Lützen 1631

Prelude: The Battles of Steinau and Alte Veste

Wallenstein had brought the imperial army back up to about 65,000 men. He advanced from Znaim into Bohemia with nearly half that number at the end of April. Saxon resistance collapsed. The Saxons and Bohemian exiles had thoroughly alienated the Bohemians by their plundering so that even the Protestants were glad to see them re-cross the mountains in mid-June. Wallenstein decided against invading Saxony. Leaving troops to guard Bohemia and Silesia, he headed west to join Maximilian at Eger on 1 July. Both men made an effort to get along. Maximilian was careful to address Wallenstein as duke of Mecklenburg, and loaned him 300,000 fl. for provisions.

Gustavus had left Johann Georg to fight alone. He knew the elector was still negotiating with Wallenstein and feared he might defect. He headed northwards, entrenching at Nuremberg on 16 June when he learned imperial detachments were already moving to intercept him. It would have been safer to have marched north-west to Würzburg to be closer to his other armies in Lower Saxony and the Rhineland, but Gustavus could not afford to lose a prominent Protestant city like Nuremberg. Six thousand peasants were conscripted to dig a huge ditch around the city and emplace 300 cannon borrowed from the city’s arsenal. The cavalry were left outside to maintain communications while Gustavus waited for his other armies to join him.

Having arrived on 17 July, Wallenstein resolved not to repeat Tilly’s mistake at Werben and to starve the Swedes out rather than attacking their entrenchments. He built his own camp west of the city at Zirndorf that was 16km in circumference and entailed felling 13,000 trees and shifting the equivalent of 21,000 modern truck-loads of earth. Imperial garrisons in Fürth, Forchheim and other towns commanded the roads into Nuremberg, while cavalry patrolled the countryside. Gustavus was trapped. He had 18,000 soldiers, but faced insurmountable supply problems as the city’s 40,000 inhabitants had been joined by 100,000 refugees. The Imperialists burned all the mills outside the Swedish entrenchments and the defenders were soon on half rations.

The situation was initially much better in Wallenstein’s camp because it received supplies from as far away as Bohemia and Austria. Things worsened with the hotter weather in August though. The concentration of 55,000 troops and around 50,000 camp followers produced at least four tonnes of human excrement daily, in addition to the waste from the 45,000 cavalry and baggage horses. The camp was swarming with rats and flies, spreading disease. Wallenstein had become a victim of his own strategy and by mid-August his army was no longer fully operational after the Swedes captured a supply convoy. He was unable to intercept a relief force of 24,000 men and 3,000 supply wagons sent by Oxenstierna to join Gustavus.

As tension mounted in Franconia, Johann Georg tried to improve his bargaining position by sending Arnim to invade Silesia. The hagiography surrounding Gustavus has overshadowed these events that involved significant numbers of troops and are very revealing about tension within Sweden’s alliance. Arnim had 12,000 Saxons, plus 3,000 Brandenburgers and 7,000 Swedes. The latter were under the command of Jacob Duwall, born MacDougall in Scotland, who had served Sweden since 1607 and raised two German regiments that formed the bulk of his corps, and whose presence was to ensure Arnim remained loyal. Duwall was a man of considerable energy, but like many professional officers he had become an alcoholic.

Imperial reinforcements were rushed from Bohemia to join the Silesian garrisons under the elderly Marradas, who collected 20,000 men at Steinau, an important Oder crossing between Glogau and Breslau. He entrenched on the Gallows Hill, south-east of Steinau, between it and the river, and posted cavalry on the Sand Hill west of the town to watch the approach. Musketeers occupied the Geisendorf suburb to the west and a nearby churchyard. The advance guard under the firebrand Duwall arrived at midday on 29 August, and immediately engaged the imperial cavalry. After two hours of skirmishing the Imperialists retreated into the marshy Kalterbach valley south of Steinau. Saxon artillery had now arrived on the Sand Hill and compelled the cavalry to retreat further into Marradas’s camp, exposing the musketeers. Duwall’s younger brother led 1,000 Swedish and Brandenburg musketeers who stormed the suburb and churchyard. The Imperialists set the town on fire to forestall further attack, virtually destroying it. Duwall wanted to press on, but Arnim refused. The two were barely on speaking terms and Duwall was convinced Arnim was still negotiating with the enemy on the Gallows Hill.

Rather than assault the camp the next day, Arnim marched south to Dieban further upstream where he built a bridge, intending to cross and cut Marradas off from the other side. Marradas belatedly attacked Dieban, but was repulsed on 4 September and retreated, having left a small detachment at the Steinau bridge to delay pursuit. The allied losses were slight, but the Imperialists lost 6,000, mainly prisoners or men who fled during the initial engagement. The losses indicate the continued poor condition of parts of the imperial army, especially when irresolutely led. Arnim pressed on, taking Breslau and Schweidnitz where he reversed the re-Catholicization measures. The Imperialists were driven into the mountains. Arnim had conquered Silesia with fewer troops and against greater odds than Frederick II of Prussia’s celebrated invasion in 1740.

Wallenstein decided to punish Saxony, and ordered Holk with 10,000 men from Forchheim to invade the Vogtland that formed the south-western tip of Johann Georg’s territory. As Holk began systematic plundering to intimidate the elector, the pressure mounted on Gustavus to break out of Nuremberg. The reinforcements sent by Oxenstierna arrived on 27 August, giving him the largest army he ever commanded: 28,000 infantry, 17,000 cavalry and 175 field guns. Disease and Holk’s detachment had reduced Wallenstein’s force to 31,000 foot and 12,000 horse. The odds were still not in Gustavus’s favour, especially considering Wallenstein was entrenched on high ground above the Rednitz river over 6km from Gustavus’s camp. The river prevented attack from the east, while the more open southern and western sides were furthest from Gustavus and would be difficult to reach without exposing his flank. This left the north, held by Liga units under Aldringen, and which was the strongest, highest side. The entrenchments were covered by abatis, the seventeenth-century equivalent of First World War barbed-wire entanglements made by felling and trimming trees to leave only sharpened branches pointing towards the enemy. The ruined castle that gave the position its name (Alte Veste) provided an additional strong point.

Surprise was impossible. Gustavus’s intentions were clear once he seized Fürth to cross the Rednitz on the night of 1–2 September. There is some indication that Gustavus only attacked because he thought Wallenstein was withdrawing, but this was probably put about just to excuse the debacle. The king planned to pin Wallenstein with artillery fire from east of the Rednitz, while he and Wilhelm of Weimar attacked Aldringen, and Bernhard of Weimar worked his way round to hit the weaker western side. A preliminary bombardment failed to silence the imperial artillery. Gustavus pressed on regardless, sending his infantry up the wooded northern slope early on 3 September. Thin drizzle had already made the ground slippery, and it proved impossible to bring up the regimental guns as the rain grew heavier during the day. The assault was renewed repeatedly into the night, but only gained a few imperial outworks on the western side. Gustavus gave up. He retreated covered by his cavalry, having lost at least 1,000 killed and 1,400 badly wounded. General Banér’s wounds left him incapacitated for the rest of the year. Worse, demoralization prompted 11,000 men to desert. Altogether, at least 29,000 people died in Gustavus’s camp during the prolonged stand-off, while animal casualties left only 4,000 of his cavalry mounted by the end.

Unable to remain in Nuremberg, Gustavus pulled out on 15 September. He waited a week at Windsheim to the west, before deciding that Wallenstein no longer posed an immediate threat and marching south, intending to winter in Swabia. Wallenstein had lost less than 1,000 men, but his army was sick. So many horses had died that 1,000 wagons of supplies were abandoned when he burned his camp on 21 September. He moved north, overrunning the rest of Franconia and into Thuringia, while Gallas marched through north-east Bohemia to reinforce Holk’s raiders putting pressure on Saxony. The Imperialists occupied Meissen and despatched Croats towards Dresden with the message that Johann Georg would no longer need candles for his banquets as the Imperialists would now provide light by burning Saxony’s villages.

Maximilian and Wallenstein parted ways at Coburg in mid-October. The elector agreed that Pappenheim and the Liga field force would join Wallenstein from Westphalia in return for Aldringen and fourteen imperial regiments being assigned to stiffen the Bavarians. The arrangement proved unsatisfactory, and the resulting acrimony revealed the continued tension between Maximilian and the emperor. Wallenstein complained that Pappenheim did not arrive fast enough, and indeed repeated orders had to be sent before that general finally gave up his independent role and marched to Saxony. Maximilian resented Aldringen for still reporting to Wallenstein, who already recalled some of the regiments by late November. Maximilian returned south to protect Bavaria, while Wallenstein marched north-east into Saxony, ordering the plundering to stop as he now intended to winter in the electorate.

Battle of Lützen

Gustavus realized his mistake. Wallenstein was not only threatening his principal ally, but endangering communications with the Baltic bridgehead. Against Oxenstierna’s advice, he raced north, covering 650km in 17 days at the cost of 4,000 horses. En route he passed Maximilian heading in the opposite direction. The armies were only 25km apart, but unaware of each other’s presence. The main Saxon army was still with Arnim in Silesia. Johann Georg had only 4,000 men, plus 2,000 Lüneburgers under Duke Georg who shadowed Pappenheim through Lower Saxony. Leipzig surrendered a second time to the Imperialists and its commandant was executed by the furious elector, who then made his widow pay the cost of the court martial.

Pappenheim joined Wallenstein on 7 November, while the Saxons retreated into Torgau and Gustavus rested at Erfurt after his long march. It was now very cold. Wallenstein dispersed his troops to find food, sending Colonel Hatzfeldt with 2,500 men to watch Torgau. Pappenheim was restless, wanting to return to Westphalia where the Swedes were known to be picking off his garrisons. Sick with gout, Wallenstein lacked the energy to argue, and let him go with 5,800 men. Gallas was summoned from the Bohemian frontier to replace him, but it would be some time before he arrived.

Gustavus had moved east down the Saale, taking Naumburg on 10 November. He decided to force a battle, hoping for another Breitenfeld to restore his reputation, dented by Alte Veste. As he approached the Imperialists, he learned from peasants how weak Wallenstein was and pressed on to catch him. General Rodolfo Colloredo, commanding a detachment of 500 dragoons and Croats, blocked him at the marshy Rippach stream east of Weissenfels, delaying him for four hours on 15 November. It was now too late for battle, and Gustavus was forced to camp for the night.

Wallenstein abandoned his retreat to Leipzig when he received word from Colloredo, halting at Lützen still 20km short of his destination. He had only 8,550 foot, 3,800 horse and 20 heavy guns. His right was protected by the marshy Mühlgraben stream. The Weissenfels–Leipzig highway crossed this at Lützen, a town that comprised 300 houses and an old castle surrounded by a wall. Wallenstein guessed correctly that Gustavus would not attempt another frontal assault, but would cross further south-east to outflank him. Accordingly, he drew up just north east of the town parallel to the road. Musketeers spent the night widening the ditches either side of the road, while Holk supervised deployment of the main army, lighting candles to guide units into position. Four hundred musketeers were posted in Lützen to secure the right, and thirteen guns were placed on the slight rise of Windmill Hill just north of the town. Around half the cavalry drew up behind with the rest on the left. The infantry deployed in between in two lines, with another 7 guns on their left and 420 musketeers lining the ditches in front. There were not enough cavalry to cover the gap from the left to the Flossgraben ditch that cut the highway beyond Wallenstein’s position. Isolano’s 600 Croats were posted as a screen across the gap with the camp followers and baggage massed in the rear holding sheets as flags to create the impression of powerful forces behind. They were supposed to wait until Pappenheim, recalled during the night, could replace them.

Johann Georg refused to send reinforcements from Torgau, but Gustavus had nearly 13,000 infantry, 6,200 cavalry and 20 heavy guns and so remained confident. His army assembled in thick fog about 3,000 metres to the west early on 16 November to hear the king’s stirring address. As Wallenstein predicted, Gustavus swung east across the Mühlgraben and then north over the Flossgraben to deploy around 10 a.m. in front of him. The action began as the fog lifted around an hour later and the Swedes made a general advance towards the imperial positions. Gustavus used his customary deployment in two lines, with the cavalry on the flanks stiffened with musketeer detachments. The best infantry were in the first line, while the king commanded most of the Swedish and Finnish horse on the right and Bernhard of Weimar led the 3,000 mainly German troopers on the left.

The Croats soon scattered, prompting the decoy troops to take to their heels. Gustavus was nonetheless delayed by the musketeers hidden in the ditch. Widely cited reports that Wallenstein spent the day carried in a litter stem from Swedish propaganda. Despite pain from gout, he mounted his horse to conduct an energetic defence. Lützen was set on fire to stop the Swedes entering and turning his flank. The wind blew the smoke into his enemies’ faces and, as at Breitenfeld, it quickly became impossible to see what was happening. Bernhard’s men were unable to take either Lützen or Windmill Hill. The real chance lay on the other flank where Gustavus had more space to go round the end of the imperial line. Wallenstein switched cavalry from his right to stem the king’s advance.

Pappenheim arrived in the early afternoon with 2,300 cavalry, having ridden 35km through the night. His arrival encouraged the Croats to return and together they drove the Swedes back across the road. The veteran Swedish infantry also suffered heavy casualties and fell back, having failed to dislodge the imperial centre. Wilhelm of Weimar’s bodyguard fled, panicking the Swedish baggage which also took off. Several imperial units had also broken, and both armies were losing cohesion. Pappenheim had been shot dead early in his attack; Wallenstein’s order summoning him was later retrieved bloodstained from his body. The battle disintegrated into isolated attacks by individual units.

Gustavus appears to have got lost as he rode to rally his shattered infantry and was shot, probably by an imperial infantry corporal. His entourage tried to lead him to safety, but blundered into the confused cavalry mêlée still in progress amid the smoke on the right where he was shot again, by Lieutenant Moritz Falkenberg, a Catholic relation of the defender of Magdeburg, who himself was then slain by the Swedish master of horse. The fatal shot burned the face of Franz Albrecht of Lauenburg who was accompanying the king as a volunteer. Under attack himself, Franz Albrecht could no longer support the king in his saddle and he fell dead to the ground. The Swedes never forgave the duke for abandoning their monarch’s body, which was subsequently stabbed and stripped by looters. Rumours of the king’s death added to the growing despondency in the Swedish ranks. Knyphausen, commanding the infantry, insisted Gustavus was only wounded and the royal chaplain, Jacob Fabricius, organized psalm singing to boost morale. Unaware of what had happened, Bernhard continued his fruitless attacks on Lützen.

