Ernst Udet

Ernst Udet was a World War I flying ace, barnstormer pilot, womanizer, drug abuser, adventurer, Hollywood stuntman, and borderline alcoholic. Had he been born two centuries earlier, he might have been a successful pirate. Born when he was, he was destined for tragedy, and he took the Luftwaffe with him.

The fun-loving Udet was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on April 26, 1896. After an unremarkable education in Munich, he entered Imperial service as a motorcycle dispatch rider for the 26th Infantry Division on the Western Front when World War I broke out. A war volunteer rather than a regular soldier, he managed to secure a discharge in the fall of 1914 and immediately volunteered for pilot training. He was turned down because he was too young, but this did not deter Ernst Udet. He returned to Munich and took private flying lessons, paid for by his father. He rejoined he service on June 15, 1915, as an enlisted man in the 9th Reserve Flying Detachment and was soon sent back to the Western Front.

Private Udet was initially assigned to the 206th Artillery Flying Detachment as an aerial observer in the Vosges sector. He quickly won a promotion to corporal (1915) and was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, for bravery. He also spent seven days in the stockade for needlessly destroying an airplane due to his own carelessness. Shortly after his release, he was promoted to sergeant and, in late 1915, was transferred to the 68th Field Flying Detachment in Flanders as a fighter pilot.

During his first aerial combat, Udet froze for the first time in his life and was almost shot down as a result. He soon mastered his fear and managed to shoot down his first enemy airplane (a French Farman) on March 18, 1916. He still had not fully developed his skills, however, and did not score another victory until October. He did not become an ace (i.e., did not score his fifth kill) until April 24, 1917. He was nevertheless promoted to second lieutenant of reserves in January 1917.

After he was named commander of the 37th Fighter Squadron on August 5, 1917, Udet came into his own. Just after he shot down his 20th victim (a Sopwith Camel) on February 18, 1918, Captain Manfred von Richthofen offered him command of the 11th Fighter Squadron, part of his celebrated 1st Fighter Wing. Udet took the Red Baron up on his offer and led the 11th for the rest of the war. Richthofen (a close friend of Udet’s) was killed in action on April 21, 1918, and was succeeded by Captain Wilhelm Reinhardt, who died in an air accident a few weeks later. Almost everyone expected Udet to succeed him, and they were surprised when the choice fell to an outsider: Captain Hermann Goering.

Udet was initially suspicious of the future Reichsmarschall, but the two soon became good friends. Udet went on to shoot down a great many more enemy airplanes and was awarded the Pour le Merite. When the armistice was signed, Udet had 62 victories to his credit and was the leading surviving German ace.

When the war ended, Udet smashed his airplane and joined the anonymous ranks of job-seekers in the Weimar Republic. Initially employed as an automobile mechanic in Munich, he flew on Sundays as a stunt pilot for a POW relief organization, putting on exhibition dogfights against Ritter Robert von Greim, another former ace. Then Greim flew into a high-power line and destroyed his airplane. Since no replacement could be found, Udet was grounded for a time, until he went to work for the Rumpler Works. He flew a regular route from Vienna to Munich for this firm until the Allied Control Commission confiscated his airplane, allegedly because it violated the Treaty of Versailles. After this, Udet went to work constructing sports airplanes.

Unhappy in the democratic Weimar Republic, former lieutenant Udet left for Buenos Aires in 1925 and began a prolonged period as an international wanderer. Finding employment as a charter pilot and barnstormer, he hopped all over the globe, from South America to East Africa, from the Arctic Ocean to Hollywood, California, where he was a stunt pilot in some American movies. He did not return to Germany until the advent of Adolf Hitler.

Udet’s old friend Goering greeted him warmly when he returned to the Fatherland. The aging stunt pilot did not care for the idea of joining the new air force, but Goering insisted, so Udet relented and was commissioned colonel (on special assignment) on June 1, 1935. He became inspector of fighters and dive-bombers on February 10, 1936, and on June 9 of that same year became head of the Technical Office, which was expanded and renamed the Office of Supply and Procurement in 1938. In addition, Udet was named Generalluftzeugmeister (roughly translated as chief of air armaments) of the Luftwaffe on February 1, 1939. His promotions came rapidly: major general (April 20, 1937), lieutenant general (November 1, 1938), general of flyers (April 1, 1940), and colonel general (July 19, 1940).

It is hard to imagine a man less qualified for a high-level technical/managerial position than Ernst Udet. He had no advanced education and no industrial management experience, no military experience above the rank of lieutenant, no technological or General Staff training, and he did not have the shrewd ability to judge character that Sepp Dietrich used to partially overcome the deficiencies in his background in a somewhat related situation. Indeed, in Udet’s case, quite the opposite was true. The new chief of air armaments had a talent for creating large, unworkable bureaucracies and picking the wrong man for the wrong job. Also, he was no match for the tricks of the German industrial and aviation magnates, who hoodwinked him almost daily. Even if he had possessed the mental qualities necessary to succeed in this exceedingly complex and demanding post, Udet probably would not have had time to do so. Mentally undisciplined, he hated desk work but proved to be psychologically unable to delegate authority. As a result, no fewer than 26 department heads were responsible directly to him. Udet, however, was seldom in his office. Usually he was too busy chasing women, smoking, throwing or attending wild parties that often lasted until dawn, and drinking until he could barely stand up. He also took drugs with depressing side effects and periodically went on diets in which he ate only meat. (And, judging from his photos, the diets did not work.) As a result of this regimen, department heads were unable to see him for weeks at a time, and critical decisions were often made by default or by Udet’s chief of staff, Major General August Ploch, or his chief engineer, 34-year-old Generalstabsingenieur (lieutenant general of engineers) Rulof Lucht. Both these men had been promoted above their abilities.

A good example of the effect of the disastrous impact that Udet’s office had on the Luftwaffe’s war effort is the Ju-88 bomber. The standard bomber in 1937 was the He-111 medium bomber, which had a maximum speed of about 250 miles per hour, a range of only 740 miles, and a payload of only 2.2 tons. The prototypes of the twin-engine Ju-88, which was designed to replace it, were ready for test flying in March 1938. Unfortunately, Udet and the Air General Staff had been overly impressed with the concept of dive-bombing and with the success the Ju-87 “Stuka” dive-bomber had enjoyed during the Spanish Civil War against limited aerial opposition. With the concurrence of the General Staff, Udet added the design requirement that the Ju-88 be able to dive. As a result the airplane had to be greatly modified. Air brakes had to be added and the airframe strengthened, which reduced speed, range, climbing ability, and payload. Eventually the weight of the Ju-88 was increased from 6 tons to more than 12. The first model (Ju-88-A-1) was even slower than the He-111, which it was designed to replace. Although it was used in a variety of roles throughout the war, the Ju-88 never did perform well enough to replace the obsolete He-111 as the standard German bomber.

If the Ju-88 was a disappointment, the He-177s and Me-210s were disasters. In early 1938, Udet apparently decided that the Luftwaffe might need a long-range bomber after all. He initially wanted a four-engine bomber (as had Wever before him), but aircraft designer Ernst Heinkel convinced him to allow the development of the He-177, which featured four engines joined to two propellers by a coupling arrangement. A few months later, Udet issued the requirement that it be able to dive at a 60-degree angle. Heinkel was horrified and protested to Udet that an airplane of this weight (30,000 pounds) could not be made to dive, but the chief of air armaments brushed aside his objections. Heinkel had no choice but to try. By late 1938, when the He-177 prototype first flew at Rechlin, it weighed 32 tons.

In the Battle of Britain, the weaknesses of the He-111 and Ju-88 were exposed for all the world to see. Largely because of Udet’s ineptitude, the German Air Force had clearly lost its previous superiority in military aviation technology, and the Luftwaffe lost its first battle. Udet’s star, of course, began to fade. To restore his position with Goering and Hitler, and to quickly regain the technological edge, Udet gambled. In October 1940, he ordered the He-177 put into mass production despite unfavorable test results. This disastrous directive started a time-consuming reorganization of the German air industry. The He-111 was taken out of production, numerous factories had to be closed and almost completely retooled, and mass production of the new bomber began. All of this took several months. When the new bombers rolled off the assembly lines they were found to have a number of critical problems—the most serious of which was the tendency to explode in straight and level flight for no apparent reason. (Apparently the fuel line dripped highly explosive aviation fuel on the hot manifolds.) They also broke apart during dives and had severe engine defects. Because so many of the new heavy bombers destroyed themselves during test flights (killing at least 60 veteran bomber crews), only 33 of the 1,446 He-177s that were manufactured during the war ever reached the front-line squadrons. Only two of these were still operational a few weeks later. As a result of the He-177 project, tens of thousands of industrial man-hours and huge amounts of raw materials were wasted.

The Me-210 was another one of Udet’s disasters. Designed by Professor Willi Messerschmitt as a multipurpose reconnaissance/dive-bomber/twin-engine fighter, it was ordered into mass production by Udet solely on the basis of the reputation and skilled sales pitch of its designer. The result was a death trap: the Me-210 was an unstable and dangerously unpredictable airplane that whipped into spins at high angles of attack, killing a number of crews. Like the He-177, it was a total failure.

In February 1940, as the Luftwaffe’s technological problems mounted and aircraft production lagged far behind schedules, Adolf Hitler sharply criticized Hermann Goering for the first time; Goering, in turn, lashed out at Ernst Udet for the first time. His criticisms became more and more pointed and vicious after the Battle of Britain, when the Luftwaffe’s aerial supremacy ebbed. The happy-go-lucky Udet could not stand this kind of pressure and began to deteriorate both mentally and physically. In October 1940, Heinkel ran into him unexpectedly and almost did not recognize him. The aircraft designer recalled that Udet looked “bloated and sallow . . . as if he were heading for a nervous breakdown. He was suffering from irremedial buzzing in his ears and bleeding from his lungs and gums.”

Udet’s condition worsened as Goering continued to berate him and Milch plotted to replace him. Formerly close friends (Udet had even taught Milch how to fly), the two were now bitter enemies. The state secretary did not let it escape anyone’s attention that the best of the German airplanes (including the Me-109 single-engine fighter) were developed when the Technical Office was part of his domain, and Milch was not slow in taking advantage of the chaotic situation in the air armaments realm to regain some of the power he had lost in 1937. Goering, after all, really had no one else to whom he could turn in this area. Continuing his policy of divide and rule, however, the Reichsmarschall refused to replace Udet or subordinate him to Milch, but he did give the state secretary full powers to requisition or shut down aircraft factories, to requisition or reallocate workers and raw materials, and to sack or transfer key personnel within the air armaments industry. The result of this arrangement was more friction, for the ruthless Milch was not satisfied with half a loaf. He continued to lobby for full control of the air armaments industry and waged a war of nerves against the well-meaning but incompetent ex-ace. Before long, all of Udet’s principal assistants had been replaced by Milch’s yes-men, and the state secretary (with Goering’s permission) had reorganized the Technical Office and the Office of Supply and Procurement in accordance with his more rational ideas. Meanwhile, as the war dragged on and air force casualties mounted, Udet’s depression continued to deepen. On November 15, 1941, Major General Ploch (whom Milch had sent to the Russian Front) visited his former chief while home on leave. He told Udet about the mass murders of Jews and others taking place in the East. Udet was horrified and very upset; he may have been incompetent, but Ernst Udet was not a monster. Two days later he drank two bottles of cognac and telephoned his mistress. “I can’t stand it any longer!” he cried. “I’m going to shoot myself. I wanted to say goodbye to you. They’re after me!” A few moments later, as she tried to talk him out of it, Ernst Udet pulled the trigger. He left behind a suicide note, asking Goering why he had surrendered to “those Jews” Milch and Major General Baron Karl-August von Gablenz, a principal Milch assistant.

For propaganda reasons Udet was reported as having been killed in a crash while testing a new airplane. Goering wept at his funeral but later said of Udet, “He made a complete chaos out of our entire Luftwaffe program. If he were alive today, I would have no choice but to say to him: ‘You are responsible for the destruction of the German Luftwaffe!’”7 Goering’s own responsibility in this destruction, of course, was not insignificant.

As the tide of the air war turned against Germany, Hermann Goering devoted more and more of his time to pleasure-loving pursuits. He lived “the life of Riley” with his second wife (a former actress) in a huge palace (which he tastelessly dubbed Karinhall after his first wife) on his massive estate in the Schoenheide, north of Berlin. On this 10,000-acre fiefdom (which he seized from the public domain at little or no cost to himself), he set up a private game reserve stocked with elk, deer, bison, and other animals, which he frequently hunted. He also acquired a castle in Austria and other properties and spent much of his time ransacking Europe for art treasures. In fact, he was probably the greatest art thief in history, for he considered himself the last Renaissance man, and his gigantic greed matched his corpulence. The bloated Reichsmarschall ballooned to around 320 pounds and went back on drugs again in the late 1930s; he was soon taking pills by the handful. Busy acting as Reichs Hunting Master and playing dress-up with an incredible number of uniforms and decorations, he pretended to be the hard-working master of the Luftwaffe, but in fact he had long ago given in to laziness, indifference, and indolence. In reality he had very little interest in the air force, as long as no one challenged his position as its undisputed leader.

With Goering preoccupied with luxurious living and Udet out of the way, Milch succeeded the late air armaments chieftain in all his offices. Reasoning that obsolete airplanes were better than no airplanes at all, he cancelled the Me-210, He-177, and Ju-288 (B-Bomber) projects and ordered that the obsolete Me-110s and He-111s be returned to mass production. Under his ruthless but capable direction, German aircraft production figures began to rise again in 1942. However, he could not make good five years lost to incompetence and neglect. He also continued to feud with the chiefs of the General Staff (Colonel General Hans Jeschonnek and others),8 did his best to throttle the development of the jet airplane, and continued to plot to replace Hermann Goering—even to the point of suggesting to Adolf Hitler (shortly after Stalingrad) that the Reichsmarschall be relieved of his air force duties. Goering, his power and influence at a low ebb, could do nothing toward ridding himself of his deputy at this point, but neither did he forget the incident.

