Invasion of Java (1811) Part I


The invasion of Java in 1811 was a successful British amphibious operation against the Dutch East Indian island of Java that took place between August and September 1811 during the Napoleonic Wars. Originally established as a colony of the Dutch Republic, Java remained in Dutch hands throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, during which time the French invaded the Republic and established the Batavian Republic in 1795, and the Kingdom of Holland in 1806. The Kingdom of Holland was annexed to the First French Empire in 1810, and Java became a titular French colony, though it continued to be administered and defended primarily by Dutch personnel.

After the fall of French colonies in the West Indies in 1809 and 1810, and a successful campaign against French possessions in Mauritius in 1810 and 1811, attention turned to the Dutch East Indies. A expedition was dispatched from India in April 1811, while a small squadron of frigates was ordered to patrol off the island, raiding shipping and launching amphibious assaults against targets of opportunity. Troops were landed on 4 August, and by 8 August the undefended city of Batavia capitulated. The defenders withdrew to a previously prepared fortified position, Fort Cornelis, which the British laid siege to, capturing it early in the morning of 26 August. The remaining defenders, a mixture of Dutch and French regulars and native militiamen, withdrew, pursued by the British. A series of amphibious and land assaults captured most of the remaining strongholds, and the city of Salatiga surrendered on 16 September, followed by the official capitulation of the island to the British on 18 September. The island remained in British hands for the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars, and was restored to the Dutch in the Treaty of Paris in 1814.

The invasion

The column of soldiers moved silently through the forest, picking their way along muddy trails between dense stands of betel-nut trees. Already the thick tropical heat was rising, and their red jackets were sodden with sweat.

It was an hour before dawn on 26 August 1811, and the men – British redcoats and Indian sepoys – were heading for the formidable fastness of Meester Cornelis, the great redoubt of Batavia, grand old capital of the Dutch East Indies. Inside the fortifications was a massed force of Dutch, French, and Javanese troops. In the words of one British participant, the ‘day that was to fix the destiny of Java’ had arrived.

The prize

British Invasion Of Java- Todaís Indonesia – the former Dutch East Indies – lies largely beyond the horizon of the English-speaking imagination. But in the second decade of the 19th century it was the scene of a dramatic episode of British colonial history.

The five-year British interregnum in Java, which began with the battle for Batavia in August 1811, was a period of furious controversy that would have a lasting impact on Indonesian history. It also marked a significant chapter in the life of the man best known today for the founding of Singapore: Thomas Stamford Raffles.

Holland, in the form of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company, had been involved in Indonesia for more than two centuries. The company had established Java, the 600-mile long lodestone of the Indonesian archipelago, as the hub of its nascent empire, naming Batavia on the north coast of the island as capital, and setting up a network of outposts across the region.

Britain, meanwhile, was increasingly entrenched in the Indian Subcontinent, and had little interest in South-East Asia. But war in Europe changed all that.

In the winter of 1794, Napoleon invaded Holland and installed a puppet republican regime. For the British authorities, all Dutch overseas territories became de facto enemy territory – though pressing concerns closer to home meant that it was not until 1810 that the British East India Companís governor-general in Calcutta, Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto, received instructions to ‘proceed to the conquest of Java at the earliest possible opportunití. The following year a fleet of 81 troop-ships departed India on course for Batavia.

Minto and Raffles

Lord Minto

The advance on Java had the air of a Sunday outing. Lord Minto -a dandyish 60-year-old civilian -had taken a personal interest in the project, and together with his collaborator, the 30-year-old Thomas Stamford Raffles, a former clerk in the administration of Penang, he had developed a wildly Romantic view of java as ‘the land of promise’.

Regimental wives and civilian hangers-on had tagged along for the adventure, and as the fleet lumbered across the Java Sea, they were entertained by the antics of strapping young sailors dressed as ‘young, accomplished, and generally sentimental ladies of quality.

On 4 August the fleet dropped anchor in the murky waters of Batavia Bay, and the 12,000-strong invasion force was landed at the undefended fishing village of Cilincing, eight miles east of Batavia. The forces were evenly split between British regiments and units from the Bengal Presidency Army.

Batavia’s climate was notoriously unhealthy, and it was hoped the Indians would fare better than Englishmen; in the event, they began to succumb to fever before the first shot was fired.

The commander-in-chief was the New York-born veteran Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, and the commander of the forces in the field was the feisty 45-year-old Irishman Colonel Rollo Gillespie.

The Dutch settlement of Batavia formed a linear development, running inland from the mouth of the Ciliwung River, eight miles west of the British landing spot. First came the walled city of Old Batavia, built in the early 17th century; three miles inland was the modern garrison of Weltevreeden; and a further three miles towards the mountains stood the fortress of Meester Cornelis.

Auchmuty and Gillespie had expected first to engage enemy forces in Old Batavia, but when they reached the city -the eight-mile advance took several days, so intersected with canals and fishponds was the country – they found that the Dutch had already abandoned it.

Dutch ploys

Jan Willem Janssens

The Dutch-Napoleonic army in Batavia amounted to a mixed force of some 18,000 men. At their head was the governor-general Jan Willem Janssens, a committed Dutch republican who wrote his letters in florid French. He had already presided over one notable defeat at the hands of the British at the Battle of Blaauwberg in South Africa in 1806, and it was said that Napoleon had despatched him to Java with an ominous warning: ‘Know, sir, that a French General is not offered a second chance.’

Janssens had abandoned Old Batavia as a deliberate ploy, hoping that the British would rapidly succumb to the malaria endemic there, and could then be pinned down in the pestilential alleyways. As an imaginative additional measure, he had ordered that copious quantities of alcohol should be left in the abandoned houses, in the hope that the British would drink themselves into a stupor.

Gillespie issued strict orders for sobriety. A tentative Dutch assault on the southern gates of the walled town was seen off. And the best efforts of a requisitioned French servant to fell the top brass with a batch of poisoned coffee had only limited results. Then, before dawn on 10 August, a 1,500-strong British force moved south along the road to Weltevreeden. But once more, the British found that Janssens had already pulled back his forces.

An elusive foe

Some of the British began to wonder if they would ever get the chance to fight in Java. But as they pressed on, now heading northwards through a dense stand of pepper trees, they finally came under sustained fire for the first time. The Dutch had set up field guns on either side of the road, and had felled trees to block the way.

Gillespie, who was still vomiting from time to time as a result of the poisoned coffee, ordered two parties to loop out left and right to attack the enemy positions from the flank, while a third party scrambled forward under covering fire to haul the trees out of the way.

It was all over in minutes, and the Dutch forces were soon fleeing through the forest towards Meester Cornelis, despite the best efforts of their officers to rally them.

At one point, Janssens’ chief of staff, General Alberti, who had become separated from his own men, ran into a small party of the green-coated British 89th. Mistaking them for his own troops, Alberti began upbraiding them angrily for retreating without orders – at which point a private of the 89th shot him in the chest (though he ultimately survived).

The problem that Janssens faced was not one of numbers; it was a question of loyalty and quality. Many of the Dutchmen were aging veterans of the former VOC army -the VOC itself having been disbanded shortly after the French invasion of Holland – and they had little, if any, commitment to the Napoleonic cause. The Javanese conscripts had still less interest in fighting.

A number of French soldiers had been shipped out in recent years, but they were reportedly the dregs of the Republican army, deemed of little use on European fronts. Now they bolted for the final fastness of Meester Cornelis, where Gillespie and Auchmuty set up a siege.


