Opération Daguet I

Opération Daguet (Operation Brocket – young stag) was the codename for French operations during the 1991 Gulf War. The conflict was between Iraq and a coalition force of approximately 30 nations led by the United States and mandated by the United Nations in order to liberate Kuwait.

Operations Desert Shield, Granby and Daguet were the separate codenames of the American, British and French operations in Saudi Arabia.

France contributed 14,000 men, as part of Opération Daguet, under Lieutenant General Michel Roquejoffre, who commanded the French Rapid Reaction Force. The French force comprised Foreign Legion, Marine infantry, helicopter and armoured car units. The main formation was the 6th Light Armoured Division, with forty AMX-10C AFVs under Brigadier General Mouscardes. It should be noted that French divisions are smaller than their NATO counterparts and are typically reinforced brigades. However, the 6th Division was augmented with reinforcements that included the 4th Dragoon Regiment, a tank unit equipped with forty-four AMX-30B2 tanks, from the French 10th Armoured Division. Although the AMX-30B2 model was old and due to be replaced by the Leclerc, it was more than able to deal with most Iraqi tanks.

The French participation in the Gulf War saw the deployment of the 6e Division Légère Blindée (“6th Light Armored Division”), referred to for the duration of the conflict as the Division Daguet. Most of its armored component was provided by the AMX-10RCs of the cavalry reconnaissance regiments, but a heavy armored unit, the 4e Régiment de Dragons (“4th Dragoon Regiment”) was also sent to the region with a complement of 44 AMX-30B2s. Experimentally, a new regimental organisational structure was used, with three squadrons of thirteen tanks, a command tank and six reserve vehicles, instead of the then normal strength of 52 units. Also six older AMX-30Bs were deployed, fitted with Soviet mine rollers provided by Germany from East German stocks, and named AMX 30 Demin. The vehicles were all manned by professional crews, without conscripts. The Daguet Division was positioned to the West of Coalition forces, to protect the right flank of the U. S. XVIII Airborne Corps. This disposition gave the French commander greater autonomy, and also lessened the likelihood of encountering Iraqi T-72s, which were superior both to the AMX-10RCs and the AMX-30B2s. With the beginning of the ground offensive of 24 February 1991, French forces moved to attack its first target, “Objective Rochambeau”, that was defended by a brigade from the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division. A raid by Gazelle helicopters paved the way for an attack by the 4e Régiment de Dragons. Demoralized by heavy coalition bombardments, the Iraqi defenders rapidly surrendered. The following day, the 4e Dragons moved on to their next objective, “Chambord”, where they reported destroying ten tanks, three BMPs, fifteen trucks and five mortars with the assistance of USAF A-10s, and capturing numerous prisoners. The final objective was the As-Salman air base (“Objective White”), that was reported captured by 18:15, after a multi-pronged attack, with the 4e Dragons attacking from the South. In all, the AMX-30s fired 270 main gun rounds in anger.

The 100-hour Ground War

On 24 February, when ground operations started in earnest, coalition forces were poised along a line that stretched from the Persian Gulf westward three hundred miles into the desert. The XVIII Airborne Corps, under General Luck, held the left, or western, flank and consisted of the 82d Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), the French 6th Light Armored Division, the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the 12th and 18th Aviation Brigades. The VII Corps was deployed to the right of the XVIII Airborne Corps and consisted of the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), the 1st Cavalry Division (Armored), the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions, the British 1st Armoured Division, the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the 11th Aviation Brigade. These two corps covered about two-thirds of the line occupied by the larger multinational force.

Three commands held the eastern one-third of the front. Joint Forces Command-North, made up of formations from Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia and led by His Royal Highness Lt. Gen. Prince Khalid ibn Sultan, held the portion of the line east of the VII Corps. To the right of these allied forces stood Lt. Gen. Walter E. Boomer’s I Marine Expeditionary Force, which had the 1st (Tiger) Brigade of the Army’s 2d Armored Division as well as the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions. Joint Forces Command-East on the extreme right, or eastern, flank anchored the line at the Persian Gulf. This organization consisted of units from all six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Like Joint Forces Command-North, it was under General Khalid’s command.

Day One: 24 February 1991

After thirty-eight days of continuous air attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait, President Bush directed the U. S. Central Command to proceed with the ground offensive. General Schwarzkopf unleashed all-out attacks against Iraqi forces very early on 24 February at three points along the coalition line. In the far west, the French 6th Light Armored Division and the 101st Airborne Division started the massive western envelopment with a ground assault to secure the coalition left flank and an air assault to establish forward support bases deep in Iraqi territory. (Map 4) In the approximate center of the coalition line, along the Wadi al Batin, Maj. Gen. John H. Tilelli Jr.’s 1st Cavalry Division attacked north into a concentration of Iraqi divisions whose commanders remained convinced that the coalition would use that and several other wadis as avenues of attack. In the east, two Marine divisions, with the Army’s Tiger Brigade and coalition forces under Saudi command, attacked north into Kuwait. Faced with major attacks from three widely separated points, the Iraqi command had to begin its ground defense of Kuwait and the homeland by dispersing its combat power and logistical capability.

The attack began from the XVIII Airborne Corps’ sector along the left flank. At 0100, Brig. Gen. Bernard Janvier sent scouts from his French 6th Light Armored Division into Iraq on the extreme western end of General Luck’s line. Three hours later, the French main body attacked during a light rain. Their objective was As Salman, little more than a crossroads with an airfield about ninety miles inside Iraq. Reinforced by the 2d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, the French crossed the border unopposed and raced north into the darkness.

Before the French reached As Salman, they found some very surprised outposts of the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division. General Janvier immediately sent his missile-armed Gazelle attack helicopters against the dug-in enemy tanks and bunkers. Late intelligence reports had assessed the 45th as only about 50 percent effective after weeks of intensive coalition air attacks and psychological operations, an assessment soon confirmed by its feeble resistance. After a brief battle that cost them two dead and twenty-five wounded, the French held twenty-five hundred prisoners and controlled the enemy division area, now renamed Rochambeau. Janvier pushed his troops on to As Salman, which they took without opposition and designated Objective White. The French consolidated White and waited for an Iraqi counterattack that never came. The coalition’s left flank was secure. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr.’s 82d Airborne Division carried out a mission that belied its airborne designation. While the division’s 2d Brigade moved with the French, its two remaining brigades, the 1st and 3d, trailed the advance and cleared a two-lane highway into southern Iraq as the main supply route for the troops, equipment, and supplies supporting the advance north.

The XVIII Airborne Corps’ main attack, led by Maj. Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III’s 101st Airborne Division, was scheduled for 0500; but fog over the objective forced a delay. While the weather posed problems for aviation and ground units, it did not abate direct-support fire missions. Corps artillery and rocket launchers poured fire on objectives and approach routes. At 0705, Peay received the word to attack. Screened by Apache and Cobra attack helicopters, sixty Black Hawk and forty Chinook choppers of the XVIII Airborne Corps’ 18th Aviation Brigade began lifting the 1st Brigade into Iraq. The initial objective was Forward Operating Base (FOB) cobra, a point some one hundred ten miles into Iraq. A total of three hundred helicopters ferried the 101st’s troops and equipment into the objective area in one of the largest helicopter-borne operations in military history.

Wherever Peay’s troops went during those initial attacks, they achieved tactical surprise over the scattered and disorganized foe. By midafternoon, they had a fast-growing group of stunned prisoners in custody and were expanding FOB cobra into a major refueling point twenty miles across to support subsequent operations. Heavy CH-47 Chinook helicopters lifted artillery pieces and other weapons into cobra, as well as fueling equipment and building materials to create a major base. From the Saudi border, XVIII Corps support command units drove seven hundred high-speed support vehicles north with the fuel, ammunition, and supplies to support a drive to the Euphrates River.

As soon as the 101st secured cobra and refueled the choppers, it continued its jump north. By the evening of the twenty-fourth, its units had cut Highway 8, about one hundred seventy miles into Iraq. Peay’s troops had now closed the first of several roads connecting Iraqi forces in Kuwait with Baghdad. Spearhead units were advancing much faster than expected. To keep the momentum of the corps intact, General Luck gave subordinate commanders wider freedom of movement. He became their logistics manager, adding assets at key times and places to maintain the advance. But speed caused problems for combat support elements. Tanks that could move up to fifty miles per hour were moving outside the support fans of artillery batteries that could displace at only twenty-five to thirty miles per hour. Luck responded by leapfrogging his artillery battalions and supply elements, a solution that cut down on fire support since only half the pieces could fire while the other half raced forward. As long as Iraqi opposition remained weak, the risk was acceptable.

In the XVIII Corps’ mission of envelopment, the 24th Infantry Division had the central role of blocking the Euphrates River valley to prevent the northward escape of Iraqi forces in Kuwait and then attacking east in coordination with the VII Corps to defeat the armor-heavy divisions of the Republican Guard Forces Command. Maj. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey’s division had come to the theater better prepared for combat in the desert than any other in Army Central Command. Designated a Rapid Deployment Force division a decade earlier, the 24th combined the usual mechanized infantry division components-an aviation brigade and three ground maneuver brigades plus combat support units-with extensive desert training and desert-oriented medical and water-purification equipment.

When the attack began, the 24th was as large as a World War I division, with twenty-five thousand soldiers in thirty-four battalions. Its 241 Abrams tanks and 221 Bradley fighting vehicles provided the necessary armor punch to penetrate Republican Guard divisions. But with ninety-four helicopters and over sixty-five hundred wheeled and thirteen hundred other tracked vehicles-including seventy-two self-propelled artillery pieces and nine multiple rocket launchers-the division had given away nothing in mobility and firepower.

General McCaffrey began his division attack at 1500 with three subordinate units on line: the 197th Infantry Brigade on the left, the 1st Infantry Brigade in the center, and the 2d Infantry Brigade on the right. Six hours before the main attack, the 2d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, had pushed across the border and scouted north along the two combat trails toward the Iraqi lines. The reconnaissance turned up little evidence of the enemy, and the rapid progress of the division verified the scouts’ reports. McCaffrey’s brigades pushed about fifty miles into Iraq, virtually at will, and reached a position a little short of FOB cobra in the 101st Airborne Division’s sector.

In their movement across the line of departure and whenever not engaging enemy forces, battalions of the 24th Infantry Division generally moved in “battle box” formation. With a cavalry troop screening five to ten miles to the front, four companies, or multiplatoon task forces, dispersed to form corner positions. Heavier units of the battalion, whether composed of tanks or Bradleys, occupied one or both of the front corners. One company or smaller units advanced outside the box to provide flank security. The battalion commander placed inside the box the vehicles carrying ammunition, fuel, and water needed to continue the advance in jumps of about forty miles. The box covered a front of about four to five miles and extended about fifteen to twenty miles front to rear.

Following a screen of cavalry and a spearhead of the 1st and 4th Battalions, 64th Armor, McCaffrey’s division continued north, maintaining a speed of twenty-five to thirty miles per hour. In the flat terrain, the 24th kept on course with the aid of long-range electronic navigation, a satellite-reading triangulation system in use for years before Desert storm. Night did not stop the division, thanks to more recently developed image-enhancement scopes and goggles and infrared- and thermal-imaging systems sensitive to personnel and vehicle heat signatures. Around midnight, McCaffrey stopped his brigades on a line about seventy-five miles inside Iraq. Like the rest of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 24th Division had established positions deep inside Iraq against surprisingly light opposition.

The VII Corps, consisting mainly of the 1st Infantry Division, the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions, the 1st Cavalry Division, the British 1st Armoured Division and the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, had the mission of finding, attacking, and destroying the heart of Saddam Hussein’s ground forces, the armor-heavy Republican Guard. In preparation for that, Central Command had built up General Franks’ organization until it resembled a mini army more than a traditional corps. The “Jayhawk” corps of World War II fame numbered more than one hundred forty-two thousand soldiers compared with Luck’s one hundred sixteen thousand. To keep his troops moving and fighting, General Franks had more than forty-eight thousand five hundred vehicles and aircraft, including 1,587 tanks, 1,502 Bradleys and armored personnel carriers, 669 artillery pieces, and 223 attack helicopters. To provide a sense of the logistical challenge to keep such a phalanx supplied, for every day of offensive operations the corps needed 5.6 million gallons of fuel, 3.3 million gallons of water, and 6,075 tons of ammunition.

The plan of advance for the VII Corps paralleled that of Luck’s corps to the west: a thrust north into Iraq, a massive turn to the right, and then an assault to the east into Kuwait. Because Franks’ sector lay east of Luck’s-in effect closer to the hub of the envelopment wheel-the VII Corps had to cover less distance than the XVIII Airborne Corps. But intelligence reports and probing attacks into Iraqi territory in mid-February had shown that the VII Corps faced a denser concentration of enemy units than did the XVIII Corps farther west. Once the turn to the right was complete, both corps would coordinate their attacks east so as to trap Republican Guard divisions between them and then press the offensive along their wide path of advance until Iraq’s elite units either surrendered, retreated, or were destroyed.

General Schwarzkopf originally had planned the VII Corps attack for 25 February, but the XVIII Airborne Corps advanced so quickly against such weak opposition that he moved up his armor attack by fourteen hours. Within his own sector, Franks planned a feint and envelopment much like the larger overall strategy. On the VII Corps’ right, along the Wadi al Batin, the 1st Cavalry Division would make a strong but limited attack directly to its front. While Iraqi units reinforced against the 1st Cavalry, Franks would send two divisions through sand berms and mines on the corps’ right and two more divisions on an “end around” into Iraq on the corps’ left.

On 24 February, the 1st Cavalry Division crossed the line of departure and hit the Iraqi 27th Infantry Division. That was not their first meeting. General Tilelli’s division had actually been probing the Iraqi defenses for some time. As these limited thrusts continued in the area that became known as the Ruqi Pocket, Tilelli’s men found and destroyed elements of five Iraqi divisions, evidence that the 1st succeeded in its theater reserve mission of drawing and holding enemy units.

The main VII Corps attack, coming from farther west, caught the defenders by surprise. At 0538, Franks sent Maj. Gen. Thomas G. Rhame’s 1st Infantry Division forward. The division plowed through the berms and hit trenches full of enemy soldiers. Once astride the trench lines, it turned the plow blades of its tanks and combat earthmovers along the Iraqi defenses and, covered by fire from Bradley crews, began to fill them in. The 1st Division neutralized ten miles of Iraqi lines this way, killing or capturing all of the defenders without losing one soldier, and proceeded to cut twenty-four safe lanes through the minefields for passage of the British 1st Armoured Division. On the far left of the corps sector and at the same time, the 2d ACR swept around the Iraqi obstacles and led 1st and 3d Armored Divisions into enemy territory.

The two armored units moved rapidly toward their objective, the town of Al Busayyah, site of a major logistical base about eighty miles into Iraq. The 1st Armored Division on the left along the XVIII Airborne Corps’ boundary and the 3d Armored Division on its right moved in compressed wedges fifteen miles wide and thirty miles deep. Screened by cavalry squadrons, the divisions deployed tank brigades in huge triangles, with artillery battalions between flank brigades and support elements in nearly one thousand vehicles trailing the artillery.

