Antisubmarine War WWI – Mediterranean 1916-17

Kaba departing Ryojun, 1925. She was deployed in the Mediterranean in WWI.

Japanese cruiser Akashi in drydock. Rear-Admiral Kōzō Satō commanded the “Second Special Squadron” with Akashi as flagship with the 10th and 11th Destroyer Units (eight destroyers) based at Malta from 13 April 1917. He was reinforced by the 15th Destroyer Unit with four more destroyers from 1 June 1917 to carry out on direct escort duties for Allied troop transports in the Mediterranean.

The Allies had abandoned exclusive use of patrolled routes in the Mediterranean shortly before the Germans adopted unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans declared the great majority of the Mediterranean a Sperrgebiet (prohibited area) except for the extreme western portion off Spain, including the Balearics, and initially, the 20-mile-wide corridor to Greek waters. The Austrians promised to assist the Germans outside of the Adriatic. Their smaller submarines as they became available would now operate against Allied shipping between Malta and Cerigo. In the early part of 1917, the situation in the Mediterranean was deceptively favorable to the Allies, for in January the greater part of the Mediterranean U-boat flotilla was under repair and refit at Pola and Cattaro after the heavy demands of 1916. In January sinkings fell to 78,541 tons, only 24 percent of the total of 328,391 tons sunk in all theaters. It was the lull before the storm, for by 10 February the Germans had 10 U-boats at sea in the Mediterranean, along with an Austrian submarine, and that month submarines sank 105,670 tons of shipping. This, however, represented only 20.3 percent of the 520,412 tons sunk in all theaters, for with the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Mediterranean percentage of total sinkings inevitably declined. The successes of the Mediterranean U-boat flotilla declined again in March to 61,917 tons, just under 11 percent of the total of 564,497 tons in all theaters. April 1917 turned into a record month for the Mediterranean flotilla, just as it was a record month for U-boats in all theaters. The Germans had 14 U-boats at sea at the beginning of the month, joined by 2 Austrians. They sank in the Mediterranean 254,911 tons (3,724 tons by submarine-laid mines), or 29.6 percent of the 860,334 tons sunk in all theaters. The Austrians contributed another 23,037 tons.

The Admiralty were so alarmed by the heavy losses along the coast of Algeria, which they naturally attributed to the ineffectiveness of French patrols, that they ordered British shipping to abandon the coastal route in favor of hugging the Spanish coast from Gibraltar to Cape San Antonio and then use dispersed routes to Malta. The French, however, complained that they were using more than eighty patrol craft of all sorts on their patrolled routes in the western Mediterranean whereas the British were escorting all British troopships or ships with valuable cargoes and following routes entirely different from the French. Furthermore, the French charged that the British used their destroyers to escort troopships, leaving trawlers on the patrolled routes through British zones. These trawlers often lacked wireless receivers and could not be counted upon to divert ships from threatened areas. Admiral Gauchet, now French commander in chief, described the situation on the Malta-Cerigo route as “every man for himself.”

Allied merchant ships deliberately made use of Spanish territorial waters. This proved to be correct, if not very heroic, and it naturally added to the length and duration of a voyage. German U-boat commanders were ordered to observe the Spanish 3-mile limit, and, in fact, to avoid mistakes they were normally to observe a 4-mile limit unless there was a particularly valuable target in the fourth mile and they were quite sure of their position. On the whole, German U-boat commanders respected Spanish territorial waters and the Allies made extensive use of them. The Allies suspected the Germans were violating them, but careful analysis of sinkings generally established that the ships had strayed out of those waters when they were sunk. It was not hard to do; navigation so close to the coast could be difficult and hazardous, and merchant ship captains often were inclined to take a shortcut across the curve of a bay, which made them legitimate targets for the Germans. U-boat commanders were not angels; they obviously found more than enough targets in the Mediterranean without having to violate Spanish waters.

The Mediterranean situation could not be ignored by the Allied leaders by the spring of 1917. In early April General Sir William Robertson, chief of the imperial general staff, asked Jellicoe about a joint statement from the British naval leaders as to what reductions at Salonika would be necessary if the British were to continue the war in 1918. Jellicoe was a strong partisan of abandoning the Salonika expedition because of the strain on shipping and naval resources to support it. He recommended the immediate reduction or withdrawal of the British contingent, and he advocated a complete withdrawal if the cabinet expected the war to continue beyond 1917. This would then allow the British to recover a number of patrol craft for safeguarding commerce in home waters, free a large amount of shipping to build up a reserve of food and supply the French and Italians with coal and other necessities, and permit the British to give better protection to the sea communications with the army in Egypt. The French could be expected to strongly oppose what in their eyes was a British attempt to abandon the Salonika expedition, where France was preponderant, in favor of the pursuit of imperial gains in Palestine. An Allied conference with the Italians at St. Jean de Maurienne on 19 April took no decision on Jellicoe’s proposal, and one is inclined to believe that if the Allies did not succeed in mastering the submarine danger the issue was likely to be moot. It would then be a question of whether or not the British could continue the war.

The conflicting policies in the Mediterranean had made it obvious that another international conference was necessary. The Corfu conference took place during the crisis of the naval war. It was held in Gauchet’s flagship Provence at Corfu 28 April to 1 May. The Allies unanimously decided they would not return to the discredited system of patrolled routes created at Malta in 1916. They would navigate only by night and along coastal routes whenever possible, and those coastal routes would be patrolled along with certain strategic straits. The conference made a major change in procedure: on routes that ran far from the coast, ships would be protected by convoys and escorts following dispersed routes, that is, routes chosen by a routing officer at the port of departure according to the circumstances of the moment.

The Corfu conference had really created a hybrid system rather than one of general convoys or ships sailing independently. All ships entering the Mediterranean were now required to stop at Gibraltar for instructions and formation into convoys before proceeding to Oran, although the authorities sometimes allowed ships to navigate independently without escort if there was no submarine danger. Ships followed the patrolled coastal route between Oran and Bizerte, but they were not necessarily escorted in those waters. Ships were formed into convoys again at Bizerte for the remainder of their voyage eastward. Ships bound from Gibraltar to Marseille or Genoa continued to follow Spanish coastal waters as long as the Germans respected them.

The most important decision of the Corfu conference as far as its implications for the future were concerned was the establishment of a “Direction Générale” at Malta, which was composed of officers delegated by the different navies and was charged with the direction of everything concerning transport routes and their protection. The idea was proposed by Admiral Gauchet, but the British managed to turn it to their own advantage, for they proposed that, without modifying the present system of a French commander in chief for all the Mediterranean, all the British naval forces be placed under a single commander. The British commander in chief would have an officer of flag rank charged with protecting transport routes who would be the British representative on the Direction Générale that Gauchet had proposed. The effect of this would be to give the British the predominant role in the antisubmarine campaign. Gauchet remained the theoretical commander in chief with the largest number of dreadnoughts, seemingly preoccupied with preparing for that major naval encounter with the Austrian fleet.

The French and the Italians had by far the preponderance in capital ships, but the real action in the Mediterranean by this date was the antisubmarine war, and here the balance had quietly swung decisively toward the British. In May 1917 the total of patrol vessels of all sorts in the Mediterranean, from destroyers to sloops, from trawlers to small torpedo boats, was: British, 429; French, 302; Italian, 119; and Japanese, 8. The British had really learned that the Mediterranean was too important to be left to the French. British interests, whether they were shipping or overseas expeditions, were extensive, and they could not rely on others who, with the best will in the world, were apt to lack the resources to do the job. The British were forced to assume the leading part in the antisubmarine war.

The Japanese contribution needs a word of explanation. The British had long been anxious for Japanese assistance. The Japanese had been reluctant to send forces to European waters, although they had, as we have seen, provided considerable assistance in the opening months of the war and later in the search for the German raiders. In mid-April Rear Admiral Kozo Sato arrived at Malta with the Tenth and Eleventh Japanese destroyer flotillas, eight 650-ton Kaba class. Sato flew his flag in the cruiser Akashi, which served as headquarters ship. In August 1917 the Fifteenth Flotilla arrived with four of the new 850-ton Momo class and the armored cruiser Idzumo, which relieved the Akashi. The Japanese were nominally independent, but actually carried out whatever orders they received from the British commander in chief at Malta. The Japanese in fact worked very closely with the British, particularly in escorting troopships. They soon gained an excellent reputation. Their ships were new and well-handled, and the British paid them the ultimate compliment by turning over two of their own H-class destroyers to be renamed and manned by Japanese crews for the duration of the war. This Japanese contribution of fourteen destroyers at a critical moment in the war against submarines has been largely forgotten, but under the circumstances it was far from negligible.

The decisions of the Corfu conference were only recommendations; they naturally had to be accepted by the respective governments. The Admiralty, however, acted fairly quickly, and the Malta-Alexandria convoy was introduced on 22 May with four ships escorted by four trawlers. It proved a success; only two ships were lost between 22 May and 16 July. The French on 18 June formally established a special directorate for the submarine war. The Direction générale de la guerre sous-marine was to a large extent the result of pressure from the French parliament, where there were strong suspicions that the French naval staff had been too tradition-bound and had not paid enough attention to submarine warfare.

Admiral the Honorable Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, second son of the seventh Baron Calthorpe, was appointed British Mediterranean commander in chief. He had formerly commanded the Second Cruiser Squadron and had been second sea lord in 1916. Calthorpe was hardly one of the household names of the war and was deceptively mild mannered. He apparently had a certain amount of difficulty getting his authority accepted by the other commands, but he grew in assurance as time went on. He also possessed good judgment, although he was unfortunately somewhat backward about realizing the value of convoys. At the end of the war he was destined to play a considerable role in negotiating the armistice with the Turks and subsequently became high commissioner in Turkey and the Black Sea. One of his staff officers considered him a man who never sought greatness but had it thrust on him.

The introduction of convoys into the Mediterranean proved difficult. The route structure was complex and the entire Mediterranean was considered a danger area, unlike the situation in the Atlantic where only about 350 miles required special protection for convoys. The British Isles naturally received priority in the allocation of escorts, and the Admiralty added to their own difficulties by insisting that convoys must remain small. There was also the problem of dealing with Allies, notably the Italians. The Italians proved extremely recalcitrant about contributing destroyers and escorts to the common cause, that is, convoys from Gibraltar, and Calthorpe really had no authority over their antisubmarine operations. The Italians insisted they were the only one of the Allies close to the enemy battle fleet, for Pola was only a few hours steaming distance from Venice. They therefore had to retain a significant destroyer force for the protection of Venice and needed their other antisubmarine forces for the protection of Italian traffic in the Tyrrhenian or on the routes to and from Albania and Libya.

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Koprulu and Vienna I

Candia under siege

The city of Candia with its fortifications, 1651

The Ottoman royal line seemed like a Juggernaut against the fractured and random genealogies of the other servants of the empire, but there were other families, all the same. The descendants of the Prophet’s sister were all known as emirs, and were entitled to wear distinctive green turbans. They were allowed to be judged, but not punished, by men. They remained, Cantemir tells us, ‘Men of the greatest Gravity, Learning and Wisdom’ until they turned forty, when they would become ‘if not quite Fools, yet they discover some sign of levity and stupidity.’ The descendants of the vizier who had concealed news of Mehmet I’s death, working his corpse like a puppet, enjoyed the title of khan, and resolutely kept away from affairs of state ‘for fear of losing everything. They have greatest honours paid them by the Sultan, who visits them twice a year, eats with them, and lets them visit him, when he will rise a little from his seat and say peace be with you, and even ask them to sit down.’

