Fortress Warfare in Renaissance Italy

French troops arriving in Naples, 1494.

The first fully mobile and effective field artillery appeared in 1494 in the train of Charles VIII of France when he invaded Italy, and Fornovo (1495) was probably the first battle where artillery played a really effective part. The eight-foot bronze guns were drawn by horse teams and could keep up with marching infantry. They made a great impression on the Italians whose few heavy pieces, being ox-drawn, usually arrived too late for battles and, according to Machiavelli, could never fire more than one or two shots before battle was joined.

The offensive on the rampage 1494-1503

Charles VIII and the advent of mobile siege artillery

In military affairs, the events of 1494 did much to bring the Middle Ages to an end. In that year King Charles VIII of France led his army across the Mont-Genevre Pass into Italy, and marched across the Lombard plain and the Apennines to the port of La Spezia, where he picked up the forty or so siege guns with which he intended to make good his claim to the Kingdom of Naples.

These guns were the lineal descendants of the state-owned artillery which had enabled the French to burst open the English strongholds in Normandy and Guyenne in the middle of the century. Craftsmen and bell-founders worked tirelessly to improve the weapon, and by the 1490S they had evolved a cannon that was recognisably the same creature that was going to decide battles and sieges for nearly four hundred years to come.

The medieval bombard was a massive pipe of wrought-iron rods or bronze, designed specifically to throw a large but relatively light ball of stone. The weapon was by no means without its virtues. In relation to muzzle velocity, the stone ball required only one-half the weight of powder as an iron shot of the same calibre, and it exercised a considerable smashing effect on targets like walls, siege towers, ships and trenches full of men. At the same time the bombard and its ammunition were undeniably bulky. The gun was usually fired from a solid block of wood, which rested directly on the earth; it put up a valiant fight against any gunners who threatened to disturb its repose. For transport, the bombard had to be lifted bodily onto an ox waggon running on disc-like wheels which, whenever the cart was canted over to one side, threatened to collapse and deposit the whole load gently back to earth again.

Another disadvantage concerned the manufacture of the missiles. Whereas the casting or forging of an iron cannon ball was a hot but satisfying business, skilled stonemasons had to be paid highly if they were to address themselves to the laborious and frustrating work of carving a stone ball that was just going to be fired from a gun.

In the train of Charles VIII, however, the bombard had been largely supplanted by cannon with homogeneous bronze barrels no more than eight feet long. These pieces could be transported and loaded with ease, and they discharged wrought-iron balls which could compete in range and accuracy with stone-firing bombards of at least three times their calibre. The barrel of the French cannon was readily elevated or depressed around the fulcrum formed by two trunnions (prongs). These were cast into the barrel just forward of the centre of gravity, and rested almost over the axle of the two-wheeled gun carriage beneath. For traversing, the trail of the carriage was lifted from the ground and swung to right or left.

The numerous and well-trained French gunners knew how to take advantage of their new weapon, and an Italian contemporary (Guicciardini, 1562, Bk I) wrote that the cannon were planted against the walls of a town with such speed, the space between the shots was so brief, and the balls flew so speedily, and were driven with such force, that as much execution was inflicted in a few hours as used to be done in Italy over the same number of days.

The enhanced mobility of the French guns was, if possible, still more important than their firepower. Over long distances the heavier of the barrels still had to be loaded onto separate waggons, as before, but gun carriages and waggons alike were now drawn by strong and trained horses, and travelled on ‘dished’ wheels which stood up stoutly to the strains imposed upon them by fifteenth-century roads.

By all reasonable calculations Charles should have been stopped short by one of the Florentine or papal fortresses long before he could reach his goal of Naples. Unfortunately for Italy, the French and their artillery were not reasonable opponents. Charles directed his march down the western side of the Apennines against the northern frontier of the state of Florence, the first obstacle in his path. Florence was on the verge of one of its bouts of puritanical, patriotic republicanism, and the poor Duke Piero de’ Medici, already insecure at home, threw himself on the mercy of Charles as soon as he learnt that the little fortress of Fivizzano had fallen to the French. Sarzana, Sarzanello, Pietra Santa and the citadels of Pisa and Leghorn, all were delivered up without resistance, and on 17 November the pale little French king made his triumphal entry into Florence, lance balanced on thigh. The terrified Pope Alexander VI followed Piero’s example, and hastened to place his strongholds at the disposal of the French.

There was nothing to stand between Charles and the kingdom of Naples. The small Neapolitan citadel of Monte Fortino capitulated as soon as the cannon were planted against it; and the French took a mere eight hours for the business of breaching the important frontier stronghold of Monte San Giovanni and massacring its garrison. The place had once withstood a siege of seven years. With horrifying consistency the French later used the same cruelty at Capua in 1501, Pavia in 1527, and Melfi in 1528.

In the short term the impact of the new French methods was devastating, and on 22 February 1495 Charles was able to ride into the city of Naples in the same style as he had entered Florence.

The French successes had conjured up a hostile league of Venice, the Pope, Milan and Spain. Charles accordingly retraced his steps and smashed open his communications back to France. The king thereafter lost interest in his new conquests, and over the course of 1496 his negligence and cowardice permitted the Spanish to starve into submission all the strongholds in Naples – an episode which indicated that it was nowadays far easier to conquer a kingdom than to hold it.

The Spanish counter-attack and the gunpowder mine

Objections may be made to the choice of the year 1494 to mark the beginning of early modern fortress warfare. Italian military technology had not been entirely static and, as we shall see, the all-important device of the angle bastion was invented seven years before Charles VIII burst into Italy. Then again, the occasions on which the French needed to plant their cannon were surprisingly few, because fortresses tended to surrender at the very wind of their coming. However, Macchiavelli, Guicciardini and almost all the people who have written since about Renaissance warfare are surely right to stress the revolutionary impact of the French and their new artillery. What the authorities are talking about was essentially a Blitzkrieg, which depended as much for its effect upon speed, energy and the potential for destruction, as the actual scale of physical damage. Warfare was prosecuted with a new urgency and tempo, and, no less importantly, big-power politics intruded on Italian affairs.

The newly-revealed power of the offensive fired the ambition of all the hungry southern princes, and upset the equilibrium which had reigned among the major Italian states since the middle of the fifteenth century. In 15°2 the French and Spaniards came to blows over the possession of Naples. Acting with admirable energy, the Spanish defeated the French field army twice over, then proceeded to mop up the isolated enemy garrisons all over Naples.

Out of all the doomed strongholds, the Castle of Uovo (by the city of Naples) was certainly the one that was taken in the most spectacular fashion. Cannon alone were powerless to reduce the place, situated as it was on a narrow peninsula separated from the mainland by a deep ditch. The Spaniards, however, had in their ranks one Pedro Navarro, ‘a thin little man’, who had perfected the gunpowder mine, the one weapon capable of blasting the French from their rocky retreat.

Gunpowder mines had figured in the treatises of Taccola, Mariano of Siena, and Francesco di Giorgio Martini, but it seems that they were first used in actual warfare in 1439, when the Italian educated John Vrano used a countermine in his defence of Belgrade against Sultan Amurath. Under the direction of Martini, the Genoese used gunpowder below ground in their attack on the Florentine held fortress of Sarzanello in 1487. The effect on this occasion was small, for the gallery had not been driven far enough under the foundations. Pedro Navarro, who is said to have witnessed the experiment as a private soldier, went on to remedy this effect at the siege of the Turkish fortress of San Giorgio on the island of Cephalonia in 1500. On that occasion Navarro tunnelled out long galleries beneath the citadel rock, stuffed them with gunpowder ‘to excite the flames’, and produced a devastating flare-up.

The wording of the descriptions of these early mines leaves open the possibility that the powder charges were not primarily explosive in character, but rather intended to hasten the burning of the props which supported the undermined masonry. No such doubt attaches to Navarro’s device at the Castle of Uovo in 1503. He piled his men and tools into covered boats, brought them unknown to the French to the side of the cliff facing Pizzafalcone, and laboured for three weeks to drive a gallery through the rock. On 26 June the Spanish touched off the charge, and part of the rock sprang into the air. The governor and his council were at debate in the chapel above, and despite their misuse of these sacred precincts they were propelled heavenwards with greater force than all the saints of Christianity. Thus Navarro ‘gained great credit at this siege, and struck a terror into everybody’ (Guicciardini, 1562, Bk I).

For a time the older and newer methods of mining co-existed. As late as 1537 the Spaniards attacked Saint-PQI by cutting a gash in the salient of a tower, supporting the masonry by timber, and then burning away the props. In the main, however, besiegers avidly seized on the possibility of wrecking a wall by an explosion, rather than effecting its tame subsidence by the ‘burnt-prop’ method. The explosive mine furthered the work of the cannon in wiping from the strategic map the hosts of small medieval castles which had disrupted and bedevilled so many offensive campaigns in the past. Only a good wet ditch, or a deep and well-flanked dry one was capable of deterring the enemy from ‘attaching the miner’ to the scarp.