The fighting subsided around 3 p.m. Knyphausen advised retreat, but Bernhard, now appraised of the situation, urged another assault that finally carried Windmill Hill. Firing ceased two hours later, after dark. Pappenheim’s 3,000 infantry arrived an hour after that. Wallenstein was exhausted and appalled at the loss of at least 3,000 dead and wounded, including many senior officers. He decided to retreat and abandoned his artillery and another 1,160 wounded, who were left behind in Leipzig as he fell back into Bohemia. The Swedes lost 6,000 and were on the point of retreating themselves when a prisoner revealed that the Imperialists had already gone.

The disparity of the losses, magnified by Gustavus’s presence among the Swedish dead, fuelled the controversy over who really won. Protestant propaganda and Gustavus’s firm place on later staff college curricula have ensured that Lützen is generally hailed as ‘a great Swedish victory’. Wallenstein showed far superior generalship, whereas Gustavus relied on an unimaginative frontal assault with superior numbers. The Swedes were able to claim victory because Wallenstein lost his nerve and retreated, not least because he was not certain until 25 November that Gustavus was dead. Wallenstein probably regretted this mistake. He certainly vented his fury on the units that had fled in the battle, insisting on executing eleven men, but he also distributed bonuses to the wounded and richly rewarded those who distinguished themselves like Holk and Piccolomini.

Lützen’s real significance lay in Gustavus’s death. The Swedes continued fighting, already helping the Saxons evict the remaining Imperialists from the electorate by January. But their purpose had changed and Oxenstierna sought, albeit with little success, to extricate his country under the best possible terms.

Drusus the Commander I

The only portrait of Drusus known to have been carved in his lifetime appears on the Ara Pacis in Rome. On the south facing enclosure wall, one figure in the procession is conspicuous by his attire. He is the only male figure shown wearing the paludamentum, the military cloak, in contrast to the others who wear togas; and caligae, the robust, open sandals worn by soldiers, which compare to the others who wear closed civilian boots. The consensus opinion is the figure is that of Nero Claudius Drusus since he was active on military campaign while the altar was being carved and at the time of the inauguration on 30 January 9 BCE. If the identification is correct, this is the only portrait of Drusus which can be securely dated to his lifetime. He is shown as a confident and relaxed individual in the company of his family. With her head turned to look at him is the figure of Antonia Minor, who holds the hand of a small boy identified as Ti. Claudius Nero (better known as Germanicus) who would have been nearly six years old at the time of the consecration ceremony.

In the spring of 11 BCE, with the western coastal region nominally under – or at least not hostile to – Roman control, Drusus turned his attention to the interior lands. From Vetera, he crossed the Rhine taking with him all or parts of Legiones I Germanica, V Alaudae and XVII, XVIII and XIX plus cohorts of auxilia. They followed the meandering course of the 220 kilometre (136.7 mile) long Lippe River (Lupia) and immediately engaged the Tencteri and Usipetes. The Usipetes – or Usipii – were close allies of the Tencteri to the south, and not much else is known about them. They lived between the Rhine and Lippe Rivers and became known to Iulius Caesar during his campaigns in Gallia. In 55 BCE news of Caesar’s defeat of the Eburones reached the people across the Rhine. Seeking their share of the plunder and corn the Tencteri and Usipetes united and crossed the Meuse River, and instantly became a problem for Caesar. He engaged them and in the ensuing rout, the Germanic tribes retreated upriver. In the opening weeks of Drusus’ invasion the Usipetes were overcome just as easily as four decades before.

Drusus had paid very particular attention to building out military infrastructure on the left bank of the Rhine prior to the invasion and, having landed on the right bank, immediately began to install the supply depots and accommodations that would support the forward advance. The temporary fortress established on the right bank of the Rhine at Dorsten-Holsterhausen, 36 kilometres (22.4 miles) east of Vetera, and which was large enough for two legions, may date from this time.6 Marching further inland Drusus ordered a bridge to be constructed over the Lupia and promptly marched his men across it. They were now in the country of the Sugambri nation, modern Sauerland. The Sugambri – or Sicambri or Sygambri – were a tough, proud people who let no obstacles stand in their way. “Neither morass nor forest obstructs these men, born amidst war and depredations,” noted Caesar. They appear to have been related to the Belgae, based on a study of their names, many of which end in –ix, such as Baetorix and his son Deudorix. Baetorix was the brother of Maelo who, as war chief, led the alliance of Sugambri, Tencteri and Usipetes in the raid into Gallia in 17 BCE leading to the clades Lolliana which gave Augustus his reason to launch a war. Maelo was still war chief of the Sugambri at the time of Drusus’ invasion.

The Sugambri first enter the written record in the account of Iulius Caesar’s Gallic War. It was to the sanctuary of the Sugambri nation that the Tencteri and Usipetes had fled in 55 BCE when pursued by the Romans. Caesar sent an emissary to demand the hand-over of the men who had invaded Gaul. The Sugambri refused, insisting that the Rhine River marked the limit of Roman power. Shortly after that episode Caesar decided to build his famous bridge and to take the war to the Germanic nations. Ten days later, his bridge having been built, he marched his men into Sugambri territory. He found the people had disappeared – the Sugambri had been tipped off and retreated into the forest. He burned their villages and buildings and cut down their corn crop as punishment for their intransigence. It was not a happy start to the relationship between these peoples. Two years later, Caesar was back in the territory of the Eburones and, lured by the promise of loot, the Sugambri saw a chance to stake their own claim on the defeated tribe’s possessions. Gathering up 2,000 cavalry they took to boats and crossed the river thirty miles downstream from the site of Caesar’s bridge and garrisons so that they could move unobserved. They gathered up all the roaming cattle they could find and planned to move further inland in search of loot. They headed south towards Atuatuca (Tongeren), but were repulsed and crossed back to their homeland with their prizes.

The Sugambri did not take defeat lightly and neither did they tolerate those who would not ally themselves with them in pursuit of a common foe. Dio records that they were angry at the Chatti for not having stood with them on their raid into Gaul in 17 BCE. Six years later the men of the Sugambri massed for a punitive raid on their neighbours and abandoned their homesteads for the season. The Chatti – or Catti or Catthi – were one of the Germanic nations not mentioned in Caesar’s Gallic War and were possibly not well known at the start of Drusus’ campaign. The earliest written source we have is that of Strabo who located them in the mountains and valleys of the Elder, Fulda and upper reaches of the Weser River, in what is now modern Hessen. The best account of them, however, is preserved in Tacitus who calls the Chatti “the children of the Hercynian Forest”. He describes them as “distinguished beyond their fellows by their singularly hardy frames, well-knit limbs, resolute eyes and by a remarkable energy of spirit”. In contrast to most Germanic communities which eschewed urban living, the capital city of the Chatti was called Mattium (near modern Kassel) and located in the defensible Taunus mountains. Tacitus was struck by their similarities between the Chatti and his own countrymen. “Their whole strength is in foot soldiers,” he writes, “who, besides carrying their arms, are loaded with tools and supplies” (just as legionaries did). They posted pickets by day and dug ditches around their camps at night (in the same way legions did). They also followed the orders of their leaders, whom they elected, and they fought in formations which they kept in the heat of battle (exactly like the legions following their praetors or consuls). Unlike their barbarian neighbours who “came out for a single battle” the Chatti engaged in campaigns, and

seldom make mere raids or allow themselves to be drawn into a casual encounter: it is cavalry, to be sure, from which one expects a quick success or a quick retreat; speed goes with timidity, slowness is more allied to steadiness.

Pitted against such an opponent the Sugambri were in for a hard fight. Where the Sugambri made war with their hearts, the Chatti campaigned with their heads.

Their decision to wage war on each other was a tremendous stroke of good luck for Drusus. He apparently encountered no resistance and was able to move his expeditionary force freely through Sugambri territory unimpeded.

By following the twisting and turning course of the Lippe River in an easterly direction Drusus would have ultimately reached its source at Bad Lippspringe on the edge of the Teutoburg Forest. This was the homeland of the Cherusci nation. The Cherusci have gone down in history as the tribe that produced Arminius, or Hermann the German, who defeated Roman ambitions at Teutoburg in 9 CE. In 11 BCE he was just six years old, but his father Segimer and uncle Inguiomer were already accomplished warriors. The Cherusci first appear in the Roman literature with Julius Caesar where they are mentioned as neighbours of the hostile Suebi and separated by a forest called Bacenis which provided them protection from raids and attacks. Tacitus mentions their other neighbouring tribes as the Chauci and Chatti. Pliny the Elder places them as members of the Hermunduri community comprising the Suebi, Hermunduri and Chatti. On the outbound march Drusus may have avoided the Cherusci, but they would not remain strangers for long.

Beyond where Anreppen now stands the Lippe River eventually becomes difficult for boats to navigate. The course of the Lippe has changed over the last two millennia but at some point along this stretch of the river the expeditionary force struck out across country towards the Weser River (Visurgis) east-northeast in the general direction of modern Minden or southeast towards Göttingen – the extant sources are unclear on this point. Eventually the Romans reached its right tributary source, the Werra River. The army would have struck temporary camps each night but these leave only faint traces and most have been lost or not yet identified. It must have been with great disappointment that Drusus listened to the advice of his legates and camp prefects. Supplies, or the dwindling level of them, would not permit Drusus to cross the Weser River this campaign season without endangering the mission. He was still in hostile territory, the summer was over and winter was in prospect. Tactically he had no choice but to turn back and head for Vetera.

Another event is recorded that likely tipped the balance for Drusus. In his marching camp an unusual – and to the Romans’ sensibilities a very disturbing – event took place. Outside the tent of praefectus castrorum Hostilius Rufus bees were seen swarming. Specifically they swarmed one of the poles and guy ropes holding up the tent. The ancients paid particular attention to the behaviour of bees, which were seen as winged messengers of the gods. The augurs were called without delay to interpret the meaning of the swarming insects. Their reading of the omens was treated with utmost gravity and respect and in hushed silence they studied the buzzing creatures for signs of divine intent. Finally they pronounced that the auguries appeared to signal danger, possibly even a defeat ahead for the Romans. Drusus, they said, should tread carefully through Germania. It was enough to convince him. The campaign was suspended for the year and Drusus gave the order to begin the 300 kilometre (186.4 mile) journey that lay between them and home to the west.

Germanic Warfare

What we know of the Germanic warrior comes mainly from Greek- and Latin-speaking Roman authors. At this time, the Germans wrote nothing down. Some evidence survives in the archaeological record to give us a material picture of his arms and armour. Yet his reputation has survived the ages: fierce to the point of being savage, fearless bordering on the reckless, cunning like the fox. Unlike his Roman opponent, the Germanic war fighter was remarkably underequipped. In large part this was due to the paucity of basic materials. “Even iron is by no means abundant with them”, Tacitus noted, “as we may gather from the character of their weapons”. About one in ten warriors had a single-edged knife (measuring 7–12 centimetres, 2.8–4.7 inches long). Others carried a sword for cutting and thrusting; or a machete-like sax (measuring about 46 centimetres – 18.1 inches – long) for slashing and chopping. Some might bear a double-edged sword similar to the Celtic long sword of the Raeti and Norici or Roman spatha. However, Germanic weapons were made of a form of iron called ‘steely iron’ which has a much lower content of carbon, typically 0.5 to 1.5 per cent of its weight, making it softer and more likely to bend when struck with force. To compensate for this weakness, Germanic swordsmiths made the sax with a thicker upper edge, but notwithstanding this measure, against the harder steel weapons used by the Romans, Germanic swordsmen were at a material disadvantage.

Axes were wielded by those with means, while others with fewer means used wooden clubs hewn from logs which had been fire-hardened or made more deadly with iron spikes. Both weapons were used with devastating effect: even the rough edge of a club can cause considerable blunt trauma and crush bones. They also used bows of fir and yew and arrows, slings and slingshot that were devastating when used en masse. When the ammunition ran out, they threw rocks and stones.

Their preferred weapon was a slender but versatile spear. “They carry lances”, wrote Tacitus, “frameae as they call them, with the iron point narrow and short, but so sharp and so easy to handle that they employ them either for stabbing or throwing on occasions”. They also carried darts – missilia the Romans called them. Ranging from 90–275 centimetres (35.3–108.3 inches) in length with a tip 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 inches) long, in an expert’s hand these were terrible weapons, especially to men wearing chain mail armour, the links of which the sharp, narrow point could pierce and rip apart. Each man carried several into battle and “they can hurl them to an immense distance”.

The regular Germanic fighter wore little or no body armour, unless stripped from an opponent or made by a local craftsman, “and only a man or two here and there a helmet or head piece”. Though there were likely national or clan differences in dress, he typically wore a short- or long-sleeved tunic, baggy or close-fitting long trousers belted at the waist, and a cloak fastened with a brooch. German woollen cloth was somewhat rough to the touch but nevertheless dyed in solid colours, or woven with stripes or geometric patterns. A shield was the primary mode of defence. Sculptures and coins show Germanic shields to be flat and long, and in shape oval, rectangular or hexagonal. Tacitus comments that their shields were not supported by metal or leather but were simply wicker or painted boards, however, metal edging strips have been found in eastern Germany contesting his generalisation. He also mentions the care with which they painted the coloured devices on the front of them. Surviving first century BCE examples from Denmark, one measuring 88 centimetres (34.6 inches) by 60 centimetres (23.6 inches) and the other 66 centimetres (25.9 inches) by 30 centimetres (11.8 inches), are made of wooden planks. In these specimens a central ‘barleycorn’ shaped shield boss protects the handgrip, but iron domed and pointed circular shield bosses have also survived.

Germanic warriors fought both on foot and horseback. Each was similarly equipped with spear or darts and shield. Lightly armed infantry made up the largest part of a Germanic tribal army but their cavalry, even in smaller numbers, were very effective. Germanic cavalry would often dismount and fight on foot and Caesar observed that they even trained their horses to remain standing in the same spot so they could leap up on to them and ride to another part of the battlefield or escape. “Their horses are not remarkable”, writes Tacitus snootily,

for beauty or speed, neither are they trained to complex evolutions like ours; the riders charge straight forward, or wheel in a single turn to the right, the formation of the troop being such that there is no rear flank.

The right turn meant that the rider’s shield side was presented to their enemy so he could launch his weapon with his right side fully protected.

Young men able to run fast formed the vanguard of the attack as they were able to keep up with the cavalry charge. It was actually part of their ritual of attaining manhood. When deemed ready, a young man was formally presented with a lance and shield in the presence of his tribal assembly in what was regarded as the youth’s admission to the public life of his community. In times of war, one hundred of the ablest young men were selected from their villages to accompany the cavalry on foot. Some, having proved their courage and skill, might then become retainers or bodyguards of the clan or war chief,

and there is an eager rivalry between the retainers for the post of honour next to their chief, as well as between different chiefs for the honour of having the most numerous and most valiant bodyguard. Here lie dignity and strength. To be perpetually surrounded by a large train of picked young warriors is a distinction in peace and a protection in war.