Erhard Milch was very slow in recognizing the potential of the jet airplane. He first saw a jet prototype fly in August 1939 (before the war began), but, like Udet, was not impressed. In 1941, however, when Professor Messerschmitt enthusiastically reported on the fine performance of his Me-262 jet prototype, Udet came out in favor of its speedy development. Milch refused to allow it, and Udet (now in decline) could do nothing about this decision. (Perhaps Milch had had enough of revolutionary aircraft types after the He-177.) A disappointed Messerschmitt continued to develop the turbojet clandestinely via a secret arrangement with BMW and Junkers. Milch did not even become marginally interested in the jet until 1943, when Lieutenant General Adolf Galland, the chief of the fighter arm, flew one and was deeply impressed. Milch respected Galland and allowed the Me-262 to be put into production, albeit at a very low priority. In August 1943, Milch announced a production goal of 4,000 fighters per month and recoiled in shock and horror when Galland recommended that 25 percent of these be jets. This reaction, Trevor Constable and Raymond Toliver wrote, “exemplified, even as it reinforced, the Technical Office climate of hesitancy and irresolution.”9

Unfortunately for Milch, he was unable to meet his ambitious production goals, and his prestige began to decline at Fuehrer Headquarters. Sensing this, Milch—like Udet before him—gambled. He ordered Volkswagen to begin mass production of the Fi-103 flying bomb even though severe technological problems had been reported in the prototypes. Two hundred defective Fi-103s were manufactured before it was discovered that their structures were too weak. More precious man-hours and resources had been wasted at a time when Germany was struggling against the combined industrial might of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Also, Milch now faced a new threat to his position: Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer, a favorite of Adolf Hitler and a good political infighter in his own right. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Luftwaffe, Speer was making inroads into Milch’s territory—the air armaments industry—by 1943. Goering, of course, refused to try to intervene on Milch’s behalf, and Speer continued to raid the aircraft factories for skilled laborers; Milch continued to undershoot his production goals; and his stock continued to fall at Fuehrer Headquarters.

When Hitler became interested in developing the jet as a fighter-bomber, Willi Messerschmitt told him (on November 26, 1943) that the Me-262 could be modified to carry two 550-pound bombs or a single 1,100-pound bomb. Milch, fearing that his standing with the Fuehrer would be further diminished and ever mindful that Goering was only waiting for an opportunity to sack his would-be usurper, was afraid to tell the dictator that it was not possible to make these modifications; instead, he continued to develop the Me-262 as a fighter. Hitler, who had been led to believe that he was going to get a sizable number of jet fighter-bombers by D-Day, did not learn of Milch’s duplicity until May 23, 1944—only two weeks before the Allies landed in France. Justifiably furious, Hitler withdrew his protection from Milch. Goering wasted little time in stripping his deputy of his power. On May 27, the entire air armaments industry was transferred to Speer’s jurisdiction. Milch should have taken the hint and resigned at once, but he did not; therefore, on June 20, with Hitler present, Goering ordered him to submit his resignation as chief of air armaments and state secretary for aviation. This he did the following day.

Milch was allowed to retain the figurehead post of inspector general of the Luftwaffe. No doubt to the surprise and annoyance of Goering and others, Milch actually made a number of inspection trips; then, on October 1, his car skidded off the road near Arnhem and struck a tree. Milch, who woke up in the hospital, suffered three broken ribs and lung damage. He lay immobilized at his luxurious hunting lodge until early 1945.

With typical brashness, Milch showed up at Goering’s palatial home, Karinhall, uninvited, on Goering’s birthday in January 1945. He found the Reichsmarschall’s attitude toward him was most unpleasant. Three days later he found out why: a week-old letter arrived from Goering, dismissing Milch as inspector general—his last remaining post. He was transferred to the Fuehrer Reserve and not reemployed.

Hitler’s attitude toward Milch softened toward the end, and the Fuehrer even decided to put him in charge of a special staff to repair the German transportation system, but then changed his mind three days later. At the end of March 1945, Hitler sent Milch his usual birthday greetings, and the two met for the last time in the Fuehrer Bunker on April 21, nine days before the dictator committed suicide. Once again, even this late in the war, Milch was impressed with the Fuehrer’s behavior.

In the early morning hours of April 26, Milch left his hunting lodge for the last time and headed north. He had really waited too long, for he passed Soviet tanks on the road, but the field marshal drove with his lights off and was lucky enough not to be halted. He drove to Sierhagen Castle (at Neustadt, on the Baltic coast), where the British arrested him at noon on May 4. Before the day was over, a British commando ripped his marshal’s baton out of his hand and beat him to the floor with it. Like so many others on both sides, Milch was abused and tortured while in prison. Such acts were counterproductive in this case, however, because they turned Milch from a potentially friendly witness for the prosecution into a fervent defender of Hermann Goering—to spite his captors, if for no other reason.

Goering put up an excellent defense in his own behalf at Nuremberg and is praised even by his worst detractors for the mental skill he exhibited while making a certain U.S. Supreme Court Justice look foolish. This made little difference, as the end was a foregone conclusion and Goering was sentenced to death by hanging. The former World War I flying ace had one more trick up his sleeve, however; outwitting his opponents one last time, he committed suicide by taking poison at 10:40 p.m. on October 15, 1946—two hours before he would have been hanged.

Milch, meanwhile, was confined to a cell at Dachau called “the bunker.” Designed for one person, its occupants included Milch, his old enemy Kesselring, Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch (who was seriously ill and who died shortly thereafter of heart failure), Colonel General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, and General of Infantry Alexander von Falkenhausen, the former military governor of Northern France and Belgium. Eventually tried at Nuremberg as a minor war criminal, Milch was convicted of deporting foreign labor to Germany, which resulted in enslavement, torture, and murder. The fact that he called the conspirators of July 20 “vermin” on the witness stand did not help his case. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was incarcerated in the penal facility at Rehdorf. His sentence was commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment in 1951, and he was released in 1955. The former state secretary settled in Duesseldorf, where he lived with relatives and worked as an industrial consultant for the aviation division of Fiat and for the Thyssen steel combine. His taste for power politics had apparently been cured, and he never attempted to return to the limelight or hold public office again. The last surviving Luftwaffe field marshal, Erhard Milch was much more genial in his later years than he had been in the days of his power. Hospitalized in late 1971, he died at Wuppertal-Barmen on January 25, 1972.

Due to Udet’s incompetence, Goering’s laziness, and Milch’s combination of ruthless ambition, lack of foresight, and timidity in developing the new jet technology, German pilots spent most of the war flying obsolete airplanes. This makes their achievements even more remarkable.

The Battle for Rome September 1943

Carla Capponi, an attractive, petite, fair-haired University of Rome student employed as a secretary, lived with her mother, Maria Tamburri,* in a large apartment that overlooked Trajan’s Column. She dressed elegantly, never leaving home without gloves. A Florentine, Carla Capponi was descended from nobility on her father’s side. Her great grandmother was Viennese, Jewish, and a marchioness, but after her father died the family fell on hard times. Expensive artwork, Etruscan vases, and some of their once elegant furnishings were sold off to pay for food and rent.

Every night mother and daughter clandestinely listened to the BBC. During the early evening of September 8, 1943, they had heard US General Eisenhower broadcast the news that Marshal Badoglio and the king had signed an armistice with the Allies to pull Italy out of the war. Announcements from both Badoglio and the king had followed. Like the rest of Rome, Capponi and her mother were thrilled at the news, even though it was uncertain what would happen next. The answer came early the next morning: German troops invaded Rome

Despite the power vacuum and lack of organization, some Italian soldiers resisted heroically. During the night of September 8/9, the German 3rd Panzergrenadier Division attacked Italian troops on the northern outskirts of Rome about 10 miles along Via Flaminia, north of the city. Italian Engineer Lieutenant Ettore Rosso, of the Ariete Division, had just completed mining a bridge and the road leading up to it, to prevent German troops from entering the city. Seeing the Germans approaching, he sent his men back towards Rome, while he remained with four volunteers. As the first Germans, led by an unknown colonel, crossed the mined bridge, Rosso fell on the detonator and blew up the bridge. A section of the roadway collapsed, killing the German colonel and wounding many soldiers. Lieutenant Rosso himself was killed.

Along Via Salaria to the northeast of the city, other units of the Piave Division held the German panzergrenadiers in check at Monterotondo, a small town approximately 15 miles northeast of Rome. At dawn, units from General Student’s paratroops dropped on Centro A, the Italian Army Headquarters at Monterotondo and the secret headquarters for the Comando Supremo. There the paratroopers captured 30 generals and 150 other officers.

At the same time, the 2nd Parachute Division attacked the Piacenza Division near Frascati to the southeast. There and elsewhere during that night, the Germans employed subterfuge to disarm the Italians by waving white flags and showing false written orders.

As dawn broke on September 9, Italian forces to the southwest of the city attempted to resist the German advance at Montagnola, a few blocks east of the EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma, the Rome Universal Exhibition). The fighting was fierce between the experienced Wehrmacht units and a hastily cobbled-together Italian defensive force. A monument in Piazzale dei Caduti (Square of the Fallen) today lists the toll of the fierce fighting: 26 servicemen killed – 17 named Sardinian grenadiers, six listed as unknowns, and three Carabinieri – and 11 civilians, including a mother of five, a 16-year old boy, a Catholic nun, and a war invalid.

Italian troops along the Via Ostiense streamed past the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls and fell back toward Rome and into the Mussolini-built garden suburb of Garbatella. German troops were hot on their heels. At Garbatella the Italian forces briefly delayed the Germans and then fell back to the Porta San Paolo, the ancient gate in the Aurelian wall at the 1st-century BC white marble pyramid tomb of the Roman magistrate Caius Cestius. This action would forever be named the battle of the Piramide Cestia. Ironically, the pyramid is across a piazza from the Ostiense train station. The station, built in an austere, fascist style, was newly completed in time to welcome Hitler’s 1938 visit to Rome; now German troops were simply following in his footsteps.

By now the defenders at the pyramid were a ragtag collection of men from different units. Stragglers from the Sardinian Grenadiers were reinforced by fragments from other units. From the Sassari Division came men from the I and II Battalions of the 151st Infantry together with the III Battalion of the 152nd Infantry. These infantrymen were augmented by two companies of the XII Mortar Battalion and even a group from the 34th Artillery, although without their guns, as well as the V Battalion of sappers

From the Ariete Division came an armored group from the Montebello Lancers (Lancieri) together with a battery of artillery and even a battalion of officer candidates. Other straggler units determined to join in the desperate defense included a PAI battalion from the Colonna Cheren, a Carabinieri recruitment battalion, the Carabinieri Pastrengo Squadron, and a parachute battalion. There were also several other smaller groups of soldiers. Although exact numbers are not available, there were not many defenders.

On paper the Italian Army still had at least 20,000 more men than the Germans when the attack against the city was launched. Yet this numerical advantage was merely that – theory. In reality, the Italian military was seemingly incapable of conducting any kind of meaningful defense of Rome. Theories abound as to why. The most widely accepted says the government’s priority was to cover the escape of the king, Badoglio, and other military chiefs as they fled the city. Other reasons are speculative. The first cites a secret agreement with the Holy See to abandon the city and thereby spare the civilian population a bloodbath. A second cites a secret agreement between Field Marshal Kesselring and Marshal Badoglio to spare the city if he and the king left. Finally, by not formally defending Rome, General Ambrosio and Marshal Badoglio reasoned that the entire blame for any clashes or destruction in the city would fall squarely upon the Germans. However, the simplest explanation may be that with the announcement of the armistice most of the war-weary Italian soldiers simply walked away and left their units for home. There were too few soldiers left to adequately defend the city against the more experienced, better-equipped and better-led Germans.

But those Italian troops who were attempting a defense were soon augmented by enraged civilians. By mid-morning the long-suppressed citizens of Rome valiantly mobilized themselves into full battle. The anti-fascist Committee of Opposition called for civilians to take up arms and defend the city against the German invaders. All across Rome, ordinary citizens opened up hidden weapons depots in answer to the call. Anything would do: antique rifles, pistols, hand grenades, and ammunition were removed from basements and even World War I vintage weapons were broken out of their display cases at the Bersaglieri Museum at the Porta Pia City Gate.

Following the call, a reserve officer of the Sardinian Grenadiers, university professor Raffaello Persichetti, took weapons he had hidden in his apartment near Piazza Navona. Armed, he blithely boarded a public tram to the Porta San Paolo to join the group of Italian soldiers and civilians erecting barricades. But Rome’s right and left hands did not know what they were doing. Local police, operating under old orders from Marshal Badoglio, dutifully arrested many civilians for openly carrying arms until they could be convinced that the Germans were now their enemy.

Hearing the call from the street for volunteers, Capponi announced that she was going to fight the Germans. Her mother, horrified, forbade her to go, but the headstrong young woman dashed out the door and raced to Porta San Paolo, toward the sound of the guns.

By the time she arrived, fighting was already fierce, the ancient Pyramid of Caius Cestius bearing the scars of stray bullets which can still be seen today on the ancient white marble. Two Italian light tanks were on the scene offering resistance. General Giacomo Carboni had additional tanks but these were unusable due to a lack of fuel.

Capponi had no military experience but she helped strengthen the barricade and joined other women rescuing and caring for the many wounded. These were taken to a Dominican convent, the church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, where a medical station had hastily been established, and to the Fate Bene Fratelli Hospital on the Tiber Island.

The Germans brought up several panzers which quickly pushed aside the flimsy barricades and swept away the two Italian light tanks. The Germans also employed artillery and flame throwers. Facing this onslaught, the small units of the Italian Army bravely fought until half of their officers and men were killed, wounded, captured, or dispersed.

Seeing that the situation was hopeless, the Italian defenders abandoned the gate and retreated to the nearby Monte Testaccio, the 100ft ceramic rubbish dump for the ancient port of Rome. There the defenders were silenced after a brief, futile attempt to stop the German advance into the city from this hilltop. Next many climbed the nearby Aventine Hill, the southernmost of the seven hills which marked the boundaries of ancient Rome, where they remained for the rest of the day.

Capponi, bypassing the Aventine, fell back to the Porta Capena, formerly a gate in the 4th-century BC defensive wall across from the broad expanse of the ancient Circus Maximus. With a great rumble and mechanical clanking, Wehrmacht soldiers drove a 62-ton Tiger I panzer along the cobblestone street from the pyramid toward the Colosseum. There, at the Porta Capena, the panzer blew up one of the few remaining mobile light tanks sent to stop the German onslaught.