The search for ways to improve the flight performance of the CR.714C1 would inevitably lead designers to the idea of using a larger engine. One of the suitable samples was the RC-40 engine of the Italian firm Isotta-Frascini. According to the scheme, it corresponded to Renault 12R – 12-cylinder V-shaped inverted, but developed much higher power – 730 hp. At the same time the working volume of the Italian engine was 21 liters, while the “Renault”, which produced 450 hp, – 19 liters. The project for this engine was initially designated C.715. In December 1938, two prototypes were built (factory numbers 8978 and 8979). The second of them received an Italian motor, as well as the new designation CR.760 and serial number 01.

CR.760 differed from CR.714C1 not only by the engine – its fuselage was not wooden, but had a metal set of chrome-molybdenum pipes. The capacity of the fuel tank was increased to 305 liters. Armament also became more powerful-six 7.5 mm machine guns with an ammunition of 500 cartridges per guns. The production version planed  to replacement the machine guns with a pair of 20-mm guns.

The first copy of the CR.760 in the last quarter of 1939 was ground tested, but for the first time it took off on April 6, 1940, piloted by R. Delmott. In May, the aircraft flew well-known Italian pilot Arthur Ferrarin. The aircraft showed excellent flight data: the maximum speed was 570 km / h, the altitude of 4000 m reached 5 minutes. But  the mass production of the Cr.760 (due to the defeat of France) was never started. The only constructed specimen became a German trophy.

The Cr.770 is an easy fighter developed by the French firm Caudron. The aircraft became the further development of the lightweight Cr.714 Cyclone fighter. Work on the aircraft was conducted since 1939 in parallel with the development of Cr.760. The aircraft was equipped with a sixteen-cylinder air-cooling engine Renault 626 with a power of 800 hp. The aircraft received a reinforced (in comparison with Cr.714) armament consisting of six 7.5-mm MAC-34 machine guns. The first flight of the aircraft took place in June 1940. Further work on the aircraft prevented the German invasion of France.

A concept which persisted throughout World War II was that of the lightweight interceptor, inspired by the matter of mass production amid the exigencies of war. The lightweight fighters’ exact roles varied as much as did their builders’ approaches to achieving them; but they all sought to wring the highest possible performance from the smallest, lightest possible airframe, built using the greatest amount of easily available materials (usually wood) in lieu of strategic materials (such as aluminum). Another thing that most of them held in common was failure. Of the many lightweight interceptors created just before or during the war, only three attained production status, and only one could truly be called successful.

During the mid-1930s, the Service Technique de l’Aéronautique of the French Armée de l’Air laid down a specification for a lightweight interceptor that was influenced by the monoplanes, which were then attracting much publicity in speed competitions. The chosen design, the Caudron-Renault CR.710, was designed by Marcel Riffard and was based on his sleek C.460, which between 1933 and 1936 had been outperforming larger, more powerful aircraft in international competitions. (During which time Renault had bought up the Caudron firm in 1933.) Like the racing plane, Riffard’s CR.710 fighter was of wooden stressed-skin construction and characterized by a long, slim fuselage. Its power plant was a 500-horsepower Renault 12R 01 twelve-cylinder inverted-V air-cooled engine. The first prototype had fixed, spatted landing gear and oval-shaped vertical tail surfaces when it first flew on July 18, 1937, and later carried two wing-mounted drum-fed 20mm Hispano-Suiza HS-9 cannon. The second prototype, CR.710-02, featured more angular vertical tail surfaces, and the CR.713 introduced retractable landing gear. A third version, the CR.714, first flew on July 6, 1938, and differed from the CR.713 primarily in armament, the cannon being replaced by four 7.5mm MAC M39 machine guns, housed in two underwing trays.

After some final modifications, the CR.714, also known as the Cyclone, was ordered into production on November 5. The production CR.714 featured an improved 12R 03 engine, which had a carburetor that allowed negative-G maneuvers. It had maximum speed of 286 miles per hour at 16,450 feet, and climbed to 13,125 feet in 9 minutes and 40 seconds.

The original production order was for twenty CR.714s, with an option for a further hundred eighty, but once the fighter entered service, the Armée de l’Air judged it to be unsuitable for combat. Six were sent to Finland but arrived too late to take part in the Winter War, and desperate though the Finns were for any combat aircraft, they never used the Caudrons in battle. The other Cyclones were assigned to two training squadrons at Lyon-Bron, made up of expatriate Polish pilots. By June 2, a total of thirty-nine CR.714s had been delivered to the Poles, who flew them operationally as Groupe de Chasse I/145, also known as the 1ère Groupe Polonaise de Varsovie, under the joint command of Commandant Józef Kepinski and his French advisor, Commandant Lionel A. de Marmier, a six-victory World War I ace.

For all the Cyclone’s racy looks, the Poles soon became disenchanted with their new mount. It required a long takeoff and landing run; the landing gear release often jammed; the variable-pitch propeller mechanism was prone to failure; the rate of climb was slow and so was the aileron response. Worst of all was the 12R 03 engine, which had trouble starting, was plagued by a weak crankshaft, had a tendency to overheat, and suffered from fuel and oil leaks. Sous-Lieutenant Witold Dobrzynski was killed in a crash on May 19, and three other Caudrons were written off in landing accidents on May 25. After inspecting GC.I/145 on May 25, Air Minister Guy La Chambre considered grounding the interceptors. Kepinski chose to keep them in spite of their faults, however. His men wanted to fight, and with the German offensive in the West under way, they had little choice but to make do with the fighters they had until their intended replacements, Bloch MB.152s, became available.

On June 2, GC.I/145’s Cyclones flew from Villacoublay to the former RAF airfield at Dreux. Combat was joined on June 3, when Commandant de Marmier, Lt. Tadeusz Czerwinski, and Sous-Lt. Aleksy Zukowski dived on three He 111s and shot down two over Villacoublay. The unit carried out further patrols, but its next fight did not occur until June 8, when a flight led by Capitaine Antoni Wczelik engaged at least fifteen Messerschmitt Me 110Cs over Rouen. One Caudron was damaged, but the French confirmed the destruction of two Me 110s by Czerwinski, one each by Wczelik and Zukowski, and one shared between Sous-Lt. Jerzy Godlewski and Caporal Piotr Zaniewski. Kepinski and Sous-Lt. Czeslaw Glówczynski, who was already credited with three and a half enemy planes during the German invasion of Poland, scored probable victories over another two Me 110s.

Perhaps inevitably, GC.I/145’s luck took a turn for the worse the next day, when seventeen Cyclones encountered twenty-five Dornier Do 17s escorted by twenty Me 109Es. Malfunctioning radios prevented the CR.714 pilots from making a coordinated attack, and while Wczelik’s flight hurled itself at the bomber formation, other Poles found themselves engaged in individual duels with the German fighters. Glówczynski was credited with one of the Messerschmitts, along with probable credits for a second Me 109 and a Do 17 (he would add one more German to his score on December 30, 1941, as a Spitfire pilot in the RAF). Sous-Lieutenant Jerzy Czerniak and Sgt. Mieczyslaw Parafinski were credited with one Me 109 each, while Wczelik, Lt. Julian Kowalski, and Sgt. Antoni Markiewicz shared in the destruction of another of the bombers (the Germans reported no Do 17 losses, but Fw. Fritz Specht of II Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 54 returned to his base at Köln-Butzweilerhof on one engine with the tail and rudder of his Heinkel He 111P badly damaged after being attacked by enemy fighters over Evreux). Lieutenant Jan Obuchowski, Sous-Lt. Lech Lachowicki-Czechowicz, and Caporal Edward Uchto were killed, however, and Kowalski was wounded in the right arm, although he managed to land his damaged plane at Bernay. In addition, the riddled Caudrons of Commandant Kepinski and Sous-Lts. Jerzy Godlewski and Bronislaw Skibinski crash-landed in the Norman countryside, Czerniak crash-landed his shot-up plane at Dreux, and most of the other CR.714s returned in various damaged states.

Twelve of the group’s thirteen remaining CR.714s were operational as they attacked fifteen Do 17s and twelve Me 109s over Étampes on June 10. The Poles’ radios failed again, as de Marmier led them in a head-on attack against the bombers. One Dornier fell to de Marmier, a second to Czerniak, and Zukowski downed a third, while Capitaine Piotr Laguna accounted for an Me 109 over Henonville following a long pursuit. Kepinski was wounded in a lung by Me 109s, but in spite of a considerable loss of blood, he managed to make a wheels-up landing in a field. Capitaine Juliusz Frey, Lt. Waclaw Wilczewski, and Lt. Zdislaw Zadronski were also compelled to force land their shot-up planes.

