold until the delegation returned from France they had made no back-up plans for reinforcing it and had no second force ready to relieve a siege. John, on the other hand, was prepared for the long haul. He had siege machinery built and remained at Rochester for seven weeks, conducting the operations personally – the longest he had ever spent in one place since his accession to the throne sixteen years earlier. Roger of Wendover tells us: `The siege was prolonged many days owing to the great bravery and boldness of the besieged, who hurled stone for stone, weapon for weapon, from the walls and ramparts on the enemy.’ The keep resisted all attempts at assault so John turned to mining: a tunnel was dug under the wall, held up by wooden posts, then filled with flammable material including the fat of forty pigs which John sent for specially, and set alight. As the timbers burned and collapsed the roof of the mine caved in, bringing one of the four towers of the keep crashing down. The garrison, by this point starving and forced to eat their horses, retreated to the other half of the keep and resisted a little longer but eventually realised it could not hold out and surrendered on 30 November 1215. John’s first inclination was to execute them all, but he was persuaded not to on the basis that similar treatment would then be meted out to royal garrisons by the barons. In the end only one man was hanged, a crossbowman who had previously been in John’s service.


Dover siege reconstruction by Peter Dunn.
Dover Castle siege, 1216, (c1990-2010). Reconstruction drawing of a French siege tower and earth works. Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the Continent, Dover Castle was a vital strategic and communication lynch-pin in the empire of the Angevin kings of England. in 1216, The castle successfully resisted a major siege directed personally by Prince Louis of France during his near-successful invasion of England. He had some success breaching the walls, but was unable ultimately to take the castle. Artist Peter Dunn. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Dover Castle, Kent. The siege of 1216. Reconstruction drawing by Peter Dunn (English Heritage Graphics Team) of mining under the North Gate East tower…

The future Louis VIII of France fought a forgotten war for the English crown against John I and Henry III.

A prince of France uses mining as part of an attempted invasion of England.

The Siege of Dover Castle was part of a military campaign by Prince Louis of France to assert control over England. King John had alienated many of his nobles and some of them invited Prince Louis, the son of the King of France, to invade England and rid the country of John’s tyranny. Louis tried to take the strategically vital fortress at Dover to secure the conquest of Kent.

The siege began in July 1216. He used trebuchets, mangonels and siege towers to try and take the castle but then resorted to mining. A Cat was used to protect the miners and Dover’s timber barbican was undermined, enabling Louis’ men to successfully storm the barbican. Louis now tried to press his attack and sent miners to dig beneath the main castle gate. A chronicler recorded, “They mined, so that one of the towers fell, of which there were two.”

Large numbers of Louis’ men managed to enter the castle through this breach but the defenders, who successfully blocked the gap in the defences with timbers, repulsed them. After this failure Louis was forced to strike a truce and he eventually had to abandon the siege and ultimately left England. Dover showed that the potential of siege mining was limited and in this particular case in­fluenced the failure of a determined invasion of England by a foreign power.


Mining was a subterranean response to end a siege if conventional weapons, such as mangonels, battering rams and trebuchets, failed to make an impression on the walls. Towers and keeps were particularly hard to destroy by conventional means, so miners would dig beneath them in order to weaken their foundations. Miners had a very dangerous job, as their digging efforts would initially be in plain sight of the garrison and to begin with they had to rely on the protection of a `Cat’.

The Cat was a covered house placed on wheels with a very strong roof. The besieged garrison would always try to destroy this device, so the Cat was designed to withstand assaults from weapons as varied as heavy stones, beams of wood, hot water, molten lead and spiked poles. Under this portable cover the attacking force would dig beneath the walls. While they worked, the miners would build wooden supports to prop up the tunnel and once they were sure they had dug far enough, brush would be mixed with pig fat and placed near the wooden supports. When all of the ­ flammable material had been placed in the mine, everybody would evacuate the tunnel except for the torchman who would set the place on ‑ fire, before also hurriedly departing. As the wooden supports burned, they would collapse and in theory the stonewalls or towers would collapse with them.