The relationship between the retainer and retained was complex, based on a code of honour, reward and recognition:

Upon the field of battle the chief is bound in honour not to let himself be surpassed in valour, and his retainers are equally bound to rival the valour of their chief. Furthermore, for one of the retainers to come back alive from the field where his chief had fallen is from that day forward an infamy and a reproach during all the rest of his life. To defend him, to guard him, nay, to give him the glory of their own feats of valour, is the perfection of their loyalty. The chiefs fight for victory; the bodyguard for their chief.

The Germanic nations were admired by Roman authors for their free spirit and democratic form of self-rule. Chiefs were elected by a tribal assembly to administer the law in their communities and each leader had a council of one hundred free men to consult for advice and to enforce his decisions. For campaigns they elected a war leader. Caesar had observed “when a state either repels war waged against it or wages it against another, magistrates are chosen to preside over that war with such authority, that they have power of life and death”. After the war, they relinquished that power. “They choose their kings for their noble birth”, observes Tacitus,

their generals for their prowess: the king’s power is neither unlimited nor arbitrary, and the generals owe their authority less to their military rank than to their example and the admiration they excite by it, if they are dashing, if they are conspicuous, if they charge ahead of the line.

These were characteristics Drusus would have admired as they were the very same principles by which he led his own men.

Raiding was common practice among Germanic nations. In part this arose from the need to keep retainers fed and usefully employed as “forays and plunderings supply the means of keeping a free table”. Not for them tilling the land, but yet they could stand bloody wounds if it meant their status would rise on account of them. Germanic tribes tried to avoid a pitched battle. ‘Hit-and-run’ was the preferred tactic in battle, using ambushes to strike their enemy when they were least expecting and prepared for an attack. Only as a last resort, did they meet in a set piece battle, and having first carefully picked the ground, preferring wet or wooded or stony ground. The Germanic army on the battlefield is often portrayed as a rabble, a mêlée, but this is inaccurate. They assembled in columns and took up wedge formations, familiar to the Romans as the cuneus, a tactic they themselves used. Like the Romans, the men in the wedge formation interlocked or overlapped their shields to form a shield wall or ‘shield castle’. In 58 BCE, the Germanic king, Ariovistus, arrayed his men against Iulius Caesar by assembling the seven tribes under his command in columns of 300 men strong with spaces between them. The Romans attacked from the front and sides, and the Germanic left flank – their unprotected side – collapsed, but on their right flank – the side protected by their shields – Ariovistus’ men were able to deflect the Roman attack by pushing aggressively forward into Caesar’s ranks. They were only defeated when Roman reinforcements arrived.

Just as the warriors of Raetia, Vindelicia and Noricum did, Germanic warriors fired up their spirits by singing and chanting. The Germanic war fighters sang to Hercules according to Tacitus (who may have equated him to Thor or Irmin, son of Wuotan), and

they raise a hymn in his praise, as the pattern of all valiant men, as they approach the field of battle. They have also a kind of song which they chant to fire their courage – they call it barding (barritus) – and from this chant they draw an augury of the issue of the coming day. For they inspire terror in the foe, or become flurried themselves according to the sound that goes up from the host. It is not so much any articulate expression of words as a war-like chorus. Their great aim is to produce a hoarse and tempestuous roar, every man holding his shield before his mouth to increase the volume and depth of tone by reverberation.

Adding to the raucous noise, the men clashed their weapons rhythmically against their shields. Some might combine the menace of their barritus with an aggressive war dance to antagonise and strike fear in their opponent.

The strength of the formation lay in its composition. Men formed up next to their kith and kin – son, brother and father stood next to each other, their lives on the line. Their wives and children would often go along and cheer their menfolk from behind. “Each man”, writes Tacitus,

feels bound to play the hero before such witnesses and to earn their most coveted praise. To his mother and to his wife he brings his wounds; and they do not shrink from counting them, nor from searching for them, while they carry food to the fighters and give them encouragement.

If their husbands, fathers or brothers fell, their comrades and womenfolk would be there to carry the body home proudly on his shield.

Retreats and feigned flights were accepted battlefield tactics. Yet for a warrior to run and leave his shield behind was considered a shameful act and one that dishonoured him in the eyes of his entire community. The humiliating punishment was disbarment from religious rites and denial of participation in the tribal assembly, and fearing this rejection “many such survivors from the battlefield have been known to end their shame by hanging themselves”.

War fighters gathered under clan flags like the vexilla of the Roman army. Long horns or trumpets were played to relay basic commands. These were prized spoils and, along with captured spears and shields, were assembled by the victor into war trophies. An enemy warrior captured alive in battle by a Germanic tribe might expect to face a duel with the champion of the captive-taker’s tribe. The outcome of the combat was taken as a forecast of how the war would end.

When the attack commenced, trumpets blasted, and a hail of spears, darts and rocks was unleashed upon the enemy. Led from the front by their war chief, the wedge made up of interlocking shields would move forward in a menacing body of arms and men chanting their barritus. Some young men called beserkers, carrying shields and wielding spears or clubs, but otherwise naked and barefoot, might rush out screaming in a form of war madness and throw themselves upon the enemy. What lightly armed Germanic fighters lacked in equipment, they made up for in aggression, stealth and numbers, as Drusus and his invading army would now find out.

Drusus the Commander II

Chatti Germanic Tribe | Northern Germanic Tribes: Cherusci, Jutes, Saxons.

Early Germanic warriors either first century BC or AD. The Germans east of the Rhine had a fearsome reputation and constantly waged war on their Gallic neighbours. The Gauls who lived close to the German border were considered to be the most hardened of the Gallic peoples as a result.

Ambush at Arbalo

Drusus’ expeditionary army continued to progress through Cheruscan territory. The Cherusci, meanwhile, had been tracking the Romans from a distance. They had the tactical advantage, knowing where to hide and when to launch surprise attacks. Using stealth, concealment and deception, the Cherusci constantly assaulted Drusus’ troops with surprise hit-and-run attacks, but they proved ineffectual as Roman discipline held. However, at a place called Arbalo the Cherusci finally unleashed a major ambush that tested Roman resolve. Dio describes the place simply as “a narrow pass”, which is not much to go on in trying to identify the site today. Several attempts have been made and a consensus view has formed on the area around Hildesheim or Hameln.

Drusus’ army was at its most vulnerable on the march. It would have been in a defensive formation for marching in hostile country, but that still meant it was strung out over many kilometers with its impedimenta, the long baggage train, slowing down the pace. Once the bulk of Drusus’ men had entered the narrow pass, the Cherusci sprung their attack. They blocked both the Romans’ advance and their retreat. In this confined space Drusus and his army now found themselves trapped. It was the kind of battle Drusus did not want to fight. The Cherusci rained down their missiles – frameae, darts and slingshot – upon the cramped, snaking Roman lines. In marching order there was not much space between the men for them to deploy their weapons. Under the hail of missiles whistling through the air and unable to quickly deploy in their battle formations they were ‘sitting ducks’ at the mercy of their opponents. Each legionary carried not only his heavy arms and shield, which on the march was protected by a goat-skin cover, but he was weighed down by his personal gear and tools hanging from a pole over the left shoulder, which combined was not only heavy but swung awkwardly as he marched, especially over uneven ground. Tribunes and centurions screamed out orders to the rankers to drop their shoulder packs, to form defensive lines and hold their heavy covered shields up high. The baggage train was either drawn back into the line or abandoned, but inevitably the animals panicked and their handlers struggled to restrain them. Drusus’ men resisted fiercely as they took the shock of the Germanic charge, wielding their gladii as they tried to cut their way through the blockade at the front while fending off the onslaught from the sides. Under their helmets, sweat trickled down from their brows, stinging their eyes. Hands gripped tightly the inside of the bosses of heavy shields, which suddenly felt lighter as adrenaline surged through the legionaries’ veins. It was a terrible situation that Drusus and his men were now in. Germanic wooden clubs struck Roman iron armour. The cries of attackers met the groans of wounded men. The living tried to avoid treading on the bodies of the dead.

Despite their valiant efforts the legionaries and auxiliaries began to sag under the continuing assault in this unfavourable terrain, and to tire under the weight of their equipment and the physicality of their exertions. It may have been during this action that the two military tribunes, Chumstinctus and Avectius, both young Nervii from Gallia Belgica, distinguished themselves with acts of gallantry – though precisely what they did which merited mention by Livy has been lost.

Then, inexplicably the German attack appeared to waver and some of the warriors even seemed to withdraw. Up to that point the Cherusci had had the upper hand during the struggle. In Dio’s account they did not press home their advantage out of “a contempt for them, as if they were already captured and needed only the finishing stroke”. The Cheruscan leadership, perhaps among them Segimer himself, seemed to have decided that defeating an enemy in this manner was not honourable. The change of heart, however, also broke the resolve of the main body of Cheruscan warriors and those who continued the fight found themselves unsupported by their brothers now hesitating from a distance behind. It was an amazing stroke of good luck for the desperate Romans and exactly the chance Drusus needed. Urging his men on, Drusus broke through the Cheruscan blockade. Against the odds, the Romans escaped. The Cherusci had also lost their one opportunity to deliver a knockout blow – perhaps one that might have ended Roman ambitions for taking Germania. Cheruscan scorn or indecision perhaps more than superior Roman arms and tactics had saved the day for Drusus.

How could it have happened? It seems someone had not been paying adequate attention to the surroundings. Had the advance Roman scouts simply been duped or failed in their duty? Or had Drusus disregarded the intelligence in an example of overconfidence or overeagerness? The ancient sources do not say, and although Roman casualties are not known, yet clearly Drusus had come perilously close to losing his army altogether that day. Nevertheless Pliny the Elder characterised Arbalo as “a brilliant victory”. He ridiculed the men who had misinterpreted the swarm of bees. Arbalo was “a proof, indeed, that the conjectures of soothsayers are not by any means infallible, seeing that they are of opinion that this is always of evil augury”.

In the eyes of the common soldiery too 26-year old Drusus had brought them a great victory. He was a soldier’s soldier. He maintained the love and goodwill of his men who now showed it by spontaneously acclaiming him with their right arms raised and loudly shouting the salutation ‘imperator!’ – meaning simply ‘commander’. It was in the gift of the soldiers to acclaim their commander on the field of battle in this manner in a tradition extending over hundreds of years. The concept of imperator had originally been used in a religious context but became a military honour when Scipio Africanus was acclaimed by his soldiers for his victory in Hispania which he ascribed to a special relationship he had with the father of the gods, Iupiter. The use of the title was encouraged by Marius, Sulla, Caesar and Augustus. Believing Drusus the commander would lead his battered army back to the safety of the winter camps on the Rhine, his soldiers cheered heartily; but Drusus was not content to simply abandon his hard won gains. To retain his stake and probably to signal that he intended to return the next year, Drusus decided to post garrisons inside Germanic territory. One fortified stronghold was erected provocatively in Cheruscan territory “at the point where the Lupia and the Eliso unite”. The location of the site has been debated for over a 150 years. The Eliso may have been the Alme River, and where it intercepts the Lippe River today is modern day Paderborn, some 60 kilometres (37.2 miles) east of the Rhine. This tends to support a case for the fort being at Haltern laying 54 kilometres (33.5 miles) from the Rhine and located on the course of the Old Lippe River. The site has been extensively excavated and the first structure that can be identified was a marching camp roughly square in shape covering an area of 36 hectares, which is large enough for two legions. A V-shaped ditch and turf rampart surrounded the camp, but no permanent structures have been identified suggesting it was a temporary structure and probably unsuitable for occupation in winter. Close to the riverbank, a triangular enclosure was erected around a steep hill-top which commands a view of the valley. Called the Annaberg Fort it was likely a stores compound. It was built later than the marching camp and has been tentatively dated to Drusus’ campaign period.

The other prime contender for the site of Aliso is Bergkammen-Oberaden situated northeast of Dortmund, 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) east of Vetera. A Roman camp was identified here in 1905 and timber finds have been precisely dated using dendrochronology to the autumn of 11 BCE, which is therefore the earliest date work on the fortress began. Roughly heptagonal in shape (map 8), at 57 hectares (840 metres by 680 metres; 2,755.9 feet by 2,230.9 feet) the fortress was large enough to accommodate up to three legions and auxiliaries. Its planners chose a hill-top for the base and constructed a formidable 2.7 kilometre (1.7 mile) long wooden curtain wall around it with a 3 metre (9.8 feet) wide rampart behind and towers spaced out at 25 metre (82.0 feet) intervals. In front of it, a 5 metre (16.4 feet) wide, 3 metre (9.8 feet) deep ditch was dug but on the northern side, the ditch was wider and narrower at 6.5 metres (21.3 feet) by 2.5 metres (8.2 feet), and staked with 300 sticks sharpened at both ends, one of which has survived and is on display at the Westfälisches Römermuseum in Haltern am See. An estimated 25,000 trees were felled to provide the timber for this massive encampment. The finds from the site suggest the fortress was built to be occupied all year round and its inhabitants seemingly suffered no discomforts during their stay. The principia, which was the office of the legate and his administrative staff, was finished with painted plaster, pieces of which were uncovered during excavations with the imprint of the wicker wall panel still on the reverse side. Wells were dug within the enclosed area to provide fresh drinking water, one of which was found inside the courtyard of what may have been one of the tribune’s residences. The well was notable for the wooden slats that lined it to a depth of 5 metres (16.4 feet) and the remains of a 1.26 metre (4.1 feet) long ladder found in it. Latrines fed with water tanks have been identified within the ramparts and examinations of the organic matter reclaimed from them have revealed evidence of the inhabitants’ diet. Among the staples of wheat, lentils and millet were seeds from apples, raspberries, figs and olives, as well as hazelnuts, and astonishingly, peppercorns that had been imported from India. Drusus’ commissariat had thought of everything.

The second fort Drusus ordered was erected on territory belonging to the Chatti, the location of which has also been the subject of long debate, but none has yet been identified in Hessen and confidently dated to 11 BCE. Wherever these two forts actually were, contingents of the Roman army now remained in Germania. It was the first time in recorded history that Roman troops spent a winter on the right bank of the Rhine. For the men continuing on to the Rhine, the march remained dangerous and the ambuscades and hit and run attacks did not let up. By now the Sugambri had withdrawn from their war against the Chatti and had returned to their homesteads. As the Romans entered and passed through their territory the Germans harried the unwelcome intruders. They too could have delivered a crippling blow, but did not. Exhausted by their inconclusive war with their neighbours, they still had to prepare for the winter ahead. Drusus’ luck held up and his men finally reached the Rhine River and made it to the safety of their camps.