Kepinski’s executive officer, Capitaine Laguna, took command of what remained of GC.I/145, but there was little left to take charge of. On June 11, French technicians removed the instruments from eleven of the group’s defective Caudrons and then burned them. The remaining twelve Cyclones were withdrawn to Sermaize, from whence eight of GC.I/145’s pilots were assigned to GC.I/1 and eight to GC.I/8, both of which were equipped with MB.152s. The Poles continued to fly missions until June 18, when they learned of France’s capitulation. Released from French service, they departed by ship from La Rochelle on the twentieth, to carry on their fight in Britain. Using hit-and-run tactics to make the most of their faulty fighters, the aggressive Poles of GC.I/145 had managed to shoot down twelve German aircraft and probably downed two others in the course of the Caudron-Renault CR.714’s brief fighting career.

MUSKETEER – Suez Crisis (1956)

Royal Marine commando raiding Port Said during Operation Musketeer- Suez Crisis 1956


The Suez Crisis was one of the major events of the Cold War. It ended Britain’s pretensions to be a world superpower, fatally weakened its hold on what remained of its empire, placed a dangerous strain on U. S.-Soviet relations, strengthened the position of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, and distracted world attention from the concurrent Soviet military intervention in Hungary.

The Suez Crisis had its origins in the development plans of Nasser. The Egyptian president hoped to enhance his prestige and improve the quality of life for his nation’s growing population by carrying out long-discussed plans to construct a high dam on the upper Nile River at Aswan to provide electric power. To finance the project, he sought assistance from the Western powers. But he had also been endeavoring to build up and modernize the Egyptian military. Toward that end, he had sought to acquire modern weapons from the United States and other Western nations. When the U. S. government refused to supply the advanced arms, which it believed might be used against Israel, in 1955 Nasser turned to the communist bloc. This step incurred the displeasure of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as did Nasser’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and his frequent denunciations of the U. S.-supported Baghdad Pact.

Resentment over Nasser’s efforts to play East against West and especially his decision to turn to the communist bloc for arms led the Eisenhower administration to block financing of the Aswan Dam project through the World Bank. U. S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had earlier assured Nasser of U. S. support, but on 19 June 1956, Dulles announced that U. S. assistance for the Aswan Dam project would not be forthcoming. The British government immediately followed suit.

Nasser’s response to this humiliating rebuff came a week later, on 26 July, when he nationalized the Suez Canal. He had contemplated such a move for some time, but the U. S. decision prompted its timing. Seizure of the canal would not only provide additional funding for the Aswan project but would also make Nasser a hero in the eyes of many Arab nationalists.

The British government regarded the sea-level Suez Canal, which connected the eastern Mediterranean with the Red Sea across Egyptian territory, as its lifeline to Middle Eastern oil and the Far East. The canal, built by a private company headed by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, had opened to much fanfare in 1869. It quickly altered the trade routes of the world, and two-thirds of the tonnage passing through the canal was British. Khedive Ismail Pasha, who owned 44 percent of the company shares, found himself in dire financial straits, and in 1875 the British government stepped in and purchased his shares. In 1878 Britain acquired the island of Cyprus north of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, further strengthening its position in the eastern Mediterranean north of Egypt. The British also increased their role in Egyptian financial affairs, and in 1882 they intervened militarily in Egypt, promising to depart once order had been restored. Britain remained in Egypt and in effect controlled its affairs through World War II.

In 1952, a nationalist coup d’état took place in Egypt that ultimately brought Nasser to power. He was a staunch Arab nationalist, determined to end British influence in Egypt. In 1954 he succeeded in renegotiating the 1936 treaty with the British to force the withdrawal of British troops from the Suez Canal Zone. The last British forces departed the Canal Zone only a month before Nasser nationalized the canal.

The British government now took the lead in opposing Nasser. London believed that Nasser’s growing popularity in the Arab world was encouraging Arab nationalism and threatening to undermine British influence throughout the Middle East. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (1955-1956) developed a deep and abiding hatred of the Egyptian leader. For Eden, ousting Nasser from power became nothing short of an obsession. In the immediate aftermath of Nasser’s nationalization of the canal, the British government called up 200,000 military reservists and dispatched military resources to the eastern Mediterranean.

The French government also had good reason to seek Nasser’s removal. Paris sought to protect its own long-standing interests in the Middle East, but more to the point, the French were now engaged in fighting the National Liberation Front (NLF) in Algeria. The Algerian War, which began in November 1954, had greatly expanded and had become an imbroglio for the government, now led by socialist Premier Guy Mollet (1956-1957). Nasser was a strong and vocal supporter of the NLF, and there were many in the French government and military who believed that overthrowing him would greatly enhance French chances of winning the Algerian War.

Israel formed the third leg in the triad of powers arrayed against Nasser. Egypt had instituted a blockade of Israeli ships at the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel’s outlet to the Indian Ocean. Also, Egypt had never recognized the Jewish state and indeed remained at war with it following the Israeli War of Independence during 1948-1949. In 1955, Israel mounted a half dozen crossborder raids, while Egypt carried out its own raids into Israeli territory by fedayeen, or guerrilla fighters.

During the months that followed Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal, the community of interest among British, French, and Israeli leaders developed into secret planning for a joint military operation to topple Nasser. The U. S. government was not consulted and indeed opposed the use of force. The British and French governments either did not understand the American attitude or, if they did, believed that Washington would give approval after the fact to policies undertaken by its major allies, which the latter believed to be absolutely necessary.

The British government first tried diplomacy. Two conferences in London attended by the representatives of twenty-four nations using the canal failed to produce agreement on a course of action, and Egypt refused to participate. A proposal by U. S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles for a canal “users’ club” of nations failed, as did an appeal to the United Nations (UN) Security Council. On 1 October, Dulles announced that the United States was disassociating itself from British and French actions in the Middle East and asserted that the United States intended to play a more independent role.

Meanwhile, secret talks were going forward, first between the British and French for joint military action against Egypt. Military representatives of the two governments met in London on 10 August and hammered out the details of a joint military plan known as MUSKETEER that would involve occupation of both Alexandria and Port Said. The French then brought the Israeli government in on the plan, and General Maurice Challe, deputy chief of staff of the French Air Force, undertook a secret trip to the Middle East to meet with Israeli government and military leaders. The Israelis were at first skeptical about British and French support. They also had no intention of moving as far as the canal itself. The Israelis stated that their plan was merely to send light detachments to link up with British and French forces. They also insisted that British and French military intervention occur simultaneously with their own attack.

General André Beaufre, the designated French military commander for the operation, then came up with a new plan. Under it, the Israelis would initiate hostilities against Egypt in order to provide the pretext for military intervention by French and British forces to protect the canal. This action would technically be in accord with the terms of the 1954 treaty between Egypt and Britain that had given Britain the right to send forces to occupy the Suez Canal Zone in the event of an attack against Egypt by a third power.

All parties agreed to this new plan. Meanwhile, unrest began in Hungary on 23 October, and the next day Soviet tanks entered Budapest to put down what had become the Hungarian Revolution. French and British planners were delighted at the news of an international distraction that seemed to provide them a degree of freedom of action.

On 29 October, Israeli forces began an invasion of the Sinai Peninsula with the announced aim of eradicating the fedayeen bases. A day later, on 30 October, the British and French governments issued an ultimatum, nominally to both the Egyptian and Israeli governments but in reality only to Egypt, expressing the need to separate the combatants and demanding the right to provide for the security of the Suez Canal. The ultimatum called on both sides to withdraw their forces 10 miles from the canal and gave them twelve hours to reply. The Israelis, of course, immediately accepted the ultimatum, while the Egyptians just as promptly rejected it.

On 31 October, the British began bombing Egyptian airfields and military installations from bases on Cyprus. British aircraft attacked four Egyptian bases that day and nine the next. When Eden reported to the House of Commons on events, he encountered a surprisingly strong negative reaction from the opposition Labour Party.

Following the British military action, the Egyptians immediately sank a number of ships in the canal to make it unusable. The Israelis, meanwhile, broke into the Sinai and swept across it in only four days against ineffective Egyptian forces. Finally, on 5 November, British and French paratroopers began an invasion of Port Said, Egypt, at the Mediterranean terminus of the canal.

The Eisenhower administration had already entered the picture. On 31 October, President Eisenhower described the British attack as “taken in error.” He was personally furious at Eden over events and is supposed to have asked when he first telephoned the British leader, “Anthony, have you gone out of your mind?” The United States applied immediate and heavy financial threats, both on a bilateral basis and through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to bring the British government to heel. Eisenhower also refused any further dealings with Eden personally.

A threat by the Soviet government against Britain on 5 November to send “volunteers” to Egypt proved a further embarrassment for the British government, but it was U. S. pressure that was decisive. Nonetheless, the world beheld the strange spectacle of the United States cooperating with the Soviet Union to condemn Britain and France in the UN Security Council and call for an end to the use of force. Although Britain and France vetoed the Security Council resolution, the matter was referred to the UN General Assembly, which demanded a cease-fire and withdrawal.