Marshal Daendels


Meester Cornelis was a formidable fortress. Built by Janssens’ predecessor, Marshal Daendels, it comprised five miles of fortifications studded with 280 pieces of heavy cannon, and was flanked to the west by the meandering Ciliwung River, and to the east by a deep canal called the Slokan. The surrounding countryside, meanwhile, was ‘intersected with ravines, enclosures, and betel plantations, resembling hop-grounds, many parts of which could only be passed in single file’

Over the coming days the British kept up a heavy cannonade against the northern walls of Cornelis. Gillespie and Auchmuty were sensitive to the dangers of a stalemate in the morbid Javanese climate. They had arrived with the advantage of energy and health, but by mid-August heat and fever were taking their toll, and they knew they must act. And so, in the early hours of the morning of 26 August, the final stealthy assault began.

Small parties were sent out to attack the fortress from all angles, while the bulk of the British forces under Gillespie headed off through the forest to launch a surprise assault across the Slokan from the east, the point they had judged the weakest. The plan was to launch simultaneous operations at first light.

In the event Gillespie almost met with disaster. As the first section of the advance huddled in the trees just a few hundred yards from the first Dutch pickets, they realised to their horror that the thousands-strong column that should have been snaking up behind them was nowhere to be seen: they had got lost in the betel plantations.

It was, in the words of Captain William Thorn, a close confidant of Gillespie, ‘One of those pauses of distressful anxiety, which can be better conceived than described.’

Unable to communicate with the other parties, Gillespie decided on a typically brazen course of action: he attacked anyway, sneaking unspotted past the first Dutch sentries, and then launching an unsupported rush on the first redoubts.

Invasion of Java (1811) Part II


An almighty explosion

As the sun slipped up over the lush green Javanese countryside, the battle for Meester Cornelis got under way. Gillespie and his men forced their way across the Slokan and overwhelmed Redoubt Number Four in a welter of close combat.

Eventually the missing columns appeared from the forest and joined an attack on the next redoubt. But on the brink of storming it, the British were subjected to an almighty explosion. A pair of French captains, in an early instance of a suicide bombing, had immolated themselves in the powder store – with dramatic consequences, as Captain Thorn recorded: ‘The ground was strewn with the mangled bodies and scattered limbs of friends and foes, blended together in a horrible state of fraternity.’

Despite this shocking incident, Gillespie’s men pushed on, deeper into the Cornelis fortifications. More redoubts fell. Guns were seized. An attempted Dutch cavalry charge from the bowels of the fort faltered fast under fire.

Very soon the assault had triggered a rout, and the defenders were fleeing south through the forest, heading for the Dutch hill-station of Buitenzorg, with the British in furious pursuit. By the time they had gone ten miles, the British had taken 5,000 prisoners.

Once more, it was shaky loyalties that had caused Janssens’ defence to collapse. One appalled Napoleonic officer recorded the scene as he was dragged back towards British lines: ‘With a feeling of shame and indignation I saw more than one [Dutch] officer amongst them trample on his French cockade, to which he had sworn allegiance, uttering scandalous imprecations and swearing and assuring the English: “I am no Frenchman, but a Dutchman.” ‘

Lord Minto, who had been safely ensconced offshore during the worst of the fighting, visited the battlefield the following day, and was horrified: ‘The number of dead and the shocking variety of deaths had better not be imagined.’ But in truth the outgunned British had achieved victory at minimal cost. Just 62 British soldiers and 17 Indian sepoys had died in the attack on Meester Cornelis.

Janssens and a small body of Napoleonic officers had escaped and fled east to Semarang, where they attempted to organize a second line of defence. Auchmuty set out in pursuit.

Eventually, on 18 September, at the little upland garrison of Salatiga, Janssens – who was almost alone by the end – ceded control of the Dutch East Indies to the British. He stressed, however, that ‘as long as I had any [men] left me, I would never have submitted’.

The British interregnum

The five-year interregnum that followed the fall of Batavia was, in truth, a rogue operation. Lord Minto’s instructions from the Supreme Government had ordered him to organize only ‘the expulsion of the Dutch power, the destruction of their fortifications, the distribution of their arms and stores to the natives, and the evacuation of the Island by our own troops’.

But with his Romantic notions of ‘the land of promise’, as well as supposed concern for the fate of Dutch civilians, he unilaterally decided to retain the territory. He and Auchmuty returned to India in October 1811, leaving the inexperienced Raffles as lieutenant-governor, with Gillespie as his military counterpart.

Today Raffles is best remembered for the subsequent founding of Singapore, and is usually portrayed as a liberal reformer, a gentleman scholar, and an acceptable counterpoint to the more aggressive aspects of British colonial history. His actions in Java, however, reveal him to have been a personification of the shift from the earlier 18th-century style of ‘company colonialism’ towards the grand imperialism of the coming Victorian Age.

During the previous century, in both British India and the Dutch East Indies, there had been room for compromise. The agents of the Dutch and British East India Companies had often tried to further European commercial interests without seeking to overturn the sovereignty of native courts. Some of their number had engaged with Asian cultures in a manner that would be anathema in a later epoch, participating in local society, legitimately marrying Asian women, and even converting to Islam.

Raffles’ arrival in Java marked an abrupt end to such acculturation, and his five-year reign on the island was a microcosm of the wider transition from the era of the ‘White Mughals’ to that of the ‘Queen Empress’.

Raffles rampant

The European enemy had been roundly trounced, but there were other powers in Java – the great native courts of the hinterland, Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Raffles decided that they constituted an unconscionable challenge to his authority.

By early 1812 he had decided that he needed to organise a crushing military defeat of one or other of these courts as ‘decisive proof to the Native Inhabitants of Java of the strength and determination of the British Government’.

In June that year he made his move, ordering an attack on Yogyakarta on the flimsy pretext of an uncovered correspondence discussing an uprising against the Europeans which had, in fact, been instigated by the Surakarta court.

Yogyakarta was the more significant of the two realms and, wrote Raffles, ‘the Sultan [of Yogyakarta] decidedly looks upon us as a less powerful people than the [Napoleonic] Government which proceeded us, and it becomes absolutely necessary for the tranquillity of the Country that he should be taught to think otherwise.’

If the conquest of Batavia had been a remarkable success for an outnumbered British force, the subsequent sacking of Yogyakarta was, on paper at least, a feat of almost superhuman status. On 20 June 1812, most of Britain’s military manpower was tied up in Sumatra, where Raffles had ordered a punitive expedition against the Palembang Sultanate. With just 1,200 men at his disposal, therefore, he now instructed Gillespie to launch an attack on the walled city of Yogyakarta, a place defended by some 10,000Javanese troops.

The storming of Yogyakarta

In truth, however, the turn of events was such an earth-shattering shock to the Javanese that their defence collapsed almost at once. Yogyakarta had inherited the mantle of past javanese kingdoms such as Mataram and Majapahit. It was a place of high protocol and of a complex Muslim-Javanese courtly culture that drew on an older Hindu and Buddhist heritage.

During the previous two centuries, conflicts between the Dutch and the Javanese courts had been typified by formalized posturing and brinkmanship, and had then usually been resolved through face-saving diplomacy. The Sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono II, had never believed that the British would really attack, and once the sepoys began to surge over the walls his court descended into panic. As one Javanese prince, Arya Panular, noted, ‘In battle [the British] were irresistible… they were as though protected by the very angels and they struck terror into men’s hearts.’

The assault began at dawn, and by 9am it was all over. Though they had been outnumbered by almost ten to one, the British lost just 23 men. The Sultan was arrested and exiled, and the victors fell to enthusiastic looting of the city. Gillespie took away personal booty valued at GBP 15,000 (half a million, in modern terms) while Raffles and the British resident at Yogyakarta, John Crawfurd, stole the entire contents of the court archives. The following afternoon the Crown Prince was placed on the throne as a British puppet, and during the coronation the courtiers were forced to kiss Raffles’ knees in the ultimate Javanese act of subjugation.

Writing to Lord Minto to inform him of the victory, Raffles declared that it had ‘afforded so decisive a proof to the Native Inhabitants of java of the strength and determination of the British Government, that they now for the first time know their relative situation and importance… The European power is now for the first time paramount in Java.’