Badly mauled by air attacks before the ground operation and surprised by Franks’ envelopment, Iraqi forces offered little resistance. The 1st Infantry Division destroyed two T-55 tanks and five armored personnel carriers in the first hour and began taking prisoners immediately. Farther west, the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions quickly overran several small infantry and armored outposts. Concerned that his two armored units were too dispersed from the 1st Infantry Division for mutual reinforcement, Franks halted the advance with both armored elements on the left only twenty miles into Iraq. For the day, the VII Corps rounded up about thirteen hundred of the enemy.

In the east, the U. S. Marine Central Command (MARCENT) began its attack at 0400. General Boomer’s I MEF aimed directly at its ultimate objective, Kuwait City. The Tiger Brigade, 2d Armored Division, and the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions did not have as far to go to reach their objective as did Army units to the west-Kuwait City lay between thirty-five and fifty miles to the northeast, depending on the border-crossing point-but they faced more elaborate defense lines and a tighter enemy concentration. The 1st Marine Division led from a position in the vicinity of the elbow of the southern Kuwaiti border and immediately began breaching berms and rows of antitank and antipersonnel mines and several lines of concertina wire. The unit did not have Abrams tanks, but its M60A3 Patton tanks and TOW-equipped high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, supported by heavy artillery, proved sufficient against Iraqi T-55 and T-62 tanks. After the marines destroyed two tanks in only a few minutes, three thousand Iraqis surrendered.

At 0530, the 2d Marine Division, with Col. John B. Sylvester’s Tiger Brigade on its west flank, attacked in the western part of the MARCENT sector. The Army armored brigade, equipped with M1A1 Abrams tanks, gave the marines enough firepower to defeat any armored units the Iraqis put between Boomer’s force and Kuwait City. The first opposition came from a berm line and two mine belts. Marine M60A1 tanks with bulldozer blades quickly breached the berm, but the mine belts required more time and sophisticated equipment. Marine engineers used mine-clearing line charges and M60A1 tanks with forked mine plows to clear six lanes in the division center, between the Umm Qudayr and Al Wafrah oil fields. By late afternoon, the Tiger Brigade had passed the mine belts. As soon as other units passed through the safe lanes, the 2d Marine Division repositioned to continue the advance north, with regiments on the right and in the center and the Tiger Brigade on the left tying in with the coalition forces.

Moving ahead a short distance to a major east-west highway by the end of the day, the 2d Marine Division captured intact the Iraqi 9th Tank Battalion with thirty-five T-55 tanks and more than five thousand men. Already, on the first day of ground operations, the number of captives had become a problem in the marine sector. After a fight for Al Jaber Airfield, during which the 1st Marine Division destroyed twenty-one tanks, another three thousand prisoners were seized. By the end of the day, the I Marine Expeditionary Force had worked its way about twenty miles into Kuwait and taken nearly ten thousand Iraqi prisoners.

Opération Daguet II

Day Two: 25 February 1991

On 25 February, XVIII Airborne Corps units continued their drive into Iraq. The 82d Airborne Division began its first sustained movement of the war; although, to the disappointment of General Johnson and his troops, the division had to stay on the ground and rode to its objectives in trucks. The 82d followed the French 6th Light Armored Division north to As Salman. Meanwhile, the 101st Airborne Division sent its 3d Brigade out of objective cobra on an air-assault jump north to occupy an observation and blocking position on the south bank of the Euphrates River just west of the town of An Nasinyah.

In the early morning darkness of the same day, General McCaffrey put his 24th Infantry Division in motion toward its first major objective. Following close air support and artillery fires, the division’s 197th Brigade attacked at 0300 toward Objective BROWN in the western part of the division sector. Instead of determined opposition, the brigade found only a handful of hungry Iraqis dazed by the heavy artillery preparation. By 0700, the 197th had cleared the area around BROWN and established blocking positions to the east and west along a trail, which was then being improved to serve as the Corps main supply route. Six hours later, the division’s 2d Brigade followed its own artillery fires and attacked Objective GREY on the right, encountering no enemy fire and taking three hundred prisoners. After clearing the area, the brigade set blocking positions to the east.

At 1450, with the 2d Brigade on Objective GREY, the 1st Brigade moved northwest into the center of the division sector and then angled to the division right, attacking Objective RED directly north of grey. Seven hours later, the brigade had cleared the RED area, set blocking positions to the east and north, and processed two hundred captives. To the surprise of all, the 24th Division had taken three major objectives and hundreds of men in only nineteen hours while meeting weak resistance from isolated pockets of Iraqi soldiers from the 26th and 35th Infantry Divisions. By the end of the day, the XVIII Airborne Corps had advanced in all division sectors to take important objectives, establish a functioning forward operating base, place brigade-size blocking forces in the Euphrates River valley, and capture thousands of prisoners of war-at a cost of two killed in action and two missing.

In the VII Corps, General Franks faced two problems on this second day of ground operations. The British 1st Armoured Division, one of the units he had to have when he met the Republican Guard armored force, had begun passage of the mine breach cut by the 1st Infantry Division at 1200 on the twenty-fifth but would not be completely through for several hours, possibly not until the next day. With the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions along the western edge of the corps sector and the British not yet inside Iraq, the 1st Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions lay vulnerable to an armored counterattack.

A more troubling situation had developed along the VII Corps’ right flank. The commitment of some coalition contingents had concerned General Schwarzkopf months before the start of the ground war. Worried about postwar relations with Arab neighbors, some Arab members of the coalition had expressed reluctance to attack Iraq or even enter Kuwait. If enough of their forces sat out the ground phase of the war, the entire mission of liberating Kuwait might fail. To prevent such a disaster, Schwarzkopf had put the 1st Cavalry Division next to coalition units and gave the division the limited mission of conducting holding attacks and standing by to reinforce allies on the other side of the Wadi al Batin. If Joint Forces Command-North performed well, the division would be moved from the corps boundary and given an attack mission. Action on the first day of the ground war bore out the wisdom of holding the unit ready to reinforce allies to the east. Syrian and Egyptian forces had not moved forward, and a huge gap had opened in the coalition line. U. S. Central Command notified the 2d ACR to prepare to assist the 1st Cavalry Division in taking over the advance east of the Wadi al Batin.

But Franks could not freeze his advance indefinitely. The VII Corps had to press the attack where possible, and that meant on the left flank. Maj. Gen. Ronald H. Griffith’s 1st Armored Division and Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk’s 3d Armored Division resumed their advance north shortly after daybreak. Griffith’s troops made contact first, with outpost units of the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division. With the 1st Armored Division still about thirty-five to forty miles away from its objective, Griffith’s troops coordinated close air support strikes followed by attack helicopter runs on enemy targets. As the division closed to about ten to fifteen miles, artillery, rocket launchers, and tactical missile batteries delivered preparatory fires. As division lead elements came into visual range, psychological operations teams broadcast surrender appeals. If the Iraqis fired on the approaching Americans, the attackers repeated artillery, rocket, and missile strikes. In the experience of the 1st Armored Division, that sequence was enough to gain the surrender of most Iraqi Army units on a given objective. Only once did the Iraqis mount an attack after a broadcast; and in that instance, a 1st Armored Division brigade destroyed forty to fifty tanks and armored personnel carriers in ten minutes at a range of 1.2 miles.

By the late morning of 25 February, Joint Forces Command-North had made enough progress to allow the VII Corps and Marine Central Command on the flanks to resume their advance. That afternoon and night in the 1st Infantry Division sector, the Americans expanded their mine breach and captured two enemy brigade command posts and the 26th Infantry Division command post with a brigadier general and complete staff. Behind them, the British 1st Armoured Division made good progress through the mine breach and prepared to turn right and attack the Iraqi 52d Armored Division.

Approaching Al Busayyah in early afternoon, the 1st Armored Division directed close air support and attack helicopter sorties on an Iraqi brigade position, destroying artillery pieces, several vehicles, and taking nearly three hundred prisoners. That night, the 2d ACR and 3d Armored Division oriented east and encountered isolated enemy units under conditions of high winds and heavy rains.

With the coalition advance well under way all along the line, a U. S. Navy amphibious force made its final effort to convince the Iraqis that CENTCOM would launch a major amphibious assault into Kuwait. Beginning late on 24 February and continuing over the following two days, the Navy landed the 7,500-man 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Al Mish’ab, Saudi Arabia, about twenty-eight miles south of the border with Kuwait. Once ashore, the 5th became the reserve for Joint Forces Command-East. Later investigation showed that the presence of the amphibious force in Persian Gulf waters before the ground war had forced the Iraqi command to hold in Kuwait as many as four divisions to meet an amphibious assault that never materialized.

At daybreak on 25 February, Iraqi units made their first counterattack in the Marine sector, hitting the 2d Marine Division right and center. While Marine regiments fought off an effort that they named the Reveille Counterattack, troops of the Tiger Brigade raced north on the left. In the morning, the brigade cleared one bunker complex and destroyed seven artillery pieces and several armored personnel carriers. After a midday halt, the brigade cleared another bunker complex and captured the Iraqi 116th Brigade commander among a total of eleven hundred prisoners of war for the day. In the center of the corps sector, the marines overran an agricultural production facility, called the Ice Cube Tray because of its appearance to aerial observers.

By the end of operations on 25 February, General Schwarzkopf for the second straight day had reports of significant gains in all sectors. But enemy forces could still inflict damage and in surprising ways and places. The Iraqis continued their puzzling policy of setting oil fires-well over two hundred now blazed out of control-as well as their strategy of punishing Saudi Arabia and provoking Israel by Scud attacks. They launched four Scuds, one of which, as mentioned earlier, slammed into a building filled with sleeping American troops in Dhahran and caused the highest one-day casualty total for American forces in a war of surprisingly low losses to date.

Day Three: 26 February 1991

On 26 February, the XVIII Airborne Corps units turned their attack northeast and entered the Euphrates River valley. With the French and the 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions protecting the west and north flanks, the 24th Infantry Division spearheaded Luck’s attack into the valley. The first obstacle was the weather. An out-of-season shamal (extreme windstorm) in the objective area kicked up thick clouds of swirling dust that promised to give thermal-imaging equipment a rigorous field test throughout the day.

After refueling in the morning, all three brigades of the 24th Division moved out at 1400 toward the Iraqi airfields at Jabbah and Tallil. The 1st Brigade went north, then east about forty miles to take a battle position in the northeast corner of the corps sector; the 2d Brigade moved thirty-five miles north to a position along the eastern corps boundary and then continued its advance another twenty-five miles until it was only fifteen miles south of Jahbah; and the 197th Brigade went northeast about sixty miles to a position just south of Tallil. Meanwhile, the 3d ACR screened to the east on the division’s south flank.

During these attacks, the 24th encountered its heaviest resistance of the war. The Iraqi 47th and 49th Infantry Divisions, the Nebuchadnezzar Division of the Republican Guard, and the 26th Commando Brigade took heavy fire but stood and fought. The 1st Brigade took direct tank and artillery fire for four hours. For the first time in the advance, the terrain gave the enemy a clear advantage. McCaffrey’s troops found Iraqi artillery and automatic weapons dug into rocky escarpments reminiscent of the Japanese positions in coral outcroppings on Pacific islands that an earlier generation of 24th Infantry Division soldiers had faced. But Iraqi troops were not as tenacious in defense as the Japanese had been, and the 24th had much better weapons than its predecessor. American artillery crews located enemy batteries with their Firefinder radars and returned between three and six rounds for every round of incoming. With that advantage, American gunners destroyed six full Iraqi artillery battalions.

In the dust storm and darkness, American technological advantages became clearer still. Thermal-imaging systems in tanks, Bradleys, and attack helicopters worked so well that crews could spot and hit Iraqi tanks at up to four thousand meters (two-and-a-half miles) before the Iraqis even saw them. American tank crews were at first surprised at their one-sided success then exulted in the curious result of their accurate fire: the “pop-top” phenomenon. Because Soviet-made tank turrets were held in place by gravity, a killing hit blew the turret completely off. As the battle wore on, the desert floor became littered with pop-tops. A combination of superior weaponry and technique-precise Abrams tank and Apache helicopter gunnery, 25-mm. automatic cannon fire from the Bradleys, overwhelming artillery and rocket direct-support and counterbattery fire, and air superiority-took the 24th Division through enemy armor and artillery units in those “valley battles” and brought Iraqi troops out of their bunkers and vehicles in droves with hands raised in surrender. After a hard but victorious day and night of fighting, the 2d Brigade took its objectives by 2000 on the twenty-sixth. The other two brigades accomplished their missions by dawn.

In the VII Corps’ sector on 26 February, the 1st Armored Division fired heavy artillery and rocket preparatory fires into Al Busayyah shortly after dawn and by noon had advanced through a sandstorm to overrun the small town. In the process, General Griffith’s troops completed the destruction of the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division and, once in the objective area, discovered they had taken the enemy VII Corps headquarters and a corps logistical base as well. More than one hundred tons of munitions were captured and large numbers of tanks and other vehicles destroyed. The 1st Armored Division pressed on, turning northeast and hitting the Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard. Late that night, Griffith mounted a night assault on the elite enemy unit and, in fighting that continued the next day, killed thirty to thirty-five tanks and ten to fifteen other vehicles.

In the 3d Armored Division sector, General Funk’s men attacked to the east of Al Busayyah. Through the evening, the division fought its toughest battles in defeating elements of the Tawakalna Division. The VII Corps reached the wheeling point in its advance and began to pivot to the east. From here, General Franks’ divisions began the main assault on Republican Guard strongholds. Meanwhile, the 1st Infantry Division was ordered north from its position inside the mine-belt breach. As the attack east began, the VII Corps presented in the northern part of its sector a front of three divisions and one regiment: the 1st Armored Division on the left (north) and the 3d Armored Division, the 2d ACR, and the 1st Infantry Division on the right (south). Farther south, the British 1st Armoured Division, with over seven thousand vehicles, cleared the mine breach at 0200 and deployed to advance on a separate axis toward its objective and on to the corps boundary. From ARCENT headquarters came word that the VII Corps would soon be even stronger. At 0930, the ARCENT commander, Lt. Gen. John J. Yeosock, released the 1st Cavalry Division from its theater reserve role and gave it to the VII Corps. Now the Corps had an additional, large, and heavily armored exploitation force to pursue the Iraqis wherever they turned.

In the early afternoon, the 2d ACR advanced east of Objective Collins in the middle of the shamal. The regiment, screening in front of 1st Infantry Division, had just arrived from the mine belt along the Saudi border that it had breached during the first day of the ground war. The cavalrymen had only a general idea of the enemy’s position. The Iraqis had long expected the American attack to come from the south and east and were now frantically turning hundreds of tanks, towed artillery pieces, and other vehicles to meet the onslaught from the west. On the Iraqi side, unit locations were changing almost by the minute. As the cavalry troopers neared the 69 Easting, a north-south map line, one of the cavalry troops received fire from a building. The soldiers returned fire and continued east. More enemy fire came in during the next two hours and was immediately returned. Just after 1600, the cavalrymen found T-72 tanks in prepared positions at 73 Easting. The regiment used its thermal-imaging equipment to deadly advantage, killing every tank that appeared in its sights. But this was a different kind of battle than Americans had fought so far. The destruction of the first tanks did not signal the surrender of hundreds of Iraqi soldiers. The tanks kept coming and fighting.