Israel and Egypt had agreed to a cease-fire on 4 November. At midnight on 6 November, the day of the U. S. presidential election, the British and French governments were also obliged to accept a cease-fire, the French only with the greatest reluctance. A 4,000-man UN Emergency Force (UNEF)- authorized on 4 November and made up of contingents from Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and the Scandinavian countries-arrived in Egypt to take up positions to keep Israeli and Egyptian forces separated. At the end of November, the British and French governments both agreed to withdraw their forces from Egypt by 22 December, and on 1 December Eisenhower announced that he had instructed U. S. oil companies to begin shipping supplies to both Britain and France.

Nasser and Arab self-confidence were the chief beneficiaries of the crisis. The abysmal performance of Egyptian military forces in the crisis was forgotten in Nasser’s ultimate triumph. He found his prestige dramatically increased throughout the Arab world. Israel also benefited. The presence of the UN force guaranteed an end to the fedayeen raids, and Israel had also broken the Egyptian blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba, although its ships could still not transit the Suez Canal. The crisis also enhanced Soviet prestige in the Middle East, and the UN emerged from the crisis with enhanced prestige, helping to boost world confidence in that organization.

The Suez Crisis ended Eden’s political career. Ill and under tremendous criticism in Parliament from the Labour Party, he resigned from office in January 1957. Events also placed a serious, albeit temporary, strain on U. S.- British relations. More importantly, they revealed the serious limitations in British military strength. Indeed, observers are unanimous in declaring 1956 a seminal date in British imperial history that marked the effective end of Britain’s tenure as a great power. The events had less impact in France. Mollet left office in May 1957 but not as a result of the Suez intervention. The crisis was costly to both Britain and France in economic terms, for Saudi Arabia had halted oil shipments to both countries.

Finally, the Suez Crisis could not have come at a worst time for the West, because the crisis diverted world attention from the concurrent brutal Soviet military intervention in Hungary. Eisenhower believed, rightly or wrongly, that without the Suez diversion there would have been far stronger Western reaction to the Soviet invasion of its satellite.

References Beaufre, André. The Suez Expedition, 1956. Translated by Richard Barry. New York: Praeger, 1969. Cooper, Chester L. The Lion’s Last Roar: Suez, 1956. New York: Harper and Row, 1978. Eden, Anthony. The Suez Crisis of 1956. Boston: Beacon, 1968. Freiberger, Steven Z. Dawn over Suez: The Rise of American Power in the Middle East, 1953-1957. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992. Gorst, Anthony, and Lewis Johnman. The Suez Crisis. London: Routledge, 1997. Hahn, Peter L. The United States, Great Britain, and Egypt, 1945-1956: Strategy and Diplomacy in the Early Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Kelly, Saul, and Anthony Gorst, eds. Whitehall and the Suez Crisis. London: Frank Cass, 2000. Kingseed, Cole C. Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis of 1956. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995. Kyle, Keith. Suez. New York: St. Martin’s, 1991. Louis, William R., and Roger Owen, eds. Suez, 1956: The Crisis and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Lucas, W. Scott. Divided We Stand: Britain, the United States and the Suez Crisis. Rev. ed. London: Spectre, 1996.


British Carriers at Suez 1956

Suez Operation I

Suez Operation II

Battle of Damme

William Longespee’s ships attacking the French ships during the battle of Damme. Artist Dariusz Bufnal

Philip II awaits his fleet.

The Battle of Damme was fought on 30 and 31 May 1213 during the 1213–1214 Anglo-French War. An English fleet led by William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury accidentally encountered a large French fleet under the command of Savari de Mauléon in the vicinity of the port of Damme, in Flanders. The French crews were mostly ashore, pillaging the countryside, and the English captured 300 French ships at anchor, and looted and fired a further hundred beached ships. The main French army, commanded by King Philip II of France, was nearby besieging Ghent and it promptly marched on Damme. It arrived in time to relieve the town’s French garrison and drive off the English landing parties. Philip had the remainder of the French fleet burned to avoid capture. The success of the English raid yielded immense booty and ended the immediate threat of a French invasion of England.

From 1211 onwards both kings were jockeying for positions in Flanders. John still hoped to reconquer Normandy, while Philip Augustus had designs on England. Both of them needed a stepping-off base in Flanders, especially access to the harbour of the Zwin, and to Flemish mercenaries. Early in 1213 the Pope, after a long altercation with John, excused his English subjects from their allegiance to him and strongly encouraged all Christian leaders to unite in efforts to depose him. This, as described by the chroniclers, gave Philip Augustus the justification he was seeking for planning an invasion of England.

Events then led up to the episode known as the Battle of Damme, perhaps better described as an important raid. In the spring of 1213, Philip Augustus moved his land forces north and invaded Flanders. He devastated Bruges and attacked Ghent, at the same time ordering a ‘large’ fleet to move north up the coast. How large this force really was is not known, but it probably consisted mainly of sailors from Poitou, who were far from home and by no means entirely dependable.

John, having decided the best form of defence was attack, sent his half-brother William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, over at the head of a considerably smaller fleet to reconnoitre and, if possible, to intercept the French. They probably sailed in mid-April, and would have reached the mouth of the Meuse (the Zwin) in a couple of days, where Longsword was surprised to find the port full of vessels. Having established that the ships were indeed French, he took the opportunity to capture or burn the larger ones anchored out in the middle of the channel leading up to Damme while the sailors had apparently gone ashore to plunder what remained of the wealth of Bruges.

Hearing the news of this disaster and concerned particularly about the fate of his pay-chests which were on board one of the ships, Philip Augustus broke his siege of Ghent and hurried to Damme, where he found the remainder of his fleet, the smaller ships, still pulled up on the mud. However, confronted with the difficulty of getting those ships away from Damme in the face of the English fleet lying in wait outside, and mistrusting the mercenaries from Poitou, who might turn traitor and change sides at any moment, he burnt the rest of his own boats rather than let them fall into English hands. As a result, he was without a fleet and had to abandon any thoughts he may have had of invading England that year.

King John Naval Campaigns

In the reign of king John whose loss of Normandy in 1205-6 had ensured the geographical separation of his territories in England and France and placed the southern coast of the Channel in the hostile hands of Philip Augustus, king of France.

The fundamental issue was the strength and power of the French monarchy. King John was determined to regain the Angevin lands seized by Philip Augustus in 1204. He found potential allies in the princes of the lands between France and Germany, many of whom – notably Ferrand, Count of Flanders, Renaud of Danmartin, Count of Boulogne, and Henry I of Brabant, whose daughter married Otto IV in May – were deeply nervous at the prospect of French domination. John’s diplomacy revived the strategy of Henry I, Henry II and Richard I, in seeking allies on the northern and eastern flanks of France. His intrigues were the more dangerous for Philip because of his family relationship with Otto IV, who claimed to be King of Germany and emperor. Philip decided to support the rival claimant to the Empire, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, who enjoyed the support of Pope Innocent III. Papal diplomacy and French money created a Hohenstaufen party and plunged Germany into a civil war, which rapidly became deadlocked. Thus Otto was drawn into the web of John’s plans for the recovery of the Angevin lands in France. Philip Augustus attempted to head off the coalition by invading England, but his fleet was destroyed at the sea-battle of Damme on 30 May 1213. At one stroke, England was freed from the fear of invasion, and Ferrand, Count of Flanders, was able to turn from the French king to an English alliance. 

John’s strategy was essentially a repeat of Henry I’s of 1124: Henry had called in his ally, the emperor Henry V, to invade France from the east while he fought on the Norman frontier.

John has also been linked with the growth of the idea that a fleet could be used in war as something more than a means of transport; in particular with the notion that `a naval offensive is the best and surest defence against a threat of invasion’. In 1213 France faced him with such a threat and, as well as using the diplomatic tactic of submitting to the Pope in order to remove Philip’s justification for his actions, John dispatched a fleet under William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury to Flanders. Both John and Philip had been actively seeking the support of Flemish lords in their quarrels and at this point Philip had invaded Flanders furious at the suggestion that the Count of Flanders had made a compact with John. He had also ordered the fleet which he had assembled in the mouth of the Seine to sail instead to the Zwyn, the area of the estuary of the Scheldt adjacent to the town of Damme. The English fleet also sailed to the Zwyn and from the tone of the chronicle it would seem that the commanders had no idea that they would find the French fleet already there. Despite their surprise they sent out scouts who confirmed that this was indeed the French fleet and also that it was virtually unguarded, most of the crews and the men at arms being on shore sacking the town and the surrounding countryside. The Zwyn at Damme was already a very shallow anchorage (the town is nowadays some distance from the sea) and it seems that some of the French ships were beached. Those at anchor were boarded, the few defenders overwhelmed, and the ships sailed back to England with their valuable cargoes of victuals and arms. Those on the mudflats were burnt once the spoils had been removed. Philip and his army on discovering this disaster were left with no option but to withdraw and to abandon the idea of invading England. In the context of the whole campaign, however, this English victory had no strategic importance; the final outcome, as in 1066, was decided by a land battle, the battle of Bouvines in 1214, a triumph for Philip.