The return of the Dutch

After the fall of Yogyakarta, peace returned to Java. But the new British administration rapidly descended into disorder. A vicious clash of personalities emerged between Raffles and Gillespie.

They had been ill-suited to being left in charge of a complex colony – one man a bruising aristocratic war-hero, the other an ambitious if insecure middle-class civilian; and neither with any real experience of government. They were, according to one visitor, ‘at constant variance and daggers drawn’, and Gillespie eventually lodged formal accusations of corruption against his civilian counterpart. Meanwhile, a series of budgetary blunders and ill-planned and overreaching reforms pushed the colony to the brink of an economic meltdown.

Raffles and Minto had dreamed of making Java a permanent British possession, controlling traffic between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. But in the circumstances the higher authorities were all too eager to hand it back to the Dutch once the wars were over in Europe, and Holland had regained its sovereignty.

When they returned in 1816, the Dutch found administrative and financial chaos; but there was also another, more useful inheritance. The great native courts had finally been hobbled. There would be no return to old modes of compromise: the European power was indeed finally paramount in Java, and the scene had been set for the coming colonial century, both in the Dutch East Indies, and in the wider Asian continent beyond.

The Sylwester offensives




The main Nordwind attack by the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the Saar Valley went badly from the start. On January 5, 1945, a few of the monstrous Jagdtigers from schwere-Panzerjager-Abteilung 654, accompanied by a captured M4 medium tank, supported the attack near Rimling. An M36 90mm GMC from the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion carefully moved into a flanking position and at a range of 900m, put a single armor-piercing round into the side of Jagdtiger number 134, causing an internal ammunition fire which destroyed the vehicle in a catastrophic explosion, blowing off the superstructure sides.

The failure of the Ardennes offensive convinced Hitler that some new tactic had to be employed when dealing with the Allies. Instead of a single large offensive, Hitler decided to launch a series of smaller, sequential offensives. As a result, some German commanders called the Alsace campaign the “Sylwester offensives” after the central-European name for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The departure of Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army – which was soon to be renamed the Sixth SS Panzer Army – did not mark the end of the participation of Waffen-SS panzer divisions against the Western Allies.

In tandem with his plan to strike into the Ardennes, Hitler had long dreamed of pushing into Alsace and retaking the border city of Strasbourg. Army Group G was to strike south in Operation North Wind, with the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division in the lead, in order to outflank the city. The division was rebuilt after being heavily battered around Metz in November 1944 and bolstered with the delivery of 57 StuG IIIs in early December. When the attack began on New Year’s Eve, the Waffen-SS division achieved the deepest penetration of the American lines until strong counter-attacks halted it. The main assault by Sturmgruppe 1, Simon’s 13. SS-AK with the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division and the 36. Volksgrenadier-Division, ran into the deep defenses of the 44th and 100th Infantry Divisions in the Saar Valley. A narrow penetration was made towards Rimling and Achen, but in general, the attack in this sector was stopped dead in its tracks with heavy casualties. Sturmgruppe 1 had very little success in bringing up its armored support due to the poor road conditions and the weather. On the night of January 3 the offensive in this sector was halted.

Panzer support in Alsace was weak, since so many units had been shipped to the Ardennes sector. The only mechanized unit earmarked for the initial Nordwind attack was 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division “Gotz von Berlichingen,” a formation that had been in continual combat with the US Army since Normandy, and which had been burnt out and rebuilt on several occasions. The neighboring army commanders felt that its main problem was poor leadership, and it had lost several divisional commanders and numerous junior commanders during the autumn. The field army staff labeled the current commander as incompetent. Its main armored element, SS-Panzer-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was equipped mostly with assault guns instead of tanks, with 45 StuG III assault guns, three PzKpfw III command tanks, six Flakpanzer 38(t) vehicles, and four Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwinds on hand, of which 84 percent were operational. The SS-Panzerjager-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was similarly equipped with 31 StuG III assault guns, two Jagdpanzer IVs, one Marder III and eight towed 75mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns; only 67 percent of the vehicles were operational with many of the old StuG III assault guns being worn out or damaged in combat. Their strength was later increased by 57 assault guns that arrived after Christmas, but the reinforcements had been sitting out in the open for months and only a few could be rendered serviceable before the attack. The division’s two Panzer grenadier regiments were burned out and at less than half strength in the middle of December, but some additional troops were received in the last week before the offensive, mainly of “an inferior type” of German (ethnic Germans from eastern Europe). Senior officers at AOK 1 were so unimpressed by the poor performance of the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the autumn fighting that they wanted to strip it of its assault guns to re-equip the 21. Panzer-Division, but Berlin refused.

Three days of heavy fighting followed in which the division’s commander, SS-Standartenführer Hans Linger, was captured when he took a wrong turn near the frontline as he drove in his command Volkswagen.

General der Panzertruppe Karl Decker’s 39. Panzer-Korps had been allocated the 10. SS-Panzer-Division to spearhead a breakout from the Gambsheim bridgehead, and the Panzers had begun their transfer over the river by ferry from the Freistatt area on January 15/16 after dark. The division set up headquarters in Offendorf and planned to begin their assault with a tank attack by I./SS-Panzer Abteilung 10, equipped with about 50 PzKpfw IVs and over 40 Panther tanks. The German tank attack collided with a two-pronged American attack. Combat Command B attempted to push into Herrlisheim again from the north, while at the same time, Combat Command A launched two attacks from the south. The attacks began in the pre-dawn hours of January 17 and did not go well for either side. In the early morning fog, the German tank column took heavy losses to US tank guns on the approach to Herrlisheim and withdrew to Offendorf. The American attacks against the northern corner of Herrlisheim and against the Steinwald failed with heavy losses. The 43rd Tank Battalion moved between Steinwald and Herrlisheim, taking anti-tank fire from both locations, but managed to fight its way into Herrlisheim from the south. The tanks and their supporting infantry and engineers came under unrelenting attack by German infantry armed with Panzerfaust rockets. The battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Novosel, radioed back that “Things are hot” but radio contact then went dead. The 23rd Tank Battalion was instructed to reorient its attack towards Drusenheim farther to the north, passing through Herrlisheim in the process, but was stopped cold on the outskirts of the town by heavy fire without linking up with the infantry.

Back at Offendorf, the 3./SS-Panzer-Abteilung 10 under the regimental adjutant Obersturmbannführer Erwin Bachmann, set off again for Herrlisheim with a Panther tank company. They knocked out or captured most of the remaining Sherman tanks still in Herrlisheim; Bachmann was later awarded the Knight’s Cross for his actions that day. By the end of the day the 12th Armored Division headquarters had no idea of the fate of the 43rd Tank Battalion; the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion positions in Herrlisheim were overrun in the pre-dawn hours of January 18 and the battalion commander captured. The following day, the 12th Armored Division sent a rescue party to find any survivors from the missing 43rd Tank Battalion or 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, but they were brusquely pushed back by heavy German fire. An artillery spotter plane discovered a field full of charred Shermans south of Herrlisheim so further attacks were called off. In February, when the area was retaken by the US Army, 28 destroyed Shermans of the 43rd Tank Battalion were found in and around the town. The 10. Panzer-Division had captured more than ten Shermans and these would later serve with the division when it was sent east to fight the Red Army in February.

The 10. SS-Panzer-Division had no more luck over the next few days, beaten bloody during attempts to push out towards Kilstett on January 18. Its Panzer regiment lost 8 PzKpfw IVs and 21 Panthers during the fighting between January 17-21. The fighting on January 19 was especially costly, accounting for 22 of the 29 Panzer losses, so that evening the attacks were halted.

In a final irony, the veteran Waffen-SS general, Paul Hausser, who had recovered from his injuries received in Normandy, was placed in command of Army Group Upper Rhine for what would be the final months of the war from 29 January.