The reason for the unusually determined enemy fire and large number of tanks soon became clear. The cavalrymen had found two Iraqi divisions willing to put up a hard fight: the 12th Armored Division and the Tawakalna Division. Col. Leonard D. Holder Jr.’s regiment found a seam between the two divisions and for a time became the only American unit obviously outnumbered and outgunned during the ground campaign. But, as the 24th Division had found in its valley battles, thermal-imaging equipment cut through the dust storm to give gunners a long-range view of enemy vehicles and grant the fatal first-shot advantage. For four hours, Holder’s men killed tanks and armored personnel carriers while attack helicopters knocked out artillery batteries. When the battle of 73 Easting ended at 1715, the 2d ACR had destroyed at least twenty-nine tanks and twenty-four armored personnel carriers, as well as numerous other vehicles and bunkers, and had taken thirteen hundred prisoners. That night, the 1st Infantry Division passed through Holder’s cavalrymen and continued the attack east.

Farther to the south, the British 1st Armoured Division attacked eastward through the 48th Infantry and 52d Armored Divisions and remnants of other Iraqi units trying to withdraw north. This attack marked the start of nearly two days of continuous combat for the British, some of the toughest fighting of the war. In the largest of this series of running battles, the British destroyed forty tanks and captured an Iraqi division commander.

To the east, the Marine advance resumed on the twenty-sixth with the two Marine divisions diverging from their parallel course of the first two days. The 2d Marine Division and the Army’s Tiger Brigade, the 1st Brigade of the 2d Armored Division, continued driving directly north while the 1st Marine Division turned northeast toward Kuwait International Airport. The army tankers headed toward Mutla Ridge, an extended fold in the ground about twenty-five feet high. The location next to the juncture of two multilane highways in the town of Al Jahrah, a suburb of Kuwait City, rather than the elevation, had caught General Boomer’s attention weeks earlier. By occupying the ridge, the brigade could seal a major crossroads and slam the door on Iraqi columns escaping north to Baghdad.

The brigade advanced at 1200 with the 3d Battalion, 67th Armor, in the lead. Approaching Mutla Ridge, the Americans found a minefield and waited for the plows to cut a safety lane. On the move again, the brigade began to find enemy bunker complexes and dug-in armored units. Enemy tanks, almost all of the T-55 type, were destroyed wherever encountered, and most bunkers yielded still more prisoners. During a three-hour running battle in the early evening, Tiger tankers cleared the Mutla police post and surrounding area. Moving up and over Mutla Ridge, the 67th’s tanks found and destroyed numerous antiaircraft artillery positions. Perimeter consolidation at the end of the day’s advance was complicated and delayed by the need to process an even larger number of prisoners of war than the day before: sixteen hundred.

The Tiger Brigade now controlled the highest point for hundreds of miles in any direction. When the troops looked down on the highways from Mutla Ridge, they saw the largest target an armored brigade had probably ever seen: hundreds of shattered enemy vehicles of all types. The previous night, Air Force and Navy aircraft had begun destroying all vehicles spotted fleeing from Kuwait. Now the brigade added its firepower to the continuous air strikes. On the “Highway of Death,” they could see hundreds of burning and exploding vehicles, including civilian automobiles, buses, and trucks. Hundreds more raced west out of Kuwait City to unknowingly join the deadly traffic jam. Here and there, knots of drivers, Iraqi soldiers, and refugees fled into the desert because of the inferno of bombs, rockets, and tank fire. These lucky ones managed to escape and join the ranks of the growing army of prisoners.

At the close of coalition operations on 26 February, a total of twenty-four Iraqi divisions had been defeated. In all sectors, the volume of prisoners continued to grow and clog roads and logistical areas. Iraqi soldiers surrendered faster than the Central Command could count them, but military police units estimated that the total now exceeded thirty thousand.

The day ended with at least one other major logistical problem. The 24th Division had moved so fast in two days that fuel trucks had difficulty keeping up. After taking positions on the night of the twenty-sixth, the lead tanks had on average less than one hundred gallons of fuel on board. Brigade commanders had the fuel, but lead elements were not sure where to rendezvous in the desert. The problem was solved by the kind of unplanned actions on which victories often turn. A small number of junior officers took the initiative to lead tanker-truck convoys across the desert at night with only a vague idea of where either brigade fuel supplies or needy assault units were located. By approaching whatever vehicles came into view and asking for unit identity, those leaders managed to refuel most of the division’s vehicles by midnight.

Opération Daguet III

Day Four: 27 February 1991

On the morning of 27 February, the XVIII Airborne Corps prepared to continue its advance east toward Al Basrah. Before the assault could resume, the 24th Infantry Division had to secure its positions in the Euphrates River valley by taking the two airfields toward which it had been moving. Tallil Airfield lay about twenty miles south of the town of An Nasiriyah; Jalibah Airfield lay forty miles east by southeast, near the lake at Hawr al Malih. The task of taking the airfields went to the units that had ended the previous day in positions closest to them. While the 1st Brigade would conduct a fixing attack toward the Jalibah Airfield, the 2d Brigade planned to move east about twenty-five miles and turn north against the same objective. Moving north, the 197th Brigade would take Tallil.

Following a four-hour rest, the 2d Brigade attacked at midnight, seized a position just south of Jalibah by 0200 on the twenty-seventh, and stayed there while preparatory fires continued to fall on the airfield. At 0600, the 1st Brigade moved east toward the airfield, stopped short, and continued firing on Iraqi positions. At the same time, the 2d Brigade resumed the attack with three infantry-armor task forces and crashed through a fence around the runways. Although the airfield had been hit by air strikes for six weeks and a heavy artillery preparation by five battalions of the XVIII Corps’ 212th Field Artillery Brigade, Iraqi defenders were still willing to fight. Most Iraqi fire was from ineffectual small arms; but armor-piercing rounds hit two Bradleys, killing two men of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor, and wounding several others in the 3d Battalion, 15th Infantry. As nearly two hundred American armored vehicles moved across the airfield knocking out tanks, artillery pieces, and even aircraft, Iraqis began to surrender in large numbers. By 1000, the Jalibah Airfield was secure.

At midday, heavy-artillery and rocket-launcher preparations, followed by twenty-eight close air sorties, were directed on Tallil Airfield. As the fires lifted, the 197th Brigade advanced across the cratered runways and through weaker resistance than that at Jalibah. But, like the 2d Brigade at Jalibah, the 197th killed both armored vehicles and aircraft on the ground and found large numbers of willing prisoners.

As the 197th Brigade assaulted Tallil, General McCaffrey realigned his other units to continue the attack east centering on Highway 8. The 1st Brigade took the division left (north) sector, tying in with the 101st Airborne Division. The 2d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, the 24th’s reconnaissance unit, moved east from the Hawr al Malih lake area to set up a tactical assembly area behind the 1st Brigade. The 2d Brigade left its newly won airfield position and assumed the center sector of the division front. The 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment took the right sector, tying in with the VII Corps to the south. With the 24th Division now oriented east after its northern advance of the first two days, a new series of attacks began between the Tallil Airfield and the Ar Rumaylah oil fields just southwest of Al Basrah.

The attacks down Highway 8 showed more clearly than any other episode the weaknesses of Iraqi field forces and the one-sidedness of the conflict. Through the afternoon and night of 27 February, the tankers, Bradley gunners, and helicopter crews and artillerymen of the 24th Infantry Division fired at hundreds of vehicles trying to redeploy to meet the new American attack from the west or simply to escape north across the Euphrates River valley and west on Highway 8. With no intelligence capability left to judge the size or location of the oncoming American armored wedges and attack-helicopter swarms, as well as insufficient communications to coordinate a new defense, Iraqi units stumbled into disaster. Unsuspecting drivers of every type of vehicle, from tanks to artillery prime movers and even commandeered civilian autos, raced randomly across the desert or west on Highway 8 only to run into General McCaffrey’s firestorm. Some drivers, seeing vehicles explode and burn, veered off the road in vain attempts to escape. Others stopped, dismounted, and walked toward the Americans with raised hands. When the division staff detected elements of the Hammurabi Division of the Republican Guard moving across the 24th’s front, McCaffrey concentrated the fire of nine artillery battalions and an Apache battalion on the once-elite enemy force. At dawn the next day, the twenty-eighth, hundreds of vehicles lay crumpled and smoking on Highway 8 and at scattered points across the desert. The 24th’s lead elements, only thirty miles west of Al Basrah, set up a hasty defense in place.

The 24th Division’s valley battles of 25-27 February rendered ineffective all Iraqi units encountered in the division sector and trapped most of the Republican Guard divisions to the south while the VII Corps bore into them from the west, either blasting units in place or taking their surrender. In its own battles, the 24th achieved some of the most impressive results of the ground war. McCaffrey’s troops had advanced one hundred ninety miles into Iraq to the Euphrates River, then turned east and advanced another seventy miles, all in four days. Along the way, they knocked out over 360 tanks and armored personnel carriers, over 300 artillery pieces, over 1,200 trucks, 500 pieces of engineer equipment, 19 missiles, and 25 aircraft and rounded up over 5,000 enemy soldiers. Just as surprising as these large enemy losses were the small numbers of American casualties: 8 killed in action, 36 wounded in action, and 5 nonbattle injuries. In the entire XVIII Airborne Corps, combat equipment losses were negligible: only 4 M1A1 tanks, 3 of which were repairable.

In the VII Corps’ sector, the advance rolled east. The battles begun the previous afternoon continued through the morning of 27 February as General Franks’ divisions bore into Republican Guard units trying to reposition or escape. As the assault gained momentum, Franks for the first time deployed his full combat power. The 1st Cavalry Division made good progress through the 1st Infantry Division breach and up the left side of the VII Corps’ sector. By midafternoon, after a high-speed 190-mile move north, General Tilelli’s brigades were behind the 1st Armored Division tying in with the 24th Infantry Division across the corps boundary. Now Franks could send against the Republican Guard five full divisions and a separate regiment. From left (north) to right, the VII Corps deployed the 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 3d Armored Division, 1st Infantry Division, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the British 1st Armoured Division.

The dust storms had cleared early in the day, revealing in the VII Corps’ sector an awesome array of armored and mechanized power. In a panorama extending beyond visual limits, 1,500 tanks, another 1,500 Bradleys and armored personnel carriers, 650 artillery pieces, and supply columns of hundreds of vehicles stretching into the dusty, brown distance rolled east through Iraqi positions, as inexorable as a lava flow. To Iraqi units, depleted and demoralized by forty-one days of continuous air assault, the VII Corps’ advance appeared irresistible.

Turning on the enemy the full range of its weapons, the VII Corps systematically destroyed Iraqi military power in its sector. About fifty miles east of Al Busayyah, the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions tore into remnants of the Tawalkana, Medina, and Adnan Divisions of the Republican Guard. In one of several large engagements along the advance, the 2d Brigade, 1st Armored Division, received artillery fire and then proceeded to destroy not only those artillery batteries but also sixty-one tanks and thirty-four armored personnel carriers of the Medina Division in less than one hour. The 1st Infantry Division overran the 12th Armored Division and scattered the 10th Armored Division into retreat. On the south flank, the British 1st Armoured Division destroyed the 52d Armored Division then overran three infantry divisions. To finish destruction of the Republican Guard Forces Command, General Franks conducted a giant envelopment involving the 1st Cavalry Division on the left and the 1st Infantry Division on the right. The trap closed on disorganized bands of Iraqis streaming north in full retreat. The only setback for the VII Corps during this climactic assault occurred in the British sector. American Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft supporting the British advance mistakenly fired on two infantry fighting vehicles, killing nine British soldiers.

At 1700, Franks informed his divisions of an imminent theaterwide cease-fire but pressed the VII Corps attack farther east. An hour later, the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division, set a blocking position on the north-south highway connecting Al Basrah to Kuwait City. The next morning, corps artillery units fired an enormous preparation involving all long-range weapons: 155-mm. and 8-inch (203-mm.) self-propelled pieces, rocket launchers, and tactical missiles. Attack helicopters followed to strike suspected enemy positions. The advance east continued a short time until the cease-fire went into effect at 0800, 28 February, with American armored divisions well inside Kuwait.

In ninety hours of continuous movement and combat, the VII Corps had achieved impressive results against the best units of the Iraqi military. Franks’ troops destroyed more than a dozen Iraqi divisions, an estimated 1,300 tanks, 1,200 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, 285 artillery pieces, and 100 air-defense systems and had captured nearly 22,000 men. At the same time, the best Iraqi divisions destroyed only 7 Abrams tanks, 15 Bradleys, 2 armored personnel carriers, and 1 Apache helicopter. And, while killing unknown thousands of enemy troops, the VII Corps lost twenty-two soldiers killed in action.

In the Marine Central Command’s sector on 27 February, the 2d Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade and the 2d Marine Division began the fourth day of the ground war by holding positions and maintaining close liaison with Joint Forces Command-North units on the left flank. The next phase of operations in Kuwait would see Saudi-commanded units pass through General Boomer’s sector from west to east and go on to liberate Kuwait City. At 0550, Tiger troops made contact with Egyptian units; four hours later, JFC-N columns passed through the 2d Marine Division. During the rest of the day, Tiger troops cleared bunker complexes, Ali Al Salem Airfield, and the Kuwaiti Royal Summer Palace, while processing a continuous stream of prisoners of war. The Army brigade and the 2d Marine Division remained on Mutla Ridge and Phase Line bear until the cease-fire went into effect at 0800 on 28 February. Prisoner interrogation during and after combat operations revealed that the Tiger Brigade advance had split the seam between the Iraqi III and IV Corps, overrunning elements of the 14th, 7th, and 36th Infantry Divisions, as well as brigades of the 3d Armored, 1st Mechanized, and 2d Infantry Divisions. During four days of combat, Tiger Brigade task forces destroyed or captured 181 tanks, 148 armored personnel carriers, 40 artillery pieces, and 27 antiaircraft systems while killing an estimated 263 enemy and capturing 4,051 prisoners of war, all at a cost of 2 killed and 5 wounded.


A pictorial of Panhard Crab in an urban scenario. Light, well protected and heavily armed, the new Panhard vehicle is the company answer to the needs of the near future.

The Crab unveiled at Eurosatory 2012 carries a number of very special features and, apart from its 25mm CTI turret which makes it one of the most heavily armed light armoured vehicles, can move sideways like a crab.

This picture shows the three crew members positions in the Panhard Crab and the Thales Vsys-net vetronic system.

Two sets of solar cells are installed over the Crab in order to increase the onboard available power and the batteries endurance when the engine is not running.

As part of the Phase 2 of the Scorpion programme (Synergie du Contact Renforcé par la Polyvalence et l’Infovalorisation) that will bring the French Armée de Terre into a new era, is a light vehicle with peculiar mobility and firepower characteristics known as the VBAE (for Véhicule Blindé d’Aide a l’Engagement). This will not only cover the scout mission needs of heavier vehicles such as the Leclerc main battle tank, but also provide means for cavalrytype missions such as screening, flanking and so on, missions that require both a high level of mobility and sufficient firepower. The role of this new vehicle thus well exceeds that of the VBL (Véhicule Blindé Léger) introduced by Panhard over 25 years ago and which currently provides the “eyes” to French Army armoured formations. Based in Marolles (south of Paris), the firm which incidentally became Panhard General Defense in 2006, unveiled its proposal for the VBAE programme at the last Eurosatory exhibition and named it the Crab (Combat Reconnaissance Armoured Buggy).