Despite Brooks’ grand claims for a change in the perception of naval warfare, the nature of the engagement and the tactics used seem very traditional. The battle of Dover, however, which occurred in 1217 substantiates the theory of a new view of the possibilities of war at sea. When civil war broke out in England between John and the barons, the king should have been able to use his control of a relatively large group of ships to his own advantage. He failed, however to ensure the loyalty of the Cinque Ports. This made it possible for the rebellious barons, convinced that John had no intention of keeping the promises enshrined in Magna Carta, to receive help from the dauphin to whom they went so far as to offer the crown. French forces got ashore at Sandwich in May 1215. By the time of the king’s death in 1216 they controlled more than half the country.

Eustace the Monk

Eustace the Monk commanded the fleet needed to bring them to England. This seafarer called a viro flagitiosissimo (a real pain) by Matthew Paris was almost a legendary figure to his countrymen. He came from near Boulogne and may have had some early connection with the religious life. He gave it up, however, when his brother died without male heirs and by c. 1205 was in the service of king John. He seems to have conducted raids in the Channel and as far as the Channel Islands with a squadron of ships based on Winchelsea. By 1211 he was forced to flee from England and took service with the dauphin and was of great use to him in his English campaigns. The ballad written of his exploits includes many dramatic and unlikely stories involving magic and phantom ships among other things but it is clear enough that he was a skilled and experienced seaman.

For an introduction to naval tactics and combat, see: F. W. Brooks, `The Battle of Damme, 1213′ in The Mariner’s Mirror 16 (1930), 264-271; James Sherborne, `The Battle of La Rochelle and the War at Sea, 1372-1375′ in The Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 42 (1969), 17-29; Federico Foerster Laures, `The Warships of the Kings of Aragon and Their Fighting Tactics during the 13th and 14th Centuries AD’ in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration 16 (1987), 19-29; Susan Rose, Medieval Naval Warfare 1000-1500 (London, 2002); Ian Friel, `Oars, Sails and Guns: The English and the War at Sea, c. 1200-1500′ in War at Sea in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. John B. Hattendorf and Richard W. Unger (Woodbridge, 2003), 69-79; William Sayers, `Naval Tactics at the Battle of Zierikzee’ in Journal of Medieval Military History 4 (2006), 74-90; and Kelly DeVries, `God, Leadership, Flemings and Archery: Contemporary Perceptions of Victory and Defeat at the Battle of Sluys, 1340′ in Medieval Ships and Warfare, ed. Susan Rose (Aldershot, 2008), 131-150


La Sibylle in 1933, just after commissioning. A slightly larger ‘600-ton’ submarine, built some years after the Circé-class, she was 651 tons on the surface and 807 tons submerged. La Sibylle and her eight sister ships, including Orphée, Amazone and Antiope, could do a fair 9.5 knots submerged, but no more than 14 knots on the surface.

Jules Verne. Known as a ravitailleur de sous-marins, literally, a ‘refuelling ship for submarines’, the 4,350-ton vessel was an integral part of the French submarine forces operating from Britain in 1940.

To ensure a more flexible use of the French ships, First Sea Lord Churchill and Admiral Pound visited Maintenon [location of French Navy High Command] in September 1939 to meet with Admiral Darlan. It was agreed that in addition to help protect the steady stream of British troops transported across the Channel, the Marine Nationale would participate in the escort of certain Atlantic and Gibraltar convoys as agreed on a case-by-case basis. In return, asdic-equipped trawlers would be provided as well as general A/S and minesweeping competence. The mistrust between the two allies ran deep, though, and, in spite of the best of intentions, it would take time before any direct co-operation between the navies started to develop.

There were few targets for the French submarines deployed in the Atlantic and, after a while, the French Admiralty (l’Amirauté) decided to offer some of their long-range submarines as convoy escort, partly to free surface ships for other tasks, partly as it was believed the convoys would attract those German raiders and U-boats that might be at sea. From November 1939 to April 1940, the 1,500-ton submarines Casabianca, Sfax, Achille and Pasteur escorted at least eight Allied Halifax convoys as well as several convoys to Freetown or South Africa. Surcouf was also used for this purpose at times and the boats were occasionally diverted to purely French convoys to their own colonies.

In early 1940, after the loss of Seahorse, Starfish and Undine, it was agreed that French submarines should augment British submarines in the North Sea, working from British ports. Hence, the 13th and 16th submarine divisions were transferred from Brest to Harwich. The first three, the 600-ton boats Antiope, La Sibylle and Amazone, supported by the depot ship Jules Verne and minelayer Pollux, arrived at Harwich in the evening of 22 March 1940 to make the core of what was to become known as the 10th Submarine Flotilla by the British and Groupe Jules-Verne by the French. Capitaine de Vaisseau Felix Raymond de Belot was in overall command of the forces.

The French submarines were to operate under British control, but as Horton was uncertain of their operational efficiency he deployed them in the less exposed areas until they had gained more experience and proven their operational capabilities. By giving them billets in the approaches to the Heligoland Bight, west of the Westwall and in the northern approaches to the Strait of Dover, Ruck-Keene’s 3rd Flotilla could be moved further north, off the Norwegian coast and into the Skagerrak. In mid-April, five more submarines, Orphée, Doris, Thétis, Circé and Calypso also arrived, as did the 1,500-ton boats Casabianca, Sfax, Pasteur and Achille. The latter four were transferred to the 9th Flotilla at Dundee at the end of their first patrols. The final French submarine to operate from British ports in this period, the minelayer Rubis, docked in Harwich on 1 May, making the total number of French submarines in Britain thirteen.

The first of the French submarines to go on patrol from Harwich was La Sibylle on 31 March. The billet was off Terschelling and the patrol, which was quite uneventful, lasted for six days. After the patrol, the British liaison officer, Lieutenant Thomas Catlow, made a confidential report to Ruck-Keene and Horton of his observations, which makes for interesting reading:

The Commanding Officer [Lieutenant de Vaisseau Alphonse Raybaud] is an extremely competent and keen officer with a firm hold over officers and men. For a southern Frenchman he has equable temperament and I never saw him panic. [. . .] I had no opportunity to see him under true action conditions due to an uneventful patrol. His only weakness to date is his inability to take his boat alongside well, one, I consider, to his considerations for his `drowned’ fore-‘planes. Takes every precaution for the safety of his submarine, but [. . .] full of dash. [. . .]

In the French navy, there is a special rating, a Petty Officer, who does a 3-year course in Pilotage. He looks after the charts and pilots the submarine under the supervision of the Captain and officers. [. . .]

The coxswain of the submarine, the Patron [. . .], has complete hold on the crew and never at any time did I hear bickering or complaints. The crew of the submarine were keen and hardworking and of a pleasant disposition generally. Their discipline is very good and they show very marked respect towards their officers and Petty Officers [but] if a rating has an idea of his own, he immediately said so to the officer or Petty Officer, the matter was discussed and the best idea carried out.

Overall, Lieutenant Catlow compared La Sibylle with a British S-class submarine. She had some external fuel tanks, though, requiring pumps to access. These pumps had limited volumes and, frequently breaking down, could make fuel a concern, even on shorter patrols. Also, she had above-water exhaust outlets and could not be trimmed down when on the surface. To obtain fully charged batteries, La Sibylle needed five to six hours on the surface.

Submerged, depth-keeping was immaculate. Diving time was well over a minute, though Catlow believed they could do it significantly faster, once they had experienced a real emergency. Should the boat take up an angle during the dive, however, Lieutenant Catlow feared stability might become a challenge as she has a large and wide casing outside the pressure hull. For some reason, the French submariners coped poorly with the deterioration of air quality inside the boat after being submerged for some time. In spite of purifiers and oxygen being fed into the submarine’s atmosphere, they were troubled by the lack of fresh air, while Catlow was barely affected.

The patrols that Lieutenant de Vaisseau Raybaud and his men made while stationed at Harwich during April and May 1940 were largely uneventful. Disaster was near, though, when Lieutenant Marcel Balastre of Antiope mistook La Sybille for a U-boat and fired three torpedoes at her, west of Terschelling on 20 May. Fortunately the torpedoes missed. On her last patrol before returning to France, numerous technical problems started to appear and a spell in the yards was obviously becoming necessary.