The digging and preparations were hazardous in themselves but miners were also at risk from prematurely collapsing tunnels and counter-mining activities from the enemy garrison. Defending armies attempted to detect miners by using buckets of water in suspected digging areas. When a potential mine was detected, garrisons would start digging their own tunnels to counter the miners’ efforts. If these passageways ever connected then ‑ fierce hand-to-hand ‑ fighting would often ensue, which was especially dangerous in the weakly supported tunnels. Siege mining was definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The Siege

Louis arrived in front of Dover Castle on 25 July 1216. It was an impressive sight and a daunting prospect: huge and well-fortified, it had been much enlarged and improved by Henry II and now comprised a stone keep – 100 feet (30 metres) square and with walls up to 20 feet (6 metres) thick – in its own compound, surrounded by curtain walls broken only by a great twin-towered gatehouse at the north-western tip of the castle enclosure, which was itself protected by a wooden barbican, an additional defensible structure erected in front of it. Inside, Hubert de Burgh had some 140 knights (many of them Flemish or Poitevin), a greater number of sergeants, plenty of weapons and an ample store of supplies. The castle was set high on a hill overlooking the town, which gave the defenders even more of an advantage. To capture it would take a huge investment of time, troops and resources.

Thanks to a remarkably detailed and almost certainly eyewitness account in the History of the Dukes, we are very well informed about the progress of the siege of Dover. When Louis arrived he spent several days with his army billeted in or camping around the town, reconnoitring and planning. Louis accommodated himself in a priory rather than in the tented encampment; he needed a campaign headquarters, and he no doubt thought that he might as well lodge in some comfort as nobody was going anywhere for a while. Then he divided his forces, one part remaining in the town to one side of the fortress and the other moving to the hill in front of the castle gatehouse, which gave him the advantage of higher ground and from where he was able to direct siege operations. Petraries and mangonels were set up to bombard the walls and the gate, but the machines which had succeeded at Winchester and Odiham would be insufficient at Dover.

Before he had set off for the coast Louis had sent a messenger back to France to ask his father for help, and this help duly arrived in the shape of large-scale siege machinery. Philip sent over a device known as Malvoisin or `Evil Neighbour’, which was probably the first appearance of a trebuchet on English soil. A trebuchet acted in a similar way to a petrary, in that it used balance in order to throw stones. However, instead of using traction – men pulling down on ropes in order to fling the other arm of the lever in the air – it used a counterweight. A long wooden beam was pivoted near to one end; the longer side of the beam ended in a sling, in which the projectile was placed, and the shorter end held a large weight, generally a container filled with earth or rocks. A team of men would haul down the sling end in order to lift the counterweight into the air, at which point the beam was fixed and held in place. A stone or other missile was loaded into the sling, and then the beam was released: the counterweight came crashing down and the missile was flung into the air. The advantage of the heavy counterweight was that the trebuchet could throw much bigger stones over a much greater distance than either traction or torsion machines.

Despite what must have been his satisfaction with his new engine of war, Louis did not rely on this alone. His troops were already blockading the landward side of the castle; now his ships, after unloading their cargo, secured the sea outside Dover so the castle was completely cut off from outside aid and could not be either reinforced or reprovisioned.

Louis’s first point of attack was the gatehouse and barbican to the north of the castle enclosure. As well as his stone-throwing machinery he also had his men build a wattle siege-tower (a device which put the besiegers on the same level as the defenders on the wall, meaning they could shoot arrows across at them; alternatively it could be filled with men and then moved closer to the wall, so the besiegers would not need to try and scale it by ladder, which left them open to attack or bombardment from above) and he also set men, under cover of a protective moveable device known as a `cat’, to undermine the walls. As had been demonstrated at Rochester the previous year, mining was an effective strategy, but it was a very slow process as the attackers were only able to use pickaxes and other hand tools against the gigantic stones and their foundations.