In its initial version the Crab will have a three-man crew, the same as the VBL, but similarities end here. First of all its combat weight is nearly thrice that of the original VBL’s, which was set at three tonnes for air-transportability purposes. In the configuration shown at Eurosatory the Crab tipped the scales at 8.5 tonnes, but the automotive components could cope with an inflation to 10 tonnes without impairing mobility (that is a lesson learned from the VBL where the increased combat weight had reduced the original vehicle’s mobility). Mobility is an integral part of the Crab global survivability, which also combines protection and stealthiness.

One of the key elements of mobility is power-to-weight ratio. Currently Panhard is considering two different engines for its Crab, both ensuring a minimum of 35 hp/t for an 8.5 tonne combat weight, which means an output of about 300 hp. Horses can be increased when needed thanks to a 400-Amp starter-alternator that can not only provide an additional shove when needed, but also enable the Crab to silently creep over short distances using the electric energy stored in its batteries (two solar cell panels are installed on the two sides on the rear of the vehicle to assist recharging the batteries in daylight). The Crab’s stealthiness is further increased by the reduced shape of the vehicle, its height being a mere 1.8 metres over the roof. The cabin shape has also been engineered to minimise radar reflection, with angled surfaces contributing to both a lower RCS and a higher protection against ballistic threat.

Turning back to mobility, the Crab has a permanent 4×4 drive, but while both its axles steer they can do so either in opposition to generate a turning circle of less than 10 metres, or in unison, hence heading in the lateral same direction (albeit at a limited angle), to enable the vehicle to “drift” sideways like a crab! Moreover a rear-looking camera and a two-ratio reverse gearbox enable the Panhard vehicle to quickly back away in yet another configuration where only the rear wheels are allowed to steer. As for suspensions, these are derived from those adopted by the Panhard VBR 4×4, which features independent oleo-pneumatic suspensions and adjustable ground clearance (standard ground clearance being set at 450 mm). A noteworthy point is that the Crab adopts tyres of similar dimensions as those of the VBR.

The Crab is built around a citadel hosting the three-man crew, with access through two vertical clamshell doors – the lower clam embedding a step to facilitate ingress and egress given the Crab floor height. Panhard proposes its new vehicle with ballistic protection of between Level 2 and Level 4 to meet customer needs. As for mine protection the company has tested underbelly armour solutions up to Level 3a, although the vehicle has some growth potential also in that field. It is to note that the underbelly does not have the typical deep “V” shape: in the middle the bottom is flat while only the sides are rising, maximum protection being obtained thanks to a triple floor that absorbs most of the energy. Wings (fenders in American) are made of light material, which in the event of a mine detonation will vent out most of the energy and thereby reduce the height at which the Crab would be heaved by the explosion and conversely reduce the subsequent “landing thump”. Energy absorption seats further reduce injury risk for the crew, but nevertheless ensure maximum ergonomics when the Crab moves at high speed over rough terrain.

The driver faces three multifunction colour screens, while commander and gunner have two. To ensure maximum situational awareness the Crab is equipped with a six-camera 360° vision system. The front windscreen is made of three elements and is angled to ensure optimal upward direct visibility, a vital necessity in urban terrain. Thales purposely developed for the Crab an innovative vetronic system (systronic) known as the Vsys-net that improves the overall system performance in terms of mobility, observation, protection and firepower. Based on an open and modular non-proprietary architecture it allows easy interfacing with electronic systems of various origins. The Crab systronic includes a battlefield management system and a radio system that allows its integration into the Scorpion digitised scenario. The Vsys-net allows full rerolling of the three combat positions in order to optimise the workload in the various moments of the mission. Although the commander maintains his prerogative, the hunter-killer function can be redistributed to all three positions. The intercom can also be used by a dismounted crew-member (standard range is around 300 metres but a onekilometre option can be installed on customer demand). The Vsys-net allows to distribute all imagery produced by weapons, on-board sensors and local situational awareness systems to each crew station, while image processing for alert and analysis is also integrated. An ultra-compact inertial and GPS location system provides high accurate geolocation as well as the link to a target designation system, while the availability of terrain profiles increases mobility.

Turning now to its armament, the Crab can host a variety of remotely controlled turrets equipped with weapons up to 30 mm in calibre. The version shown at Eurosatory was equipped with a Cockerill Maintenance & Ingénierie turret armed with a 25mm Bushmaster M242, the overall mount weighing around 800 kg. Although lighter than most Mrap-type vehicles currently in service, the Crab can withstand such a 40 kN recoil level weapon because of its very low centre of gravity, whereas Mraps are limited by their top-heavy configuration that makes them rather unstable. The CMI weapon station has been purposely adapted to the Crab to optimise turret/chassis coupling and has been equipped with a hatch that allows the vehicle commander to have a direct view of the surroundings, which is a French Army requirement. The turret features a stabilised panoramic sight with a 60° elevation (the cannon’s elevation range is -10°/+45°). A dual feed system allows to use two types of ammunition, the overall number being 150 rounds.

An open bottom allows reloading and maintenance operation to be carried out from under armour for maximum crew safety. Guided missiles are another armament choice for the Crab, as well as lighter turrets that include smaller calibre weapons and target designation systems. Due to its low shape and limited dimensions, precise figures were not provided but by rule of thumb the Crab is 5 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. It can be loaded onto a C-130H, a C-130J will take two and a A-400M three, meaning that the latter is able to land a ready-to-operate platoon.

According to company sources the Crab positively impressed the French Army Staff as well as the General Armaments Direction when the vehicle was illustrated to the officials. Its dimensions perfectly match the Army’s requirements, although these are still in the definition stage, a beyond line-of-sight role being envisaged for the VBAE.

When developing the Crab Panhard General Defense did not exclusively eye the domestic market; according to the company there is a market for light vehicles equipped with medium armament since that niche is currently devoid of competitors. Systems such as the Panhard AML and Sagaie or the Engesa Cascavel, as well as light tracked vehicles like the Scorpion do not have successors, therefore their missions could well be taken over by the Crab equipped with adequate weapon systems. Africa, Latin America and the Middle East are the geographical areas where such systems are still currently in service and where the new Panhard vehicle might find its new customers. Besides the technical aspects that make it a considerably flexible system, the Crab features another important marketing plus – its price. A price-oriented rather than a capability-oriented design was followed by Panhard engineers, the company being well aware that Western armies budgets are shrinking while in the rest of the world it often has to compete against wares coming from less developed countries, thus with lower prices. Obviously Panhard is not revealing its figures (the Crab is not yet industrialised anyhow), but it is clear that its aim is to maintain it at more than competitive levels. When the Crab will be available depends very much on when the first customer will materialise, the French Army VBAE programme being still quite away although things might change in relatively short time.



France Rebounds 1918

When, like an autumn wind, these whispers of peace began to move across Europe in early October, they stirred, at first, more scepticism than hope. There had, after all, been so many false dawns during the four dark years that had passed. General Debeney, commander of the First French Army now fighting in the St Quentin sector, told an American visitor that his own poilus were even getting exasperated by the rumours, as they had already geared themselves mentally for a campaign that would last through the winter. ‘It was important that their hopes should not be raised . . . only to be dashed by a rejection of offers unacceptable to the Allies.’

More difficult to gauge was the mood of the French nation at large, which was part actor and part bystander in the conflict. What was undeniable was that France had suffered far more than any other of the major Allied combatants. Ever since 1914, ten of her northern départements, areas covering about twenty-five thousand square miles, had been occupied and largely devastated by the enemy. More than a tenth of her soil, including some of her finest orchards, vineyards and arable land, had been torn up by the rake of war. Some four hundred thousand houses had been levelled to the ground. Hundreds of her factories were either out of commission or, even worse, working for the invader, including key industries like textiles, sugar and metallurgy, to say nothing of the coalmines and heavy plants of Longwy and Briey.

Two preoccupations dominated everyday civilian life: fighting cold and fighting hunger. All forms of fuel were both rationed and scarce. The frantic hunt for coal was graphically summed up by a top Paris jeweller who displayed a lump of it in his shop window in place of his usual array of diamonds and emeralds. By now, the liberation of the mines at Lens, which used to produce three million tons a year, had raised hopes that the flooded and dynamited galleries might yield up at least a few thousand tons of the precious stuff. But no Parisian doubted that, if the war were to drag on until 1919, it would be another winter of shivering in one’s apartment, with the family overcoats on, and huddled into one room for most of the time. In that glacial setting social life tended to freeze over. An invitation to dinner (a rarity in itself) was no more welcome than an invitation just to sit by a fire.

The food problem was not, in practice, so severe – though acute and distressing enough for a people with such veneration for their stomachs. The vast lush countryside of France which stretched south of Paris, untroubled by the war, down to the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, knew few serious privations. Even in the cities, the perpetual queueing for everything that was unrationed was a commoner hardship than outright privation. Serious shortages did, of course, occur. Le saucisson, so beloved of the Parisians, had been in such short supply that the sausage dealers of the capital had been closed three days a week throughout that summer, and prospects did not look much brighter when they had met to review the situation on 5 October. This fifth autumn of the war had also brought a dearth of potatoes. Yet, as regards bread, the main complaint in Paris concerned quality rather than availability – ‘In one quarter of the city dark brown; in another heavy and golden like Indian corn; in another white as bread ever was.’ The prospects for drink supplies were even more: 1918 had seen an excellent vintage of wine, while beer was now declared to be better and more abundant than for some time past.

Restaurants flourished. This was partly because they ignored the food regulations and partly because, since they provided warmth and light as well as a meal, it often worked out cheaper to eat in them, despite the stiff prices, than at home. France strove to remain true to its gastronomic heritage. The Food Commissioner, Emile Borel, insisted that all French restaurants should provide both à la carte and table d’hôte menus, and warned proprietors to treat both classes of customer equally well. The autumn had also seen the opening of a chain of municipal restaurants where the working man could buy himself a square meal for only 1 franc 65 centimes (little more than one English shilling). Nobody, in short, was starving, and money could buy any delicacy.

More important for the nation’s morale was the feeling that, with the great Allied summer advance from the Marne, the German grip around the throttle of Paris had been shaken off for good, however long it might still take to free Picardy and Flanders. The best token of this easement was the liberation of Crépy, just south of Laon, during the September fighting. There, on a railway siding, had crouched those huge 210 mm German guns, each a hundred feet in length and weighing over three hundred tons, which, at 7.16 a.m. on the morning of 23 March, had hurled the first of their shells into the northwestern suburbs of Paris, a staggering distance of seventy-four miles away. These monsters, now driven from their lair, could, surely, never return.

With their menace removed (and that of the Zeppelin and Gotha bombing raids as well as the proximity of the German army itself) many of the half-million Parisians who had left the capital in the spring were filtering back. ‘Stations which a little while since were busy with departures are almost as busy with arrivals,’ one observer noted. Moreover, shops and theatres were re-opening and the famous fashion houses were stirring into life again. The 1918 autumn models still reflected the shadows of war. Black, the colour of mourning, was prominent in the collections. An abundance of very long gowns and furs took note of the fuel shortage. The hats even included ‘a helmet-shaped erection made of a metallic cloth with little plumes sticking out of it’. But though the associations may still have been military, the revival of the luxury trade itself pointed hopefully towards peace.

Above all, the French had now regained confidence in their own leaders. There had been a thorough, if belated purge of the defeatists in their ranks in 1917, the year when France, wracked by political scandals and mutinies in the army, had stood within a few tottering paces of collapse. In the spring and summer of 1918, most of the principal culprits were brought to justice after public trial. Louis Malvy, the former Minister of Interior, had been sentenced to five years’ banishment, having only just escaped a heavier penalty on charges of incitement to mutiny. Some of his principal henchmen in the same game (financed by German money) of spreading subversive pacifist propaganda were less fortunate, and had ended up before the firing squad. The most illustrious defeatist of them all, the former Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux, was still in jail awaiting trial – which was not to come until February 1920 – for ‘plotting against the security of the state abroad’. He was the black conscience of wartime France. But Georges Clemenceau, the seventy-six-year-old radical Republican who had stepped into that disgraced office on 17 November 1917, had soon become her talisman of hope. Nothing conveyed the transformation better than the phrase now often heard in Paris: ‘If Clemenceau says that victory is in sight, then it must be.’ In short, by the autumn of 1918 France, though more exhausted and bled whiter than ever, was no longer prostrate.

1918       November 11      The Supreme Allied Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, dictates the terms of an armistice to German plenipotentiaries at Rethondes in the Forest of Compèigne. The Germans sign the Armistice at 5:10 a.m.

               A cease-fire ending the First World War takes effect at 11 a.m.

                November 18      French troops led by General Petain enter Metz, Lorraine.

                November 23      The last German troops are withdrawn from Alsace and Lorraine.

                December 8         President Poincaré, Premier Clemenceau, Marshal Joffre and Generals Petain, Haig and Pershing visit Metz to mark the return of Lorraine to France.

                President Poincaré hands General Petain the baton marking his elevation to Marshal of France.

                December 9         President Poincaré, Premier Clemenceau and the military chiefs visit Strasbourg to mark the return of Alsace to France.

                December 14       President Wilson arrives in Paris to attend the Peace Conference.

1919       January 9              The Seine rises nearly 6 meters over flood stage at Paris. Residents of the Rue LeBlanc are evacuated. The bears in the Jardins des Plantes are released from their cages.

                January 10            The Seine rises 6 meters in 3 hours at Paris. A transmission line from the Issy electric generating station breaks leaving entire Left Bank without service.

                January 14            All prisoners of war held by the Allies are released.

The Pirate War, 1402–1404 Part I

Piracy had been endemic in the Channel and the Bay of Biscay for centuries, but the Earl of Crawford’s destructive cruise of 1402 was different. It was more organised, larger in scale and plainly enjoyed the support of influential men in the French government if not of the King’s council itself. The raids left a trail of unsatisfied claims by merchants and shipowners who had lost their property and a legacy of ill-feeling between the two governments. Each responded in the time-honoured fashion by authorising reprisals against the property of the other in an escalating cycle of violence. These operations were mainly the work of English, French and Flemish privateers. They inaugurated the first great age of Atlantic privateering, and the birth of a tradition that would continue until the eighteenth century. In a later age the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius would classify such operations as legitimate private war, but some of those involved could fairly be called pirates. The boundary between war and crime, between public and private violence, was as uncertain and permeable at sea as it was on land.

Privateering, a practice which was sanctioned by international law until the middle of the nineteenth century, was a method of making war which had been developed largely by the English since the thirteenth century and had already achieved a high degree of organisation. Governments issued letters of marque to merchants claiming to have suffered losses at the hands of nationals of a foreign prince, which authorised them to recoup their losses by ‘reprisal’, in other words by seizing ships and cargoes of the foreign prince’s subjects at sea. In time of war, letters of marque were commonly issued in more general terms, which were not limited to seizures by way of reprisal. They authorised the persons named to capture the merchant ships and cargoes of declared enemies for their own profit provided that they left neutral property alone. The Anglo-French treaty of 1396 had banned the issue of letters of marque and with a few exceptions the ban had been observed. But from 1402 onward they began to be issued again, and most privateers had at least the tacit authority of their sovereigns even if they did not have formal commissions. ‘Know ye,’ declared a typical English document,

that we have given leave to our well-beloved Henry Pay to sail and pass across the seas with as many ships, barges and balingers of war, men-at-arms and bowmen, all fully equipped, as he may be able to recruit in order to do all the damage he can to our declared enemies as well as for their destruction and for the safeguarding and defence of our faithful lieges.