Soon the needs of the Eastern Front also resulted in Hausser losing the Frundsberg Division. The 17th SS Division was the only Waffen-SS armoured unit to remain on the Western Front until the end of the war. By 25 March, it had been reduced to some 800 men who were desperately holding the last German bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine. The Frundsberg managed to escape across the mighty river, but the Americans caught up with the division at Nuremberg, where it tried to mount a series of rearguard actions during early April. It then surrendered to the Americans.

Confederation of the Rhine (1806-1813)


The Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund) was a conglomeration of German states organized by Napoleon, who hoped that Germany would develop into a unified state with a central government and administration modeling the political institutions of France. The opportunity for such a grandiose plan emerged after the decisive defeat of Austria during the War of the Third Coalition in 1805, when Napoleon sought to dismantle the thousand-year- old Holy Roman Empire and replace it with a new German political entity that could serve as a buffer against Prussia and Austria, a market for French goods, and a source of military manpower for the Napoleonic empire.

The origins of the Confederation of the Rhine may be traced to the gradual French encroachment into Germany that began with the campaigns conducted by the Revolutionary armies on the Rhine in the 1790s. By 1795 France had full control of the west bank of the Rhine and later compensated various princes for their lost territory according to the decisions reached in the Imperial Recess of 1802-1803. When the Peace of Amiens failed and war on the Continent resumed in May 1803, the French renewed their territorial designs in the region by invading and rapidly occupying the British patrimony of Hanover in north Germany. As war loomed between France and Austria, Napoleon sought allies from among the larger German states, some of which had territory to gain and greater autonomy to acquire by siding against the Habsburgs. Bavaria was the first to throw in its lot with France, signing a treaty of alliance on 23 September 1805, followed by Baden and Württemberg on 1 and 8 October, respectively. In the aftermath of the Battle of Austerlitz (2 December), the Imperial Reichstag was abolished (20 January 1806), enabling Napoleon to create the first of a new set of minor German states to be ruled by members of his family. On 15 March he established the Grand Duchy of Berg, placing his brother-in-law, Marshal Murat, at its head.

The Confederation of the Rhine came into formal being on 17 July 1806 according to the Treaty of Paris, with Karl Theodor von Dalberg as Prince-Primate (Fürstenprimas) and with Napoleon maintaining supervisory control in his capacity of “protector” (Protektor). The original sixteen south- and west-German states of the Confederation consisted of Bavaria, Württemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Baden, Berg, and eleven other smaller states, all of which, according to the Rheinbund’s constitution, formally withdrew from the Holy Roman Empire, which drew its last breath on 6 August when Francis II foreswore the Habsburgs’ ancient imperial dignity and proclaimed himself Francis I, Emperor of Austria in its place. As an inducement to membership in the new Confederation-which, however, was effectively coerced-Napoleon offered an extension of territory and elevation in rank. Thus, he raised the electors of Bavaria (Maximilian Joseph) and of the Grand Duchy of Württemberg (Frederick II) to the status of kings on 1 January 1806, made the electors of Baden (Charles Frederick and Hesse-Darmstadt) grand dukes on 13 August, and offered similar titles to other minor potentates. The Grand Duchy of Würzburg joined on 23 September.

If Austria’s dominance in Germany had all but vanished as a result of Austerlitz, the same may be said to have applied to Prussia after its twin defeats at Jena and Auerstädt on 14 October 1806. Hohenzollern influence, even in north Germany, had never existed on a par with Habsburg influence in south Germany; now the utter defeat of Prussian forces in the autumn of 1806 extinguished its pretensions to occupy Hanover or exercise any vestige of leadership over its other, lesser German neighbors. Napoleon did not wait long before capitalizing on his recent military triumphs: On 11 December, by the Treaty of Posen between France and the Electorate of Saxony (Prussia’s erstwhile ally), the latter was converted into a kingdom-enlarged with territory taken from Prussia-with Frederick Augustus III assuming the throne as King Frederick Augustus I. Four days later five small duchies joined the Rheinbund, including Saxe-Weimar, Saxe-Gotha, and Saxe-Coburg. On 11 April 1807 another twelve minor states followed, including Anhalt-Dessau and Waldeck.

The second of the two historic treaties concluded at Tilsit (the first between France and Russia on 7 July; the second between France and Prussia on 9 July), forced Frederick William III of Prussia to recognize the sovereignty of the Confederation, which with Saxony now represented a third major German political entity, deliberately intended to exclude Austria and Prussia. Tilsit paved the way for further admissions to the Rheinbund: The new Kingdom of Westphalia, with Jérome Bonaparte on the throne, was created in December 1807 out of Prussian lands and territory seized from its former allies, Hesse-Cassel, Brunswick, southern Hanover, and other minor states, while Mecklenburg and several other petty principalities also joined as a result of Tilsit. In 1808, after the admission of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and the Duchy of Oldenburg, the Confederation reached its greatest territorial extent, totaling thirty-nine states.

However high-minded Napoleon may have been with respect to the political future of the Rheinbund, in reality it never properly developed the way the Emperor had envisioned. The diet was convoked in 1806 but never assembled, and the Rheinbund became little more than a set of French satellite states serving as a recruiting ground for soldiers, largely owing to the determination of each ruler- whether king, prince, or duke-to preserve his respective independence. Indeed, so long as each state furnished the contingents required by the various treaties concluded between member states and France, Napoleon was largely content not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Confederation. On the other hand, when he did decree the cessation of all commerce with Britain as part of his Continental System, Napoleon met opposition from German merchants and encountered widespread public discontent. Indeed, trade with the enemy via North Sea German ports became so widespread that on 13 December 1810 France annexed the entire area along the German North Sea coast, including the Duchy of Arenberg, the Princedom of Salm- Kryburg, and the Duchy of Oldenburg. Napoleon’s voracious appetite for troops-initially fixed at 63,000-also caused resentment, though not on any serious scale until the Russian campaign. The ever-increasing demands on the Rheinbund to furnish contingents for the imperial French armies resulted in thousands of men serving in Spain between 1808 and 1813, in the campaign against Austria in 1809, in Russia in 1812 (in which perhaps a third-200,000 men-of the Grande Armée consisted of Rheinbund troops), and finally in the campaign in Germany in 1813.

Many Confederation states adopted the Civil Code and other Napoleonic reforms, Hesse-Darmstadt and Anhalt being particularly enthusiastic in this regard. On 15 November 1807 a constitution on the Napoleonic model was promulgated for the nascent Kingdom of Westphalia, abolishing serfdom and establishing equality before the law, equal principles of taxation, and religious freedom. A similar legal framework was introduced in Bavaria on 1 May 1808. Serfdom effectively ended in Bavaria from September of that year, and in the Grand Duchy of Berg, in December. Yet, on the whole, the political and social institutions of the various states did not model themselves on their French counterparts, and thus no uniformity existed within the various German states that would have facilitated their eventual absorption into the French Empire as Napoleon had had in mind. The Napoleonic Code was not widely embraced, and moreover no attempt was made to impose it. What influence the French did exercise in fact proved largely counterproductive, for it fueled a slowly emerging German nationalism that-manifesting itself in a particularly virulent fashion in Prussia-would find expression in 1813 as open opposition to Napoleonic rule.

Following Napoleon’s disastrous campaign in Russia, Bavaria was the first of the Confederation states to join the anti-French coalition. By the Treaty of Ried, concluded on 8 October 1813, Bavaria joined the Sixth Coalition, and within a week, at the decisive Battle of Leipzig, the Saxon and Württemberg troops defected to the Allies. The French were swept from Germany, Saxony was occupied and administered first by the Prussians and then by the Russians, and the Confederation was formally dissolved on 4 November. On the fifteenth at Frankfurt, Austria, Prussia, and Russia established a common policy toward the former members of the Confederation, which guaranteed their sovereignty pending the decision of a future postwar conference. This did not apply to states newly created by Napoleon that had not changed sides; as such, on 21 November 1813 Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel, and Hanover were restored as independent states out of the former Kingdom of Westphalia. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna confirmed the survival of many former members of the Rheinbund, albeit in many cases with altered frontiers (particularly Saxony, which was forced to cede a large amount of territory to Prussia), and placed them together in a loose association of states known as the German Confederation.