Out in the provinces lived descendants of the old chieftains who had spearheaded the invasions. As late as the nineteenth century Muslim landowners in the valley of the Vistritza, surrounded by feudal retainers, claimed that their lands had been in the possession of their ancestors for more than six hundred years, perhaps as a result of a politic change of faith. In many ulema families, traditions of learning and piety had been handed down from father to son for generations. Endowments were often managed by the descendants of the founder: the gatekeeper at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, for example, remains to this day a descendant of the Muslim appointed to the office in 1135, and may say that his family has seen the Ottomans come and go. Above all the Girays, traditional khans of the Crimean Tartars, had the blood of Genghis in their veins and were, by persistent report, heirs to the empire if the Ottoman line should fail.

Family loyalties had always existed among the kapikullari, in spite of the slave theory. Suleyman’s young Grand Vizier, Ibrahim, looked after an old Greek sailor who often arrived roaring drunk outside his house. Ibrahim would lead him home, the handsome, smooth-shaven youth, counsellor to the foremost sovereign of Islam, shepherding his drunken old father through the streets of Constantinople. People thought well of him for it, and made no effort to see in the younger man the faults of his father, for they did not hold much by heredity, having proved again and again how carefully selected men could be trained to the pitch of perfection. Family bonds could be carried too far. Suleyman’s last Grand Vizier, Sokullu, was a Serb by birth; he did much to preserve the Sultan’s mystique by keeping alive the memory of Suleyman’s grandeur through the reign of the jovial and worthless Selim the Sot, and into that of his successor; but he was an arrant nepotist, and went so far as to create a Serbian patriarchate for the benefit of a relative. People remembered this when Sokullu was assassinated in 1579 on his way to the council chamber, and they thought it on the whole a just reward.

In the seventeenth century the pressure to admit the sons of slaves into palace service became irresistible. In 1638 the boy tribute was formally abandoned, and a few years later, in the 1650s, the empire acquired a sobriquet, such as Venice – La Serenissima – enjoyed, or the possibly ironic La Humillima, ‘Most Humble’, by which the Knights of Malta chose to designate their irreducible presence in Valetta. From now on she was known as Baba Ali, or ‘High Gate’, La Sublime Porte. The new name indicated, perhaps, that the Ottomans were settling to the Mediterranean world; but it marked a shift in the balance of power, too, from the Sultan himself, the Grand Turk, to his more anonymous officials, for the Gate in question was in fact the residence of the Grand Vizier. With the boy tribute formally abandoned the way was cleared for the establishment of dynasties; and for fifty years after 1656 the government was controlled by the most famous dynasty of the lot, so sure of itself that one of its members went so far as to contemplate the destruction of the Ottoman line as a means of renovating the flagging energies of the empire.

Its founder was one of the very last tribute boys, and his career to 1656 was a traditional one. By shrewd alliances and steady service in both Constantinople and the provinces he had reached the position of governor of Tripoli. By the age of seventy-one Ahmet Koprulu was living ‘a private and stoical life at Constantinople, in expectation of even the smallest Bashalic. Indeed he enjoyed the name and honour of a Basha’, but he had few friends in the capital. He was not rich. He found it hard to keep up the retinue expected of a pasha of his rank, and avoided public appearances.

Only death could free the Kapikulu from his duty of obedience. In 1656 the summons came from the Valide Sultan Turhan, mother of the young Mehmet IV. For the past eight years, grand viziers had followed one another in rapid succession as the factions jostled for position and the office became sacrificial – fourteen grand viziers rolled over as first Kösem and then, after her murder in 1651, Turhan herself clung to the reins of power. The Venetians, in defence of Crete, were blockading the Dardanelles. Shipping was at a standstill and the link with Egypt – commands from the Porte, and grain from the Nile – was broken. On 4 March 1656 the army in Constantinople revolted over pay – further debasement of the coinage was one consequence of the political friability – and demanded the heads of thirty high officials. Turhan gave way, and the unfortunate men were hanged at the gate of the Blue Mosque.

In desperation, Turhan turned to Ahmet Koprulu. Before accepting the position of Grand Vizier, Koprulu demanded written guarantees that the Sultan would not listen to any court gossip and that no one would countermand any order he might give. Turhan surrendered her regency to him, and the young Sultan Mehmet left Constantinople for the freer atmosphere of Edirne, where he and his successors were to remain for fifty years. Koprulu promptly demonstrated his grim efficiency by executing the pasha who had abandoned Tenedos to the Venetians, suppressing the spahi revolt and purging the corps. But he also beat the Venetian fleet, broke the blockade of the Dardanelles and allowed a return to Tenedos and Limnos. The rebellious George II Rakci, Prince of Transylvania, was summarily replaced by a more amenable ruler.

Evliya Celebi’s patron, Melek Pasha, was governor of a Black Sea province at the time, and he soon received a letter. ‘It is true’, Koprulu wrote, ‘that we, were raised together in the imperial harem, and are both protégés of Sultan Murad IV. Nevertheless, be informed from this moment that if the accursed Cossacks pillage and burn any one of the villages and towns on the coast of Ozu province, I swear by God Almighty that I will give you no quarter and will pay no heed to your righteous character, but I will cut you into pieces, as a warning to the world. Be wary therefore, and guard the coasts. And exact the tribute of grain from every district, according to the imperial command, in order that you may feed the army of Islam.’

Melek had suffered a brief spell as Grand Vizier himself. Consequently he was not at all offended by the tone of the letter, it rather buoyed him up. Koprulu, he reminded Evliya, ‘is not like other Grand Viziers. He has seen much of the hot and cold of fate, suffered much from poverty and penury, distresses and vicissitudes, has gained much experience from campaigning and he knows the way of the world. True he is wrathful and contentious. If he can get rid of the segban vermin in the Anatolian provinces, restore the currency, remove the arrears, and undertake overland campaigns – then I am certain that he will bring order to the Ottoman state. For as you know,’ Melek added mildly, ‘breaches have occurred here and there in this Ottoman state.’

In 1665 Koprulu sent the first ever Ottoman ambassador to Vienna, marching into the infidel city under a forest of standards and banners, to the sound of kettledrums and to the consternation of the people. Koprulu was convinced that the breaches could be repaired if only the empire could recapture the military manner, which Koprulu, and others, saw as the real cause of the empire’s former success.

In the 1640s when Sultan Ibrahim launched his crazed search for ambergris, and furs, two men in the empire dared to cross him. One was a judge in Pera who, dressed as a dervish, declared: ‘You may do three things: kill me – and I shall die a martyr; banish me – there have been earthquakes here recently; or fire me – but I resign.’ The other was a soldier, a janissary colonel adored by his 500 men, who had served in the longest and most bitter siege, of Candia, the capital of Crete, that the Ottomans ever conducted. Black Murad was met off the boat by a treasury official demanding amber, furs and money. He rolled his eyes, ‘bloodshot with wrath’. ‘I have brought nothing back from Candia but gunpowder and lead,’ he thundered. ‘Sables and amber are things I know only by name. Money have I none and, if I am to give it to you, I must first beg or borrow it.’ He escaped a ruse to murder him, and was apparently instrumental in the deposition of the Sultan.

Men like these were Koprulu’s natural allies. Many of the abuses he attacked so vigorously were symptomatic of changes over which he had no control, but the terrible old man took them for the cause, and went about rooting them out with murderous energy and application. He was remembered, not as subtle or farsighted, but as a stern traditionalist, whose notions of reform were fierce and corrective. Fiscally rigorous, he controlled expenditure and regularised tax income so that the soldiers received their pay in full, and even on time, and when he died, at eighty-five, in 1669, the empire’s books were very nearly balanced.

The Venetians in 1644 had allowed a Maltese fleet with Ottoman prizes to anchor off the southern shore of Crete. They had received a boy captured by the Knights of Malta on board the flagship of the pilgrimage fleet, supposed by the knights to be the Sultan’s son.* Ibrahim, mad as ever, was all for going against Malta; but his advisers suggested Crete itself, to be taken by surprise. Venetian apologies for the error were graciously received, and a fleet which left the Dardanelles on 30 April 1645 sailed with the avowed object of taking Malta from the knights. Surprise was a dependable weapon in the Ottoman arsenal; when once asked where the army was headed, Mehmet II himself had replied: ‘If a hair of my beard knew my schemes, I would pluck it out.’

The Venetians were old hands at the game, and not easily duped. For over two hundred years they had been shuffling diplomacy with war, and in the slow war of attrition they seldom overplayed their hand. They had beefed up the Cretan garrisons, and raised the militia. The Ottomans soon overran the entire island nonetheless, reaching the walls of Candia in July 1645. Here the Venetians resolved to make a stand; and they stood so redoubtably that a generation passed without the Ottomans being able to take the citadel. In 1648 a Venetian fleet imposed a blockade on the Dardanelles. The military humiliation which called forth Ahmet Koprulu also sealed Sultan Ibrahim’s fate. ‘Traitor!’ he cried to the men who came to announce his deposition. ‘Am I not your Padishah?’ ‘Thou art not Padishah, for as much as thou hast set justice and holiness at nought, and hast ruined the world. Thou hast squandered thy years in folly and debauchery; the treasures of the realm in vanities; and corruption and cruelty have governed the world in thy place. You have made yourself unworthy, by leaving the path in which your ancestors walked,’ their leader retorted. Several days before the fatwa allowing Ibrahim’s execution was issued by the Mufti, a few hours before sunset on 8 August 1648, the principal dignitaries of the empire paid homage to Sultan Mehmet IV – a few admitted at a time lest a crowd should frighten the eight-year-old boy.

The Candian siege dragged on, through the minority of the new Sultan, the appointment of Ahmet Koprulu in 1656, and the succession of his son as Grand Vizier. Fazil Ahmet, ‘Breaker of the Bells of the straying and blasphemous nations’, reined back the ferocity of his father’s rule, and gave the empire a decade of wise and mild leadership; he was able to spend three years between 1666 and 1669 personally conducting the siege, and running the empire at the same time. The Venetians had chosen to make Crete the proving ground for Venice’s desire to maintain the status of a great power, but when, in desperation, they tried to buy the Ottomans off, Fazil Ahmet answered curtly: ‘We are not moneydealers. We make war to win Crete.’

The beleaguered garrison hung on until their citadel was a termite nest. Volunteers came from all over Christendom; the Turks pressed the assault with brilliant engineering – a skill in which they excelled, until they forgot it entirely, and had to be retaught by the French in the nineteenth century the principles of parallel trenches which they themselves had invented. In the last three years of the war, 30,000 Turks and 12,000 Venetians were killed. There were 56 assaults and 96 sorties; both sides exploded exactly 1,364 mines each. But on 6 September 1669 Morosini – destined to be known as Morosini the Peloponnesian for his reconquest of the Greek peninsula – surrendered on honourable terms, and Crete became Ottoman.