The King directed his admirals and all his officers in coastal areas to give whatever advice or assistance Pay might require. This was manifestly an officially sanctioned venture.

By the beginning of the fifteenth century the English had begun to enlarge the scope of their privateering operations by targeting not just enemy ships but neutral ships carrying enemy cargoes. The rewards were high and the privateers no doubt needed little encouragement. But it seems clear that the initiative came from the government. Blockading an enemy’s seaborne trade was a highly effective weapon of war. But it was also extremely abrasive and provoked bitter complaints in the fifteenth century, just as it would in the time of Blake or Nelson, for it required neutral ships to submit to being stopped and searched at sea and taken into English ports if they were found to be carrying suspicious goods. This could be a terrifying experience. Early in 1403 the Christopher from the Hanse port of Danzig was captured in the Channel by four ships of London and Dartmouth operating from Calais. Henry IV personally interviewed their masters to discover the facts before defending his subjects in a letter to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. This reveals very clearly what the King expected of privateers holding his commission. The German ship, he said, had been sailing without national markings. When the English challenged the crew to state their nationality they gave no answer, filled the top-castles with armed men, let out all their sail and tried to make off. The English opened fire with bombards mounted on their forecastles. They caught up with the fleeing ship and boarded her, overcoming and capturing the crew after a long and bloody hand-to-hand fight. She was found to be carrying wine from La Rochelle and was taken into Southampton where she was eventually forfeited to her captors. The Hanseatic towns had lost eight ships in this way during 1402 in addition to another four which were plundered and then allowed to go. Castile, another important neutral, lost seventeen.

The distinction between enemy and neutral property was not always easy to apply. Ownership was often uncertain. Enemy ships could sail under neutral colours. Enemy cargoes could be carried in neutral hulls and vice versa. Ships’ manifests were not always honest. It was not always clear whether a truce was in force at the time of the capture. Of course privateers were not particularly fastidious about the limits of their authority. But their trade was not the free-for-all that it is sometimes assumed to have been. An elaborate body of practice and law had grown up for adjudicating on the right to prize, which was administered partly by the chancellor and the king’s council, partly by the admirals and their local deputies, marshals, sergeants and clerks. Their work has generated a mass of documents in the remarkably full surviving records of the English government. They show that complaints of breaches of the truce, unauthorised acts of war or attacks on neutral property were taken seriously and routinely investigated. Privateers, however favoured, were liable to be summoned before the council or the admirals’ officers to prove their right to prize ‘as the law of the sea requires’. There was a regular flow of orders to restore neutral goods or hulls or to pay compensation to ruined German or Castilian shipowners and merchants. In one notable case a squadron of ships was specially fitted out by the Admiral of England to capture the notorious Rye pirate William Long, who was taken off his ship at sea and consigned to the Tower of London. If some men disobeyed the king and got away with it, that was to be expected of the uncertain processes and limited police powers of the medieval state. But there were others who paid for their transgressions with their property and a few with their liberty or their necks.

The growth of officially sponsored privateering at the beginning of the fifteenth century reflected the progressive withdrawal of governments from the costly business of building and operating warships themselves. In France the great state arsenal at Rouen, which had turned out oared warships since the thirteenth century, had stopped building and refitting ships by the end of the 1380s and, apart from brief spurts of activity in 1405 and 1416, never restarted. In England the last of Edward III’s great ships, the 300-ton carrack Dieulagarde, had been given away to a courtier in 1380. In the early years of his reign Henry IV owned just one sailing ship in addition to four barges which appear to have been used mainly to move the baggage of the royal household along the Thames. Requisitioning ships was not much less expensive than owning them, for hire had to be paid by the ton and crew’s wages by the day. Chiefly for reasons of cost, the English government had since 1379 entrusted much of the routine work of keeping the sea to contract fleets raised by commercial syndicates in London and the West Country. Privateers and contract fleets had their limitations. They were undisciplined. They brought the King into collision with neutral countries. They had little interest in his larger strategic objectives. They were particularly bad at defensive work, such as convoy duty and patrolling the Channel against coastal raiders, which offered limited prospects of spoil. An ambitious attempt to hand over the whole work of ‘keeping the seas’ to commercial operators in 1406 in return for the proceeds of the tunnage and poundage dues proved to be disastrous for all of these reasons, and the arrangements had to be terminated early. But for offensive operations against enemy commerce and coastal settlements, privateers largely displaced royal fleets throughout the reign of Henry IV. They operated at their own risk and expense and cost nothing in wages, hire or maintenance. They were therefore the natural resort of penurious governments.

In the early fifteenth century there were active privateering syndicates in London, Hull, the Cinque Ports and Guernsey. But the West Country was already the major centre for this kind of buccaneering, as it would remain for centuries. Dartmouth, Plymouth and Fowey were important privateering bases. According to a charter of Richard II Dartmouth had ‘above all places in the realm long been and still is strong in shipping and therewith has wrought great havoc on the King’s enemies in time of war’. The most celebrated English privateers, the Hawley family of Dartmouth, father and son, were living testimony to the wealth that could be made from prizes. Hawley the elder may have been a pirate in French eyes and occasionally in English ones, but he was a man of some social standing at home, the owner of Hawley’s Hall, the grandest house in Dartmouth, fourteen times mayor of the town and twice returned to Parliament. He founded St Saviour’s Church in Dartmouth, where his grand memorial brass, showing an idealised knight in full armour, can still be seen. His son, who carried on the family business, acquired extensive estates in the West Country, married the daughter of a chief justice of King’s Bench and sat twelve times in Parliament for Dartmouth. The Hawleys were close to the governments of Richard II and Henry IV and commonly acted under royal commissions.

More typical perhaps was the much rougher Harry Pay, the recipient of the commission quoted above. He was a professional pirate based at Poole in Dorset who had been attacking the ships and harbours of neutral Castile for years before he received a commission. His operations in the Channel against the French were to make him a popular hero in the first decade of the fifteenth century. Mark Mixtow of Fowey and the Spicer brothers of Plymouth and Portsmouth were men of the same stamp although on a lesser scale and for shorter periods. The Spicers had been actively engaged in piracy in the Atlantic for at least two years before the breach with France brought legitimacy to their operations and respectability to their lives. Richard Spicer represented Portsmouth in Parliament, served on commissions of array and ended up as a Hampshire gentleman. The Channel pirates contributed a good deal to the economy of the depressed coastal towns of southern England and, as the careers of men like Hawley and Spicer show, they enjoyed strong popular support. When William Long was eventually released from the Tower the town of Hythe held a banquet in his honour and Rye elected him to Parliament.

The French made use of very similar adventurers. The Bretons were regarded in England as ‘the greatest rovers and the greatest thieves that have been in the sea many a year’. Saint-Malo, an enclave of French royal territory within the duchy of Brittany, was the major centre of piracy and privateering on the French Atlantic coast. Its seamen were responsible for a large number of the captures of 1402. Privateers operating from Harfleur, another important base, were said in March 1404 to have taken £100,000 worth of cargoes in addition to exacting exorbitant ransoms from their prisoners. A contemporary described the port as the capital of Atlantic piracy, rich in the spoil of English shipping. Gravelines, although technically part of Flanders, was in fact under the control of the French captains-general commanding on the march of Calais, who built it up as another major privateering centre.

In France as in England most privateering ventures were commercial enterprises, financed by shrewd businessmen for profit. Guillebert de Fretin, a native of the Calais pale who had fled after refusing to swear allegiance to the English King, made his base at Le Crotoy in Ponthieu and achieved a short-lived fame as the leading French corsair of his time. His career of destruction would culminate in the sack of Alderney in June 1403 in which a large number of the inhabitants lost their lives. Guillebert’s cruises were funded by a syndicate of merchants of Abbeville and almost certainly authorised by French officials. When the French temporarily withdrew their support from French privateers and banished him, he and one of his lieutenants continued their depredations under the flag of Scotland. Equally commercial in their inspiration were the campaigns of Wouter Jansz, probably the most successful Flemish privateer of the time, who operated several ships out of Bervliet and Sluys in north-west Flanders. His most famous exploit was to sail up the Thames and capture an English freighter filled with the booty of a recent raid on the coast of Flanders, including the painted altar-piece of Sint Anna ter Muiden. Jansz appears to have been financed at least in part by an Italian corsair called Giovanni Portofino who had terrorised the western Mediterranean during the 1390s before moving his operations to northern Europe. The English regarded Jansz as a ‘notorious pirate’ and he is unlikely to have held any formal commission. But he made himself useful to the towns of the Zwin estuary by guarding the entrances against enemy incursions and he certainly had well-placed protectors.

In July and August 1402 the English and French ambassadors met at Leulinghem to deal with the escalating violence at sea. Faithful to the increasingly hollow pretence that the truce of 1396 remained in force, they reached agreement on 14 August on a procedure for verifying and meeting claims and on measures to prevent a recurrence. The seamen involved on both sides were formally disowned and declared to be criminals actuated entirely by malice and greed. All prisoners and cargoes in their hands were ordered to be released without payment and outstanding letters of marque and reprisal were cancelled. Pirates who persisted in attacking merchant ships were not to be received in either country.

These arrangements were a dead letter from the start. In the last quarter of 1402 another twenty English merchantmen were captured. Crawford had by now returned to Scotland with the rump of the French expeditionary force. But many of the ships and crews responsible for the new seizures had previously served under him. In the following January twelve English vessels were captured in a single incident and taken into Harfleur where their cargoes and crews were taken off under the noses of royal officials and their hulls set on fire. Another twenty or thirty English merchantmen were reported to be held in Norman ports. The English retaliated with vigour. They seized French and Flemish property in English ports. They commissioned new privateering fleets of their own. Over the winter of 1402–3 most of the more notorious English privateers were once more at sea with the King’s commissions. There are no reliable figures for French losses in these months, but they were almost certainly higher than English ones. With a much larger seafaring community and many more ships, the English were always likely to have the better of these exchanges. During the following months English privateers sacked the Île de Ré off the coast of Poitou, burning down its famous abbey. They seized French fishing boats in the Channel, carrying off large numbers of fishermen for ransom. They landed at several points along the French coast to seize booty and prisoners. According to French estimates some 3,000 English and Gascon seamen were engaged in these operations, which continued until the following summer.


The sudden upsurge of fighting at sea awakened ancient ghosts in Flanders. Flanders was a province of France, but as one of the principal trading and shipowning regions of Europe it had enjoyed close commercial and political relations with England for centuries. Flanders needed English wool, the indispensable raw material for the great cloth industries on which much of its population depended. England was also a significant market for the finished product. There was a large Flemish community in England, based mainly in London, and an even larger English mercantile community in Bruges and in the Dutch port of Middelburg on the other side of the estuary of the Scheldt. England and Flanders had a common interest in the security of the trade routes of the North Sea. It was not simply a question of preserving trade between them. As the Flemings had learned to their cost in the 1380s, the maintenance of peace across the North Sea was the key to the international banking and entrepôt business of Bruges and the county’s trade with the Italian maritime cities of Venice and Genoa and the Baltic towns of the Hanseatic League.7 There was an important political dimension to Flanders’s links with England. The English kings had always had allies in the towns of Flanders and unparalleled opportunities to make trouble there. They had been the patrons of all the great urban revolutions which had divided the Flemings and undermined the power of their counts since the end of the thirteenth century. Jacob van Artevelde, the leader of the Flemish revolution of 1339, had been a client of England and his son Philip, who had led the revolution of Ghent during the civil wars of the 1380s, was a pensioner of Richard II. English fleets and armies fought in Flanders in support of their cause. An English garrison had been stationed in Ghent as recently as 1385.

The informal alliance between England and Flanders was a perennial problem for the counts. They were under constant pressure from their subjects to avoid war with England or, if it could not be avoided, then at least to remove Flanders from the front line. Philip of Burgundy had inherited these problems with the territory. The Four Members of Flanders, a sort of grand committee representing the interests of Bruges and its district and the industrial towns of Ghent and Ypres, wielded considerable political influence. They openly pressed for a commercial treaty which would allow Flanders to remain neutral even at times when England and France were at war. Their demands posed an awkward dilemma for the Duke of Burgundy. As the King’s uncle and a considerable figure on his council, Philip could not easily remove a French principality from the international orbit of France. But neither could he ignore the interest of the powerful commercial and industrial oligarchies of Flanders on whom he depended for his political authority and a growing proportion of his revenues.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, as France moved closer to war with England and the war at sea acquired a momentum of its own, these ancient dilemmas re-emerged. The English government had generally treated Flanders as an autonomous state and a neutral, in spite of its legal status as part of the French kingdom. But the expansion of English privateering to target French cargoes carried in neutral bottoms spelled disaster for the important Flemish carrying trade. In the course of 1402 no fewer than twenty-seven Flemish ships had been captured at sea on account of England’s quarrel with France. When the winter gales subsided in March 1403 and the English privateers resumed their cruises they took another twenty-six Flemish ships in the space of two months. The Duke of Burgundy’s first instinct had been to take reprisals against English merchants and goods in Flanders. But his subjects, terrified of falling out with their main trading partner, refused to cooperate. Meeting at Ypres in July 1402 the Four Members resolved to look for an accommodation with England instead. As one of its representatives told the English agents in Calais, whatever the Duke might say ‘the land of Flanders is no enemy of the King of England’.

That autumn they sent ambassadors to England and Scotland to open negotiations for what amounted to a treaty of neutrality. These initiatives culminated in an agreement with Henry IV’s council at Westminster on 7 March 1403. The terms provided for a temporary truce pending a conference at Calais in July, when it was hoped to make a more permanent arrangement. Meanwhile Flemish goods were to be immune from seizure in England or at sea, on the Flemings’ undertaking that they would not pass French goods off as their own. A corresponding immunity was conferred on English cargoes in Flanders. The practical effect was to allow Flemish traders to exclude French goods from the Flemish carrying trade as if France was a foreign country. The Flemish emissaries understood this perfectly. When Philip received them in Paris after their return they pressed him to allow Flanders to ‘remain neutral in the war of the two realms’. They were followed a few days later by a delegation of the Four Members. There were ‘rumours and fears throughout Flanders’, they said, that war would shortly break out with England. The life of the territory depended on the trade in cloth and wool. They would all be ruined if the war was allowed to interrupt it.

Since one of the Flemish negotiators at Westminster was his councillor and the other a canon of St Donatien in Bruges, the Duke of Burgundy must have given at least his tacit assent to their dealings with the English. But he regarded them as a disagreeable necessity. As the date fixed for the Anglo-Flemish conference at Calais approached, Philip reluctantly submitted to the Flemish demands. At the beginning of May 1403, during an interval of lucidity, Charles VI was induced to let Philip negotiate a separate treaty with England in his capacity as Count of Flanders. The terms of his negotiating authority were hammered out between his officials and Charles’s councillors in Paris in the course of June. It was a remarkable document, which envisaged an immunity not just for the Anglo-Flemish trade but for the county itself. The Duke was authorised to agree that if war broke out the Flemings would not be required to take up arms in the cause of France. French royal troops would not be allowed to operate from Flanders unless the English actually invaded it, and French ships of war would not be allowed to use Flemish ports except for short visits to take on water and victuals. It is obvious that some features of this arrangement were completely unacceptable to the French royal council and had been included simply to satisfy the Four Members. In a secret protocol drawn up shortly afterwards Philip promised the King that in spite of the breadth of the authority conferred on him he would agree nothing that might prevent a French army from launching an expedition to Scotland or an invasion of England from Flemish ports.