By establishing the Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon had unwittingly placed Germany on the road to eventual unification in 1871, for by the end of its existence the Rheinbund consisted of a mere thirty-nine states, in sharp contrast to the approximately 300 duchies, ecclesiastical cities, electorates, principalities, and duchies that had existed less than a decade before. In this respect alone the brief lifespan of the Confederation of the Rhine may be seen as an important period in the development of modern Germany.

References and further reading Broers, Michael. 1996. Europe under Napoleon, 1799-1815. London: Arnold. Connelly, Owen. 1966. Napoleon’s Satellite Kingdoms. New York: Free Press. Gill, John H. 1998. “Vermin, Scorpions and Mosquitoes: The Rheinbund in the Peninsula.” In The Peninsular War: Aspects of the Struggle for the Iberian Peninsula, ed. Ian Fletcher. Staplehurst, UK: Spellmount. Partridge, Richard, and Michael Oliver. 2002. Napoleonic Army Handbook: The French Army and Her Allies. Vol. 2. London: Constable and Robinson. Pivka, Otto von. 1979. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 3, Saxony. London: Osprey.

—.1980. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 4, Bavaria. London: Osprey.

—.1991. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 2, Nassau and Oldenburg. London: Osprey.

—.1992a. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 1, Westfalia and Kleve-Berg. London: Osprey.

—.1992b. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 5, Hesse. London: Osprey.

Col. David Glantz – Red Army before Warsaw 1944


SS-Obersturmführer Karl Nicolussi-Leck (Panther’s cupola), commander of 8./SS-Panzerregiment 5 of the Wiking Division, and a Sd.Kfz. 251/3 Ausf. D, during the battles east of Warsaw, August 1944. Between August 18-22, IV.SS-Panzer-Korps, comprising the Totenkopf and the Wiking Division, destroyed 98 Soviet tanks destroyed in the battles around Warsaw.


Soviet (1st Belorussian Front’s) Actions East of Warsaw in August-September 1944.

No Eastern Front action has generated more heated controversy then Soviet operations east of Warsaw in August and September 1944, at the time of the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis by the Polish Home Army. Western historians have routinely blamed the Soviets for deliberately failing to assist the Poles, and in essence, aiding and abetting destruction of the Polish rebels by the German Army for political reasons. Soviet historians have countered that every attempt was made to provide assistance but that operational considerations precluded such help. No complete single Soviet volume exists which recounts in detail these operations on the approaches to Warsaw. The historian is forced to reconstruct events by referring to a host of fragmentary sources. Ironically, German archival materials, in particular Second Army records and other materials (and probably the records of Ninth Army, captured by the Soviets and unavailable to Western historians), help to justify the Soviet argument.

Operational details about Soviet combat on the approaches to Warsaw can be reconstructed from fragmentary Soviet and German archival sources (see map 15). On 28 July 1994, Maj. Gen. A. I. Radzievsky’s 2d Tank Army, which had been turned north from the Magnuszew region to strike at Warsaw, with three corps abreast, engaged German 73d Infantry Division and the Hermann Goering Parachute Panzer Division 40 kilometers southeast of Warsaw. A race ensued between Radzievsky, who was seeking to seize the routes into Warsaw from the east, and the Germans, who were attempting to keep these routes open and maintain possession of Warsaw. The nearest Soviet forces within supporting range of Radzievsky were 47th Army and 11th Tank and 2d Guards Cavalry Corps, then fighting for possession of Seidlce, 50 kilometers to the east. On 29 July Radzievsky dispatched his 8th Guards and 3d Tank Corps northward in an attempt to swing northeast of Warsaw and turn the German defender’s left flank, while his 16th Tank Corps continued to fight on the southeastern approaches to the city’s suburbs.

Although 8th Guards Tank Corps successfully fought to within 20 kilometers east of the city, 3d Tank Corps ran into a series of successive panzer counterattacks orchestrated by Field Marshal W. Model, new commander of Army Group Center. Beginning on 30 July, the Hermann Goering and 19th Panzer Divisions struck the overextended and weakened tank corps north of Wolomin, 15 kilometers northeast of Warsaw. Although the corps withstood three days of counterattacks, on 2 and 3 August, 4th Panzer Division and SS Panzer Division Viking joined the fight. In three days of intense fighting, 3d Tank Corps was severely mauled, and 8th Guards Tank Corps was also severely pressed. By 5 August 47th Army forces had arrived in the region, and 2d Tank Army was withdrawn for rest and refitting. The three rifle corps of 47th Army were now stretched out along a front of 80 kilometers from south of Warsaw to Seidlce and were unable to renew the drive on Warsaw or to the Narew River. German communications lines eastward to Army Group Center, then fighting for its life north and west of Brest, had been damaged but not severed.

Meanwhile, on 1 August the Polish Home Army had launched an insurrection in the city. Although they seized large areas in downtown Warsaw, the insurgents failed to secure the four bridges over the Vistula and were unable to hold the eastern suburbs of the city (Praga). During the ensuing weeks, while the Warsaw uprising progressed and ultimately failed, the Soviets continued their drive against Army Group Center northeast of Warsaw. For whatever motive, 1st Belorussian Front focused on holding firmly to the Magnuszew bridgehead, which was subjected to heavy German counterattacks throughout mid-August, and on driving forward across the Bug River to seize crossings over the Narew River necessary to facilitate future offensive operations. Soviet 47th Army remained the only major force opposite Warsaw until 20 August, when it was joined by 1st Polish Army. Soviet forces finally broke out across the Bug River on 3 September, closed up to the Narew River the following day, and fought their way into bridgeheads across the Narew on 6 September. On 13 September lead elements of two Polish divisions assaulted across the Vistula River into Warsaw but made little progress and were evacuated back across the river on 23 September.

Political considerations and motivations aside, an objective consideration of combat in the region indicates that, prior to early September, German resistance was sufficient to halt any Soviet assistance to the Poles in Warsaw, were it intended. Thereafter, it would have required a major reorientation of military efforts from Magnuszew in the south or, more realistically, from the Bug and Narew River axis in the north in order to muster sufficient force to break into Warsaw. And once broken into, Warsaw would have been a costly city to clear of Germans and an unsuitable location from which to launch a new offensive.

This skeletal portrayal of events outside of Warsaw demonstrates that much more needs to be revealed and written about these operations. It is certain that additional German sources exist upon which to base an expanded account. It is equally certain that extensive documentation remains in Soviet archival holdings. Release and use of this information can help answer and lay to rest this burning historical controversy.

Brandenburg and the first Nordic War 1655-60


Frederick William, the “Great Elector”.

As Frederick William finally took possession of East Pomerania, his interest in the Baltic intensified. In 1654 Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated in favour of her cousin, Charles X. The new king showed every sign of emulating Gustavus Adolphus in his desire to make the Baltic a Swedish lake. The Elector was alerted to the prospect of another war between Sweden and Poland when Charles approached him with a demand for the towns of Pillau and Memel as the price of a Swedish-Brandenburg alliance (1654). Frederick William was reluctant to make quick concessions even to gain a powerful ally. He was wary of being drawn into another conflict which might result in the loss of his hard-won Westphalian gains; but more to the point, his instinct was to secure the maximum advantage from the situation by selling his military support to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, to protect his own position he turned to the Dutch Republic, whose vital trading interests would also be affected by Swedish occupation of the Baltic ports. A defensive treaty was concluded at The Hague in 1655, by which the Elector hoped to retain his independence.