It was, however, one of the last extensions of Ottoman power: the very last, perhaps, in the settled world. To the north, in that vastness of the expiring steppe north of the Black Sea, Poland, Russia and the empire struggled to master the Cossacks, and to enfold Podolia and the Ukraine in their own dominions; and here the Ottomans seemed at first successful. By 1676 they had forced the Poles, under their king, Jan Sobieski, to cede the entire region; the great fortress of Kaminiec was theirs, and the horsetails were planted in the black earth of the Ukraine; but Fazil Ahmet died three days after the treaty was signed. The Cossacks of the steppe brought their flirtation with the Ottomans to an end, more impressed with the efficiency of Russian arms. The vizierate passed to a protégé of the Koprulu family, Kara Mustafa, ‘Black Mustafa’, whose face had been disfigured in a city fire.

In June 1683 the war train paraded through the streets of Edirne, then headed upriver to Sofia and Belgrade. Carried along with it was the Sultan, Mehmet IV, a man more familiar with the pleasures of the chase than the arts of war. At Belgrade he stopped to hunt while his great army pressed on up the Danube, into the heart of Central Europe, under the command of Kara Mustafa, a man, in the words of a near contemporary, ‘no less valiant than wise; warlike and ambitious’. A Hungarian rebel had called for Ottoman aid; the Habsburgs seemed suspiciously eager for peace.

Kara Mustafa made the fateful decision at the outset of the campaign not to name his destination. Austria and Poland hurriedly promised to aid each other in the event of an attack. As soon as Ottoman troops crossed into Habsburg territory, the emperor requested Polish assistance.

In Vienna there was pandemonium. A Habsburg army sent forward to engage the Turks had rapidly retreated in the face of what seemed like a tidal wave of men. Perhaps a quarter of a million Ottoman soldiers had been amassed for this extraordinary campaign; and with them – around and before them, swelling their ranks and fanning out with terrifying effect – rode the Tartars who had joined the army of their overlord from their distant home in the Crimea. Everyone feared them, the Turks no less than the Christians; they looked after their own interests.

Italian 15th Century Warfare I

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The battle of Caravaggio and the other battles were the set pieces of Italian warfare. Such battles were relatively rare, although it was naturally on these that the chroniclers concentrated. The administrative documents of military life rarely mention the battles except as an aside to explain casualties and losses of equipment. In this they are more realistic and more informative than the chronicles, but neither succeed in telling us what military life was really like. Fifteenth-century military diaries have yet to be discovered, but still an attempt must be made to get below the surface and look at the realities of military practice, the day-to-day activities of Italian soldiers.

One man who was a conscientious writer of diaries, at least during his official missions, was the Florentine Luca di Maso degli Albizzi. He was the brother of Rinaldo degli Albizzi, the leading Florentine statesman who was overthrown and exiled by the Medici in 1434. Luca, like many Florentines of his class, spent much of his life on missions as representative of the Florentine Republic, and in May 1432 he was dispatched as special envoy to the camp of the Florentine captain general, Niccolò da Tolentino, near Arezzo. For about three weeks he was with the army and his account of those days is an interesting insight which is worth looking at in some detail.

Luca degli Albizzi left Florence on 18 May with a junior assistant, Bernardetto de’ Medici, and fifteen followers. He spent the first night at Castel S. Giovanni in the upper Arno valley where he was met by the civilian commissary with the army and a group of condottieri who were also on their way to join the captain general. The 200 men of these condottieri were billeted some miles further on in Montevarchi, and it was agreed that Luca would pick them up there the next morning and they would all go on together to the camp. Luca was an early riser and the next morning he arrived at Montevarchi to find the soldiers still in bed. They were clearly billeted in houses all over the town, and it took until mid-day to get the squadrons assembled and on the road. They arrived at the camp in mid-afternoon to find that Niccolò da Tolentino had gone out the previous evening with a force of 700 men to try and catch the Sienese under Francesco Piccinino in a night ambush. As he was not yet back, Luca waited for a couple of hours and then rode to Arezzo to spend the night in comfort. Niccolò had in fact failed to catch the Sienese who had received warning of his intentions, but he had ridden all the way to Montepulciano which was being besieged by the Sienese and had sent supplies and more troops into the town before returning. This itself meant that Niccolò da Tolentino had ridden over 50 miles in the 24 hours, but this was not considered in any way extraordinary.

On the 20th Luca returned to the camp and spent six hours with the captain general and his senior officers. They drew up written plans for the campaign, and Niccolò outlined his immediate needs. The troops needed pay, but even more important he wanted 60 mules to carry provisions behind the army as he planned to move fast and did not want to waste time collecting food. He also wanted two or three bombards and some stonemasons to make balls for them. He thought that a few hundred militia auxiliaries would be useful, including 50 pioneers with spades and axes. Luca got off a messenger immediately to Florence with these requirements, and he himself began to ride round collecting the militia.

The strategic position which Luca and Niccolò da Tolentino faced was that a number of contingents of allied Sienese and Milanese troops were operating in southern Tuscany occupying castles and towns and damaging crops. Another Florentine army was camped near Pisa under Micheletto Attendolo, but the needs of the campaign were speed rather than great strength, so it was decided not to try and link up with Attendolo. Niccolò da Tolentino was very anxious to get on with it and declined an offer from Luca that he should postpone operations until the normal ceremony for handing him the baton as captain general had been arranged. News had come that the Sienese were besieging Linari and Gambassi in the Valdelsa, and speed was vital if these towns were to be saved. However, it was bound to take three or four days to collect what was needed and break camp.

After three days of intense activity, the militia, provisions, and munitions had been assembled, and at dawn on 24 May Niccolò da Tolentino moved off with his army of about 4,000 men. He had about 50 miles of difficult country to cover to reach the besieged towns, and as half of the force was made up of infantry and militia it could not move very fast. A messenger met them on the first day with the news that Linari had surrendered, but that the enemy forces were still divided into two camps, one commanded by Francesco Piccinino and the other by Bernardino della Carda. On the evening of the 26th the army reached Poggibonsi and there heard that the Sienese had united, taken Gambassi, and were now moving to meet Niccolò’s army. The night was one full of alarms and false alarms, in one of which Niccolò’s eldest son, Baldovino, was shot in the leg by a jumpy Florentine archer. Luca marvelled at the Captain’s self control when he heard of this incident.

The next day, Tuesday, Niccolò da Tolentino detached some of his infantry and militia north-westwards to begin the siege of Linari, and he himself went southwest to try and cut off an enemy march towards Siena. But again either he had received false information or the Sienese got word of his movements, and they doubled back and headed towards the Arno valley taking Pontedera on the way. This left Niccolò with the task of retaking Linari before he could move on in pursuit. He tried negotiations with the defenders, threatening to hang them all if he had to take the town by storm, but this proved useless. There were only 100 Milanese and Sienese infantry defending it, but it had good walls and they believed that Niccolò would not waste time over them. Indeed he did not plan to waste time; he wanted to get on and bring the enemy to battle, but he was determined to deal with Linari first. He only had small bombards and the weather was blazing hot, but nevertheless he ordered an assault at dawn on the morning of the 30th. Four breaches were made in the walls and Niccolò’s dismounted men-at-arms surged into the assault. After three hours of bitter fighting the town was taken and sacked. There were a number of casualties; all the professional infantry in the defence were held as prisoners, but the local defenders were allowed to go free; a number of women were also taken by the Florentines. Finally the walls of Linari were pulled down and half the town burnt. Linari was a Florentine town; the treatment of it was harsh but effective; this was partly a reflection of basic Florentine attitudes towards the subject towns, partly a matter of military necessity. The place had to be made useless to the Sienese otherwise this sort of warfare could go on indefinitely.

The next day Niccolò da Tolentino turned northwards to join up with Micheletto Attendolo and seek out the enemy in the Arno valley. By now the militia had melted away; they were getting far from their homes near Arezzo and the few days’ campaigning had been tough. On 1 June the army came out into the Arno plain. It was a Sunday and normally in Italian warfare this was regarded as a day of rest when little activity was expected. It was perhaps for this reason that Niccolò da Tolentino succeeded at last in catching the enemy. The Sienese had begun to besiege Montopoli, and Niccolò, moving rapidly now that his troops were out in the open country, came up on them fast. He and Luca went ahead with 30 cavalry and Luca who knew the area well pointed out the lie of the land. Niccolò felt however that he still did not have a clear enough idea of the enemy’s dispositions and so, while Luca stayed with the main body and gave an oration to the troops, he went on further ahead with a few men and thoroughly explored the enemy position. Then without further delay he launched his attack. The battle was short but hard fought, and Luca commented on the useful role of the infantry. The arrival of Micheletto Attendolo from the other direction completed what appears to have been a thoroughly well-planned and organised operation. The Sienese were completely routed, a number of captains and 150 men captured and 600 horses taken. Some of the prisoners escaped the next day as they were being escorted to Empoli, but were quickly rounded up. This battle, described by Luca degli Albizzi, was in fact the Rout of S. Romano later made famous by the series of paintings executed by Paolo Uccello for the Medici palace. Luca’s eye-witness account is somewhat different to traditional descriptions of the battle, which suggest that Niccolò da Tolentino was surprised with a handful of men and held out against enormous odds for eight hours until Attendolo arrived. No doubt a desire to glorify Niccolò’s achievement played some part in the distortions which have crept into the story, but Luca’s account of Niccolò leading a carefully planned attack does the condottiere no less credit in a different way.

The Florentine army got its rest day on Monday and then began to besiege Pontedera. This was, however, a more formidable task than the siege of Linari and without good artillery was likely to take some time. After a fortnight’s intense activity, during which the army had covered many miles of difficult country, taken a town by assault, and won an important victory, there was inevitably a lull. Luca degli Albizzi returned to Florence on the 6th to urge on the provision of supplies and artillery. He confessed that he felt completely exhausted.

This is an instructive glimpse into the life of an army and one which is all too rare in the fifteenth century. The mobility of Niccolò da Tolentino’s force, although half its strength consisted of infantry, is indicative of one of the major features of the warfare of the period. Luca degli Albizzi remarked at one point that only 300 of the 2,000 infantry in the army were concentrated together in one column and the rest were divided up amongst the cavalry squadrons. Does this perhaps mean that many of these infantry rode behind the men-at-arms on their horses when on the march? This could well be the explanation of the speed with which small armies could move. Niccolò da Tolentino’s army of course had very limited artillery and apparently no carts in the baggage train, but it did have 60 mules with provisions and was not living off the country. A larger army, and particularly later in the century, would inevitably have been much more encumbered with munitions and baggage. But it was usually the case that the heavy baggage was detached from the fighting elements of an army and moved on different routes in the rear.

We can get an impression of the activities of the other Florentine army in 1432 under Micheletto Attendolo from the letters written by Micheletto and his attendant commissaries to Florence. It had moved out of its winter quarters outside Pisa in late March and did not return to these quarters finally until mid-December. During the nine months, the army marched all over the Arno valley and deep into the hills on either side; it conducted at least four sieges and numerous skirmishes, but fought no major battle other than its tardy intervention at S. Romano. In 1440 Baldaccio d’Anghiari marched with a small force from Lucca to Piombino in two days—a distance of over 100 miles.