For some years Flanders was destined to pursue two inconsistent policies towards England, the Duke’s policy and that of the Four Members. The Four Members did their best to enforce the agreement that they had made with Henry IV. They sent their agents to every port of western Flanders from Sluys to Gravelines with orders to stop the fitting out of ships of war against England. At least one corsair who defied their wishes was imprisoned. Meanwhile Philip of Burgundy declined to be bound by the agreement and in April 1403 authorised the seizure of £10,000 worth of English merchandise by the water bailiff of Sluys in retaliation for the latest piratical raids in the North Sea. Philip nominated his own representatives to participate in the Anglo-Flemish conference at Calais alongside those of the Four Members, but they were consistently obstructive, raising one procedural objection after another. As a result the conference was repeatedly adjourned without a permanent agreement. Nevertheless the provisional arrangements agreed at Westminster were extended from session to session and progressively expanded as the English pressed their demands and the Flemings yielded. In August 1403 the Four Members agreed to formalise the prohibition on the carriage of French cargoes in Flemish ships and extended it to cover Scottish merchandise as well. They also promised to release English prisoners and cargoes seized by the Duke’s officers. All of this was done on their own authority without any formal endorsement by either the Duke of Burgundy or the King of France. The French royal council expressed the strongest misgivings about the whole business and in the event the August agreement was never ratified. But it was generally observed in practice and negotiations were never entirely broken off. The English government maintained what amounted to a permanent diplomatic mission in Calais charged with the conduct of relations with Flanders under the supervision of Henry IV’s long-serving lieutenant-governor of the town, Richard Aston, and a meticulous Oxford lawyer called Nicholas Ryshton. It would take them four years of continuous and accident-prone negotiation before an Anglo-Flemish treaty was finally concluded in very different political conditions in 1407.

The Pirate War, 1402–1404 Part II

Brittany was not an economic or maritime power on a level with Flanders, but shipowning was just as important to its people. Much of the population of the duchy was concentrated in the innumerable small harbours of its coastal fringe and drew their subsistence from the sea. Breton ships were actively engaged in the entrepôt trades in grain, wine and salt, trades which were heavily dependent on the great producing areas of Poitou and Gascony and the markets of England and Flanders. The Bretons were therefore just as vulnerable as the Flemings to the disruption of the sea lanes of the Channel and the North Sea. The surviving customs records suggest that Brittany’s trade with England fell by more than half during the maritime wars of 1402. No comparable assessment can be made of the impact on Brittany’s trade with Flanders but it must have been considerable. Flanders, as the author of the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye observed in the 1430s, was ‘the staple of their marchaundy, which marchaundy may not pass [that] way but by the coast of England’.

The political situation in Brittany was at this stage extremely uncertain. The duchy had been ruled since the 1340s by the house of Montfort, a baronial family from the Île de France which had succeeded in establishing itself in power only after a succession of civil wars and with English military support. Their rivals the counts of Penthièvre, who had been backed by the French Crown, had been defeated in the field and finally submitted in the treaty of Guérande, which brought an end to a quarter of a century of civil war in 1365. The outcome had eventually been acknowledged by the French Crown in 1381, when John IV de Montfort had submitted to Charles VI and renounced his former English connections. But the treaty did not put an end to the divisions of Brittany, any more than John IV’s submission put an end to the residual suspicion of his house among the politicians in Paris. The counts of Penthièvre, although they paid lip-service to the treaties and did homage to the Montfort dukes, had never recognised defeat. In the 1380s and 1390s, they had maintained a sullen resistance, punctuated by occasional outbreaks of violence. They were supported by a network of clients and allies dominated by Olivier de Clisson, former Constable of France and the most powerful territorial magnate in Brittany. Clisson, whose daughter Marguerite had married the head of the house of Penthièvre, had for many years been the animating spirit behind their opposition to the reigning dynasty.

John IV had died at Nantes in November 1399, leaving a ten-year-old son to succeed him as John V. The government was exercised on the child’s behalf by his mother Joan of Navarre, a beautiful and politically astute woman of thirty-one. In the short period of her rule Joan’s main concern was to protect her son from the venomous legacy of Brittany’s fourteenth-century civil wars. To this end she negotiated a historic reconciliation with Olivier de Clisson. He was now a venerable figure in his mid-sixties and age had dulled his former ambitions. On 23 March 1402 Joan had her son John, although still a minor, crowned as duke in Nantes cathedral, the first recorded occasion on which any duke of Brittany had received a formal coronation. Clisson himself appeared at the ceremony and marked the end of the ancient and destructive feud by knighting the young Duke in front of the high altar of the cathedral. According to a later, perhaps apocryphal story, his daughter had urged him to seize the chance to secure the duchy for her family. ‘Cruel, perverse woman,’ he is supposed to have replied, dismissing her from his presence with such fury that she broke her leg as she escaped down the stairs.

The timing of John V’s coronation had been carefully planned. As soon as the festivities were over Joan announced her intention of marrying Henry IV of England. After what must have been several months of secret negotiations she was married to him by proxy in a ceremony at the palace of Eltham on 3 April 1402. The couple were not complete strangers. They had met at least once in 1398, when she had accompanied her first husband on a brief visit to England. Joan probably married Henry for status and it may be for companionship. He was thirty-four years old, a widower for the past decade, a famous figure in the world of European chivalry and a king. Henry’s own motives are more difficult to divine. Brittany was important to England. It had long-standing commercial relations with the country. It also stood across the main sea and land routes to Gascony. It is natural to suppose that Henry IV hoped to renew England’s old alliance with the Breton duchy and perhaps even take control of the regency. But in the conditions of 1402 these ideas were hardly realistic. Joan’s declared intention was to resign the regency and join her new husband in England. The great ceremonies at Nantes suggest that the plan was to leave John V in Brittany as the nominal head of his government with Olivier de Clisson as regent for the brief period of eighteen months before he reached his majority. Clisson had already been put in possession of the newly enlarged and refortified citadel at Nantes which served as the centre of the ducal administration.

To the Duke of Burgundy, however, a Clisson regency in Brittany was hardly more welcome than an English one. Olivier de Clisson was a declared ally of Louis of Orléans. Indeed all the circumstantial evidence suggests that Louis had actively promoted a Clisson regency in the hope of adding the duchy of Brittany to his extensive network of alliances. Philip was determined to prevent it. Charles VI had relapsed into his old incapacity in July 1402 and, apart from a fortnight in early October, remained ‘absent’ for the next seven months. For the first time a major decision had to be made in Paris without reference to him. In the last week of August 1402 the Duke of Orléans returned to the capital from Coucy and procured the despatch in the King’s name of a testy letter to the baronage of Brittany urging them to get on with the business of appointing Clisson as regent. But Louis had underestimated the strength of the opposition to Clisson in Brittany itself, especially among the officials of the late duke and the noblemen who had served him against the house of Blois during the civil wars. They distrusted the ex-Constable and feared that once in power he would pursue the grudges accumulated over thirty years of dynastic conflict. They responded to the royal letters by pressing the Duke of Burgundy to intervene. For three weeks in September 1402 Philip called in all his favours among the princes and politicians about the King. There were prolonged discussions between Philip and the leading councillors and officers of the King in the castles of Melun and Corbeil and at Jean II de Montaigu’s mansion at Marcoussis until he finally got his way.

Towards the end of September Philip left for Brittany to take control of the duchy. He entered Nantes on 1 October 1402. He dazzled the duchess and the nobility by the magnificence of his suite and the grandeur of his manner, and showered them with gifts, banquets and flattery. On 19 October the Estates of Brittany gathered in the city. They agreed to appoint the Duke of Burgundy as guardian of the young John V and his three brothers Arthur, Gilles and Richard. Olivier de Clisson resisted these measures as best he could with the support of his kinsmen and allies. But a large majority of those present was against them. Clisson finally submitted with ill grace and surrendered Nantes castle to Philip’s officers. The Duke spent the next six weeks in Brittany dealing with the practical arrangements for the government of the duchy. The administration was placed under his control. The principal ducal castles were delivered up to his officers and garrisoned with French troops. Joan of Navarre was persuaded to surrender her dower lands in return for a money pension. In January 1403 she embarked with her two unmarried daughters on a fleet of English ships escorted by a magnificent cortège of noblemen sent out from England to fetch her. Philip of Burgundy had already left for Paris taking John V and two of his brothers with him.

The change of regime in Brittany had an immediate impact on the duchy’s relations with England. For as long as Joan of Navarre remained in Brittany open hostilities with England were avoided. There were many piratical incidents but both sides declared themselves willing in principle to make reparations for them. However, within weeks of Joan’s departure, Brittany found itself in the front line of the maritime war. Trade to English ports abruptly ceased in February 1403, possibly on the orders of the Duke of Burgundy’s officers. Breton seamen joined forces with those of other French ports and stepped up their attacks on English and Gascon shipping in the Bay of Biscay and the Channel. In the spring active steps were being taken to assemble a Breton fleet for operations against England itself.


The exclusion of Olivier de Clisson from the regency of Brittany was Philip of Burgundy’s last notable triumph over his nephew. Within a few months the Duke of Orléans had finally achieved the dominant position within the French government that he had craved ever since his brother’s first attack of insanity. Behind the closed doors of the Hôtel Saint-Pol and the princely mansions of the capital a great power struggle was in progress throughout the first half of 1403. Charles VI was ill again, as he had been for most of the past year. His recent relapses had been worse and longer than before. There were concerns for his life. Louis of Orléans’ influence in council visibly grew as Charles’s health deteriorated. He was the man of the future to whom the ambitious, the greedy and the simply realistic were inevitably drawn. The consensus was expressed by the clerk to the Parlement. He was no friend of Louis but thought that by right of birth and stature he was the ‘natural’ ruler of France in a way that could never be true of the King’s elderly uncles. There had been a trial of strength at the beginning of the year when Louis de Sancerre, the valiant old Constable and companion of Du Guesclin, resigned his office. The favoured candidate of the court was the Queen’s brother, Louis of Bavaria. But the Duke of Orléans succeeded in imposing his ally Charles d’Albret in spite of the fact that he was, in the words of an indignant contemporary, ‘lame, small, weak, and lacking in age, dignity or military experience’.

The Dukes of Berry and Burgundy could see the direction of events and moved to pre-empt it. On about 25 April 1403 the King enjoyed a partial recovery. On the following day there occurred what was described as a meeting of the royal council, although no notice of it appears to have been given and the only persons present were the King, his two uncles, and the clerk. It approved three new ordinances making radical changes to the arrangements for the government of the realm. They abrogated the ordinances of 1393, which had provided for the Duke of Orléans to become regent in the event of the King’s death, and provided instead that the Dauphin would succeed at once without a formal minority or regency. Until he was old enough to exercise his powers in person the government would be carried on in his name by the Queen with the support of the four royal dukes of Berry, Burgundy, Orléans and Bourbon and the rest of the royal council. Decisions of this body were to be made by the voices of the ‘larger and wiser number’. Similar arrangements were to apply while the King was alive but ‘absent’ or otherwise incapable of conducting affairs of state. Any letters of Charles VI purporting to modify these provisions were declared to be void. At the same time the King agreed to marry two of his children into Philip of Burgundy’s family. The Dauphin’s hand was promised to Margaret, daughter of Philip’s heir, John Count of Nevers, in spite of an earlier undertaking that he would marry a daughter of Louis of Orléans. The King’s daughter Michelle would marry the Count of Nevers’ eldest son Philip, who was destined to inherit the Burgundian empire after John’s death. These ordinances were aimed at diluting the influence of the Duke of Orléans and the Queen. They would have instituted a system of collective decision-making which the Duke of Burgundy could hope to control in his lifetime, while the marriage alliances would ensure that his heirs would succeed to his influence at the centre of affairs in the next two generations.

Louis of Orléans was out of Paris when the new ordinances were made but he returned as soon as he heard about them and set about turning the King round. On 7 May Charles was induced to confirm the rights granted to Louis under all earlier ordinances and to repeat his previous promise that the Dauphin should marry a daughter of the house of Orléans. Any past or future instrument prejudicing Louis’ rights was declared to be null and void. The pliable king can scarcely have been able to follow what was happening. Four days later, on the 11th, the King was made to issue a fresh ordinance at a meeting of the council at which only the Duke of Burgundy is recorded as being present. This declared that the letters procured by Louis on 7 May were inconsistent with those of 26 April, a state of affairs which was described as disruptive and intolerable. The letters of 7 May were accordingly to be treated as void. Who prevailed in this war of ordinance and counter-ordinance? In different ways both of the rivals did. Philip’s most significant gain was the double betrothal of Charles’s children to those of John of Nevers, which Charles refused to repudiate. But it was Louis who prevailed on the form of government in the King’s ‘absences’. None of the competing ordinances appears to have been put into effect or regarded as expressing the King’s will. They were all ignored by subsequent legislation, which treated the political arrangements made in 1393 as still in force.

What is clear is that from the summer of 1403 onwards the Duke of Orléans consistently got his way on critical issues which had hitherto divided the council. As always the most reliable indicator of the balance of power was the state of France’s relations with the Avignon Pope. On the night of 11 March, after five years in which he had been blockaded by his adversaries in the papal palace at Avignon, Benedict XIII had escaped heavily disguised and found his way to the castle of the counts of Provence at Châteaurenard. His escape had been organised by the Aragonese ambassador with the assistance of Robert de Braquemont, Louis of Orléans’ representative in the papal city. Protected by a large garrison, in territory that still recognised him, Benedict could now defy his enemies with impunity. In Paris Louis moved quickly to build upon his victory. On 15 May a council of the French Church gathered under the glazed eye of the King in the Hôtel Saint-Pol. It had been summoned before Benedict’s escape in order to endorse the policy of withholding recognition from both popes which the Dukes of Burgundy and Berry had pursued for the past decade. But by the time it met Louis of Orléans was very obviously in control. He came armed with various declarations which his agents had extracted from Benedict XIII, in which the obstinate old man promised to mend his autocratic ways, to submit the whole question of the papal succession to a council of the whole Latin Church within a year and meanwhile to moderate the burden of papal taxation on the French Church. The Pope had not the least intention of performing these undertakings if he could avoid it. But they made the desired impression on the council in Paris. On 28 May Louis summoned before him at the Hôtel Saint-Pol a carefully selected delegation of bishops who were loyal to him and to Benedict. They gave him a list of those who were in favour of restoring obedience to the Avignon Pope. Whether the names on the list were a majority we shall never know. Louis at once took them to his brother, who was recovering from his siesta in the cool darkness of the palace chapel. He presented him with the list. Charles agreed to recognise Benedict as Pope. Knowing the King’s vacillating temperament Louis seized a crucifix from the altar and called on his brother to back up his decision with an oath. A notary was produced from Louis’ entourage to record it. The proceedings were brought to an end with a sung Te Deum led by the King himself. The Dukes of Berry and Burgundy were not even consulted. When they learned that evening what had happened they were appalled. They did their best to change the King’s mind. But Charles was immovable. The decision was proclaimed from the steps of Notre-Dame on 30 May 1403.