Orphée under Lieutenant de Vaisseau Robert Meynier made only one short patrol out of Harwich, but this was quite eventful. In the afternoon of 21 April, two days into the patrol, while about midway between Ringkobing and Dundee, two torpedoes were fired on what turned out to be U51 under Kapitänleutnant Dietrich Knorr. Two U-boats had been sighted about fifteen minutes earlier and Meynier chased one of them at full speed to ascertain whether it was alien. When close enough, he and the British liaison officer, Sub-Lieutenant Peter Banister, agreed it was `definitely not British’ and decided to attack. On a parallel course to the German, on her starboard bow, the centre and stern torpedo turrets of Orphée were turned at a firing angle of 50 degrees. Time was of the essence, lest the U-boat should dive, and there was no time to set any gyro angles, just fire as soon as the tubes had been trained in the right direction. Only two torpedoes were fired, but Meynier ascertained they were running correctly through the periscope. Just before he went down, he could also see that the German started his diesels and made a small change of course, but believed this to be just routine. In fact, U51 had problems with her port diesel engine and made several attempts to restart it at the time of the attack. Orphée was not sighted at all, just the torpedo tracks. Once these were reported, Knorr sounded the alarm and made an emergency dive while turning to port, away from the tracks. For some reason, both torpedoes exploded close to the U-boat, making it `jump’ several metres. There was no damage, though, and as nothing further was heard from the enemy submarine, U51 fell back on her general course and continued homewards. Twenty-four hours later, she was safely moored in Kiel at the Tirpitzmole, having passed through the Kaiser Wilhelm Kanal during the afternoon of 22 April.

On board Orphée, two explosions were heard at about the expected time at short intervals, and it was believed erroneously that the torpedoes had hit. Concern about the second U-boat that had been sighted and a low battery made Meynier take Orphée away from the area after a brief look for wreckage through the periscope. Two days later, Orphée was back in Harwich. At the time, it was believed that a U-boat had really been sunk and Lieutenant Meynier and his crew received some attention, including in the French press, as the boat was awarded a Croix de Guerre for the assumed achievement. Orphée returned to Cherbourg on 3 June.

Doris in 1938

Another of the French boats operating out of Harwich in the spring of 1940 was Doris, a 600-ton, Circé-class coastal submarine. She had been commissioned in January 1930 after a lengthy building and work-up process and appears to have been continuously plagued by technical problems originating from being fitted with German Schneider diesels, which were unreliable and had a chronic lack of spares. Nevertheless, she was considered suitable for operating from bases in Britain as part of the 10th Flotilla.

A few days into her first patrol out of Harwich in late April, the port engine compressor broke down. This was serious as it meant the engine could not be used and Doris would only have the starboard engine available for running as well as charging. The patrol was terminated and Doris returned to Harwich on 25 April. There were no spare parts available on board Jules Verne and they had to be ordered from Toulon. This took time – all the more so, as the first crates with spares to arrive did not contain the actual parts needed.

Even so, Capitaine de Corvette Jean Favreul was asked to prepare for a sortie in early May to a billet north of the Frisian Islands, off the Dutch coast. Something was brewing and, fearing that a German invasion of the Low Countries was being prepared, VA(S) considered it necessary to have as many boats as possible guarding the area south of the Westwall.

Discussing with his flotilla commander, Favreul agreed that it would be possible to take air from the working starboard compressor and run the port engine at half power. With only one and a half engines, the submarine would be a sitting duck should they actually run into the Germans they were looking for, but the men of Doris were willing to take the risk. A series of letters left behind by the crew for their families show that they recognised their vulnerability and left Harwich with few illusions.

In the evening of the 7th and early morning of 8 May, around a dozen Allied submarines, including Doris, departed for the coast off Holland. To avoid errors with so many different Allied submarines in the area, each commanding officer was given orders not to attack any other submarine, unless it could be identified with absolute certainty as being German. Intelligence received at the Admiralty indicated that the Germans could read the British cypher-codes and thus had knowledge of the disposition of the Allied boats. This has been difficult to verify with certainty in this specific case, and there are no indications in the war diary of U9 that she was on anything but a normal patrol. It is true, though, that German intelligence to a large degree could read British naval signals at the time and could plot the position of vessels using their radios. In any case, new recyphering tables had been issued to most boats and the two that had not received new tables, Antiope and Thétis, were held back, patrolling the entries to Harwich.

Doris reached her billet off the Dutch coast between Ijmuiden and Den Helder by nightfall. She was not alone.

The 26-year-old Oberleutnant Wolfgang Lüth had taken his nimble type II U-boat through the Westwall, following the safe route Weg I the night before, towards a billet off the Dutch coast. By chance, this area overlapped partly with the southern part of the billet assigned to Doris. Due to numerous fishing boats, U9 had stayed submerged all day and only surfaced after dark at 22:27. It was starlit, with a new moon and moderate to good visibility. The fishing boats had largely returned to port, but the lights from ten or twenty of them could still be seen to the east, towards land, as U9 moved slowly southwards. About an hour and a half later the port lookout reported that what appeared to be the silhouette of a blacked-out submarine moved in front of some of the lights from the fishing boats, steering a northerly course, 3,000-4,000 metres (3,300-4,400 yards) away. Lüth turned towards the submarine (which was Doris), very carefully as he had the brighter western horizon behind him. Doris was apparently not zigzagging, but from U9 it looked as if she turned from a north-westerly course almost 180 degrees towards the south and then, a few minutes later, back again towards the north-west. Still, it does not appear Capitaine Favreul or anybody else on board ever realised that they were being stalked.

Finally, at about a quarter past midnight on the 9th, German time, Lüth had U9 in the position he wanted relative to his target and, turning towards it, fired two torpedoes: one electrical G7e running at 2 metres (6.5 feet) depth and one conventional G7a running at 3 metres (9.8 feet). The range was only about 750 metres (820 yards) and after less than a minute, there was a huge fireball. According to U9’s war diary, the G7e torpedo passed in front of its target while the G7a torpedo hit Doris just aft of the conning tower. This apparently set off a secondary explosion of one or more of the warheads in the French boat’s own dual mid-ship torpedo turret. Taking U9 over to the site of the explosion, there was nothing to be found of the other submarine except a large patch of oil.

Doris went to the bottom with forty-five men on board. There were no survivors and it is not known if anybody on board Doris saw the torpedoes approaching. The British liaison officer Lieutenant Richard Westmacot, Yeoman of Signals Harry Wilson and Telegraphist Charles Sales were lost with Doris.

Siege of Genoa (1746)

Italy and the naval bombardment of Genoa in 1684

At the same time as Strasbourg was being swallowed up in the north, the French appeared to give a clue to their sinister intentions elsewhere in Europe when they occupied Casale, a fortress in the Montferrat forty miles east of Turin. The Duke of Mantua was one of those hard-up petty potentates who abounded at the time, and after being sounded by the French he willingly parted with his enclave at Casale in return for a bribe.

It was bad enough that Louis got Casale at all, for it supplemented Pinerolo as a base for French operations on the Italian side of the Alps. The way in which the enterprise was carried out was more significant still, because the occupying force and the subsequent reliefs marched straight across Piedmontese territory without the formality of gaining the Duke of Savoy’s leave. In a similarly cavalier fashion the French made a naval bombardment of Genoa in 1684, simply because the republic appeared to be too friendly with Spain. This drastic measure confirmed the impression that Louis regarded north Italy as part of his own domains.

Piedmont and neighbouring states in the War of the Austrian Succession.

War of Austrian Succession

At the beginning of 1745, during the War of Austrian Succession the situation was altogether, in favor of the tenacious Maria Theresa. France, however, had in the meantime found a new ally in Genvoa, irritated by Piedmont and Austria for the threat to their possession of the Finale (Treaty of Aranjuez May 7, 1745). With the help of the Genoese, the two armies of the French-Spanish under Maillebois and Gages, came into Piedmont from the Riviera and defeated the Austro-Piedmontese at Bassignana (September 28), then occupied successively Tortona, Piacenza, Parma, Pavia, Alessandria, Asti and Casale, while Philip of Bourbon finally took Milan in December 19, 1745. In the Netherlands, France were dominant. The valiant Marshal Maurice de Saxe won the Anglo-Dutch at Fontenay (11 May 1745) and occupied Tournai (May 22), Ghent (July 10), Bruges (July 18), Oudenarde (July 21) and finally Ostend (July 23). To threaten England the French organized, in the summer of 1745, the landing of Charles Edward Stuart in Scotland (August 4).

In Germany, the French influence was almost nil, while England, threatened by Stuart, tried to reconcile once again Maria Theresa and Frederick II. The latter, however, due to the stagnation of diplomatic negotiations sort a military solution: won against the Austrians in Bohemia, invaded Saxony, won the battle of Kesselsdorf (December 15), occupied Leipzig and Dresden. So achieved his goal: Maria Teresa gave up Silesia and made peace (Treaty of Dresden, December 25, 1745).