Capponi watched this and could hear the screams of a trapped Italian tanker. Heedless of the flames, she rushed to pull the injured soldier from the burning wreck. Half-carrying, half-dragging him from the scene she made for the 4th-century AD Arch of Constantine, pursued by the German panzer which fired its 88mm gun into the piazza, barely missing the Colosseum. Capponi, still dragging the wounded soldier, went up the small hill to the ruins of the temple of Venus and Rome. Later she recalled:

We were at the temple of Venus and Rome, across from the Colosseum, when a new barrage of fire opened up, bullets and shells crisscrossing just above our heads. Somehow, I stumbled on, but I couldn’t help thinking that I was in the middle of a battle taking place in a museum, surrounded by all these precious monuments two thousand years old. They were shooting at the site where the ancient Romans had placed a temple to the goddess of beauty, of love and to the glory of Roman civilization

From there she headed down Via dell’Impero (now Via dei Fori Imperiali) to her apartment across from Trajan’s Column, Emperor Trajan’s monument to his Dacian war of the 1st century, a third of a mile away. With the help of the portiere (doorkeeper), she dragged the injured man up the steps to the apartment. Her mother, overjoyed that her daughter was still alive, welcomed the wounded man, a Sardinian grenadier called Vincenzo Carta, into her home where she nursed him for the next several weeks.

The Capponi apartment was soon crowded with other refugees and friends. Including the wounded soldier, five people and some weapons were now also hidden there. On the street below, Italian soldiers flooded past the apartment, discarding their uniforms as they went. Capponi and her mother emptied out her late father’s closet and dropped civilian clothes to the fleeing soldiers until they had no more left.

Meanwhile General Carboni contacted the Vatican to ask the Allied diplomats to request aircraft strikes, but neither Sir D’Arcy nor Tittmann were in radio contact with the Allies in Salerno. And in any event, the range was too great for Allied aircraft to provide close air support. Bombs fell, but not in defense of Rome. Mother Mary Saint Luke was an American nun in the society of the Holy Child. Born Jessica Lynch in Brooklyn, New York, she wrote under the pen name Jane Scrivener. She worked in the Vatican Information Bureau and after the war published her diary, Inside Rome with the Germans. She wrote of the ongoing battle:

At 1 o’clock, the siren again … Bombs seemed to fall close beside us. Then the whistle and thud of shells echoed over the city. It was unmistakable: they [the Germans] were using artillery and shelling the heights of Rome. Roman artillery answered from the Aventine, the Palatine, the Caelium, the Janiculum, and the Pincian [some of the hills of Rome]. A German shell screeched across Ponte Cavour and crashed into the Palazzo di Giustizia. Via Frattina, the Trinita, and Santa Maria della Pace were also hit. On the line of the Tiber, at San Gregorio, on the hills, Italian gunners were hard at work.

Young Tittmann, standing by a window, witnessed the artillery bombardment of the district around the Piazza di Spagna. He later wrote that there were great puffs of smoke and dust where the shells from light field pieces hit the houses, apparently doing little damage. In the Palazzo Orsini, fronting the Tiber but located on a side street a short distance from Rome’s central synagogue, another witness, Vittoria Colonna, the Duchess of Sermoneta wrote:

Throughout that long afternoon it was impossible to understand exactly what was going on. I went down the drive to the gates several times and peering through the bars could see columns of black smoke billowing upwards from the direction of San Paolo. Then soldiers – our own – began to straggle in disorder through the piazza [Piazza de Monte Savello] and I called out to them to ask what was happening. They answered that there was fighting everywhere – out in the campagna [countryside] and now in town – that the Germans had everything, guns, ammunition, hand grenades and that they themselves had nothing, what could they do against them? They were discouraged and exhausted.

The resistance could not last long. Although he only had 142 aircraft available, Field Marshal Kesselring threatened to send 700 aircraft to bomb the city if firing did not stop by 16:30. To make the point, an unidentified aircraft, likely German, dropped several bombs near the University of Rome.

By 16:00 the Italians were spent. General Count Giorgio Calvi di Bergolo, the commander of the Centauro II Division, agreed to a ceasefire. The armed citizenry melted away, hid their weapons, and went underground. Of the 597 Italians who died defending the city, 414 were soldiers and 183 were civilians, including 27 women. Nevertheless, General Carboni’s troops, supported by the civilians, had managed to hold down two German divisions of 49,000 front-line soldiers for a full day, troops Kesselring could have used at Salerno.

HANOVERIAN ARMY – SEVEN YEARS’ WAR

HANOVERIAN CAVALRY

The Guard cavalry comprised one regiment designated as Garde du Corps, with three companies forming a single squadron, and mustering at the outset a total of only 188 officers and men. A second regiment was designated as Grenadieren zu Pferde (Horse Grenadiers), and while organized in two companies rather than three it had a near identical establishment of 187 officers and men.

Both regiments wore red coats, with straw-coloured waistcoats and breeches. The Garde du Corps were distinguished by red cuffs, dark blue turnbacks and silver lace; the Grenadieren zu Pferde had black cuffs and lapels, red turnbacks, and cloth mitre caps in place of cocked hats. These had black fronts bearing the arms of Hanover in gold with gold scrollwork; the frontal `little flap’ was red, with the white horse of Hanover and the motto Nec Aspera Terram in white. The rear of the cap was in reversed colours, the main `bag’ part being red piped in gold, with a black headband embellished with gold grenades.

As quasi-dragoons the Grenadieren zu Pferde carried infantry-style cartridge boxes on the right hip and belts in buff leather, and a `booted’ musket (i. e. slung from the shoulder, with its butt held in a pocket or `boot’ strapped to the saddle in front of the right leg), in place of the carbine hooked to a crossbelt, as issued to cavalry regiments proper such as the Garde du Corps. Both regiments had red saddle housings (horse furniture), bordered in silver for the Garde du Corps and in yellow and black for the Grenadieren zu Pferde. One source states that the former were mounted on grey horses.

The Line cavalry were similarly divided, between cuirassiers and dragoons; the principal difference between the two was in internal organization. The Leib-Regiment (`body[guard] regiment’) and seven regiments of Kürassiere each comprised six companies, formed into two squadrons, with a total establishment of 361 officers and men. The four dragoon regiments were considerably larger, each having eight companies organized in four squadrons, with a total of 715 all ranks.

All cavalry regiments wore white coats with facing-coloured collar, cuffs and turnbacks; straw-coloured `smallclothes’ (waistcoats and breeches); and either tin or brass buttons matching their hat-lace colour. Notwithstanding their designation, none of the cuirassiers actually wore armour at this period. Dragoons differed in having facing-coloured lapels on the front of the coat, and their original status as mounted infantry was also marked by one of the eight companies being designated as grenadiers, distinguished by wearing mitre caps. Equipment comprised buff belts, a steel-hilted sword, a pair of pistols in saddle-holsters and a carbine. Like the Grenadieren zu Pferde, dragoons carried infantry-style cartridge boxes, belts in buff leather, and a `booted’ musket in place of the carbine and belt issued to cavalry regiments.

Regimental numbers were not allocated until the post-war re-organization; as was customary in most armies, each unit was instead referred to solely by the name of its current Inhaber or colonel-proprietor.

Regimental distinctions – Cuirassiers

Leib-Regiment Yellow facings and lace; white/red hat pompons. Yellow saddle housings, red edging with black half-circles; device of cypher within crowned garter, with white and red scrollwork

Skolln Orange facings, yellow lace, white pompons. Orange housings edged with two bands of light blue with a double zig-zag in yellow; white horse badge within crowned garter, no scrollwork

Dachenhausen Light green facings, white lace, white pompons. Light green housings edged with yellow/white/red scroll pattern; white horse within crowned garter

Hammerstein Dark green facings, yellow lace, green/white pompons. Dark green housings, with a border of yellow and white rectangles edged in red; cypher within crowned garter, with red, yellow and white scrollwork

Grothaus Crimson facings, yellow lace, silver pompons. Crimson housings, edged with white spiral scroll edged yellow between two yellow stripes; white horse within crowned garter, yellow and white scrollwork

Hodenburg Scarlet facings, white lace, blue pompons. Scarlet housings edged with border of three stripes of red and black diagonals edged yellow; cypher within crowned garter, white and yellow scrollwork

Walthausen Dark blue facings, yellow lace, blue pompons. Dark blue housings edged with white and yellow diagonals; white horse within crowned garter; red, white and yellow scrollwork

Gilten Sky-blue facings, white lace, white pompons. Sky-blue housings, with broad red border edged yellow/blue/yellow; white horse within crowned garter, no scrollwork.

Regimental distinctions – Dragoons

Dachenhausen Red facings, white lace, white pompons. Red housings with border of the same edged white and black; white horse within crowned black and white scrollwork

Breidenbach Light blue facings, white lace, white pompons. Light blue housings with narrow outer edge of one red stripe on white, and an inner border of two red stripes on white; white horse within crowned garter, white scrollwork

Bussche Bright blue facings, yellow lace, white pompons. Bright blue housings with outer border of white edged yellow with blue zig-zag, and inner border of red edged yellow, with white scroll intertwining a white central stripe; white horse within crowned white scrollwork

Bock Scarlet facings, yellow lace, white pompons. Scarlet housings, yellow border bearing pattern of red diamonds with blue centres, edged first with blue, and then on either side a red stripe edged with white with a white zig-zag. Device of white horse within crowned garter placed entirely within unusually broad border.

HANOVERIAN INFANTRY

Aside from the Fussgarde, which boasted two battalions, Hanoverian infantry regiments each comprised a single battalion of seven companies, with an authorized establishment of 122 officers and men in each company, and a regimental staff of 19 (the Fussgarde had 20 staff, covering both battalions). Each company included (administratively) eight grenadiers, who were detached to provide the personnel for a composite company; this was itself assigned to one of three consolidated grenadier battalions for the duration of the campaign (except in the case of the Fussgarde, whose grenadiers were permanently assigned to protect Ferdinand of Brunswick’s headquarters). The initial establishment of 29 battalions thus consisted of two Fussgarde battalions, 24 musketeer battalions and three grenadier battalions. Two further musketeer battalions were subsequently raised in 1758, with only five companies apiece and apparently without grenadiers.

A notional increase of a different sort was the decision to take a number of composite grenadier battalions into the line as units in their own right. Grenadier battalions were always regarded as a drain on their parent units, because the nature of their duties resulted in a higher degree of attrition than normal; these casualties then had to be made good by taking drafts from the musketeer companies, which in consequence sometimes dwindled alarmingly. Turning the consolidated grenadier battalions into permanent formations did not therefore increase the actual establishment of the army, but compelled the grenadiers to maintain themselves by regular recruitment rather than by simply milking the musketeer units.

All regiments wore red coats, with regimentally-coloured facings and (usually) waistcoats, and straw-coloured breeches. The grenadiers’ cloth mitre caps had facing-coloured fronts and red `bags’. As with the cavalry, regimental numbers were not allocated until the post-war re-organization, and until then units were referred to by the name of the current Inhaber; those listed below are the designations in 1757.

Regimental distinctions

Fussgarde Dark blue facings, yellow lace; white/yellow hat pompons

Scheither Dark green facings, yellow lace; green/yellow pompons

Alt-Zastrow White facings, yellow lace; red/yellow pompons

Spörcken Straw-coloured facings, yellow lace; red/yellow pompons

Fabrice Straw-coloured facings, white lace; straw/red pompons

Knesebeck Black cuffs and lapels, white lace; white waistcoats and turnbacks; red/black/white pompons

Druchtleben Black cuffs and lapels, yellow lace; yellow waistcoats and turnbacks; black/red pompons

Ledebour Medium blue facings, white lace; red/blue/white pompons

Stolzenberg Black cuffs and lapels, red turnbacks, white lace; straw-coloUred waistcoats; yellow/white pompons Grote Deep yellow facings, white lace; red/yellow/white pompons

Hodenberg Orange or straw-coloured facings, yellow lace; yellow pompons

Hardenberg Orange facings, white lace; red/yellow pompons

Caraffa Yellow facings, white lace; yellow/red pompons

Wangenheim Straw-coloured facings, white lace; straw-coloured pompons

Hauss Straw-coloured facings, yellow lace; straw/red pompons

Diepenbroick White facings and lace; red/white pompons Block White facings and lace; red/white pompons

Sachsen-Gotha Green facings, white lace; green/red pompons. (Until absorbed into Hanoverian army in 1759, white coat faced green)

Jung-Zastrow Dark green facings, white lace; dark green/white pompons

Post Green facings, white lace; white turnbacks and waistcoats; red/green/white pompons

Marschalk Red facings, white turnbacks and waistcoats, white lace

De Cheusses Yellow facings, yellow lace; straw-coloured turnbacks and waistcoats; red/yellow pompons

De La Chevallerie Yellow facings and lace; yellow/red pompons

Kielmansegge Light green facings, white lace; green/white pompons

Brunck Red facings and waistcoat, white turnbacks; white lace on hat only, green/white pompons

Halberstadt Blue facings, white lace; blue/red pompons

Wrede Red facings, white turnbacks and waistcoats; white lace on hat only, white/red pompons

HANOVER ARTILLERY

At the outset of the war the Hanoverian artillery comprised six companies each of 67 officers and men, but under Ferdinand it was reorganized into four field brigades each of two to three companies.

All artillerymen wore light blue-grey coats, sometimes referred to as steel-grey, with red cuffs, lapels and turnbacks. Officers had straw-coloured waistcoats and breeches, while all other ranks had red waistcoats and straw-coloured breeches. Lace was yellow or gold according to rank, and equipment was buff leather. As with the infantry, they started the war with a generous amount of lace trimming on the lapels and waistcoats, but this was soon abandoned. Drivers had red coats with red turnbacks, but bright blue cuffs and lapels, with brass buttons in pairs. Waistcoats were straw-coloured, and buff breeches were worn with heavy boots; the hats were plain black.

HANOVER LIGHT TROOPS

The Hanoverian light troops fell into two ill-defined categories: those which were specifically raised as part of the Hanoverian Army, and those paid for by the British government.

It would appear that there were no light troops of any description prior to the war, but in May 1757 a Jäger corps was formed by Graf von Schulenburg; as was customary, this comprised two companies, one of mounted and one of foot Jägers. At about the same time Luckner and 54 of his `free hussars’ came over from the Dutch service (see above), and from this modest beginning a considerable expansion soon took place.