The Duke of Orléans’ assumption of power in Paris quickly affected France’s already tense relations with England. At the end of March 1403 Louis wrote another deliberately offensive letter to Henry IV and sent his herald across the Channel to deliver it. Louis accused the English King of usurping Richard II’s crown and of deliberate cruelty and dishonesty towards Richard’s widow. He publicly challenged the suggestion made in Henry’s last letter that he had himself been one of the usurper’s chief accomplices. He had never, he said, intended to support a coup d’état but had only wanted to help Henry recover the heritage of his father. Henry wrote back a month later with a rebuke for writing in a manner unworthy of a royal prince. There followed a leaden point-by-point rebuttal in which he lost no opportunity to rub in their past alliance, revealing fresh details of their cordial relations since his accession. It was not so much a correspondence as an exchange of manifestos. Henry’s letter was delivered to the Duke of Orléans by Lancaster Herald at Coucy on 30 May 1403. Shortly after this, in June, planning began in Paris for the repudiation of the current truce and the reopening of the war with England. The French government envisaged simultaneous campaigns against English possessions in Calais and Gascony in the following spring. Three thousand men-at-arms and a thousand crossbowmen would be deployed on each front for five months plus a mobile reserve of 300 mounted men in Normandy and Picardy to fight off English coastal raids. In addition a large naval force was to be deployed off Calais to cut off supplies and reinforcements from England. A sailing fleet would be obtained by requisitioning and converting merchantmen in the French Atlantic provinces. In addition it was also proposed to acquire the use of ‘at least’ thirty war galleys of which ten were expected to be contributed by the King of Castile under the current naval treaty with France. Louis of Orléans addressed letters to many German princes and noblemen, calling on them to contribute troops to the campaign.

While this was going on in Paris the English and French ambassadors were meeting at Leulinghem for another round of negotiations on the confirmation and enforcement of the truce. The conference opened with the ill-tempered exchanges which had become normal on such occasions. Henry Bowet Bishop of Bath, who spoke for the English delegation, raised the question of the Duke of Orléans’ challenge of the previous year and his more recent letter of March. What did all this signify? To write such things hardly seemed to be consistent with the truce which they had come to Leulinghem to discuss. Who was in charge in Paris? Was the Duke of Orléans acting on his own account? Or with the authority of the King? Or of the royal council? Until they received an answer to these questions, sealed by the King or the royal princes, the English were not prepared to proceed with the business of the conference. The French delegation was led by the experienced but abrasive Jean de Hangest and the President of the Chambre des Comptes, Jean de Montaigu Bishop of Chartres. They were extremely guarded. The French King’s position, ‘or at least the position of his council’, Jean de Hangest replied, was that the truce of 1396 remained in force and that they would not be the ones to break it. All the royal princes were agreed upon that. The English asked for clarification. The French said they were unable to say more because of the incapacity of the King, who had relapsed into incoherence again at the beginning of the month. They thought that they might have a fuller answer in the following year, or earlier if he recovered earlier. Bowet’s bluff had been called. He did not walk out. The maintenance of the truce was too important to the English King. On 27 June 1403 the two sides agreed to republish the truce of 1396 and made new arrangements to deal with claims arising out of the fighting at sea. Another month was passed in quarrelling over the unpaid ransom of John II, the unreturned dowry of Isabelle of France, compensation for prizes taken at sea, the release of prisoners captured in the fighting, the perennial issue of the application of the truce to Scotland and the diplomatic stomach cramps of Jean de Hangest by which the French, as their English opposite numbers saw it, tried to drag out the proceedings whenever they seemed to be approaching some sort of conclusion. None of these questions was resolved.

The truth was that the French ambassadors at Leulinghem were looking over their shoulders at larger plans being made in Paris. In the margins of the conference the Bishop of Chartres and his colleagues were busy preparing a draft war budget. They costed the proposed military and naval operations against England at no less than 1,212,500 livres. This was an enormous sum. But it was not the limit of the Duke of Orléans’ ambitions. He was also contemplating a major campaign in northern Italy under his own command during the autumn and winter. His father-in-law Gian Galeazzo Visconti had died suddenly at the height of his powers in September 1402, leaving his domains to be governed by his widow as regent for their under-age son. Louis feared for the future of the duchy of Milan and his own county of Asti, which were threatened with internal disintegration and attack from outside by Florence, the papacy and Ruprecht’s Germany, all of them victims of Gian Galeazzo’s twenty-year career of conquest.

In the first half of July 1403 there was intense discussion between the royal dukes in Paris about how Louis’ multiple wars were to be financed. The whole subject was exceptionally sensitive and their deliberations were veiled in secrecy. What is clear is that they agreed in principle that when the time came there would be a heavy new taille. The Duke of Burgundy might have been expected to object. In the event he did not. Instead he seems to have abandoned his long-standing attachment to the truce with England and acquiesced in the imposition of a tax very like the one that he had gone to such lengths to veto in 1402. Why? Part of the answer is that his political position in Paris was weaker than it had been a year earlier. But the main reason appears to be that he was bought off. Having resigned himself to the loss of his political influence he exacted a large increase in his drawings from the French royal treasury as the price of his complaisance. He ultimately got an enlarged pension for the current year of 100,000 livres and another 120,000 livres by way of a one-off grant from the treasury reserve. Almost all of this money was paid over between October 1403 and April 1404. From a strictly financial point of view it was an outstanding bargain. Philip obtained more in these months from the French royal treasury than in any comparable period of his life.

It is obvious from the exchanges at Leulinghem that the English were profoundly suspicious of their French opposite numbers and doubted their good faith. They had good reason to, for the French government, while publicly adhering to the truce, was using the Bretons as surrogates to break it. During the summer of 1403 a fleet of armed merchantmen was assembled at Morlaix in north-western Brittany for service against the English: some thirty ships with 1,200 men-at-arms on board in addition to their crews. The scale of this venture and the identity of those involved leaves little doubt that it had the support of the French King’s council. The principal captains were the Admiral of Brittany, Jean de Penhoet, and the captain of the ducal fortress at Brest, Guillaume du Châtel, a chamberlain of the Duke of Orléans who had been foremost in the lists at Montendre the year before. The Morlaix fleet did a great deal of damage. On 8 July 1403 it surprised an English raiding force which was lying at anchor in the harbour at Saint-Matthieu. The English tried to escape but the Bretons split their force into two divisions and headed them off, uttering terrible cries as they closed with the opposing ships. The ensuing fight lasted for six hours until the English ran out of ammunition. By then 500 of their crews had been killed in the fight and another 500 thrown into the sea and drowned. A thousand more were captured and ransomed. Forty English ships were reported to have been captured. Fresh from landing their prizes and prisoners the Bretons sailed again at about the beginning of August against the west of England. There they lay off the harbours waiting to attack ships entering or leaving. They landed and burned settlements, killing many of the inhabitants and carrying off others for ransom. On 9 August 1403 these operations came to a violent close when they penetrated Plymouth Sound in the early afternoon and landed their men about a mile from the town. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham’s accusations of negligence may well have been justified, for nothing appears to have been done to interfere with the landings. The town was unwalled. The French approached it unobserved at nightfall and fell on it after dark, rapidly overwhelming the inhabitants. The whole night was passed in burning and looting. On the following morning they sailed away with many prisoners and several captured freighters as Sir Thomas Berkeley approached with the levies of the western counties. On their way home the Bretons landed on Guernsey and Jersey, causing more destruction and exacting heavy patis from the inhabitants. It was the worst coastal raid that England had suffered since the 1370s.


These events coincided with the gravest internal crisis of Henry IV’s reign. In the spring of 1403 the Percies, Henry Earl of Northumberland and his son Harry Hotspur, who had taken the leading part in the revolution which put Henry on the throne in 1399, resolved to break with him. Their reasons reveal much about the English King’s failings as a political manager. The Percies had been the dominant territorial magnates of the north for nearly a century. For most of the reign of Richard II they had enjoyed almost viceregal powers in the north as wardens of the east march, and in the aftermath of Henry IV’s coup of 1399 in the west march, Cheshire and north Wales as well. They owed their power in the region to personal factors which it was not easy for outsiders to match: their immense landholdings in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Cumberland, their possession of some of the principal private fortresses of the north, their familiarity with border society on both sides and the intense tribal loyalty which these highly successful warriors inspired among their tenants, allies and followers. In the words of the fifteenth-century chronicler of the region, himself a Percy retainer, they ‘have the hertes of the people by north and ever had’. They had become indispensable. When Richard II had briefly attempted at the end of his reign to exclude them from the wardenship, his nominee the Duke of Aumale had bluntly told him that it was impossible to govern the north without them.

In 1403 the Percies had a number of reasons to feel that their worth was not being recognised. One was Henry IV’s attempt to balance their power by promoting the interests of the Nevilles, the other great noble house of the north. Ralph Neville Earl of Westmorland was the King’s brother-in-law and had been close to him for many years. At the time of Henry’s accession Westmorland was one of the great territorial magnates of the north with important holdings on both sides of the Pennines. In the north-east, where the Percy interests were concentrated, his power was visibly growing. He was already much the largest landowner in the palatine county of Durham. Shortly after the King’s coronation he had been granted the immense honour of Richmond in Yorkshire, traditionally a possession of the Dukes of Brittany, which had previously been farmed or leased to the Percies. He acquired control of the border fortresses of Wark and Bamburgh in Northumberland, where the Percies had once been the sole military power. The removal of Hotspur in 1402 from the command of Roxburgh, the last surviving royal fortress in southern Scotland apart from Berwick, was a symbolic act. Roxburgh stood in territory where the Percies had ancient claims and large ambitions. Hotspur’s replacement was the Earl of Westmorland.

The Pirate War, 1402–1404 Part III

The Percies’ resentment of the Nevilles’ growing status in the north was aggravated by their precarious financial position. They had personally borne much of the heavy burden of funding the defence of the Scottish and Welsh marches. Henry IV was tardy in repaying them, the result of his own acute financial problems. In July 1401 Hotspur reckoned that the arrears owed to him and his father had reached £5,000. Two years later they had risen fourfold to £20,000. The Percies were immensely rich, but cash was scarce and their lack of it demeaned them in the face of their followers. As the Earl wrote to Henry in June 1403, unless his fees and expenses were paid ‘the chivalry of your realm will be discredited in these parts and I and my son, who are your loyal lieges, will be dishonoured’. It did not help that the Percies’ tallies from the Exchequer were frequently dishonoured, whereas their Neville rival had so far experienced no difficulty in getting his own tallies paid. After the victory at Humbleton Hill, Northumberland and Hotspur and their followers had been covered in praise and honour but little if anything had been done to clear their arrears and their hopes of rich war profits had been dashed by Henry’s refusal to let them ransom the more valuable prisoners. Hotspur refused to comply with the King’s order to surrender the Earl of Douglas to him, an issue which was still unresolved. Medieval government was based on a combination of sentiment and bluff. The mental barrier to rebellion had been weakened by the events of 1399. One coup d’état by its nature encourages another. The Percies resolved to seize their chance to control the power of the Crown in their own interest.

In about April 1403 Hotspur assembled the Percy tenants and retainers and invaded Teviotdale in Lothian, one of the domains of the Earl of Douglas which had been granted to him by Henry IV after the battle of Humbleton Hill. He laid siege to Cocklaws castle at Ormiston, near Hawick. In May the defenders of this place agreed to surrender it on 1 August unless it was relieved before then by King Robert or the Duke of Albany. There are many odd features of this campaign. There is good reason to think that it was a charade plotted between the Percies and the Earl of Douglas to cover the assembly of a large army without arousing suspicion. Cocklaws was an insignificant stone peel defended by a small garrison. Indeed the Duke of Albany had some difficulty in persuading the general council of Scotland that it was worth relieving. Hotspur also brought Douglas himself on the campaign, although it was ostensibly directed against his domains, and allowed him to recruit troops among his followers in the region. It seems likely that the two men had done a deal by which Douglas traded his liberty for his military and political support against Henry IV. Hotspur had other supporters too. He had obtained sealed letters from prominent English lords, which the chronicler John Hardyng claimed to have seen, pledging their support for a rebellion to overthrow the King.

While the Percies were in Scotland they opened negotiations with Owen Glendower using one of Hotspur’s Welsh squires as a go-between. In July Glendower embarked on an offensive in Carmarthenshire which was probably concerted with Hotspur. The Welsh of the region rose in a body and thousands came to join him. At Llandovery, the nationalist leader mustered 8,240 men, the largest army that he would ever command. They captured Newcastle Emlyn and the royal castle at Carmarthen, one of the oldest English towns in Wales and the administrative centre of the south-west. English officials in Wales despaired. From the walls of Brecon castle one of them reported that the ‘whole Welsh nation’ was in arms. The border counties were gripped with panic. Writing to the King on 8 July the archdeacon of Hereford begged him to come in person to rescue the situation. ‘For God’s love, my liege lord, thinketh on yourself and your estate or by my trouth all is lost else.’ In fact the alarm was probably overdone. Glendower lost 600 of his men in an ambush and was forced to abandon Carmarthen. Shortly afterwards Brecon castle was relieved by a force sent from Herefordshire. Henry IV declined to intervene. He was on his way north. Suspicious perhaps of what was going on in the north, he had evidently decided to take control over Hotspur’s campaign in Scotland and apparently proposed to join him outside Cocklaws. The King had reached Nottingham when he learned that the Percies had risen in rebellion.

Hotspur had withdrawn from Cocklaws into Northumberland with his army. From here he marched on Chester, his old headquarters, accompanied by a handful of men, no more than 200 according to one account, including the Earl of Douglas and a company of his followers. Hotspur had acquired a large following in Cheshire and north Wales during the Welsh rising. He counted on being able to raise a new army there. He had apparently agreed to join Glendower on the banks of the Severn near Shrewsbury. His father would follow, bringing with him the army of Cocklaws and whatever additional troops could be raised among the Percy tenants and followers in Northumberland and Yorkshire. The sixteen-year-old Prince of Wales had recently been appointed as the King’s lieutenant in Wales. He had established his headquarters at Shrewsbury. The third Percy, Northumberland’s brother Thomas Earl of Worcester, was with him there. He was the Prince’s guardian and tutor and a highly influential figure in the counsels of the King. They had a small army under their command, about 600 men-at-arms and rather more than 3,000 archers who had been recruited in the Welsh marches for service against Glendower. When the news arrived of Hotspur’s approach, Worcester made off to join him at Chester. About a third of the army at Shrewsbury defected and went with him.