Drusus now returned to Lugdunum. There he would have met with his princeps praetorii and received a full briefing on the situation in the Tres Galliae. In particular Drusus would have been concerned with the results of the census and the mood of the population following the measures taken the previous year to douse cold water on the smouldering embers of rebellion. That there is no further mention in the Roman historians of discontent among the Gallic nations during this time suggests their mood was one of acceptance, even if it was grudging. In one important respect, Drusus was now seen to be doing something definitive that would benefit all Gaul: he was dealing with the Germanic menace. The reports flowing back from across the Rhine of his military successes over the Germanic tribes would have helped boost confidence among the Gallic people that security in the homelands would improve. The fact that Romans were actually encamped in Germania during the winter of 11/10 BCE provided tangible evidence of progress in the war.

The return to Lugdunum also provided Drusus with a long overdue opportunity to be with his family again. He was still very much in love with Antonia. Drusus’ sexual fidelity to his wife was highlighted by Valerius Maximus in his Memorable Sayings and Doings as an example of abstinence (abstinentia) and continence (continentia). His eldest son was now four years old while his daughter was two. But it was a short stay. With winter setting in, and travel becoming more difficult as the weather deteriorated, they could not stay long in the Gallic capital. In November just before his departure from Lugdunum and his arrival in Rome, or somewhere in between, their next child was conceived.

On arriving in Rome, Drusus faced a full agenda. Augustus required a complete update on the second year of the war in Germania. With Agrippa dead Augustus now relied completely on Drusus and his brother to execute his military operations. While he was generally pleased with progress, however, he did not allow Drusus to accept the title of imperator that the men of the legions had bestowed upon him on the battlefield. As the acclaimed commander was entitled to add the honour after his name, perhaps Augustus felt this form of recognition was too high a profile for the young man so early in his career; or he may have preferred that he be the one to decide the moment when to grant use of the title. Neither was it the first time a commander had been blocked from accepting the title: in 29 BCE Crassus, proconsul of Macedonia, was granted a triumph, but Augustus alone took the salutation as imperator. In a repeat of this episode, Augustus took this latest acclamation again for himself to bolster his own military prestige and, just as eighteen years before, Augustus granted Drusus instead an ovatio, a lower grade of triumph in which he was permitted to ride on horseback through the city of Rome. This was tantamount to saying to Drusus that he still had work to do to earn a full triumph, but the ovatio would in the meantime give him deserved public recognition. If and when the ovation took place is not recorded. Nevertheless, Nero Claudius Drusus’ currency was rising.

Meanwhile, Tiberius had successfully subdued the rebellions in Illyricum and Pannonia. With peace breaking out across the world, it seemed an appropropriate time to shut the doors of the Temple of Ianus Geminus, an act only carried out when Roman arms were laid to rest. The last year it had happened, and that for only the third time in Roman history in fact, was after Actium when Augustus invoked the ancient ceremony on 11 January 29 BCE. The senate willingly voted and approved the motion. However, it was not to be. The pax Romana was not so easily won. The Dacians invaded Pannonia and the Illyrians rose up again in protest against the tribute imposed on them. Yet again, Augustus looked to Tiberius to fix the problem and he would spend the following year quelling them.

While in Rome, Drusus’ mother-in-law unexpectedly died. Octavia was 60, a respectably old age by Roman standards. Her body was laid in state with a curtain over her corpse at the Temple of Iulius in the Forum Romanum. Drusus gave the funeral oration from the rostrum just in front of the senate house on behalf of the family. He and his brother were pallbearers during the public funeral. Significantly Augustus did not agree to allow all the honours the senate voted her. Refusing honours as much as accepting them was one of the ways Augustus carefully managed the public image and reputation of his family in the eyes of the senate and Roman people.

For reasons good and bad, it had been a landmark year. Yet Drusus’ mind was on matters far from Rome. Perhaps inspired by the consuls of old or the lure of military glory, Drusus was intent on leaving the city at the earliest opportunity to continue the war.

Drusus the Commander III

The Main Offensive

He returned to Lugdunum in the spring of 10 BCE. The Tres Galliae continued to function as expected and there were no reports of unrest. His legates, meantime, had wasted no time in Germania. The Lippe River was now being lined with forts and logistics depots to relay supplies along the river delivered from Vetera. Work on Oberaden continued. A new supply depot to support the fortress was established a few kilometers downstream at Beckinghausen. Discovered in 1911 on a steep slope falling towards the river, it was subsequently excavated and an oval shaped encampment was uncovered measuring 185 meters (606.9 feet) by 88 metres (288.7 feet), encompassing an area of approximately 1.56 hectares, although the landing place for loading and unloading rivercraft has yet to be found. The main campaign this year would not, however, be driven along the Lippe River. Drusus now shifted the tactical thrust into Germania from a base further up the Rhine. A few weeks later he arrived with his entourage in Mogontiacum eager to launch an offensive to the Elbe via the River Main (Moenus or Menus). There were two legions at the camp, XIV Gemina and XVI Gallica. They may have been joined by vexillations of other legions from Fectio, Oppidum Ubiorum, Novaesium and Vetera. Detachments of these already made up at least two garrisons inside Germania. They would have been under orders to engage in simultaneous operations to drive deeper thrusts of their own into the territories building on the previous two campaign seasons; and to consolidate their gains with the construction of new forts, watch towers and roads. A skeleton crew would also have to be left at Mogontiacum (and the other Rhine fortresses) to guard it and manage the supply chain of provisions going to the front. Thus in practice the force for the new invasion along the Main River might have numbered as few as 10,000 men plus cohorts of auxiliaries.

A new fort may have been established at Frankfurt-am-Main-Höchst at the confluence of the Nidda and Main Rivers. As in the previous campaigns, Drusus used rivers to ferry much of the supplies his invading force needed by boat. The Main River is 524 kilometres (325.6 miles) long and a major tributary of the Rhine, with its source near Kulmbach, which is in turn fed by two minor tributaries the Red Main and White Main. The invasion plan was conceived with the usual Roman attention to detail, and logistics in particular. A supply depot was established at Rödgen near Bad Nauheim on the east bank of the Wetter River close by its source, about 60 kilometres (37.3 miles) east of the Rhine. It was polygonal in shape with a double ditch, 3 metres (9.8 feet) deep and wood-and-earth rampart structure 3 metres (9.8 feet) high and 3 metres (9.8 feet) wide at the base, enclosing an area of 3.3 hectares. Archaeologists found that the gateway, flanked by substantial towers, was wide enough for two wagons to pass through. These would have delivered corn and fresh produce brought up from Mogontiacum for storage in the warehouses and granaries inside the compound. There was also a well-equipped workshop. In the centre of the fortified camp was a principia, praetorium and barrack blocks sufficient for about 1,000 men but the size of the storage capacity meant it would feed many more mouths than its garrison. The nearby fort at Friedburg may have been connected with it.

The invasion route took them headlong into conflict with the Chatti who were a strong opponent. Unlike the previous campaign season, they had finally formed an alliance with the Sugambri and combined forces, having abandoned their own country, which the Romans had apparently given them. The Chatti were tough fighters and the ensuing conflict with the Romans was bloody and brutal. On the far northeastern edge of Chatti territory the Roman army established a major summer camp at Hedemünden near modern Göttingen, some 240 kilometres (149.1 miles) northest of Mogontiacum. Military surveyors laid out a narrow oval fortress taking full advantage of the Burgberg, a hill overlooking a bend on the Werra River, which is a tributary of the Weser. The defensive enclosure measured 320 metres (1,049.9 feet) long by 150 metres (492.1 feet) wide encompassing an area of 3.215 hectares. The 760 metre (2,493.4 feet) long circuit of wall measuring 5–6 metres (16.4–19.7 feet) at the base with a ditch outside was pierced by one gateway on each of the west and south sides, two on the east side with a curved but ungated northern end on the crest of the hill. There was an adjoining annex, also surrounded by a protective wall and ditch, which swept down to the riverside and may have been used for animals and supplies. The site, which has been partly excavated, has already produced over 1,500 iron objects carried by Roman troops, including exceptionally well preserved dolabra and pugiones, flat bladed spear points, the bent metal shank of a pilum, pyramid-shaped catapult bolts, nails, chain, hooks and even tent pegs with rings for tying the leather straps to. More personal items were also found such as iron hobnails – 600 in all – from caligae and a bronze phallic good luck charm. That the Romans were in the area on active campaign and taking prisoners is attested by an exquisitely nasty set of iron fetters. Shaped like the letter P the loop fitted around the neck and the hands were locked in two cuffs attached to the shaft. The short length of the shaft meant the captive wearer had to keep his arms up high across his chest – where they could be clearly seen by the guards – to avoid discomfort to the neck.

Anticipating his people might suffer a similar fate, one tribal leader took proactive steps to avoid conflict with the invaders. That year an enterprising noble from the Marcomanni nation named Marboduus or Marabodus, who was educated at Rome and once enjoyed Augustus’ patronage, returned to his people – or perhaps was taken there under Roman escort – and became their leader. He took back with him ideas about how the Marcomanni might introduce Roman-style law, government and military science. He had come to know the Romans well and understood what motivated them. Rather than challenge Rome or be subjugated by her, Marboduus decided upon a radical strategy. In a remarkable move, he convinced his tribe to relocate far from Roman temptation. Joining his people on the migration to a new homeland in Bohemia (Bohaemium) were the Lugii, Zumi, Butones (or Gutones), Mugilones and Sibini nations, a combined force of some 70,000 men on foot and 4,000 horse.

For those standing in Drusus’ path, the choice was ally with him or be prepared to fight. While the invading Roman army continued to attack and defeat any opposition as it progressed through the country, Drusus engaged in dazzling displays of single combat.

Spoils of War

Waging war was a central defining characteristic of Roman culture. There was prestige and profit to be had in a successful campaign and to advance in politics meant showing courage and ability on the battlefield. Fifty-three years earlier Cicero had exhorted

preëminence in military skill excels all other virtues. It is this which has procured its name for the glory of the Roman people; it is this which has procured eternal glory for this city; it is this which has compelled the whole world to submit to our dominion; all domestic affairs, all these illustrious pursuits of ours, and our forensic renown, and our industry, are safe under the protection of military valour. The highest dignity is in those men who excel in military glory.

One way a commander could prove his worth was to engage his opponent in face-to-face combat, defeat him and strip his body bare of its arms, armour and personal effects. These rich spoils were called the spolia opima. They were then hung decoratively from an oak tree trunk as a trophy (tropaea) and the victor brought the display back to Rome and presented it as victor to the shrine of Iupiter Feretrius on the Capitoline Hill. Their exalted place in the Roman psyche was due to their extreme rarity. Legend had it that the first spoils were taken by Romulus from Acro, king of the Caeninenses in 752 BCE following the incident in which the Sabine women were raped. The second spolia were those of Lars Tolumnius, king of the Veientes, taken by A. Cornelius Crossus. The decaying linen cuirass and accompanying inscription were still in existence in Augustus’ time and they actually came to light during the renovation of the temple of Iupiter Feretrius at the request of the princeps.

The last recorded Roman commander to be recognised for wrenching the spoils from his fallen adversary was M. Claudius Marcellus (c.268–208 BCE). He was a distant relative of Drusus and as a child he would have heard the thrilling story, which is preserved by Plutarch, of how he captured them in 222 BCE. Day and night, the story went, Marcellus pursued the Gaesatae, a Gallic tribe, which had invaded the Lombardy region of northern Italy to assist their allies, the Insubres. He finally intercepted 10,000 of them at Clastidium. Unfortunately, Marcellus had with him just 600 lightly armed troops, as well as a contingent of heavy infantry and some cavalry. Viridomarus, king of the Insubres, thinking that his side had the advantage of greater numbers and proven skill in horsemanship, set out to squash the Roman invader without delay. The Gauls were now heading en masse at speed towards Marcellus’ forces. Fearing he would be overwhelmed, the consul deployed his men into longer, thinner lines with the cavalry placed at the wings. His own horse, however, was terrified by the ululations of the advancing Gauls and turned tail, carrying Marcellus back in the direction of the Roman lines. This did not look at all good in front of his own men, so thinking quickly on his feet, he made as if he was praying to the gods and promised to Iupiter Feretrius the choicest of the Gallic king’s weapons and armour. Meanwhile, Viridomarus standing in his war chariot and wearing his striped trousers had spotted Marcellus by the splendour of his kit and charged out to slay him. Seeing the gleaming silver and gold of the Gaul’s armour and the elaborate coloured fabrics of his tunic and cloak, and recalling his vow to the Roman god, Marcellus now charged atViridomarus.The adversaries raced closer and closer together. Marcellus saw an opportunity but he had to act quickly. With all his might, he hurled his spear. The slender iron tipped weapon sliced through the sky and found its prey. The blade pierced the Gallic king’s cuirass and the force of the impact thrust him off his chariot and crashing to the ground. Marcellus charged up on his steed and dismounted. With two or three stabs, Marcellus dispatched the man.145 He hacked off the dead man’s head, removed the torc from his severed neck in the manner of the Celts, and stripped the dead man of his splendid gear. Lifting them skywards Marcellus proclaimed,

“O Iupiter Feretrius, who observest the deeds of great warriors and generals in battle, I now call thee to witness, that I am the third Roman consul and general who have, with my own hands slain a general and a king! To thee I consecrate the most excellent spoils. Do thou grant us equal success in the prosecution of this war”.

The Roman cavalry then charged the Gallic horse and infantry and won a great victory, made all the more so on account of the small number of Marcellus’ force and the greater odds it faced. The Gaesatae withdrew and surrendered Mediolanum (Milan) and other cities under their control and sued for terms. The senate awarded Marcellus a triumph in which the spoils were prominently displayed to cheers from the spectators. The sight of Marcellus carrying the trophy adorned with Viridomarus’ spectacular armour to the temple of Iupiter Feretrius was “the most agreeable and most uncommon spectacle”, writes Plutarch. Some 175 years later a descendant of Marcellus who was a tresvir monetalis used his position to commemorate the event on a special denarius.

There was another ancestor on Drusus’ mother’s side whose story probably inspired the young commander to uncommon acts of bravery on the battlefield. That was the story of how his family acquired its cognomen Drusus. One of his ancestors had dueled a Gallic chieftain named Drausus and by killing him “procured for himself and his posterity” the name.

These tales of heroism and glorious deeds evidently left a deep impression on the young Claudian. The German War provided Drusus with numerous opportunites to win his own rich spoils. Suetonius remarks that he was eager for glory and “frequently marked out the German chiefs in the midst of their army, and encountered them in single combat, at the utmost hazard of his life”. Drusus may have been successful in his quest, “for besides his victories”, writes the biographer of the Caesars, “he gained from the enemy the spolia opima”. If indeed Drusus was successful – when and against which opponent is not recorded in the surviving accounts – this was an extraordinary honour. The last person to claim the honour was M. Licinius Crassus (the grandson of the triumvir) who had defeated an opponent in Macedonia in 29 BCE. His achievement was downplayed, however. Politics got in the way of him collecting his trophy. The honour was deemed too distracting to Octavianus’ efforts to consolidate his political power. Crassus was denied his eternal glory and fobbed off with a triumph. By the time Drusus had taken the rich spoils from his Germanic enemy Augustus’ power base was more solid and he could afford to allow his young stepson the public recognition. Indeed, it would have been first rate propaganda for here was a member of his own household who had achieved what only three other illustrious men had in the entire course of Roman history.