Luckner’s Hussars mustered 90 men by the end of 1757, but in the following year they doubled their strength to two companies totalling 8 officers and 174 men. In 1759 they redoubled to four companies, and by 1760 there were no fewer than eight companies, paired in four squadrons, with an official establishment of 32 officers and 632 hussars. The original uniform of Luckner’s light horse. However, as the combination of black Flügelmütze `winged cap’, green dolman and pelisse, and red breeches was virtually indistinguishable from the uniform of the French Army’s Chasseurs de Fischer, a different outfit was soon adopted – probably during the first increase in establishment. This comprised a white dolman and breeches, and a red pelisse with yellow cords and black fur edging; the `winged cap’ was replaced with a grey fur Kolpack with a red bag, and the original green barrel-sash was exchanged for a yellow one, though the original yellow boots were retained. The saddle cloth was red with yellow trimming, and officers seem to have had a dark brown fur shabraque with red vandyked edging.

The expansion of the Jäger corps was at first less dramatic, with only two additional foot companies being added in the course of 1758, and then an additional mounted company during the following year. At that point Col Freytag succeeded to the command of the corps, and the strength was raised considerably thereafter. It was expanded to no fewer than six companies each of Jäger zu Pferde and Jäger zu Fuss, and while the establishment of the mounted companies remained at 106 all ranks, that of the infantry companies went up from 156 to 206 – on paper, at least. In the long run this expansion proved unsustainable; in 1762 Freytag’s Jäger corps was amalgamated with another raised by Maj von Stockhausen, to make a single battalion of just four companies, with a total of 804 officers and men. Stockhausen had first raised a Schützen battalion in 1759, comprising one grenadier and two Jäger companies; although he added two companies of Jäger zu Pferde the following year it seems unlikely that the full 500-man establishment was ever achieved, hence the amalgamation with Freytag’s unit in 1762.

The uniform of both corps was broadly similar. All wore the traditional dark green coats, with green facings, green waistcoats, tin buttons, straw-coloured breeches, plain black hats, and either boots or gaiters depending on whether they were mounted or on foot. Horse furniture for the mounted element of both corps was green with white or silver trimming. The only distinguishing features were the absence of lapels from the coats worn by the mounted element of Stockhausen’s corps, and the curious grenadier caps worn by some of his men. These resembled the Kaskett then being worn by some Prussian and Austrian light troops, with a cylindrical leather skull and low frontal plate, similar in size to fusilier caps but more rounded. In the case of Stockhausen’s grenadiers the caps were green and bore the arms of Hanover on the front in silver; although it is uncertain whether these were embroidered, or if the front was tin with a green-painted ground, the latter seems more likely. In theory, as Jägers all of the men in both corps should have been armed with rifles, but it is more likely that ordinary infantry muskets predominated, and these were certainly carried by Stockhausen’s grenadiers.

Scheither’s Freikorps was formed by Capt H. A. Scheither in May 1758 as part of the process of expansion of light troops following the lessons of Ferdinand’s first campaign. Initially it comprised a single company apiece of carabiniers, grenadiers and Jägers, but by 1761 it had increased somewhat to muster four companies of carabiniers and two of fur-capped grenadiers, besides the Jäger company and an artillery detachment. There are also suggestions that there may have been a troop of Uhlans, but this was most likely the one which ended up in the Brunswick Auxiliary Volunteers as `Bosniaks’.

The carabiniers had a very pale straw-coloured coat or Kollet with dark green collar, cuffs, turnbacks and trimming, a straw-coloured waistcoat and breeches, and green horse furniture trimmed in white. Hats were plain black with a green cockade; as their designation suggests, they were armed with straight swords and short hussar-style carbines slung on a swivel belt. Both the musket-armed grenadiers and rifle-armed Jägers wore green coats with green facings, and straw-coloured waistcoats and breeches; apart from the grenadiers’ brown fur caps they were further distinguished from Freytag’s men by a vandyked lace pattern on collar and cuffs.

To improve their self-sufficiency each infantry company had a six-strong detachment of Zimmermen or carpenters, wearing the same uniform but distinguished by a low-crowned helmet with a crest and a green turban trimmed with white, bearing the white horse of Hanover on the front. The corps’ artillery were probably detached from the regulars, as they appear to have worn the same steel grey/blue uniform with minor distinctions as to the cuffs and waistcoat.

Nieuport fighters over Verdun II

The first Fokker E I appeared over Flanders in September 1915 when Flgobmt Erich Bödecker began escorting naval two-seaters on their reconnaissance sorties. This was in response to the appearance of the first Belgian scout, a single-seat Nieuport 10 flown by Lt Henri Crombez, on 26 August. Although an able and dedicated aviator, Crombez lacked a fighter pilot’s temperament. However, the third Belgian assigned a modified Nieuport 10, pre-war motorcycle champion and aerobat Sgt Jan Olieslagers, did. On 12 September he sent an Aviatik crashing in enemy lines for Belgium’s first single-seater victory.

The Fokker’s presence in Flanders, relatively modest though it was, did not go unnoticed by the British. Even while the French were marshalling their Bébés for introduction in escadrille strength, the RNAS began assigning its Nieuport 11s to ‘squadrons’ within its squadron-sized wings almost two months before the first one arrived at N31 in January 1916. Their presence along the Flanders coast led the Kriegsmarine to acquire more Fokker E IIIs and create fighter detachments for them, starting in April 1916 with a Kampfeinsitzer Kommando within Marine Feldflieger Abteilung I at Mariakerke, led by Ltn z S Gotthard Sachsenberg, and a second KEK assigned to MFFA II at Neumünster.

Encounters between the fighters were rare, but on 8 July Flt Lt Thomas F. N. Gerrard, in Nieuport 3989 of 2 Naval Flight, ‘A’ Naval Squadron, 1 Naval Wing, operating from Furnes, drove a Fokker down OOC two miles from Ostend. The next day Stanley Dallas, in Nieuport 3994, claimed another E type OOC near Mariakerke. After their unit evolved into 1 Naval Squadron RNAS, ‘Teddy’ Gerrard would add eight more victories to his tally in Sopwith Triplanes in 1917, and a tenth victory in a Sopwith Camel in April 1918. Dallas’ total had risen to at least 32 by the time he was killed in action in an SE 5a of No. 40 Sqn, Royal Air Force, on 1 June 1918. By then the German naval fighter units had also expanded, starting with the amalgamation of MFFA I and II’s KEKs into Marine Feld Jasta I, under Sachsenberg’s command, on 1 February 1917.

While the French massed their fighters over Verdun, the RFC likewise fielded its first single-seat fighter unit, No. 24 Sqn with DH 2s, at Bertangles in preparation for the offensive along the Somme River scheduled for 1 July. Although it had balked at purchasing Nieuport 11s from the French, the RFC acquired a handful of Nieuport 16s, which it allotted to reconnaissance squadrons. One such unit was No. 11 Sqn, which after replacing its Vickers FB 5s with FE 2bs also had an escort of Bristol Scouts, flown, among others, by 18-year-old Lt Albert Ball.

Transferred from No. 13 to No. 11 Sqn on 7 May, Ball was flying Bristol 5312 (fitted with interrupter gear designed by Vickers employees Harold Savage and George Henry Challenger) nine days later when he drove an Albatros C III of Kampfstaffel 17 down in German lines. The Vickers-Challenger gear’s connecting rod proved too long and flexible to be reliable, however, and shortly after Ball’s exploit No. 11 Sqn obtained three Nieuport 16s to supplement the Bristols.

Tricky though the Nieuport 16 was to fly, Ball took to it quickly enough to engage in three inconclusive combats on 22 May. Although he damaged A126’s lower right wingtip in a bad landing on the 27th, during the course of the next month he mastered Nieuport 5173 sufficiently enough to use it effectively in combat. His first encounter with the enemy in the new aircraft came on 29 May, as he described in a combat report that revealed his trademark aggressiveness:

I had four fights in one patrol in my Nieuport, and came off top in every fight. Four Fokkers and an LVG attacked me about 12 miles over the lines. I forced the LVG down with a drum-and-a-half, after which I zoomed up after the Fokkers. They ran away at once. Out of all the fights I only got about eight shots into my machine, one of which just missed my back and hit the strut. However, on my way home, the Hun ‘Archie’ guns hit the tail of my machine and took a piece away, but I got back and have now got a new tail. The other fights were with Albatros machines.

Ball was credited with an LVG last seen in a vertical dive, counted as OOC, and another forced to land. The next day he flew the repaired 5173 over to Douai aerodrome – home of Oblt Max Immelmann’s KEK, among others – and spent 30 minutes circling at 10,000ft before two enemy aeroplanes (an Albatros and a Fokker) finally took off. The two-seater attacked first, but after Ball fired ten rounds at it, its pilot dived away and returned to the aerodrome. At that point the Fokker came up from behind, but the moment it fired, Ball, who had been aware of its presence all along, whipped his Nieuport around and returned fire. The Fokker turned away, dived and alit in a field two miles from the aerodrome – a ‘forced landing’ that was credited as another victory for Ball.

A balloon burned on 25 June brought his official tally, tenuous as some of it might have been, to five. Ball had become the third British pilot to ‘make ace’, although the RFC was prone to discourage the sort of cult status that that distinction was coming to attain among the French and Germans.

By that time the reorganized Belgian air arm had acquired some Nieuport 11s, which were assigned to the 1e Escadrille to escort reconnaissance aeroplanes of that and other units. One of its members was recently promoted Sous-Lt Jan Olieslagers, who marked the cowling of his Bébé with his pre-war nickname ‘Le Démon’. On 17 June he was escorting Farman F 40 2265 of the 4e Escadrille, crewed by Adj Charles Kervyn de Lettonhove and Capt Roger Lesergent d’Hendecourt, when he saw his charge come under attack by a Fokker E III over Poelkapelle at 1515hrs. The Farman crew drove down that assailant OOC, only to be shot up by another Eindecker, but by then Olieslagers had reached them and he despatched the Fokker. His adversary, credited as his second victory of an eventual six, was apparently Gfr Alfred Jäkel of FFA 221, who died of his wounds three days later.

Olieslagers was not the only one for whom 17 June proved to be memorable. Sgt Victor Chapman of N124 was on a lone foray that day when he spotted two enemy reconnaissance aeroplanes, one of which he forced to land near Béthincourt, although he had no witnesses to confirm it. He was then jumped by the two-seaters’ three Fokker escorts, whose fire severed his Nieuport’s right aileron control rod and creased his skull. Grabbing the ends of the control rods and gripping the control column with his knees, Chapman managed to land at Froidos aerodrome.

On that same morning Sous-Lts Jean Navarre and Gaston Guignand of N67 were patrolling with Navarre’s friend Sous-Lt Pelletier-Doisy of N69 when they encountered a two-seater over Samogneux, which Navarre and Pelletier-Doisy shot down at 0600hrs. Continuing their sortie, they came upon another German aeroplane directing artillery fire over Grandpré, but as they were manoeuvring into position to attack, Navarre was suddenly shot through the right arm and chest. Spinning down, with his comrades diving after him, Navarre recovered sufficiently to land at an airfield near St Menehould. From there he was rushed to hospital at Chanzy. This ended the fighting career of the ‘Sentinel of Verdun’, whose score then stood at 12.

It has been suggested that Chapman or Navarre may have been victims of Walter Höhndorf, then operating with KEK Vaux and credited with a Nieuport in French lines near Château-Salins that same day. Neither pilot was wounded anywhere near Château-Salins, however, Höhndorf’s victim more likely being a Nieuport 10 of N68 in a fight during which Sgt Jules Vigouroux and Sous-Lt Théophile Burgué were credited with a Fokker that crashed east of Bezanges, but Sgts Joseph Borde and Blain were driven down wounded in French lines.

Kiffin Rockwell believed that Chapman had been wounded by Boelcke, which is possible given their close proximity in the sector. Moreover, Boelcke described a fight with six of the ‘Americans’ that he’d heard about and had sought out ‘to say how-do-you-do’, during which he got behind ‘a fairly raw beginner’ and at a distance of about 100m ‘sat on his neck and started work on him’. At that point, however, Boelcke reported one of his E IV’s guns jamming after 20 rounds and the other after 50, forcing him to sideslip and dive to an altitude of about 800m so as to escape the other five Nieuports that followed him down. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that he claimed no success in the action.

Of eight Fokkers claimed by the French between late May and the end of June, only one was credited to a single-seater, when Sous-Lt Gaetan de la Brunetière of N68 drove one down after a hard fought engagement over the Forêt de Bézange on 30 June. His probable victim, Ltn Leopold Reimann of FFA 32, crash-landed in German lines in Fokker E III 347/15, shaken but unharmed, while de la Brunetière was wounded.

On 1 July the British Somme offensive became the main focus of activity on and over the Western Front, even though the Battle of Verdun would rage on to the end of the year. The Nieuport 11 and 16 Bébés had virtually ended the ‘Fokker Scourge’ there, but by June they were being rapidly replaced by the improved Nieuport 17. On the German side, eight Halberstadt biplanes had reached the front by the end of June, to be joined by Fokker biplanes such as the D I, D II and D III. Each of these transitional designs had its limitations, but in late August two new biplane fighters began to reach the front that would dramatically alter the tempo and very nature of the air war – the SPAD VII and the Albatros D II.

The struggle for Verdun – more of a campaign than a battle per se – saw the first use of massed air assets and for several months pitted a frail German monoplane with a highly effective weapon system against a French design of somewhat superior structure and performance, armed with a makeshift, rather awkward gun mounting suspended above the pilot’s head. Their confrontation more often took the form of attacking one another’s two-seater reconnaissance aeroplanes than each other – as well it should, since ‘blinding’ the enemy was very much their primary purpose. Their actual encounters were relatively infrequent, yet sufficient to convince the Germans that the Fokker monoplane’s fortunes were on the wane.

In analysing the instances of when Bébé met Eindecker one must keep in mind that this was the first clash of its kind, and the antagonists were learning the finer points of their deadly art as they went. Their task was simply to drive the enemy from the sky by attacking whatever aeroplane they encountered. This fact is reflected in a survey of French claims over ‘Fokkers’ and ‘scouts’ during the Nieuport Bébé’s time as the principal French fighter – roughly between February and June 1916. According to French aviation historian David Méchin, the Aéronautique Militaire claimed a total of 74 German aircraft in aerial combat between 21 February and 1 July 1916 (when the British launched their Somme offensive), but most of its claims were over LVG two-seaters. During the same time period German pilots made 37 aerial claims, of which 27 were credited to aviators flying Eindeckers. Only six of their claims were over Nieuport single-seaters, however.