The siege was by no means one-sided. While Louis was directing these operations from the field north of the castle, the garrison made frequent sorties, charging out on horseback to kill and wound the attackers in hand-to-hand combat. Louis’s men repulsed them but were unable to inflict many casualties in return as the defenders could retreat back behind their walls. Those inside were also able to use their crossbowmen as snipers, picking off anyone foolish enough to bring himself into range without adequate protection. Louis, who had no doubt been told in his youth of the agonising end of Richard the Lionheart from blood poisoning following a wound inflicted by a crossbow at a siege, was not harmed, although he probably wore his mail armour almost permanently.

The weeks went by, and gradually men began to trickle away from Louis’s force. The count of Holland had taken the cross and now decided that the time was right for his pilgrimage to the Holy Land; some knights felt that their obligatory period of military service was up; some mercenaries thought they were not being paid enough; others were killed by the frequent sorties of the defenders. Committed to staying in one place, Louis for the first time began to lose the initiative in the war, and with it his temper. Roger of Wendover notes that he was `greatly enraged and swore he would not leave the place until the castle was taken and all the garrison hung’.

In the middle of August there was a breakthrough when Louis’s knights made a direct and bloody attack on the barbican which protected the main gate, and were able to capture it; the History of the Dukes tells us that Peter de Craon, who had defended the barbican so well for many weeks, was killed in the attack along with other men. However, although the besiegers were one step closer they were still confronted with the double-towered gatehouse; and, even if they could batter their way through that, the defenders could regroup further by taking refuge in the keep. A long campaign was still on the cards.

Louis continued with the siege, and was heartened by further reinforcements from France: Peter de Dreux, who had left his obligations in Brittany in order to come to the aid of his cousin and companion, and Thomas, the young count of Perche. Perche was a rising star of the French nobility: he had succeeded to his title in 1202 at the age of seven after the death of his father, had fought for King Philip at Bouvines while still in his teens, and now at twenty-one was building a reputation for deeds of arms and chivalry. In an example of how inextricably the men on both sides of the conflict were linked, Perche was a kinsman of John’s most faithful supporter, William Marshal (his great-grandmother and Marshal’s mother were sisters); he also had a tenuous claim to the English throne himself as his maternal grandmother was John’s sister Matilda, but he supported Louis wholeheartedly.

Both nobles had brought knights and men with them, which would help the cause, but the news also came across the Channel that the new pope, Honorius, had confirmed Louis’s sentence of excommunication. It was a bitter blow, but Louis was by now in far too deep to back out from claiming the crown of England even if he had been so inclined. He would push on: once he had subdued the country, captured John and been crowned he would have the leisure to talk properly to the pope, not to mention the power to influence him.

In the meantime, as August turned into September, Dover still needed to be subdued. The miners had been continuing their slow and painstaking work, and now came the breakthrough: one of the towers of the gatehouse was brought crashing down, and Louis and his knights could charge into the breach.

This is what the knights had been waiting for. Trained since boyhood to engage in hand-to-hand combat, they detested having to kick their heels at a siege while miners and engineers held sway. Now they had the chance to throw themselves at the enemy in person, to take out their frustration at the long siege, to hack with their swords and their axes into armour and flesh. But the defenders were just as frustrated, just as fierce, and even more desperate – after all, had Louis not threatened to hang them all once the castle was taken? The normal policy at the time was that if a garrison surrendered they would be allowed to leave unharmed, but that if a castle had to be taken by storm then those inside were liable to be executed. After irritating Louis and thwarting his plans for so many weeks they were unlikely to be treated with clemency if defeated, so they fought back with all their might, filling the gap in the wall with men. Slowly but surely they repulsed the attack, holding the line, pushing the besiegers back and keeping them out long enough for running repairs to be made to the breach, which was shored up with timbers taken from buildings inside the compound. The barricade held. Dover still stood.

The stalemate could not be allowed to go on forever. Force had not worked; starving the garrison out would take too long and Louis needed to be on the move. To stand still for too long, as he well knew, was to lose momentum. Louis agreed a truce with Hubert de Burgh, and his army withdrew from the siege on 14 October 1216.