However, within a matter of weeks Sweden’s armies swept across the plains of Poland, capturing all the leading cities. They then wheeled round against Polish Prussia, and after taking all the towns except Danzig, moved on to the duchy of Prussia. Backed into a corner at Königsberg, the Elector avoided battle to save his army and accepted the Swedish terms (1656). Charles X appeared to have brought Brandenburg-Prussia to heel. Ducal Prussia became a Swedish fief and Frederick William promised military and financial aid to his overlord, and the use of Pillau and Memel, along with half the port dues. As a modest reward to his new vassal, Charles allowed Frederick William to take the bishopric of Ermland, an enclave within East Prussia.

The Treaty of Königsberg (1656) exemplified the Elector’s dilemma. Armed neutrality was an obvious strategy for a second-class state, but there would be situations in which the ruler would be forced to take sides. By arming his state in order to sell its military capacity, he had to ask himself whether it was better to take the initiative and negotiate with the superior power in the hope of winning an ally’s prize. Or was it wiser to support the weaker of two major powers in the expectation that the aggressor would eventually be defeated by a hostile coalition? Over the years Frederick William turned to both these strategies and switched from one alliance to another. If he was flexible and inconsistent in his diplomatic and military strategies, he was unwavering in his overall objective, which was to enhance his possessions and the status of the dynasty he embodied. This impelled him to take every possible step to defend and consolidate his patrimony.

Later in 1656, as the Poles recovered much of their lost ground, the Elector found himself courted by both sides. But it was too early to desert Sweden, which still appeared the dominant power. In return for a promise of territorial booty in the west of Poland, he agreed by the Treaty of Marienburg (1656) to fight alongside the Swedes. Leading his army of 8,500 troops, Frederick William joined in the three-day battle of Warsaw, where he proved his military prowess. The victory caused Sweden’s enemies to reform. The Dutch fleet came to the defence of Danzig, the Russians took Ingria and Livonia and Ferdinand III sent help to John Casimir, the Polish king. Frederick William saw his chance to turn the diplomatic tables on his ally, Sweden. He had also clarified his war aims, for the war had already shown how elusive territorial gains and promises could be. But there was an important constitutional matter to be rectified: the Elector wanted to be freed permanently from Swedish and Polish suzerainty. In the Treaty of Labiau (1656) Charles X agreed to this demand and recognized Frederick William as the sovereign ruler of ducal Prussia. In addition, Sweden surrendered her claims to the customs dues levied in Prussian ports. With these concessions secured, a small Brandenburg force joined in Charles’s latest campaign against Poland (1657).

The hostilities in Poland, however, turned into an inconclusive guerilla campaign. When Denmark declared war against Sweden and Charles X decided to decamp from the mainland to concentrate on fighting his oldest enemy, Brandenburg returned to a state of armed neutrality. To conserve his army, Frederick William withdrew circumspectly into Prussia (1657). Sweden was now on the defensive against a coalition of powers and Frederick William no longer felt the need for the Swedish alliance. Charles X’s departure and Poland’s relative weakness gave him an opportunity to make further political capital. He expressed his readiness to come to terms with the Poles on the key condition which he had won from the Swedes at Labiau: recognition of his sovereignty in Prussia. As it happened, the Emperor had his own dynastic reasons for wanting to detach Brandenburg from the Swedish alliance. In the ensuing negotiations he put pressure on the Polish king to match the Swedish bid and accept Frederick William’s sovereign rights over ducal Prussia. In the Treaty of Wehlau (1657) John Casimir reluctantly made this substantial concession, and in return Brandenburg returned Ermland to Poland. Frederick William followed this triumph with a total turnabout when he agreed terms with the Austrian Emperor and the King of Denmark.

By 1658 the Nordic War was in its last phase. The fighting had concentrated on Denmark, where the spectacular gains made by Charles X in 1657 were partly countered by the armies of the anti-Swedish coalition, to which Frederick William contributed a Brandenburg force. The possibility of territorial gains at Sweden’s expense now opened up. At the head of 30,000 men, the Elector drove the Swedes from Schleswig and Holstein (1658) before turning his attention to Swedish Pomerania and the ports of Stralsund and Stettin in particular. Although Stettin withstood his attacks, by the end of 1659 Brandenburg forces were in control of most of Pomerania. In the event of peace, the Elector’s bargaining position against Sweden looked stronger than it had ever been. His main goal was Swedish Pomerania, which he had failed to achieve at Westphalia.

It was the intervention of another superior power which blocked Frederick William’s strategy. The French minister, Mazarin, was reluctant to see Sweden lose her prime position in the Baltic. Brandenburg’s allies in the anti-Swedish coalition- Poland, Denmark and the Austrian Emperor-had grown weary of the war, despite the fact that Sweden’s position was suddenly weakened by the death of Charles X (1660) and the advent of a regency for his 4-year-old son. However, Frederick William learned again the harsh reality of politics, that a second-rate power is unwise to abandon neutrality and fight alone. At the Peace of Oliva (1660) the Elector’s recent allies had no reason to support him against French diplomacy, which carried the day. He had to accept a compromise. He secured his first war aim, the recognition by all the signatories that he was the sovereign Duke of Prussia. But to his deep disappointment he had to withdraw his army from western Pomerania and accept Sweden’s possession of the Baltic province.



James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.

Battle of Sedgemoor 1685

Battle of Sedgemoor

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: England vs. the duke of Monmouth

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Somersetshire, England

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Monmouth sought to succeed Charles II to the throne.

OUTCOME: The rebellion was crushed, Monmouth beheaded, and the other rebels punished.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Monmouth’s army, 9,000; royalist forces, 2,700

CASUALTIES: Monmouth’s army, 1,384 killed in action, 1,000 made prisoner, of whom 200 were executed and 800 transported to Barbados exile; royalists, 400 killed or wounded

James Scot (1649-85), duke of Monmouth, was proposed by the first earl of Shaftesbury as the heir to the throne of Charles II (1630-85) in preference to the Catholic duke of York, James (subsequently King James II [1633-1701]). When Monmouth attracted many supporters, he was threatened and had to flee for his life to Holland. He returned to England after the death of Charles II, where he proclaimed himself king and raised an army of 9,000 supporters. The duke of York, having ascended the throne as James II, sent an army under Louis de Durfort, the second earl of Feversham (1641-1709) to intercept Monmouth’s force. Colonel John Churchill (1650-1722), commanding the Household Cavalry, defeated Monmouth, largely with artillery fire, at the Battle of Sedgemoor, in Somersetshire, on July 6, 1685. Monmouth’s force was decimated, and although Monmouth himself escaped death in battle, he was soon captured and beheaded. Of 1,000 of Monmouth’s men taken prisoner, 200 were hanged and the rest shipped off to Barbados by judgment of Chief Justice George Jeffreys (c. 1645-89) in what came to be called the Bloody Assizes.


James, Duke of Monmouth, was Charles II’s eldest and favourite son, the product of his first serious love affair — in 1649, with Lucy Walter, an attractive, dark-eyed Englishwoman living in Paris. This was the year of Charles I’s execution, and it was later recounted that the nineteen-year-old prince, suddenly and tragically King in-exile, fell so deeply in love with Lucy that he secretly married her.

Charles always denied that Lucy was his legitimate wife, but he showed great favour to his handsome firstborn, awarding him the dukedom — the highest rank of aristocracy — when the boy was only fourteen, and arranging his marriage to a rich heiress. Sixteen years later, in 1679, Charles entrusted him with the command of an English army sent to subdue Scottish rebels, and the thirty-year-old returned home a conquering hero.

As the exclusion crisis intensified, the Whigs embraced Monmouth as their candidate for the throne — here was a dashing ‘Protestant Duke’ to replace the popish James — and Monmouth threw himself into the part. He embarked on royal progresses, currying popular favour by taking part in village running races, and even touching scrofula sufferers for the King’s Evil. But Charles was livid at this attempt by his charming but bastard son to subvert the line of lawful succession. He twice issued proclamations reasserting Monmouth’s illegitimacy.