The examination of French claims during that five-month period identified 12 Fokkers being credited to Nieuport 11 or 16 pilots, along with one shared with a Nieuport 10 crew. Two others were credited exclusively to Nieuport 10s. In that same time period, however, another 11 Fokkers were credited to Caudron G 4 crews and 12 to Maurice Farman crews. On the face of it, one might infer that the two-seaters were not all that helpless, and the single-seat Nieuports not quite so decisive a factor in breaking the ‘Fokker Scourge’ as posterity has been led to believe.

Hard numbers are not necessarily the whole story when the human factor is taken into account. A comment by Ltn Rudolf Berthold, translated by German aviation expert Peter M. Grosz, reveals a professional assessment of the Nieuport’s impact on German fighter operations in the midsummer of 1916:

We had too few qualified monoplanes. We lacked an aircraft that was easily manoeuvrable in combat. We had fallen asleep on the laurel wreaths that the single-seaters in the hands of a few superlative pilots had achieved. It was not the monoplane itself, but the pilots who were responsible for the success. One need but compare the number of Fokker fighters at the Front with those few pilots who had victories. I had already requested a new type of aircraft in January 1916 – a small biplane. People laughed! The Frenchman meanwhile takes our experience to heart, quietly builds small biplanes and then launches hundreds at once against our lines. He has achieved air superiority and, with grinding teeth, we must watch while he shoots down our monoplanes and we’re helpless.

The ultimate endorsement. After managing to bring down Nieuport 11 N1324 intact on 1 July 1916, Oblt Kurt Student had a synchronized LMG 08 machine gun installed and the French markings overpainted in a light colour with a crossed swords fuselage motif. He then used the Nieuport to supplement his Fokker E IV at Leffincourt.

Actions could speak louder than words. On 1 July 1916 Oblt Kurt Student, commanding Armee-Oberkommando 3’s Fokkerstaffel at Leffincourt, showed his skill with the Fokker E IV when he brought Nieuport 11 N1324 down intact behind German lines, where its wounded pilot, Sous-Lt Jean Raty of N38, was taken prisoner. After evaluating his prize Student judged the Nieuport’s flight characteristics to be so much better than his own aeroplane’s that he installed an LMG 08 with interrupter gear on it, repainted it in German markings, complete with a personal motif of crossed fencing swords, and flew combat missions in it.

Student was not alone. In September 1916, at a time when newly formed Jagdstaffel 1 at Bertincourt was operating a maddeningly mixed bag of Fokker monoplane and biplane scouts, as well as Halberstadt biplanes – while Jasta 2 was fully equipped with game-changing Albatros D Is and D IIs – Ltn d R Gustav Leffers often flew a captured Nieuport 16. Like Student, he too had installed a synchronized machine gun and repainted the French scout with Maltese crosses.

Wallenstein’s Army at Lützen

North European historians have habitually portrayed Wallenstein’s army as a raw, untried force, hastily assembled in early 1632 to replace Tilly’s devastated legions and incapable of matching Gustav Adolf’s veterans. In fact, many of Wallenstein’s regiments had longer traditions than Sweden’s Colour regiments. At least three of the units present at Lützen were raised in the 1610s, and many more in the 1620s; several had even faced the Swedes before, as part of a corps sent to help Poland in 1629.

Wallenstein’s forces were even more diverse than Gustav Adolf’s. Recruited throughout Catholic Europe, they included Germans, Austrians, Czechs, Italians, Hungarians, Poles and Croatians. Italian officers were (like Gustav Adolf’s Scots) highly valued. (Ordinary Italian soldiers were notoriously unreliable in the northern winter, and the men of Piccolomini’s horse and Colloredo’s foot regiments were mostly Germans.) Pappenheim’s army included several regiments of Walloons (French-speaking Belgians), famed for their ferocity.

The Imperial cavalry was organised into four main branches: cuirassiers, harquebusiers, dragoons and Croats. The ideal cuirassier was armed in three-quarter armour, blackened to prevent rust. By 1632 few except officers wore these costly and uncomfortable suits. Most cuirassiers were now what Montecuccoli called `half cuirassiers’, wearing only breast and back plate, and open-faced helmet. The cuirassier’s main weapons were a sword and a pair of pistols, intended for close combat rather than `caracoling’.

Harquebusiers rode smaller horses and had little armour: most made do with a buffcoat. Named after their long arquebuses (carbines), they were intended for campaign duties and skirmishes, to save the cuirassiers for serious action. In reality the distinction between cuirassiers and harquebusiers was blurring. Many regiments were raised as harquebusiers and upgraded to cuirassiers when they acquired better equipment and horses. Piccolomini’s famous regiment was still officially a harquebusier unit, yet was better armoured than many cuirassier regiments.

All the Imperial dragoons engaged at Lützen seem to have been raised during 1632. They are described in the official army lists as `German horsemen, armed with half-armour (halb Harnisch, probably a breast plate) and equipped with firelocks (Feuergewehr)’. Though expected to carry out menial duties like their Swedish counterparts, they were listed as part of the cavalry rather than the infantry, and occasionally (as at Lützen) fought mounted.

Croats or Crabats were described in the official Imperial army lists as `light horse armed in the Hungarian manner’. Most commanders of Croat regiments were Hungarians, as were many troopers, who were recruited from both Slav and Magyar provinces of the Habsburg realm. Croats were of little value in a stand-up fight; armed with carbines as their primary weapon, their duties were off-battlefield – skirmishing, patrolling and making campaign life unpleasant for the enemy, a task they carried out with admirabl diligence during Gustav Adolf’s long, wasted summer at Nuremberg. In battle, they were deployed on the wings of the army, attempting to turn the enemy flanks, distracting units that might be better employed by the enemy elsewhere. In their fur hats and long eastern coats, they made a colourful if unpredictable addition to the Imperial ranks. The irregular horse also included small units described as Hungarian or Polish. These are listed almost interchangeably with the Croats, but had distinctive dress or weaponry. The three companies of `Polish Cossacks’ present at Lützen were recruited inside the Polish realm and should not be confused with the Cossacks of the Russian Steppes.

The Imperial infantry tended to be more heavily armoured than their Swedish opponents. Austrian and south German styles of pikeman’s armour did exist, but as Wallenstein purchased much of his equipment via Nuremberg, his infantry probably differed little in appearance from their Swedish counterparts. Imperial infantry regiments had a standard organisation of ten companies, each of 200 men. However few units could maintain even half this strength in the field. Nevertheless Imperial regiments were stronger, on average, than Swedish regiments. In battle they formed up in 1,000-strong battalions (often called `brigades’, because several weak regiments would combine to make up a single battalion). Montecuccoli notes that at Lützen Wallenstein drew up his infantry seven deep, as a result of his idiosyncratic desire to position the company colours at the exact centre of the pike blocks!

The Imperial artillery had some of the most beautiful cannon in Europe. By 1632 they were being manufactured in standardised calibres: demi-cannon (24-pdrs), quarter-cannon (12-pdrs) and eighth-cannon (6-pdrs). A number of older pieces remained in use, and for example we hear of `quarter-cannon’ of 10, 12, 14 and 16 pounds calibre, captured by the Swedes at Lützen, or shortly thereafter. The Imperial and Catholic League armies were already employing regimental cannon in 1631, although in smaller numbers than the Swedes. Wallenstein’s army instructions of 4 May 1632 imply that many units possessed them and there are occasional references during the Lützen campaign. Two guns per Imperial regiment became the standard allocation from 1633, and may have been the case earlier. About two guns per front-line infantry battalion would have been the minimum available at Lützen.

Because the equipment of the rival armies differed only in subtle details, the opponents employed another means of distinguishing themselves in the field. During the 1631 campaign both sides used only improvised field-signs – sprigs of green foliage worn in the headgear by Gustav Adolf’s troops, and white strips of cloth tied round arm or hat among Tilly’s veterans. Determined to systematise the practice Wallenstein in May 1632 had ordered the use of red scarves (sashes) in his army and forbade the wearing of all other colours under pain of death. There is little evidence that Gustav Adolf adopted a single scarf colour: his officers seem to have worn any colour they liked, except, of course, red.

Since most infantrymen were never issued scarves, as important a form of identification was the `field-word’- both a password and a battle cry, issued afresh for each battle. Not one to break with convention Wallenstein chose the stock Catholic field-word: Jesus, Maria! Meanwhile Gustav Adolf stuck with the phrase that had brought him luck at Breitenfeld: Gott mit uns! (God with us).

Albrecht Eusebius von Wallenstein (Waldstein, Waldstejn), Duke of Friedland and Mecklenburg (1583-1634).

Wallenstein was, in real life, physically unimpressive – sallow featured and of middling height, his wiry build contorted by gout. But behind the brooding gaze was an agile mind of unfathomable complexity and undeniable genius.

Albrecht Eusebius Wenzel von Waldstejn, a name softened in his own day to `Wallenstein’. He was introverted and obsessive. According to astrology in which he put great stock, he was ruled by Saturn – closed, retentive; quite the opposite 16 of the Jovian Gustav Adolf.

Born in Hermanitz, Bohemia, Wallenstein was a Czech Protestant from a minor noble family, and was orphaned young. He changed his faith to ensure advancement in Habsburg service and married a rich wife in 1609, who conveniently died five years later leaving him extensive estates in Bohemia. He remained loyal to Ferdinand II during the Bohemian revolt, and was a colonel at White Mountain in 1620; as a reward, the Emperor let him buy up the estates of exiled Protestants at knock-down prices and made him Duke of Friedland.

At the outbreak of the Danish War in 1625, Wallenstein, now one of the richest men in Europe, contracted to raise an army at his own cost for the impecunious Emperor. His profit would come from the war itself and `contributions’ extracted from German towns – as his opponents objected, it was daylight robbery made legal by the Emperor’s seal.

Wallenstein transformed his private domains in north-east Bohemia into a vast military depot, building workshops and factories to supply arms and clothing for his troops. His attention to the minutiae of logistics bordered on the obsessive; as Watts commented, `The Duke of Friedland’s Master-piece, is to be a good provisioner: and he hath a singular good Catering-wit .’ More than any general before him Wallenstein realized that war was best conducted as an economic enterprise, and he did so on an industrial scale never seen before. It was him, rather than Gustav Adolf, who effected an increase in the size of European armies.

In 1629 Wallenstein received the Duchy of Mecklenburg as a reward for his services in the Danish War, but the German princes began to object to the power concentrated in his hands, his exploitative methods and even the excessive ostentation with which he surrounded himself. In September 1630 the Emperor caved in and dismissed him from office.

By the generous terms of his reinstatement to supreme command in 1632 Wallenstein achieved most of his ambitions. He had wealth, vast estates and power to rival the Emperor. But he was 11 years senior to the Swedish King, gout-ridden and already tired.

Wallenstein was respected and feared by his soldiers, rather than loved. He was generous to those who won his favour, dishing out gold ducats and promotions like confetti, but terrible and unforgiving when crossed. Whereas Gustav Adolf spurred his men to valour with charisma and religious ardour, Wallenstein ruled with the carrot and stick.

Wallenstein’s saturnine character spilled over into his generalship. He disliked taking chances in the open field and preferred fighting from the security of field works. At his first major battle, Dessau Bridge in 1626, his carefully constructed earthworks proved the undoing of the other great Thirty Years War condottiere, Ernst von Mansfeld. At Alte Feste, Wallenstein ordered his men to `make more use of their trenches than of their weapons’ – to the discomfiture of an even better general. At Lützen, Wallenstein was caught off balance but, characteristically, still attempted to fight a defensive battle from an entrenched position.

Feldmarschal Gottfried Heinrich Graf (Count) zu Pappenheim (1594-1632)

One of the most intriguing and charismatic personalities of the Thirty Years War, he was courageous, dashing and self-willed to the verge of insubordination, but was also a literate man of great charm and wit. The Swedish King used to say that Tilly was an old corporal, Wallenstein a madman, but Pappenheim was a soldier, and that he feared no enemy soldier except that `scarface’.

Feldmarschal Gottfried Heinrich Graf (Count) zu Pappenheim (1594-1632) was, in contrast to Wallenstein, an archetypal cavalryman. A Bavarian-born convert to Catholicism, he served the Catholic League in the Bohemian War of 1620 before raising a horse regiment for Duke Maximilian of Bavaria in 1622. His brutal suppression of the 1626 Upper Austrian Peasant Revolt and successes in the Danish War got him noticed, but he was considered too headstrong and impetuous to have a major field command, and spent much of his career playing side-kick to Count Tilly. Although adored by his troops, Pappenheim was not all sweetness. If anyone should carry the blame for the massacre at Magdeburg, it was him. Indeed he was also largely the cause of Tilly’s ill-advised attack at Breitenfeld, compounding the error with charge after futile charge against the tight-knit Swedish lines. His personal bravery was never in question and he is said to have killed 14 of the enemy with his own hand in the battle.

In 1632 Pappenheim made up for his mistakes in the kind of warfare to which his unique talents were ideally suited. With a ramshackle force of a few thousand troops, he turned the Lower Saxony region of north-west Germany into his private stomping-ground, pinning down Protestant forces many times the size of his own. Using internal lines to their maximum advantage, his constant raiding (and the incompetence of Swedish commanders sent to stop him) distracted Gustav Adolf from his conquests in southern Germany. Recalled by Wallenstein to Saxony against his will, Pappenheim’s bravado got him killed before he was able to make any impact on the course of the battle of Lützen.

Heinrich Holk (1599-1633)

Heinrich Holk (1599-1633) was a Danish professional soldier who lost an eye in battle against the Imperialists in 1626. After the Peace of Lübeck (1629), which took Denmark out of the war, he found service with his former enemy. After catching Wallenstein’s attention in 1632, he advanced rapidly from Oberst(Colonel) to Feldmarschall in just nine months. At Lützen he commanded the left wing of the army during Pappenheim’s absence.