Hen Domen

This artist’s impression of Hen Domen, based on the archaeologists’ findings, shows how the castle might have appeared in the twelfth century.

How were these buildings actually constructed? The trees, as you might expect, were felled using axes and dragged to the site by animals in order for construction to begin. The

After his coronation, William was faced with the dilemma common to many conquerors: how to rule his new subjects with fairness, and at the same time reward his victorious comrades-in-arms. Having claimed to be the legitimate successor of King Edward, he wanted to prove to the English that he would be a good king, willing and able to uphold the laws and customs of his predecessor. At the same time, however, he had an army of seven thousand men at his back, all recruited by the promise of rich pickings, and all now hungry for payment. In the early days of his reign, we see William trying to balance these contradictory expectations and demands. Certainly, many Normans grew rich at the expense of Englishmen. Plunder and booty—which the Continental chroniclers called “gifts”—were shipped back to Normandy in large quantities.

Yet even as churches and monasteries were being pillaged, William was being lenient and generous in his dealings with the governing class of England. Of course, a lot of aristocrats, including Harold and his brothers, had perished at Hastings, but there was little anyone could do about that. To those who survived, however, William was quite charitable, allowing them (once they had sworn allegiance, naturally) to remain in possession of their existing lands and titles. When it came to governing his new subjects, the king exhibited the same sensitive streak. Letters drafted by his ministers continued to be written in English, and William was so keen to make a good impression that he even started learning the language himself. He seems to have believed that, given enough time, the English and the Normans could settle down and live happily side by side.

But William’s lenient approach did not endear him to the English. On the contrary, treating them with kid gloves actually provoked the opposite reaction. In the first five years of his reign, William faced a series of rebellions up and down the country. His response was to deal with them in much the same way as he had dealt with his opponents in Normandy. At the first sign of trouble, he marched his army into the affected region, put down the insurrection, and began to build a major new castle. These new royal foundations were, almost without exception, constructed in the larger towns and cities of England, where the population and the resistance were most concentrated. The king had already enforced his authority in London in the weeks immediately after his coronation, building a castle in the southeast corner of the city. When, early in 1068, the first rebellion broke out in the West Country, William wasted no time marching his troops down to Exeter and repeating the exercise. Likewise, when in the summer the two English earls who controlled the Midlands and the north cast off their allegiance, William pushed his way northward, establishing castles at Warwick and Nottingham. When he reached York, he began the construction of the giant motte that still stands in the city center (Clifford’s Tower). Returning south, the king planted three more new castles at Lincoln, Cambridge, and Huntingdon, mopping up pockets of resistance as he went.

None of this, of course, was especially good for Anglo-Norman relations. When building these new castles, the king and his engineers showed little concern for the English inhabitants of the town or city in question. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way once the optimum site had been selected. At Cambridge, twenty-seven houses were razed to the ground to clear a space for the works to begin. In Lincoln, the number of dwellings destroyed was 166. But while William showed few or no scruples about building castles over people’s homes, he could at least claim to be acting out of strategic necessity. Outside the towns and cities, the king was still reluctant to indulge in any wide-scale disinheritance of Anglo-Saxon landowners.

A handful of his leading men had been rewarded with grants of land at this time, and they were busy asserting their own authority in similar fashion. In Sussex, for example, a number of Continental-style lordships, each organized around a castle, were created immediately after 1066. But how far castle-building extended in general is not known. Writing just one year after the Norman invasion, a monk at Worcester said that, when the king was away in Normandy, his regents “built castles far and wide throughout the land, oppressing the unhappy people.” How much this statement reflects the general situation, however, is open to question. One of the regents, William Fitz Osbern, had been made earl of Hereford, and constructed several castles in the Severn valley region before 1070; our Worcester monk may have heard more horror stories about castles going up than most people. We should also perhaps allow for the fact he was clearly very depressed about the Conquest in general.