The transition of rule from Charles to James II in February 1685 was marked by a widespread acceptance — even a warmth — that had seemed impossible in the hysterical days of the Popish Plot. ‘Without forswearing his Catholic loyalties, James pledged that he would‘ undertake nothing against the religion [the Church of England] which is established by law’, and most people gave him the benefit of the doubt. At the relatively advanced age of fifty-two, the new King cut a competent figure, reassuringly more serious and hardworking than his elder brother.

But Monmouth, in exile with his Whig clique in the Netherlands, totally misjudged the national mood. On 11 June that year he landed at the port of Lyme Regis in Dorset with just eighty-two supporters and equipment for a thousand more. Though his promises of toleration for dissenters drew the support of several thousand West Country artisans and labourers, the local gentry raised the militia against him, and the duke was soon taking refuge in the swamps of Sedgemoor where King Alfred had hidden from the Vikings eight hundred years earlier. Lacking Alfred’s command of the terrain, however, Monmouth got lost in the mists during an attempted night attack, and as dawn broke on 6 July his men were cut to pieces.

Nine days later the ‘Protestant Duke’ was dead, executed in London despite grovelling to his victorious uncle and offering to turn Catholic in exchange for his life. It was a sorry betrayal of the Somerset dissenters who had signed up for what would prove the last popular rebellion in English history — and there was worse to come. Not content with the slaughter of Sedgemoor and the summary executions of those caught fleeing from the field, James insisted that a judicial commission headed by the Lord Chief Justice, George Jeffreys, should go down to the West Country to root out the last traces of revolt.

Travelling with four other judges and a public executioner, Jeffreys started his cull in Winchester, where Alice Lisle, the seventy-year-old widow of the regicide Sir John Lisle, was found guilty of harbouring a rebel and condemned to be burned at the stake. When Jeffreys suggested that she might plead to the King for mercy, Widow Lisle took his advice — and was spared burning to be beheaded in the marketplace. Moving on to Dorchester on 5 September, Jeffreys was annoyed to be confronted by a first batch of thirty suspects all pleading ‘not guilty’: he sentenced all but one of them to death. Then, in the interests of speed, he offered more lenient treatment to those pleading ‘guilty’. Out of 233, only eighty were hanged.

By the time the work of the Bloody Assizes was finished, 480 men and women had been sentenced to death, 260 whipped or fined, and 850 transported to the colonies, where the profits from their sale were enjoyed by a syndicate that included James’s wife, Mary of Modena. The tarred bodies and heads pickled in vinegar that Judge Jeffreys distributed around the gibbets of the West Country were less shocking to his contemporaries than they would be to subsequent generations. But his Bloody Assizes did raise questions about the new Catholic King, and how moderately he could be trusted to use his powers.

‘Valkyrie’- 20 July 1944 Part I

1. Office and barracks of Hitler’s bodyguard

2. RSD command centre

3. Emergency generator

4. Bunker

5. Office of Otto Dietrich, Hitler’s press secretary

6. Conference room, site 20 July 1944 assassination attempt

7. RSD command post

8. Guest bunker and air-raid shelter

9. RSD command post

10. Secretariat under Philipp Bouhler

11. Headquarters of Johann Rattenhuber, SS chief of Hitler’s security department, and Post Office

12. Radio and telex buildings

13. Vehicle garages

14. Railway siding for Hitler’s Train

15. Cinema

16. Generator buildings

17. Quarters of Morell, Bodenschatz, Hewel, Voß, Wolff and Fegelein

18. Stores

19. Residence of Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary

20. Bormann’s personal air-raid shelter for himself and staff

21. Office of Hitler’s adjutant and the Wehrmacht’s personnel office

22. Military and staff mess II

23. Quarters of General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations of OKW

24. Firefighting pond

25. Office of the Foreign Ministry

26. Quarters of Fritz Todt, then after his death Albert Speer

27. RSD command post

28. Air-raid shelter with Flak and MG units on the roof

29. Hitler’s bunker and air-raid shelter

30. New tearoom

31. Residence of General Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, supreme commander of OKW

32. Old Teahouse

33. Residence of Reich Marshal Hermann Göring

34. Göring’s personal air-raid shelter for himself and staff, with Flak and MG on the roof

35. Offices of the High Command of the Air Force

36. Offices of the High command of the Navy

37. Bunker with Flak

38. Ketrzyn railway line

Colonel-General Friedrich Fromm was still an unknown quantity. He would not join the Resistance, but he did not oppose or betray it either. He does not emerge with great credit from this story; like so many of his colleagues, he was a man who wanted to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. His appointment of Stauffenberg as his Chief of Staff was a purely military matter. He had had his eye on the young officer for some time, and at his request Stauffenberg had written a report on the possible conduct of the Reserve Army in Total War which had so impressed Fromm that he had passed it on to Hitler, who remarked, `Finally, a General Staff Officer with imagination and integrity!’ In many ways, Stauffenberg was Hitler’s ideal. Though not obviously `Nordic’, he was handsome, young, and, above all, had been badly (and in Hitler’s eyes, romantically) wounded for the good of the cause. It is difficult to say whether the appointment to Fromm finalised Stauffenberg’s decision to attempt the assassination of the Führer, or whether he went after the posting as a means to that end. In any case, the effect was the same.

Stauffenberg’s first meeting with Hitler was at the Berghof on 7 June – the day after D-Day. He travelled there from Bamberg where he had been spending a week’s leave with his family prior to taking up his appointment with Fromm. At the meeting were Himmler, Göring and Speer: it is a pity the bomb could not have been planted then and there. He noted that, contrary to rumours, it was perfectly possible to get close to Hitler. It would not have been a problem to draw one’s pistol and shoot the Führer. The argument against such action was the strong rumour that Hitler wore body armour. Hitler, who habitually retired late and rose late, had not been told of the Normandy landings until he had woken, but the military situation was in any case quite hopeless. Supplies were all but used up, and factories were either bombed out or operating only partially. The German divisions were spread too thinly across all fronts and many were unfit for full combat. It is a testament to an insane courage that their forces held out against the enemy for so long. The paratroop regiments and the Waffen-SS divisions showed particular resilience.

Stauffenberg returned to Berlin after another brief stay at Bamberg, taking with him Forester’s Hornblower novel The Happy Return to read on the train. A few days later, he was persuading his cousin Yorck von Wartenburg of the Kreisau Circle to enter into active Resistance. By mid-June, Goerdeler was drawing up another of his potential Cabinet lists, and Wilhelm Leuschner was defining the hierarchy of a new trade union movement. Hopes, at least, were high. But on 16 June there was an unhappy meeting of the civilian Resistance at the Hotel Esplanade in Berlin. Leber, who had turned down Stauffenberg’s proposal that he be Chancellor in place of Goerdeler, and who was now in line for Interior Minister, attacked Goerdeler for his unrealistic foreign policy ideas – which still embraced a demand for Germany to retain her 1914 frontiers. Leber thought that East Prussia, the Sudetenland and Elsass-Lohringen (Alsace-Lorraine) would have to go. His homeland was Alsace, and there was no question of his patriotism, but he was still shouted down by the others.

Shortly afterwards, the Resistance was to suffer another cruel blow. Julius Leber and his close associate, Adolf Reichwein, had entered into negotiations with a view to Resistance and postwar co-operation with a Communist group led by three veteran freedom fighters, Bernhard Bästlein, Franz Jakob and Anton Saefkow. Leber knew the first two personally, having spent five years in the concentration camps with them before the outbreak of war. A series of exploratory meetings followed, but the Gestapo already had the group under observation, and Bastlein had been arrested on 30 May. Now the net closed, and early in July the Security Service raided a meeting at which the others were seized. Stauffenberg was appalled when he heard the news, and promised Leber’s wife Annedore that they would get her husband out of prison, whatever else happened.