With Wallenstein’s gout causing him trouble, he was relying increasingly on Heinrich Holk (1599-1633) for the everyday administration of his army. A Danish Protestant, Holk had risen rapidly in Wallenstein’s service, being promoted on 24 August 1632 to Feldmarschal-leutnant, a new rank (slightly junior to Pappenheim) created, it was said, specially for him.

Holk was the expert of war by devastation. In a conflict famous for its atrocities his troops earned an appalling reputation for brutality as they raped and pillaged their way through Saxony in late 1632. Nevertheless, flint-hearted Holk was a firm disciplinarian and an able tactician and administrator, able to satisfy even Wallenstein’s elevated demands. During the battle he was everywhere at once, ordering, cajoling, shouting. Without Holk, Lützen may well have had a far more disastrous outcome for the Imperialists.

Rome in Gaul Before Caesar I

In 125 BC Massalia once again appealed to Rome for help. This time she was under pressure from the Saluvii, and perhaps also the Vocontii, who lived between the Rhône and the Isère rivers. The exact course of the campaign or its effects are extremely difficult to reconstruct as the sources for this period are few and at times contradictory. The consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus was sent probably with the normal two legions and allies to their aid. His route is not specified in the sources but it appears likely that he marched by way of the Alpine passes and through the territory of the Vocontii. He defeated the Saluvii and Vocontii in battle, but there is no indication as to where these battles took place.

By the opening of the campaigning season of 124 a new consul, Gaius Sextius Calvinus, had arrived. He continued operations in Gaul until 122. The sources claim that he defeated the same tribes as Flaccus had, which seems to indicate that Flaccus’s successes had not been decisive. The combined actions of both consuls seem finally to have solved the problem of the Saluvii. The next reference to them is a rebellion in 90.

In addition to his military activity, Sextius established a garrison at Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) in 123 where he seems to have won a battle against the Saluvii. Aix replaced the main town of the Saluvii Entremont, which was perhaps destroyed during this campaign. The garrison was located at an important road junction that served to protect the coastal route and as a further measure of security the tribes were forced to pull back from the coast. The foundation of Aix marks the next stage in Roman penetration of the area. For the first time there was a permanent Roman presence in Transalpine Gaul. It appears that Massalia was no longer capable of protecting the eastern part of this vital route for Roman campaigns in Spain.

The campaigns of Sextius did not mark the end of Roman intervention. The king and some of the leading men of the Saluvii fled to the Allobroges, a larger and more important tribe whose territory was situated along the Rhône north of the Saluvii, and which extended from the River Isère east to the Alps. They had also attacked the Aedui, whose land lay north of the Allobroges in Burgundy and who now appealed to the Romans for aid. They were one of the most important of the Gallic tribes. At some point before the late 120s they had concluded an alliance with Rome and were recognized as related by blood to the Romans, perhaps on the basis of a myth of a common Trojan origin. Why the Romans did so is not clear. There is a parallel in the relationship with Saguntum, which also lay deep in Carthaginian territory and in a period when Rome had no manifest interest in Spain. It is possible that the Romans saw such an alliance as a way to deter powerful tribes from attacking the coastal route. They would be able to use the threat of the Aedui who lay to the enemy’s rear as a buffer.

The refusal of the Allobroges to return the Saluvian fugitives led to the sending of another expedition under a consul of 122, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus. War with the Allobroges led to a wider conflict. The Allobroges were subordinate to the Arverni whose territory lay in the Auvergne in south-central France. They were the most powerful tribe in southern France. Some later sources talk of an Arvernian empire extending from the Pyrenees to the Rhine. But it is more likely that, as was the case with the Allobroges, they had a number of weaker tribes as clients. For unknown reasons Domitius did not begin the major phase of his campaign until the following year. The chief of the Arverni, Bituitus, sent an embassy to meet with Domitius, perhaps to persuade him to call off the campaign. Since Bituitus’s envoys refused to hand over the Saluvian chiefs or to settle other Roman grievances the embassy ended in failure. Domitius defeated a combined army of Arverni and Allobroges under the command of Bituitus at a site called Vindalium. Its exact location is unknown but it appears that it lay about 6 miles (10km) north of Avignon. Although we lack any details about the course of the battle the sources report heavy casualties among the Gauls.

Once again, in 121 another consul, Quintus Fabius Maximus, was sent out who seems to have operated jointly with Domitius. Domitius’ victory may have weakened the Gauls but it had not put an end to the conflict. Fabius moved north and somewhere near the confluence of the Rhône and the Isère decisively defeated a combined army of Allobroges, Arverni and Ruteni (another client of the Arverni who lived in the southern Massif-Central). The date was August 121. Bituitus was captured and deported to Italy where he was detained at a villa south of Rome. Fabius and Domitius both celebrated triumphs in 121. The Allobroges as well as the Saluvii were now under Roman control of some sort, while the Arverni and the tribes to the north were left independent.

Fabius followed a standard Roman practice and added the title Allobrogicus to his name in recognition of his victory. He further memorialized it by the erection of a triumphal arch. Domitius’s celebration of his victory was more exotic. According to Suetonius, the biographer of his descendant the emperor Nero:

During his consulate after defeating the Allobroges and Arverni he was carried through the province on an elephant accompanied by a crowd of soldiers as though he was celebrating a triumph.

Other sources mention the fact that Domitius had elephants with his army and had used them to great effect against the Gauls who presumably had never before encountered them.

Domitius’s procession through southern Gaul had less colourful aspects as well. He gave his name to a new road, the Via Domitia, which ran from the west bank of the Rhône at Tarascon to a major pass over the Pyrenees at Le Perthus. The road speeded the movement of men and supplies to Spain where the Romans were still engaged in pacifying the tribes of the centre and west of the peninsula. The road has yielded the earliest Roman milestone we possess, which bears the name of Domitius and records that it marks the 20th Roman mile from Narbo Martius (Narbonne).

Narbo, founded probably in 118, was, unlike the garrison at Aix, a citizen colony; the first founded outside of Italy. In part it must have fulfilled the same function as Aix and Massilia in protecting, in this case, the portion of the route to Spain that lay to the west of the Rhône. It was also located at a site of great commercial importance, and even before the advent of the Romans the site had played an important role in trade. It sat astride an important trade route that ran through Toulouse and linked it to Aquitania and the Bay of Biscay. Although the major reason for this colony as for other Roman colonies was strategic, there is no doubt that the commercial benefits of the site were readily apparent and Italians were quick to take advantage of them. The foundation of the colony was followed by a growth in Italian imports and an increase in local coinage based on the standard Roman coin the denarius.

Its foundation should be linked as well to political problems at Rome. Access to and ownership of land had become a pressing social and political issue. The devastation of southern Italy during the Second Punic War had driven many peasants off their land. Added to this pressure were the constant demands of prolonged military service outside of Italy. The peasant soldier had normally been the main source of labour on his farm and his absence, often for as much as six years, outside of Italy led to severe economic consequences for his family. Added to this was the effect of Rome’s conquests, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean. Enormous wealth in the form of booty flowed to the Roman state, but especially into the hands of the aristocracy. The prestige and safety associated with land ownership led the aristocracy to expand their land holdings at the expense of peasant farmers. Adding to the pressure on small-holders was the importation of slaves acquired in Rome’s wars and their use as agricultural labourers on the elite’s estates. It has been estimated that between the beginning of the Second Punic War and the middle of the first century about 500,000 slaves were imported into Italy. Seasonal labour on estates, which had been used to supplement peasant income, was now no longer available. The pressure on this group is evident in the continued movement of population from the countryside into the cities of Italy.

All of these factors had an effect on Rome’s armies. Military service in the legions was based on the possession of a certain minimum amount of property. Most of those who served were drawn from the rural population. As they lost their farms they no longer qualified for service and this created manpower problems for the levy. Added to this was a conflict in Spain where the Romans were involved in a prolonged guerrilla war that offered few prospects of booty for the average soldier.

By 133 this had become a major issue in Roman politics. After a difficult political struggle one of the tribunes of the plebs, Tiberius Gracchus, passed a law distributing plots of Roman public land to landless citizens. Despite his death in a brawl with his political enemies, a commission established by the law continued with the distributions but by about 120 the available public land in Italy seems to have been all but exhausted. It is in this context that we can place a proposal by Tiberius’s younger brother Gaius, in 123 or 122, to found a colony on the site of Carthage. With the death of Gaius in 122, also as the result of political conflict, the plan for a citizen colony at Carthage was abandoned.

These struggles over the issue of land and other benefits for the Roman lower classes had become deeply intertwined in elite politics. A division opened between those who pushed for such legislation and those who fought against it. A variety of economic and political interests were involved on both sides as members of the aristocracy struggled with each other for prestige and political office. Just as there had been in the case of the colony at Carthage, so there was a great deal of resistance to the founding of Narbo. The proposal was seen as a manoeuvre by those favouring popular legislation to enhance their political position. Despite opposition in the Senate to the measure it was carried. Some scholars have claimed that the basis for the opposition was the distance and isolated position of the colony. This does not seem persuasive. Earlier colonies in Italy, such as Placentia, founded in 218, had often been located at exposed sites. Also, southern Gaul offered a fertile area for Italian settlement. Its climate and topography were similar to Italy’s. By the first century Pliny the Elder could refer to southern Gaul as ‘more Italy than a province’.

The campaigns of 125–121 had been fought exclusively to the east of the Rhône; apparently the Romans had little trouble with the tribes west of the river. The inability of Massalia to maintain control of a vital route had drawn the Romans into southern Gaul. They had subjugated an area extending on the west from the Pyrenees to the Alps on the east, and bordered on the north by the Massif Central and the Cevennes. The lack of any further conquests for seventy years supports the idea that Roman goals in Transalpine Gaul were limited. The main aim seems to have been to safeguard the route to Spain by land and to maintain control of the coastal ports. The more difficult question is what mechanisms they used to achieve those objectives.

The major controversy has centred on the formation of a province which the Romans called Transalpina, or Transalpine Gaul to distinguish it from the Gallic area on the Italian side of the Alps, Cisalpina. The basic meaning of the Roman term provincia (province) is the sphere in which a magistrate or promagistrate (a magistrate whose powers are continued after his term in office has ended) is empowered to act. The province need not be a military command; it designates any sort of politically approved activity. For instance, it included the legal activities of praetors in Italy at Rome or the various duties of quaestors including financial supervision. In 59 Caesar and his fellow consul were given the administration of Italy’s woods and public pasturelands as their province after they left office. For the consuls and praetors, as well as proconsuls and propraetors, the sphere of activity was usually military. The consul and proconsuls were the magistrates that waged Rome’s wars. Rome’s first overseas provinces of Sicily and Sardinia/Corsica were governed by additional praetors, and two more were added to govern the Spanish provinces after 197. The need in these areas for continued oversight led to provincia developing a geographical meaning as an established administrative area. The process developed haphazardly, especially in the west. In the eastern Mediterranean the previously established administrative apparatus of Hellenistic kingdoms and states offered the Romans a system they could use as a basis for their own administrative organization. The lack of such structures in western Europe, and the diffuse nature of tribal authority, made the process far more difficult.

A province in the fullest sense would be a geographical area that possessed a Roman administrative structure under the supervision of a Roman governor. The origin of provinces as military command often meant that administration and control developed slowly and haphazardly. For example, Sicily was conquered by the Romans in 241 but it was not until 227 that a governor was sent. In Spain the process unfolded in the opposite direction. From 197 Roman Spain was divided into two provinces but it was not until 180 that a formal administrative structure developed.

The problem is complicated in the case of Transalpine Gaul. For one thing we know very little about the settlements with the defeated tribes after the campaigns of the late 120s. Caesar informs us that neither the Arverni nor the Ruteni were reduced to provincial status or had yearly taxes imposed upon them. This may imply that Rome concluded treaties with them in place of governing them directly. There is more ambiguity about the status of the other tribes that Rome had defeated. The Allobroges surrendered unconditionally, as presumably did the Saluvii, Ligurians, and the Vocontii who occupied the western foothills of the Alps south of the Allobroges. It has been suggested that Rome bound the tribes by a series of treaties but is more likely that the area became a lightly administered province. There is support for this in the sources, who mention that the Saluvii rebelled in 90. The remark implies that they were directly subordinated to Rome.

One problem with accepting the establishment of a province at this time has been the absence of evidence for a regular succession of governors. It makes it more difficult that an individual can be specified as having Transalpine Gaul as his area of action without any explicit reference as to whether he was also administering it. For instance, Gaius Valerius Flaccus, who had been consul in 93, is mentioned in the sources as proconsul in Gaul from 84–81, but this may have been in connection with the war then raging in Spain and so is no certain indication that he was the governor of the province. The first definitely-identifiable governor was Marcus Fonteius, who probably served in Transalpine Gaul from 74 to 72. But even this is not totally certain. By Caesar’s time he can refer to all of south Gaul simply as ‘the province’, which provides our first unambiguous evidence.

Prior to Fonteius the whole of southern Gaul seems to have often been administered by the governors of contiguous provinces. The western portion often fell under the purview of the governor of Nearer Spain while the part east of the Rhône was assigned to the governor of Cisalpine Gaul. This again implies nothing about the status of Transalpine Gaul. Caesar was assigned Transalpine Gaul as a supplementary command when he had been given Cisalpine Gaul.

There is no definitive evidence for the status of southern Gaul until Caesar’s time. In part this is the result of the absence of sources for this period. It is also a result of the relative absence of conflict in Gaul for most of the period before Caesar, except for a major crisis caused by the migration of two German tribes towards the end of the second century.

In 113 a wandering tribe of Germans, the Cimbri, had been laying waste the Celtic kingdom of Noreia, which was allied to the Romans and located in the eastern Alps south of the River Danube. The consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, fearing a possible invasion of Italy, confronted them. After entering into negotiations with them he launched a surprise attack and was disastrously defeated. The Cimbri and their fellow Germans the Teutones seem to have begun a migration from their homeland in Jutland in modern Denmark around 120. The reasons for the migration were as disputed in antiquity as they are today. One possibility is that they were driven out by the slow encroachment of the sea on their homeland or some sort of climatic change. But there may have been other factors at work. The last two centuries BC are marked by the migrations of other northern European tribes and the Cimbri and Teutones may simply be part of this larger movement. Their actions and negotiations with the Romans suggest they were looking both for plunder and for new lands to settle in. Their initial movement was towards eastern Europe and the Danube. However, they were defeated by the tribes already established there and turned west, where they encountered Carbo. After his defeat the Germans could have crossed the Alps into Italy but for unknown reasons turned west again. They seem to have remained in the area of the Rhine for a year, where they were joined by Celtic tribes including the Tigurini, a sub-tribe of the Helvetii. Finally in 110, or a little earlier, they crossed the Rhine into Gaul.