On 10 July 1403 Hotspur raised his flag at Chester. From here he published two manifestos. One was directed to potential supporters in England and was sent to them in sealed letters. In this document Hotspur presented himself as a reformer. He was acting, he said, in the public interest in order to reform the government, install wise and loyal councillors and stop the frivolous waste of tax revenues by Henry’s officials. The other was addressed to Hotspur’s own army and the military community of Cheshire, who had been Richard II’s most powerful and consistent supporters in his lifetime. To them he presented himself as a revolutionary. He announced that Richard II was alive and was with his father in the north-east. They were raising an army there which would shortly join him to challenge the usurpation of ‘Henry of Lancaster’. Hotspur knew well enough that Richard was dead. The real object, as he admitted to his intimates, was to put the eleven-year-old Edmund Mortimer Earl of March on the throne. The young Earl had the aura of legitimacy in England as the descendant of the senior surviving line of Edward III. He also had a strong appeal for Hotspur’s Welsh allies. His family were major landowners in Wales but unlike other marcher lords had intermarried with the native princely families. The Earl’s uncle, Edmund Mortimer, had become the partisan and son-in-law of Glendower. In a short time Hotspur raised a large army from the men of Chester and north Wales. Contemporary estimates gave him 14,000 men. The figure is certainly exaggerated but Hotspur probably had the largest army currently in the field. They included many of the surviving members of Richard II’s Cheshire guard, office-holders of the late King who had been excluded from favour after his deposition and many others who had lost out in the tumults of the past two decades.

Hotspur’s creation of an army from nothing was a tribute to his skill as a soldier and propagandist and to his famously affable personality. But from the moment that he had done it things began to go wrong. The Earl of Northumberland’s efforts in the north-east took longer than expected. Left to his own devices Hotspur decided to advance against the Prince at Shrewsbury without waiting for his father. His plan was probably to defeat the Prince before Henry IV could reach him with reinforcements, and then join forces with Owen Glendower to confront the King. The movements of the Welsh leader at this point are particularly obscure but according to one report a large body of Welsh wearing Richard II’s insignia on their tunics was making for Lichfield as if to head off the King. Henry IV reached Burton on Trent on about 16 July 1403 and for the first time sized up the rebellion. He summoned men from all the counties of the Midlands to join him on the road. But George Dunbar, who was with him, urged him not to wait for them but to make straight for Shrewsbury with only the men he had about him. They could deal with the Welsh later.

The King reached Shrewsbury on 20 July 1403, just before Hotspur, and joined forces with his son. On the following morning they drew up their combined army in battle array and advanced against the rebels, who were encamped about three miles north of them by the village now known as Battlefield. Hotspur and his men were taken by surprise. There was a brief pause while both sides tried to negotiate. But Henry and Dunbar were determined to fight before Hotspur had time to recover and array his forces. They cut the talking short and attacked. It was a bloody fight between two English armies with similar tactics and weapons. Both sides suffered heavy casualties from the opening volleys of the bowmen. The Prince was severely injured by an arrow in the face which penetrated six inches into his head. Thirty-six knights of the King’s personal retinue were killed around him. The royalists initially fell back. Some of them broke ranks and fled the field. Hoping to seize the advantage of the moment, Hotspur and Douglas gathered their men and charged what they thought was the King’s standard. But Henry IV had two doubles in the host and was quickly removed from danger by his companions. The charge was brought to a halt and Hotspur and Douglas found themselves trapped in the midst of the enemy army. ‘Henry Percy King’, some of his men cried. But at that moment Hotspur was struck and fell to the ground. Henry shouted out that Hotspur was dead. The cry was taken up and passed through the ranks on both sides. The rebel army began to melt away. Douglas, a huge man clearly visible across the battlefield, struck left and right about him and was one of the last to be captured. Wounded in the genitals, he became a prisoner for the second time in a year. All the surviving rebel leaders were captured. On the following morning 1,847 dead were counted on the field. Another 3,000 corpses had fallen in the pursuit, their bodies scattered over a distance of three miles from the site of the battle. The body of Hotspur was pulled out of the mass of corpses and put on display. The Earl of Worcester was taken to see it and broke down and wept. On the next day he was summarily condemned for treason and beheaded together with two of Hotspur’s Cheshire lieutenants.

A week after the battle the Duke of Albany appeared with a large Scottish army outside Cocklaws, thus releasing the garrison from their undertaking to surrender. In England what remained of the rebel cause quickly collapsed. The Earl of Northumberland’s efforts ended in fiasco. The army that he had commanded in Scotland consisted mainly of borderers from Northumberland, many of whom would not fight against the King. The Earl had found more recruits in Yorkshire, the real heartland of his family. But the mustering arrangements were confused and many of them were unable to discover where he was. Eventually the Earl collected all the men he could find and tried to join his son at Chester in time for the decisive battle. Marching south, he found his route blocked by a loyalist force under his arch-rival the Earl of Westmorland. He retreated to Newcastle but found the gates of the town closed in his face. The townsmen would only allow him to enter for the night with a small retinue, leaving the rest of his army outside the walls. Believing that they were about to be betrayed, the men mutinied. Next day the Earl abandoned the fight and fled to the Percy castle at Warkworth.

At the beginning of August 1403 the Earl of Northumberland came before the King at Pontefract, the great fortress of the dukes of Lancaster in Yorkshire where Richard II had been murdered. The Earl, who was in his sixty-second year, was a broken man. He submitted to the King and promised to surrender all his castles in the north of England in return for his life and ‘sufficient’ honour. Henry stripped him of all his offices and held him under guard while his council considered what to do with him. But his fortresses continued to hold out for several months even when presented with written orders to surrender under the Earl’s seal. Henry’s officers were obliged to engage in patient negotiations with the garrisons of the great Percy strongholds at Alnwick and Warkworth and a number of smaller castles including Cockermouth, where most of the Scottish prisoners of Humbleton Hill were being held. At Berwick, which was a royal fortress but held by a Percy garrison, the captain, Sir William Clifford, set out his demands in impudent detail. They reflected a characteristic mixture of self-interest and Percy loyalism: a pardon for Clifford and his men; the garrison to be paid its arrears; the Percy domains to be preserved for the benefit of Hotspur’s nine-year-old son Henry; and Clifford himself to have custody of both Berwick and the young Henry. These issues were not resolved until the following year.

When at the end of the battle Henry IV had sent to the veteran Lancastrian magnate Sir John Stanley for his advice on how to treat the defeated army Stanley, who had been wounded by an arrow in the neck, is said to have replied, ‘rattelynge in the throte’, ‘Burn and slay! Burn and slay!’ Yet when it came to it the King’s vengeance was brief and muted. The heads of Hotspur and Thomas Percy were taken to London and impaled above the gatehouse of London Bridge. Their lands were confiscated and part of them used to endow the real hero of the battle, George Dunbar, who had proved himself to be Henry’s ablest commander in the short time since his flight from Scotland. Most of the rebel dead forfeited their property and the county of Cheshire was fined 3,000 marks plus an extra 300 marks on the city of Chester. Apart from the two defeated captains at Shrewsbury, a handful of ringleaders and a hermit who had preached in favour of the pseudo-Richard at York were executed. But most of the rebels received a royal pardon. They included the Earl of Northumberland, the greatest of them all, who was eventually pardoned at the request of the Parliamentary Commons. He was restored to his domains and left in control of all his fortresses in the north, some of which were still holding out against the King’s forces. The Commons declared that they regarded the Earl’s conduct as treasonable. But they remembered his valiant service against the Scots and were plainly frightened by the thought that the north might be lost. Henry IV could afford to be magnanimous. As the events of the following years would show, the power of the Percies was broken for a generation.


On 14 October 1403 the Duke of Orléans addressed his last epistle to the English King, this time addressing him as ‘Henry of Lancaster’. It was a rambling, eccentric and self-indulgent document in which Louis proclaimed himself the champion of his insulted niece Isabelle of France and of all of French womanhood. ‘If I have loved them and they have loved me,’ he added, ‘then the stock of love has risen and I am grateful and glad of it.’ He formally defied Henry IV, repudiating whatever bonds might once have existed between them, and declared his intention of attacking England as soon as an opportunity arose. Louis’ previous letters to Henry IV had been couched as declarations of private war in the belief that this would not engage the responsibility of the French state or involve the repudiation of the truce. But by now the pretence this was a purely personal vendetta was wearing thin. As the English Chancellor told Parliament the following January, Louis’ letters were ‘a great outrage, a disgrace to our lord the King and a shame and offence to the whole realm’. In spite of its highly personal and undiplomatic tone, the latest letter was clearly conceived by its author as a public act. He directed the clerk of the Parlement of Paris to register it among the royal ordinances. The clerk was surprised and indignant. ‘Prolix, windy and devoid of judgment or consequence’, he wrote in the margin of the register, ‘and why now?’

If the clerk had known more about what was happening in the French King’s council he could have answered his own question ‘why now?’ Louis of Orléans left for his domains on the Loire in mid-October 1403 and passed the rest of the year in the Rhône valley negotiating with Benedict XIII and preparing his campaign in northern Italy. But in Paris the King’s councillors were actively engaged in planning the double campaign against Gascony and Calais intended for the following spring. In Brittany and the Channel ports, ships were being requisitioned and armed for war. One of Louis of Orléans’ chamberlains, Charles de Savoisy, was on his way to Castile to hire more. Meanwhile the French suspended all diplomatic contacts with England. When the English ambassadors arrived in Calais in November 1403 for talks with the representatives of France and Flanders they found that there was no one to talk to. They tried to make contact with the French delegation but their letters were left unanswered for weeks. Discussion with the Four Members about a separate treaty with Flanders were taken over by the Duke of Burgundy and buried.

The French were generally ill-informed about English domestic politics but they did take notice of the Percy rebellion. The brief civil war opened their eyes to the vulnerability of Henry IV’s government at home and the significance of the Welsh rebellion. The French government had employed Welsh mercenaries for many years but they knew very little about Wales. The country was far away and even less accessible than Scotland. So far they had taken little interest in Owen Glendower. But this was about to change. In August 1403 a small squadron of ships sailed from France to make contact with the Welsh leader. The absence of any trace of this expedition in the French records suggests that it may have been a private enterprise of its captain, a knight called Jean d’Espagne, who in spite of his name was apparently a Breton. Towards the end of the month he reached south Wales and landed a company of at least 200 French and Breton soldiers. At the beginning of October the constable of the Lancastrian castle at Kidwelly on the Carmarthenshire coast recorded their arrival and reported that they had joined forces with Henry Don, one of the leaders of the rebellion in south Wales. They had already destroyed the extensive unwalled suburbs of Kidwelly and forced an entry into the borough below the castle.

The French arrived in Wales at a low point of English fortunes there. Henry IV had recently been in Carmarthenshire but had been forced by want of funds to withdraw from the country less than a fortnight after entering it. The castles on which the English depended to hold down the country and defend their colonies were in a bad state. The garrison of Carmarthen, the largest in Wales, was unpaid and refusing to serve beyond the term of its indentures. Other important garrisons were poorly supplied and seriously below strength. Caernarvon, on the Menai Strait, the centre of English administration in north-west Wales, was supposed to be defended by at least a hundred men but had fewer than forty. Harlech, which been under loose siege for several months, was defended by just five Englishmen and sixteen Welsh. Aberystwyth, also under siege, was reported to be on the verge of surrender for want of money, stores and men. These immense fortresses, masterpieces of military architecture constructed by the engineers of Edward I at the end of the thirteenth century, were designed to be defended by relatively small numbers of men on the assumption that they could be rapidly reinforced and resupplied by sea in emergencies. This calculation was rudely disturbed by the appearance of Jean d’Espagne’s squadron with its complement of soldiers. At the beginning of November 1403 he re-embarked his men and sailed north to the Menai Strait to support the Welsh siege of Caernarvon.

Henry IV’s response to the growing threat from France was constrained by his penury and his weak political position. His first instinct was to turn to privateers. On 26 August 1403 the King wrote to the bailiffs of all the leading privateering ports declaring that the Bretons, whom he had previously regarded as friends, were now to be treated as hostile and attacked wherever they could be found. In the following weeks a large fleet of armed privateers was assembled in the West Country ports: Bristol, Saltash, Fowey, Plymouth and Dartmouth. Their leaders were three prominent businessmen, John Hawley the elder, William Wilford of Exeter and Thomas Norton, reputed to be the richest merchant in Bristol. In about the middle of October they sailed against Brittany. In the course of this prodigiously destructive cruise the English captured ten ships off Finistère and another thirty which were found sheltering at Belle-Île laden with wine from La Rochelle. The crews were massacred, some of the ships sunk and the rest taken back to England with their cargoes. Many more were caught and sunk as they fled along the coast. At least eight of the captured ships were Castilian freighters carrying cargoes belonging to neutral merchants whose claims were to be a bone of contention between the Crown and the western seamen for years. Heading back with their spoil, the English completed their campaign with a series of attacks on coastal settlements in Finistère. They landed at Penmarch, burning the town and penetrating fifteen miles inland to destroy villages and manors. The famous victualling station at Saint-Matthieu a few miles north was destroyed. The garrison of Brest came out to challenge the invaders, supported by a large number of Bretons recruited inland, but were driven off with heavy casualties.

The English King was usually well-informed about what the French were doing. Ships were sent out to report on concentrations of shipping in French ports. The German Emperor’s ambassadors told him about Louis of Orléans’ efforts to recruit mercenaries in Germany and gave him a copy of one of his letters. At least one well-placed English spy reported regularly from Paris. Everything that happened in the French royal council, the English diplomats at Leulinghem unwisely boasted to their French opposite numbers, was at once reported to them. It was from this source that Henry’s council learned, probably in October 1403, about fresh operations at sea planned by the Count of Saint‑Pol.

Waleran Count of Saint-Pol was the leading territorial magnate of Picardy and the captain of the permanent French army which was stationed in a great arc from Gravelines to Boulogne to contain the English garrisons of Calais. He was a man with a past to live down. As a young prisoner of war in England in the 1370s he had married Richard II’s half-sister and done homage to the English King for his French domains. In 1379 he had been involved in an abortive attempt to put English garrisons into a number of castles in Picardy and Vermandois. Returning to France on the accession of Charles VI in 1380 he received a royal pardon, but many felt that he was lucky not to have been executed. In 1403 Saint-Pol instituted a blockade of Calais. He stopped overland traffic to the town through Picardy and Flanders, forbade French merchants to have any dealings there and ordered English ones to be arrested on the roads. He also sponsored privateering operations against English shipping in the Channel from the Flemish port of Gravelines in conjunction with professional corsairs from Flanders and Scotland. By October his ambitions had grown larger. He established a base at Le Crotoy at the mouth of the Somme. Here he recruited ships and seamen, mainly from Brittany, and soldiers from Picardy and Flanders, and laid in stores for a long campaign against coastal settlements in England. Shortly afterwards, finding that he had not enough ships, he moved his base to the great centre of French privateering at Harfleur in the estuary of the Seine, where he was able to increase his fleet to about 200 vessels.

On 9 November 1403, taking a leaf out of Louis of Orléans’ book, Saint-Pol wrote a letter of defiance to Henry IV in which he declared his intention of attacking England. He claimed that as Richard II’s kinsman and former ally he had a personal vendetta against the man who had murdered and supplanted him. By portraying his venture in this way Saint-Pol no doubt hoped to enable the French government to disclaim responsibility when the English complained, as they inevitably did. Henry IV regarded Saint-Pol’s venture as a serious threat. He was not deceived by his profession to be acting on his own initiative. The English ambassadors at Calais wrote a long protest to Philip of Burgundy. They found it hard to believe, they declared with self-conscious irony, that these things had been authorised by the King of France or his council and least of all by those such as Philip himself who had personally sworn to observe the truce in 1396.