Family Matters

While Drusus was fighting in Germania, his brother was into the second year of a bitter campaign in Illyricum and Pannonia.157 It was not a war of conquest, for that had already been undertaken several years before, but the less glamorous burden of suppressing a rebellion. In 10 BCE Tiberius had yet to celebrate his first official triumph. Was Tiberius jealous of his younger brother’s high profile successes across the Rhine? Was Tiberius suspicious that his brother had become Augustus’ favourite? There is certainly a suggestion in the Latin literature of sibling rivalry and deeper resentments. Suetonius uses the word odium, ‘hatred’, to describe Tiberius’ feelings towards his younger brother at an undisclosed time in their relationship. As the only evidence for it he cites that Drusus had written a letter (epistula) to his elder brother in which he proposed they strongly urge Augustus to resign and for him to restore the institutions of the res publica. Tiberius “produced the letter”, presumably handing it over to Augustus himself. The consequences of this alleged action are not recorded, but Drusus’ preference for the old form of government was apparently well known, so it is hard to see how this could be damaging to him – unless it was this letter that revealed his true feelings and it was the first time Augustus learned of them. The letter does, however, strongly suggest that Drusus would have been opposed to a hereditary succession – including his own.

It was now summer and Drusus had to leave the campaign in the capable hands of his legates. There was a matter of provincial importance that required his return to Lugdunum. On 1 August the concilium Galliarum was to gather at the pagus Condate for the official opening of the sanctuary. The date chosen for the inauguration was significant on several counts. For the Gallic nations on this day they celebrated the start of the Lughnasa, the festival of Lug, the god of war and craft who had come to be associated with the Roman Mercurius. For the Romans, 1 August was the “natal day” of the temples of Victoria and Victoria Virgo on the Palatine Hill and on this day, Augustus had taken Alexandria from Kleopatra in 30 BCE and Drusus had taken the oppidum of the Genauni fifteen years later.

The sanctuary complex commissioned by Drusus was a spectacular expression in stone, marble and gilt bronze of the burgeoning ‘theology of victory’ that legitimized Augustus’ vision for an expansionistic Roman commonwealth and of the place of Tres Galliae in it. The creation of a cult centre shared between three provinces was unprecedented anywhere in the Empire but relates back to the reorganization of the Tres Galliae under Augustus between 16–13 BCE and the need to create a common bond between its diverse civitates. It was appropriately grand. Visitors to the complex crossed from Lugdunum via a bridge over the Saône River. They first saw the amphitheatre, which dominated their field of view. An elaborate wooden one- or two-storey superstructure supported rows of seats for some 1,800 spectators who sat around an oval-shaped sand-covered arena measuring 67.6 metres (221.8 feet) by 42 metres (137.8 feet).

Towards Warsaw

A single thought also dominated the minds of the men of 3rd Panzer Division: reach the Vistula at Graudenz. The drive was relentless. Any panzers which broke down were abandoned by the wayside, their crews left to repair them on their own. The enemy offered little resistance. Polish troops simply raised their hands as the German armour rolled past them – the panzers didn’t even stop to round up prisoners. Elsewhere, a short burst of fire from a panzer’s machine-gun prompted Polish soldiers to emerge from their hiding places and surrender.

Across the Tucheler Heath, the scrubland, copses, marshes and lakes between Bromberg and Danzig, the German Army was rounding up the remnants of the ‘Corridor Army’ – the Army of Pomorze. Just north of Schwetz artilleryman Emil Falckenthal watched as infantry razed the village of Skarszewy to the ground after Polish troops offered stubborn resistance. Upwards of 300 Poles fell into German hands, but some escaped, setting a farm ablaze as they withdrew. In a stable seventy cows bellowed in fear, straining at their leashes as the flames ripped through the building. Falckenthal and his comrades braved the acrid smoke to save what they could, but only the pigs could be rescued. ‘Everything else burns, perishing in the searing flames,’ he wrote. That afternoon the artilleryman reached the edge of Grupa Dolna, opposite Graudenz. From a hillside cemetery, the gunner could see the Vistula valley laid out before him and there, just three miles away, the towers of Graudenz – now in German hands after 21st Infantry Division had marched in almost unopposed – twinkling in the sunlight. The bridge over the Vistula still stood, only partially demolished by the Poles; three of its huge iron-arch spans had collapsed into the river. And right in front of the artillerymen, the red steeple of the church at the Polish Army’s exercise ground in Grupa itself, where 20,000 enemy soldiers were now trapped.

A few miles upstream, the Army of Pomorze was making a final desperate attempt to force the Vistula near Schwetz. Having brushed past 23rd Infantry Division, a cavalry column, accompanied by infantry and vehicles, moved along the left bank in the direction of a dam, hoping to use it to cross the Vistula – unaware German infantry had beaten them to it. As the Poles moved through a field, German heavy machine guns opened fire from little over a mile’s range. Some men gave themselves up instantly, some made a dash for the dam, most were mown down. The sandbanks leading to the Vistula were littered with dead Poles; a makeshift ferry, crammed with fleeing troops, suffered a direct hit from a German field gun. A few Polish troops took shelter in a farmhouse, from where they took a heavy toll of an infantry company. Only when the farmhouse was ablaze and the building surrounded did fourteen Poles emerge and raise their hands. 3rd Panzer spent the rest of the day clearing out the scrub on the Vistula’s left bank. By the day’s end, 450 prisoners had been brought in, 100 vehicles captured and the cavalry regiment had ceased to exist. A few miles to the north a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft found two regiments of ulans, the fabled Polish cavalry, and another cavalry brigade trying to make for the Vistula. Bombers soon appeared over the heath and tossed their bombs. The cries of wounded horses and men echoed around forests, cavalry squadrons galloped between the trees, scores of riderless horses ran around wildly. The principal road across the heath, from Tuchel to Schwetz, was littered with the detritus of a destroyed army. It was, one Unteroffizier recalled, ‘a depressing, fateful scene. Baggage wagons are piled up in chaotic heaps, their horses dead next to them, still in their harnesses, mountains of ammunition piled up as well as countless guns, bayonets, gasmasks, all manner of equipment hastily discarded.’ Guderian’s men began to round up Polish prisoners, thousands of them, plus innumerable field guns and other military equipment. That evening, gunner Emil Falckenthal examined the exhausted, expressionless faces of weary prisoners, sat in a circle around their officers. A dejected young lieutenant who spoke a little German shook his head. ‘I do not understand the reason behind this war,’ he confessed. ‘Of course, it’s wonderful to fight for something great – to give up your life for high ideals, but that’s not the case in Poland any more. So we can’t fight any more – we must lose. Poland will cease to exist!’

Heinz Guderian spent the evening with the men of 3rd Panzer, convinced the fighting in the Corridor was all but over. His passion for the tank, for armoured warfare had been vindicated. His men had boundless confidence in their weapon. But there was a dark cloud. Britain and France were now involved. ‘A new world war is beginning,’ the panzer General wrote to his wife. ‘It will last a long time and we must stand our ground.’

The infantry of Eighth Army, protecting the left flank of the thrust on Warsaw, were a good day or two behind the panzers and motorised divisions. Now, in the early afternoon of the fourth, the foot soldiers began to arrive on the Warthe between Lodz and Kalisz. Conrad von Cochenhausen climbed between the gravestones up a hill to the north of the town of Sieradz. Through his binoculars the Generalleutnant looked eastwards across the valley of the Warthe, the last major natural obstacle between his 10th Infantry Division and the industrial metropolis of Lodz, thirty miles to the northwest. The view through the binoculars was far from encouraging. To be sure, the enemy was silent – there was no movement in his positions on the far bank of the Warthe. But the terrain was formidable. From Sieradz, the ground sloped gently to the river, which had been spanned by rail and road bridges until the Poles had blown both up. The Warthe here was nearly 200ft wide, its waters flowing freely, if not violently. And beyond them the Poles were obviously dug in on a dam which dominated the marshy, flat east bank of the Warthe. Further east still a smattering of bunkers and a forest where the enemy would clearly be lurking. All in all, thought Cochenhausen, you could not imagine more difficult terrain to attack over.

A few miles south of Sieradz, an Oberleutnant and his men in 17th Infantry Division marched wearily through the burning sand on the dust tracks. The terrain was monotonous, the few cottages they passed filthy. And now, in the distance, basking in the sunshine of late afternoon, the village of Stronsko, its red-brick church towering over the surrounding copses. With the setting sun, the men rested in a forest of pine and birch trees which offered welcome shade. Field kitchens began serving the evening meal. Artillery began firing sporadically at the right bank of the Warthe. Through binoculars, the men could see the Poles digging in. The men moved up to the river’s edge during the bright moonlit night, hastily digging slit trenches to protect themselves should the Polish artillery open up. But the Warthe valley was bathed in a milky-white fog as dawn approached. The enemy remained silent.

Shortly before 8am on the fifth, the German guns opened fire on a twenty-mile front straddling Sieradz as three divisions attempted to storm the Warthe behind a wall of steel and iron. Ten miles north of Sieradz, Wolf Oeringk and his 24th Infantry Division comrades moved towards the river near the village of Glinno, where pioneers were already at work ferrying infantry across the Warthe in inflatable boats. The river here split into four arms – some could be forded, some could not. Polish shells hissed and fizzled as the infantry crossed the first arm by boat. The men struggled through muddy, marshy terrain before reaching the next arm, which they waded through, and the third. The Landsers sank to their knees in mud, holding their rifles high. Then the final arm, the widest, only passable in boats, and then only two or three men at a time. Machine-gun fire kept the Poles pinned down, while two German rifle platoons cowered on the steep far bank, unable to move. Oeringk watched as the enemy troops attempted to wipe out the tiny German bridgehead – and promptly fell under a hail of machine-gun bullets. And above the Warthe, on the high ground on the right bank, tall, dark clouds of smoke rose above Glinno.

It took Wolf Oeringk barely thirty minutes to cross the Warthe. It took Conrad von Cochenhausen’s men nearly five hours to subdue the Polish troops dug in on the right bank. The Generalleutnant and his staff had planned the assault down to the finest detail: artillery would pound the bunkers and dug-outs close to the water’s edge, then switch to the enemy’s rear defences. There was nothing to be done about the terrain. Marshes and swamps restricted the attack to a strip of land barely 300 yards wide. The Poles poured withering fire on this narrow strip, but once 10th Infantry finally got a foothold over the Warthe, it quickly rolled up the Polish defences, even seizing an enemy battery still firing. A good half dozen miles beyond the river, the advancing Landsers found enemy infantry and artillery columns decimated by German howitzers, pounding away from the left bank. The battle for Warthe was over.

After a rest, Wolf Oeringk’s Feldwebel ordered his men on to the east. It was dark now, but fires on both sides of the Warthe lit the way down an endless, sandy road. ‘The air is mild and filled with the smell of burning,’ Oeringk recorded in his diary. ‘The awful reality of this war strikes us – coupled with the expectation that at any moment we could be shot out of the darkness.’ There are still Polish soldiers everywhere, he thought. But then came the comforting howl of German shells racing over the marching men’s heads. At the day’s end the infantry entered Glinno. The village was still ablaze.

While Eighth Army’s infantry battered its way across the Warthe, 1st Panzer Division was rolling into Petrikau – to Poles Piotrkow Trybunalski – a town of 15,000 residents sixty miles south of Lodz, while the rest of the division struck onwards to the north. For the first time, the German armour ran into Polish tanks; at least half were shot-up, the remainder took to their heels. The defenders of Petrikau, however, proved more stubborn; they continued to offer resistance beyond dusk as the Landsers cleared out the town house by house. That night, with the remnants of the elite 19th Division streaming back towards Warsaw having been routed around Petrikau, Johann Graf von Kielmansegg’s column of panzers rounded up countless Polish troops, startled by the Germans’ rapid advance. Suddenly, a truck, its headlights on full beam, nervously edged out of a side road. Seeing the panzers, its occupants jumped out and tried to flee; all were captured, including the divisional commander – a Brigadier General Kwaciszewski – and his entire staff. ‘A good capture at the end of a good day,’ Kielmansegg observed succinctly. But then, the general no longer had a division to command. ‘Who was not taken prisoner and what did not fall into our hands as booty, what did not lie dead on the battlefield, were merely the shattered remnants,’ the German staff officer recorded.

Poland’s 19th Division no longer existed; her 29th was still battle-worthy and still a threat to 1st Panzer. Roused just before dawn on 6 September, Johann Graf von Kielmansegg grabbed his steel helmet and carbine as cries of ‘Naprzod, naprzod’ – forward, forward – filled the air south of Petrikau. He continued:

We take up position in a rather deep ditch on the edge of the estate and hear, or rather feel, for the first time what it means to be under direct machine-gun fire. There’s a slight whizzing, whistling or singing, the shaking of the striped blades of grass and bushes, the rustling of branches, all this causes new, but brief sensations.

The fighting reached its climax around the village of Milejow, as the Poles swept out of the forests and copses which had shielded them from the Luftwaffe’s prying eyes on the fifth and fell upon 1st Panzer’s right flank, bound for Petrikau. ‘Every man defends himself exactly where he is,’ Kielmansegg wrote. Staff officers, infantry, engineers, panzer crews, artillerymen, all were thrown into the battle, which dragged on throughout 6 September and into the seventh. The Polish attacks first halted, then turned about. The enemy, Kielmansegg observed, ‘disappears in the direction whence he came, leaving behind countless dead, many prisoners and considerable material, among it a complete battery. In places, so many Polish dead lie in the smallest area that even veterans of the World War say that they have rarely or never seen anything like it.’32

The scenes were identical behind 1st Panzer’s route of advance. Everywhere ‘a scene of desolation’ one soldier recalled. ‘Burned-out houses and ruined farms, weapons, vehicles and horse-drawn carts abandoned by the roadside. And everywhere, the dead. Horses, men, their bodies bloated, distorted, covered by flies, the smell unbearable.’

Such was war, mused XVI Corps’ commanding officer Erich Hoepner – der alte Reiter, the old cavalryman. ‘It’s rather interesting here,’ he wrote to his wife, ‘but it’s not always nice. We oldies didn’t expect to have to go to war again – now we must get used to it once more.’ Erich Hoepner very quickly ‘got used to it’. After six days’ relentless advance, his corps, spearheaded by 1st Panzer Division, was within touching distance of the Polish capital. ‘Without enemy resistance I could be there in two hours,’ he boasted.