One should remember that during these preparations, Berlin was being subjected to merciless air raids day and night. The battering had the effect of stiffening the resolve of the fanatical Nazis, who were in any case fighting to protect their own backs now. That such a man as Roland Freisler could continue to conduct trials in the name of a `law’ that had no value and had even lost the backing of power is evidence of this, and invites interesting psychological reflection. The members of the Resistance themselves knew that they had at the very most a 50 per cent chance of success, but the profound sense of Tresckow’s advice to fight for it whatever the cost went home to all of them. As late as the end of June, Adam von Trott zu Solz embarked on yet another journey to Sweden, in the faint hope of renewing contact with the British. In fact there was no hope at all.

Organisation was always a great problem for the Resistance. The arrangement of meetings was a matter of difficulty, since neither the telephone nor the post could be used. Fixed meetings often had to be aborted because of air raids and the resulting disruption of transport in Berlin. Often the conspirators used the Grünewald – the vast park in the west of the city – to meet, as houses were not always considered secure. Plans, too, had to be changed continually to keep up with the progress of the war. Schulenburg commented drily, `We’d have got further if Stauffenberg had made up his mind sooner.’

At the end of June, Kurt Zeitzler, the Chief of Staff, had a nervous breakdown. He was replaced by Heinz Guderian. By now, Stauffenberg had taken up residence in his office near Fromm’s in the Bendlerblock on Bendlerstrasse, the massive building – the size of a small estate – which housed Armed Forces administration. Fromm was astonished at the number of unfamiliar officers he saw coming and going, but he did not ask what they were doing, contenting himself with passing the remark to Count Helldorf, still chief of the Berlin police, that `it’d be best if Hitler committed suicide’. Like many officers, he would doubtless have considered himself released from the Oath of Loyalty by Hitler’s death, which he hoped for, without wishing to work for it actively.

Early in July Trott returned empty-handed from Stockholm, but with news of the efforts of the National Committee for Free Germany. Stauffenberg was chary of this. `I don’t think much of proclamations made from behind barbed wire,’ he remarked.

Meanwhile, complicated arrangements were in train to obtain the correct English explosives and fuses for the attempt on Hitler. Once again, Stieff was in the forefront of this dangerous undertaking. At the same time, arrangements were being made for the takeover of power. For a time Rommel, a very popular general at home who had also earned the respect of the Allies, was considered for the position of head of state. Rommel, however, was never more than on the fringes of the conspiracy. Although he was sympathetic, he was put out of action when his heavy unmanoeuvrable open-topped Horch staff car was strafed by British fighters on 17 July and he was seriously wounded. After the 20 July attempt, however, the ever-suspicious Hitler obliged this best of his generals to commit suicide in order to spare his family the concentration camps and himself disgrace. The Führer then gave him a state funeral, but everyone knew what had really happened.

The position of post-Nazi President, therefore, reverted to Beck. Goerdeler would be Chancellor. Erwin von Witzleben would take over the Army and Erich Hoepner the Reserve Army. Wherever possible conspirators would be placed in the various Army districts around Germany and in the occupied territories, but otherwise commands from Berlin would have to have the authority of Fromm’s signature initially to implement `Valkyrie’. If Fromm would not agree at the eleventh hour, Hoepner would have to announce that he had taken over and issue the orders, hoping that the regional commanders would still obey. SS divisions and units would have to be neutralised and then subsumed within the Army. In co-ordination with `Valkyrie’, Helldorf, Nebe and Gisevius (who travelled to Berlin from Zurich for the coup) would use the regular police to take over the Security Service and seize its files. They would also arrest all Nazi leaders then in Berlin, such as Josef Goebbels and Robert Ley. There were plans to take over all radio stations, for a broadcast to the nation would have to be made immediately after the coup to establish the bona fides of the conspirators. Also, telecommunications at the Wolf’s Lair would have to be neutralised for as long as possible. This daunting task was entrusted to the Army head of Signals, General Erich Fellgiebel.

The Resistance had not yet given up all hope of making peace with the West first in order at least to stall Stalin in the East, and they were especially well prepared in France. The weak Günther von Kluge had taken over general command in the West on 2 July, and he might still be swayed. The military commander was General Karl-Heinrich von Stulpnagel, a veteran of the Resistance, and he was backed up by other convinced conspirators like Lieutenant-General Hans Speidel. A reminiscence of Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager is an indication of the almost surreal circumstances of the time. Shortly before the 20 July attempt, Tresckow sent Philipp’s brother Georg (of the old `Boeselager Brigade’) to Paris with a message for Kluge. But Georg needed an excuse for the journey. Fortunately a good one presented itself: the Boeselagers owned a racehorse, Lord Wagram, due to run at Longchamps. Accompanying it provided the perfect cover; but, as Philipp remarks, it is astonishing that such things were still possible in mid-1944!

The whole plan was rickety and riddled with risk, but it offered the only possibility, and time was running out fast for a coup of any sort to be effected.

Stauffenberg attended a further meeting at Berchtesgaden on 6 July, and another on the 11th. On this second occasion, when he travelled with his adjutant and confidant Captain Friedrich Karl Klausing, he was prepared to make the attempt, the explosives packed in a briefcase, and equipped with a pair of pliers to set the fuse whose handles had been specially adapted so that he could manipulate them with his remaining crippled hand. However, Himmler was not present at the meeting and so, after a telephone call to Olbricht, Stauffenberg decided to abort the attempt. As no plans seem to have been laid to set `Valkyrie’ in motion on this occasion one wonders if he did indeed intend to make the attempt. It may have been a full dress rehearsal. Stauffenberg must have been aware that he would have several opportunities in the next few days to attend meetings with Hitler. Nevertheless, to take such a risk without intending action seems hard to believe.

On 15 July, Stauffenberg accompanied Fromm to another meeting with the Führer, this time at the Wolf’s Lair near Rastenburg. They had received the summons at midday on the 14th, so there was just time to activate `Valkyrie’. This was to be it. Everyone was on edge. Berthold Stauffenberg commented, `Worst of all is to know that we’ll fail; and yet we must go ahead, for the sake of our country and our children.’ In the West, the SS division generals Sepp Dietrich and Hausser put themselves fully under Rommel’s orders. Very few people indeed seemed to have any faith in Hitler’s new wonder weapons, the Vbomb rockets.

The Wolf’s Lair was a complex of compounds and buildings, admission to which involved various degrees of security check. At that time it was in a state of rebuilding. At least Stauffenberg had the opportunity to take this in, for there was no chance to use the bomb. Once again a last-minute change of plan by Hitler saved him. Fortunately, although Valkyrie’s initial stages had been set in motion in anticipation of Stauffenberg’s action, the conspirators managed to pass these off as an exercise.

Stauffenberg was deeply depressed by this setback, and those who saw him at that time recall his state of nervous exhaustion. On the 16th, he telephoned his wife in Bamberg to ask her to postpone a family visit she intended to make with the children to Lautlingen. She objected that she had already bought the railway tickets, and he did not press her. It was their last conversation. The same day, Rommel transmitted a message to Hitler via Kluge that the maximum time the West Front could continue to hold out was twenty-one days. That evening there was a meeting of `the young counts’, as Goerdeler called them, at the Stauffenberg brothers’ flat in Wannsee. Mertz von Quirnheim, Claus’s successor as Chief of Staff to Olbricht, was there, together with Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, Adam von Trott zu Solz, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, Cäsar von Hofacker, the contact man with the Army in France, Georg Hansen, who had taken over from Canaris at the Abwehr, and Schwerin von Schwanenfeld. They decided that the only way to save Germany now would be to kill Hitler at the very first opportunity and immediately thereafter enter peace negotiations with the USSR and the Western Allies simultaneously. They had no idea that Germany had already been divided up and parcelled out. Events had long since overtaken them and they did not know.