In 109 the Cimbri defeated the consul Marcus Junius Silanus, probably near Lake Geneva. The Cimbri followed up their victory with a request to the Roman Senate for land to settle in, probably in Gaul, in return for performing military service. The Senate refused and it is not clear what land could have been given to them. Two years later a Roman army once again met the wandering tribes. The consul Lucius Cassius Longinus and his legate Lucius Calpurnius Piso had been operating near the colony at Narbo in an attempt to pacify the area, which had been thrown into turmoil by the arrival of the Germans. The Tigurini encountered Cassius in the territory of the Nitiobriges, which lay in south-west Aquitaine. Cassius fought the Tigurini under their war leader Divico near the town of Aginnum, probably modern Agen; and suffered a crushing defeat. Both the consul and his legate were killed and the survivors surrendered unconditionally. These two defeats shook Roman prestige in Gaul to its core. Soon after the campaigns of the 120s a garrison had been established at Tolosa (Toulouse) to guard the road to Spain where it ran west of the Rhône. It lay, as did Narbo, in the territory of the Volcae Tectosages, who may have had a treaty with the Romans. The loss of land to Narbo and the presence of the garrison at Toulouse were clearly irritants for the Volcae and with the defeat of Cassius they rose in revolt and imprisoned the garrison.

Rome in Gaul Before Caesar II

Given the unstable situation in Gaul a consul of 106, Quintus Servilius Caepio, was sent against the Volcae and suppressed the rebellion. He did not have to immediately face the Cimbri who were far to the north in the Seine basin. Perhaps Caepio’s victory set them in motion once again, looking for an easier point of entry into the Roman controlled lands of the south. They moved east to the Rhône and then down its eastern bank as far as Arausio (Orange) in 105. One of the consuls, Gnaeus Mallius, was posted there awaiting the Germans. Caepio had been retained in command as proconsul and he seems to have been assigned the area to the west of the Rhône while Mallius was to keep watch to the east of the river. The appearance of the Cimbri and the defeat and death of his legate Scaurus led Mallius to summon Caepio to his aid, but relations between the two men were strained. The question at issue was seniority in command. As consul, Mallius would normally have been senior to Caepio who was now in 105 serving as a proconsul. But Caepio claimed his command was independent and not subordinated to Mallius. Caepio moved up to the Rhône’s west bank but at first did not cross it. The dispute between the two continued until Caepio, in fear that Mallius would win the glory of a victory without him, crossed to the east bank and encamped between Mallius and the enemy in hope of defeating the Cimbri before Mallius could come up. Together the two must have had an army of about 50,000 to 60,000 men including four legions and allies. There seem to have been two separate engagements in which the Romans were outflanked and totally defeated. Both camps were then taken and sacked. The sources claim that the defeat, with a loss of 80,000 men, was the most devastating since Cannae in the Second Punic War. The date of the battle is given as 6 October 105, which was added to the religious calendar as a dies nefastus, an ill-omened day on which no public business could be conducted. The figure of 80,000 is clearly not credible, but it is clear that Roman losses were very heavy and southern Gaul was now open to invasion.

The tribes of northern Europe were certainly the most formidable foes that Rome faced in this period, but the series of Roman defeats against the tribes are surprising. During the campaigns of 125–120 the Romans had faced large Gallic armies and had consistently beaten them. There is no indication in the sources that the Germans had superior equipment. The weapons finds in German areas point to the dominance of infantry and the relative lightness of their equipment. Little body armour has been found but it may have been made of perishable materials. The finds do show the importance of missile weapons, which indicate a reliance on speed and agility among Germanic warriors. Unfortunately little is known about German tactics or strategy although it is clear that they were able to plan large-scale tactical movements. Their string of victories is all the more surprising in that for most of the next three centuries the Romans were normally able to win set-piece battles against them. The Roman disaster at the Teutoburger Wood in AD 9, where three legions were destroyed, was the result of an ambush not a formal battle. The difference in numbers is not a sufficient explanation. In general Greek and Roman sources give impossible figures. At a later battle the sources claim that the Germans had 300,000 warriors, but this seems impossible. The best that can be said is that in some of these encounters the German forces were larger. But as these later battles show they were hardly unbeatable. In the encounters of 113, 109 and 107 BC it may well be that superior numbers told. At Arausio it seems not to have been a question of numbers but rather of lack of coordination and incompetence on the Roman side.

Luckily for the Romans the Germans did not immediately move south. They moved into Celtic territories which were closer and less strongly defended. The Germans tribes now separated, with the Teutones and Ambrones along with the Tigurini plundering the lands of the Arverni in south-central Gaul after failing to defeat the Belgae in north-eastern France. The Cimbri pillaged Languedoc and then moved south to the lands of Celts and Iberians in northwestern Spain. Their plundering there was not successful. They were defeated by the Celtiberi of north-central Spain and turned north, re-entering Gaul by the spring of 103.

The fear of the northern barbarians and the string of Roman defeats created panic at Rome. A successful but difficult war had just ended against the Numidian prince Jugurtha in 105, after a series of campaigns that stretched over six years and were at times marked by incompetence and corruption. The war had damaged relations between the Senate and the broader mass of citizens. The victorious commander Gaius Marius celebrated a triumph for his victory on 1 January 104. Marius came from a locally-important family at Arpinum, a town 60 miles (96km) southeast of Rome. His rise to the consulship had resulted from patronage extended by certain leading aristocratic families, his ties to various financial interests and his military ability. The last had led to his appointment to command in the war against Jugurtha despite strong senatorial opposition. In the aftermath of Arausio he was the obvious choice and was elected as consul for 104 and given the command against the Germans. Many military reforms have been ascribed to Marius in preparation for the northern campaign, but many of them are dubious. Some seem authentic and seem to have been due to Marius’s efforts, including the encouragement of a greater level of professionalism and the introduction of more intensive weapons-training and steps taken to increase the mobility of the legions.

After their return from Spain the Cimbri reunited with the Teutones and the other wandering tribes near Rouen. It was here that a decision was taken to invade Italy. What prompted this decision is far from clear. Italy was to continue to attract northerners throughout antiquity and in this period, and later its wealth and climate were continuous attractions for those living north of the Alps. The Alps could be a formidable barrier at certain times of the year but the Cimbri had already crossed and re-crossed the Pyrenees, and the Alpine passes were easier to negotiate for those coming from the north than they were for movement in the opposite direction. In addition, the Romans must have seemed a less than formidable foe. Every time the tribes had encountered them they had beaten them and the Romans were the only power that had sufficient strength to successfully oppose them.

Whatever the actual numbers involved, it is probable that for logistic reasons, and perhaps to create additional problems for the defence, the tribes decided to descend into Italy separately. The Tigurini were to proceed by way of Noricum (part of Austria) and the Julian Alps into Cisalpine Gaul, the Cimbri, some way to the east by the Brenner Pass and the Adige River while the Teutones and Ambrones were to pass into Italy through the Roman province and then cross the Maritime Alps. The likeliest time for this decision would have been towards the end of 103.

The consul and his army, probably consisting of five legions totalling about 30,000 men and perhaps 40,000 allies, arrived in Gaul in the late spring or early summer of 104. He did not pursue the Germans but set about defending the east bank of the Rhône. The exact site of his camp is not known, but it was either at Arles, the lowest ford on the Rhône, or more probably near the confluence of the Isère and the Rhône at Valence where the valley of the Isère leads to the Alpine pass of the Little St Bernard. It may be at this point that Marius expected the German invasion would come down the Rhône and through the Maritime Alps. We do not know where his colleague Gaius Flavius Fimbria was, but it is not unlikely that he was posted in Cisalpine Gaul as was the case in 102. Perhaps because he did not trust the Allobroges or because they were unable to supply the number of troops involved, Marius had his men construct a canal linking Fos-sur Mer to the Rhône and its confluence with the Isère. It simplified the problem of moving supplies upstream in a river known for its strong downstream currents. It was probably built over the winter of 103/2.

Certainly the Romans had learned of the Germans’ plans by the beginning of 102. While Marius was posted in southern Gaul the other consul of 102, Quintus Lutatius Catulus, was probably based at the road nexus of Cremona north of the Po to meet the invasion of the Cimbri, probably with a normal consular army of two legions and an equal number of allies.

The Teutones and Ambrones had been moving down the east bank of the Rhône when they encountered Marius’s camp. The consul refused to engage them. The sources report that he remained in camp for three days without responding to attacks by the Germans. The reason they give for the refusal to fight does not carry conviction and it may be that Marius was looking for a more favourable location before engaging the enemy. The Teutones and Ambrones decided to bypass Marius and proceeded on towards the Alpine passes. The Germans moved along the valley of the Durance until they descended towards the plain of Aquae Sextiae. Marius must have skirted their main body and also arrived in the plain, while only the Ambrones who formed the vanguard of the German force had reached Aix.

Marius encamped on a hill overlooking the River Torse, which supplied the Romans with their drinking water. The Ambrones were camped on the opposite side of the river. It was from a skirmish at the river that the first battle developed. Roman support troops had gone down to the river for water when they were attacked by a party of Ambrones. The sounds of the struggle alerted the rest of the Ambrones, who then attacked en masse. The Ambrones lost cohesion as they crossed the river and before they could reform they were attacked by Celtic and Ligurian troops fighting alongside the Romans. While the engagement was taking place the legions came up in support and the Ambrones were routed and a number were cut down. After the destruction of the Ambrones Marius now had to face the more numerous Teutones.

Less is known about the origins of the second battle. Even the month is uncertain, although September has been suggested, and its exact location remains a mystery. It seems to have been deliberately sought by the Romans. It appears that Marius had decided to hold the Teutones in front while he launched an attack on their rear and flanks. Apparently, before the battle he sent a force of 3,000 infantry under his legate Marcus Claudius Marcellus to set up an ambush on some wooded hills to the rear of the enemy. He opened the battle by sending his cavalry down into the plain of Aix. The Teutones attacked the cavalry, which then retreated to the legions arrayed on the slopes of the hill where Marius had camped. The Teutones charged uphill, which was always a difficult manoeuvre, and while this was going on Marcellus’s troops attacked their rear. The tribesmen lost cohesion and fled. There is no doubt that they suffered heavy casualties, but the ancient figures, which number up to 200,000 dead, seem greatly exaggerated.

The defeat of the Teutones and Ambrones did not end the threat to Italy. The next year saw another great battle against the Cimbri who had crossed the Alps by the way of the Brenner Pass – which today connects Innsbruck, Austria to Bolzano, Italy – probably in the winter of 102/101, although an earlier crossing cannot be ruled out. Catulus, based at Cremona to the west, learned of the Cimbri’s descent into the Veneto and marched to confront them. He reached the Adige and then moved for a considerable distance up the river valley. The terrain was mountainous and Catulus may have selected it purposely to minimize the enemy’s numerical superiority. It has also been suggested that he hoped to catch the Cimbri before they had recovered from the rigours of their passage of the Alps. It is also possible that, given the terrain, he may have wanted to try to defeat them in detail. If this was his plan it did not meet with success. Catulus was twice defeated and forced to retire behind the Po. In doing so he abandoned the plains north of the Po, which the Cimbri proceeded to pillage.

At the end of spring 101 Marius with 30,000 troops joined Catulus, bringing the Roman forces up to about 50,000 men. With Marius in command the Romans now crossed the Po to seek a battle with the Cimbri. Surprisingly the battle took place in the western part of the plain of the Po near Vercellae (modern Vercelli), about 60 miles (100km) west of Milan. The site of the battle, the Campi Raudi, is unknown. It is difficult to explain why the Cimbri had moved so far west and the sources provide us with no explanation. It is not easy to accept that they moved west to link up with the Teutones as they must have known of their defeat as almost a year had passed, although one of the sources, Plutarch, claims this was the case.24 One possibility is that, having pillaged their way across the Po valley, they were now seeking to return to Gaul where they could expect to meet less resistance.

The Cimbri entered into negotiations with the Romans before the battle, again asking for land to settle in as they had seven years before. This is further confirmation that the Germans were not simply raiders but migrating tribes. The Cimbri, through their king Boiorix, challenged Marius to battle and a day was set, 30 July. This is not impossible as most large-scale battles in antiquity required a decision of both sides to fight. The course of the battle is far from clear. The Roman accounts of the battle have been distorted by the memoirs of both Catulus and later Sulla, who were both opponents of Marius. Apparently the Romans drew up in their normal battle formation in three lines with the cavalry on the wings, though the implication of the sources is that the majority of the Roman cavalry was arrayed on the right. It may be as well that the centre of the infantry line was deployed somewhat to the rear of the wings. This may have been an attempt to draw the Cimbri in and then attack them on the flanks. But none of this is certain. Marius commanded the Roman right while Catulus took the centre. The commander of the left is unspecified but it might have been Catulus’s legate Sulla.

The battle formation of the Cimbri seems rather unusual. Apparently, all of their cavalry, which numbered 15,000 men, was drawn up on their left. The biographer Plutarch in his Life of Marius provides a vivid description:

(The cavalry) rode out in magnificent fashion with helmets made to resemble the jaws of wild animals or the heads of strange beasts. Their helmets had crests of feathers, which made the riders seem larger than they were and they wore iron breastplates and held glittering white shields. Each trooper carried a pair of javelins and a large heavy sword for hand-to-hand fighting.

According to Plutarch the infantry of the Cimbri were drawn up in a square formation with their depth equal to their frontage and each side was approximately 3 miles (5km) long. There are serious problems with the extant descriptions of the battle. This formation seems impossible as most of the German infantry could not have engaged.