France was supported by Spain, Naples, Genoa, and Austria, had as ally the kingdom of Sardinia, England, the Netherlands. The landing of the Stuart in Scotland caused, in the autumn of 1745, a general uprising of the Scots and caused terrible panic in London. But this uprising was ended with the battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746). The only consequence was the opportunity, given to Maurice of Saxony, to extend the involvement of the Austrian Netherlands, beating an Austrian army in Rocoux in September, and threatening Netherlands. On the other hand, Carlo Emanuele III took up the arms in agreement with Maria Theresa. So he reoccupied Asti on March 8, 1746, expelled the Franco-Hispanic armies from Piedmont and Lombardy, won in battle of Piacenza (June 16), that caused the enemy’s retreat into Genoa. At this time, the King Philip V of Spain died (July 9) and his successor, Ferdinand VI, was inclined towards peace and the withdrawal of his troops from Italy. The Austro-Sardinian pressed the enemy down on the Riviera, and Marshal Botta Adorno, occupied Genoa on September 7, while Carlo Emanuele III blockaded Savona, took Finale and pursued the Franco-Hispanic Army to Varo. Genoa underwent three months of harsh occupation by Austria, but due to a violent popular uprising, adroitly directed by the Genoese government (5-10 December 1746) freed itself.

The revolt in the Portoria district in Genoa against the Austrians in 1746, led by Giovan Battista Perasso (1735-1781) known as Balilla, 19th century print. Italy, 18th-19th century.

The Austrian alliance invaded Provence, with British naval support, but they were pushed back in 1747, while the Austrians failed to regain Genoa, which had rebelled against their control. The Genoese revolt of December 1746, a successful popular rising, prefigured much that was to be associated with the revolutionary warfare of the close of the century. The swiftly changing course of the conflict in Italy indicated the volatile character of war in this period.

Meanwhile, Carlo Emanuele III was able to occupy Savona (18 December). From Vienna, he asked for an expedition against Naples to chase away the Bourbons. But England did not want an absolute Austrian domination in Italy. So, Provence was invaded, the military port of Toulon was occupied and France was forced to halt its operations in the Netherlands. The Austro-Sardinian forces advanced to Antibes, but then retreated (February 1747).

In the last major conflict in Italy prior to the French Revolutionary War, Franco-Spanish forces failed in 1743-4 to break through the alpine defences of the kingdom of Sardinia, the most important possessions of which were Piedmont and Savoy. Politics offered a new approach: by gaining the alliance of Genoa in 1745, the Bourbons were able to circumvent the alpine defences and invade Piedmont from the south. Initial successes, however, were reversed in 1746 and the Austrians and Sardinians won a decisive victory at Piacenza (16 June 1746), ending, for the remainder of the ancien regime a quarter-millennium of French efforts to dominate northern Italy.

Fortress of Louisbourg

In a very rare display of joint effort the British North Americans managed to get this establishment into their possession in 1745.

Plan of Louisbourg, published at the conclusion of the French & Indian War, from Bellin’s Petit Atlas Maritime. The map shows major fortifications and includes a key locating 14 important points of interest.

Louisbourg was originally settled in 1713, and initially called Havre à l’Anglois. Subsequently, the fishing port grew to become a major commercial port and a strongly defended fortress. The fortifications eventually surrounded the town. The walls were constructed mainly between 1720 and 1740.

By the mid-1740s Louisbourg, named for Louis XIV of France, was one of the most extensive (and expensive) European fortifications constructed in North America. It was supported by two smaller garrisons on Île Royale located at present-day St. Peter’s and Englishtown. The Fortress of Louisbourg suffered key weaknesses, since it was erected on low-lying ground commanded by nearby hills and its design was directed mainly toward sea-based assaults, leaving the land-facing defences relatively weak. A third weakness was that it was a long way from France or Quebec, from which reinforcements might be sent.

Louisbourg was first captured by New England based British colonists in 1745, and was a major bargaining chip in the negotiations leading to the 1748 treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession. It was returned to the French in exchange for border towns in what is today Belgium. It was captured again in 1758 by British forces in the Seven Years’ War, after which its fortifications were systematically destroyed by British engineers.

Even counting in the St Lawrence settlements, the people of French Canada amounted to seventy thousand or less at the time of the Seven Years War, which put them at a numerical disadvantage of something like twenty to one compared with the British Americans to the south. Until almost the very end, however, the Canadians maintained a clear superiority in mobility and military prowess over the British – seemingly incredible assets which they owed to a greater centralisation of control (despite notorious corruption in high places), their skill at managing the canoe and the musket, the facility of water transport, and their generally good relations with the Indians.

In contrast, the open but far more thickly-settled British colonies of the eastern seaboard grew at the slow pace of self-sufficient agricultural communities. They were boxed into the north by the nations of the Iroquois confederation and their French associates, and to the west by the Appalachians. There was little sign of common purpose among the British colonies. Indeed, out of all the expeditions mounted by the British in the earlier wars the only ones which bore lasting fruits were the enterprises which wrested New Amsterdam (New York) from the Dutch in 1664, and gained Port Royal (Annapolis Royal) and the mastery of Acadia in 1710. Louis XIV had to renounce Acadia (a lightly settled coastal province) and the great island of Newfoundland at the Peace of Utrecht in 1713.

Building a Fortress

The French appreciated that they would have to take fresh measures to safeguard the seaward approaches to the St Lawrence. Already in 1706 an anonymous memorandum had urged the government to set up a fortified colony on lIe Royale (Cape Breton Island), which formed the southern shore of the entrance to the Gulf of St Lawrence:

The proposed establishment will concentrate all the fisheries in the hands of the French and deny them to the English altogether; it will defend the colonies of Canada, Newfoundland and Acadia against all the enterprises of the English … and ruin their colony at Boston by excluding them from this great tract of land; it will give refuge to our crippled vessels … it will promote Canadian trade and facilitate the export of its grain and other produce; it will furnish the royal arsenals with masts, yards, timbers and planks. (McLennan, 1957, 30-1)

The Conseil Royal decided in favour of the thing in 1715. The first small band of settlers came ashore in the following year, and the chief engineer of Canada, Jean-Francois du Verger de Verville began a series of lengthy reconnaissances. In 1721 work finally began on the new fortress of Louisbourg. The chosen site was on the east coast of the island at Havre al’Anglais, a roadstead capable of sheltering an entire French fleet, which might then bottle up any British ships that sailed into the St Lawrence. Verville planted the town on a peninsula, and closed off the neck by a perimeter of two full bastions, three curtains, and two half bastions – one on each of the seaward flanks. A highly original feature of the design was the way the full bastion to the right, looking from the town (Bastion du Roi) was formed into a miniature citadel with gorge wall, barracks, governor’s lodging and chapel. The one factor which the French left out of their calculations was the absence ofanything which could be termed a ‘building season’. The fog and rain prevented the mortar from drying out during the summer, and the imprisoned water froze every winter, with devastating results to the masonry. Verville disliked the Canadian climate intensely, and the Canadians still more, and he spent every winter in the comfort of France. Thus Louisbourg absorbed immense sums of money, without ever being in good repair, and Louis XV complained that he almost expected to see the ramparts of this costly ‘Dunkirk of America’ rising above the horizon of France.

In a very rare display of joint effort the British North Americans managed to get this establishment into their possession in 1745. The canny and popular merchant William Pepperell gathered 4,000 troops from the New England colonies (which was a considerable achievement in its own right) and sailed to Cape Breton Island in the company of Commodore Warren and 1,000 marines. The many seamen and backwoodsmen proved to be an immense Lhelp in building the siege batteries, though somebody complained that the force was ‘in great want of good gunners that have a disposition to be sober in the daytime’ (ibid., 152). There were no engineers with the expedition at all (until two officers arrived from Annapolis on 5 June), and the French were perplexed by the very irregularity and unpredictability of the conduct of the siege. Louisbourg fell on 17 June after six weeks of attack.

The new governor, Commodore Charles Knowles, had no very high opinion of any kind of fortress as a prize: ‘Neither the coast of Acadia nor any of the harbours in Newfoundland (except St Johns and Placentia) are fortified, and these but triflingly, and yet we always be masters of the cod fisheries for that year whether there be a Louisbourg or not’ (ibid., 175). Indeed, the British government was not disinclined to listen to the instances of the French, who at the peace conference at Aix in 1748 were determined to regain Louisbourg at almost any price. The Comte de Maurepas, the minister of marine, viewed the place as the guardian of both New France and the Grand Banks fisheries, which latter were of great economic importance and a nursery of seamen. Out of these considerations the French sacrificed Madras in far-off India and the brilliant conquests of de Saxe in the Netherlands.

The British accordingly gave up Louisbourg. They partially made up for the loss in 1749 when they built four forts and a barricade at Halifax on the adjacent peninsula of Nova Scotia (Acadia). Within three years Halifax had a population of four thousand, and the potential to become one of the most important avenues of entry for British power to North America.