“Things went ever from bad to worse,” he said in his next sentence. “When God wills, may the end be good.”

What did transform the situation, however, was the great rebellion of 1069. It was a response, in part, to William’s castle-building program of the previous year. The king’s new foundations were seen as a provocation—an invitation, even, for the English to rise up and smash them. When the men of Northumbria and Yorkshire rose early in the year, the lightly defended motte and bailey at York was an obvious and tempting target. William soon retook the castle and ordered the construction of another, but the city still fell for a second time in the summer. On this occasion the northerners came in greater numbers, aided in their rebellion by the arrival of a Danish army.

“Forming an immense host, riding and marching in high spirits, they all resolutely advanced on York and stormed and destroyed the castle, seizing innumerable treasures therein, and slaying many hundreds of Frenchmen.”

For the third time in eighteen months, William was obliged to move his army into Yorkshire and retake its principal city. On this, his final attempt, defeating the rebels took considerable effort, and the Danes had to be paid to withdraw. By the time he rode triumphant through the smoldering ruins of York, the king himself was fuming.

Dealing with the rebellion of 1069 appears to have caused something inside William to snap. He had, after all, tried to be nice to the English, letting many of them keep their lands and promising to uphold their ancient laws and customs. Yet all they had done in return was repay his generosity with contempt, and force him to spend time, money, and energy in putting down their insolence. What’s more, even now, after three years, they showed no signs whatsoever of giving up. So, since the softly-softly approach had evidently failed, William now allowed the more brutal side of his character to take over. After a somber Christmas in York, he divided his army into small contingents and sent them out into the countryside of Yorkshire and Northumbria. Their mission was to burn crops, homes, and livestock, in order to render the entire region incapable of supporting human life. Modern historians have dubbed this the “Harrying of the North,” but only a contemporary author can fully capture the horrific consequences of the king’s decision. One northern chronicler described it thus:

So great a famine prevailed that men, compelled by hunger, devoured human flesh, [and also] that of horses, dogs, and cats . . . [Some] sold themselves to perpetual slavery, so that they might in that way preserve their wretched existence; others, while about to go into exile from their country, fell down in the middle of their journey and gave up the ghost. It was horrific to behold human corpses decaying in the houses, the streets, and on the roads, swarming with worms while they were consuming in corruption with an abominable stench . . . There was no village inhabited between York and Durham; they became lurking places to wild beasts and robbers, and were a great dread to travelers.

In retrospect, the Harrying was seen as the most savage and merciless act of William’s whole career. At the time, however, the king regarded it as just the beginning of a new direction in royal policy. If the English did not want him as their king, and were never going to give him their love or loyalty, why should he worry about respecting their laws or customs? This cold logic soon translated itself into action. Not only did William abandon his English lessons, and start spending much less time in England; he also decided there was no point in upholding the rights of Englishmen when there were loyal Normans who needed rewarding. In the year 1070, therefore, he deposed many native bishops and abbots, including the archbishop of Canterbury, and replaced them with Continental newcomers. In the same year, the king permitted English monasteries to be plundered for cash.

The biggest change, however, was not felt in church cloisters, but in the countryside at large. In the wake of the English rebellions, William created huge new blocks of power for his most trusted followers, and charged them with holding down their new territories by whatever means they chose. Above all else, this meant building many hundreds of castles.

One of the main beneficiaries of William’s change of heart in 1070 was Roger of Montgomery. Roger was one of William’s oldest and closest friends: we first spot the pair of them together when William was in his late teens, and their friendship may have stretched back even earlier. Two major things underline the degree of trust between the two men. First, when William set sail for England in 1066, Roger was the man he left in charge of Normandy during his absence. Second, when Roger joined William in England shortly after the invasion, the king rewarded him with large grants of land. Roger was one of the individuals who profited from the early redistribution of property in Sussex, and in 1070 he received an even bigger prize. In the carve up following the Harrying of the North, William made Roger earl of Shrewsbury (or Shropshire).