Plutarch mentions an opening manoeuvre by the Cimbric cavalry to draw off the Roman cavalry by swerving to the right to try to outflank them and pin them between themselves and their own infantry. The cavalry then disappear from Plutarch’s account. The fifth-century Christian writer Orosius has the German cavalry being driven back by the Romans on their own infantry and throwing them into disorder.26 The course of the rest of the battle is lost in the polemic between the commanders, with each trying to take credit for the victory. Certainly, Marius’s election to an unprecedented sixth consulship indicates that at least in the eyes of the Roman populace he deserved the major share of the credit for the victory. A further indication of the Cimbric migration as an attempt to find new land for the tribe rather than as a raiding expedition is the final stage of the battle, which our sources have dramatically elaborated. After their victory in the field the Roman attacked the camp of the Cimbri, which as was normal in German migrations consisted of their encircled wagons. They had placed their women and children there for safekeeping. The women fought back as long as they could and then killed themselves and their children.

Unlike Aquae Sextiae this seems to have been a soldier’s battle. No stratagems are mentioned on the Roman side. The accounts make much of the sun shining in the face of the Germans, as well as the effect of dust and heat on men from cooler climates. This implies a long, drawn out struggle rather than a quick decisive battle. One source mentions that there were few casualties on the Roman side but that 40,000 of the enemy were slain and a further 60,000 captured. The numbers are not impossible and are certainly more credible than the ones given for Aquae Sextiae.

With the defeat of the Cimbri the threat of invasion ended. The third group of invaders, the Tigurini, who were to enter Italy by way of the Julian Alps, retreated to Switzerland. The German threat to Rome was only to reappear centuries later. Although it has been claimed that the invasions made the Romans aware of the importance of Transalpine Gaul, there is little support for it. There is no evidence for an extension of provincial boundaries or exceptional activity in the period after the invasions. One striking aspect of the turmoil in Gaul was the passivity of the southern Gauls. It is true that they suffered from the depredations of the invaders, which might have made an uprising against the Romans more difficult. Nevertheless there is no evidence of any major unrest in the Roman area of control during this period. Other Gauls had joined the Germans; those of the south did not. There were to be isolated rebellions of various tribes until the time of Caesar but there does not seem to have been any general movement to oust the Romans from the area. Even during the strains of the Gallic War it remained remarkably quiet.

There are only fragmentary references to Transalpine Gaul until the late 70s. Understanding the situation is made more difficult by the fact that the references to Gaul can refer either to Cisalpine or Transalpine Gaul, although the occasional reference to the ‘Two Gauls’ helps remove the ambiguity. The first possible governor of Transalpine Gaul is Lucius Licinius Crassus, who was consul in 95. As consul he was active in Cisalpine Gaul where he repressed raiders and brigands. He was then assigned to Gaul as proconsul. What is not clear is which Gaul is meant. He had a long history of association with Transalpine Gaul. As a young man he had been instrumental in passing the law that authorized the founding of Narbo and so had existing connections with the province. It is possible that he governed both provinces at the same time, but there is no firm evidence that he did so or operated as a military commander there.

The next reference to a Roman official operating in Gaul is to Marcus Porcius Cato, who had been a praetor. He set out for Transalpine Gaul in 91 and died there. There is, however, no evidence as to why he was in the province. It could have been for private reasons and have had no connection to the government of the province. However, it is just possible that Cato was acting in an official capacity. In 90 the Saluvii revolted and were put down by Gaius Coelius Caldus, who had been consul in 94 and was presumably acting as proconsul in Transalpine Gaul. Cato may have been operating against the Saluvii when he died since we do not know when the revolt began.

The situation in Gaul remains obscure over the next few years. Gaius Valerius Flaccus, consul in 93, suppressed a revolt of the Celtiberian tribes in north-central Spain, probably in 92. He was in Transalpine Gaul probably in the years 84–82 and held a triumph over Gauls and the Celtiberians in 81. It may be that he governed both Nearer Spain and Transalpine Gaul together. This would suggest that the Gauls he conquered were probably located west of the Rhône.

Flaccus’s activity falls in a period when Roman control in Transalpine Gaul became much more crucial. A serious and difficult war had broken out in Spain in 83 and once again Gaul assumed its role as a vital supply route for Roman armies operating in the Iberian Peninsula. The war, which was to greatly affect both Spain and southern Gaul, had its origin in a fierce internal struggle in Rome that threatened its political structure and its hold on its empire.

Luftwaffe Air Offensive in the Caucasus

Hitler gambled that the loss of Stalingrad would be a greater blow to Stalin than the loss of the oil supplies in the Caucasus. A sounder strategic decision would have been to take Maikop and then bomb the refineries at Grozny and Baku. This would have greatly disrupted vital fuel supplies to the Red Army at a time when it was trying to regenerate its battered forces. Bombing the oilfields in the Caspian would similarly have put great pressure on the Baku garrison as it was reliant on seaborne transport to keep it resupplied. Likewise it would have required the Red Air Force to divert many of its new aircraft. Instead, from the very start of the campaign in late July 1942 Hitler had tasked the Luftwaffe with very specific targeting in the Caucasus:

In view of the decisive importance of the Caucasus oilfields for the further prosecution of the war, air attacks against their refineries and storage tanks, and against ports used for oil shipments on the Black Sea, will only be carried out if the operations of the Army make them absolutely essential. But in order to block enemy supplies of oil from the Caucasus as soon as possible, it is especially important to cut the railways and pipelines still being used for this purpose and to harass shipping on the Caspian at an early date.

Initially Hitler did not want the oilfields bombed as he had planned to exploit them for his own ends. A number of German oil companies had been set up and awarded 99-year leases for the Caucasian oil wells. Oil industry equipment was gathered ready to be shipped to the region to make good any damage and a special economic inspection team was set up under Lieutenant General Nidenfuhr. To prevent Baibakov and Budyonny blowing anything up the Abwehr had formulated Operation Shamil and special SS security units were established.

As the fighting dragged on Hitler had a change of heart. Realizing he could not take the Caucasus oilfields before the end of the year he ordered the Luftwaffe to destroy them. If Hitler had acted sooner in the summer when the Red Air Force was still putting itself back together, he could have sent his bombers against Baku with relative impunity. By autumn, when Soviet air power and confidence in the region was growing, it was simply too late. The heavy fighting at Stalingrad meant that time was against the Luftwaffe in the Caucasus.

The Luftwaffe’s air offensive, as in the Crimea, was to be a strictly limited affair. Hitler instructed that the operation must be completed by mid-October because the Luftwaffe was then to concentrate all its efforts against Soviet forces at Stalingrad. The Luftwaffe though was stretched very thinly along the length and breadth of the entire Eastern Front.

During the second week of October 1942 General Richthofen’s 4th Air Corps was ordered to send its bombers against Grozny’s oilfields. His exhausted command, which had been involved in the reduction of Sevastopol, was in a poor condition, with its bomber fleet down from 480 bombers to just 129. Nonetheless, Richthofen’s planes were deployed to airfields near the Terek river. They and their fighter escorts could easily reach Grozny, but Baku was largely out of the fighters’ reach.

On 10 and 12 October 1942 he attacked as instructed. On the first day Grozny’s refineries were left ablaze and the second raid caused even greater damage. However, the Soviets had learned much from their air defence of Moscow and Leningrad. They knew the value of lighting decoy fires to distract and divert marauding bombers. In addition, the billowing smoke from deliberate oil fires made it difficult to assess the level of damaged inflicted. The Luftwaffe had very limited numbers of reconnaissance aircraft and those available had to run the gauntlet of Soviet fighters. Richthofen’s efforts were brought to a swift halt when his forces were summoned north to try and help stem the Red Army’s offensive at Stalingrad. The Luftwaffe would later be called on to maintain Army Group A in the Kuban bridgehead.

Now the fate of the German presence in the Caucasus hung on the outcome of the battle for Stalingrad. Manstein later wrote:

The German Supreme Command should really have been aware from the start that Army Group A could not stay in the Caucasus if the battle to free 6th Army did not immediately succeed – in other words, if there were no clear possibility of somehow establishing a reasonably secure situation within the large bend of the Don. But when the enemy tore a gap on the right wing of Army Group B which opened his way to Rostov, it should have been palpably evident to anyone that there could no longer be any question of holding the Caucasus front.

Once the German situation at Stalingrad had deteriorated in the winter of 1942, 4th Panzer Army tasked with going to the rescue had to be reinforced. To support the desperate attempt to cut through to the German 6th Army trapped in the city, three panzer divisions, one infantry division and three Luftwaffe field divisions were redeployed from the Caucasus and Orel. When Stalingrad turned into a disaster of epic proportions, General Zeitzler, Chief of the General Staff, tried to resign, but Hitler would not let him go. Zeitzer’s only achievements were to get Hitler to authorize withdrawals from two exposed salients in the north facing Moscow and Leningrad.

Although Hitler’s invasion of the Caucasus had ended in frustrating stalemate in November 1942, he insisted that Kleist and his troops remain in their exposed positions deep in the mountains. For the Red Army this offered a tempting opportunity to trap him. Massing at Elista, mid-way between Astrakhan and Rostov, the Soviets struck south-west past the southern tip of Lake Manych in early January 1943. This posed a far greater threat than their counter-attacks near Mozdok. This though was nothing compared to the Soviet advance down the Don from Stalingrad toward Rostov. If the Red Army liberated the city, Kleist’s only escape route would be via the Kuban and the Crimea.

Hitler dithered over what to do. He hated giving ground to the enemy, but common sense dictated Kleist and his men should be saved to fight another day. To keep his forces in the Caucasus risked another Stalingrad. For a time Hitler deluded himself that the situation on the Don could be retrieved. Then a miracle of sorts happened, according to Kleist:

When the Russians were only 70 kilometres from Rostov, and my armies were 650 kilometres east of Rostov, Hitler sent me an order that I was not to withdraw under any circumstances. That looked like a sentence of death. On the next day however, I received a fresh order – to retreat, and bring away everything with me in the way of equipment. That would have been difficult enough in any case, but became more so in the depths of the Russian winter.

While Hitler would not permit his troops to fight their way out of Stalingrad, for some reason he had changed his mind about the Caucasus.

To Kleist’s alarm, defence of his flank from Elistra to Rostov had been assigned to Marshal Antonescu’s Romanian army, the collapse of which had resulted in the defeat at Stalingrad. Instead Manstein rode to the rescue covering the retreat through the Rostov bottleneck. It was though touch and go. ‘Manstein was so hard pressed’, said Kleist, ‘that I had to send some of my own divisions to help him in holding off the Russians who were pushing down the Don towards Rostov. The most dangerous time of the retreat was the last half of January.’

Manstein recounted:

… thanks to the doggedness and dexterity with which 4th Panzer Army had been fighting in the area south of the Don, there was at least a chance that when the Caucasus went, Army Group A need not be lost with it. Its eastern wing, which had been in greatest danger of all, was now safely retracted. And even though 1st Panzer Army was still 190 miles from the river-crossing at Rostov, it was nonetheless out of the mountains and no longer threatened from the rear.

It seemed as if Hitler’s Caucasus adventure had come to an end, but he had other ideas. Much to Manstein’s irritation, not all of Kleist’s 1st Panzer Army was to be withdrawn.

Soviet Riposte

The German-held Kuban bridgehead, situated along the Taman peninsula, was an area of extreme importance to both sides. The Germans saw the region as essential to protecting the eastern approaches to the Crimea , whereas the Soviets viewed the bridgehead as a launch-point for another possible German offensive into the northern Caucasus . Unlike Stalingrad, Kursk or even Operation Bagration, the campaign is almost unknown in the West, probably due to the fact that there were no real breakthroughs on the ground, no encirclements, no capitulation of German armies. At best, it was a set of limited ground offensives during the boggy months of spring.

However, the air battles over the Kuban sector were pivotal to the growth of the VVS as the offensive long-arm of the Red Army, sending a clear message to the Luftwaffe: the VVS was about to return what it had received. In fact, Soviet historians hold this two-month air campaign in early 1943 to be as important to the war effort as the Americans do the battle of Midway. It was a battle fought with such intensity that General K. V. Vershinin, the main Soviet air commander of the sector, claimed on some days he could see an aircraft fall every ten minutes, and it was not unusual for as many as 100 air battles to take place in a day.

The German Fourth Luftflotte (Air Fleet), which included Fourth the elite Udet, Molders and Green Hearts JGs (Jagdgeschwader, equivalents of Groups), was responsible for this area, while its Soviet counterparts were primarily the and Fifth Air Armies, along with three air corps from STAVKA reserves. Both air forces were roughly equal in size at about 1000 combat aircraft each. The Luftwaffe fighter units were mainly equipped with Bf 109 G 2/-4’s and Fw 190 A’s, while the VVS possessed a mixture of the latest Yakovlev and Lavochkin fighters, along with large numbers of Il-2 Sturmoviks and Pe-2 bombers. In addition, there was a steady flow of lend-lease aircraft: P-39’s, A-20’s, P-40’s and even Spitfire V’s. Though Soviet pilots found the Spitfire a disappointment (it looked too much like a Bf 109 and was very vulnerable to groundfire), they flew the P-39 with great elan during the battle. In fact, two pilots of 16 GvIAP (Gvardeiskii Istrebitelnii Aviatsionnii Polk, or Guards Fighter Air Regiment), A. I. Pokryshkin and his squadron mate G. A.Rechkalov, were very successful flying the P-39-the former claiming 20 kills during the battle.

The major air campaign that marked the shift from German to Soviet air superiority on the Eastern Front during World War II. During April and May 1943, as the Germans struggled for their last North Caucasus foothold, Luftflotte 4 (Fourth Air Force) clashed with the Soviet 4 and 5 Air Armies, the Black Sea Fleet Aviation, and Long-Range Aviation. Air activity was intense, often seeing as many as 100 air combats a day.

German forces began with about 900 aircraft, including the latest models of the Bf 109G and the Hs 129, and featured some of their top units, including Jagdgeschwader 52 with Erich Hartmann. The Soviets began with about 600 aircraft, swelling to 1,150 in May. The Soviets also committed their newest aircraft, including the first use in the south of the Douglas A-20, as well as the Bell P-39D, flown by Aleksandr Pokryshkin’s air division.

The Soviets showed a new aggressiveness in flying offensive fighter sweeps, and they introduced new tactics, including German-style four-plane formations and Pokryshkin’s Kuban Ladder, a stacked formation. Also playing a distinguished role was the Soviet women’s night-bomber regiment. The campaign ended suddenly on 7 June, at which point the Soviets had claimed 1,100 German aircraft destroyed; the Germans claimed 2,280 victories, but the tide of the air war had turned against them.

References Hardesty, Von. Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power, 1941–1945. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982.