The enemy already stood at the gates of Krakow. Scenes in the great mediaeval city were chaotic. Its citizens were leaving by any means they could after a German air attack. Polish troops entering the city found those inhabitants who had stayed behind plundering the department stores. The Helwetia chocolate factory had also been raided; bars were handed out to soldiers as they marched hurriedly through Krakow. As the first German armour rolled into the city’s suburbs on the sixth, the last Polish troops pulled out to the southeast. The road to Weliczka, eight miles from the heart of Krakow, was ‘a picture of misery’, one Polish officer recalled. The withdrawing troops had been attacked by the Luftwaffe. So hasty had been the retreat there had been no time to bury the corpses of soldiers and cadavers of horses. When a single German aircraft appeared over the small town of Brsesko, on the main road to Rzeszow, all form of order and discipline disintegrated. Drivers abandoned their cars and trucks and took shelter in homes. The town was completely clogged with traffic. When the aircraft eventually disappeared, the drivers gingerly returned to their vehicles; their officers horsewhipped them for deserting the column.

Northeast of Krakow, the relentless advance of 5th Panzer Division through the valley of the Vistula brought the armour to the town of Staszow. Townsfolk lined the streets in silence as the panzers rolled past. ‘They were told that these colossuses had just enough power to trundle past the Führer’s dais in the parades in Berlin,’ Heinz Borwin Venzky gloated. ‘Someone had told the Polish soldier that the stupid Germans had only fixed armour to their foremost panzers, the rest were merely cardboard dummies which they could easily withstand.’ For half an hour 5th Panzer’s armour thundered through Staczow. An exhaust backfired; the inhabitants fled from the streets terrified, before tentatively returning when they realised there was nothing to fear.

The sun continued to beat down on the gravel roads of Pomerania. Wednesday 6 September was another glorious day in the Corridor. The beige Mercedes roaring along the main road between Tuchel and Schwetz once again left an impenetrable cloud of dust behind it. The car came to a stop outside the village of Plewno where Heinz Guderian was waiting for it. A radiant Adolf Hitler climbed out. ‘My dear general, what you and your men have achieved!’ he greeted the panzer man. ‘My faith in the panzer divisions was always boundless!’ Guderian glowed with pride. He ran through the deeds of his Corps to the Führer, then accompanied Hitler to his Mercedes to begin a tour of the front. Soldiers and Volksdeutsche applauded and crowded around the car. Smiling, Hitler raised his hand. The jubilation ceased. The men fell silent. ‘Soldiers! You have put Berliners’ minds at rest,’ he declared. ‘The Poles won’t get to Berlin. What has been fought over with German blood remains German.’

A dozen miles away, Generalleutnant Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg had drawn up a panzer regiment and armoured reconnaissance cars from his 3rd Panzer Division along the main road from Schwetz to Graudenz. Geyr was anxious. His men were not lining the road merely to greet Hitler; they were there for their Führer’s protection. ‘There were still armed Poles everywhere – in the bushes on the road which the Führer drove down,’ he recalled. One of his ordnance officers dragged a Polish soldier from the undergrowth shortly before Hitler was due to arrive.

The Führer was still enthralled by his tour of the battlefield. The road from Plewno to Schwetz was littered with wrecked Polish batteries. ‘Our dive bombers did that?’ he asked Guderian. ‘No, our panzers,’ the General told him. As the motorcade approached the left bank of the Vistula, the outlines of the towers and steeples of Kulm, half a dozen miles to the south, were clearly visible. ‘In March last year I had the privilege of greeting you in your birthplace,’ the panzer General told his Führer. ‘Today you are with me in mine.’

Shortly before mid-day, Hitler’s Mercedes turned on to the road to Graudenz. The Führer stood up to acknowledge the soldiers lining the route. He stopped briefly to greet 3rd Panzer’s commander with an earnest handshake. ‘General von Geyr, your division has achieved wonderful things.’ Geyr told him his men had merely done what had been asked of them. ‘No,’ Hitler insisted, ‘it has done more than its duty.’

The motorcade continued towards Graudenz to the strains of a regimental band. Hitler asked Guderian about casualties. Just 150 dead and 700 wounded in the four divisions under his command, the general responded. And for that his Corps had destroyed perhaps three enemy infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade, and taken thousands of prisoners and captured hundreds of guns. The Führer was astonished; his regiment alone had suffered far heavier casualties in the Great War. The few losses, Heinz Guderian explained, were due to the potency of his panzers. ‘Tanks are a life-saving weapon,’ he declared. He neglected to mention the Poles barely possessed any…

It was around 11pm when the Führer returned to his train and stepped into the command wagon. Nikolaus von Vormann had spent the day in the carriage monitoring the latest reports from the front, feeding the relevant ones to Hitler such as news of the fall of Krakow. The Führer’s first concern, however, was not for the East, but the West. What was happening on the Western Front? he asked breathlessly. ‘Nothing new,’ Vormann responded rather flippantly. ‘The Potato War continues.’ The officer was equally smug about the state of affairs in the East. The German Army was on the verge of encircling large Polish formations in front of Warsaw and had already left the Army of Poznan ‘hovering in thin air’. Poland’s leaders could no longer direct their armies. ‘All that’s left is a rabbit hunt,’ von Vormann declared. ‘Militarily, the war is decided.’ Hitler stared at his liaison officer, took Vormann’s hands in his, shook them heartily and left the carriage without saying a word.

On the Westerplatte, Henry Sucharski was still strapped to a bed in his bunker. His men were still being pounded daily by German bombs and shells – and they were still holding out. The incessant bombardment had inflicted few casualties, but it had wreaked terrible destruction on the peninsula. ‘Enemy artillery fire literally ploughed the land, overturned trees, the men in the guard posts were thrown up in the air like feathers,’ one junior officer wrote. Shrapnel and lumps of concrete were blown into the mess, serving as a makeshift hospital, exacerbating the wounds of already-injured men, while the Westerplatte’s sole doctor struggled to care for them without the aid of an operating table or even bandages.

The uninjured were barely any more able to defend the peninsula. ‘The barracks are unrecognisable after all the damage,’ one young officer recorded in his diary. ‘In the cellar, soldiers lie along the walls, overly tired, the wounded on stretchers. The only light comes from a candle. Hygiene is beneath all contempt, the air is awful.’ At night there was no hope of sleep. Random bursts of gun and machine-gun fire every few minutes kept the defenders awake.

By mid-morning on Thursday, 7 September, it had become too much for the men of the Westerplatte. Shortly before 10am, the white flag was raised for the second time over the depot. On this occasion, it would not be hauled down.

After days of sobbing and uncontrollable shaking, Henryk Sucharski had recovered some of his composure. He summoned his men in front of the wrecked barracks. The troops were reluctant to surrender. ‘Someone will still rescue us here,’ they pleaded with their major. ‘We can endure for one more day.’ For the first time, the major told his men about the plight of their comrades, that the Germans were at the gates of Warsaw, that Poland was being overrun. There was a brief prayer for the fifteen dead, followed by a soldier’s hymn, ‘Peaceful calm, comrade’. And then Henryk Sucharski crossed the German lines to capitulate.

To the Germans, Sucharski appeared ‘utterly exhausted’, his men ‘scruffy, extremely sullen and demoralised’. The peninsula had cost the Reich nearly 400 casualties, but its defenders were treated with respect. As the garrison marched into captivity, German soldiers stood stiffly to attention and saluted.

After five days almost continually retreating, the anonymous Polish reserve officer who had originally set off towards Auschwitz now found himself with three men and a field canteen near the village of Radomysl Wielki, a good sixty miles east of Krakow. Once again the Germans were there first. Artillery shells began crashing down on the village and reports reached the exhausted men that German armour had taken the village. The officer turned north, aiming for Szczucin, eighteen miles away on the right bank of the Vistula. ‘There was no leadership,’ he recalled. ‘Everyone acted on his own initiative.’ The Polish Army was disintegrating around him. The men were demoralised; they threw away their guns. Horses collapsed out of exhaustion. In the sandy terrain the field guns became bogged down. The officer overheard a sergeant complain: ‘I can’t force anyone to go on any more; each man does what he wants because none of this makes any sense. The men have nothing to eat and no ammunition to continue to fight with.’ Later that day, Thursday, 7 September, the reservist was captured by 5th Panzer Division.

For a week, the armour of 1st and 4th Panzer Divisions had punched through the heart of Poland down the road to Warsaw. Now, with barely seventy miles to go to the Polish capital, their paths separated: 4th Panzer would head on to Warsaw, its comrades would smash their way through to the Vistula to the south of the city, thwarting any relief of – or escape by – its garrison. Although their objectives differed, the methods of the two panzer divisions’ leaders were identical: relentless pursuit. ‘Forward to the Vistula!’ demanded Major Walter Wenck, 1st Panzer’s operations officer. ‘What remains behind, remains behind. As long as we have the strength, the enemy will be attacked.’ Generalmajor Georg-Hans Reinhardt expected his men ‘to be first to reach the enemy’s capital. We have not merely hit the enemy, but driven him back in confusion in front of us. But still we have not reached our objective. Our objective is Warsaw. Forward to Warsaw!’

Reinhardt’s men began the day in the town of Bedkow, seventy miles from Warsaw. By mid-morning, they had already reached the objective for the day, Czerniewice, fifty-five miles from the capital. The armour was now on the highway to Warsaw. The pace of the advance accelerated. The Pole wasn’t resisting now. He wasn’t retreating. He was fleeing. By early afternoon, 4th Panzer had rolled through Rawa Mazowiecka, eight miles down the road to Warsaw; the town had been flattened by the Luftwaffe to clear the way. By nightfall, Reinhardt was in Babsk, forty miles from his objective. That evening, one of his men surveyed the scene on the road to Warsaw. The world was aflame. ‘As far as the eye can see, every village is burning, every farm, even the smallest haystack, near and far,’ he wrote. ‘The flames hiss and crackle, whoosh towards the night sky. A shower of sparks shoots up when a roof collapses, crashing down, or a house wall caves in. There’s an acrid, stinging smell of burning and thick clouds of smoke spiral across the sky.’

In the forests and copses around Tomaszow Mazowiecki, 1st Panzer Division was enjoying little of its neighbour’s success; the terrain and the enemy conspired against it. ‘Our exhaustion is probably already so great that it could hardly be endured any longer under normal circumstances,’ Johann Graf von Kielmansegg wrote. ‘Here, with the fulfilment of victory at hand, we barely notice it.’ If 7 September had been relatively frustrating for 1st Panzer, Friday the eighth passed by in a blur of Polish place names as the division rushed to cross the Vistula south of Warsaw. At 7.35am Nowe Miasto, thirty-seven miles from the Vistula; forty minutes later, Mogielnicka, twenty-nine miles from the river; by 10am, Grojek, fifteen miles; and at 11.15 Chynow, just five miles from Poland’s great artery. ‘The road presents a picture of a flight in panic,’ Kielmansegg wrote. He continued:

The road is strewn with all kinds of abandoned pieces of equipment, including steel helmets, rucksacks, coats and gas masks. Vast quantities of ammunition, left loose or packed in boxes, have been thrown out of cars. At times we have to stop to clear the road of all this material so we can continue. The closer we get to the Vistula, the more vehicles are left on the road, especially field kitchens and panje wagons loaded with all kinds of things. Most of the horses haven’t been unharnessed and have dragged the carts into the fields to graze. Among torn sacks of rice and flour there’s an open medical case with valuable surgical equipment. Loaves of bread in their hundreds, countless brown cubes of ground coffee, all covered with dust and dirt, mostly crushed by vehicles driving over them – it’s impossible to give the slightest inkling in words of this Polish road of flight.

The number of prisoners grew by the hour. ‘The deprivation and horror of the last few days is clearly etched upon their faces,’ the staff officer observed. ‘For them, the war is over.’

In the early afternoon, near the town of Gora Kalwaria, 1st Panzer arrived at the Vistula. The bridge had already been destroyed by the Germans and Poles in turn; the withdrawing Poles had also destroyed the final floating bridge before being wiped out or taken prisoner. Motorcyclists thrust into the water with inflatable boats and forged a weak bridgehead on the east bank of the Vistula.

Operation Kutuzov

The direct aspect of that development began on July 11. It involved a still-overlooked operation that is arguably better evidence of the Red Army’s progress than the so frequently cited battle to the south. When all is said and done, Kursk, seen from a Russian perspective, was a traditional Russian battle. Echoing Zorndorf and Kunersdorf, Friedland and Borodino, it was a test of endurance intended to enable the Red Army to begin setting the pace. Operation Kutuzov, the assault on the German-held salient that began on July 12, was something fundamentally different.

The German and the Russian ways of war approached operational art from opposite directions. The Prussian/German army had developed its version of operational art as a response to the constraining of campaign-level tactics in an age of mass armies. The Russians came to it through a developing understanding of how Russia’s vast spaces could complement the metastasizing armies made possible by industrialization and bureaucratization. Large forces executing major attacks on a broad front, cavalry masses breaking deep into an enemy’s rear, field armies coordinating offensives over hundreds of miles—all were integrated into theory and practice between the Crimean War and the Revolution of 1917. The Red Army had added the concepts of deep battle, and had evaluated the use of mechanized forces to exploit initial breakthroughs and the value of consecutive operations: coordinated attacks all across a front that might cover the Soviet Union from Murmansk to the Caucasus, mounted in such quick succession that the enemy had time neither to recover nor to shift reserves from place to place.

Predictably, each of these concepts had their turns in the barrel and their time in the sun. The political infighting of the 1920s and the purges of the 1930s further complicated internal, professional disputes on force configuration and strategic planning. Operation Barbarossa caught the Red Army in the midst of a complex reconfiguration with many contradictory aspects. What David Glantz aptly calls its rebirth was a two-year process. But one thing that remained consistent was Stavka’s—and Stalin’s—commitment to consecutive operations. From the winter 1941 counteroffensive to the Stalingrad campaign, the USSR’s ultimate goal was on a grand strategic level: a series of timed, coordinated offensives that would turn Russia into the Wehrmacht’s graveyard.

The problem lay in implementation on the operational level: communications, logistics, coordination. To date, the Soviets’ greatest offensive successes had been achieved with assistance from the weather. Snow and cold, mud and rain, had been as important as the new generations of generals and weapons. At Kursk, the Red Army had demonstrated it could match the Germans in high summer when standing on the defensive. Now for the first time it would show that it could implement consecutive offensive operations when the days were long and the sun quickly dried storm-saturated ground.