This was a very large gift, and it catapulted Roger right to the top of English society. In the list of the top ten Normans in England after 1066, Roger ranks number three—below William himself and his half-brother, Odo, but above the king’s other half-brother, Robert. With great power, however, came great responsibility. As earl, Roger was expected to keep order in the region, and also to defend the English border with Wales. Shropshire, like Yorkshire, was one of the remotest and wildest parts of William’s new kingdom. In order to carry out the task appointed to him, Roger built several new castles. One of the most important of these, to judge from its name, was the one he called “Montgomery,” after his own home town of Montgommeri in Normandy. This castle, a perfect little motte and bailey, still survives, but for centuries it has been known by its Welsh name, simply meaning “the old mound.” It is called Hen Domen.

Hen Domen provides an interesting contrast with castles built by William the Conqueror at around the same time. Rather than being constructed in the middle of a town or city, Roger of Montgomery’s new castle was built in the open countryside. Despite its isolation, however, it was of crucial importance for Roger in controlling his earldom. He picked the site in order to command an ancient crossroads, and also to control the traffic across a major ford on the River Severn. Today the castle is no less lonely than it was nine centuries ago. It squats between two farmers’ fields, is overgrown by trees and bushes, and looks for all the world like nothing more than a woodland copse. But despite its apparent obscurity, Hen Domen has once again become very important. In fact, it is one of the most talked-about castle sites in Europe.

For a period of almost forty years, Hen Domen was the site of a massive archaeological dig. Every summer, from the early sixties to the late nineties, archaeologists gathered at the castle for weeks on end to try to uncover its secrets. With a total of over two years spent digging, this was the biggest and most sustained archaeological investigation of its kind ever undertaken. Thanks to the work done at Hen Domen, a great deal has been learned, not only about the nature of early castles, but about what life was like within their vanished wooden walls.

In itself, Hen Domen has good reason to be considered special. Although it is only a small- to medium-sized motte and bailey, the strength of the castle’s defenses reflect both the high status of its builder and the dangerousness of its position on the border. As at the royal castle at Berkhamsted, built by either William or his half-brother Robert, we find multiple lines of defense. Three earthen ramparts ring the whole site, forming two deep ditches around the castle. Anyone approaching with hostile intent would have had to cross the first ditch, climb over a wooden fence with a fighting platform behind it, and then negotiate another, deeper ditch—all this before they reached the castle’s main walls, which stood twelve to fourteen feet high.

Of course, it is impossible to say exactly what stood above the ground by digging underneath it. Nevertheless, the excavations at Hen Domen permitted some reasonable estimates. They revealed two rows of post-holes, one set behind the other, which indicated that the walls must have been backed by a fighting platform, raised off the ground by the posts. In order to allow a man to pass underneath it, the platform must have been raised to a height of at least six or seven feet. Similarly, a man standing on top of the platform would need to be protected from attack, so we must assume that the wall rose at least another six or seven feet in front of him, bringing the total height of the wall up to the suggested height of twelve to fourteen feet.

In a similar fashion, the archaeologists were able to estimate the size of bailey buildings at Hen Domen. Certain post-holes were evidently home to very large timbers, and from the scale of these foundations the overall shape of the buildings can be guessed. At the foot of the motte, for example, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of a very large building. In all probability, this was the castle’s great hall. Judging by the massive size of its foundation ditch, the hall stood two stories high, providing space downstairs for storage, and a main first-floor room where Roger and his household would have sat and dined. Behind the hall the team discovered evidence of a flying bridge of exactly the kind depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. Again, it was the size of this structure that was striking. The foundations (and also, remarkably, a surviving timber that was found preserved in the ditch) indicate that the bridge must have been twelve feet wide; large enough to ride a horse up, if necessary. Finally, on the top of the motte, the diggers uncovered evidence for a great tower—or rather, several great towers, for it seems that the buildings on the motte were replaced several times over the years. Again, the scale of the foundations suggest that the greatest of these towers was at least two stories tall.