However, some of the most striking evidence for the mobility of mid-fifteenth-century armies comes from the campaigns of 1438–9 in Lombardy. The march of Gattamelata around Lake Garda in the autumn of 1438, when he escaped with his Venetian army from Brescia, became almost legendary in the annals of Italian warfare. Brescia was being closely besieged by the Milanese under Niccolò Piccinino and the direct route eastwards was well blocked. But it was essential to extricate Gattamelata’s main army, both because its size was creating serious provisioning problems in the beleaguered city and because without it the defence of the rest of the Venetian state, and particularly Verona, was dangerously weak. The only feasible escape route was over the mountains around the north of Lake Garda. It was a route which had never been used by large bodies of troops and was therefore thinly guarded by the Milanese. It was over this route that Gattamelata marched his army of 3,000 cavalry and 2,000 infantry, brushing aside the Milanese opposition and reaching Verona in five days. Piccinino was astonished by the feat, but he himself in the next year almost equalled it. Brescia was still being besieged and Gattamelata and Francesco Sforza marched to relieve it by the same route through the mountains. Piccinino moved north from Brescia to meet them and was badly beaten at Tenno. It was said that he escaped from the town, as the Venetian troops swarmed into it, carried in a sack on the back of a German soldier. However, he quickly rallied his forces and marched them around the south shore of the lake to attack Verona, while the Venetian army was still in the mountains. His forced march took Verona completely by surprise, and he occupied the city, although failing to take its two fortresses. Anxious messengers rode through the night to carry the news to Gattamelata and Sforza, and they, again acting with remarkable speed, marched back over the by then familiar road. It was once again the turn of Piccinino to be surprised; thinking that the Venetian army was still on the other side of the lake, his troops were contentedly looting Verona when Sforza and Gattamelata arrived outside the walls. Once more they had done the long march through the mountains in unbelievable time and the Milanese were in no position to defend their new possession. Piccinino and his men were bundled unceremoniously out of Verona having been its masters for less than three days.

Italian 15th Century Warfare II

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The mobility of these armies around Lake Garda was the result of military necessity, but often the errant characteristics of Italian armies were dictated by the search for provisions. Particularly in the first half of the century, it was rare for camp to be pitched in the same place for more than two or three nights, even when the army was on the defensive. After 1450 the growing use of field fortifications and the improvement in provisioning organisation made camps much more permanent affairs. In 1479 the camp established by the Florentines and their allies at Poggio Imperiale was the base for the combined army throughout the summer.

It was Gattamelata and Sforza in 1439 who issued one of the best known sets of army regulations for this period. It was probably normal practice from early in the fifteenth century for a captain general to lay down regulations for the conduct of his army, particularly when in camp, but very few have survived. Such regulations were fairly stereotyped and clearly there were conventions about such things which soldiers accepted without question. In fact Italian army regulations differ little from those which have survived from English military administration of the same period. Gattamelata and Sforza were in a slightly unusual position in that they commanded a joint army; Gattamelata as Venetian captain general commanded the Venetian forces, Sforza was captain general of the League and commanded his own very large company and a certain number of Florentine-employed troops. Their regulations therefore had some peculiar features when they laid down the order of march; the two armies took turns day by day to lead and to be responsible for the defence of the marching column. Otherwise the regulations were conventional in their emphasis on not breaking ranks, on all provisioning companies being properly protected by cavalry, on the formation of a special billeting squadron consisting of representatives of each company, on the role of camp marshals, and on the procedure in the event of a sudden attack on the camp.

The one major omission from these regulations as compared with contemporary English ones was any reference to women in the camps. This was a distinction often noted by observers: Italian armies were encumbered (or perhaps inspired?) by the presence of large numbers of female camp followers. Niccolò da Tolentino’s army in 1432 took women from Linari after the assault and presumably added them to its following. But English regulations were quite specific that no women should be kept in the camp. Anyone finding a harlot about the camp could take all her money, break her arm, and drive her from the army. Niccolò de’ Favri, a member of the Venetian embassy in London, reported on Henry VIII’s 1513 expedition: ‘They did not take wenches with them and they were not profane swearers like our soldiers. Indeed there were few who failed daily to recite the office and Our Lady’s rosary.’ The second distinction observed by the Venetian seems to place the English army in a somewhat unreal light, although it is true that Italian army regulations were less concerned about blasphemy than contemporary maritime regulations. However, the distinction on the role of women in the camps was a true one, but one which reflected totally different social attitudes. Prostitution was an accepted feature of Italian society and so was the military brothel; the Florentines licensed brothels outside the walls of Pisa and used the proceeds from the taxes on them to repair the walls. The 211 prostitutes captured by the Paduans in the defeat of the Veronese army at the Brentelle in 1386 were escorted with great honour to Padua and entertained at the Lord of Padua’s table.

Given the seasonal nature of Italian warfare, camp life was only a part of the soldier’s life. The side about which we know even less is the conditions of troops in winter quarters. The Borgo S. Marco outside the walls of Pisa was often the winter quarters of Florentine armies and there Micheletto Attendolo spent the winter of 1431–2. It served the same purpose as the serragli of the Venetian cities, but one suspects that in the Borgo S. Marco troops were billeted in private houses, whereas in the serragli there were probably some form of permanent encampments. The bulk of the troops of a condottiere prince like Federigo da Montefeltro probably returned to their homes in and around Urbino in the winter, parading perhaps at infrequent intervals to receive pay. Even in the Venetian cities, where the companies had the same winter quarters for years on end, it seems likely that many of the soldiers had their families to which they returned when the campaigning season was over. But certainly, as the century advanced, there is increasing evidence that armies were held together and paid, at least in a rudimentary fashion, in the winter. Nor indeed was it always the case that campaigning stopped in the winter, and the winter break could certainly be very short; December and March were months in which there was often plenty of military activity. The summer break, still common in the first half of the century, was becoming less standard after 1450, although the Venetian army in the sixteenth century still held its manoeuvres in peacetime in spring and autumn.

The emphasis on active campaigning in spring and early summer, and again in the autumn, was not only the result of these being the more clement seasons for military operations. They were also the seasons when armies could do the most damage to crops, and this was always one of the prime aims of Italian warfare. Devastation and organised looting was economic warfare of a most effective kind; if carried out systematically it could have a much greater impact on a small Italian state than the defeat of its army in the field. The conscript pioneers attached to Italian armies were known as guastatori (devastators); their first function was breaking down and burning crops, and only subsequently did they become increasingly important as diggers of field fortifications and other constructive work.

Devastation and looting were therefore by no means necessarily to be linked with ill-discipline, although they were operations which could easily lead to loss of control and bad discipline. There were in fact two totally different sides to this problem. When an army was operating on friendly soil there was of course no question of systematic devastation. All provisions were in theory bought and, as far as possible, troops were kept under control. There were inevitably clashes between troops and civilians, but the condottieri were responsible for the discipline of their men and could be fined if these men inflicted damage on civilian property. The behaviour of troops in this situation was often the subject of complaints from the local populations, but the volume of individual complaints which have survived is not such as to suggest that the increasingly permanent armies were a positive scourge to their own civilians. After a defeat, when an army was in retreat, was the most dangerous time, and it was not uncommon for serious damage to be inflicted on the friendly local population. The other situation was that of an army operating in hostile territory when the whole outlook was totally different. Such armies lived as far as possible off the land and were committed to a policy of devastation. Both the collection of supplies and the ravaging were organised, and there were usually instructions that the property of the Church was to be spared. The condottieri were still concerned to see that their men did not get out of hand and that booty was divided up fairly.

Francesco Guicciardini, who was certainly no friend of the Italian mercenary system, remarked: ‘Ever since the times of antiquity in which military discipline was severely exercised, the soldiery had always been licentious and burdensome to the people, yet they never gave themselves loose to all manners of disorders, but lived for the most part on their pay, and their licentiousness was restrained within tolerable bounds. But the Spaniards in Italy were the first that presumed to maintain themselves wholly on the substance of the people.’ After 1494 the large French and Spanish armies in Italy were living permanently on hostile soil and behaved accordingly. The average Italian army of the fifteenth century spent most of its time billeted or camped on friendly soil, and this was when its ‘licentiousness was restrained within tolerable bounds’. Discipline depends to a large extent on long service under respected and responsible leaders; the peculiar and increasingly permanent condotta system of the fifteenth century provided these conditions to a greater extent than we sometimes imagine. It is significant that Luca degli Albizzi in the three weeks he was with the army in 1432 said not a word about bad discipline except to report that all the militia had deserted. Linari was sacked, but the impression given is that this was a calculated affair, a reprisal for resistance.

The possibilities of booty and at the same time a breakdown of discipline were always at their greatest when a town surrendered or was stormed after a siege. As in northern Europe, it was accepted practice in Italy that a town was formally summoned to surrender before a siege started. It was at this moment that a town could expect to secure the best terms before time, patience and lives had been lost in a siege. However, the terms of a surrender were by no means necessarily related to the length of the siege or the effort involved in it, nor indeed were the terms agreed necessarily honoured once the gates had been opened to a besieging army.

The British in the Aegean September 1943

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A Bristol Beaufighter releases its bombs toward the further of two German flak vessels attacked by aircraft of No. 201 Group, south of the island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese. Inadequate air support helped doom the British campaign in the Dodecanese. Imperial War Museum photo.

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In late June 1943, raiders from the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) landed on the south coast of Crete to strike at three airfields that could be used by the Luftwaffe during Husky. The mission was only a partial success. Explosive charges were placed against several aircraft and a fuel dump at Kastèli, but the Germans had abandoned Timbáki airfield while Heraklion was no longer in use as a major air base. A fuel dump was selected as an alternative target. In 1942 there had been similar operations on Crete and Rhodes.

Hit-and-run raids had an undeniable nuisance value, but little or no effect on the bigger picture. The North African campaign had ended with the surrender of the Afrikakorps in May. Operation Husky commenced two months later on 10 July. The Allies made rapid headway and with the Italians facing an invasion of the mainland, Mussolini was ousted on 25 July and replaced by Maresciallo Pietro Badoglio.

By August a British plan of action had been approved in anticipation of a suitably favourable development in the Aegean and the Balkans. Among the proposals were an emergency ‘walk-in’ in to Rhodes and other islands in the event of Italy’s collapse and the withdrawal of German forces, a quick Accolade against German opposition only, and a full-scale Accolade (though not before 1944). On 3 August the British Chiefs of Staff advised:

Should the Italians in Crete and the Aegean area resist Germans and deadlock ensue, our policy should be to help the Italians against the Germans wherever possible.

It was recommended that a force be made immediately available together with ships for use as troop transports. Mediterranean Air Command (formed in February under Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder) was approached for additional transport aircraft sufficient to lift a parachute battalion group. Four squadrons of American P-38 Lightnings were also requested. The latter were essential, for apart from Bristol Beaufighters, there were no fighters in the Middle East with the range to operate over the operational area. The paratroopers and their aircraft were to be in position by 14 August; the Lightnings were required to arrive in Cyprus by the 15th, and the seaborne element was to be ready to sail at any time after 18 August. Much depended on the destruction or containment of Luftwaffe units in the region, but this was achievable only if available bombers were released from all other commitments.