Preparations for Kutuzov were overseen and coordinated by Zhukov, and by another Stavka representative: Marshal Nikolai Voronov, chief of artillery—the latter assignment an indication of the tactics to be employed. As at Kursk, the operation involved two fronts. On the left, General Vasily Sokolovsky deployed the Eleventh Guards and Fiftieth Armies in the front line, with 1st and 5th Tank Corps in support: more than 200,000 men and 750 AFVs. On the right-hand sector, General Markian Popov’s Bryansk Front had, from left to right, the Sixty-first, Third, and Sixty-third Armies, supported by two tank and a rifle corps—170,000 men and 350 AFVs.

The plan was for Popov’s Third and Sixty-third Armies to hit the front of the salient, with the Sixty-first Army conducting a supporting diversion on the right. Sokolovsky would go in where the northern bulge began, break through, and extend east toward Orel, coordinating as the situation developed first with the Bryansk Front and then with Rokossovsky’s Southwestern Front, which on July 15—at least in theory—would attack north out of its positions around Kursk. Behind the Western Front, as a second-wave exploitation force, Stavka concentrated the Eleventh Army and Fourth Tank Army, the latter with another 650 armored vehicles.

The senior command teams were solid. The tables of organization were complete. The men were relatively rested. The sector had been quiet for months, and the front commanders applied maskirovka comprehensively to keep Army Group Center unaware of what was concentrating against it. At the operational and tactical levels, arguably the major German advantage was flexibility: the ability to respond to Soviet initiative by organizing ad hoc blocking forces that on paper and on the ground seemed fragile but that time and again had proven all too capable of delaying or derailing the Red Army’s best-planned initiatives.

Timing was even more critical than surprise. Rokossovsky had to bleed and fix Model’s Ninth Army at Kursk to a point where it could not redeploy in time to do any good. But if Kutuzov jumped off too late, even by a day or two, the Germans might be willing to write off Citadel, cut their losses, and be in a position to counter each Soviet attack in turn. The possibility that the planned Allied invasion of Sicily might draw German troops westward does not seem to have been factored into Stavka planning. Even if the British and Americans finally chose to act, the prospect of a few divisions probing the remote fringes of “Fortress Europe” hardly impressed a Red Army that saw itself as fighting a war of army groups on its own.

In developing Kutuzov, the Red Army confronted an obliging enemy. In terms of force structure, the Germans obliged by treating Army Group Center as an inactive sector. This was more a matter of practice than policy. It had begun gradually, and months earlier: it involved replacing full-strength divisions with those worn down elsewhere, then increasing their fronts and lowering their priorities for replacements. It also involved transferring air assets and heavy artillery and reducing mobile reserves. Secondary defensive lines and fallback positions were constrained because neither the men nor the material to develop them were available.

The situation was exacerbated by the distractions occasioned because Army Group Center’s headquarters, itself physically isolated, was in late 1942 and early 1943 the locus of a serious plot to arrest and execute or kill Hitler when he visited in March 1943. Field Marshal Günther von Kluge was disgusted by Germany’s behavior in Russia and believed declaring war on the United States had been a disastrous mistake. Although ultimately refusing to support the conspiracy, he was sufficiently aware of it and involved on its fringes that making the best of his army group’s tactical situation took second place. Pressing the Führer for reinforcements scarcely appeared on the field marshal’s horizon.

Two years earlier, under Heinz Guderian, the Second Panzer Army had led the drive on Moscow. On July 11, that army confronted Operation Kutuzov with fourteen ragged infantry divisions, most composed of inexperienced replacements and recovered wounded, a panzer grenadier division, and, ironically, a single panzer division. All told, a hundred thousand men and around three hundred AFVs, with only local reserves available. The order of battle showed pitilessly how the balance of forces had changed on the Eastern Front. Divisional sectors averaging twenty miles and more made a “continuous front” that was no more than a line on a map; reality was a series of strongpoints more or less connected by patrols. As an additional force multiplier, the Soviets achieved almost complete surprise. In evaluating the Red Army’s maskirovka, it is appropriate to ask whether it was that good or German intelligence was that bad. By this time under Reinhard Gehlen, Foreign Armies East, as the German intelligence operation on the Eastern Front was called, was better at gathering information than at processing it, and not particularly good at either. Certainly Gehlen’s service failed to discover the Soviet concentrations on Army Group Center’s left and against the salient’s nose. As late as mid-May, Army Group Center and the Second Panzer Army increased alertness in the front lines and carried out extensive mine and wire laying, but only as a commonsense effort to improve its readiness. Aerial reconnaissance was limited by a lack of planes. The attenuated front lines inhibited aggressive patrolling in favor of something like a “live and let live” approach. Russian partisans and reconnaissance units were less cooperative and more informative. By mid-July, both Western and Bryansk Fronts’ assault formations had up-to-date information on what they faced where in the projected attack sector.

Kutuzov’s exact launch time was determined by the successful German advance on Oboyan and Prokhorovka. Early on July 11, patrols were replaced throughout the attack zone by battalion-strength strikes on German outposts. That night, Russian bombers attacked bases throughout the salient. Fresh rifle units took over the line at 3:00 A.M. At 3:30, the artillery barrage began: the heaviest and best coordinated in the history of the Eastern Front. Two and a half hours later, the first assault waves and their supporting armor took position and the initial bomber and Shturmovik strikes went in. At 6:05 A.M., the main attack began. On Second Panzer Army’s left, six Guards rifle divisions hit the previously reconnoitered junction between two German divisions, breaking through easily enough that by the afternoon, the Eleventh Guards Army committed its second line to expand the breach and the two reserve tank corps were readying to exploit southward.

Airpower played a major role in the shifting tide of battle. Believing the Western Front’s attack was only a diversion, the Luftwaffe kept most of its aircraft in Citadel’s sector, to the east. Initially, the Red Air Force owned the sky on Eleventh Guards Army’s front, and Shturmoviks hammered the Landser unmercifully. By the afternoon, when 1st Air Division began diverting sorties north, the Eleventh Guards’ leading elements were safely under the cover of heavy forests. But Stuka Gruppen hit follow-up elements to such effect that small-scale counterattacks mounted by 5th Panzer Division were enough to delay 1st Tank Corps. The Eleventh Guards Army doubled down and committed 5th Tank Corps. Its T-34S were more than six miles into the German rear by nightfall, when 5th Panzer managed to slow their pace as well.

With the Stukas concentrating on the few roads passable by tanks, the army commander decided against a further blitz and ordered a set-piece attack for the next morning. Ivan Bagramyan had had his ups and downs since June 1941. His vigorous advocacy of the abortive Kharkov offensive of 1942 had led to his temporary eclipse. Restored to favor and combat command, he led the Sixteenth Army so successfully that it was renamed the Eleventh Guards Army and given a key role in Kutuzov. Bagramyan had learned from experience that against the Germans, a closed fist was preferable to a broken arm. But his decision to trade time for shock reflected as well the processing of German radio reports, specifically from 5th Panzer Division, that stated that immediate reinforcements were required to avert disaster in the northern sector. The only source of those reinforcements was Model’s Ninth Army. Give Fritz a few hours to sweat, decide, and begin moving tanks. Then, Bagramyan calculated, strike before they reached the field.

In the salient’s nose, Bryansk Front found the going tougher. The Germans there belonged to XXXV Corps, under Major General Lothar Rendulic. Rendulic paid attention to intelligence reports and aerial reconnaissance that confirmed a concentration against the junction of his two frontline divisions. He redeployed his infantry, concentrated his artillery and antitank resources, and on July 12 made Bryansk Front pay yard by yard for its gains.

Fourteen Soviet rifle divisions on an eight-mile front seemed ample for the task of breaking through—especially when supported by heavy tanks. These were KV-2s: a prewar design, obsolescent by 1943 standards, underpowered and undergunned for their weight. But their fifty-plus tons included enough armor to make them invulnerable to any gun smaller than three inches. Instead, the KV-2s ran onto an unreconnoitered minefield. By day’s end, sixty Soviet tanks were destroyed or disabled. The Germans had been forced out of their forward positions but were still holding the main line of resistance. They owed a good part of their success to the Luftwaffe. German fighter pilots were consistently successful in separating the Shturmoviks from their escorts, then scattering the escorts. Stukas and medium bombers struck repeatedly and almost unopposed, with VIII Air Corps diverting more and more aircraft from Oboyan and Prokhorovka to the Orel salient. The price was familiar: further overextension of already scarce ground-attack aircraft and already tired crews. One dive-bomber pilot flew six attacks in twelve hours. That kind of surge performance could not be continued indefinitely.

It was correspondingly obvious from Rendulic’s headquarters to Kluge’s that the sector could not hold without immediate reinforcements on the ground. That meant panzers. And the nearest concentration of panzers was in Ninth Army. In two sectors in a single day, Kutuzov confronted the Germans with a game-changing situation and very little reaction time. Model responded to the new crisis with a rapidity his principal English-language biographer, Steven Newton, calls suspicious. Newton argues that Model and Kluge were both expecting a major Soviet attack in the Orel salient, especially after the failure of Ninth Army’s attacks in Citadel’s northern sector. Rather than challenge Hitler and the OKH directly, they agreed, with a wink and a nudge, to commit to Citadel armor that would be more badly needed elsewhere in a matter of days. Certainly the divisions Kluge offered deployed slowly. Certainly, too, Model did not push the attack of XLVI Panzer Corps in the Ponyri sector on July 11. Late in the afternoon of July 12, Model flew to the headquarters of the Second Panzer Army and assumed its still-vacant command without relinquishing command of the Ninth. He and Kluge had previously agreed on this arrangement, which made Model directly responsible for the Orel salient and half the Kursk reentrant. It also gave him as free a hand to transfer forces over as wide an area as any senior officer of the Third Reich could expect.

Thus, on the morning of July 13, 4th Panzer Division’s commander was ordered to cancel his planned attack, shift to defensive mode, and take over the positions of his neighbor, 20th Panzer Division, which was redeploying north. Recent communication between Model and Kluge had been carried out by unlogged telephone calls and confidential face-to-face meetings. Kluge, Newton asserts, could thus tell Hitler he had not ordered the abandonment of the offensive against Kursk. Model was just doing what he was recognized for doing: responding decisively to an unexpected development, living up to the reputation as a “defensive lion” he had earned in the crisis winter of 1941.

It all makes for another fascinating and unprovable story among the many spawned in the Third Reich. What the records show is that by the night of July 13–14, Ninth Army’s 2nd Panzer Division and 8th Panzer from the high command’s reserve were moving into Rendulic’s sector. The 12th, 18th, and 20th Panzer were backing the sorely tried 5th Panzer against Bagramyan. That simple statement had a backstory. Emergency German redeployments on the Eastern Front might have become routine, but the process was anything but. The 12th Panzer had spent a week vainly seeking a breakthrough in the direction of Kursk. At 12:45 A.M. on July 12, it was ordered to the Orel sector. The order was a surprise, and its timing could not have been worse for all those trying to catch some sleep in the four hours before sunrise. But by 1:00 A.M., the 5th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the reconnaissance battalion were on their way—eighty miles on dirt roads pounded to dust by weeks of military traffic. An hour later, the leading elements were taking position around Bolkhov, the previously anonymous spot on the map where army headquarters deemed their presence most necessary.

The tanks took longer. So did the rest of the division. The 12th Panzer moved ad hoc, by small improvised groups each going all out, each eroding as fuel tanks emptied, transmissions failed, and engines quit. To drive with windows and hatches open was to choke on the fine dust. To shut them was to broil in the heat. Vehicles were loaded and dispatched almost at random. Rest stops were equally random. A company commander took an unauthorized twenty-minute halt in Orel to check on the well-being of his aunt, a nurse in the local soldiers’ home. Roads were blocked by collisions and breakdowns. Tanks, each hulled in its own dust cloud, lost contact with one another. Less than half of 12th Panzer’s original starters made the finish line.

Model, predictably, lost his temper with the regiment’s commanding officer—and just as predictably gave him command of one of the battle groups the field marshal and his staff officers were throwing in as fast as they could be organized. By this time, everyone in Second Panzer Army’s rear areas was seeing Russians everywhere, and 12th Panzer was risking dismemberment as rear-echelon officers demanded tanks and men to restore their situations and calm their nerves.

The 5th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had been on the front line from the war’s first days. Poland, France, Barbarossa, Leningrad: its men had seen as much combat as any in the Wehrmacht. So when its veterans spoke of Bolkhov as “the threshold to battle hell,” it was more than retrospective melodrama. The regiment reached its assigned sector around midnight on July 12, and began advancing at 9:00 A.M. on July 13. At first all seemed routine: a steady advance against light opposition. Then suddenly “all hell broke loose.” Bryansk Front had sent in the Sixty-first Army and its supporting 20th Tank Corps. The strength, intensity, and duration of the supporting fire exceeded anything the regiment’s veterans had experienced: a “fire ball” that enveloped the entire front. Under the shelling, the panzer grenadiers’ advance slowed, then stopped, then inched forward again. First the Stukas, then twenty or so of the division’s tanks, sustained the momentum for a time, until dug-in tanks and camouflaged antitank guns drove the infantry first to ground, then to retreat.

As in the other sectors of the offensive, there was no breakthrough, but limiting the Soviet advance nevertheless took its toll on the defenders. Thus far, they had held—but for how long could another large-scale tactical stalemate be sustained? The reports and the recollections of the divisions that fought first in Ninth Army’s attack on Kursk and then in the Orel salient convey an unwilling, almost unconscious sense that this time there was something different about the Russians. It was not only the intensity of their artillery fire. It was the relative sophistication. It was not only the depth of the defensive positions or the determination of their defenders. It was a more general sense that the Red Army’s mass and will were being informed by improving tactical and operational sophistication—the levels of war making most likely to influence and frustrate German frontline formations directly, and in ways impossible to overlook.


That the German front in the Orel salient held more or less together reflected in good part Model’s disregard of Hitler’s order that no secondary defensive positions be established. Even before Kursk, Model had initiated the preparation of a series of phase lines that by the time of Kutuzov were more than map tracings. Model handled his sparse reserves with cold-blooded skill, committing them by batteries and battalions in just enough force to blunt and delay Soviet attacks. The decisive tool in his hand, however, was the Luftwaffe.

The 1st Air Division mounted over eleven hundred sorties on July 18 alone, almost half by Stukas and ground-attack planes. The next day, Bagramyan’s lead tanks emerged from the forest and the Germans struck at dawn. The Stukas, Henschels, and Fw 190s bored in at altitudes so low that one Hs 129 pilot flew his plane into the tank he was attacking. By this time, experience and rumor had taught the Russian tankers all they wished to know about German attack planes. Some crews undertook random evasive maneuvers, scattering in all directions. Others simply abandoned their vehicles. The 1st Air Division claimed 135 kills on July 19 alone. Soviet records admit that by July 20, 1st Tank Corps had only thirty-three tanks left. The pilots credited themselves with preventing a “second Stalingrad.” Model, never an easy man to impress, wired congratulations for the first successful halting of a tank offensive from the air alone.