Chard and Bromhead achieved a certain degree of fame, but there was another subaltern who became better known in Britain, though for quite different reasons: he once chose to be prudent rather than heroic. His fate was tied to the Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon, only son of Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie and the great hope of the French Bonapartists, who already called him Napoleon IV.

The Prince Imperial had been educated in England and had attended Woolwich, although he was not given a commission. After Isandhlwana, when reinforcements were being shipped out to Chelmsford, he begged to be allowed to go fight. Although Disraeli thought it would be ‘injudicious’, the Empress Eugénie enlisted the support of the Queen on her son’s behalf and he was at last permitted to go to war as a ‘spectator’. Chelmsford was told to look after him. The Prince wrote his will – the only document he ever signed as ‘Napoleon’ — and, taking the sword carried by the first Napoleon at Austerlitz, he sailed for Durban. There he donned the undress uniform of a British lieutenant and with a valet, a groom, and two horses – one of which was named ‘Fate’ – he proceeded to the front to join Chelmsford’s staff.

He was a lively, popular young man and eager to see action. He went out on a few patrols and worried his commanders by his dash and daring. The Duke of Cambridge had told Chelmsford: ‘My only anxiety on his conduct would be, that he is too plucky and go ahead.’ After one experience with the Prince, Buller refused to take responsibility for him. The Prince told Wood: ‘I would rather fall by assegai than bullets as it would show we were at close quarters.’ Chelmsford finally ordered that the Prince should remain in the camp unless he went out with a strong escort.

Chelmsford’s columns were now beginning to move into Zululand and the Prince was given the task of sketching the ground over which one of them travelled. One 1 June the Prince asked if he could extend his sketch to cover the ground they would be covering on the following day. The ground had already been gone over by a patrol and no Zulus had been seen, but orders were given that a dozen troopers accompany him. It was then that another staff officer, Lieutenant Jahleel Carey, apparently on an impulse, asked and obtained permission to go with the Prince.

Lieutenant Carey, son of a clergyman, was an exceptionally religious officer and devoted to his wife, two daughters and his mother. He had been commissioned in the 3rd West Indian Regiment and had taken part in a minor expedition to Honduras in 1867. Three years later he went on half pay in order to go to France with an English ambulance unit. He had now served fourteen years in the Army and had passed through the staff college. He had transferred to the 98th Regiment (North Staffordshire) and was soon to be gazetted captain. This was a fateful day in his life.

Not all of the troopers assigned to go with the Prince appeared – they reported to the wrong place – but Lieutenant Carey and the Prince took the seven men that did report and set off. A light rain was falling as they rode out of camp. Major Francis W. Grenfell saw them and called out to the Prince, ‘Take care of yourself, and don’t get shot!’ The Prince waved and replied that Carey would take good care of him.

It is not clear who was, or ought to have been, in command of this little party. Technically, of course, the Prince had no authority and Carey, as the only commissioned officer, was in charge, but the Prince seems to have given most of the orders and the soldiers obeyed him. Shortly past midday they halted at a deserted kraal, pulled thatch from a roof to build a fire, and made coffee. The kraal was, they knew, only temporarily deserted, ashes by one of the huts were still warm, but no lookouts were posted and no member of the party seemed anxious. Carey and the Prince discussed the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte as they rested and drank their coffee. About 3.30 they prepared to move on. The horses were saddled. The men stood by their horses’ heads. The Prince gave the preliminary order, ‘Prepare to mount!’ Each left foot was put in a stirrup. Then the order, ‘Mount’. And at that moment there was a crash of musketry and about forty Zulus ran screaming towards them. Most of the troopers gained their saddles and their horses carried them away, but the Prince’s horse shied and dashed off before he could mount. For a hundred yards he clung to a leather holster attached to the saddle; then a strap broke and the Prince fell beneath his horse.

The horse trampled on his right arm, but he leapt to his feet, drew his revolver with his left hand, and started to run. The Zulus were behind him running faster. One hurled an assegai that pierced his thigh. He stopped, pulled it out and turned on his pursuers. He fired two shots, but missed. Another assegai struck him in the left shoulder. He tried to fight with the assegai he had pulled from his thigh, but, weak from loss of blood, he sank to the ground. In a few moments he was overwhelmed. When found, his body had eighteen assegai wounds.

Of the Prince’s escort, two had been killed and one was missing. Lieutenant Carey and the four remaining men had been carried off by their frightened horses at the first volley but they stopped and came together in a depression about fifty yards from where the Prince was killed. None had fired a shot at the Zulus. To Carey it seemed foolhardy to return to look for the Prince when they were so obviously outnumbered. He led his men back to camp.

When Lieutenant Carey entered the officers’ mess he was greeted for the last time by a cheery remark from a fellow officer: Major Grenfell called out, ‘Why, Carey, you’re late for dinner. We thought you’d been shot.’

‘I’m all right,’ Carey said glumly, ‘but the Prince has been killed.’

The word soon spread through the camp. Chelmsford was shaken. All those responsible knew the importance of the tragedy, not only to the world at large but to their own careers and reputations. The wretched Lieutenant Carey sat down that night and wrote the whole story to his wife: ‘I am a ruined man, I fear. … But it might have been my fate. The bullets tore around us and with only my revolver what could I do. … I feel so miserable and dejected!’ He had reason for feeling sorry for himself. It was probably true that there was little he could have done to save the Prince and that he probably would have been killed himself had he tried. But he did not try. And for this he was condemned by every officer in Zululand; indeed, by every officer in the British army. He tried to find excuses for himself. Apparently he came to believe in his own blamelessness and to resent the scorn of his fellow officers. He demanded a court of inquiry to clear his name. The court met and recommended that he be court-martialled. At his trial Carey maintained that he had not been in command of the party but had only accompanied the Prince to correct his sketches. He did everything possible to shift the blame for the disaster onto the victim. He did not succeed. The court found him guilty of misbehaviour in the face of the enemy.

The news of the death of the Prince Imperial created a sensation in England. Queen Victoria heard of it on the forty-second anniversary of her accession to the throne while at Balmoral castle. The newspapers were soon full of it. It was the biggest story of the year and was given more coverage in the press than the defeat at Isandhlwana, and far more than the gallant defence of Rorke’s Drift.

Carey was sent back to England where he found considerable sympathy among civilians who did not understand the soldiers’ code and who thought that Chelmsford and the Duke of Cambridge were more to be blamed than he. Carey, in his talks with the many reporters who interviewed him, put more and more of the blame on the Prince. In spite of everything, Eugénie pleaded with Queen Victoria not to allow him to be punished and the Queen reluctantly wrote to the review board to ask them to drop the charge, which they did. Carey was ordered to report to his regiment, but he was still not content. He felt that he would be completely vindicated only if Eugénie received him. He wrote time and time again requesting this, but, unknown to him the text of the letter he had written his wife immediately after the fight admitting his cowardice, had been sent to Eugénie. He wrote and talked so much that at last the Empress released the letter to the press. Carey was ruined.

When he rejoined his regiment Carey found himself a pariah. No one spoke to him. Officers turned their backs when he approached them. He had disgraced his regiment and the army, and he was never forgiven. Oddly enough, he did not resign but endured this social hell for six years until he died in Bombay.

Soldiers and civilians obviously had different views of the affair. For the most part the soldiers kept their mouths shut, but Wolseley, writing to his wife, expressed the views of many officers when he said: ‘He was a plucky young man, and he died a soldier’s death. What on earth could he have better? Many other brave men have also fallen during this war, and with the Prince’s fate England as a nation had no concern. Perhaps I have insufficient sympathy with foreign nations; I reserve all my deep feeling for Her Majesty’s subjects.’

A month after the Battle of Ulundi, Cetewayo was captured and sent off to England. There on 14 August 1882 he was presented to Queen Victoria. She recorded the meeting in her journal: ‘Cetewayo is a very fine man in his native costume, or rather no costume. He is tall, immensely broad, and stout, with a good-humoured countenance, and an intelligent face. Unfortunately, he appeared in a hideous black frock coat and trousers. …’ Cetewayo could not wear his necklace of lions’ claws for it had been appropriated by Wolseley, who broke up the necklace, had the claws suitably mounted, and presented them to the wives of important men.

Cetewayo was later returned to Zululand and reinstated. The Queen thought this a mistake, but, as she told Sir Henry Ponsonby, ‘Cetewayo is unscrupulous, as might be expected, but he is not a fool; and I do not think he will with his eyes open come into collision with us again.’ She was right.

The British army went away to fight elsewhere and the Zulus were left to try to recover from their disaster. They never did. Eighteen years later Zululand was annexed to Natal. In 1906 the Zulus made a last attempt to be free, but their revolt was quickly suppressed. The Zulus still exist, one tribe among many in the Republic of South Africa, and they still make their distinctive black and white cowhide shields and their sharp assegais – tourists like them.