Faced with mounting pressure by the British to re-allocate resources to the eastern Mediterranean, an exasperated General Eisenhower finally relented. On 7 August, Allied Force Headquarters advised the Middle East that the required troops could be provided, though not before 14 August. Certain ships could also be released, but current requirements meant that no aircraft would be spared: no transports were available for parachute operations, and Lightning squadrons were fully employed in escorting the Strategic Bomber Force in attacks against Italian targets and were specifically required for Operation Avalanche – the Allied landing at Salerno, in Italy. In Eisenhower’s opinion, seemingly shared by both the Naval and Air commanders-in-chief in the Mediterranean, Accolade should have been abandoned. Eisenhower was assured that Accolade would take place only if conditions presented a reasonable prospect of success with the forces available and when the situation in Italy might allow the release of the all-important Lightnings. The target date of readiness was postponed to three days notice from 19 August, by which time Operation Husky had been concluded successfully and the Allied armies were about to push north into Italy.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Hitler and his Staff prepared for the inevitable as Badoglio’s government negotiated surrender terms with the Allies. At the same time in the Middle East, the British stood by to move into the Aegean. With Italy on the point of collapse, 8th Indian Division was embarked to undertake the capture of Rhodes and was to have sailed on 1 September. However, as a result of Quadrant on 26 August, the troop transports were released to India for the proposed operation against the Arakan (previously discussed during Trident), and 8th Indian Division was ordered to Italy. On 8 September, when the Italian armistice was announced, the force had been dispersed and with it went any opportunity for a rapid deployment. Furthermore, the Commander-in- Chief, Middle East was kept in ignorance of events and only learned about the armistice just before it was made public. Having anticipated Italy’s volte-face the Germans responded with countermeasures under the code name Achse (Axis), and moved swiftly to take over from the Italians in Crete, but were slower in reacting to the situation elsewhere. General Wilson decided therefore to act on recommendations of the Joint Planning Staff. The task of securing Rhodes was reallocated to 234 Infantry Brigade – 1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers (Faughs) and 2nd Battalion Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment having recently arrived in the Middle East from Malta. Italian cooperation was essential to British planning. A prerequisite to occupation was an unopposed entry into the port of Rhodes and the provision of an airfield either at Maritsa in Rhodes, or on the island of Kos. A military mission was to precede the expedition, while the SBS spearheaded the occupation of other islands including Kastellorizo, Kos and Samos. The British Prime Minister was a keen advocate of the plan, which was approved by him on 9 September: ‘Good. This is a time to play high. Improvise and dare.’

By then, events were already well underway. On 7 September the SBS commander, Major Lord Jellicoe, was dining with a fellow officer and his new bride at the St George’s Hotel in Beirut, when a military policeman arrived with orders for him to make his way to Raiding Force Headquarters near Haifa. There, Jellicoe was instructed to collect his battledress and field kit and present himself at Haifa airport, where an aeroplane was standing by for a dawn take-off for Cairo. On arrival, he was taken to Middle East Headquarters, shown to a room and seated with others around a large table. To his surprise, Jellicoe learned that the Italian armistice was taking effect that day and that it had been planned to try and occupy Rhodes with the assistance of the island’s Italian garrison. It was hoped that an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) had forewarned the Italians, but no one had been able to contact him due to a breakdown in communications. It was proposed therefore to send a landing party by fast craft from Alexandria. Jellicoe recalled:

After about 20 minutes I really couldn’t contain myself any longer and I said, ‘I’m surprised at this. Would it not be much easier for a small party to drop in this evening, as clearly it should be done as quickly as possible.’ Why all of this was being done at the last moment; why the Italian armistice had not been anticipated; why our Raiding Forces had not been alerted, God alone knows.

It was decided that Jellicoe would parachute in to Rhodes, establish contact with the Italian governor, Ammiraglio Inigo Campioni, and ask for his support for a British take- over. Subject to the success of Jellicoe’s mission, Colonel D. J. T. Turnbull of General Headquarters was to follow up to discuss matters in detail. Major Count Julian A. Dobrski, a Polish SOE officer with the nom de guerre Dolbey, asked if Jellicoe spoke Italian. Jellicoe did not, and readily agreed to the multilingual Dolbey joining him as an interpreter. A wireless operator, Sergeant Kesterton, completed the ad hoc team. They took off in a Halifax that evening, but adverse weather conditions combined with an inadequate briefing prevented the crew from locating Rhodes.

The following night, Lieutenant Commander L. F. (Frank) Ramseyer, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), and a landing party composed mainly of SBS under Major David G. C. Sutherland, arrived off Kastellorizo in two motor launches (349 and 357) to secure the island as a staging post for Aegean operations; a two-man team was parachuted into Kos to prepare the Italians there for the arrival of British troops, and a further effort was made to infiltrate Rhodes which had become a battleground between pro-Badoglio Italians and Generalleutnant Ulrich Kleeman’s Sturmdivision Rhodos. Major Jellicoe:

The next night [9th] we took off again. By that time they [the aircrew] had brushed up their geography … and we were dropped at Rhodes. Just before we dropped, Major Dolbey said to me, ‘I think I must make a confession to you. I said that I was parachute trained. I’m not. I’ve never actually dropped by parachute, so give me a push if necessary.’ … He dropped on to the main coast road near Lemnos, on the east of the island and broke his leg, his thigh, extremely badly. I was dropped, as was the wireless operator, Sgt Kesterton, on to the hills above [a few hundred yards away] and shot at quite fiercely. The shooting continued – we were behind rocks by then. We didn’t know who was shooting at us. I had a letter from General ‘Jumbo’ Wilson, C-in-C in Cairo, for the Italian commander, Admiral Campioni. I was told that in danger of capture by the Germans this should be got rid of. I had no idea whether they were Germans or Italians firing at us and there was nowhere to get rid of this letter – it was very rocky, hard ground. Of course, they were getting closer so I decided the only thing to do was to eat it which was not the most appetising meal I’ve ever had. And then I heard them approaching and I heard that they were shouting to each other in Italian. I shouted, ‘Amici! Amici!’, etc. Then, after a little bit of discussion and explanation I persuaded them to take me in their transport into Rhodes to Italian headquarters. All this had taken the best part of an hour or so and the major had already been found and taken in and there he was with Admiral Campioni. We had a long discussion with the Italian Admiral. We talked to him for a large part of the next hour or two. He was very enthusiastic to begin with and thought we were the precursor to substantial reinforcements. Although I said that we had further Raiding Forces standing by, I really couldn’t inflate their number. Accordingly I informed Campioni that in the next few days he could only expect some 200 reinforcements. Thereafter it would be some days before additional forces could reach Rhodes. As this sank in Campioni’s enthusiasm started to wane. All this time … Dolbey who had been speaking and interpreting so well and so nobly was in acute pain.

Dolbey, who had a compound fracture, was evacuated, first by fast craft to Symi, then by Italian seaplane to Kastellorizo and on to Cyprus. For the time being, Jellicoe and Kesterton remained in Rhodes and tried to stall Campioni, while in the Middle East frantic efforts were made to find enough landing craft to dispatch 234 Brigade. As this could not be achieved before 18 September, one battalion was stood by and ordered to embark in motor launches and RAF craft, while preparations continued for transporting the rest of the brigade. Jellicoe continues:

I stayed all the next day [10th], seeing, when I could, Admiral Campioni, getting messages through to Cairo, explaining the position and saying it was highly desirable that it was necessary to provide substantial reinforcements within a few days if Campioni was to be persuaded to hold out. The most, however, that I was able to promise him was a non- assault-loaded brigade within six or seven days. Of course, the sudden transfer from one side to the other was asking a great deal of the Italians. So, although I spent all the next day, whenever I could, talking to Admiral Campioni, and although he remained extremely friendly, at the end of it he was convinced it was not on as far as they were concerned. He sent me [and Sergeant Kesterton] off in an Italian fast craft with his chief of staff with all the maps of their minefields to Castelrosso [Kastellorizo], which, in fact, a squadron of mine had occupied that day.

In the haste to occupy the Aegean, Special Service troops, intelligence operatives and conventional forces were deployed by all available means. Poor communications, lack of coordination and the actions of a few who seem to have looked on the occasion as an adventurous outing sometimes resulted in an island being singled out by more than one interested party. On 8 September, Colonel L. F. R. Kenyon concluded his appointment on the General Staff of Force 292 and immediately joined the Aegean Mission as a representative of III Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Sir Desmond Anderson. The Mission had been instructed to visit Rhodes, and after arriving at Kastellorizo, Kenyon discussed the possibility with Group Captain Harry G. Wheeler, senior RAF Staff Officer in Force 292 (and soon to be appointed senior RAF officer on Kos). So it was that when Major Jellicoe arrived at Kastellorizo from Rhodes on 11 September, Wheeler and Kenyon were en route from Kastellorizo to Rhodes. Kenyon reported:

15. On arrival we heard some A. A. [anti-aircraft] fire, and saw a number of craft “swanning” about outside RHODES harbour (I found that on an air alarm craft were ordered out of the harbour). The ITALIANS replied to our signal by a refusal to allow us into the harbour. I suggested asking the ITALIANS to take off one officer in one of their own craft, and to this they agreed, and a M. A. S. [motoscafo armato silurante: Italian motor torpedo boat] shortly after came alongside. No question had arisen as to who should go, and I transhipped. WHEELER had some doubts as to the advisability of my visit, but these were solved by a large bomb which fell on RHODES. The commanders of both vessels had the same idea, and the R. A. F. launch drew off at speed to the East, while my M. A. S. went to the West.

16. I was met by an ITALIAN Naval Captain, who at once struck me as being a good fighter, and who gave immediate evidence of his intense dislike for the GERMANS. He spoke good English, and failed to conceal (or succeeded in conveying) his lack of confidence in the advice being tendered to CAMPIONI by the senior ITALIAN General in RHODES.

17. As I drove up to the [Governor’s] Palace, there was a fairly heavy air raid in progress. I was led through a number of kitchens, and was presented to CAMPIONI in a dark scullery. He seemed embarrassed, and led me to his state reception room upstairs.

He informed me that his military advice was that the troops, having been pushed off the anti-tank obstacle covering RHODES, could not survive another GERMAN attack. He understood that the BRITISH would reinforce in about 5 days time. He stated that the best he could do was to temporise with the GERMANS to gain time. This course was not possible if the enemy knew he had BRITISH officers with him, and as the place was full of spies, he wanted me to go.

At my request he then outlined the facts on which his military advice was given. The crux of the whole advice was the presence of the GERMAN tanks, which seems to have paralysed the entire ITALIAN command. But for this factor, he said, he could fight on, and so on.

I knew something of CAMPIONI’s record and personality, and formed the opinion, to which I still adhere, that in a difficult position, he was playing an in and out game, and halting between two policies. I was in some doubts as to whether the best course would be to compromise him thoroughly with the BRITISH, and so cut off his chances of making terms with the GERMANS, and increasing the fighting spirit.

He then intimated that I must really be off, as he was expecting some GERMAN officers at once, with whom he was going to “temporise”. He refused my suggestion that I should wait to hear the result of his Conference. He ordered an M. A. S. to take me to CASTELROSSO [Kastellorizo], and I was disguised in a long black cloak, and taken from the Palace to the port. By this time I was convinced that he was intending to capitulate, and that his main preoccupation was to get rid of me before the GERMANS learn of my presence, and insisted on his handing me over.