On July 19, Bryansk Front threw the Third Guards Tank Army into the attack. Over seven hundred AFVs, supported by the full strength of the Fifteenth Air Army, advanced almost eight miles by nightfall and kept hammering. Despite Stalin’s direct “encouragement,” what was projected as a breakthrough became a battle of attrition. Model used his aircraft to compensate for steadily eroding ground strength. Luftwaffe medium bombers were flying as many as five sorties a day, and 88 mm flak guns pressed into antitank service claimed more than two hundred tank kills. Russian and German fighters grappled for control of the air, with one Soviet report describing a pilot landing near a downed Me-109 and capturing the pilot himself. What counted was that as 1st Air Division’s planes were ruthlessly shifted and ruthlessly committed, pilot judgment diminished and aircrew losses increased. A disproportionate number of them were among the veteran flight and squadron leaders, correspondingly irreplaceable at short notice.

Night Air Operations 1943: Eastern Front

Since January 1943, partisan operations against the railroads in the rear of German Army Group Center had been disrupting troop and supply movements. On June 14, Stavka initiated a comprehensive “rail war” focused on the lines into the Kursk sector. Raids destroyed bridges, disabled rolling stock, and diminished train crews’ morale and effectiveness. They created traffic jams offering profitable targets to Red Air Force night bombers, who in turn were for practical purposes unopposed because night fighters, guns, and their supporting electronic systems were increasingly needed for the defense of the Reich itself.

Soviet air doctrine was geared to the ground war. Close support and interdiction were its foci. In the context of Kursk, that involved a campaign against German air? elds and railroads in the salient’s immediate rear by twin-engine bombers, as many as four hundred in a single raid. These were supplemented by the night light bomber regiments, composed of single-engine Polikarpov Po-2 biplane trainers-often flown by female military aviators (dubbed “night witches”). The planes’ distinctive engine sounds won them the nickname “sewing machines” from Landser regularly awakened by their pinprick strikes.

Initially, German air offensives into Soviet rear areas were small-scale efforts, focused on train busting. These operations also diverted resources from a more relevant target: the Kursk rail yards, central to Soviet logistics in the salient. Major German raids on May 22 and June 2-3, the latter a round-the-clock operation, met bitter resistance from superior numbers of fighters. Losses were heavy enough and damage was so quickly repaired that the Luftwaffe decided to suspend daylight operations against Soviet rear areas for the balance of Citadel. Night operations continued at a nuisance level-though one midnight strike unknowingly hit Rokossovsky’s command post. He escaped by “mere chance,” or perhaps intuition. Both would be riding with the Red Army in the coming weeks.

The Soviet air force had paid a high tuition since 1941 but had learned the Luftwaffe’s lessons of centralization and flexibility. Three air armies contributed directly to the defense of Kursk: the Sixteenth and the Second, attached, respectively, to the Central and Voronezh Fronts, and the Seventeenth from the Southwestern Front. The initial numbers totaled around 1,050 fighters, 950 ground-attack planes, and 900 bombers. Stavka had also assembled an impressive reserve force of three air armies with 2,750 planes. Intended to spearhead the attack projected to follow the German defeat, they soon joined in the fighting. Finally, more than 300 bombers from Long Range Aviation and 300 fighters from Air Defense Command were assigned for night raiding and point defense, respectively.

Hauptmann (captain) Sayn-Wittgenstein was moved to the Eastern Front in February 1943 after he had been appointed Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of the IV./Nachtjagdgeschwader 5 (IV./NJG 5—4th Squadron of the 5th Night Fighter Wing) on 1 December 1942. Here Unteroffizier Herbert Kümmritz joined Sayn-Wittgenstein’s crew as his radio and wireless operator (Bordfunker).

On the Eastern Front again with I./Nachtjagdgeschwader 100 (I./NJG 100—1st Squadron of the 100th Night Fighter Wing) on 1 August 1943. While stationed at Insterburg, East Prussia, Sayn-Wittgenstein shot down seven aircraft on one day, six of them within 47 minutes (victories 36–41), in the area north-east of Oryol on 20 July 1943, making him an “ace-in-a-day”.

Sayn-Wittgenstein claimed three more victories on 1 August 1943 (victories 44–46) and three more on the night of 3 August 1943 (victories 48–50). Sayn-Wittgenstein was credited with 83 nocturnal aerial victories, claimed in 320 combat missions, including 150 with bomber arm. His 83 aerial victories include 33 shot down on the Eastern Front.



16–18 October 1813


Johann Peter Krafft (1780-1856)-‘victory declaration after the battle of Leipzig, 1813’-oil on canvas-1813   Berlin-Deutsches Historiches Museum. The Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, was fought between Napoleon and the three Allied armies that had been approaching the city for several days: the Army of Bohemia (Feldmarschall Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg), the Army of Silesia (General Gebhard Lebrecht von Blücher), and the Army of the North (former French marshal Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte, now Crown Prince of Sweden). Napoleon suffered a major defeat, which decided the campaign in Germany. He then fell back from Saxony to France.


Battle of Leipzig, October 16 actions.


Battle of Leipzig, 18 October actions.

Forces Engaged

Allied: 57,000 Prussians (Army of Silesia). Commander: Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher. 160,000 Austrians and Russians (Army of Bohemia). Commander: Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. 65,000 Swedes and Russians (Army of the North). Commander: Crown Prince Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.

French: 160,000 men. Commander: Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.


The battle at Leipzig marked the beginning of true European cooperation against Napoleon. Allied victory broke his power, leading to the invasion of France and Napoleon’s abdiction the following year.

Historical Setting

After Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Russia at the end of 1812, during which he lost the bulk of the half-million-soldier army with which he invaded, no one in Europe expected him to recover so quickly. He reached Paris well before the news of the Russian fiasco and was able to immediately build another army by robbing future conscription rolls. That meant that most of the enrollees in the new Grande Armée were barely of military age, but they were nonetheless enthusiastic. Napoleon transferred some veterans out of Spain to stiffen the ranks with experienced fighters and then marched east toward the countries that he had long dominated and who were now organizing against him.

As Napoleon previously had conquered one European country after another, he had forced them into alliance with him. In the wake of the Russian campaign, many of those countries withdrew from their compacts. Although that weakened Napoleon’s hold on northern and eastern Europe, he needed to fear his former allies only if they combined. In early 1813, that seemed somewhat doubtful, as Russia, Prussia, Austria, and a few German principalities such as Saxony eyed each other with suspicion. They looked past the immediate danger of Napoleon’s new army to which power might try to fill the vacuum left by the French emperor’s demise, and that fear of the future almost stopped any short-term cooperation. The primary figure attempting to coordinate an anti-French alliance was Austrian Foreign Minister Karl von Metternich. He had held his post since 1807 and had brokered a marriage between Napoleon and Marie-Louise, daughter of Austria’s Emperor Francis I. In 1813, however, to bring Napoleon down, Metternich was eager to subvert the alliance that he had arranged. Convincing Russia, Prussia, and the other European powers to agree was a slow process. Still, in March, he organized the Sixth Coalition: Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Great Britain. Soon 100,000 men were in position between Dresden and Magdeburg.

Napoleon planned to reconquer these enemies in the same way he had conquered them in the first place, by attacking each separately before they could join and present him with overwhelming numbers. He had two major problems to overcome, however. The first was the inexperience of most of his army; the second was the lack of cavalry, most of which had perished in Russia. Without the cavalry, the gathering of intelligence was severely curtailed, and thus his ability to locate enemy forces and defeat them in detail was hampered. Still, he was active in late spring and summer 1813.

On 2 May, Napoleon defeated a Prussian force outside Leipzig at Lützen, but the lack of cavalry meant that he was unaware of an enemy force on his flank until they attacked. He beat them back and occupied Leipzig, but failed to win decisively. The French quickly marched on Dresden and captured that city and then fought the Russians nearby at Bautzen on 20–21 May. Again Napoleon drove his enemy from the field, but again was unable to destroy them. In the two battles combined, both sides lost about 38,000 men each. Soon Napoleon learned of large armies marching on his position from north, south, and east, so he negotiated a truce on 4 June that lasted just over 2 months.

In that time, he continued to mass and resupply his forces, as did his enemies. Metternich met with Napoleon for 9 hours on 26 June in Dresden, but no negotiated peace settlement could be reached. Metternich offered a lasting peace on the basis of Napoleon ceding almost all the territory he had captured outside France’s natural borders. That would mean giving up the desired French border of the Rhine River, as well as French conquests in Italy and Spain. Napoleon, not surprisingly, refused. Metternich later claimed that, to brand Napoleon as the aggressor, he made a reasonable offer that he knew would not be accepted. Napoleon knew he could not accept such an offer and remain emperor of France because his people would not allow their European empire to be taken away from them without a fight. By the time the truce ended on 16 August, both sides had amassed immense forces.

The Battle

Napoleon had 300,000 men in Germany, but he placed a corps in a defensive position at the port city of Hamburg to threaten the Prussian rear and a corps at Dresden (southeast of Leipzig) near the Bohemian (Czech) border. In standard Napoleonic fashion, he had his remaining units spread out to live off the land as much as possible, but near enough together to support one another in case of attack. The allies decided that the best strategy would be to harry Napoleon’s subordinates, defeating them as often as possible while avoiding a major battle until overwhelming forces could be arrayed against him.

This they proceeded to do: Swedish Crown Prince Bernadotte (a former marshal of Napoleon) defeated Napoleon’s Marshal Oudinot at Grossbeeren, south of Berlin, on 23 August; Prussia’s Marshall Gebhard von Blücher beat Marshal Macdonald at Katzbach on 26 August. The enemy being in too many places at once, Napoleon exhausted himself and his men marching and countermarching to aid his subordinates. When he heard of an Austrian attack on Dresden, he forced his young army on yet another rapid move. He beat back the assault, but his worn out troops could not follow up the victory. More such battles took place in September and early October, and then the French withdrew back to Leipzig before allied pressure on all fronts.

On 15 October, Napoleon turned to face Blücher’s advancing Prussians from the north, but soon had to face about and deal with the larger Austrian Army of Bohemia approaching from the south. The Army of Bohemia numbered 160,000 Austrians and Russians commanded by Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. When day broke on 16 October 1813, the field upon which Napoleon had chosen to deploy his men was covered with mist. Both sides had massed artillery, and that weapon did the most damage. The village of Wachau was the scene of most of the fighting, and it changed hands three times during the course of the day. By noon, Prince Karl’s troops held the town, and then Napoleon launched his own attack. The land across which the armies fought was crossed by a number of streams, marshes, and woods and was perfect for defense. Napoleon, however, wanted to break the Austro-Russian line with massed artillery and then turn left and roll up the allied armies arrayed in a semicircle to the east of Leipzig. Early in the afternoon, he began pummeling the Austro-Russian force with his artillery. After an hour, he ordered his cavalry under Marshal Murat to attack. Murat’s 10,000 men easily pushed back the first enemy troops they encountered, but Russian Czar Alexander quickly ordered his reserves to shift to the southern flank. When they arrived, the French cavalry was exhausted, and the Russian cavalry drove them off the field, restoring the Army of Bohemia’s lines.

As Napoleon attempted to break through in the south, he held the northern flank with minimal force. Marshal Marmont defended the town of Mockern against Blücher’s Prussians in a bitterly fought struggle. Neither Prussian nor French soldiers showed any mercy, and few prisoners were taken by either side. Marmont held the town most of the day, but in the afternoon a chance Prussian cannonball found a French ammunition wagon and the explosion not only demoralized the French troops but wounded Marmont so badly that he had to be evacuated. By day’s end, the Prussians were in possession of the ruins of Mockern.

When the sun set on 16 October, Napoleon had failed to break through the Army of Bohemia and found himself in danger of losing Leipzig to the Prussians. On the next day, however, little fighting took place. Both sides received reinforcement, however, so the battle was merely delayed. For the allies, the Swedes of Crown Prince Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte finally arrived. Had he made haste and been available on 16 October, the numbers may well have been sufficient for the northern French flank to have been overwhelmed and Napoleon trapped. His arrival, however, boosted the allied armies to 300,000 men and almost 1,500 cannon. After a halfhearted attempt at opening negotiations, Napoleon prepared to stage a fighting withdrawal. On 18 October, fighting was once again intense, and he pulled his forces back into Leipzig after a unit of Saxons under French command defected to the Prussians. That night, he ordered his men to retreat westward down the only road available, through the town of Lindenau, where the only available stone bridge across the Elster River was located. It was very narrow, however, and a bottleneck quickly formed. Napoleon ordered a force of 30,000 to remain as a rear guard, but they were unable to retreat across the Elster because of the premature destruction of the bridge. Many French troops died on the bridge or in attempts to swim across the river, and the rear guard was annihilated.


Napoleon’s star, already sinking after the Russian campaign of 1812, finally set at Leipzig. Going into battle with an army less than adequately trained hurt him badly, and the loss of more than 60,000 dead, wounded, and prisoners reduced his force to 100,000 as he retreated toward France. Harassment and desertion whittled that number down to 60,000 by the time he had reached Paris. He still held the throne, but it was only a matter of time before he was forced to step down. The allies, although they also lost about 60,000 men, could better afford such casualties. They also picked up more allies. Bavaria abandoned Napoleon on 18 October, and the Netherlands as well as the collection of principalities that Napoleon had organized into the Confederation of the Rhine both rebelled against his rule in November. On 8 November, the allies once again offered a peace settlement returning France to borders behind the Alps and well back from the Rhine, and foolishly Napoleon rejected the offer. Therefore, on 21 December 1813, the allied armies crossed the Rhine and invaded France. During the first 3 months of 1814, a string of battles was fought across northern France, climaxing in the battle for Paris on 30 March. Napoleon abdicated unconditionally on 11 April and was exiled to the small island of Elba in the Mediterranean.

Napoleon had shown in those battles of early 1814 his traditional abilities to maneuver and win, but each battle depleted his already small forces. After Leipzig, it was a numbers game he could not win. Had he played his cards differently at Leipzig, however, the battle’s outcome could have been altered. Instead of leaving thousands of men defending Hamburg and Dresden, a concentration of forces could have given him the strength he needed to win. Marmont’s force holding the northern flank against the Prussians was woefully small, and with a greater attacking force against the Army of Bohemia in the south he might have broken through and won the battle. As stated earlier, the allies were cooperating but mutually suspicious; a defeat at Leipzig may have crumbled the united front and given Napoleon much more bargaining power.

The allied victory, however, strengthened Metternich’s hand and the result, in 1815, was the Concert of Europe, dedicated to maintaining a balance of power in Europe. That cooperative effort kept European countries from gaining too much individual power and kept them from fighting each other until the Crimean War in 1854. Not until the 1880s did that balance of power begin to fall apart with the ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany. The victory at Leipzig not only proved that Napoleon could and would be beaten, but that European nations could and would profitably cooperate.