How were these buildings actually constructed? The trees, as you might expect, were felled using axes and dragged to the site by animals in order for construction to begin. The trunks, however, were not cut to shape using saws, but by the more efficient process of splitting. Starting with a large oak tree, wooden or metal wedges were driven into the trunk along its length, using a wooden mallet or hammer. Eventually a crack would open and, with a little encouragement from crowbars, the tree would split in half. After this, the process could be repeated several times—the half could be split into quarters, the quarters split into eighths, and so on. In fact, if you had a good-sized oak tree, it was possible to get over a thousand square feet of planking from a single trunk. Once you had produced enough timber in this manner, you could start building with them right away—provided your boss wasn’t too concerned about the rough quality of the finish. If, however, he demanded smoother surfaces on his castle walls, these could be produced by working the split wood with an axe, and then dressing it with a smaller, subtler tool called a T-axe.

Other materials besides timber went into constructing an early castle. The walls of buildings could be built or reinforced with clay, as well as the well-known “wattle and daub.” When it came to roofing, slate tiles may have been used in some cases, but no such slates were ever uncovered at Hen Domen. Thatched roofs may also have existed, but using thatch obviously meant that there was a much greater danger from fire. Bearing both these things in mind, the archaeologists assumed that the roofs at Hen Domen would also have been made of timber, built either from planking or by using shingles. There was nothing low-status about any of these materials—especially wood. Roger of Montgomery was a very powerful man, and wood was his material of choice. Likewise, the castles built by William the Conqueror and his brothers were constructed in almost every case from earth and timber. The diggers at Hen Domen were slightly disappointed that none of the buildings there seem to have been very ornate—no carved timbers were uncovered. Roger’s castle, it seems, was not a fancy example like the one at Bayeux on the Bayeux Tapestry, with its dragon’s head over the doorway. Nevertheless, the size and number of the buildings was in itself revealing. It gradually became clear to the archaeologists at Hen Domen that they were not uncovering a small huddle of shabby-looking structures, but a site that was thickly planted with buildings, built on a scale that matched the fabulous descriptions of the chroniclers.

The only genuine disappointment for the archaeologists at Hen Domen was the limited number of “small finds” they uncovered, and the fact that none of these items suggested a truly aristocratic lifestyle. There were no brooches or jewelry to compare with the finds at Threave (see Chapter Five); the most exciting find was half a wooden bucket. Of course, we can make certain allowances for the lack of luxury items. This was a castle, not a town or a battlefield; people were not necessarily dropping and losing things all the time. They must have had rubbish pits in which to throw away their unwanted or broken items, but these were never found: despite digging for forty years, the archaeologists only had time to excavate half the bailey. Who knows what treasures—or rubbish—might be concealed in the other half? Hen Domen has by no means given up all its secrets.

But even with all these excuses, the inescapable conclusion was that life at Hen Domen was not exactly luxurious. It was not a place where Roger of Montgomery turned up with his precious things: certainly no gold or jewels, and probably not even much money—only one coin was found on the site. In its early days at least, it was a garrison castle, manned entirely by knights and soldiers, whose standard of living was basic, not to say Spartan. Only two of the bailey buildings showed signs of being heated by fires and, to judge from the animal bones that were found, the diet of the occupants was quite simple. They typically ate beef, mutton, and pork, and from time to time they got to dine on deer—a slightly classier dish. All this food, however, could be sourced locally; there was no indication that fancier foodstuffs ever found their way to the castle.

But this would not have been unusual. In the eleventh century, knighthood was still a long way from the fine living and pageantry of the late Middle Ages. In Roger of Montgomery’s day, it was not such an exclusive club; knights were numbered in thousands, not hundreds, and the poorer ones were not much better off than peasants who had done well for themselves. The men whom Roger sent to Hen Domen to guard the fringes of his earldom no doubt cursed the cold and criticized the cooking. But their experience was probably little different from that shared by Norman knights all over England.