18. At the harbour I was entertained to a good and much needed English breakfast by my former contact, who now spoke much more frankly. He said the General had always wanted to surrender, but that there was considerable opposition from some of his officers. He said the troops were not good, and were shockingly led. For himself, he was going to set up in a small fort, and kill as many GERMANS as he could. My own view was that we could do nothing to influence the general situation, but that we might save something out of the wreck. I told him, therefore, that it was his duty to arrange the total evacuation or destruction of all craft in the harbour, and said that we should welcome him and the Naval craft particularly at CASTELROSSO or LEROS. He promised to do all he could; some craft appeared later at CASTELROSSO, and I believe more at LEROS.

19. A further message then came from the palace ordering me off at once, and I went in an M. A. S. which was later retained and did good service …

21. I wrote my report on the way back to CASTELROSSO, and an hour or two after its despatch, we got news of the ITALIAN capitulation.

That day, Sturmdivision Rhodos, numbering approximately 7,500 men, seized control of Rhodes and took prisoner 35,000–40,000 Italians, thus ending British hopes of an assisted take-over. Rhodes had been the first Accolade objective and involved considerable forces. Indeed, the very success of Aegean operations was dependant on acquiring the island, as explained by Colonel Kenyon:

It is significant that every plan, no matter how much the expected military opposition was written down, contemplated the capture of RHODES as a preliminary to any extension to the north; and that every plan was profoundly influenced by the necessity of capturing at the earliest stage a number of Advanced Landing Grounds, and by the great difficulties to be overcome if this was to be possible.

It therefore became necessary for the British to revise their planning and strategy. Future operations were to be on a reduced scale and, as it was essential to act quickly, they had to be improvised. German resources in the Aegean had been stretched by their deployments in Rhodes and Crete. It seemed possible that by a rapid move the Middle East forces might obtain control elsewhere in the region, and by doing so detract from recent enemy successes, enhance British prestige throughout the Middle East and act as a diversion for operations in Italy. In spite of the reluctance of Eisenhower to divert resources, there was hope in the British camp that, even with the limited means at their disposal, the occupation of other islands such as Kos, Leros and Samos could still succeed. The number of German aircraft in Greece and Crete did not yet represent a serious threat, and with British fighters operating from Kos the possibility of major German seaborne or airborne operations seemed slight. It was thought that with Italian co-operation British forces might maintain themselves in Kos and Leros until an attack could be launched on Rhodes from the Middle East. The task of reinforcement and supply was to fall largely on the Royal Navy.

Maritime Warfare in the War of the Spanish Succession II

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The Battle of Malaga by Isaac Sailmaker.1704.

Shovell’s death was not the only loss to the allies in 1707, for in Spain Galway had been unable to maintain his hold on Madrid, and in April he was heavily defeated by Berwick at the battle of Almanza. Much of the allied position in Spain unravelled, so the need of a fleet – and therefore a fleet base – in the Mediterranean was as great as ever. The allied fleet, now commanded by Leake, arrived in May, and was soon active in supplying the allied army in Catalonia from Italy. In August Leake secured the surrender of Sardinia (part of the Spanish Mediterranean empire) to ‘Charles III’, providing an essential granary for Catalonia, and a usable naval base at Cagliari. There was, however, a much better and nearer one, which Marlborough and the queen’s ministers had been thinking about for some time: Mahón, in Minorca, by far the best harbour in the Western Mediterranean, and only 300 miles from Toulon. Leake arrived from Sardinia on 25 August and landed his marines. Soon afterwards Major-General James Stanhope arrived from Barcelona with troops, and in spite of the great strength of the island’s main fortress, St Philip’s, the conquest was completed in less than a month. Though it was made in the name of ‘Charles III’, the English intended from the beginning to keep the island for themselves.

The capture of Mahon secured the allies’ naval hold on the Western Mediterranean, but too late to affect the course of the war. The French fleet was past intervention, and the naval contribution to the war in Spain was mainly to control the export of grain from North Africa, which was supplied to the allied army in Catalonia and denied to the French. This was the main work of Sir George Byng in 1709, Sir John Norris next year, and Sir John Jennings in 1711, though Norris also attempted some raids on the coast of France.

All the while that the Mediterranean dominated allied naval strategy, war at sea in English waters had largely been confined to the defence of trade. Then the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland inspired another French attempt to exploit Jacobite sentiment. It seemed a good moment to advance the cause of James VIII, with few troops in Scotland, and many people less than fully committed to the Union or to Queen Anne’s government. Captain Thomas Gordon of the Scottish frigate Royal Mary, for example, was zealous in protecting Scottish merchantmen, but enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Jacobite leader Lady Errol, who sent him a private signal to steer clear of Slains Castle whenever she had visitors from France.

The French plan was for the royal squadron from Dunkirk under the comte de Forbin to sail in midwinter and land James in the Firth of Forth before allied squadrons could intervene. Dunkirk was all but impossible to blockade effectively even in summertime, Forbin was a bold and experienced commander, and the plan seemed to have a good chance of success even after the secret leaked out and the blockade was reinforced. At first all went well. Forbin got clean away on 9 March, with Sir George Byng in pursuit but far astern. Unfortunately Forbin seems to have had no idea of the strategic value of the expedition, and to have treated it with a carelessness verging on frivolity. He made his initial landfall at dawn on the 12th fifty miles too far north, past Stonehaven; a disastrous blunder which has never been explained. It was the evening of the 13th before the French were able to enter the Forth and anchor off Anstruther. Byng anchored near by off May Island later that night, unseen in the darkness. Even then there was time to land James and his troops, and the sacrifice of Forbin’s small squadron would have been well worth it, but when he sighted Byng’s squadron at dawn, he insisted on escaping to the northward. In the ensuing chase one French ship, the Salisbury (an English prize taken in 1703) was captured by her British namesake (built 1707), but the rest escaped, and Forbin refused another chance to land James. Thus the French threw away a good chance to create, at least, an effective diversion to Marlborough’s plans, which after his victory at Oudenarde on 30 June/11 July, developed into an invasion of France.

The naval war in the Caribbean revived in 1705. In April the enterprising Canadian Iberville mounted a destructive raid on Nevis, only to die of yellow fever at Havana on his way to attack Carolina. In May Rear-Admiral Whetstone arrived with an English squadron, reinforced in August by Commodore William Kerr, who later succeeded to the command. Kerr’s squadron was immobilized by sickness and almost starved; he received no victuals from England until July 1707, and could do nothing to intercept the French squadron which du Casse had brought out to collect Spanish silver. Sir John Jennings arrived in December 1706, with the primary mission of persuading the Spanish governors to acknowledge the authority of ‘Charles III’. In this he failed completely, and returned to England in May 1708, shortly followed by Kerr, who only got back by dint of borrowing men from the incoming British squadron. Kerr was then prosecuted in the common law courts, impeached by the House of Lords and dismissed from the Service for neglecting trade and demanding convoy fees.

Kerr’s relief was Commodore Charles Wager, who sailed in April 1707 with a squadron of seven ships of the line. He was followed by du Casse, who sailed from Brest in October, but spent only a short time in the Caribbean, leaving Havana in July 1708 with the Spanish silver from Mexico – but not the South American silver shipped from Porto Bello, which Wager had intercepted on 28 May. Like Benbow, Wager was abandoned by two of his captains, but he pressed home his attack with his own ship unsupported, took one and sank another of the Spanish ships. The Spaniards lost much money, and a good deal of what du Casse took home never reached Spanish hands. Wager returned to England in December 1709, but the British squadron remained on station.

Further north there was desultory action on the Anglo-Spanish frontier throughout this war, with mutual raids from Carolina and Florida. The English twice attacked the Spanish port of Pensacola, and in 1706 a force of Spanish and French privateers raided Charleston. In these waters, moreover, especially North Carolina (‘where there’s scarce any form of government’, as the Governor of Virginia alleged), piracy was still a real problem. Massachusetts expeditions reached the French privateer base of Port Royal, Acadia, in June and August 1707, but were unable to make an impression on the French defences. On 1 October 1710 the Americans finally achieved a success in taking Port Royal (renamed Annapolis Royal), ‘seven years the great pest and trouble of all navigation and trade of your Majesty’s provinces on the coast of America’.

In European waters another distraction was caused by the Great Northern War between the Baltic powers, which broke out in 1702. The belligerents of the Spanish Succession war were not directly involved, but all European navies depended more or less on mast timber and naval stores imported from the Baltic, while Baltic grain exports became progressively more essential both to England and France in the years of dearth from 1708. The Dutch moreover provided almost all the shipping which carried these goods. The Maritime Powers therefore needed to cover their shipping from Swedish and Russian attacks, while in the North Sea there were both French and allied grain convoys to be attacked and defended. In the Baltic the Swedes were the main aggressors, and relations with England were not helped by the old irritant of the ‘salute to the flag’, which provoked a bloody action off Orfordness in July 1704 between Whetstone and the Swedish Captain Gustav von Psilander of the Öland. In 1709 Norris took a squadron as far as the Sound to escort allied trade and intercept French. From 1710 Swedish privateers became more troublesome, but as long as the war against Spain lasted, the allies had no ships to spare to protect their trade within the Baltic.

Inevitably, it was French privateers that presented the main threat to allied trade. The French continued the composite trade war which had been so effective in the previous war, with squadrons of royal warships, either equipped by the crown or chartered to private shipowners, used as the nutcrackers to break open convoy defences and expose the riches within. The commanders of these squadrons were the heroes of the French war on trade. In May 1703 the marquis de Coëtlogon intercepted a Dutch convoy under Captain Roemer Vlacq off Lisbon and sank or captured all five escorts: a notable victory, but a sterile one, for the escort’s sacrifice enabled the entire convoy of over 100 sail to escape. Unfortunately for the French this was too often the pattern. The chevalier de Saint Pol de Hécourt, commanding the Dunkirk squadron, in 1703 took the Ludlow, 34 (i.e. of thirty-four guns), and later the Salisbury, 52, which he took for his own command. He also inflicted heavy losses on the Dutch fishing fleet off Shetland. Next year he took another English ship of the line, the Falmouth, 58. ‘It is to be desired,’ commented a French official, ‘that Monsieur de Saint Pol find fewer men-of-war and rather more Indiamen or rich interlopers, which would suit his poor owners much better.’ Instead he took a Dutch fifty-gun ship, the Wulverhorst, but once again the convoy had escaped by the time the escort was overwhelmed. Saint Pol’s accounts for this loss-making cruise still had not been cleared up in 1718. In the same year 1704, Duguay-Trouin from St Malo took the Coventry, 54, and the Elizabeth, 70. Both English captains were sent to prison, one of them for life. Finally in October 1705 Saint Pol took an English convoy complete, three escorts and eighteen merchantmen, but was killed in the attack.

His successor in command of the Dunkirk squadron was Forbin, a Gascon nobleman with many of the qualities traditionally associated with his country: bold, gallant and skilful; but also vainglorious and grasping. In May 1707 his squadron of eight ships of the line took two seventy-gun ships, the Hampton Court and Grafton with twenty-two ships of their convoy off Beachy Head, though more than half the merchantmen escaped. In the summer Forbin went north into the Arctic. Whetstone formed the escort of an allied convoy to Archangel, which he had left north of the Shetlands (further north than his orders required), before returning to other duties. Forbin intercepted the convoy off the Murman coast of Arctic Russia, but the local escort under Captain Richard Haddock saved it in a fog bank, and Forbin got only some stragglers. Then on 10 October off Ushant, the squadrons of Forbin and Duguay-Trouin by chance together encountered a convoy carrying troops to Lisbon. Between them they had twelve ships of the line against the five of the escort, though Captain John Richards had two three-deckers, the Devonshire, 90, and the Cumberland, 82. Duguay-Trouin did most of the fighting, in which the Devonshire was burned and three more escorts taken. Forbin arrived later and went straight for the convoy, taking ten (out of about 100). He made all the money, and with undamaged ships he returned early to port to claim all the credit.

Against the undoubted successes of French squadrons must be set the many convoys which were successfully defended, or never attacked at all, and even the most celebrated French commanders were not always successful. In 1704 Saint Pol with six warships was frightened off a Virginia convoy of 135 sail under Captain John Evans, who formed a line of battle with his own four escorts and the ten biggest merchantmen. In 1706 Duguay-Trouin intercepted a rich Portuguese Brazil convoy off Lisbon; one escort was taken, but the Portuguese warships saved the whole convoy. His greatest exploit was the sack of Rio de Janeiro in 1711, which did return a profit, but overall Duguay-Trouin’s career cost his investors and himself a great deal of money. His home port, St Malo, prospered in this war because it progressively abandoned privateering in favour of the extremely profitable interloping trade round Cape Horn to the ‘South Sea’, the Pacific coast of Spanish South America. Three ships which returned from Peru in May 1705 declared cargoes worth more than half the entire gross earnings of all the privateers of the port between 1702 and 1713. In 1709 a convoy of seven ships escorted by Captain Michel Chabert came home laden with Spanish silver, of which Louis XIV received over four million pesos, and a quarter of a million found its way back to Philip V.

The French privateering war certainly caused England heavy losses – the contemporary claim of 3,600 merchantmen taken during the war was probably not much exaggerated – but it is not at all clear that it was profitable, either economically or militarily. English foreign trade was more buoyant than in the 1690s, and better able to bear losses. With experience, the organization of trade protection became gradually more effective, and imaginative. In 1709, in response to petitions from the Scottish Burghs, the local escorts on the east coast of Scotland were put under the operational command of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who for the rest of the war controlled the convoy system between Newcastle and the Orkneys and across the North Sea. Moreover the efforts of allied privateers, especially from Zealand and the Channel Isles, have to be taken into account.

As in the previous war, the French naval strategy was most effective in English politics. The heavy losses of 1707 caused an outcry in Parliament: ‘Your disasters at sea have been so many, that a man scarce knows where to begin,’ declaimed Lord Haversham in the House of Lords.

Your ships have been taken by your enemies as the Dutch take your herrings, by shoals, upon your own coasts; nay, your Royal Navy itself has not escaped. And these are pregnant misfortunes, and big with innumerable mischiefs; your merchants are beggared, your commerce is broke, your trade is gone, your people and manufactures ruined…

The result was the 1708 Cruizers and Convoys Act, which removed forty-three ships (nearly half of those between the Third and Sixth Rates) from Admiralty control and assigned them to specified home stations. As with the 1694 Act, the effect was probably to reduce the force available for convoy escorts in favour of cruising squadrons of doubtful effectiveness. Effectiveness, however, was not the main issue in Parliament, where Whig opponents of the government aimed to exploit back-bench disquiet to mount a coup against the Admiralty, and indirectly against Marlborough, whose brother Admiral George Churchill was blamed for mismanaging the naval war.

In this case the Whigs profited from the situation, but overall the French war on trade acted in favour of Tory opponents of the Continental war, especially Marlborough’s costly campaigns in Flanders. To aggrandize him, they argued, country gentlemen like themselves paid a heavy burden in Land Tax, too little of which went to protect England’s true interests (notably in seaborne trade), and too much of which ended up in the pockets of City financiers, who profited from the war and paid nothing towards it. Most of the financiers were Whigs in politics, Jews or Nonconformists in religion, and French, Dutch or Portuguese in origin. Associated with them were England’s Dutch allies, who were accused of bleeding England white in their defence, while they withdrew their stipulated quotas from the allied fleets and kept their own ships to escort their own convoys (frequently trading with the enemy). All the xenophobia so deeply rooted in English politics aroused MPs to demand a patriotic, profitable and English war at sea, of the sort which (as they believed) had never failed before. At the same time Tory attachment to the campaigns in Spain was fading, not only because the campaigns themselves were going very badly, but because the Archduke Charles unexpectedly succeeded to the Austrian throne on his elder brother’s death in April 1711, and a re-creation of the sixteenth-century Habsburg empire under Charles VI seemed even less palatable than the Franco-Spanish connection under Philip V.

The Tory government which took power in 1710 gave expression to these discontents. Subsequent historians have constructed a strategic tradition, the ‘Blue-Water policy’, to which the Tories were supposedly attached, but much of this is a modern rationalization of what had more to do with atavistic prejudice than rational calculation, and was to a large extent common ground among politicians of all parties. Mutual self-interest put the Whigs in bed with William III and later Marlborough, but they were not natural friends of kings and captains-general, nor of large armies and campaigns on the Continent; they were simply more realistic, or more prepared to compromise their principles for the sake of power. All English politicians were committed to the myths of English sea power, according to which a truly naval war, against a Catholic enemy, could not fail to succeed. The real distinction tended to be between those in opposition, who were wholeheartedly committed, and those in power, who were forced into some compromises with reality.

Of the leaders of the 1710 Tory administration, Robert Harley was more level-headed than his colleague St John. In March 1711 Harley was stabbed (by a captured French spy who was being questioned by a Privy Council committee), and while he was recovering, St John was largely responsible for mounting a grand amphibious expedition against Quebec. This was a response to New England requests, but it was even more an expression of Tory ideology. The troops were taken from Marlborough’s army in Flanders, and the ships were commanded by an impeccably Tory officer, Rear-Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker. To keep the expedition secret and avoid the ‘tedious forms of our marine management’, as he put it, St John kept both the Admiralty and the Navy Board in the dark, allowing some of the ships to sail with only three months’ victuals aboard in the expectation that they could be resupplied at Boston. When the expedition did arrive there at the end of June, with only a few days’ warning, Walker was surprised to find that it was difficult to supply a force of over 12,000 men (greater than the population of Boston and its surrounding district) with provisions for a whole winter. Eventually they sailed at the end of July with three months’ victuals, effectively gambling that they could conquer Quebec and find it full of food. Walker was worried about this, and further unnerved by the dangers of the St Lawrence without adequate charts or pilots – with reason, for on 23 August the fleet ran on the coast in the dark and seven transports were lost. On paper the force was still formidable, but Walker and his captains had had enough, and hastened to abandon the expedition.

By the time it returned in October, the Tory government was in the process of withdrawing from the war. One month later Marlborough was dismissed from all his offices. At the same time the ministry published Swift’s pamphlet The Conduct of the Allies, an official attack on the Dutch. ‘No nation,’ he proclaimed, ‘was ever so long or so scandalously abused by the folly, the temerity, the corruption, the ambition of its domestic enemies; or treated with so much insolence, injustice and ingratitude by its foreign friends.’ Another pamphleteer ingeniously estimated that the Dutch had made a profit from the war of £12,235,847 5s 5d.60 All this of course was meant to justify the British in abandoning their allies and withdrawing from the war. At the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain gained Gibraltar, Minorca, Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia), the whole of Newfoundland and St Kitt’s (hitherto divided), and undisputed possession of Hudson’s Bay. The Spanish Netherlands were transferred to Austria, and as Britain’s reward for betraying her allies, the French repudiated ‘James III’ and agreed to demolish the port and fortifications of Dunkirk. The reputation of ‘perfidious Albion’ was now well established in Europe, and as if to confirm it, Harley skilfully double-crossed the Jacobites, who provided a large part of his support, and engineered the peaceful succession of the Elector of Hanover when Queen Anne died on 1 August 1714.

On most reckonings the material profit to England of almost twenty-five years of costly war against France was meagre. A small number, of territories had been gained, two of them (Minorca and Gibraltar) of real, or at least potential, strategic value. The ambitions of Louis XIV had been checked, and Flanders (always so sensitive for England) safely confided to friendly hands. A Catholic dynasty had been removed, comforting English and Scottish Protestants at the price of a permanent threat to their security. Nothing so effectively destabilized a government as a legitimate pretender to the throne with support at home and abroad, so the price of Protestant liberty was eternal vigilance, and eternal expense. Less obvious than any of these changes, but in the long run most important of all, was the very rapid growth during these years of English foreign trade. The English domestic economy still depended overwhelmingly on agriculture and woollen cloth, but English (and now Scottish) merchants imported, and in large measure re-exported to Europe, greater and greater quantities of sugar and tobacco from the West Indian and American colonies, cotton from India and silk from China. These were long-distance ‘rich trades’, earning large profits but requiring large capital and advanced skills in banking, insurance and the management of shipping. Other shipowners traded in bulk goods with European ports: English cloth, timber and naval stores from the Baltic, salted cod from Newfoundland. All these trades, multiplied by the Navigation Acts, generated shipping and seamen as well as income. They went to build up what has been called a ‘maritime-imperial’ system, based on shipping and overseas trade much more than on extent of territory. Eighteenth-century Englishmen were ‘proud of their empire in the sea’; for them the word ‘empire’ still had the value of the Latin imperium, an abstract noun rather than a geographical expression. ‘Trade,’ as Addison put it, ‘without enlarging the British territories, has given us a kind of additional empire.’ To a greater and greater extent, Britain’s real wealth was generated, and seen to be generated, from a maritime system in which overseas trade created the income which paid for the Navy, merchant shipping trained the seamen which manned it, so that the Navy in turn could protect trade and the country. Much was still to be learned about how best to do both, but few informed observers in 1714 would have disputed Lord Haversham’s judgement that ‘Your trade is the mother and nurse of your seamen; your seamen are the life of your fleet; and your fleet is the security and protection of your trade: and both together are the wealth, strength, security and glory of Britain.’

Salian Monarchy, 1024–1137

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Graham Turner

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Henry II’s lack of children raised concern during his reign over the succession. The response was similar to that at the end of the Carolingian line: a meeting was organized at Kamba on the Rhine opposite Oppenheim in the summer of 1024 by the inner circle comprising Henry’s widow, Kunigunde, her brothers the duke of Bavaria and counts of Luxembourg and Mainz, and key bishops. The Salians were the only viable candidates. They were favoured by Kunigunde and her relations, and were backed by the Lorraine aristocracy, perhaps because of their shared roots in the Rhineland. There was currently no duke of Franconia since this post had been retained directly by the king since 939, while Swabia was held by a minor at that point. The Saxons, Italians and Slavs appear to have stayed away. Consequently, the proceedings became a discreet test of how much support the two Salian branches could muster. Conrad (II) the Elder, heading the junior Salian branch based at Speyer, emerged as the favourite allegedly because he already had a son. Conrad the Younger of the senior (older) Worms branch left Kamba with his supporters before the result was announced publicly, thereby preserving the appearance of unanimity. The Saxons continued to maintain their distance as in 1002, requiring Conrad II to secure their acceptance separately at Minden in December. Conrad encountered difficulties broadly similar to Henry I a century previously, but on a far wider scale because he succeeded to Italy as well as Germany, and inherited Henry II’s claims to Burgundy. Opposition in Swabia only ended when its duke, Ernst, was killed in 1030, and it took a further two years for Conrad to secure both Italy and Burgundy.

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Conrad’s success confirmed the Empire as a hierarchy of three principal kingdoms headed by Germany, Italy and Burgundy. The challenge of governance was now even greater than under the Ottonians. The expanded size of the realm added to the difficulties of governing through personal presence. Meanwhile, the lordly hierarchy had lengthened and its members had become more numerous. There were now several pushy new families who had the power though not yet the status of dukes, achieved by acquiring several counties and placing relations in the imperial church. In addition to the Salians themselves, these included the Ekkehardiner at Meissen, the Luxembourgs, Ezzonids, Babenbergs and Welfs. There were also more numerous and distinct lesser nobles, plus the class of servile ministeriales emerging about 1020. These were not, as once thought, a royal creation to free the king from dependency on the great lords, but instead ministeriales were promoted by the imperial clergy. Bishops and abbots selected able men of unfree status and enfeoffed them with resources to enable them to serve as knights or administrators. The Salians also began employing ministeriales to administer royal domains and garrison the new castles built in the 1060s. The ministeriales gradually acquired other privileges, embraced an aristocratic ethos, and eventually converted their relationship based on servitude into one of more conventional vassalage to fuse with other lesser nobles as knights and barons by about 1300.

It would be wrong to interpret the ministeriales as the potential staff required to create a centralized monarchy. They were indeed used to oversee more intensive management of royal domains, notably in Saxony. However, the Salians were themselves a product of the same political culture as their lords. There was no blueprint for a centralized state to follow, nor evidence that anyone thought such a structure was superior. Instead, Conrad and his successors tried to improve established methods by making it harder for lords to refuse royal commands. Conrad’s well-known articulation of the Empire as ‘an enduring crown’ was one element in this, as was the increasing emphasis on royal authority, underpinned by a more elevated, sacral monarchical image.

Conrad remained in the late Ottonian mould of an emperor touring the Empire to meet lordly expectations of good kingship. One-fifth of his trips were to Saxony, where the local lords clearly resented the Salian accession and their displacement to the outer circle. This paid off, and Henry III’s accession in 1039 resembled a triumphal progress. Conrad also returned to the earlier policy of concentrating duchies in royal hands as they became vacant: Bavaria in 1027, Swabia in 1038 and Carinthia in 1039. All three passed along with Franconia to Henry III on his accession, but he broke past practice by giving them away, keeping only Bavaria.

Bavaria was held by a king or his son for 46 years between 1002 and 1125, with the other six individuals chosen from close allies, though four had to be deposed after brief periods by the king. Meanwhile, the Salians continued Henry II’s practice of promoting Bamberg, Eichstätt and other Bavarian bishops as counterweights. This seems to have worked well and Henry IV had little difficulty retaining their loyalty after 1075, unlike Saxony, where the policy of backing the archbishop of Bremen simply antagonized local lords further and contributed to the Saxon revolt in 1073.

This policy represented a fundamental shift from using ducal jurisdictions directly to a more indirect management of the ducal elite. It reduced friction by accepting the trend to hereditary possession, which was already clearly established in Lorraine and soon also Swabia. The king retained powers of confirmation, but local ‘elections’ were now far more like homage ceremonies where the new duke sought acceptance from the lesser lords. Ducal power rested on possession of significant allodial property, much of it often former royal domains, as well as clearer political jurisdiction over the lesser nobles.

However, the ducal elite faced harsher punishments if they abused their new autonomy. The Ottonians had operated what was, essentially, a ‘two strikes’ policy with only repeat offenders facing serious consequences, though even here exceptions were made, as in the case of Heinrich the Quarrelsome. This was no longer possible under the more elevated concept of monarchy cultivated by the Salians. Rebellion ceased to be a personal dispute over status and became an affront to divine order. It was harder to forgive wrongdoers who were now considered sinners. Using the Roman law concept of crimen laesae maiestatis, revived by Henry III, Salians no longer simply removed offenders from office, but also confiscated their allodial property.

The difficulties of the new course were already exposed in 1035 when Conrad II deposed Adalbero Eppensteiner as duke of Carinthia for pursuing a policy towards the Hungarians contrary to royal wishes. Conrad clearly intended an assembly of lords as a pliant court to endorse his verdict, but many of those present expressed disquiet, including the king’s son, Henry (III), who, as duke of Bavaria, had sworn friendship with Adalbero. Conrad secured consent by falling to the floor crying, a move that could easily have backfired and damaged his prestige. Although Henry III appears to have curried favour by reversing many of his father’s decisions, he continued the same methods, encountering even greater difficulties when he tried to enforce a new partition in Lorraine after 1044. He eventually achieved his goal, but alienated the duke’s relations in Tuscany.

Long the beneficiary of Ottonian patronage, the Tuscans had proved crucial in Conrad II’s victory over Italian opposition to his succession from 1024 to 1027. Tuscany’s defection to Pope Gregory VII after 1077 was a serious blow to the imperial position in Italy. The absence of other large jurisdictions necessitated a different approach to governing south of the Alps. The Salians spent only 22 of their 101 years of rule in Italy, and half of that was Henry IV’s largely unwilling presence during the Investiture wars. Their preferred method was to rely on the Italian bishops, both by appointing loyalists trained in the royal chapel, and by strengthening the episcopate by extending their control over their cathedral towns and surrounding area. This made some sense, given that demographic and economic growth began earlier in Italy than in Germany, eroding the old county structure and fuelling popular demands for greater civic autonomy. The Salians were not necessarily hostile to these developments, for instance extending their patronage by giving the post of royal judge to wealthy townsmen, some of whom subsequently rose to become counts or bishops. Conrad II also intervened to settle what became known as the Valvassores’ Revolt between 1035 and 1037. The valvassores were the subvassals of the ‘captains’ (capitanei) who held both urban property and church fiefs in the surrounding countryside. Conrad’s Constitutio de feudis of 28 May 1037 extended the benefits of hereditary possession of fiefs to the lesser lords, whilst continuing to assert the king as final judge of all disputes.

These policies were unintentionally conflictual, because they weakened episcopal authority over the valvassores and captains, notably in Milan, where a complex dispute developed over popular demands for autonomy and conflicting claims from the emperor and pope to intervene. When aligned with the difficulties encountered over Lorraine, this suggests the Salians were already encountering serious structural problems ahead of Henry IV’s minority following his father’s death in 1056.

The Saxon and Investiture Wars, 1073–1122

Discontent amongst east Saxon lords coincided with the first stages of what would become the Investiture Dispute around 1073. Neither of these problems was immediately life-threatening for the Salian monarchy. Henry IV continued to enjoy considerable support amongst the German and Italian episcopates, as well as many lay lords. However, his inability to find quick solutions to these problems fuelled underlying discontent at Salian methods and gave credence to charges of misrule. A more exalted style of monarchy inhibited the cultivation of ‘friends’ and made it difficult to compromise without losing face, and Henry rebuffed several attempts by lay and secular lords to broker settlements. Royal prestige was now defined by power and victory, not consensus and clemency. Unfortunately, open defiance, as in Saxony, left the king no choice but to employ force. The Salians were thus in the same bind in Germany as the Ottonians had been in earlier disputes with the papacy: violent methods conflicted with most people’s ideal of good kingship. The German lords provided Henry with an opportunity to restore politics to the earlier consensual course by summoning him to their assembly at Trebur in October 1076. Yet acceptance would have entailed an unacceptable humiliation, and so Henry undertook his extraordinary journey to Canossa in an attempt to outflank his opponents by reaching a deal with Pope Gregory.

The move failed to stop the malcontents electing Rudolf of Rheinfelden as the first real anti-king in March 1077. Rudolf was backed by the leading Saxons, the dukes of Bavaria and Carinthia, and around eight middling secular lords, plus the archbishops of Mainz, Salzburg, Magdeburg and their suffragan bishops. The majority of lay and ecclesiastical lords were still loyal to the emperor or at least neutral. However, the combination of civil war in Germany and the open struggle with the Gregorian papacy intensified the divisions. Both Henry and the Gregorians deposed each other’s supporters from the episcopate, while the king replaced the rebellious southern dukes with loyalists in 1079, including the Staufers, who received Swabia. There were now rival kings, popes, dukes and bishops, entrenching the conflict in the localities and widening the numbers of those involved with vested interests. The relatively even balance prevented either side from achieving sufficient preponderance to force their opponents to accept peace.

Although obstinate, Henry was sufficiently astute to seize the collapse of the Welf-Tuscan alliance in 1095 not merely to escape from northern Italy but to offer significant concessions across the next three years. This confirmed one of the two main political outcomes of this turbulent period: the demise of the old ducal elite and its replacement by a more numerous group controlling more modest jurisdictions. This group was recruited from the middling families who had amassed allodial property and county jurisdictions and were now accommodated by the creation of new jurisdictions associated with ducal rank. Henry reconciled the Zähringer, whom he had deposed from Carinthia in 1078, by raising their allodial property in the Black Forest to a new duchy 20 years later. This was rounded out by transferring Zürich, the richest royal domain in the region, as well as other jurisdictions formerly associated with Swabia. Meanwhile, the counts Palatine emerged as equivalent to dukes on the Middle Rhine by 1156. Henry V continued this policy after his accession in 1106, which coincided with the extinction of the Saxon Billungs. Although Saxony was not partitioned, Henry gave the Billung allodial property to the rising Askanier and Welf families. Other jurisdictions in Saxony were consolidated as a distinct landgraviate of Thuringia by 1131, while the remnants of what had been the Saxon North March (Nordmark) were detached in 1134, becoming the margraviate of Brandenburg after 1157.

The tentative return to consensual politics unravelled as Henry V sought to supplant his father after 1105, leading to renewed war until the latter’s death the following year. Henry V’s heavy handling of his former favourite, Lothar von Supplinburg, triggered another revolt in 1112–15 during which the king lost control of northern Germany and only survived thanks to continued Staufer support. Antagonism resurfaced at Henry V’s death in 1125. The leading Welf, Heinrich ‘the Black’ of Bavaria, defected from his former Staufer allies and backed the election of Lothar von Supplinburg. Conrad Staufer of Franconia was proclaimed king by his own supporters, including his elder brother in Swabia, splitting Germany north–south. He only accepted defeat in 1135 in return for a pardon, finally allowing Lothar III to tour the south.

The outcome confirmed the second lasting consequence from the troubles since 1073: command monarchy was discredited and defeated. The Trebur meeting of 1076 was the first of what historians have called ‘kingless assemblies’ (königlose Tage), as senior lords convened on their own initiative. Other meetings followed in 1105, 1121 and 1122, the latter compelling Henry V to settle the Investiture Dispute with the Worms Concordat. Although further collective action failed to avert violence in 1125, Lothar III nonetheless returned to a more consensual style. However, this did not restore Ottonian conditions. Instead, the restructured elite now saw themselves as sharing responsibility for the Empire’s welfare. This was expressed as ‘emperor and Empire’ (imperator et regnum), first voiced at the 1122 assembly and signifying that lords expected to participate in important decisions rather than merely offer advice. It remained for the Staufers to adapt governance to meet these expectations.